Hyrule Warriors has had a tough time proving itself since its reveal. December 2013’s Nintendo Direct treated us to a blue-scarfed Link, rendered in a bright art style reminiscent of Skyward Sword, mowing down wave upon wave of bokoblins in a fast-paced combat system. The internet being what it is, the trailer was met with immediate skepticism. The blistering action of Musou games like Dynasty Warriors stands in stark contrast the slower, more exploratory Zelda formula. To many, Hyrule Warriors looked to be the least “Zelda” Zelda game ever — it was near-blasphemy. But Hyrule Warriors pressed on, and since then every last pessimistic whisper has been carried away in the winds over Hyrule Field. Now it’s gaining recognition as a passionate tribute to one of gaming’s greatest series.
Interviews with Team Ninja lead developer Yosuke Mayashi and modern Zelda visionary Eiji Aonuma show they have a deep mutual reverence for each other’s work. Mayashi was fascinated by Zelda’s expansive lore, while Aonuma thought the sprawling battlefields of the Warriors series would make a great space for a Zelda story. Tecmo Koei and Nintendo have displayed great enthusiasm for the project, and a level of collaborative synergy that shows this is anything but a mindless cash-in. While it’s clear that it won’t be like any Zelda that’s come before, people are beginning to realize that might not be a bad thing.
It was the character announcements that began to change minds. The introduction of Impa and Zelda (who’s been promoted to Queen) as playable characters with their own combat styles showed that there would be plenty of variety. Cia, a witch whose love for Link and jealousy of Zelda corrupted her soul, is quite different from any other series villain. As the months went by, more characters from throughout the franchise began to appear: Midna, Zant, and Bug Princess Agitha from Twilight Princess; Fi and Ghirahim from Skyward Sword; Ruto, Darunia and Sheik from Ocarina of Time. This cavalcade of new characters climaxed with the official reveal of Ganondorf, sporting an armored-up version of his badass Twilight Princess design. On top of each character’s distinct moves and weaponry, they’ll also have access to alternate costumes and items, allowing them to don iconic outfits from other Zelda games like Skyward Sword or use legendary tools from games like Wind Waker.
Eight months forward, Hyrule Warriors has gone from being one of the most ill-received games in the series to one of the most anticipated games of 2014. How did this happen? How did Hyrule Warriors turn fan opinions around? Looking at Hyrule Warriors as a game, it has no real canonical presence. It doesn’t connect with the timeline and there’s no real reason as to why Fi, Darunia and Ganondorf all exist in the same time and place. Hyrule Warriors proudly wears its lack of context as a medal, because at its core, Hyrule Warriors is not meant to progress that storyline. It’s not meant to progress anything. It stands in its own world, rejecting the “Legend of Zelda” title for something more visceral. Hyrule Warriors brings together familiar faces from the series like a high school reunion (minus the awkwardness). At its core, this is a celebration of all things Zelda.
You could make the claim that Hyrule Warriors is over-indulgent in its history, crossing games over in completely illogical ways, and you might be right. But trying to find a place for Hyrule Warriors as a game denies why it exists in the first place: to celebrate the Zelda franchise. The gameplay itself looks decent enough, but Hyrule Warriors is a triumphant call from the top of Death Mountain, a gathering of a mighty mythology’s best characters, giving them free reign of their own world. Hyrule Warriors isn’t likely to be the Game of the Year – it probably won’t even be the best Wii U Game – but it does fans of this franchise a service like no other. It’s a highlight reel of the series’ extensive lore.
We all may have scoffed at Hyrule Warriors when it first debuted, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a game that tackles such an iconic series with this much celebratory vigor. September 26 can’t come soon enough.