This is probably the most timely review I’ve ever done!
Japanese Name: ゼルダ無双
English Name: Hyrule Warriors
Platform: Wii U
Worldwide Languages: Japanese, English (soon)
Release Date: August 14, 2014 (Japan), September 26, 2014 (USA)
Recommended For: Beginner-Intermediate
Best Suited: Intermediate
Hyrule Warriors—the unholy fusion of The Legend of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors. In simple terms, it’s a Dynasty Warriors game using characters and locales from The Legend of Zelda instead of ancient China. And it works.
Dynasty Warriors (真・三国無双) and the games in the same style are often criticized for being rather basic: you’re a powerful warrior killing a bunch of weaker enemies. Some criticize them for being repetitive: kill enemies over and over and over. And there are a lot of games in the same style. Gundam Musou and One Piece Musou. If you’ve played one of them, it might seem like you’ve played them all.
Musou-style games like Hyrule Warriors do start with the same basic premise: you’re the hero. Everything that is good is blue. Everything bad is red. Go and turn all of the red on your mini-map blue. At some point a powerful enemy or two will appear to distract you and turn the tide of the battle. Kill them and then continue on your merry red-hating rampage.
That said, in the tens of hours I’ve put into Hyrule Warriors, it’s rarely felt repetitive. That’s accomplished in part by the variety of areas the game has and how colorful they are, both in terms of visuals as well as level design. Taking primarily from Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword, all three games with distinct styles, new areas are very unlike the old areas that preceded them.
Of course, the characters themselves keep things fresh too. Each battler has a distinctive style. Link is quick with his sword, but relatively basic. Impa, on the other hand, is strong and slow, but has attacks that fan out more. Some characters like Zelda and Fi have special gauges that change how you play with them. Not only do the basic characters offer good variety, but with each weapon they unlock, their play style changes. Link with the sword and shield plays very differently from the fire rod. While the number of players is somewhat small (compared to Sengoka Basara’s 32, for instance), there is a lot of variety in what’s there.
Where Hyrule Warriors succeeds best is in the strategy department. Firstly, in order to take down an enemy quickly, you need to time your attacks right. Though figuring out an enemy’s weakness is not difficult, actually exploiting it while dealing with other enemies can be challenging. Secondly, making priorities in the battles themselves actually becomes progressively more and more important. Deciding which tower to attack and which enemies to fight becomes important rather quickly, as battles can be lost by friendly NPCs dying or by home forts being taken. On the one hand, losing your base after 20 minutes can be frustrating when you’ve captured half of the map, especially when starting from the checkpoint leads to an impossible victory because your home fort or other character is beyond saving. But it also forces the player to think about what they’re doing. When the only losing condition is the player’s own death, the battle can feel a little too easy, sometimes.
The story mode manages to stay fresh for its duration, and I was a little sad to see it reach its conclusion. However, in order to unlock all the stages for “adventure mode”, the story needs to be completed. Adventure mode offers players a wide variety of battles, each with their own interesting victory conditions. Kill 700 enemies in 10 minutes. Quiz battles to defeat the correct opponent (fight the one with the shield, for instance). Battles where you can kill the enemies in one hit, but they can kill you in one hit too. In both adventure mode and story mode, only certain collectables / weapons / permanent health boosts can be acquired if you’re playing with a certain character, and being “forced” to use some of your weaker characters adds fun for the completionist in all of us.
As an RPG nut, the upgrading system is pretty good. EXP from enemies increases your level, which adds attack power and the occasional health boost. Rupees from enemies can buy experience for lower-leveled characters, as well as being used for other purposes. There is a “skill tree” of sorts, where badges can be made out of drops from enemies to improve your skill and unlock better badges. Weapons also drop from battle, and their abilities can be attached onto other weapons through a simple crafting system. Health boosts can also be found in the middle of an area. My only gripes regarding the upgrades: the skill tree is the same for each character. Having them have different trees would have been a nice touch. Overall, however, the game does give a fair amount of control over your characters’ progression.
The frosting on the cake? The music is fun and nostalgic, taking classic themes and remixing them. Getting everything in the game is a long journey, but someone without much time on their hands could feel satisfied with the relatively short story mode. And the game has updates! While the US version will probably come with the “Challenge Mode”, for instance, seeing this mode added through an update was a nice addition. For Nintendo, a company that’s often avoided updates, this was a nice change. Perhaps we’ll see more areas and characters in the future. Regardless, even without any future additions, the game holds up very nicely.
Game itself: 9/10
Zelda games have always been a good candidate for beginner language learners. They repeat a lot of the same vocabulary and employ furigana-readings above the kanji. Hyrule Warriors follows in the same tracks. While the language isn’t easy, per se, the same words are often repeated, with meanings so obvious they don’t need to be looked up in a dictionary. Understanding that you fail when your home fort is 陥落 for instance is without ambiguity. Characters’ cheering is your basic bout of 「すーげぇ！」s and 「かっこういい」s, but occasionally the chat will have something more interesting. Going to the pause menu, it’s possible to look back over your entire chat log and review if you so desire.
Additionally, much of the challenge of a Zelda game lies not in knowing where to go, but in figuring out a physical puzzle. A musou game requires even less knowledge. From a language standpoint, this could be a weakness. The entire game could be played without knowing Japanese with only minor difficulty. Perhaps the hardest part for the non-Japanese speaker is the above-mentioned quiz battles, where it’s important to recognize which enemy to attack.
Where Zelda is weakest, Hyrule Warriors follows: no voice overs. While I’m of the camp that Zelda could be weird with them, it does hold the game back. Cutscenes in the middle of the story mode are the only place with voice overs, and while they’re good and slow-paced, cutscenes can’t be paused, and progress as fast as a Japanese person would be reading.
I learned a good deal of new words. I just wish I’d heard them spoken out loud.
Finally, loading screens are always filled with boxes from the help menu, giving some good reading practice while waiting, though they get boring once you’ve read them all. Still, a nice way to pass the time.
Language learning: 7/10
-Simple enough language with sentences written intuitively
-Furigana above all the kanji
-Language generally not needed to progress in the game
-Ability to look back on chat logs a nice bonus
-Loading screens full of text
-Few voice overs
Unfortunately for US Wii U owners, the Wii U is region locked, so importing isn’t really an option. But if you do have a Japanese Wii U, I’d recommend the game. And forgetting it as a language-learning tool, the game’s pretty good. Even people who traditionally don’t like musou-style games have been enjoying this one. At the very least, it’ll tide you over until Super Smash Bros.