Heyo! I originally intended to write a review and list of balance suggestions for the first DLC pack, but never got around to it until now. At this point, obviously DLC3 is out as well, so I’m going to make a full write-up here covering all the DLC packs. This will contain assorted comments, observations, opinions, balance suggestions, you name it. This will probably be a bit of a long one, so let’s strap in and get going!
I’m going to mostly go in order, but I’m gonna get this out of the way first and foremost because these game-breaking issues have come up in DLC 3 and absolutely need to be addressed ASAP.
1. The Future Hyrule theme and the King Dobongo double-time rush are VERY offsync. These need to be realigned to their respective beatmaps.
2. All bosses have gained the ability to attack the player after the player kills them. Finish off any boss as they’re about to hit the player and you’ll take damage.
3. Freddy’s battle AI in Temple of Brainstorms is broken, and he’s prone to teleporting inside your current tile. While some characters can survive this, most will unavoidably die to this.
Anyway, that’s the important points out of the way. Let’s get on with the write-up!
DLC1: Character Pack
This pack added five new characters - Aria, Frederick, Impa, Shadow Zelda, and Shadow Link, as well as Mystery Mode and All Characters Mode. Let’s break this down piece by piece.
- Shadow Zelda/Link
Lumping these together because they’re basically the same thing: a slightly rehashed version of the original starting characters. I gotta be honest, these are super underwhelming with their most noteworthy aspects being some kinda cool/creepy-looking animations. The differences to their abilities are barely noticeable, making these characters feel like ultimately fairly pointless fluff. I really feel like these could have used at least a little something to make them stand out from the rest of the cast. Make them start the game in Kakariko Crypt? Make their abilities much stronger, but also cost health in addition to stamina? Unique alternative mini-bosses that replace the Shadow Link/Zelda fights in dungeons? Just a couple of ideas.
Lot of interesting ideas here. A character that starts with Spear gives a good option for people who want to enable Double-Time Mode without being too difficult - thinking of the classic Bolt experience here. I think Impa’s a lot of fun to play, but I do have to express frustrations at the Spearmaster achievement. The fact that the item-pickup animation overrides you holding down the R-button to hold the Spear out is INCREDIBLY frustrating. Certain pickups arbitrarily causing the game to ignore some player actions probably shouldn’t be a thing. I lost so many attempts at this achievement to a wizzrobe spawning near me as I stepped on a Key. The achievement could also use some rephrasing to make it clear that the side-characters in the Ganon fight using weapon attacks is ok. She also maybe should have started single-character runs at Zelda’s Tower, given that’s where she is in Story Mode.
I really like the concept here! Freddy’s abilities and unique item-selling mechanic are a nice setup and make for a very unique approach. I think my problem here is that, provided you’re at least semi-consistently keeping your multiplier up, tons of enemies drop high-value blue and red rupees. This ultimately makes the “challenge” posed basically a non-threat, allowing you to safely ignore the rupee drain. I feel like this could maybe be addressed by increasing the Rupee bleed rate the higher your current rupee count is. As it is, it was way too easy to hoard hundreds of rupees and get well out of range of ever having to worry about going broke. In addition, perhaps his starting spawn position could have been one of his random overworld shops rather than Link’s house?
I appreciate some of the changes to make her more palatable (most noteworthy, tapping against walls being allowed, and pausing the game allowing the player to skip beats again until they move), but even so, Aria doesn’t really crossover directly into Cadence of Hyrule super well. Part of what makes Aria’s design work well in Crypt of the NecroDancer is the game’s vastly deterministic nature. With a very short list of exceptions (Bats and Sarcophagi), a sufficiently experienced player who thinks fast enough can route their way through tight swarms safely despite her laundry list of limitations because they know exactly how all the enemies will act. Cadence of Hyrule is by design, however, significantly less deterministic. The list of enemies with random aspects to their behavior goes on and on, with a lot of them having hard requirements to react on the fly to an attack within one beat.
Combined with Aria’s massive limitations, this forces players to play extremely slowly and defensively, as trying to play more aggressively usually means depending on a non-deterministic enemy involved behaving favorably. Sometimes, even with super defensive play, I found myself still dying to circumstances outside my control just because of the game’s randomness.
Wizzroboe is a prime example of this - with Aria’s lack of a defensive ability, Wizzroboe can easily trap her with its phase 2 teleporting spell-rush against a leftover Wizzrobe projectile or Ice Elemental from the previous phase. This attack in itself is completely unfair if played on double-time mode without some sort of cheese strat (either pause-buffering or Shrine of Death), as it forces precisely correct 1-beat reactions up to 6 times in a row. In short, Aria (and by extension Coda) worked well in NecroDancer because of how fairly and consistently the game treated the player, but that treatment is not to be found here and, as such, she’s not a great fit in Hyrule. I don’t really have a lot of suggestions on making her feel better that don’t involve completely reworking a lot of enemy functionality - perhaps reducing enemy count across the board (as was done to her and several other characters in NecroDancer) could help.
In addition, DLC1 made it so that if all your characters are frozen or stunned, you cannot maintain your multiplier, whether you continue to act or not. The only way around this is to pause the game and unpause, regaining the grace period where you can’t miss a beat until you start to move again. This change should absolutely be reverted, as it turns otherwise harmless effects into devastating blows for Aria, not to mention makes life worse for other characters using Obsidian equipment.
- Mystery Mode and All Characters Mode
Not really much to say on these. Mystery Mode is the same as in NecroDancer and is an interesting alternative, though not one I’m personally likely to play much. All Characters Mode more strongly highlights some of the concerns about Dungeon Mode’s repetitiveness that I’ve voiced in the past. Keys being utterly non-essential and every floor’s layout algorithm being essentially the same makes Dungeon Mode feel a bit monotonous, let alone when you’re playing a sub-mode where you play it 8+ times in a row.
Another point of concern with this update was the readability of the UI. As the menus got further filled with a massive amount of options in both modes and character selection, it feels like some tweaks to the menu to make it friendlier to navigate would have been welcome. Character portraits to go along with the text names, and greyed/partial previews of what options are to the left/right of your current option are a few things that come to mind. It seems like a small point, but I think it could go a long way.
DLC2: Melody Pack
Not much to say here. The remixes are all fantastic and, as far as I know, don’t have any syncing issues. I’m a little sad there aren’t remixed versions of any of the boss themes, though.
DLC3: Symphony of the Mask
I’ve already covered the major gamebreaking issues at the beginning of this post so here we’ll go into all the individual components of the DLC, what I liked and didn’t like, and what I think will improve the add-on from a gameplay balance perspective.
- Skull Kid/Symphony of the Mask
Skull Kid’s concept is fantastic. I love the idea of a character that swaps abilities and fighting styles on the fly. The story’s decent and I generally like the new Overworld, though I find myself wishing it was maybe just a tiny bit bigger (8x8?), or maybe even just made into a direct translation of the Light World map. As touched on in the DLC1 Aria review, however, I’m not the biggest fan of the non-deterministic random elements to Skull Kid’s abilities (Skull Mask’s random 1HKO attacks, and Zora Mask’s random ice projectiles). I think I would have liked these much better if the Skull Mask’s kills occurred at set intervals (e.g. instant kill every 10 attacks) and if Zora Mask’s projectiles shot with some sort of pattern that’s difficult to utilize effectively, but still predictable to some degree (e.g. shoot projectiles perpindicular to your facing direction, or have them shoot up+down on the first use and rotate 45 degrees clockwise every subsequent use).
- Puzzle Mode/Temple of Brainstorms
A procedurally generated item-based puzzle dungeon is a very unique direction. I imagine it must have been a pretty daunting thing to put together, and I’m very impressed with the results. All that said, I do find myself questioning if it’s consistently the ideal fit for a game with NecroDancer style gameplay. CoH/CotND’s beat-timer was primarily meant as a means to force the player to make on-the-fly decisions in tight situations, but in this mode/dungeon it all too often only serves to slow the player to a crawl crossing the room to push an ice block into a non-threatening lizalfos, or to make a player stand still for uncomfortable amounts of time while a slow-moving enemy shambles over to a panel on a wire puzzle. The only places where the beat-timer really felt like an appropriate fit were the small flawless victory puzzles and the Synthrova fight. I feel like this dungeon would vastly feel better if it were always on fixed-beat mode outside of these two instances. As it is, the ice-block and wire-panel puzzles feel like a chore to sit through.
My initial impressions on the Synthrova fight is that it feels a little disappointingly heavy on the RNG-side, with whether or not you’re able to make cycles essentially being down to luck on which wires activated and what pops out of the enemy spawners. That said, it’s at the very least a chaotic boss fight that’s quite a bit of fun to go through casually, and is absolutely wild on double-time. I’ll hold back on making any final judgments on this until I have more chances to practice the fight.
- Arena Mode/Gerudo Arena
At its core, this is one of my favorite additions to the game. It’s kind of like deathless mode from NecroDancer that addresses both of its main drawbacks by adding a steadily increasing difficulty, as well as the ability to save and continue later.
One item completely breaks this mode wide open - Ring of Stealth. With Stealth, what’s seemingly supposed to be a finite run where you are inevitably overwhelmed by a giant swarm of enemies well before you hit the 9999 rupee cap can go infinite, as you can simply camp a corner and peel enemies off of the massive enemy hoard bit by bit. I strongly recommend removing the Ring of Stealth entirely specifically from Arena Mode.
The Purple chests could also use some sort of adjustment, as the vast majority of the items obtained from it are almost entirely useless. As it currently is, it’s almost always better to go to the blue chest for more glass weapons, or to just take the heart piece for a full heal.
Enemies hiding in diggable walls here are extremely prone to hitting the player on the same turn they’re uncovered, leading to unfair hits. This could use adjustment.
I like King Dobongo’s double-time burst gimmick (though it’s currently offsync and needs to be looked at), but honestly overall I feel it’s somewhat of a boring boss fight. While you can usually count on him to continue making laps around the arena, sometimes you miss out on cycles because he unexpectedly swaps directions, or the bombkoblin you need to resupply your bomb bag spawns too far away. Compared to the chaos of the Synthrova fight, this fight involves a lot of standing around waiting for an opportunity to deal damage, especially in the earlier slower-moving stages. As with Synthrova, I’ll still have to spend more time fighting him before I can make final assessments.
- New Enemies
I like most of the new enemies. The swiping broadsword Lizalfos are scary but pretty manageable, and the Eyeballs (can’t recall their names) are a neat twist on the Evil Eyes from NecroDancer. Bomb bokoblins are a neat tweak to the Bokoblin formula, with neat potential for friendly fire setups from savvy players.
I’m not the biggest fan of the exploding bat things (can’t remember their name right now), as it’s yet again another fully random effect that you have to react to in a single beat (less than that, even, as the animation of them exploding into Keese takes some time). These types of effects translate incredibly poorly to double-time mode.
Minor objection to the flavoring of Phasing Zols. Every Zol type has a pattern that ignores the player and follows a set movement pattern (at least until they’re split), but Phasing Zols are a basic two-beat chase AI. They don’t really seem like they fit the archetype.
Skull Ganon basically being Ganon But Easier is a bit of a letdown, especially after the last boss that was added to the game, The NecroDancer, was arguably the most creative and enjoyable fight not only in Cadence of Hyrule, but in Crypt of the NecroDancer as well. I’d really like to see some more unique flavor on this fight.
- New Items
Magic Torch is a neat alternative to the powerful Torch of Wisdom, but its stamina draining trait makes it a pretty divisive item. It’s great for characters that don’t tend to use their stamina (Aria, Yves, Cadence), less useful for characters with decent stamina abilities (Link, Zelda), and straight awful for characters with strong abilities requiring a full bar (Octavo, Impa). Overall though, I think the vast range of usefulness based on character choice isn’t inherently a problem, and I think this item’s in a pretty good spot.
Gold Shovel is an interesting new angle on shovels and has a lot of potential value in Arena Mode runs (assuming we lose the infinite-run capabilities Ring of Stealth provides). While not gamebreaking, it’s a neat item that can help with resource management.
Ring of Stealth is a decent idea, but I think the effect is a bit too strong, especially in Arena Mode where, as I already mentioned, I think it should be removed entirely. Perhaps an increase to the player aggro range would help.
Boots of Leaping… oh boy, Boots of Leaping. I wish I were exaggerating, but the moment it became clear that these were added to the game and findable in all game modes, a lot of players said they were probably done with speedrunning the game. The simple fact is that these are WAY TOO POWERFUL in a speedrunning context compared to literally every other item (permanent or temporary), making for a metagame that is overcentralized on finding a single item. While using them effectively within dungeons can be challenging at times, they’re ridiculously easy to utilize in overworld traversal where enemies and obstacles are comparatively few and far between, giving a runner several minutes of free timesave in extreme cases. I’m not sure how to suggest a re-balance on this - I’m just not going to mince words and say that I think most of the speedrunning community would have rather these never been added in the first place.
- Other Changes
Flails seem to be kinda buggy and sometimes attack on both sides simultaneously. Even if this is an intended change, the graphics don’t show an attack swing on both sides.
Zoras shooting ice instead of fire is a welcome change. That said, while it does reduce the number of situations where the player is somewhat unfairly affected by burn damage, it still doesn’t do anything about the underlying mechanics of burn damage that are being a problem in the first place.
Mini-boss rooms were changed to remove their grace period where the enemies wait a few beats before moving. While I do feel that period was a bit on the long side previously (sometimes you could even kill them before they even moved), I think removing that period entirely is a bit unfair and sometimes causes players to nearly instantly be attacked upon entering a mini-boss room. There should be an acceptable middle ground somewhere between the 8 (?) beat long waiting period, and having none at all.
The removal of the bomb boost/pot throw skip in Temple of Storms is a bit frustrating, though at least there are alternatives to the reliable Power Glove setup in Cane of Somaria, Tower Shield, and Boomerang/Hookshot + Iron Boots. The problem here though is there’s also a setup for a skip that only needs Boots of Leaping + Bombchu, which further cements the problem with Leaping being overcentralizing.
The addition of the tree at the southern end of the Hyrule Castle border just seems… odd. It doesn’t do much to interrupt the wall-walking approach on most seeds as one can just walk around it to the right, but can make for very frustrating run-arounds in a select few seeds.
The Yves speedrun is an unfortunate victim to the way the new Future Hyrule content was implemented, and is honestly what I’m most disappointed in with this new update. Previously, Yves speedruns involved a number of complex minimal-item skips which relied on bomb boosts. Since Yves has low health, this was only doable with a bottle and constant potion refills between skips. This led to a neat routing and resource management game, where one had to locate additional shops, maintain cash flow to afford potion refills, and manage the dungeon order in a way that transitioned between run stages smoothly. It was easily my favorite combination challenge/speed run in the entire game.
Sadly though, with Yves not being eligible for the new item-based Temple of Brainstorms, he has a much faster run by going through Future Hyrule, as ToBS is literally reduced to a lone boss fight with no puzzles. With technically no more need for bomb boost cushions, the complex resource management and routing game is now completely gone and replaced with a reset-fest for an immediately adjacent Lost Woods to warp to Future and rush down two very RNG-heavy bosses. While a lot faster than pre-1.4 runs, it’s much less intriguing and loses much of its roguelike charm with a very one-dimensional route.
I think that’s all I’ve got for now. I may come back with more thoughts later, especially once the key points mentioned at the start of the thread are addressed - those points are making it difficult for me to focus on much else in the game. If there are any questions or things you’d like for me to elaborate on, feel free to ask. Thanks for your time!