Last week I shared my initial impressions of Cadence of Hyrule, a roguelike game with Zelda elements in which the action moves to the beat of the music. Playing as Link, Zelda, or Crypt of the Necrodancer’s Cadence, you explore a Hyrule in which map tiles and items have been randomly seeded and where dungeons are procedurally generated. The experience is a little different every time you play just based on the mechanisms themselves, but Brace Yourselves games didn’t stop there. Multiple game modes allow you to edit your Cadence of Hyrule experience to suit your own playstyle, and in my view that means there’s a little something her for everybody.
Each of the game modes in Cadence of Hyrule impacts one of the three elements that play into the difficulty of the game. Those elements are the random seeds, the consequences of dying, and moving to the music. For this review I’ll be diving into those three facets of what makes Cadence of Hyrule challenging, and then talk about how taken together the various modes allow you to edit the difficulty of the game to precisely the level that feels fun for you.
First let’s talk about the random seeds. The world map in Cadence of Hyrule consists of a square of random map tiles arranged around the central location of Hyrule Castle. Certain areas of the map always go together – the Gerudo Desert will have a specific cluster of terrain around the ruins there, adjoined by a small town. Beach tiles will always line up together along an edge of the map. In the same way there are certain key items that will always be located in the same place. The tool you need for navigating the Lost Woods will always be in the same place within the woods – getting to that place may be more or less complicated depending on where it lands. The flippers you need to swim to the water temple will never be in a chest inside of the water temple. But how the core areas of the map connect and where useful tools like the hookshot or deku leaf will be located is left completely to chance unless you use what’s called seeded mode.
In seeded mode, when you start the game you choose the name of the seed which you want to use. Now without clear guidelines on the names of all the possible seeds, this is essentially still choosing at random the first time you do it. But from then on, choosing the same seed every time you play will give you the same map with the same item layouts. If typing in “Lonk” gives you a seed where the Gerudo Desert is directly north of your starting point and you find the bow there, then typing in “Lonk” on another playthrough will give you that exact same setup. This is great for players who have directional trouble and don’t want to have to relearn a new map every game, but there’s a value here for speedrunners too. You can’t race a gal who has a different seed than you because her item or map layout may be better. By playing in the same seed, you know that your opportunity for success is even so the race truly comes down to player skill.
Now let’s talk about dying. In Cadence of Hyrule’s default settings, death is a temporary hiccup in your journey. You wake up in a magical dimension where you can use diamonds to purchase helpful weapons and tools to get you back on your feet, including a couple of the game’s heart containers. There’s still a cost to dying, though; you’ll drop all the rupees you were holding, making it harder to purchase items when you come back, and any accessories you had on your person will all be lost. You also have to respawn at a Sheikah Stone and make your way back to wherever you were before. Death is an inconvenience for certain, but it isn’t the end of everything, and it even potentially gives you some helpful tools to come back better than before.
Then there’s permadeath mode. Permadeath takes away all of those inconveniences that happen when you die and instead gives you a permanent game over in that run. Sorry, kid, better luck next time. This means starting that run over from the beginning with none of the progress you previously acquired. You have to regain your heart containers and weapons, re-find everything on the map, and play carefully so that you don’t die again – lest you have to start over from the beginning again. Permadeath adds difficulty to the game by forcing you to complete the whole thing in a single run and taking from you the jump-start that you can get from dying in the game’s default mode.
Finally we come to the core mechanic of Cadence of Hyrule, the game’s selling point: battling to the beat. When enemies are onscreen in the default game mode, your character’s movements are restricted to the beat of the music. Miss a beat and you stumble, effectively wasting a “turn” of movement or combat. Standing still to get your bearings is fine so long as there are no enemies close to you – they don’t wait with you so they’ll be active for every beat that you are sitting around and trying to figure out how to approach them. This requires you to be clever and fast, learning enemy patterns as you fight them rather than being able to observe them safely on your own terms. Cadence of Hyrule has two alternatives to this approach – or I should say, one alternative and one way to turn up the heat.
If you find the default speed of the game to be a bit slow for your skill level, then double beat mode is probably the way to go. This works how it sounds – you play the game at 2x speed. Or rather, the monsters move at 2x speed; whether or not you keep up with them is totally up to your skill level. If moving to the rhythm even at the game’s normal pace sounds horrifying, then fixed beat mode is for you – instead of moving at the game’s pace, the game moves at your pace. Every move you make or action you take is a single beat, and monsters stand still when you do. This allows you to take things as slowly as you need to, learning enemy patterns right in the thick of fighting them and not losing a turn for attacking outside of the beat of the song. Fixed beat mode is a fantastic tool if the pace of the game makes you anxious or you have a disability which prevents you from being able to play quickly enough to stay in rhythm, and if the game sees you are struggling in whatever setting you are currently playing, it will offer to switch on fixed beat mode during play regardless of what difficulty you originally chose.
Because you can adjust the challenge of the game on three different spectrums, it’s easy to customize Cadence of Hyrule to suit your specific needs as a player. On one end you have a specific chosen seed in fixed beat mode with no permadeath – familiar terrain at your pace with only the standard punishment for being defeated in combat. On the other end you have a random seed in double beat mode with permadeath activated – a random layout every game where the monsters move twice as fast as normal, with only one chance to complete the challenge. Every possibility in between creates a different kind of challenge or is more appropriate for a different type of play.
I’ve found that my sweet-spot lies in seeded mode with fixed beat and permadeath enabled. I’m a strategy/RPG player at heart and I have a lot of experience with roguelikes where each one of your actions is paralleled by a monster action – that’s familiar territory for me and it’s a pace I am comfortable with. I like being in the thick of an enemy horde and having to think about how to carefully maneuver between each one, taking one step and then thinking about my next one rather than mashing buttons in a panic. But I also like the challenge of having to make one perfect run, of having real teeth behind failure. One mistake means I’m all the way back at the beginning and have to earn back every bit of progress I managed to claw towards in the previous run. I like seeded mode because it allows me to be strategic about how I maneuver through the map. If I go east and get trampled immediately but then heading west works out, I know if I get defeated that I can head west again and trust I’ll be able to power through. It becomes a battle of attrition – playing through areas I can complete until I reach one that I can’t, then earning back that progress and trying a different approach at the place I was defeated. That’s where my fun lies, and Cadence of Hyrule allows me to play in exactly that way while also allowing others to play in a completely different way than me.
If you’ve seen the ads for Cadence of Hyrule and have been wondering whether or not the game is for you, I encourage you to look at these options for customizing the experience and to think about whether a certain combination could enhance your experience with the game. Being able to choose exactly how you want to play makes Cadence of Hyrule accessible to a much wider audience, and I think that allows all sorts of gamers to come to it and find something fun to enjoy from the experience.