Sunday, December 13, 2020

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity


The Dawning of the Age of Calamity

Let me begin this review by stating that I am scarcely a fan of Nintendo’s fabled The Legend of Zelda franchise, firmly believing that the adulation it receives from its fanbase and bootlicking critics is in many cases undeserved. I did somewhat enjoy the Nintendo 3DS Musou spinoff Hyrule Warriors, given my positive experience with the Dynasty Warriors games, but wouldn’t exactly consider it a masterpiece, and thus, when a canon prequel to Breath of the Wild entitled Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity suddenly came out in 2020, I was apathetic, only playing the game because I had the opportunity to borrow it. Does it fare any better than other entries of the series?

As mentioned, the prequel game occurs during the Calamity that serves as the main backstory for Breath of the Wild, with Link, Princess Zelda, and their various companions seeking to eke out the doomsday event. The background is generally enjoyable, with endearing characters, although there are occasional hackneyed elements such as time travel, the main antagonists contain scarce development, and given the inability to skip through voiced text, the plot feels forced down the player’s throat. As with prior Zeldas, moreover, the localization is an admirable effort but somewhat falls flat, given occasional unrealistic dialogue.

Fortunately, the gameplay compensates for the narrative shortcomings, with a combination of elements from the Musou and Zelda games, several different luminaries from the latter franchise acquired and playable, which mostly keeps the gameplay fresh given their playstyles. Characters gain experience from killing enemies in real-time combat, with the player able to string weak and strong attacks and use other abilities such as elements, bombs, magnesis, and so forth. Each mission occurs on a vast battlefield, with the player needing to fulfill certain objectives such as capturing specific outposts to proceed.

There are also missions where the player controls Divine Beasts, although their controls feel somewhat awkward, given the need for controller motion. Sidequests number plenty and are generally quick and easy to accomplish, providing things such as additional life hearts, lengthened attack combos, and so forth. There are also facilities where the player can spend rupees to increase a weaker character’s level and fuse weapons to create more powerful incarnations. The mechanics generally work well, with the ability to heal and adjustable difficulty leaving room for error, although a suspend save would have been welcome, given the length of some missions, and the camera can be poor at times.

Age of Calamity is largely devoid of puzzles and is playable and beatable without referencing the Internet, and the game has the honor of being the very first Zelda title I’ve played that actually tracks total playing time, although time wasted on losing missions or missions withdrawn from are oddly not considered. There are also long stretches without being able to make permanent saves, and the dialogue during most voiced cutscenes is unskippable (though scenes are fully skippable), along with the mentioned lack of in-mission saving. Interaction isn’t deal-breaking, but could have been better.

The audio presentation is another of the game’s high points, with Age of Calamity actually having music, most of which is enjoyable, although there is a dearth of memorable themes aside from the iconic lullaby of Princess Zelda. The voice acting is top-notch, especially compared to that in the “unholy Triforce” of Zelda CDi games, and the sound effects are good, although they largely tend to drown out the music, which accounts for much of its unmemorability. Regardless, the sound is well above average.

However, Age of Calamity proves that looks can deceive in terms of its visual presentation. While the cel-shaded style for character and enemy models looks superficially pleasant, and the color scheme looks nice, there are a handful of issues such as the overuse of reskinned adversaries, the choppy framerate, and as prior mentioned, the irritating camera. The graphics definitely aren’t terrible, but so too could have they been far better.

Finally, the game is just right in terms of length, with players possibly able to breeze through it in somewhere over twelve hours, although the sheer amount of side content can easily boost total playtime well beyond that intervention.

Overall, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises of the year 2020, given its largely-successful fusion of Zelda and Musou elements alongside its canon nature to the storied Nintendo franchise, in fact sometimes more enjoyable than even mainline entries of the series, not to mention its good aural presentation and sheer amount of side content. However, it does have some issues that one needs to consider before purchase and play, such as its lack of a suspend save, the various points of its plotline, and the technically-weak visuals, but those who have enjoyed Dynasty Warriors and Zelda games will most likely appreciate this game.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy borrowed by the author.

The Good:
+Enjoyable hack-and-slash gameplay with Zelda elements.
+Great soundtrack and voicework.
+Plenty of lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-No suspend save.
-Some plot elements cliched and underdeveloped.
-Visuals technically weak.

The Bottom Line:
A decent canon Zelda spinoff.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 7.5/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 5.0/10
Localization: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 7.0/10
Graphics: 5.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 9.5/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 12-72 Hours

Overall: 6.5/10

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