Crossovers, character appearances, and franchises that span multiple genres are not so uncommon. That said, it is unusual that a developer is given the reins to an established, ongoing franchise and asked to make something else that fits with its inspiration. What is the best way to take one game and adapt it into a dramatically different genre?
There are some obvious examples of genre switching game series, true. (I’m looking at you Warcraft!) However, these are often set up as a full renewal of the series (Fallout, Assassin’s Creed) a standalone non-canonical game (Mario VS Rabbids), or a rebranding of an entirely separate property (Star Fox Adventures, Halo Wars.)
What is Hyrule Warriors?
The original Hyrule Warriors fell somewhere between the latter two categories. Developed primarily by Omega Force, it was effectively a Dynasty Warriors game with Zelda trappings. Nonetheless, in choosing what to take from each series, it brought some fascinating gameplay quirks.
From Zelda, it brought not only the characters and world but also a magic system, giant bosses with item weaknesses, and the gameplay gimmicks from nearly every 3D entry.
Dynasty Warriors, in turn, brought the famous ‘Musou’ gameplay, the ability to play multiple characters, and strikingly, an actual plot.
As a long-time Zelda fan, I could happily tell you the motivations, backstory, and wants of most Zelda characters. However, they are rarely explicit, and the directed storytelling style allowed a clearer, more cinematic story. Link went through a character arc. Zelda fights at the forefront of her own army. Villains chafe impotently against Ganondorf’s rule. None of this is usually portrayed in mainline Zelda titles.
Still, for all that, it was hard to see it as more than an incredibly elaborate fan fiction. Yes, I adored its gameplay, story and new character designs. But the idea of bringing heroes from across the Zelda time and space to battle side by side is incongruous with the solitary explorer and hero narrative typically found in these games.
Fast forward to September 2020. The announcement of a sequel to Hyrule Warriors that was simultaneously a prequel to Breath of the Wild. Not only would this be “more BotW than Hyrule Warriors”, but the BotW team was heavily involved in development.
Questions abounded. Would the game be canonical? Would it feature the end of Hyrule glimpsed but never witnessed in BotW? How would it adapt the sweeping design changes that BotW brought to the Zelda series?
So how does Age of Calamity adapt to Breath of the Wild?
Having sunk 50+ hours into this experience, I can confidently report that the results are fascinating.
The most glaring difference is for those who have played BotW but never a Warriors game. The principal focus of BotW, namely exploration of the unknown, is absent in this game. That’s not to say there’s no fun in exploring what does exist- but more on that later.
But beneath the basic change in genre, Omega Force has brought a surprising amount from their source material. For example, food operates like in BotW, as a consumable health recovery that must be found in-world when depleted. It can be found on trees, in crates, the locations you would expect from BotW.
Cooking too serves the exact same function, used to buff Link’s health, stats, or resistances. It can only be performed if you have the ingredients acquired either in level, as mission rewards, or from shops. But only at the start of every mission, you cannot cook mid-game like BotW.
Even the lauded Chemistry Engine appears. Elemental skills and powers having greater effects in certain environments- fire in grasslands, electricity near metal, etc. All characters also have access to personalized Sheikah Slate runes moves, adding to the already radically diverse play-style of the roster.
Rebuilding the pre-apocalyptic.
Then, of course, there is the art and sound design. All the audio cues from BotW are here, from the boss battle themes of a Hinox or Talus to the ‘plink’ of map markers. Dozens of subtle songs from BotW are reorchestrated to serve as thematic background to the battles. And, of course, the art-style of the game is taken wholesale from BotW. Link even gets all of his fashion back, with the ability to dye them in Hateno village and all.
All of this makes for excellent trappings and nostalgia-bait. However, it is the story and how they handle the characters that really shine.
*Very slight spoiler warning, for what has been revealed in the first cutscene and demo*
Age of Calamity is set 100 years prior to Breath of the Wild, in the time leading up to Ganon’s re-awakening. Knowledge of the upcoming calamity is learned via a small guardian robot who, as Hyrule Castle is overrun, travels back in time to warn everyone.
As such, this is not quite canonical, but more… canon-adjacent. The characters, setting, and situations are treated as if it were a straight prequel in the same universe, but the events play out differently at certain points thanks to off-brand R2D2.
Granted, this will take some of the weight out of the story for some. It does let the developer tell a story we know in a different way, watching the legendary champions in action as they strive to defy fate.
This is the beating heart of an adaptation that for this BotW veteran was better than any aesthetic nostalgia.
Zelda and the champions rush to prepare with new urgency, leading to moments of brilliant action. That huge elephant dungeon that you walked around in BotW? You can play as Mipha driving back an invasion of Zora’s Domain alone using it. The standoffish Revali quickly comes to blows with Link, leading to a tense boss fight against your own supposed ally. You join Urbosa as she creatively disrupts a war between the Gerudo and Yiga clan with a tactical Molduga.
Far from feeling disconnected from Breath of the Wild, these scenes complement everything we saw in the in-game flashbacks. Compared to the previous HW game, it’s quite a grounded narrative. There is still a hint of that fan-fiction vibe, but this is one that would get a novelisation at least.
Still, a good adaptation should not simply replicate enough components of its inspiration but adding to it in meaningful ways. Does Age of Calamity hold up in this light?
Adapt, alter, advance.
Breath of the Wild’s flaws were mostly perceived to be down to creative decisions more than errors. Breakable weapons, lackluster boss fights, and disjoints between the open world and small, restricted divine beasts proved divisive among fans.
Furthermore, the series debut of dedicated cutscenes with voice acting came to a mixed reception. For some, the concept was far better than the execution. All of this was in line with the atmospheric exploration/survival tone. Still, fans of the series’ previous epics of heroism were had mixed responses.
Contrastingly, Age of Calamity focuses on moment-to-moment action, so these elements shine. The direction of the cutscenes is rock solid and makes excellent use of the characters and world. They frame the gameplay sections directly, letting players participate in this narrative rather than just watch movies from the past.
The action is trademark Musou fare with a substantial upgrade. Wizzrobe rods, the aforementioned Sheikah runes, and extensive combo trees specific to each character make for surprisingly deep combat. This frenetic action takes place on surprisingly faithful recreations of BotW areas, tweaked slightly to best fit the gameplay. I was stunned to see as I fought through Hyrule Castle that the map seems an almost one-to-one adaptation. Right down to the secret passages revealed by bombs! All of the other areas are similarly believable, even if the scale is a little warped at times.
Adding to the more dramatic combat are the boss fights, which are arguably a leap above their BotW counterparts. The different combat leads to far more dynamic fights. To excel, you will need to be perfect-dodging, parrying, countering or flat out running from everything Hyrule has to offer.
Nor will you be simply fighting monsters. All the bombastic and ridiculous power of the player characters will be turned on you in duels and challenges. BotW’s breakable weapons encouraged evasion and distant attacks for all but the very skilled. AoC’s weak point gauge and high speed combat encourages far more varied strategies. Avoidance leaves you too far away to punish, but blocking or evading in range risks being overwhelmed. The push and pull of a tactical boss fight in the middle of warring armies gives a dynamism that BotW lacked.
So where does it land?
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a brilliant example of how to adapt a beloved game to a new style. Rather than simply imitate the ethos or throw a new coat of paint on a different game, AoC leans into its unique gameplay interactions, using them to do what the original game couldn’t. The result complements its inspiration, resulting in a very different but immersive experience.
These are the sorts of adaptations and franchise divergences I would love to see more of. Games where the incredibly immersive worlds that can only be made in games can be explored through a different lens.
Yes, franchises like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or The Walking Dead have all sorts of game versions. But give me more Tales from the Borderlands. More Pokemon Snap. More Hyrule Warriors.
What game series would you love to see dive into a different genre? Let us know in the comment section, while you’re there why not check out our first thoughts on Bioware’s new Dragon Age and Mass Effect?
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