"If you're a fan of Zelda, you'll find tons to love in this game."
2014's Hyrule Warriors, in my eyes, was the start of the Warriors' franchise expansion from simply doing their own thing to creating all sorts of collaborations with other properties. Following in the wake of Hyrule Warriors, we've had two Dragon Quest Heroes, Berserk: Band of the Hawk, Fire Emblem Warriors, and an all-star Koei Tecmo Warriors game. Last year's Fire Emblem Warriors, in particular, showed me just how much the Warriors series can evolve, with its buttery-smooth controls and mission multitasking being easily rectified with good tactical commands. I missed out on Hyrule Warriors Legends back on 3DS, so I was eager to see what new changes it brought to the original Hyrule Warriors.
In the kingdom of Hyrule, life is peaceful. Zelda is out on the castle grounds touring the new soldier recruits, when Link catches her eye among them. Suddenly, the castle is attacked by mysterious forces, and Zelda heads out to lead the Hyrulean forces into battle. Link grabs a sword and shield and heads out to join the fray. It turns out that a sorceress named Cia has opened the Gate of Souls, which has caused monsters to pour through. After Zelda disappears in the initial fighting, Link sets out to find her alongside Impa, Sheik, and a young sorceress named Lana.
The story is nothing special really. It's as standard as any Zelda story, just with other characters from across the Zelda series mixed in for fun. The game uses a lot of fanservice, and in that way, it's a success. Still, it's at times like this when I wish the game had more party banter between characters. I want to hear Midna make snarky comments about Princess Ruto, or see how Young Link and Toon Link would interact with each other. Hyrule Warriors Legends did add in story missions for Linkle, Cia, and the Wind Waker cast, which does help out some of the side characters and gives context about what happens to Lana and Cia.
As with most Warriors games, the major element is the gameplay. In Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, there are multiple modes to tackle. There are the Adventure and Free Modes, where you can play story missions. Legend Mode probably won't take you more than 25 hours to complete, but the real bulk of the game is in Adventure Mode. This mode has you playing on an 8-bit style Zelda map, complete with an 8-bit remix of the overworld theme of that particular map. These maps feature challenges ranging from killing a certain number of enemies in a certain amount of time to not being able to heal. One of the cool things about this mode, especially on the first map (which is a recreation of the original Legend of Zelda map), is that all of the secrets in the original game are in the same places here. So if you know your way around some of these maps, you'll also know some of the maps' secrets. There is also a Challenge Mode that is exactly what it sounds like. You can see how many enemies you can kill with each character in a certain amount of time, do a boss rush, or fight Ganon. Simply put, there's a ton of content in Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition for you to sink your teeth into.
While Hyrule Warriors features traditional Warriors combat, there is plenty of Zelda fanservice. There are a bunch of fan-favourite characters to play as (especially since they added in the DLC characters from the Wii U and 3DS versions), there are chests hidden in the battlefield that give Heart Containers, some enemies have to be killed a certain way, and there are Gold Skulltulas to find. If you're a fan of Zelda, you'll find tons to love in this game. Omega Force and Team Ninja certainly did their homework.
In order to get new skills and upgrades, you have to collect materials, which you get for killing certain enemies (basically any enemy with a health bar). These materials are used to create "badges," which grant various effects like longer combos, taking bases faster, damaging enemies while they're guarding, reducing damage, etc. You will need certain materials to make some of the badges, so upgrading some characters is not possible until you encounter different enemies, which can be a bit of a chore. In addition, unlike Fire Emblem Warriors, where you automatically pick up materials upon an enemy's death, you have to walk up to materials to collect them in this game. Sometimes, in the frenetic combat, you might miss materials.
Fighting stronger enemies (captains in Warriors terms) is both a strength and weakness in Hyrule Warriors. Fighting captains usually means sizing them up and waiting for your opening to strike when they expose themselves, reminiscent of how you would approach enemies in the main Zelda games. When they expose themselves, a gauge will appear, and draining that gauge by hitting them will unleash a powerful strike that does devastating damage. This process works even better on the game's bosses, as taking down these massive beasts requires you to master this combat system. Like most Zelda games, each boss has an exploitable weakness to an item, and using that item at the right time will stun the boss. After you deplete the gauge, you unleash a powerful blow on the boss that is always satisfying to watch. However, this way of taking out powerful enemies does slow the combat down, and the game expects you to move at a rapid pace. The game also doesn't have the smooth control over your character that Fire Emblem Warriors had, which did make for a bit of a learning curve early on.
While it is nice that you can control multiple characters in this version of the game and give them commands, it really doesn't help out that much. The game gives you new missions at a furious pace, obviously trying to make you take advantage of using multiple characters. However, the AI doesn't handle this well. If you try and command your units to move to new locations, they'll go there... as long as there isn't a single enemy unit in the way. Unlike the AI-controlled characters in Fire Emblem Warriors that conveniently go to wherever you direct them right away, the AI characters in this game stop and fight every enemy on the way to their objective. I remember giving a command to one of my allies to move to an allied base under attack. I completed my objective with my current character, and when I went to switch to handle the attack at my allied base, I found my partner hadn't moved an inch since he was fighting a group of grunts. I thought it was maybe a one-off situation, but it happens every time. It got to the point where I almost stopped giving orders altogether since it didn't really matter that much. If the mission multitasking wasn't bad enough, it's also hard to tell what each mission is asking you to do unless you pay special attention. Since the game isn't voiced at all, it's extremely hard to tell what your next task is. I found myself pausing often to figure out what I had to do for each assignment.
The graphics have been fixed up a bit since the initial Wii U release, and the frame rate is a bit better. There are still some frame rate drops, and the game tries to compensate by only having a certain number of enemies on screen (more enemies will pop in after you kill enough of them). Environments and models look good, and there's variety (even if stages are repeated).
Besides the lack of voice acting (though Lana makes it obvious the game is Japanese-"dubbed"), the sound department is amazing. The game contains a lot of familiar Zelda cues like opening a chest, picking up rupees, restoring hearts, and the scratching sound made by Skulltulas. As with most Warriors games that are based off another property, classic Zelda music gets the rock and metal treatment, and it makes for some great remixes. It's always nice to hear a new take on the Zelda themes.
Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition is the best version of Hyrule Warriors for sure, but I don't know if I would call it a definitive Warriors game. It has a lot of good ideas for how to merge Zelda and Warriors together to create a game for both audiences, and it all comes together fairly well in the end, with a few exceptions. If you're a Zelda or Warriors fan, this game is well worth your time. If not, it probably won't do much for you. And if you're a fan who didn't play the original, Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition is worth checking out.