Early Zelda: Breath of the Wild Thoughts

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is amazing.  It more than lives up to the considerable hype.  I love it and am glad to say that the few trepidations I had going in have proved unfounded.  While most people seemed to be won over instantly at the idea of an open world Zelda, I was scared that Breath of the Wild would play like an open world game.  I feared that the tightly designed, often dense worlds of the Legend of Zelda would be replaced by a blandly generated open world. Both of those fears have been assuaged by playing nearly 20 hours of the game over its first  week after release.

While the openness is the first thing that grabs the player upon starting up the game, it obvious pretty soon that Nintendo and Zelda Producer Eiji Aonuma didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  The prerelease hype and the reviews have all focused on its ties to the original Legend of Zelda, and that game’s influence is clearly felt, but it doesn’t ignore the series past that. The structure of the game has been rethought, continuing a trend that arguably began with Skyward Sword and was very evident in A Link Between Worlds, but the moment to moment gameplay is just another step along the evolutionary path that the series has been on since the series went 3D with Ocarina of Time.

I understand that many people found Skyward Sword stifling, but it controlled like a dream.  People will argue about the motion controls for sword fighting; I think they are being ridiculous, but setting the motion aspects aside, Skyward Sword was a delight to move around in.  That is something that has been true of the series since it went 3D.  Few 3D games feel as good to move around in as the Zelda games do.  There is a reason that so many games stole Z-targeting from the series.  Compare that to popular open world games like Grand Theft Auto or Bethesda’s output and it is night and day.  The player character in Skyrim glides over the world, never really seeming to interact with it.  Some of that has to do with the fact that Elder Scrolls games are designed to be played from the first person perspective, some of it has to do with the fact that Bethesda games have big, well considered worlds but play like janky pieces of crap.  Breath of the Wild takes the open world, but it still plays like Zelda, a feat that I didn’t think could be achieved, but they did it.  I thought at best we would have an Assassin’s Creed situation, games that play fine,but the player interacts with the world in very limited ways.  

Then there was my fear that wewould get the usual open world, which usually translates to empty world.  The really open Zelda game was Wind Waker, which featured both small dense islands to explore and wide and empty ocean.  That was built into the game: the ocean is big and empty. The best Zelda games have forsaken openness for density. A Link to the Past’s Hyrule is not especially big, but there is a lot to find and do.  People love Majora’s Mask and that game is undeniably tiny.  The clear winner as far as game density goes is Skyward Sword.  There is the big, largely empty sky, but that exists mostly to let the player fly around on the back of a bird, once on the ground there is always something to do or see.  It essentially turned theoverworld areas into open air dungeons.  Their density made for difficult traversal, but unlocking the secrets of each of the three main areas never stopped being enticing. While not as dense as Skyward Sword, Breath of the Wild has kept that denseness while expanding Hyrule bigger that it has ever been before. This is an open world where little piece of the map has something to do or see.  Maybe it is just a simple rock moving puzzle to find a little korok spirit, maybe it is a shrine, perhaps a rare or unique specimen of flora or fauna and sometimes, rarely, it is just a beautiful view.

That beautiful view thing might be something people could say for many games, but I have not seen a game that astounds me like this game has with how it looks.  It is not the most technically impressive game in existence, but its art design is unparalleled. I have only explored at best a quarter of Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule and perhaps I’ve only seen the best of it, but if it can maintain this level of things to do and see over the course of what promises to be a nearly 80 hour game, it will certainly go down in history as an all-time great.

Frustrated Hype

There is no game coming out this year that I am more excited for than The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which I should have in my hands already and I’ll see you in a couple of years when I come up for breath. Hell, I don’t think I’ve been this excited for a game since the similarly delayed Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess a decade ago. Still, there is something in the early reactions that I find incredibly annoying. The game is getting the same kind of hype that helped contribute to me losing interest in Game of Thrones. Like with that TV/book series, much of Zelda’s early lauding is built on tearing down what came before it. As someone who has had a lot of fun with those games, it finds that turns me away more than it gets me interested. I doubt I will result in a clean break for me with Zelda like it did with A Song of Ice and Fire, at least partly because I still really like what Nintendo is putting out and partly because I like Zelda a lot more than I ever enjoyed George R R Martin’s work.



While its fans’ crapping on the rest of the genre wasn’t what turned me off to A Song of Ice and Fire, it did make it easier for to just decide to give up on the series. I dug into the series a year to two before A Feast for Crows came out and enjoyed it. Then A Feast for Crows hit and I found it rather underwhelming. When the promised second half didn’t show up the next year, or the year after, I kind of started to lose interest. At least, I did until it was announced that HBO was working on a TV adaptation. That sparked a reread and the realization that once the shock of the discovery was gone, I didn’t really like the books that much. That is the biggest reason I am not into the series anymore; it kept my interest through the rush of its twists and turns, but I didn’t like anything else about it.

What really didn’t help the situation were my online interactions with GoT fans. The primary method I’ve seen fans of the series use to build up it up is by tearing down other fantasy series. ASoIaF/GoT is better than Wheel of Time because it is so real. It is so dark and gritty, unlike all that other silly fantasy crap. Not only did I find these arguments unconvincing, it was also frustrating to see stuff I liked consistently put down by people hoping to push something that I really didn’t like. Being more realistic is not necessarily a positive thing in a fantasy series. Being dark and gritty is often just code for being cynical and pre-teen edgy. I am glad for fans of the series to have as faithful and successful an adaptation as Game of Thrones appears to be, but it success doesn’t render other similar series inferior.

That is the same feeling I am getting from some of Breath of the Wild’s hype. Nintendo is purposefully comparing their new Zelda to the original Legend of Zelda. That is fine, and it appears to have resulted in a truly excellent game. But that has morphed in many places to the full on tearing down of every Zelda game between the original and this new one. It is some baffling revisionist history, like there haven’t been at least three masterpieces in between. This is not true of everybody, many are careful to point out that while A Link to the Past didn’t have the original’s freedom it was still an excellent game, but most of the games are getting written off as misguided crap.

I never thought I would put myself into arguing against the original Legend of Zelda, but people vastly overstate the sense of ‘freedom’ in that game. It may have been one of my original gaming loves, but that game is a lot of opaque crap that has been wisely discarded. Getting past the Lost Hills or the Lost Woods is a cool trick once you know it, but it is understandably frustrating to anyone who doesn’t know how it works. Finding most of the secrets on the over world involves either already knowing where things are or painstakingly burning each bush or bombing likely walls. It isn’t fun; it is tedious. There is a lot to love about the game, but its relative openness is not the game’s biggest selling point.

Then there are the supposedly hyping comparisons to Skyrim, as though being a wide open janky piece of crap would be an improvement for the series. I know that I am the extreme outlier for my take on that game and Bethesda’s output in general, but what I’ve always liked more about Nintendo’s output over a lot of the open world crap that is dominating the current gaming landscape is that their games actually have well considered gameplay. I would rather Skyward Sword’s tightly designed, dense overworld to the wide open nothing that I see all over the place. From what I’ve seen of Breath of the Wild it appears to avoid the traps that nearly every other open world games fall into. Like Metal Gear Solid V, Breath of the Wild appears to still be a tightly designed game that is also an open world. As long as it still plays like Zelda, everything else is just gravy.

What annoys me is the hype that depends on putting something else down to make whatever is being hyped look good. You don’t have to tell me that the Wheel of Time is crap to try to convince me that A Song of Ice and Fire is good. Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword don’t have to be misbegotten junk to make Breath of the Wild a fresh experience. It can sell on its own merits; the other games in the series don’t need to be buried to build it up. Again, I am excited for Breath of the Wild as have been for a game in a long time, but that excitement has nothing to do with Skyward Sword, other than the fact that this game seems to be using a similar art design.

2nd Quest: The Phantom Hourglass


The Legend of Zelda games on the DS are probably the most divisive in the series. Both The Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks share the same conflicting control scheme. They also tried to recreate the look of the console Zeldas on a handheld that wasn’t quite powerful enough to do it right. The cel-shaded look from Wind Waker returns here, and it mostly works despite the DS being a terrible system for 3D graphics. It looks slightly worse than Ocarina of Time did. With the DS Zelda games, Nintendo could have taken the easy route and just made what was essentially A Link to the Past on a handheld and everyone would have loved it. They did that with A Link Between Worlds. They went for something else entirely. I can’t say it completely worked out, but it was a noble experiment.


The most divisive part of The Phantom Hourglass is the stylus controls. In what seems a desperate, and completely unnecessary, attempt by Nintendo to prove the usefulness of their touchscreen enabled DS very few actions in Phantom Hourglass use button presses, nearly everything is done with the stylus. Despite the fact that the controls are very different from the rest of the series or really any other game, playing Phantom Hourglass soon feels natural. There are times when the controls are awkward, mostly when the game is pulling mechanics straight in from previous Zelda games, but for the most part they are excellent. Many actions are streamlined, like picking up and throwing pots and rocks. It takes just two taps of the stylus to execute. Drawing paths for the boomerang or bombchus and aiming the bow are likewise very natural. The combat, however, suffers greatly. Swinging the sword boils down to imprecise flailing. Luckily, most enemies are designed to be taken down with such flailing, making it only a slight problem. The requisite bout of batting an energy ball back and forth with a boss is awful, though. It is all but impossible to be precise. I can understand how the controls are a love them or hate them prospect; they are far different from what players are used to, but I have to say they impressed me with how well they work.


The other common complaint with Phantom Hourglass is about the Temple of the Ocean King. This is a dungeon that the player must go through multiple times throughout the game, each time going a few floors deeper than the time before. It is a decent idea of the surface, but the execution completely ruins the idea. Other than the chests you open, the dungeon resets each time, so you have to solve each puzzle again. Also, the dungeon is timed. So not only do you have to redo the dungeon, you have to redo it quickly. That’s not all; it is also a stealth dungeon, full of enemies called Phantoms, giant ghostly knights that the player can’t hurt. So you have to repeatedly, quickly sneak through this same dungeon more than a half dozen times. It was a poor design decision. And since it forms the backbone of the game, it really hampers the proceedings.

The biggest flaw, though, is the overworld. Returning to the look and world of Wind Waker was great, but the barely interactive sailing on the world map is the worst. I understand that space on the DS cart is limited and maybe they couldn’t do a big overworld, but knowing that the map was a necessary compromise needed to get that ugly low-poly 3D look, doesn’t help sell it. This is a Zelda game where exploring is a chore that I spent most of my time trying to avoid. That is as far away from the normal Zelda experience possible.

ph2Luckily the dungeons are all really good. When the game gets out if its own way and just lets the player play, it is a damn fine game. The available tools are limited, but the game comes up with multiple ways to use most of them. The grappling hook is really great in this regard. You can use it like the hookshot, but you can also use it to make tightropes across pits and like a slingshot to shoot the Link across some holes. It is the standout tool of the game. Most of the dungeons have some really great puzzles. They are not confined to one room, some of the better puzzles continue across several floors. They are truly satisfying.

The Phantom Hourglass is a flawed game. Most of the problems with the game could be fairly easily fixed. Taking out the repeating part of the Temple of the Ocean King mostly solves that problem and just giving the player direct control of the world map would make it less annoying. Still, despite those problems, The Phantom Hourglass is a largely enjoyable game. I find how experimental it is laudable, but that doesn’t really make it necessarily a good game. It is a divisive entry in the series with good reason. I liked The Phantom Hourglass, but I don’t see myself coming back to it any time soon.

2nd Quest The Minish Cap

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is Capcom’s third (technically 4th if we count the 4 Swords mode from the GBA Link to the Past port as its own game) and final game in the Zelda universe. Their first two games, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, were solid Gameboy games that were built on the bones of Link’s Awakening. While neither is perfect, both are solid games. With The Minish Cap, Capcom finally got it right. For the most part.


The Minish Cap starts with young Link and Zelda attending a fair in Hyrule town before going to the castle. There, the evil sorcerer Vaati takes control of the elemental powers and turns Zelda to stone. The only clue Link has to go on to save her is a legend about the Picori, a race of tiny people. Soon, through the use of the titular Minish Cap, a magic hat (not really, but that is close a close enough explanation) that gives Link the ability to shrink himself down to tiny size to meet with the tiny Picori as well as with the reach previously unreachable areas. It gives the game a fairly original hook.

First and foremost, The Minish Cap is a fine looking game. The backgrounds are detailed and colorful; the character sprites, though they look a little over rendered, are still magnificent. Minish Cap is easily the best looking 2D Zelda game. The detail in the surroundings is especially impressive when you shrink down. The bosses look nice, but most of them are just big versions of regular enemies, which is a little disappointing.


It is also just a lot of fun to play. The selection of tools, while small, gives Link an interesting move set. Almost all of them appear in other games, but here they all used rather well. Plus, there are several sword abilities that are only useable with specific items. The game actually gives the player Link’s down stab from Zelda 2. The dungeons, while few in number, are inventively laid out and just generally a joy to play through.

The biggest problem with The Minish Cap is that it is just too darn short. There are only five dungeons and the word map is tiny. For a series that is generally as expansive and epic as Zelda, The Minish Cap is disappointingly brief. The game ends just as it gets going. There are a couple spots it looks like more dungeons could have been added, like the Graveyard and the mountain, but they were already pushing the game’s scenario to include 5 dungeons.


A slightly lesser problem is how gated the game feels. There are a lot of spots where you are blocked off by a hole with a rock to push into it from the other side. Those spots work for me. There you just need to get the right item to advance, a perfectly valid reason to block the player off. The spots where your hat won’t let you go somewhere until you so somewhere else or talk to someone else first. That sort of nonsense is prevalent in this game. Then there are the Kinstones. Many of the other characters have half a kinstone and Link must find the other half and match them up. When he does, it unlocks something on the map, like a piece of a heart or a cave full of rupees. It essentially takes all the reward out of exploring, since you have to find the kinstones before you can actually find most of the stuff.


Taken for what it is, The Minish Cap is an excellent game. But it is something far different from the regular Zelda game. Instead of a relatively open game about exploring. The Minish Cap is a very structured experience. The game is telling its story and the player is not really allowed to deviate from it. Fortunately, while the game is very guided toury, it is a singularly fun tour. Until A Link Between Worlds, I would say this was the best handheld Zelda game. The Minish Cap is a brief little delight.

2nd Quest: Oracle of Seasons

I know I said I was going to play Majora’s Mask, and I am currently doing so, but after finishing up Bravely Default I needed something to play on my 3DS. So I picked up my game of Oracle of Seasons game that I gave up when I got A Link Between Worlds for Christmas. I am glad I finally got the chance to finish it up. I wasn’t much a fan of the other Oracle game. It was good, but Oracle of Ages has way too much tedious chatting and fetch questing in between the parts where the player actually gets to play. Oracle of Seasons doesn’t have much of that nonsense, and it’s all the better for it. While not as quite as good as Link’s Awakening, Oracle of Seasons is an excellent game. It is, however, maybe the most difficult Zelda game that is not on the NES.


The internet tells me that Oracle of Seasons started as remake of the original Legend of Zelda. I believe it. The two games are quite alike. The first three or four dungeons of Seasons are much like the early dungeons of LoZ. Later the season changing mechanics become more involved, which obscures the similatiries, but there are still some. Many of the bosses are straight out of the first game. It is also, at times, brutally difficult. I don’t think I would have beaten it if I hadn’t been playing a linked game and therefore able to get the Master Sword. Oracle of Ages is a test of the player’s mind, Oracle of Seasons is a test of the player’s skill. There are some tricky puzzles, but there are more hazards and enemies. Like the LoZ’s rooms full of Darknuts and Wizrobes, OoS is all about the mastery of Zelda’s stiff combat. The individual rooms in the dungeons aren’t as difficult as the originals, the later dungeons are more of a prolonged nightmare. Normally, once you clear a room it is cleared until you leave the dungeon or die. However, in Oracle of Seasons, when you go into one of the side scrolling underground areas all the enemies respawn. Which means that as the player moves through the dungeon, there are no cleared rooms. They are always full of enemies.


Also, the game doesn’t have the same potion as the original. In that game there were blue and red potions, good for one or two uses depending on which color. In Oracle of Seasons, there is a potion, which you have to do most of the trading sequence to unlock, which is one use and is automatically used when you run out of hearts. So if you wanted to save it for the boss but you fell to a half dozen wizrobes just before, you’d have to leave the dungeon and run all the way across the map to get a new one. It is a frustrating decision. All together it means that that while the individual challenges are never as hard as Legend of Zelda’s, there is a constant source of tension and challenge in that there are always more enemies.

The first half of this game is just perfectly smooth. Compared to the other handheld Zelda’s, this game is really straightforward. There is none of the nonsense between the player and the dungeons, that player must only find them. It is refreshing. I love the Zelda series, but sometimes the games bog down forcing the player to do things that simply aren’t that fun. Seasons, the first half in particular, is remarkably short on that kind of stuff. The game is Zelda on the simplest terms in a lot of ways. Where it deviates from that is with the Rod of Seasons. It adds some puzzle solving to the overworld. Fun puzzles solving, not the nonsense from Ages. Each season changes the layout of the map a little, with different map features. Winter has snow drifts for the player to walk on, Spring had flowers that shoot the player up, etc. These are cued in by persistent map features. If there is a spring flower, it will still be there in the summer and fall, merely a withered husk of its springy healthy self. While it does require some thought, environmental never gets too difficult. There is only one spot where it gets truly complex, the Lost Woods, but it gives the player just enough to think about.


There are some downsides. Some of the later dungeons get downright brutal. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be frustrating. Much like the previous two Gameboy Zeldas, the thing still feels limited. I know that is absolutely an unfair complaint to lodge against the games; I don’t care. Their system of origin really keep me from liking them as much as I do nearly any other Zelda game. A lot of it has to do with the item switching. I think I complained about that in both my Link’s Awakening article and my Oracle of Ages one; the complaint still stands. Have to go to the menu over and over to change weapons and tools to solve puzzles is not fun. It is annoying. Still, Oracle of Seasons is a fun game. It doesn’t reach the heights of console games, but it was a fun experience. It was definitely better than Oracle of Ages, but not quite as good as Link’s Awakening.


One last thing, I guess I need to mention the linked parts of the two Oracle games. If you input a code from one of the beaten games, it opens up some changed cutscenes and puzzles in the new game. There are also a lot of extra rings and items to acquire. Mostly this is done by getting a code from a character in one game and then giving to a character in the other. It is tedious and not very fun, but it does provide some neat linked activity for the two games. Most importantly, it also unlocks the true ending of this little subseries. In the second game, the witches Twinrova start to complete their dastardly plot of sacrificing Zelda to resurrect Ganon. It adds an extra dungeon and a couple of boss battles for Link to thwart them. It is a pretty neat addition.

2nd Quest 4 Swords

This series hasn’t really turned out liked I had hoped. Not the Zelda series, but my series of blog posts as I attempt to replay them all this year. I am about halfway through Link to the Past and have put some time in on Majora’s Mask, but I haven’t really had the time to sit down and play them that I had wished. It doesn’t help that I have been playing them on my Wii and it is currently unavailable to me. I have managed to play the free download version of 4 Swords on my 3DS, though. I know it really doesn’t come until much later, but I’ve played it and I might as well go over it while it is still fresh.

4 Swords began as a link up extra in the GBA port of Link to the Past. Nintendo was trying to sell connectivity, and 4 Sword was their way of shoehorning it into LttP. The version I played was rereleased as a free download as part of the Legend of Zelda’s 25th Anniversary. Essentially, it is Legend of Zelda: The Arcade Game. It is a mix of traditional Zelda dungeons with some Gauntlet like sensibilities.

Gone from 4 Swords are all of the series overworld and story parts. It is just dungeons. There is also no gradual accumulation of tools; you have a maximum of two at any given time. The emphasis is on getting the best use out of limited tools and on cooperation. 4 Swords is ideally a multiplayer game. I, unfortunately, was unable to play it that way. It is playable in single player, with one person alternating control over two Links. It is actually a lot of fun. The dungeons aren’t particularly complex, they are randomly generated, but there are some novel cooperation puzzles. The arcade game comparison comes in with 4 Swords goal of collecting Rupees. The player is scored on how many Rupees they collect. In multiplayer this adds a touch of competition, with each player trying to get the most Rupees, but in single player it just makes collecting the Rupees more important than usual.

It is certainly not the full Zelda experience, but there is certainly a lot to love. While the initial dungeons fall into the usual Fire/Forest/Ice variety, the bonus dungeons are neat. They are done in the style of previous Zelda games. One looks like LttP, another Link’s Awakening and the last looks like the original Legend of Zelda. It is really cool. This is a fun distraction rather than a full game. Definitely not an essential experience, but a worthy addition to the Zelda series.

2nd Quest Part 4: Ocarina of Time

There are two games in the Legend of Zelda series that usually get mentioned in “greatest game of all time” discussions: Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. They are the 2D and 3D epitome of the series, respectively. While LttP’s reputation seems to be unassailable, probably as much as because it is a great game as because it was the last big 2D game in the series, Ocarina of Time lately has faced some harsh critical evaluations. While most people think that at least one or two the later 3D are significantly flawed, plenty find at least one to be better than Ocarina. Flaws pointed out usually involve the mostly empty Hyrule Field, as well as the game being too easy and too ugly. For the most part I disagreed. Hyrule Field is empty, but it only needs to be traversed a couple of times, and for most of them you can ride Epona. Even with its emptiness it helps provide a sense of scale, to make Hyrule seem like a real place. The game does seem easy now, but that is mostly in the difficulty of translating puzzles from 2D to 3D. Plus, I still say it provides enough challenge. There is no defense for its ugliness, there are no good looking N64 games. After playing the new 3DS version of the game, I have reconsidered. I don’t disagree for the most part, I disagree entirely. Ocarina of Time is one of the greatest games of all time. It has flaws, slight, forgettable ones, but on the whole it is a triumph.

One thing I had forgotten about Ocarina was how well it told it story. Story is something that the Zelda series puts so little emphasis on that I find it easy to forget. Ocarina’s story has a fairy tale quality to it. Link is the only Kokiri without a fairy companion, and while he gets along just fine, some of the other Kokiri treat him like a second class citizen. One morning a fairy comes to him and requests that he see the Great Deku tree, beginning his epic journey. The first third of the game, playing as young Link as he tries to help Zelda fight off the evil Gannondorf, is perfectly plotted. It tells a fun, childlike story while planting the seeds for the time jump to the second half. Link leaves his home and meets a Princess, becomes an honorable member of the Goron tribe and inadvertently wins the heart of another Princess, this time of the Zora’s. He also manages to visit almost all of the land of Hyrule and meet just about everybody. This opening part last about 4 or 5 hours, and it is a near perfect introduction to the world, while still providing meaty gameplay. The first dungeon, the Great Deku Tree, is pretty rudimentary, but the next two, Dodongo’s Cave and Jabu Jabu’s Belly, while small are perfectly good Zelda dungeons. The early part of Ocarina is just a wonderful fairy tale.

Which makes the second part particularly jarring, even when you know it is coming. As the player returns with the third magical doodad to open the door to the master sword, he is met by Zelda and her protector Impa being pursued by Gannondorf. He retrieves the magic Ocarina she flings at him and goes to get the power to defeat Gannondorf once and for all. Unfortunately, Gannondorf is thee waiting for him. So instead of stopping him, Link gives him the power he has so desperately sought. When he wakes up 7 (?) years later, finally old enough to wield the sword Gannondorf has turned the Hyrule into a nightmare version of itself. Instead of dancing people and carnival music in Hyrule square, it is full of zombies. Every idyllic place that young Link visited is not a twisted form of itself, ready to fall apart after years of misrule. And Link, being the hero that he is, sets out immediately to right these wrongs by finding the last five of the six sages, as explained to him by Rauru, the Sage of Light. One connection I did not pick up on before I played Zelda 2 was that the names of the Sages are the names of the towns from that game: Rauru, Saria, Ruto etc. He is also helped by the mysterious Sheik, a member of the sheikah, of whom Impa was the last member.

The second part of the game is amazing. The five main dungeons are all impressive, with distinct looks and feels. I know some hate the Water Temple, but it is one of my favorites. I’m not a big fan of the Spirit Temple’s reliance on doing it at different ages, but it is a neat gimmick. Another thing I had forgotten were the mini-dungeons. I had no recollection of the Ice Cave and I had little memory of the bottom of the well. Those small dungeons helped keep the formula of solve a dungeon, mess around in the surrounding area/town, go to the next area fresh. Sometimes there is a little something extra to do. Really, the second part of Ocarina of Time is as good as video games get. There is minimal interferences from the game, it is left up to the players to find their way. Of course, there is only some sequence breaking possible it is more than most of the later games would allow.

I played the 3DS version, but it has been long enough since I had played the N64 one that I can’t really note detailed differences. The graphics have been noticeably cleaned up, fixing the game looking ugly problem. There have been some fixes for the Water Dungeon, with color coded doors for water height and a quicker way to put on and take off the iron boots, but I didn’t remember that being such a problem. On problem it did add was that the 3DS joypad is too close to the shoulder button used to lock on to enemies, making some fights actually physically painful. As far as I could tell, the 3DS version is mostly the same truly excellent game that Ocarina of Time has always been.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a game that completely deserves it reputation. It is a terrifically designed game from start to finish. Each area builds on the ones that came before it. The young Link set and older Link payoff is much more impressive than the dark world shenanigans of LttP. The story is simple, but it is perfectly executed and given just enough attention, by which I mean very little. Ocarina of Time is the reason that the Zelda series is still relevant today, unlike nearly every other 2D holdover, Mario excluded. Nintendo and Miyamoto found out how to translate the 2D experience into a different, but still completely satisfying new 3D experience. It has been 15 years since Ocarina was released and it is still just as vibrant today as it has ever been. It is a true classic.

2nd Quest Part 3: Link’s Awakening

In the circles I frequent, both online and in real life, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is considered by many to be one of the premiere games in the series, mentioned up there along with A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. For the longest time I could not understand the love Link’s Awakening received. It was just a smaller, talkier LttP. Plus, it was on the dark often blurry original Gameboy screen. I was never able to push through and really get started in large part because it was just so hard to see. For my 2nd Quest, I played the Gameboy Color’s DX version on my 3DS. Playing it when I could actually see what I was doing made a ton of difference. Now that I’ve beaten it, I still don’t understand the hyperbolic love this game gets. Link’s Awakening is phenomenal for a Gameboy game, but it is greatly hampered by the limitations of that system.

Link’s Awakening does an admirable job cramming what is essentially A Link to the Past on to a Gameboy cart. However, there are some drawbacks. Some come from elements abandoned from the original Legend of Zelda that Link’s Awakening decided not just to bring back but to expand upon, like the side scrolling rooms where new items were hidden. Those are more numerous and larger in LA and they are not particularly good. Most of those segments could have easily been removed. Then there is the limiting, at least after having played later Zelda games, A Button and B Button weapon set up. Sure, Link’s Awakening makes the sword optional, but I still spent way too much time in the menu changing items. This is partly due to the games laudable attempt at more complex puzzles by mixing a variety of items into their solutions. Puzzles have more steps to their completion, but in between each of those steps is pausing the game, going to the menu and changing equipment around. It seriously breaks the flow of the game.

Some of this could have been alleviated by not having the power bracelet be an equipable item. It is the same with the shield. The shield could have just been automatically equipped, like the original LoZ. Really, Link’s toolset is pretty lackluster here. There are the usual tools: bow, hookshot, and bombs, with only a few new or interesting ones. Link’s Awakening is the first appearance of the ocarina, which would play a large part in several games to come. There is also the Roc’s Feather, which allows Link to jump. It is an interesting tool for the 2D games, but Ocarina’s auto jump made it superfluous to most future games. Because of the limited tools, Link’s Awakening feels like the most generic Zelda game.

At least the dungeons are largely good. The first couple are pretty basic, for obvious reasons, but after that they get to be really good. Except for Level 5, it relies on making the player fight the same mini-boss, an exceptionally easy mini-boss, four times. Which in and of itself wouldn’t be so bad, but he only appears in the four fighting rooms in a specific order, meaning that a player who takes the wrong route through the dungeon might have to run through it as many as four times. It is some tedious crap. That is just a small hiccup, ignoring that these are some really good dungeons.

People also talk about how charming LA setting is, the island of Koholint in place of the usual Hyrule. I’ll agree to that some, but not to any real extent. With one exception, the “charming” townsfolk are just mostly the same as the residents of the average video game town. Okay, that is too harsh, the game does give several of them a little more than that, but for the most part they are just townsfolk. Marin, Link sort of love interest, is well realized. She is a genuinely interesting character. There are other supposedly charming moments, including a wealth of references to Mario games. Those are pretty neat, but a quick picture of Peach or stomping some Goombas really doesn’t do a lot for me. Though I did like the appearance of Wart from Super Mario Bros 2, since it is at least thematically appropriate. There are more references to other games, like an enemy that looks suspiciously like Kirby, which does add to the whole dream world feel.

One of the biggest problems I had with the game was how often it would stop the player to give them some useless piece of advice. This is a complaint often leveled at newer entries in the series, especially since Twilight Princess onward, but I think it is worse here than in other games. It is worst with rocks and other lift able things. If the bracelet is not equipped, then every time it stops the player to tell them its too heavy. It is absurdly easy to bump up against something and have to go through that. I found it infuriating.

Some of my complaints are admittedly rather nitpicky, but there are enough to hamper my enjoyment of the game. Link’s Awakening is still a really good game. Especially when compared to other gameboy games. It is head and shoulders above most of them but compared to most of the Zelda series, it feels like something of a runt. This one belongs squarely in the liked, not loved category. It was certainly better than Zelda 2, though.


Second Quest Part 2, Kind of

If you remember, a few months ago I said I was going to beat every Zelda game, spend the year taking in the series. But after putting up my thoughts on the original Legend of Zelda, I haven’t had anymore ready to go. That is because I was playing Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It had been nearly 20 years since I had last played Zelda II; I had only vaguely pleasant but confused recollections of it. Playing it again lately has been a largely frustrating experience. Not so much because Zelda II is a bad game, it has its problems but it is mostly well made, but because its flaws are almost perfectly suited to pissing me off.

Since I didn’t even come close to beating Zelda II, I only reached the second dungeon, I am only going to go over a few things that made me put it away. The first is the how slow getting information out of townsfolk is. This is something that only makes me mad because I am already kind of fed up with other things, but this doesn’t help. It’s like torture. Another is how the game gives out experience. Like the fact that not all enemies give experience or that some actually take it away. And last of all, is that Zelda II did not fix the unknowably arcane crap from Zelda I. That seems like all they actually kept, things like knowing exactly where to go in the woods to find Bagu or whatever his name is to get across the river. I only found out by using a guide, which I was trying to avoid.

It simply comes down to the fact that I just do not like Legend of Zelda II: Link’s Adventure. More power to the people who love it, I won’t say they are wrong but I’ll be damned if I’ll waste anymore time playing it myself. So there is at least 1 Zelda game I will not beat this year. On to A Link to the Past!

Second Quest Part 1: Legend of Zelda

Playing the Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword (see here and here) and hearing the wildly varying impressions of it and the rest of the Zelda series made me want to go back and play all the games. It seems that while most people think that Zelda is going wrong or has gone wrong at some point, but no one can agree how or when. I am of the opinion that the Legend of Zelda is one of the few series that has no real missteps. To see if I am right I plan to replay, or in a few cases play for the first time, the entire Zelda series to see how it holds up. So let me begin the Second Quest, starting of course, with the original Legend of Zelda.

I wrote a thing about Zelda as a part of my 25 Years of NES, but I didn’t play it much before I wrote that. I think the last time I played it back in 2004 or a year or two earlier, on the GBA. I stand by the complaints I made about the game in my previous post, but replaying it recently has given me a greater appreciation of just how good Zelda 1 is, even now.

The Legend of Zelda is deceptively simple. No jumping, no scrolling, slow action. However, the wealth of sub weapon options is staggering for an NES game. It is a thinking man’s action game. The question is not “can I?” but “how can I?” There is combat, hard combat sometimes (screw you blue darknuts!) but it is rarely a question of whether or not the player can defeat the enemies. It is about whether the player can figure out which enemies need to be killed, which walls need to be bombed or which blocks need to be pushed.

Playing it again after so long was like coming home. Everything is smaller and a bit shabbier than I remembered, but after a few minutes it all came rushing back. I knew where to find most of my hearts, though I sometimes forgot which bushes hid secrets from everybody and which hid door repairs. I didn’t have to search for the dungeons, except for dungeon 2, which I can never find. It is still often obtuse, still somewhat primitive, but Zelda 1 is a lot more fun to go back an play than I remembered.

The single best thing about it is how it encouraged players to explore. In a time when most games were reliant on limited lives and limited continues to artificially pump up the difficulty and playtime, Zelda instead used a relatively large and complex game world to keep players in front of the screen. Instead of a ‘Game Over’ screen upon death, players were allowed to restart with all hearts, rupees and items as many times as they wanted. There was effectively no penalty for death, encouraging players to push the boundaries. Since simply reaching a destination was rarely the goal, letting the players get back there easily did not lesson the challenge.

Even now I’d say Zelda 1 is a very good game. It hasn’t aged perfectly, but the core of the game is still as fun and addictive as it ever was. It is actually very similar to Skyward Sword. In both games you are constantly going through a dense, maze-like over world. It is also more combat focused than most games in the series. Despite that, it is still very much a game about the puzzles. Zelda 1’s puzzles are simpler than in the later games, but are still hard by being more vague. Considering that it is more than 25 years old, the Legend of Zelda is absolutely deserving of its classic status.

all pics from vgmuseum