Hyrule Warriors is a video game I used to put myself to sleep one night while reviewing it. It’s boring and sleepy.
Hyrule Warriors is a video game.
Hyrule Warriors is the product of Nintendo's continuing and strange relationship with Japanese third parties like Tecmo Koei and Namco Bandai. It's in the same family as Metroid: Other M, Super Smash Bros., and Pokemon Conquest, which is a very strange, imbalanced family. Smash Bros. is a rich, successful movie star, Conquest is well-to-do, but doesn't really have anything interesting going on, and Other M only talks to the family when it needs money. Hyrule Warriors is the dorky youngest sibling, eager to please and always ready to list off everything it knows about Zelda to you at the drop of a pointy green hat.
Hyrule Warriors is a game co-developed by Team Ninja, and it shows. Characters are slick with the hyper-realism-meets-anime style the house Itagaki built is known for. The new characters, Lana and Cia, look straight out of Ninja Gaiden, and even old characters, like Impa and Zelda, have some design embellishments that wouldn't be out of place in a Dead or Alive game.
Hyrule Warriors is also an entry in Omega Force's long running hack-and-slash warfare games collectively known as "Musou" or Dynasty Warriors in the west. You're a general in a larger army and hack your way through hundreds of enemy soldiers with combos comprised of weak and strong attacks, finishing them off with big super moves. Sometimes you also run around and capture key points on a map and help out other generals. None of that is really necessary or anything, mind you. As long as you cut your way through an army of thousands with basic two button combos, you'll be finishing missions regardless of your actual strategies going in. Hyrule Warriors features a few more Zelda-inspired quirks, like a counter attack meter for exploiting enemy weaknesses, and various tools you collect throughout the campaign, but it's all sort of peripheral to the core Dynasty Warriors gameplay. It's much more Musou than it is Zelda.
Hyrule Warriors is a fundamentally dumb video game. Not just in gameplay either. It's made to be keys jangling in the face of the Zelda aficionado. I know, because I'm the target audience. I'm the person who bought tickets to the Zelda Symphony, I'm the person with a Hyrule Historia, I'm the person who has a Triforce hidden in his signature. I'm the dork with a plush Toon Link doll hanging out on my bookshelf, and I'm the dork who will always be a little grumpy it's branded as being from Phantom Hourglass because screw that game.
Hyrule Warriors is ostensibly for me. Every time I notice a little nod to an older Zelda game, I get this rush of endorphins that screams "OH! YOU RECOGNIZE THAT! Good job!" But it's all so obvious. There's Navi, asking for help, there's the Deku Tree, with its goofy wooden mustache. There's the entire final boss gauntlet of Skyward Sword, lifted straight out of that game and plopped into this one. It's...well, dumb.
Hyrule Warriors is a game that's not ashamed to be dumb. Dumb is fun, after all. None of that heady talk of strategic design and and subtle references. I know that sounds sarcastic, but it really isn't meant to be. Hyrule Warriors is unabashedly dumb. It spells out every objective for you, it shoves every little nod to another game right in your face. It desperately wants you to have fun with it, and that's a great thing. I just wish it had more fun with itself.
Hyrule Warriors is a boring, sleepy game. Like all Musou games, it's about big armies clashing in conflicts that rarely change the tide of battle. You take out one general just to move to the next. Capture one enemy base, then another and another. Eventually the mission ends, rarely with a bang, but with yet another simple hack at an opposing general with their shield up. It lacks the serene strategy of Zelda boss battles, with their staid, three-step solutions, or the frantic, screaming action of a Ninja Gaiden. It's big and grand and epic in scope, but in the moment to moment minutiae of gameplay, very little happens. The side modes offer various challenges that mix up the action, but it never gets away from that core, hack-and-slash-and-slash-and-slash combat. Maybe you have a time limit, maybe you can only kill certain enemies. All that changes is when you hit X and how many times you hit X, not how.
Hyrule Warriors is full of tiny details, like the warp-point bird from Link Between Worlds showing up on loading screens, or the weird statues of Ocarina of Time's young Link in a stage designed as a twisted shrine to Link. It's also full of big, obvious details, like Majora's Mask moon dropping on enemies hit by a hookshot, and a Water Temple patterned after Ocarina of Time's own infamous flood gate puzzle. It's clear that the people making this game loved Zelda, or at least combed through the wiki. But there’s this anathema running through the game to referencing Zeldas other than Ocarina, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword. The moon is one of two Majora’s Mask references. There’s one Wind Waker reference I could spot, and everything Zelda 1 is packed into the Adventure Mode, a series of challenges that take place on an 8-bit Hyrule-styled level select screen. No Wind Fish, no Aganhim, no Spirit Train, no Phantoms, no Thunderbirds. It’s a populist history of Zelda, sure, but that seems to defeat the purpose of a celebration doesn't it?
Nintendo hasn't changed the font that says "instruction manual" on their games since I was a kid.
Actually, they haven't ever changed it. It's been the same italicized, sans serif font since their NES manuals. I'm fairly sure no one's noticed that, mostly because they shouldn't. It's a label you gloss over before you actually read the manual in question. And even then you don't, because who reads the manual? Hyrule Warriors’ manual is four pages long for each language. Two for controls, another for basic mechanics. You will never need to read it. You should though, because you might notice that font thing, and I won't seem totally crazy for noticing a tiny detail like that.
Hyrule Warriors is a game for me, but it's not. It's a game for Zelda fans, but it’s not really for people who want to play Zelda. It's better than it has any right to be, all things considered. It's pretty, it functions, and it it is a video game. But it's also the same Musou game I've already played. If you adore musou, you'll be fine, but I don't. I love Zelda, and I want the keys jangled in my face. I want to see references and in-jokes, I want a celebration, not a slog.
Hyrule Warriors is not a game for people who notice the font on an instruction manual. It’s not a game for Zelda fans who want to remember the weirder, less-popular Zeldas. If you’ve never played a Musou game before, you won’t notice that it's too much Musou and not enough Zelda, and that’s what Omega Force and Nintendo are hoping for. That you’re a Zelda fan who hasn’t tried Dynasty Warriors and will be wowed by its grand scope and pandering references. I’m not that person. I’m the person who noticed the font thing, I'm person who fell asleep while playing, and I’m the person who just can’t keep playing this game.