The original Hyrule Warriors was a solid if slightly forgettable attempt at fusing the worlds Zelda and Koei Tecmo's Musou series, and despite its occasionally repetitive gameplay managed to alleviate fears that it would be little more than a shameless cash-in. Now, with the 3DS badly in need of top-drawer software as it shuffles into its final years, this monstrous mash-up is being dusted off for a second outing - albeit one with noticeably weaker presentation and a smattering of new content.
As before, Hyrule Warriors Legends seeks to combine Zelda's story and characters with the more action-oriented gameplay of the million-selling Musou franchise - a franchise which is certainly no stranger to such cross-pollination and has been expanded in recent years in include such properties as Mobile Suit Gundam, Dragon Quest, Fist of the North Star and Heroic Legend of Arslan. While the characters and settings in each of these outings could not be more different, the core mechanics remain largely the same - you're fighting to control a large battlefield by taking out enemy commanders and successfully occupying various strongholds around the map. At certain points massive monsters will appear which require you to use sub-weapons - such as a bomb, hookshot or boomerang - to render them vulnerable to your blows. Mission objectives are dished out to keep things fresh, but the game rarely moves away from these basic elements.
Mixing up normal and strong attacks reveals an almost dizzying selection of different combinations, and this variety is spread across all of the selectable characters, meaning that they all play very different from one another. Each also has a special "Musou" attack which can only be used when your special attack gauge is full, as well as a magical focus state which can be triggered to speed up attacks and unleash an additional, area-of-effect special. It's also possible to dodge blows and outflank your enemy, and - should they be commander or boss rank - you'll usually open up the opportunity to unleash a devastating counter-attack special. All of this might sound overwhelming at first, but thankfully the excellent Wii U control scheme has translated almost perfectly to the 3DS. The only sticking point is the lack of a second analog stick on the standard 3DS console - on the New Nintendo 3DS, the analog nub naturally assumes this role. However, we found we rarely used it to manipulate the viewpoint anyway, instead favouring the use of the "L" trigger to snap the camera back behind our character.
While the button-mashing melee action might suggest a mindless brawler, Hyrule Warriors Legends - like its Musou brethren - possesses a tactical side. Keeps and outposts which are under your command spawn allied troops, and clever planning can help turn the tide of combat, flooding the map with friendly soldiers. However, such strategic shenanigans are curtailed somewhat by the fact that the narrative of each battle is set in stone, and certain events occur regardless of how much you're dominating proceedings. Still, the illusion of a contest where your single soldier can make a difference is an effective one, and the Musou series owes much of its commercial fame to this alluring mystique. Sprinting the length of the battlefield to aid a comrade in trouble never really loses its appeal - everyone likes being a hero, after all.
Hyrule Warriors Legends is one of those games that makes you feel almost unstoppable. Each mission will see you take down hundreds if not thousands of enemies, and while the lowly foot soldiers put up little resistance and gladly stand around waiting for your weapon to hit them repeatedly, it doesn't take away from the awesome spectacle. Even on the 3DS - where the visuals have taken a noticeable hit from the Wii U original - there's still a thrill to be had from hacking your way through legions of foes with reckless abandon. This does become slightly repetitive over time, but the fact that each of the game's playable characters has a totally different move set (and, in some cases, has access to other weapons which totally change the way they handle) means that each feels subtly different.
It's also worth pointing out that each character gains additional combination moves as they level up and you use material to unlock "badges" - buffs and boosts which augment each fighter's prowess in battle. This element of the game can become irksome - especially when you're cycling through the entire roster making sure that each upgrade is unlocked - but it does give a sense of growth to each fighter; it feels like they are becoming more adept as you master the game's complexities.
One of the most welcome new features introduced in the 3DS version has to be the ability to switch between character at will during a battle. On the Wii U version, it was sometimes impossible to get to a certain point on the map in time to save a stronghold from falling or rescue another character, but now you can hop between friendly commanders simply by tapping their portrait on the 3DS touch screen. It's even possible to tell the other characters where to go on the map, should you wish to get truly tactical. This element of control could be seen as a trade-off for the fact that there is no co-operative mode in this handheld offering, but it changes things drastically - and makes the game a more appealing experience. Hopping between soldiers is the easiest way to totally control the flow of war, and this also prevents some of the longer missions from growing too stale and samey. For those missions where you don't have any controllable allies on the field, there's also a new item in the form of the Ocarina which allows you to fast-travel between various points on the map.
Hyrule Warriors Legends contains the same dimension-hopping storyline seen in the Wii U original, complete with identical cutscenes - this time presented in even lower-quality FMV. However, interspersed throughout are a handful of missions starring the much-hyped "female Link", otherwise known as Linkle. She benefits from a couple of all-new FMV cutscenes and her missions are enjoyable thanks largely to the fact that, as a character, she controls very well indeed. Her crossbow weapons allow her to attack from a slight distance, and there's even a special move which drops the camera into an "over the shoulder" view so you can aim a barrage of shots.
Sadly, Linkle's story is fairly flimsy and there's not a lot of content here to get your teeth stuck into; she feels like an afterthought rather than a significant addition to the game's plot. More important is an epilogue based on the world of The Wind Waker named Saga of the Great Sea, which includes new battlegrounds, enemies, sub-weapons and boss characters. It's during these missions - which are only unlocked once all of the pre-existing Legend Mode content has been completed - that it really feels like the core Hyrule Warriors template has been built on; enemies are introduced which can only be defeated using new sub-weapons, and the concept of knocking out hostile fortifications with cannons also comes into play.
Alongside the Wind Waker-inspired stages there are a selection of newcomers - Toon Link, King of Hyrule and Tetra - as well as Skull Kid from Majora's Mask. This fresh injection of talent can be seen as pure fan service for Zelda followers; they're all worth unlocking and using in battle, and a huge part of the game's long-term appeal to make sure each and every character reaches their full potential. The Wind Waker cast are especially appealing, as they - alongside the cel-shaded enemies introduced in the aforementioned epilogue - really liven up the game visually.
This portable outing is an exercise in improving each character, unlocking all of their moves and boosting their rank so they are best-equipped to deal with the tougher segments of the game. To do that, you'll almost certainly want to replay Legend Mode missions on all three difficulty levels to gain experience and obtain materials essential to accessing badges, but - even more so than in the Wii U edition - the Adventure Mode becomes your key focal point in this 3DS outing. The shorter missions are arguably better suited for portable play, and the fact that it's only possible to unlock certain characters in this part of the game speaks volumes of the degree of importance that developer Omega Force places upon it.
Taking place on maps which ape the look of the very first Zelda game on the NES, Adventure Mode mixes things up by offering a wide range of mission objectives, such as defeating bosses in an allotted time or facing a series of trials where you have to slay the correct enemy. Items can be used to uncover elements of each map tile, making this feel like a fleshed-out game in its own right. In terms of story, Adventure Mode certainly doesn't attempt to adhere to the proper narrative - old allegiances are cast aside as friend faces friend and foes become unlikely allies - but it's short-burst fun which will keep you busy for quite some time.
To increase the allure of Adventure Mode further, a new "My Fairy" feature has been included. In this mode, you can nurture the fairies you've liberated in the main game and take them into battle as companions Each one is aligned with a certain element - just like your weapons - and picking the appropriate fairy before venturing into battle becomes a prime concern. Certain keeps are guarded by elemental barriers and unless you have a fairy equipped which has the same elemental property, your character's health will slowly diminish when you enter these strongholds. In between missions you can feed your fairies to alter their statistics, dress them in various costumes and select "rental skills" which come in very useful in the middle of combat. The more you use a fairy, the stronger their bond of trust becomes, making them a true asset as you tackle Adventure Mode's punishing high-rank missions. Confusingly, My Fairy mode isn't unlocked from the start - you need to smash a certain pot in a particular keep on a specific Adventure Mode tile before you gain access to it. Miss this one fairy and it doesn't matter how many others you rescue along the way - they won't be stored and the mode will remain locked, without any indication of why. When you consider that this befuddled not just two Nintendo Life staffers but another reviewer we spoke to, it's clearly not as well signposted as it should be.
Much has been made of Hyrule Warriors Legends' use of the New Nintendo 3DS' power. Having tested the game on both the original hardware and the revised update, we can confirm that there is a considerable performance drop on the former. While it's still perfectly playable, the frame rate is quite jerky, making the New Nintendo 3DS the platform of choice if you're serious about experiencing this title at its best. Even on the more powerful system, it's worth noting that there's a noticeable frame rate drop when the 3D effect is employed; while it adds to the visuals, we found ourselves putting the 3D slider to zero to enjoy smoother performance. In almost every other regard, this is a close match to the Wii U version - all the music and sound effects have been carried across intact.
For the most part, Hyrule Warriors Legends is exactly what you'd expect from a 3DS port. The visuals are downgraded and the co-op and challenge modes are absent, but otherwise this is a close match in terms of pure gameplay; it's actually surprising how well the core mechanics have been transferred over to Nintendo's handheld despite the yawning technical abyss which exists between it and the Wii U. In that respect, Hyrule Warriors Legends can be considered a success; it faithfully replicates its domestic parent on weaker - but more portable - hardware.
In terms of additional content, the story is less clear. While the new characters and Wind Waker missions are excellent, they're arguably not enticing enough to tempt those who have already played the Wii U original to completion. The fact that the forthcoming DLC is being spread across both systems also means that Wii U owners shouldn't feel entirely left out if they decide against investing in both versions. However, if you're totally new to the game and don't mind rough graphics, then the 3DS edition could be considered your best bet; the Adventure Mode is ideal for portable play and the bonus content makes this feel like a more "complete" package. There are still the issues of repetition to contend with of course, but Hyrule Warriors Legends remains a solid and enjoyable spin-off from one of Nintendo's most beloved franchises.