Hyrule Warriors Legends is a strange proposition. It purports to be the complete edition of 2014's Hyrule Warriors, a game that already had tons of characters and weapons to chew through—not to mention tons of enemies to mow down and beautiful cutscenes to ogle at. And yet, in many ways, it's smaller in scope thanks to the limitations of the portable platform it calls home. Does this port justify its "Legends" moniker? Or were its swashbuckling battles best left behind on Wii U?
Same Swords, Smaller Hordes
The gameplay from the console version of Hyrule Warriors is mostly unchanged in the 3DS version. You'll still cut through swaths of enemies, amass tons of all-star characters and powerful weapons—each with their own unique playstyles—collect good ol' traditional Zelda items, and take on giant bosses. For that reason, I won't mince words over the details—you can check out our original Hyrule Warriors review for that.
What's changed with the 3DS version? The most obvious difference is that the graphics have seen a serious downgrade. On Wii U, the characters generally looked pretty great, even if the animations and physics weren't quite cutting edge. The cutscenes were significantly more nicely rendered than anything we'd seen even in a mainstream Zelda game. After transitioning to 3DS, though, the visuals have taken a pretty hefty hit. I'd liken the rift between the two versions to the difference between the 3DS and Wii U versions of Super Smash Bros. The results could have been worse—personally, I think the characters at least look like they'd be right at home in a mainline Zelda title made from the ground up for 3DS—but the spectacle of the Wii U version is definitely missing. This is especially true in the cutscenes, which are hyper-compressed versions of the ones in the Wii U game and remind me of the early days of pre-rendered scenes on DS.
The other obvious change has a more direct impact on gameplay. While the original Hyrule Warriors sported seemingly endless seas of monster grunts, the hordes tend to feel much thinner in Legends, since the 3DS's processing power can't handle as many characters on screen at once. While the game still throws enough enemies at you to keep you on your toes, the less populated battlefield definitely leaves the impression that your conquests are a little less perilous.
It's not all bad news, though. The 3DS version brings with it some much-appreciated quality-of-life improvements.
One of my big complaints about the Wii U edition was that many missions would call on you to run across the map between various objectives. While this hasn't changed in Legends, you can now switch between different warriors on the fly and give orders to the ones that aren't currently under your control. So if you feel like you need to be in two places at once, you can take your primary hero to one objective while commissioning one of the others to one of the enemy keeps on your hit list. It's a much better user experience, and an especially welcome change for a handheld version since it makes the game easier to play for short bursts.
I also wasn't a huge fan of taking on some bosses at high levels. They're pure damage sponges! Hyrule Warriors Legends has a solution to that, too. If you amass a bunch of controllable heroes and surround a boss, you'll get various bonuses that help you take down the boss more quickly. So instead of banging your head against The Imprisoned for ten minutes straight, you might be able to team up with your companions to make short work of him, making it easier to keep up momentum as you progress.
The combination of technical downgrades and QOL upgrades means Legends is a bit of a mixed bag. If you can get over the shortcomings of the 3DS, there's an improved gameplay skeleton to be found. But if you're turned off by excessively embarrassing pop-in and grainy cutscenes and enjoy having to max out your character to achieve epic boss takedowns, you might be better off with the Wii U version.
Hand to the Grindstone
Hyrule Warriors had a fan-service filled, time-bendingly crazy story mode, and it's back in Legends, with new chapters highlighting the game's new characters: the female Link-alike heroine, Linkle, and visiting characters from The Wind Waker including Tetra and King Daphnes. While these additions are certainly worth playing if you enjoyed the original story, they're nowhere near as substantial and feel more like one-offs that exist just to give some color to the new cast. I'd hoped for a little more from Linkle's story as a nod to fans hoping for a female heroine on par with Link, but it was still a fun exploration of the character and concept nonetheless. Even the new maps are a little ho-hum. It's fun to see the Hyrule Warriors take on the Great Sea, but the results aren't quite as magical as revisiting the other historical worlds.
But Hyrule Warriors also had tons of characters, and while the port advertises that they're included in the new game, they're hidden behind the game's other major mode: Adventure Mode. On paper, Adventure Mode sounds really great. You pan over a replica of the Hyrule from the original The Legend of Zelda, complete with the same pixelated art style and secrets placed in the same spots you remember from the NES, as you embark on a quest to rout the Dark Ruler. Other quests take you through similarly-styled maps, modeled after other games like Twilight Princess and Majora's Mask. It's a cool concept, and a great way to give players more challenges to undertake with an adventuresome backdrop that hearkens back to the retro years.
In the previous game, you could unlock extra equipment and costumes by completing certain missions and achieving certain scores in Adventure Mode maps. That's still true this time around: except now you'll need to slog through Adventure Mode to unlock the game's DLC characters, too—they were unlocked immediately when you purchased them on Wii U. As a result, much more of the content in the 3DS version of Hyrule Warriors requires an obnoxious amount of grinding compared to the original. And given that the characters are the crux of the value on display in Hyrule Warriors, I couldn't help but feel let down that I had to jump through so many hoops just to access the characters I already had on Wii U. Likewise is true for the DLC Adventure Mode maps: they're inaccessible until you complete the preceding ones—as are the brand-new Wind Waker themed maps.
This could have been alleviated by some kind of save sharing feature, but there isn't one. If you've played Hyrule Warriors already and want to experience all your favorite characters and Adventure Mode maps in the new game, you'll have to make your way through all the various Adventure Modes all over again. This might not be so bad, but Hyrule Warriors is far from an enjoyably replayable game. Instead, going through Adventure Mode a second time just reiterates how much of a grind the non-story content already was. It's not an experience I can honestly say I'm enjoying enough to play through again.
If you're into grinding, though, Legends has a brand-new feature that might please you: My Fairy, a customization feature hat lets you gather fashion gear, food, and other upgrades for fairy companions you can find scattered throughout Adventure Mode. The fashion gear is based on costumes from across the Zelda series, including many characters and costumes that weren't previously represented in the game, which makes for some fine fan-service. And the fairy companions also offer unique skills and bonuses that you can take into battle, helping you get out of tough scrapes. That said, training your fairy comes down 100% to wanting to chip away at every available Adventure Mode mission, so you'll have to set aside dozens of hours if you want to make the most of it.
The Verdict: A Little Old, A Little New
As Colin said in our review of the Wii U edition of Hyrule Warriors, what makes this spin-off shine is its loving treatment of the storied Legend of Zelda universe and characters. While the visuals have taken a hit in the transition to 3DS, the fan service is just as wild as ever in Legends, with new faces joining the cast and new worlds to explore. But if you aren't a fan of the Warriors gameplay loop, Hyrule Warriors Legends locks a lot of its most excellent characters and weapons behind perhaps the most tedious grind I've had the displeasure of undertaking.