After a several-month-streak of underwhelming announcements, Nintendo used the most recent Nintendo Direct to reveal a proper new video game in the Zelda franchise. Tentatively called Hyrule Warriors, the game is being developed by Tecmo Koei, and it's a Dynasty Warriors-style action title starring Link and other characters from the Zelda universe. It’s due out in 2014 for the Wii U. While this is relatively big news--it's a new Zelda game, yeah--I'm finding it tough to get too excited. Why?
Personally, I'm no fan of the Dynasty Warriors series’ mindless, infinite man-slicing, and I’m not exactly thrilled by Nintendo endorsing it in this way. But even if you don’t share my prejudices against Tecmo Koei's ancient beat-'em-up, you may still be feeling the palpable mood of underwhelming confusion that seems to be surrounding the announcement of Hyrule Warriors. As it turns out, there are a couple of very convincing reasons for its existence. Thing is, they don’t really involve most of you.
The answer to the question of "Why Hyrule Warriors?" is a resounding “Because Japan”. The Wii U is underperforming in Japan, having sold just over 1 million units there as of October. To give that number some context, there are about 10 times as many 3DS units in Japan, and roughly the same number of Wii consoles. Even Super Mario 3D World wasn’t enough to move the needle, boosting month-over-month hardware sales but ultimately coming in well below expectations, with the worst first-week sales of any 3D Mario game in Japan.
Enter Dynasty Warriors. The franchise is a consistent earner for Tecmo Koei, with this year’s Dynasty Warriors 8 selling over 200,000 units in its first week, and last year’s One Piece-themed spin-off being one of the best-selling games of 2012 in Japan. Even Dynasty Warriors 7 outsold The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword by a wide margin in 2011. Nintendo is in dire need of a decent installed base for the Wii U, particularly in Japan. And if there’s any franchise they should hitch their wagon to in the East, it’s Dynasty Warriors.
Now, the second reason this is a good move by Ninty is that we haven’t seen a proper, new 3D Zelda game since Skyward Sword, and it’s likely we won’t see one anytime soon. Even if you hate the very concept of Hyrule Warriors with a passion, as I do, getting a solid Wii U fanbase established in Japan is pretty darn important to the future of Nintendo's franchises; no sales = no money to develop proper, new Zelda games. And, to bring in more overly-simplified maths: any new Zelda game will increase Wii U sales significantly more than no new Zelda game. Yes, watching Link slog through hundreds of mundane-looking soldiers to fight one cool monster may seem like a bastardization of a long-beloved franchise, but the reasoning for it is sound. Hyrule Warriors is a bit like Navi: extremely annoying, but necessary to Link's survival.