Ladies of Hyrule, I salute you.
When Nintendo announces a new game in The Legend of Zelda franchise, fans typically go berserk and the experience begins to build excitement through release with mystery shrouding the overarching series narrative. Will we encounter new characters? Will the story veer off in an unexpected direction and surprise us with a big twist? More often than not these questions go unanswered until release day, until someone takes the game home and plays through the entire thing in one sitting. That doesn’t necessarily hold true with Hyrule Warriors.
This latest Zelda game doesn’t seem to care that much about its story given that the Dynasty Warriors brand has long established a mechanics-first approach, tying fans up in knots with intersecting and fluid character dramas in ancient times. In this way, Hyrule Warriors may prove the best version of a DW game for myself and anyone looking for something other than Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. to play on Wii U this holiday season.
For the PAX Prime 2014 demo, I got to play as Ganondorf. The character select screen had a few hidden tiles, but you’ll be able to choose from a large variety of heroes. The full list includes Link (obviously), Princess Zelda, Lana, Impa, Sheik, Darunia, Princess Ruto, Midna, Agitha, Fi, and Ganondorf, Zant, and Ghirahim. As a less-than-diehard Legend of Zelda fan, I don’t even recognize all those names. Further, Hyrule Warriors stands against franchise-tradition by offering more playable female characters than male giving fans the chance to potentially encourage Nintendo to make an entire Zelda game based on… well, possibly Princess Zelda herself.
In fact, I got to watch someone else play as Princess Zelda and she seemed more my style than Ganondorf, especially since every character has different stats, moves, strengths, and weaknesses. Where Zelda could use her rapier to pierce crowded battlefields, Ganondorf swung his blades like clubs and smashed enemies like the thug he is. While the Dynasty Warriors influence is unmissable given that the core gameplay feels largely unchanged, Hyrule Warriors features some beautiful animations, textures, and lighting.
If you’ve never played a game in the Musou series (as its known in Japan) or any of the spin-offs featuring samurais or Gundam, then Hyrule Warriors will walk you through the general mechanics. Rather than solving puzzles in a dungeon, you’ll fight hordes of opponents to clear an enemy stronghold. The battlefield will seem large and flooded with enemies, but steady progress opens up new lanes and eventually leads to a larger showdown with a tough boss. I died before reaching that point, but it didn’t take long to get the hang of combat and the flow of battle.
While I think some diehard Zelda fans might be turned away by the drastically altered gameplay loops, the overall ruthlessness in slaying a thousand enemies in a single level, or the fact that Hyrule Warriors would ruin the timeline if you tried to place the plot within the mythos, I can’t wait to play more. There’s an immediately addictive element in DW gameplay that just needs to pluck the right string in order to hook a new player and the Zelda brand will likely do the trick for millions of Wii U owners.
While games have slowly built a balance between the sexes, the medium continues to struggle with creating powerful female characters that can hold a candle to their male counterparts and that’s either by market design or apathy. Nintendo has done a lot to emphasize their own affinity for including all demographics, especially as the number of games where you can play as Princess Peach grows and Hyrule Warriors is no different. I think we all knew Princess Zelda could kick serious ass though I’ll always welcome a game that tries to blur the line between what we perceive as a damsel and a hero(ine).
Hyrule Warriors will be available on Nintendo Wii U on September 26th in the US. PAL territory gamers can expect it one week earlier while the game is available in Japan now.