Of course, all of this could become very repetitive if you just played the same stuff over and over, but Hyrule Warriors somehow presents a ton of variety in this model. Much of it comes down to the game’s structure, which divides itself among two main modes: Legend Mode, a traditional story mode-type progression, and Adventure Mode, Hyrule Warriors’ tribute to the 2D Zelda games. In it, you choose from various squares on the original Legend of Zelda map. Each contains a new and varied objective, from doing the traditional battle style to beating a certain number of enemies to answering quiz questions via combat. Yes, it’s as insane as it sounds, and it totally WORKS.
Adventure Mode contains most of the game’s unlockables, including new weapons, special characters, Pieces of Heart (your health upgrades in Hyrule Warriors), and all manner of other fun things. Those provide incentive enough for me, but unlocking that stuff requires much planning and strategy. First, you need items to unlock secrets on individual squares. Beating battles gets you an item which you can use on a specific spot on a square to unlock the A-rank award. The game ranks you on every level, an A-Rank being the highest, and ranking comes into play for most of the game’s unlocks. Some of them require or force specific characters on you, meaning you can’t just rely on one person for the entire thing. Missing that A-rank means you just don’t get it; there’s no alternatives. Step up your game, or never earn it.
Trust me, I thought I would stop playing long after finding this out, but I press on to unlock the entire map. There’s something amazingly compelling about beating the game’s arbitrary challenges, which throw all manner of insane stuff at you from killer Cuccos to nearly impossible enemy attacks without the right strategy in mind. Most maps to unlock weapons, additionally, lock most characters out of more powerful gear, so you need to play handicapped to obtain the item. I played some maps many times just trying to understand how I’m going to kill 1,200 enemies in 15 minutes without taking ten hearts worth of damage, but that’s the fun of it!
Much of this would not work if not for the upgrade system, which looks a ton more like a World of WarCraft/MMO talent tree than Dynasty Warriors. Basically, you use items gained from dead enemies and Rupees (no surprise there) to upgrade your characters. Most of these seem boring – much of it consists of standard stuff you’d expect, such as reduced damage, longer power-up times, and more Special Attack/Focus Spirit meter. Thankfully, they allow you to upgrade your combo strings without getting the right weapon rank as in Dynasty Warriors, truly a great design decision; not having all your options due to not finding one weapon in one location during a particular part of a long battle never struck me as particularly innovative.
However, that Badge Shop proves really interesting as you decide how to best allocate limited resources. Many of the best upgrades (especially those that speed up Keep taking or Weak Point attacks) require some pretty hefty materials. Gold, silver, and bronze-level materials drop, and you can guess that getting the gold ones require some luck. As for me, I didn’t grind at all to get what I wanted; I simply picked and chose what to upgrade based on the circumstance and the challenge. Sure, like any RPG, you can grind, but it’s extremely time inefficient to do so in this game. Even leveling up with Rupees lowers your stock significantly, so you must make wise decisions as to what you have. There’s an Apothecary which can increase specific item drop rates, but you trade a lot of other items just to enhance your chances in one battle – I have not yet found it a wise investment, given I could just try something new instead.
The weapon upgrading I found pretty much the same as Dynasty Warriors, except the system tells you outright which attribute you will get if you’re upgrading the weapon via another weapon. As long as a weapon has empty slots, you should put some attribute in there, and given the number of disposable weapons that drop, you get an excellent stock of items to use for that. In general, though, weapons with higher Star ratings always do the most damage, and character level scales exponentially with it. Somehow, I found neither of these really hampered the game, due to the aforementioned problem of grinding here (unless you just like grinding!).
Could we call parts of it a collect-a-thon? Absolutely! At times, you won’t be able to unlock an A-grade award due to simply lacking the right item. Thankfully, items respawn, and most of them give you an opportunity to revisit old levels to obtain their A-ranks items as well (or, at least, that’s how I perceive it). By this time, you’ll probably outlevel the challenge in question, which is partly uninteresting, but most A-rank items force you to use different characters, so it’s never a complete chore. I just love that that employ these little devices to use the entire roster.
Unfortunately, what I like less is that some challenges seem literally impossible without grinding. I’m specifically speaking of Zant’s (yet again, more Zant talk) level two weapon unlock, which took me many hours to complete. The stage throws cuccos, Bombchus, keeping moral via keeping all your bases, and all of this with a completely underpowered character. I can understand failing a few times, but after a while even my skill couldn’t cover the gap; I basically had to use cooperative mode and a whole lot of rupees for leveling to get there. In sum: there’s some stuff that just forces you to arbitrarily gather resources, and the game falters more than once on this count (see: anything involving Ganondorf). In that sense, it does fall into the same old problems as other Dynasty Warriors games, but even great games need to falter here and there.
Overall, the Adventure Mode just works brilliantly, and the constant feedback loop of rewards and challenges just kept me coming back until I completed that whole map thoroughly. And then the DLC added more stuff! This is one of the rare times that downloadable content adds tons of genuinely new challenges to the mix; I would recommend it without hesitation if you enjoyed Adventure Mode, and that’s a rarity from me.