Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition (Switch) Review
If you’re the kind of person who likes shorter games that you can get through in a manageable amount of time, then Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition is not for you. Despite some welcome reductions in the amount of grinding necessary to get through it, I am nowhere near done seeing everything there is in this game. I’m not sure whether or not that’s actually possible. Hyrule Warriors is just packed to the brim with Zelda series fanservice that oozes through the levels, characters, and mechanics, and is sure to get any Zelda fan excited. It brings together pretty much all the content from the Wii U and 3DS releases of the game, including all the DLC, and tidies it up with some quality of life fixes that truly make it the Definitive Edition.
Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition is a fusion of the Dynasty Warriors series and Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda series. This means that you’ll be playing as a Zelda character and fighting your way through armies of enemies as you complete various strategic objectives. Each character has their own combo attacks that can be pulled off simply with alternating presses of two buttons. The combat element of the game is generally basic, as most enemies don’t put up a fight and you’ll be slaughtering thousands of opponents in each battle. Most of the challenge will come from management and strategy – you’ll need to make sure that characters are in place to defend key locations or marching on critical objectives so you don’t run out of time or lose key assets. While the game is often a power fantasy (and it does a good job of making you feel like an unstoppable warrior) you can’t just switch your brain off and not pay attention to what’s happening on the battlefield.
Elements of the Zelda series are infused into the gameplay, like giant boss characters who need to have their weak points exposed by being hit by certain weapons. For example, King Dodongo might roll onto the field and you’ll need to throw bombs into his mouth when he inhales. This adds a unique twist to the gameplay that sets Hyrule Warriors apart from other Warriors games, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of fanservice. There’s just under 30 characters to play as, each with their own moveset that is totally distinct from the others. Sheik plays their harp to channel elemental power from its music, Midna rides around a savage shadow wolf that pounces onto its prey and Young Link puts on the Fierce Deity Mask to channel its power for his ultimate attack. And on top of this, some characters also have extra weapons to unlock that comes with a totally different moveset, like Link who can do everything from swinging a sword around, to riding his horse Epona, to being trapped in a bottle while the Great Fairy swings him around.
These characters will lead armies through locations like Sealed Grounds and the Palace of Twilight that feel like they’re ripped straight from their respective games and plunked in here. The Forsaken Fortress level from Wind Waker was a particular stand-out for me because Wind Waker is one of my favourite Zelda games and the cartoon-y art style and enemy designs are so different from everything else in Hyrule Warriors. This isn’t even getting into the smaller details like being able to find items when you slash grass in levels, or when you find a stray Cucco and… well, you can probably guess what will happen next. There are few crossovers that have a level of respect and reverence for their source material that Hyrule Warriors has, and Zelda fans of any calibre are going to find something they like here.
Your first foray into Hyrule Warriors will be its story mode. Stories in crossovers like this are usually trite and contrived affairs that fall apart when you look at them as anything other than an excuse for characters to team up and beat each other up, but Hyrule Warriors’ story is actually somewhat decent. A sorceress who watches over the Triforce gets obsessed with Link and gets tempted by Ganondorf into turning to the darkness and helping him. She opens portals to different worlds and timelines where parts of Ganondorf’s spirit reside, bringing together characters from Ocarina of Time, Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess. Definitive Edition also brings over some newer story segments from the 3DS version (but weren’t in the Wii U version) that feature more characters and worlds, like some locations from Wind Waker. There’s similar story beats in the main storyline that you’d expect from a regular Zelda game, like heading to a sacred temple to pull the Master Sword out of the stone. It all plays back into that fanservice at the game’s core.
The majority of content in the game resides in what’s called Adventure Mode. There are several ‘maps’ in this mode, each based on an overworld map from a Zelda game. Each tile in a map relates to a mission you can play, and clearing it will unlock some of the adjacent tiles depending on how well you do. You’ve got to move around the map tile by tile until you find the ‘goal’ and win. Missions will unlock new characters, weapons, and upgrades, giving you a good incentive to play them all. Each map has its own gimmicks that will change how you progress through it. For example, the first map is based on the overworld of the original Legend of Zelda. In order to unlock some missions or get better rewards in them, you’ll need to use different cards featuring items from the game in order to find secrets. This might be using a candle card to burn a specific tree, or using a harp card on a certain spot to play music. These cards are unlocked by beating certain missions, so you have to work out the best route through the map to get the items you needed to unlock good rewards later on.
In previous releases of Hyrule Warriors the appeal of these gimmicks wore thin really quickly because you had to keep repeating missions over and over to get their cards, so instead of progressing you got stuck grinding the same ones. Definitive Edition now allows you to spend in-game currency to purchase copies of any card you’ve already unlocked, so while sometimes you may need to grind a little to get rupees you can play whatever you want to do so. Taking away the grinding allows you to focus on the quirks of the gimmicks and it makes things much more enjoyable. The maps have been shuffled around a bit too, with rewards being assigned to different missions and the ranking requirements seemingly made a bit easier. They’re all welcome changes that make the mode much better than its past iterations.
There’s adventure mode maps from just about every Zelda game, including Majora’s Mask and A Link Between Worlds, but they don’t feature actual levels from these games and instead use the same ones from the story mode. It’s a bit of a bummer, but it’s not as bad as it sounds because the variety of missions keeps them feeling fresh. Sometimes you’ll be leading your army against another, sometimes you’ll be restricted to a smaller portion of a map and told to defeat a certain number of enemies, while other times you could be facing a small number of more powerful enemies in arena-like missions. The forts and enemy armies will also shuffle around and there are hidden collectibles in most missions too, like Heart Pieces (health upgrades) being locked up in certain forts or Golden Skulltulas to slay after certain optional objectives are met; so you’re not just doing the same thing over and over again.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot you’ve got to keep track of in battle. So one of the frustrating parts of the game is that the UI you’re so reliant on is tiny. Other Warriors games on the Switch don’t have this problem, but in Hyrule Warriors it can be really hard to parse what’s happening on the minimap and the fonts used to provide mission updates is small too. It gets even worse in splitscreen multiplayer where everything is shrunk even more. On top of this, after, playing Fire Emblem Warriors there are parts of the UI that stand out as being unintuitive. Fire Emblem Warriors made it really easy to tell which units were in which place on the map and to direct your AI partners around, whereas elements of Hyrule Warriors’ UI are quite clunky.
The area where Definitive Edition will fall flat for some people is that, while it has some great quality of life improvements from previous versions, there’s not a lot of new content. If you’ve only played the Wii U version of Hyrule Warriors then there’s plenty – new story missions, levels, characters, adventure maps and even more. But if you’re coming from the 3DS version and already bought the DLC for it then all that’s really new is a small bonus mode that wasn’t brought over from the Wii U version, and Breath of the Wild costumes for Link and Zelda. Considering the price of the game I don’t think it’d be too much to ask for a couple of extra characters or something. For me, the Adventure Mode improvements would have been enough to justify a repurchase because the grindiness of it in the 3DS version ruined the mode for me and stopped me from seeing most of the content in it. It’s effectively like playing an expanded version of the game for me!
Hyrule Warriors is the same great celebration of the Zelda series that it was back in 2014, made even better with all the content and quality of life improvements packed into it. For people who’ve been keeping up with all its rereleases and DLC then there’s not much new here for you, but for everyone else there’s more than enough to make it feel fresh. The UI is a bit problematic due to its tininess and clunkiness but don’t let that put you off an otherwise fantastic crossover. The amount of fanservice in Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition will be enough to make any Zelda fan weep, and the gameplay is enjoyable enough that people after some light action gameplay will find a lot to like as well.
+ So, so, so much Zelda series fanservice
+ Interesting and varied movesets
+ More missions to play then you'll know what to do with
- UI is tiny and unintuitive
- Framerate isn't always stable
- Where is Groose? Justice for Groose