Here’s the premise of the Hyrule: Total War mod for Medieval II: Total War Kingdoms. Link, the hero of Hyrule, has tooted some somber notes on his Ocarina and vanished into the past, presumably on a mission to assassinate Navi’s grandfather. The rest of Hyrule, comprised of 20 different factions, is competing to fill the Link-shaped void. The result is like something out of fevered fanfic, where the Deku can battle Darknuts, where the Ghoma can invade the Gerudo, and where someone with a long-standing Zelda-based grudge can finally settle the score.
My personal experience with the Legend of Zeldaverse begins with the original game for the NES and ends with The Ocarina of Time for the N64. So, while I’m aware there have been many more installments involving masks and swords and the waking of wind, the thought of playing Hyrule: Total War as Wizzrobes or Gorons or Moblins is far more appealing to me than playing as the Labrynna Regime or the Kingdom of Ikana.
My experience also provides my goal, and my goal is the complete and utter destruction of the Zora Domain. In Ocarina of Time, the Zora, a race of aquatic humanoids, were associated with the two most irritating dungeon experiences in the game: carrying that damn Princess Ruto through the disgusting pit of Jabu-Jabu’s Belly, and engaging in the endless boot-swapping and backtracking of the hellish Water Temple. Everything about the water levels in Ocarina was annoying, even the seemingly innocent rupee-collecting diving minigame was a pain in the ass — and it was mandatory. Thus, I hereby vow the utter destruction of the Zora. Kill the fish. Murder the mermen. Death to All Things Wet.
I’ve decided to play as the Gorons, because I actually have fond memories of them, and the mod’s wiki also informs me they have an ancient beef with the Zora, which suits my needs. And wouldn’t you know it, when I begin the game, there, right at the foot of my home on Death Mountain, lies the Zora Domain’s capital city. Perfect. I glare down at them for a bit, Sauron-like, but since this is a turn-based game I need to actually take a turn for anything to happen.
I set to work, building up my cities and mines, clearing land, constructing roads, and giving birth to as many military units as Goronly possible. My first general appears, and it’s a wonderful surprise: none other than the music-loving Darunia himself! The next surprise is even better: I’m allowed to construct Dodongo dens! I can breed Dodongos and use them as my cavalry! Who will dare stand against my cavalry of Dodongos? Only Link and that one weird old guy in a dungeon somewhere knows how much they dislike smoke!
While I build my army of sentient boulders, I also forge a few alliances, first with the Sheikah, who I’m familiar with, then with the Ordona, who I’m not familiar with, and finally with the Wizzrobes, who I probably hated in the original Legend of Zelda but now view through a warm, friendly haze of nostalgia. The Zora, meanwhile, are allied with no one, because who wants to be friends with stupid fishmen and their baffling temples? No one. No one loves Wet Things. Die, Wet Things.
I begin preparations for making all Wet Things die. This mainly involves marching all of my military units over to Zora’s Domain and having them stand roughly .006 inches from the outer walls, glaring angrily. Those water-suckers don’t seem to appreciate the gesture, and our relationship quickly begins to sour. Personally, I don’t see what they’re so upset about. It’s just a bunch of sentient rocks slowly surrounding your largest city, their ranks swelling month by month. What’s the problem?
Just to break the tension, I go ahead and start sieging Domain Prime. While I’m moving some reinforcements past another Zora settlement, they’re ambushed by a battalion of Bigocto Riders: Zora warriors mounted on Octorocks, which I have to grudgingly admit is pretty cool. The battle does not go well for my small detachment of Goron warriors, though I’m delighted to see that when they move across the field of battle, they roll. They really roll! It’s adorable. They’re all killed, which is slightly less adorable. At least I can retroactively justify my invasion of Domain Prime: look how brutally violent those awful fishmen are! Just as Domain Prime is about to fall, the Zora come bursting out to meet us on the field, our armies separated by a river of their oh-so-precious water.
I have my generals wait as the revolting fish monsters splash slowly across the river, then we roll en masse into their ranks the second they step onto dry land. After several minutes of stone-on-scale violence, my Goron infantry shatter their ranks and my Dodongo cavalry smash through their flanks. Soon, the Zora are fleeing back across their river, and after a brief moment of hesitation, where I wonder if Gorons can swim, and another brief moment of hesitation, where I wonder if they’ll drown if they can’t — we give chase and finish them off (they just roll right through the river). I choose to execute all of the captives, because THAT’S FOR MAKING ME STOMP AROUND IN IRON BOOTS LIKE AN IDIOT FOR HOURS.
Despite the massive success, some sad news: General Darunia was killed in the battle. Now he’s terrifying the angels with his erratic, frenzied dancing. I march my massive army to the Zora settlement that slaughtered my rockmen earlier, and overwhelmingly destroy it, my Dodongos knocking fishmen into the air and then trampling them when they land. Again, I execute all the captives. THAT’S FOR MAKING ME CARRY PRINCESS RUTO AROUND IN THAT GROSS FISH STOMACH LIKE AN IDIOT FOR HOURS.
It’s not long before I’m stomping my way into the final Zora settlement, and by the time the inhabitants come out to face me, a line of my siege towers stand like sentinels. My Goron army has grown so huge, so quickly, I’m not even permitted to keep stuffing troops into it. I send my Dodongos to smash through their Otcorocks. My Goron hordes roll in on all sides. The Zora King himself falls on the field, bloodied and gasping for air (though I assume these fish dudes are constantly gasping for air anyway with their stupid wet gross fish mouths). My victory over the Zora is complete. None survive. THAT’S FOR A MANDATORY DIVING MINIGAME BECAUSE WHOEVER HEARD OF A MANDATORY MINIGAME? FOR HOURS.
With the Zora Domain in ruins, and my army positively bursting, I’m not really sure who to turn my Goron wrath upon. Who else made me angry in those Zelda games? Do Wall Masters have a faction? Because I’d love to cut the fingers off those Link-dragging bastards. Is there a city of Like Likes? Because I am owed several dozen magic shields. I wouldn’t even mind taking a pop at that goddamn giant hooting owl. Then, a notification: The River Zoras are invading. River Zoras! I completely forgot there was a whole other breed of irritating fishmonsters. My purpose is rediscovered. My hatred rekindled. Time to get my rocks rolling. Death to All Things Wet.
So, yes, this mod is pretty great. Along with the custom models and animation, the mod has several recognizable Zelda songs, heroes and other characters from the games, custom loading screens, and even a custom cursor animation (a little spinning triforce!), which all adds up to a giant pending lawsuit from Nintendo. Ha ha, no! It adds up to a very impressive mod that was clearly made with a great deal of love for Zelda lore.
Before you throw yourself wantonly at the download button, know this: getting Hyrule: Total War running can be a Hyrule: Total Hassle if you don’t know a bunch of things first, and getting to know those bunch of things can take quite a bit of forum searching, but I since know those bunch of things now, I can help you know them as well. (This is for the Steam version).
There are two zip files, each with two chunks of the mod, and there’s also a hotfix, so that’s five separate bits to install, one by one. The installer will automatically aim for the location of the retail version of the game, so if you’re using Steam, you’ll need to redirect it (each time!) to the correct spot (Steam\steamapps\common\Medieval II Total War\mods\Hyrule).
Once the mod is installed, your best bet for getting it to launch properly is to trick the launcher. Pick one of the existing expansions in the \mods folder (like “americas”), rename it (to “old_americas”, or something), then rename the “Hyrule” folder to “americas”, then press the Play button on the launcher and choose “Americas.” This will make more sense when you do it, I promise. It’s also the only way I could get the mod to run with the Steam version of the game.
Another problem is that the Medieval II launcher itself is a bit buggy, even for the vanilla game: when you start the launcher it will play music for about a minute (even if you close it) and busily search for an update server, despite the update servers (apparently) being as dead as a Big Poe. When it reports that it cannot find a server, if you happen to be playing the mod, it may cause a crash. So. Start the launcher. Let the music play itself away. Wait for the pop-up to tell you it can’t find the update server. THEN launch the mod. Many Bothans died to bring you this information (“Bothans” is my name for “hours on Sunday afternoon”).