This article contains spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. Also: Final Fantasy 7, for some reason. Also also: Rosebud was a sled. Now you know!
Can a Zelda game be more than a Zelda game? And can a Warriors game be more than a Warriors game?
Today’s title is kind of special in the history of Gogglebob.com. By complete coincidence, this game was significantly previewed for the first time when I was just starting up that Let’s Play of World of Final Fantasy, and, if you follow that whole youtube playlist, you’ll hear our opinions on what the game could be, what it very much looked like it would be as of the demo/release, and our impressions once the game was officially available in its entirety. And that’s neat! There is an eternal(ish) record of what we wanted to see from a prequel to Breath of the Wild, and you can listen to our frustration as we slowly realized such a thing would never come. Disappointment abounds!
Though I suppose it is worth restating my initial position for the record, as no man, woman, or child should be subjected to hours of meandering World of Final Fantasy gameplay for the sake of a Zelda game. Long story short? The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a sad, sad game, and it feels disingenuous to have a plot take place in this world (timeline?) and have it be… happy? Cozy? …. Survivable? If you somehow missed Breath of the Wild, here is its backstory: everybody dies. A century before the game officially kicks off, Princess Zelda of Hyrule heard of a coming calamity, and amassed an army of killer robots, Zoids, and at least one dick of a birdperson to combat the inevitable invasion of Ganon. Unfortunately, she forgot to update her mechanical masses’ security firmware before the assault, and the majority of her minions wound up working for the bad guys about three seconds into her brilliant plan. Thus, her Champions were bumped off, her kingdom got a fiery makeover, and her best knight bit the big one personally defending Zelda against her own rampaging tinkertoys. In a last-ditch effort to stave off a literal apocalypse, brave knight Link was stowed away to recover in an ancient shrine, Zelda sealed herself in the castle to stave off Calamity Ganon’s freedom, and her last remaining allies scattered around the countryside to hide and maybe become esoteric fetishes (“wears goggles” is too a fetish!). Link finally awakens in a world that has been permanently scarred by the Calamity’s nigh-victory, and must venture around this Hyrule infested with monsters to rally a whole new generation of heroes. He eventually, inevitably succeeds, but the cost is high: Link’s “old world” and friends are dead and never coming back, and, while there is hope for the future, the present still has an unruly number of laser robots puttering around bringing down property values. Also, depending on your speed run of choice, Link may have never put on pants, and that’s going to confuse Zelda to no end.
So, naturally, when a “prequel” to Breath of the Wild was announced, there was any number of theories on how that might go down. After all, the backstory of Breath of the Wild is one that sees literally an entire army of heroes completely fail. There are good times! Link apparently had a deep and fulfilling relationship with a fish during this period, for instance, but, by and large, the defining moment of the “Age of Calamity” is that eponymous calamity that killed damn near everybody. And, for that matter, Breath of the Wild’s kingdom is so wholly defined by that Calamity, it’s difficult to imagine a game reusing that “world” with any kind of success. “Hyrule Field” and the outskirts of the castle appear to have once been a bustling town with structures to spare, but the topography looks a little different after having a hundred years of Moblins running roughshod over the area. Could a game take the time to “rebuild” Hyrule, establish all the heroes in their “real” time, and then do the unthinkable: knock it all down again? It’s been done! Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core took the time to recreate the world of Final Fantasy 7 and explore its heroes during the BC period (Before Cloud), and still had the materia balls to off its main character before the finale. And it worked! Zack’s final moments feel earned and deserved, and, even though you knew it was coming, it felt right and original. Age of Calamity could have done that, too! It is okay for a game to be sad! We know how it eventually gets to a good ending, so we could stomach a defeated Link for a level or two. Hell, we still don’t have the full story on Zelda returning to the castle to seal Ganon for a hundred years, so that would be a triumphant last level. Zelda single-handedly facing armies of monsters to gain a temporary victory over her hated rival in the maximum throes of both their powers? I’d play that game!
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is not that game. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a game where Ganon is defeated by an army of everyone that has ever appeared in Breath of the Wild, including Champions that have never died and Champions that haven’t even been born yet. It’s weird.
To its credit, HW:AoC immediately states its intentions. Literally after you first hit start (+?), it is established that time travel is involved, a tiny robot is mucking up timelines at will, and this tale is not going to end in genocide if R2-D2 has anything to beep about it. From there, the plot putters along about how you might expect a Breath of the Wild prequel to go before swerving out of the way of some falling rocks (Blights?) to see each of the Champions survive their established deaths with the assistance of their time-traveling (generally metaphorical) descendants. The extra Champions stick around after their triumphant assists, and, by the time Link should be pushing up daisies, he is instead a part of an army that contains at least two invincible rock creatures. Understand that this is an alternative to a universe wherein Zelda had to wholly alone and singlehandedly venture back to Hyrule Castle and save (seal) the day. An army of a thousand soldiers featuring warriors from beyond time means that ol’ Ganondork doesn’t stand a chance.
And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this ending feels good. After hours of slaying hordes of monsters across multiple battlefields, it feels downright righteous to see Zelda get her happy ending. It feels empowering to pilot all of the Divine Beasts, and wreck literally thousands of monsters with the push of a button. It is brilliant to see brother and sister transcend time so they can stand back-to-back in repelling opponents and destiny alike. It would be reductive to label this entire game as more fanservice, as that implies some sort of “easy” path to granting us fanatics dopamine hits. This is a game that is not only predicated on “fanservice”, but it is also a story written by someone that did their homework, and meticulously constructed a world where even fans of [INSERT NAME OF THAT ONE BIRD GUY, NOT RAVIOLI, THE OTHER GUY] can see their favorite hero shine. This is a title for people that played Breath of the Wild, memorized every last hidden memory location, and then would be excited to see it raining on the battlefield that once saw Link fall. Hell, even though the timeline takes a drastic turn from the moment this “other world” starts, it informs the “real” timeline of the original game with, say, an explanation for why a mad scientist was handy for hero revival. Once you get past the conceit that this whole story isn’t going to go the way its “sequel” dictated, it is hard to miss how HW:AoC contains an amazing, thoughtful tale.
And I hates it. Tarnation, I hates it so much!
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is not a videogame that tries to ape the gameplay of its parent game. Or, to be precise, it is a Warriors title before it is a Breath of the Wild game. Yes, some aspects of Breath of the Wild are adapted to this beat ‘em up-esque gameplay, so dodging and flurrying is on the menu once again. But I literally stopped counting the number of times that my chosen hero was stopped by a chasm, tree, or even a misplaced carriage. Gates can be locked in HW:AoC, and if you encounter one, you know your only recourse is to defeat some targeted monster, or go around. Were there locked gates in Breath of the Wild? Of course. But in that adventure, Link had so many more choices available to him. You could climb. You could magnet-up a platform. You could glide. You could burn down the whole freaking countryside just to catch an updraft. You had options. And all of those options in Hyrule Warriors have now been reduced to combat techniques. You can fly (for the purpose of aerial combos). You can use magnet powers (to throw boxes at enemies). You can burn grass (to burn opponents). And that should be fine! This is a combat-based game, so all of your skills being recycled into different “moves” is the proper way of things. You could even argue that there’s a reason for this: pre-revival Link is as strong as two Lynel (this is scientifically proven in a couple of levels), so rather than use his brain (and iSlate) to solve problems, he’s just going to hit things until they fall down. But you, player, still have to deal with locked gates. And what’s more fun? Finding an inventive way to overcome that latest obstacle through ingenuity, or fighting the one stupid monster that is targeted on the omnipresent HUD? Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity copied much from Breath of the Wild, but it did not copy the all-important ways that Breath of the Wild differentiated itself from so many other games (including its own franchise!).
And then there is the incidental moral of Age of Calamity. In the original Breath of the Wild, Zelda failed. Everyone died, her kingdom was overrun, and she resigned herself to being imprisoned with Ganon for a century. She was eventually rescued by good ol’ Link, but she was clearly the central figure in this plot, as it was her decision to focus on technology over spiritualism that brought Hyrule low (and I’ve written of this at length before). In Age of Calamity, the exact same plot begins to form, but, by the end, Zelda has saved the day, and literally everyone (important) has survived. What changed? Did Zelda alter her thinking, and focus on the magical skills that only she could utilize? No, she comes into her powers at roughly the same moment as in the original timeline (and for the same, Link-saving reason). Other than that, she still relies on tech to a potentially disastrous degree, she just happens to have an even newer, more powerful chunk of tech following her around. “The Little One” (actual name: Tobor Elttil), the tiny guardian that traveled through time to save Zelda, does save the day. It grants tech-based powers to all of the heroes, and allows Goggle Robbie and Science Teen early access to towers that can track opponents. When the Champions are in life-threatening situations, it tugs reinforcements through time for immediate backup. The moral here is clear: Zelda wasn’t wrong to rely on technology, she was just relying on the wrong technology. All she ever needed was one more robot that incidentally had the power to manipulate time and space. It’s that simple! And if it seems like this is all some accident of focusing on Original Character the Robot, consider that King Rhoam died in the original timeline, but in this universe, he is saved exclusively because he accidentally utilized some tech that Zelda had imparted earlier. Wow! We all learned a valuable lesson about learning from each other! King Rhoam and Princess Zelda alike had some good points, and, through working together, we are all going to march forward to a brighter future! And if it doesn’t work, then who cares? We still have a nigh-omnipotent robot! It can just tear the universe a new time hole, and try to correct everything all over again!
… And that moral feels a little cheap.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is an amazing game. It is fun to save Hyrule a hundred dead bokoblins at a time. Each of the heroes control wonderfully, and I couldn’t ask for more out of piloting the best sand walrus into battle. The story, while canonically divergent, pays reverence to Breath of the Wild. But, in the end, this all adds up to an experience that is lesser for the choices the direction makes. In aping Warriors combat over Breath of the Wild ingenuity, it produces “just another good Warriors game”. In modifying the story to be a happy ending over the original tragic origin story, it reduces the morals to something far too trite. In the end, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a great game that is wearing the skin of an even greater game, and both are diminished by association.
Breath of the Wild proved that a Zelda game didn’t need to be just another Zelda game. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is just another Warriors-Zelda game.
FGC #559 Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
- System: Nintendo Switch. This one ain’t gonna jump to the 3DS after it gets bored.
- Number of players: Two, which is ideal for some Zelda loving “nephews” that occasionally hang around the place. Though the fact that the Divine Beast segments are strictly one-player is kind of a letdown…
- Dangling Plot Threads: Hestu, a giant, dancing plant man that apparently has the ability to become (or is?) invisible, joins the group… and is then never referenced again. I get that he’s something of the typical “wacky” bonus character on the roster (one of the few that isn’t hidden), but it’s a little bit weird that Link does not have a series of side quests that can be spent finding our favorite tree dude his own colossal palm mech or whatever. Divine Shrubbery? It could work!
- Favorite Warrior: I absolutely hate playing as default Zelda, but “shining” Zelda is a blast. Literally. I like exploding moblins with holy power. It is a sickness.
- Time and Punishment: Okay, time travel has been an integral part of the franchise since Zelda’s fifth legend, when a prepubescent boy was gifted powers over causality through a charmed flute. From there, time travel has been kind of a thing you can do if you hold an item of dubious magical power, the concept reaching its peak in Skyward Sword, when it was established that random rocks laying around could bend time by about a thousand years. And the previous Zelda-Warriors title was all about how some women break reality across epochs in a desperate bid to get laid. But now some dinky robot that Zelda forgot about in her attic has the ability to travel through time at will, summon people from alternate timelines, and can apparently return them after being reduced to little more than a screw? Zelda, do you even remotely understand what could have happened if Calamity Ganon had completely possessed that ‘bot? We’d be dealing with Zelda timelines all damn day!
- So, did you beat it? I beat the main story, and I (eventually) unlocked every last combatant, including (REDACTED) and Calamity (REDACTED). I realize this may seem like a strange thing to say two weeks after posting about how I couldn’t find the will to play the dang thing, but, come on, that had been since November. I only got back on the wagon because I felt like I gotta…
- Goggle Bob Fact #1: I got married the same day this game released. It was also the 23rd anniversary of the Japanese release of Einhänder. Hm… Einhänder, eh?
- Goggle Bob Fact #2: This amuses me to no end.
I will not tell you exactly why.
- Did you know? Goggle Robbie not being a playable character is a tragedy, and the only reasonable motivation for DLC to exist.
- Would I play again: I’m technically still playing it, as Hyrule Warriors 2 is permanently going to be part of my Switch, and there are about 12,000 hours of content here for futzing around while watching TV. That said, once I am 100% done, I am a lot more likely to pick up Hyrule Warriors 1 over its sequel. Age of Calamity has a lot of advantages over its older brother, but the original makes me slightly less sad. That’s important when gaming!
What’s next? Random ROB has totally coincidentally chosen… Einhänder! Get ready to use just one hand to swat away an entire army of the Earth and/or Moon! Please look forward to it!