Hyrule Warriors wasn’t made for me. And yet something has happened, something as unexpected as the flush of first love, or the sight of Panzer Dragoon Saga in a charity shop for £7.50, or the discovery of Totaka’s song in Wii Sports. This is the ultimate Cinderella story, a game that appeared as an ordinary, unexciting edition to my game shelves and overnight transformed into the belle of the ball. Here is the story of how Hyrule Warriors won me over.
As we plunged into the Legends mode (basically a campaign stuffed with battles and a plot rich in conflict and Zelda fanservice) I felt underwhelmed. No big surprise there, as I’m not the Dynasty Warriors fan here – Maya is. Still, the campaign did a decent job laying out the basics of Hyrule Warriors: the many characters you can play as, the different fighting styles, the different maps and just in general the concepts of capturing keeps, defending comrades, and massacring entire armies in minutes. Despite doing its job well enough and delivering a hilariously OTT story, I found the main story mode and the game as a whole a bit meh to play.
Post-campaign, the changes came slowly. I started Adventure mode, which is a variety of challenges played on an enormous 8-bit style map lifted straight out of the original Legend of Zelda. Every square of the map contains a specific challenge or mission of varying difficulty. At first I found these to be rather tedious and not especially entertaining – the missions are mostly remixes of events and battles that you’ve seen in the main story mode.
Eventually, after many hours of play, Adventure mode was where I actually came to understand the game – its inner workings and mechanics. What attacks work best for punishing a single boss enemy? What moves do little damage individually but have a wide reach? What is the quickest way to capture an enemy keep, and how do you prioritise tasks in a complex mission? Those are the things Adventure mode can teach you over a very long time, and it’s those same things that make the game satisfying over a long time.
Even once I’d mastered the basics of the main gameplay, there was still an issue with me not understanding the metagame. The map in Adventure mode (basically your mission select screen) indicates the contents and spoils of each mission in a rather confusing way that took me many moons to get to grips with. Now, when I look at the map, I understand which missions unlock a new, powerful weapon for a character, what materials can be found on which missions, and so on. It sounds small but understanding how to read the map properly has let me set small goals that can be achieved in a single short play session. Before it was aimless, tedious wandering from mission to mission without any sense of purpose. The unintuitive design doesn’t help here – although Hyrule Warriors is at least better than the inpenetrable Xenoblade Chronicles X by a ways.
Hyrule Warriors took ages to grow on me. Which in a way is fine, because Adventure mode demands ages from its players. Leveling up, finding more powerful weapons, exploring the Adventure map, it can all be incredibly slow. As of this post I’m up to 85 hours of game time, and I haven’t fully completed the original Adventure mode map. Incredibly, I probably only started enjoying myself around the 30 hour mark, and that enjoyment has only increased the more I’ve played. Looking forward, 100%ing Hyrule Warriors – or even simply to complete the majority of Adventure mode – is an investment of another hundred hours, possibly more. A sane person would be running for the hills.
You might be wondering if there’s some insanely juicy reward at the end of all this grinding that I’ve somehow convinced myself will be worth it. Well, no. There’s nothing at the end of this rainbow. Every mission in Hyrule Warriors is a subtle variation on stuff you have seen before, enemies you’ve fought before, and music you’ve heard before. There’s no plot, no more characters to unlock or any big pay offs. There are a few extra costumes still for me to unlock, and more powerful weapons, but that’s about it.
Usually the lack of any sizable “new” content is reason enough for me to move onto the next game. But against my better judgment, I’m currently playing Hyrule Warriors exclusively. The game really is just a fun button bashing exercise with some minor strategy elements, but I want to see more of it – even though that “more” is entirely more of the same. I really like it.