Is the Noid really the villain this time? Or is he the true hero we all need?
When I picked up Hyrule Warriors back in 2014, I had never played a Dynasty Warriors game before. Though I was initially nervous about purchasing a game from such a divisive lineage, I ended up falling in love with it. If I had to guess, it was probably my most played game of both 2014 AND 2015. I ate up everything it had to offer and happily consumed all the DLC that Bandai Namco put out for it. When they announced Hyrule Warriors Legends, an expanded port for the 3DS, I found myself both happy and nervous. I definitely wanted more Hyrule Warriors content, but was concerned about whether the game could be ported to a weaker system without making gameplay-compromising sacrifices. After getting my hands on it, I found that the answer to this question is more nebulous than I first thought.
In terms of base gameplay, Legends plays the same as its Wii U sibling. Battles between armies are fought on huge battlefields using characters pulled from across the entire Zelda franchise. These different playable characters can pull off a variety of powerful attacks and combos to take down huge swaths of enemy soldiers, strong enemy generals, and giant bosses. Though this is very much a Dynasty Warriors game at its core, that core is gratuitously coated in a deliciously thick layer of Zelda fanservice. It takes lots of little pieces and mechanics from the Zelda series, such as items and weak points, and incorporates them organically into the Dynasty Warriors gameplay.
The sheer variety of different characters from the Zelda franchise, all of whom possess a unique playstyle, is impressive. This is a game with four different versions of Link who all play completely different from each other despite three of them wielding swords as their primary weapons. Even a simple weapon change for characters with access to multiple weapons provides a unique fighting experience. One example of this is Ganondorf, who goes from feeling like an immovable powerhouse of darkness when using his greatswords to leaping violently around the battlefield with an added level of range when using his new trident weapon. With this kind of variety, there’s a character and fighting style in here for every kind of Legend of Zelda fan.
The game’s two main modes are Legend Mode and Adventure Mode. Legend Mode is the game’s story campaign, where Link must team up with old and new allies to stop darkness from consuming Hyrule. In addition to the previously dlc-exclusive Cia’s Tale story content, Legends also adds in a new side campaign called Linkle’s Tale and a post-ending campaign that crosses over into the Wind Waker universe. Adventure Mode has the player traversing across a grid map based on the original Legend of Zelda’s overworld, winning battles to gain heart containers, weapons, characters, and items until they reach the final battle with Ganon. As with Legend Mode, this mode also features a new Wind Waker-inspired content, with a map based on the Great Sea that uses new traversing mechanics.
The original game’s Challenge Mode is MIA for this release. Instead, Legends adds a new feature called My Fairy Mode where you can raise fairies to assist you in battles. As neat as it was to play as both the massive Ganon and a giant Cuckoo in challenge mode, there wasn’t much to it beyond the initial novelty of the experience and I didn’t find myself missing Challenge Mode at all. The development team made the right decision by putting their effort into getting everything else right instead of trying to make controlling giant bosses work on the 3DS.
As much as I loved the original Hyrule Warriors, the game was not without its faults. The amount of backtracking required with some missions on the game’s huge battlefields were more of a chore than anything else. Being stuck with only one character could also be annoying during some battles at this kind of scale. I wasn’t expecting either of these to be improved upon in what I assumed was going to be mainly a straight port, but Legends directly addresses these problems and fixes them with new gameplay mechanics.
The addition of a new item, the Ocarina, allows you to teleport different checkpoints across the battlefield during certain missions. This means you won’t have to stop what you’re doing and sprint all the way from side of the battlefield to another when one of your allies needs rescuing or a keep needs defending. You can also now switch between different playable characters in some battles, as well as give simple commands to whoever you aren’t controlling directly. This streamlines battles in a way that opens up entirely new kinds of strategy. This is especially noticeable during boss fights, where gathering multiple playable characters around the same boss gives you more advantages while fighting against it.
Alongside these changes in gameplay, Legends also offers up a generous number of playable characters. In addition to including all the characters and weapons from both the original game and its DLC, Legends also includes several new playable characters. The first and most prominent newcomer is Linkle, a weirdly-named crossbow-wielding hero/cuckoo farmer who appears alongside another newcomer, Skull Kid from Majora’s Mask, in Legends Mode. On top of that, pirate captain Tetra, King Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule (aka the King of Red Lions), and Toon Link himself also join the game’s massive roster. Each new character is a welcome addition, and I had fun playing as all of them and learning how to best use them.
As much as I’ve enjoyed playing Hyrule Warriors Legends, there is one major issue with it to address. Simply put, there’s a definite rift in quality depending on what kind of 3DS you’re using to play the game. Having played Legends on both an original launch day 3DS and a New Nintendo 3DS XL, it’s clear to me that the latter offers a much better experience. The difference in framerate is noticeable, though not so bad as to be unplayable, and the game can’t be played in 3D at all on an original 3DS.
While Legends is still technically playable on an original 3DS and could probably still be enjoyed by diehard fans, it’s not something I’d ever choose to do when given the option to play it on a New 3DS. New fans looking for something new to try that don’t own New 3DS systems are better off getting something actually optimized for the system they own instead of trying to overlook these issues. It’s very similar to Monster Hunter 4 in this regard, where both games could have easily been New 3DS Exclusives but were made compatible with both for the sake of a bigger install base.
Keeping this in mind, I can’t give Legends the five out of five I would give it otherwise. As much as I love this game and actually find it to be an improvement over the original, I can’t just ignore the disparity in experiences between systems. If you don’t have a New Nintendo 3DS and don’t plan to upgrade in the near future, then you’ll probably want to pass on this one unless you absolutely loved the original game and need more of it. If you DO have a New Nintendo 3DS, then this game is a must-buy. I loved the original and put way too many hours into it, and my love hasn’t faded between versions. While not every franchise crossover turns out well, the marriage between The Legend of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors is a match made in heaven, and this little honeymoon keeps the love flowing.