On the one hand we have the classic The Legend of Zelda adventure filled with mystery, puzzles and a princess in distress. And on the other hand we have the Dynasty Warriors series, which focuses on completely different things such as battlefield management, a high death toll and making strategic priorities. Two franchises seemingly very far apart, yet the two games mashed together well back in 2014 in the shape of Hyrule Warriors for Wii U. Thanks to the success of that fusion, a new version of the game is ready to be enjoyed - Hyrule Warriors Legends for Nintendo 3DS.
The story has been inherited from the Zelda universe. It certainly feels familiar as the world's darkest forces once again come knocking, and the one who must greet them is Link. Zelda has disappeared, and Link must therefore team up with his friends in order to go out and take down some enemies (fortunately Zelda will return later, and it's nice to see her swinging the sword as a playable character too!).
We have already expressed a slight worry about whether the mix of the two games would work or not. Perhaps this concern also stems from the mixed welcome the previous version, Hyrule Warriors. However, this new 3DS version has some really interesting new things to offer.
One thing that certainly is a step forward for the 3DS version is the ability to switch between characters during fights. While the top screen on the handheld is the one in which all the action takes place, on the lower touch screen you can see a map of the battlefield. Here you can also see the allies you brought with you into battle, and with a single touch, you can switch to one of these. It is therefore very easy to move around the battlefield and get to exactly where you have a mission or where something is happening. It saves a lot of tedious travelling. It feels a natural part of the game and it gives the game a more dynamic feeling.
We reviewed the game on a Nintendo 2DS. Clearly not as capable as the Wii U, as a result it's only natural that the graphics have had to suffer a bit of a downgrade. It comes across as flat and uninspiring. Some may find the graphics charming and even nostalgic, as a lot of us have stood by Link's side through visuals both splendid and not so splendid, but it needs to be noted that it's a shame it looks this way. And these sad graphics will only look worse in contrast to the otherwise beautiful and vivid cutscenes. So even if we enjoy this return to Hyrule we won't be running around taking in the scenery.
But that matters little as this is a Musou game at its core and it's all about taking down enemies. Lots of them and for lots of reasons. The challenge of having to prioritise among the different tasks was a bit stressful. We never got an overview of what was happening and what we had to, and therefore we didn't fully connect with the story. You are thrown quickly into the action and the battlefield, and from there we just had to try to make some sense of it. This kind of dynamic tempo may work for some - but we didn't enjoy it much.
Because there are so many missions that pop up all the time, it is important to take advantage of all the allies you have with you on the battlefield, and thereby cover as much ground as possible. Fortunately the game has a command section in the menu, where you can task your allies with moving to a specific location on the map. A smart and much needed feature in the game.
A major point of criticism for Hyrule Warriors were the lesser enemies. It is true that the smaller enemies are mainly just barriers that you have to push past on your way, but this didn't really bother us. Mostly because we constantly had a bigger enemy, which gave us a little more challenge, in sight. The boss battles are incredibly enjoyable and required both timing and tactical thought. It's a pleasure to explore the many different characters' special abilities. Seeing Link swing his sword in new ways or experiencing Midna's dark forces spurred us on. Of course all of the characters have their own personalities and unique animations and it's one of the things that helps to keep the game fresh along the way. Furthermore, you can make each character stronger by making so-called badges for them, which unlock more attacks.
So even though the attacks were strangely satisfying to perform, we would have wished that there was a little bit more of a challenge when you have to perform combination attacks. Your thumbs definitely do not have to move far away from the X and Y buttons. Had they just utilised more buttons, it would have been a greater challenge to perform special attacks. But even though the smaller enemies might not provide much resistance, these special attacks were quite exciting.
But should you get tired of the Legends part of the game, which is the story mode, there will still be the opportunity to try something else. In free mode you can revisit the levels with any one of the characters you've unlocked. And then there's the adventure part, which is also quite enjoyable. Here you have the possibility of completing missions and tasks to find hearts for the characters, unlock new weapons, or even new characters. There is also a new addition - My Fairy - where you can feed, care for and personalise the fairies. By doing this you get some advantages in the adventure mode.
We mentioned concerns about the mix between the two franchises, but it turns out that it's a pretty good fit. Since the game is built like a Dynasty Warriors title, it's clear that this is the dominant part of the equation, but The Legend of Zelda adventures are also very much present at the right times albeit in small flashes. There's the famous character gallery - which this time is extended with for example Linkle, the young female heroine out to help everyone in need, the mysterious Skull Kid and the cute Toon Link - which is always a welcome sight, treasure chests that are scattered on the battlefield and Link's familiar tools such as hook shot, bow and arrow, bombs and even a reunion with the Ocarina, are all elements that makes this feel like a Zelda adventure. But it's not a Legend of Zelda game, and it's important to set your expectations accordingly. You do, however, get to visit Midna's Twilight, the Hyrulian fields, and the water temple. As sweet a reunion as this is, we can't help but feel that they have just crammed in as much Zelda as possible to create a bond between the two games.
At the end of the day we enjoyed our time with Hyrule Warriors Legends. So despite a few things here and there that pull the experience down a bit, it was both a happy reunion with some old Zelda-acquaintances, and an exciting new meeting with Dynasty Warriors.