Worth an Encore? – A Review of the Cadence of Hyrule Update, Octavo’s Ode

Around six months ago at the time of writing, Cadence of Hyrule hit the Nintendo Switch. This game takes the core gameplay of the indie title Crypt of the Necrodancer and dresses it in the garb of the Zelda universe. The monsters are familiar beasts from Hyrule, the towns and NPCs references to other titles in the series, and the playable characters are the two main characters of the franchise: Zelda and whatever the princess’s name is (because tone is sometimes difficult to convey via text: this is a joke). The game featured fantastic remixes of tunes from the Zelda series that even earned it a nomination for best soundtrack at the Game Awards.

Cadence of Hyrule is a roguelike adventure game where every movement is choreographed to the beat of the music. Whether you are moving from place to place, attacking an enemy or blocking their attacks, or solving a puzzle using one of the many tools in your arsenal, everything is done to the beat. Enemy movements happen to the beat too and this is a key piece of the game’s challenge – you have to memorize their attack patterns and navigate around them safely but you have to do so while keeping up with the beat. Stand still trying to analyze how an enemy moves around and you’ll find yourself stabbed to death or riddled with arrows before the second measure of the song. Dying costs you all your rupees as well as any equipped items like rings, boots, or shovels that you use to navigate the world, so the early game is very much about exploring the procedurally-generated world to build up an arsenal of tools that will help you survive long enough to delve into the game’s dungeons. Because key items like your bow and arrow, hookshot, and boomerang are seeded randomly each time you play, you never know where to look to get the tools you need to succeed.

Cadence of Hyrule’s core experience is interesting enough, but what really makes the game shine is the way you can customize it to your preference. For those who want a harder experience, you can turn on permadeath and make it so that a single death spells a game over and therefore the end of your run. You can amplify the difficulty even further by doubling the tempo of the music. Alternatively, if moving to the beat doesn’t appeal to you, you can play in fixed beat mode and instead of the monsters moving to the music, they move to your movements. This allows you to slow down as much as you need to and think carefully about each action you take, and played in this mode the game feels similar to titles in the mystery dungeon genre such as Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon or Pokemon Mystery Dungeon. Add to this different modes such as story mode and single character mode as well as the fact that the game has a built-in speedrunner leaderboard, Cadence of Hyrule does a good job at being as competitive or as casual as you want it to be.

Cadence of Hyrule Golden Lute
This confrontation between Octavo and Trill actually serves as a bit of a tutorial, which is a fun and clever moment.

Octavo’s Ode is a free update that was added to the game on December 18th that promises to reveal the true intentions of one of the game’s villains, Octavo. In true Zelda fashion, Cadence of Hyrule features a unique villain who turns out to be a fake-out, nothing more than a vehicle for boring ole Ganon to be the final boss yet again. Octavo joins the ranks of characters like Vatti, Zant, and Ghirahim, but stands out from them in that now we can play a whole story mode segment dedicated to revealing exactly what he was trying to accomplish in the main game. What curious minds may be wondering is if this addition to the game makes Cadence of Hyrule worth a revisit. In the interest of helping you answer that question for yourself, I want to talk about my experiences with the new mode.

The story of Octavo’s Ode is straightforward enough: you play as Octavo, who is gathering the four sacred instruments that Link, Zelda, and Cadence will eventually attempt to liberate in the main story. The game begins with the moment that he steals the threads of fate from a fortune teller in order to string his golden lute. This is part of what’s different about Octavo’s Ode compared to the regular story mode – some characters who have been directly inconvenienced by Octavo will comment on his actions and have a more hostile attitude towards him, giving you some different dialogue at certain points in the game.

Mechanically the biggest difference about Octavo’s Ode is Octavo himself. Octavo makes the fifth playable character in Cadence of Hyrule (counting an unlockable secret character) and developers Brace Yourselves did a good job of making him feel unique compared to the other characters. Octavo’s weapon of choice is the golden lute, which creates swirls of dark power in all four cardinal directions around him when Octavo attacks. This makes it easier to combat enemies from multiple angles, but comes at the cost of being able to equip any other weapon type. Whereas Link, Zelda, or Cadence can change weapons to change up their strategy, mastering Octavo means mastering this one primary method of attacking. Like the other characters Octavo also has two special skills. His fireball attack is similar to Zelda’s but creates three fireballs instead of one, firing one ahead of his as well as sending forward fireballs from his left and right side. Like his basic attack, this is a bit better for managing a group of foes. Instead of a defensive ability like the shield shared by Link and Cadence or Zelda’s barrier, Octavo instead has the Haste spell. Haste turns the game into fixed-beat mode if you are not playing in fixed-beat mode, allowing you a few moments to slow things down and move at a more deliberate pace. This is an interesting tool when playing with the beat but if, like me, you prefer to play in fixed-beat mode anyway, Haste will be effectively useless to you.

Cadence of Hyrule No More Fortunes
Fate plays a key role in Octavo’s story.

These truly are in the only meaningful differences in Octavo’s Ode. The map is the same one you explore in the story mode, seeded randomly just like that map and filled with the same tools to utilize (except there are no alternative weapons for Octavo to wield). Even though the story plays out in a different way than the main game, you still hit the same notes and even fight the same bosses except for the finale. Because of this, mechanically the only thing that makes Octavo’s Ode really feel new is the playable character, and even that fades with time as you begin to obtain and rely on some of the same tools that the other characters use during the main campaign. As for the story itself, it is interesting enough but story is such a background detail in this game that it’s hardly a selling point. I will say that I got the impression that the ending of this mode would be more significant to people who played the original Crypt of the Necrodancer, but not having played it myself I cannot verify that through direct experience.

Octavo’s Ode may not add much new to Cadence of Hyrule, but the good thing is that it doesn’t take away much either. Yes you lose swappable weapons, but you gain new abilities to make up for it and the bits of new dialogue change up the core experience just enough to make it worth another go. It won’t change your mind about Cadence of Hyrule if you didn’t enjoy the game the first time you played it. However, if you liked Cadence of Hyrule, this can be a fun excuse to revisit the game and do another run while giving you just enough different from your first time to help it feel a bit fresh. When I tried it out, I used it as an opportunity to try out some tricks I learned from watching a speedrun that definitely made my experience more manageable (though ironically not really much faster). It reminded me of what I thought was fun about the game and was an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

If you’re reading this having not played Cadence of Hyrule before and are wondering if Octavo’s Ode makes the whole package more appealing, the answer to that question is a firm yes. With the new update, Cadence of Hyrule has two story campaigns, five playable characters, and multiple modes to experience. Octavo’s Ode is more of a good thing – it may not change that thing in a dramatic way, but it adds value to a package that was already valuable before the addition of the latest update. Whether you’ve played Cadence of Hyrule or not, this is a good time to jump in and experience what the game has to offer.

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