How would Bokoblins and Gorons have done in World War I?

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Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition (2018)

The other day I was reading about World War 1 casualties in the final days of the conflict, and bloody hellfire. It was the old Hundred Days Offensive, that frightful last rush where the British front decided “Bugger to it all, chaps. Let’s bloody well finish the Gerrys,” to which the French faction gave a hearty “on hohn hohn” laugh and squealed, “Formidable!”

The Germans caught wind of this plan, and for three months they all ran at each other and drove tanks at each other until Germany finally cried for mercy. The net result? Over two million marked casualties. Many were captured, but the majority were killed, and all in the length of a summer’s holiday from school. With numbers like that, you can’t even imagine the face of a typical British or French or German or Austro-Hungarian fighting man, too young to be on a battlefield, but too old not to fight for his country. That nutter Stalin was right, it really is just a statistic.

There’s been all kinds of films and books and even museums and military demonstrations since then that have played a part in glorifying the hell that is war, and that kind of glorification is bonkers in its own right. I’d denounce these war-loving works in a forthright and disapproving manner, possibly with a sternly written letter to my local representative and to the national newspaper. But I’m as bad as them, because when I saw that a bizarre crossover game called Hyrule Warriors was making its bow on the Switch, I became interested as all hell.

The game had already made an appearance on the Wii U, though I never bothered getting it – too many DLC packs, plus how can I run a military campaign with that Duke of a controller? I’d rather something a bit more streamlined. More ridiculously, the game came to 3DS, and you didn’t even need the New Super 3DSi Lite Pro XL to play it. I can’t even imagine how the game runs there, since the 3DS can barely do a 3D Pokémon battle, but there you go.

The big advantage of Definitive Edition for Switch is that it contains all of the DLC from the off, so don’t bother with the Wii U or 3DS versions – go right for the Switch jugular. If ever there was a useful demonstration for how the Switch combines the console power (quote-unquote) of the Wii U and the portability of the 3DS, it’s Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition.  In a way, it’s what those obscure old Battalion Wars games ought to have been.

The game is a spin-off of the Dynasty Warriors series, where to my understanding, a load of impossibly-coiffured feminine swordsmen and buxom schoolgirls are brought together in some ridiculous plot, and it becomes a war game – you play as a Hero, running about the open 3D environments and capturing Keeps and Outposts in order to stave off attacks from the enemy.

You do this by slicing through hundreds of opponents at a time, using combo moves, special attacks and finishers. Really, you can cut through about 2,000 enemies in a 10 minute battle. That’s just from one man, woman or Goron. Want to know how many bodies your allies in combat will stack up? Well, you’ll never be able to find out between all the complaining they do and rescuing they need.

Yes, it’s one of those games – you’ve got a Slippy Toad alongside you almost all throughout. You’ll be playing through the main campaign as Link, and suddenly Zelda, Sheik, Impa, Tingle, the King of Red Lions and God knows who else will find themselves in immediate danger from the onrushing enemy and they will need your urgent assistance, as in ‘get here in 5 seconds or I’m toast and you’ve wasted 20 minutes of your life’ urgent. Not only that, your bases and Keeps fall like leaves from a tree as well, and if you lose your Allied Base (your main HQ), it’s curtains immediately.

Talk about a one man effort – this is why it pays to be a lone wolf. No sooner will you have started a tough mission than you’ve got the so-called Knights of Hyrule squawking in pain as they’re easily overwhelmed by the easiest enemies in the game. I know there are hundreds of little Stalchildren running about, but come on lad. You think you’re doing well, then you get a brief message that your Allied Base is getting turned over by 400 red creeps, easy to miss when you’re off slicing through their cousins without a care in the world.

Then wooosh! The Base falls and you immediately lose. You also lose if one of your partners flee after having taken too much damage. Doesn’t matter if they were contributing absolutely nothing to the war effort; they’ve got to stick around and at least bear witness to your triumph or it’s a massive internal incident for you. Court-martial, public humiliation, maybe even death by Light Arrow firing squad, that’s what you’ll get.

So that’s what happens: someone useless finally sees sense, sees that they’re in way over their heads here, and decides to escape the conflict and leave you to it. But because of this, you lose, despite their departure having no effect on your battle strategy and in fact possibly even enhancing it. Now what the hell?

The game is repetitive in the extreme but it’s great to burst through a 10-minute mission or two in the colossal Adventure Mode, an enormous range of individual missions with several different parameters e.g. different characters required, different gimmicks, different bosses to defeat. It’s a mode that calls all of the great Zelda games of yore to mind with maps and music from Skyward Sword, Wind Waker and more, with rulesets and dozens of Zelda characters to choose from.

Actually I can’t quite believe how powerful the game’s addictive lure is here. Even after you’ve done about 30 Missions, out of God knows how many, you’ll have seen all of the enemies and bosses, unlocked all of the characters, seen all of the locales, listened to all of the music. You know full well that you’re just doing the same thing over and over again, running through practically the same scenario each time except on this Mission you’ve got a glitchy Manhandla to sort out, rather than King Dodongo.

But you love it, you’re almost going through the motions, doing it automatically. Eventually, you do realise that you’re slaving yourself away to the game, and you remove it from the console with defiance. But the exciting allure of maybe unlocking a new hair accessory for your Fairy or a better tier weapon for Skull Kid might bring you right back for another dozen hours.

The game’s a real love letter to Zelda too. Actually, I never thought I’d see such blatant fanservice in Zelda. Mind you, I never thought I’d see a Zelda game heavily featuring a blue-haired Japanese idol dancing around the stage as bold as brass, Hatsune Miku style, but there you are. I mean, you can even get Marin on your team for God’s sake, and beat up hundreds of foes with her bell, tag-teaming with the Wind Fish Itself. That’s almost worth the price of entry alone.

Also I am loving the electric guitar remixes of some of the old Zelda tunes, although they can get pretty repetitive, especially the lesser-known tunes. Also, many of the voice samples of the 37 characters are quite bizarre and can be grating, especially given the repetitive nature of the game. But I’m just nit-picking here, and Link’s Master Sword slashing through Bokoblin fools sounds mesmerising.

Ultimately Hyrule Warriors is as addictive as crack, as in properly hazardous to your health, but the gameplay loop and the progression (though slow) is a wonderful allure. And listen, I’ve played the game for over a hundred days by now – not cumulatively, although some nutter out there will have done just that – and although I’ve been slaughtering enemy skellingtons by the thousand, I’d be lucky to have even racked up one-tenth of the death count of the last days of World War 1. And given how many millions of times I’ve mashed the game’s attack buttons and gleefully chopped down the enemy squads, that is frighteningly incomprehensible.

30 August 2019

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