My game of the year for 2014 was…no, it wasn’t Bayonetta 2, somehow. Rather, it was the forgotten black sheep of Nintendo’s Fall 2014 lineup: Hyrule Warriors.
Yeah, I really don’t understand it either. Having played Dynasty Warriors 8 for 30 hours a few months prior, I can say the last thing I anticipated was booting up yet another Warriors game. They tend to get repetitive after a while, and Dynasty Warriors 8 turned into an exercise of seeing the same battlefields over and over again with the same objectives, the same arcane weapons and character upgrade systems, and the exact same plot (not that they can really change it or anything)! And yet, Hyrule Warriors completely and utterly floored me with its improvements to the formula, as well as its general love of the subject matter.
Frankly, I don’t love modern Zelda games a whole lot. It strikes me that Nintendo wants to turn it into something “meaningful” and “life-changing” rather than a series about exploration and fun. Eiji Aonuma, since he arrived as series supervisor, has continually bogged down the series with overlong exposition and overt tutorializing that culminated in the most hated of all Zelda characters, Fi. Could she ever stop talking? Navi almost looked endearing by comparison. So what does Hyrule Warriors do to this, other than being a shameless crossover and a holdover for next year’s (hopefully?) Wii U Zelda entry?
Simple: it gets rid of all these pretensions by being a giant boatload of fanservice. It knows it’s fan service, so it loads as much of it as possible onto your palate in the hopes of numbing your sensibilities. The “Legend” Mode takes the same basic template as Dynasty Warriors’ Story Mode, but goes completely crazy with Zelda lore. Let’s time travel to different periods so we can get Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword characters all into a single game! Absolutely, why not? This carefree glee to jam as many game references in the series as possible isn’t just limited to silly crossover stuff, though; there’s plenty of elements that echo other parts of the series, from Wizzrobes to Volvagia (now a spear-wielding knight) to evil sexy sorceresses who don’t really belong, but are still in here. I guess that last one is more a vestige of Omega Force’s pedigree than Zelda, but who’s counting? The Adventure Mode in particular cribs liberally from the original Zelda, as it uses the original map and secret layout for kicks.
The love for the series, and its ups and downs, just oozes from Hyrule Warriors in nearly every facet. I’m sure a more learned Zelda fan than I could point out some of the more obscure references in weapon movesets or even just in the menu screens, but trust me: it’s a crazy level of fanservice. Unlike Kingdom Hearts, though, the result here feels genuine – not just a shameless cash-in on famous properties, but fans of the game wanting to make a good game that lives up to Nintendo’s expectations (even for weird spinoffs like this). The buttrock remixes of famous Zelda songs don’t hurt either; they just keep playing in my head!
Though I question myself: am I just enjoying this foolish feedback loop of effort and reward, grinding and finishing, or is the game itself any good? Have I just been playing too much Warriors to have any decent perspective? I just played Bayonetta 2 to boot! You know what 1 Corinthians 15 says:
33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”
I had to think long and hard about it, and also play the game substantially more (no excuses here!), and I think the general answer is “yes”. There are things that annoy me about the game after playing for over fifty hours, granted, but the overall game bring a level of awesome improvements and iteration that you don’t often see in a series, especially from a spin off.
There are at least three things that set Hyrule Warriors apart from its forebearers in both series: combat, structure, and polish.