Capsule Review: Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition

(A note on versions - the original Hyrule Warriors was released in 2014 for Wii U. An updated 3DS port, Hyrule Warriors Legends, was released in 2016. Finally, the further updated Switch port, Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, was released in 2018. While the gameplay is substantively similar, there are changes and improvements in each release. This review is about the Switch version.)

A Musou game set in a crossover Legend of Zelda world, featuring a few original characters and many from previous games. As is standard for Musou crossover games, elements from the franchise have been incorporated into the large-scale hack-and-slash gameplay, though they vary considerably in how well they suit the experience. While the characters, settings, and themes of The Legend of Zelda are a natural fit for Musou, the more exploration-focused elements don’t transfer well to a genre that is all about time pressure and frantic action.

Gameplay has the standard Musou core of dynamic large-scale battles in which the player is likely to mow down thousands of weak enemies and a handful of stronger ones while responding to varyingly-urgent threats that change over time. In addition to featuring characters and settings from Zelda games, the game makes extensive use of Zelda-inspired items and secrets, though these work a bit differently in the various game modes.

The story-based Legend Mode introduces the mechanics and main cast as well as providing the various items (such as bombs, boomerang, and hookshot) which are used both to exploit certain enemy weaknesses (King Dodongo, for example, dislikes smoke) and to overcome various environmental obstacles and find secrets - including character-specific health upgrades. The problem is that like in most Musou games, you’re under constant time pressure to deal with multiple simultaneous threats. It’s aggravating to be sitting around waiting for King Dodongo to semi-randomly cycle through his moveset and open his mouth so you can finally toss bombs into it when meanwhile some of your captains are being overwhelmed a ways away. And you sure don’t have time to run around the entire map bombing every boulder in case it’s hiding a heart container. These elements work in Zelda because those games are about exploring in your own way at your own pace - they don’t work in Musou’s frantic races to juggle crises.

Adventure Mode lacks the story and cutscenes of Legend Mode but has a lot more content and the bulk of the game’s progression. There are a series of grid-based maps based on mainline Zelda games, with each grid cell corresponding to a Musou battle with various conditions. The player starts with access to a single grid cell and must win battles to progress through the map, dealing with obstacles based on the source game. In addition to upgrades and unlockables, battles reward various “item cards” representing items from the source game which must be used on other missions to unlock rewards or progress. For example, in the map based on the original The Legend of Zelda, you might get a candle card - and another mission’s map cell might have a specific bush that needs to be burned with that candle to reveal a heart container that can then be won by beating the mission.

In theory this is a neat idea that pays homage to the source games; in practice it felt like homework I had to do before I was allowed to play the game. Especially since the item cards are single-use and unless you happen to remember where the secrets are in the source game you have to look up which bushes to burn and so on - or use another single-use “compass” item card to have it revealed. There’s no actual discovery here; it’s just jumping through arbitrary and inscrutable hoops.

While the Musou core is as solid as one would expect given all the iteration it’s been subject to by now, the Zelda-like item-puzzles and exploration don’t mesh well and mostly just get in the way. For me it wasn’t enough to ruin the experience, but did dampen the long-term draw - I got about sixty hours of enjoyment out of the game before I lost interest. And if these aspects don’t bother you, there’s a ton of enjoyable content here - even after sixty hours, there’s a lot I didn’t see.

I Stopped Playing When: After doing most of Legend Mode, I dipped into Adventure Mode’s first map and found it enjoyable - until I was blocked off by a couple of missions that required Toon Link. Toon Link is unlocked on the second map, and doing so requires an item that you only get near the very end of Legend Mode. I put the game down for a bit after this because it no longer felt like free exploration but obscured linearity. I eventually came back, got the item, got Toon Link, and proceeded in Adventure Mode - until I reached a mission that had a weapon upgrade for Link but only after using an item card I didn’t have and which the mission rewarded. I got an A-rank on the mission, got the item card, used the item card, and needed to A-rank the same exact mission again to get the weapon upgrade. Now that the obscured linearity had forced backtracking and the game’s novelty had largely worn off after dozens of hours of play, I put it down for good. I would have liked to see the rest of it, but to me it just wasn’t worth it anymore.

Docprof's Rating:

Three Stars: Good. I liked the game enough to finish it (or just play it a bunch, for games that don't end). I recommend it to most genre fans.

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