Sunday, February 26, 2017

Breath of the Wild: Final Expectations

In five days we will all be playing the next big Zelda game - Breath of the Wild. And before the new game lands in your hands, it's interesting to ask yourself what you really are expecting from it. Expectations can be betrayed, which usually results in disappointment. And that's something, where both Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword had their troubles.

With Twilight Princess Nintendo went with the "better than Ocarina of Time" route. They thought they had surpassed the N64 classic by doing the same things in "bigger and better", but ultimately the game was too linear and the characters and the environments weren't as good. While for some fans it's still the best Zelda game, for others it couldn't deliver...

With Skyward Sword Nintendo already tried to tamper with the Zelda formula in many different ways, like motion controls and segmented, dungeon-esque overworlds, but this probably went as expected. A major issue here was that Nintendo showed so much of the game in advance that there haven't been any surprises left. But even in such a case you still expect that there's more to the game than what they've shown already, which is where the game failed to deliver...

At least in that regard it's very different with Breath of the Wild. For the most part they only have shown us the starting area, the Great Plateau. But that's only a small fraction of the entire game world and we've only seen glimpses of what else there is to explore. The emphasis here is on "explore", because it should really be up to each one of us to discover the game world (and the story) on our own, instead of just following the big milestones that Nintendo has been showing off for months. So far so good.

But with the bigger game worlds in Zelda games, Nintendo usually had their issues to fill them with proper content. Especially the Wind Waker and Twilight Princess felt quite "empty". The main challenge will be to fill it all with worthwhile and interesting content, so that you never lose your motivation to explore it all. Especially things like villages with character interactions will be critical, because we haven't seen much about that yet. And a reason, why Nintendo decided not to show anything in advance could be that there's nothing much to show...

As far as the expectations about the overall status of Breath of the Wild go, however, the game is certainly on. It's another Twilight Princess situation here, where Nintendo really wants to create the next big thing for the Zelda franchise, finally surpassing Ocarina of Time. I'm trying to be cautiously optimistic, where I certainly hope that this will be a new direction that drives the Zelda series from now on, instead of being yet another collection of failed experiments. It might not be perfect, but at least it should be something that can be reiterated on in the future, much like Ocarina of Time defined the formula for a long time.


Other than these general thoughts I have two more self-righteous expectations, where I want to see my two major theories about the game to come true, which were created by the several teasers that Nintendo has done since E3:

Timeline Merge

Nintendo really has teased us with the timeline placement of Breath of the Wild on a level, where we probably didn't have as much timeline talk ever since the release of Hyrule Historia. This was a smart move, because it kept the Zelda fans discussing about the game, and to ensure this, the clues had to be all over the place. The Master Sword pedestal from A Link to the Past in front of the Great Deku Tree and surrounded by the Koroks from the Wind Waker. The ruined Temple of Time from Ocarina of Time, the ruined Hyrule Castle Town from Twilight Princess and maybe even the Great Bridge of Hylia. Talk about an ancient ocean and much more... It didn't add up at all, if you were looking for a specific placement somewhere (at the end) of the three timelines.

This had me thinking that the only explanation would be a scenario, where the timelines (and different Hyrules) got merged into one. Then it all finally made sense and it would give the game the symbolism that it needs. Only this way it could be a real counterpoint to Ocarina of Time and create a fresh start for the franchise built on its entire past. You are walking through the ruins of places from all these past Zelda games to experience a gigantic new adventure!

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like the only way and I would be very disappointed, if this in the end just turns out to be another Wind Waker sequel or whatever...

Playable Characters

This other theory came up with the last two trailers and Nintendo's recent media outlets, where they showed a series of characters dressed in blue, all with their own weapons. Next to Zelda there's a Goron, a Zora girl, some Rito Archer and a Gerudo girl. You've probably seen them already and they all look like additional amiibo material.

And when I saw these characters, I immediately wanted to play as all of them and not just in Hyrule Warriors 2, right here in Breath of the Wild. It wouldn't even be a new thing, you could already do it with Medli and Makar in the Wind Waker, which was an excellent feature. Or you could transform into different races in Majora's Mask. And playing as other races and characters was always a lot of fun, where Breath of the Wild would be wasting potential, if all of these characters would just be AI companions.

Still, I didn't want to get my hopes up, but then I accidentally clicked on Twitter out of habit yesterday and the first thing I saw was the "one week" teaser image from Nintendo:

Looks like the fun selfie shots from the Wind Waker HD are back, nice... But is it really a selfie? Link has too much distance to the camera and the Sheikah Slate is right there on his belt. It would be really weird, if you could do that, unless someone else with a Sheikah Slate would be doing the shot. And who could this someone be?

Imagine the situation! Link takes down this huge Hinox (it's nice that the Sheikah Slate tells you the enemy names) and Zelda then takes a photo of his victory pose there. What a nice couple! And it's teasers like this that get my expectations up again, where it might generate disappointment, if all of this was simply misleading and you could just do weird things with the Sheikah Slate camera, while it's not even in Link's hands...

(When I previously speculated about a playable Zelda, I was worried that she would take the Sheikah Slate away from you, but it looks like she might have her own after all. The other scenes, where Link doesn't carry the device, might all have been flashbacks, where I've heard that you will collect his lost memories throughout the game. This would explain some of the scenes that we saw in the last two trailers.)

So, while it's really, really good that we don't know that much about the game and there will be lots to discover, Nintendo's teasers might have created some expectations that won't be fulfilled. Well, maybe some of this already has been revealed via leaks or previews, I haven't been looking, so excuse my ignorance at this point. But you can read about my excitements and disappointments about the game starting this Friday.

Breath of the Wild: Gossip Stones?

I'm currently replaying Skyward Sword, where I just ran into the Gossip Stones again, which had me thinking... In the 3D Zelda games that have Gossip Stones they were usually a great way to explore the world even further. Well, in Skyward Sword they are more of an ingame "tips and tricks" section, but at least in the Nintendo 64 Zelda games they delivered information about the world and its people, which you couldn't have gotten otherwise. Interesting details.

And since Breath of the Wild is all about exploring, having hidden Gossip Stones around the world could be part of it. In this case we could get like a modernized Sheikah technology version of them, where they are activated and read by the Sheikah Slate. This makes sense, because the original Gossip Stones were apparently left by the Sheikah, judging from the symbol on them, and could only be read via the Mask of Truth.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Got Art & Artifacts

Yesterday I received the new Art & Artifacts ("Hyrule Graphics" in Japan) book published by Dark Horse. As you can see, I didn't go for the Limited Edition, mostly because I wasn't a big fan of the Master Sword design and the standard edition just looks so much better right next to Hyrule Historia, because Dark Horse used the same design for both books. Even the backs match precisely, so they go very nicely together in any shelf:

If Dark Horse also releases Hyrule Encyclopedia in the same style, it will become a nice collection.

The book itself isn't as big of a must-have like Hyrule Historia, but it's still nice a nice addition and with a total of 428 pages almost twice as thick as its green, older brother, where both books complement each other. Other than the official timeline and the Skyward Sword manga, Hyrule Historia was essentially a collection of concept art. Now Art & Artifacts offers a collection of all the official artworks that were released alongside all the games. This includes cover arts, character designs, item images and illustrations. Some bigger illustrations go over two pages and fill them out completely. For Breath of the Wild there's even a foldout triple page to display the large free climbing view from last E3.

There's also a pixel art section at the end, which seems like a nice idea, however, it only covers the first three games. And then there's the big interview section with some of the designers. These interviews and their reveals have been all over the Nintendo news for the last couple of weeks/months, but it's still interesting to read it all for yourself.

Overall this book is a nice way to go through the entire Zelda series again on a visual basis. It's perfect for reflecting over 30 years of the franchise in one evening, especially looking at all the character art brings back quite some memories. It's also nice, if you want to show anyone, how diverse the Zelda series really is. There are so many different art styles and character designs in this book, it's amazing.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Breath of the Wild: All amiibo Functions Revealed

Nintendo took their time to reveal all amiibo functions for Breath of the Wild, where so far we didn't know what the Breath of the Wild line amiibo and the Zelda amiibo from the Super Smash Bros. line will do in the game. I even posted various expectations earlier this month. But it turns out that they all work like 30th Anniversary amiibo and just deliver goods on a daily basis with the chance for some special items.

Even the Guardian amiibo just gives you drops, where in this case it's probably materials that you normally get from destroying Guardians and other Sheikah technology:

Especially this amiibo is quite disappointing, because I really liked the thought of spawning a Guardian anywhere in the world for a fun challenge. That Rider Link doesn't summon horses, seems also like a missed opportunity, but it probably wouldn't have worked anyway, if there really are different mounts for different regions.

But I'm mostly just disappointed about the Guardian. It seems like Wolf Link is the only amiibo that is really worthwhile getting for the ingame features and the only real must-have amiibo for Zelda fans. But since I've always been an advocate that amiibo shouldn't be necessary to experience the full game, I won't complain any further.

Breath of the Wild: Preview Phase Begins

It seems like Nintendo will now let the media run wild with the game. Because I don't want to get spoiled any further, I will avoid Twitter, Nintendo news feeds, gaming forums and the like for the time being. Comments are also disabled for now just to make sure. Please understand.

In the meantime I will try to finish my 3D Zelda sprint with Skyward Sword. Starting March 3rd I will dive into Breath of the Wild with my "Adventure Log" series on this blog, where I share my experiences with the game on a daily basis. Comments will return after I've beaten the game.

I originally posted this on February 13th, but it was a false alarm. The real preview phase begins now, one week before the release. That's super close! And it seems that the review embargo is on March 1st, two days before release. So, Nintendo really kept the game close to their chest, which is nice.

They handled this really well this time. I know very little about the game outside of the Great Plateau stuff that was shown at E3 last year. And most of the other things came out of the two new trailers, which only gave us small glimpes. With Skyward Sword Nintendo already had showcased the entire game at this point...

And ignoring the gaming media for one week is an agreeable time frame. Since some people might already have the game right now, because their GameStop let it slip early or whatever, you have to be careful anyway. Don't get spoiled! I won't read any previews or reviews, because I'm getting the game anyway and I will experience everything fully on my own, without any bigger knowledge or expectations.

Only one week left!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Let's Update Twilight Princess HD

With remakes and remasters Nintendo usually tries to improve the games in various aspects. However, there still might be some things that they could and should have done to really create the ultimate version of the game. That's certainly the case with Twilight Princess HD, where an update could have been a solution. It's unlikely that at this point Nintendo would release one, but the point of the "Let's Update" series is to think about, how the games can be improved by feasible means. All of this is meant hypothetical.

Controls and Interface
  • All menus are navigable with Analog Stick or D-Pad on the GamePad
  • Classic horse control option
  • 1st camera control option
  • New Wiimote and Nunchuk controls

The controls of Twilight Princess HD combine the motion aiming of the Wii version with the more comfortable joypad controls of the GameCube version, which is certainly nice. However, some of the advantages of the original controls were lost with the HD version.

It's noticeable, how there's no separate camera control option for 1st person mode. If you like the normal camera controls with the right analog stick to be inverted in some way, it might be a problem in 1st person. In fact you can't get the camera controls to work like they were on the GameCube, but a simple option would fix that.

The new horse controls are also far from an improvement. The steering is terrible and the horse gets stuck everywhere. While we cannot expect them to add the new Breath of the Wild horse AI, in the very least they should offer the option to have the horse controls like they used to be, because that was already much better.

Not necessary, but still nice to have would be a third control scheme that supports the use of Wiimote and Nunchuk, so you can play the game like on the Wii, if you really want to. And that way the HD version really offer everything from before.

Bomb Bag Bug Fixed

In case you didn't know, there's actually a bug in the HD version of the game, where you might not get one of the three Bomb Bags. Apparently this can be triggered by getting the Bomb Bag from the sunken Goron last, so make sure to visit him before doing anything at the Rapid Rides! Of course an update of the game would ideally fix this bug.

Ghost Lantern

If there's ever going to be a vote for the most useless item in the Zelda series, the Ghost Lantern certainly would be one of the strongest contenders. The fact that Nintendo just added this item with the HD version doesn't make it any better. But it would have been so easy to make this item really useful.

As one of two new abilities of this item, you can now swing the Lantern to reveal Poes during the day. Whenever you're at a location, where a Poe would be in the proximity during the night, swinging the lantern by pressing the button again will make it appear right away, so you don't have to wait for the next nightfall. Experienced players, who already know all the positions, can use this for their advantage. But also new players could use this, if they spot a Poe during the night, but can't make it in time.

As soon as you have collected all 60 Poes, the Lantern will start glowing everywhere. So, it will basically become a lantern that works without oil as an upgrade. You can't light torches with it, however, because we don't want the Oil Lantern to become redundant. Both lanterns will also shine in a different light.

Ordon Gear

In all versions of Twilight Princess some gear found early in the game gets lost lost later on. You can't get the Wooden Sword back, the Ordon Clothes will be replaced by the Hero's Clothes and the Ordon Shield can't be replaced, if it ever burns up. Since Breath of the Wild will put some big emphasis on equipping Link in many different ways, it might be nice to have some more options in Twilight Princess HD, too.

So, with this update there will be one additional slot for shields, armor and swords each on the Collection screen. Both the Wooden Sword and the Ordon Shield will become purchasable in Sera's Sundries in Ordon Village after beating the Forest Temple. You can now have both the Ordon and the Wooden Shield in your inventory and you can replace them at any time, in case they burn up. You will also be able to wear the Ordon Clothes at any time. If it wasn't for the Ganondorf amiibo, they could have made it so that in the Ordon Clothes you receive double damage for a challenge, but this way they would simply give you a different look for Link, whenever you want one.

At least the Wooden Sword could offer a challenge. Next to the lower damage it will also burn up, if you hit fire enemies like the Torch Slugs or Fire Keese.

Twilit Challenge

This would be the same thing as the Boss Challenge in Ocarina of Time 3D or the Lightning Round in Skyward Sword, probably closer to the latter. It simply would be a feature, where you can replay all the bosses in the game. In fact Twilight Princess is the only 3D Zelda game, where you can't replay any of the bosses (except for the final ones) on any means. And since the bosses here can be quite epic and fun, that's a shame. So, let's just add a boss battle mode!

It doesn't need any reward, it could just be for the records. The only question is, where you would put it in the game. I would suggest Link's bed, if he had one... Knowing Nintendo, they would probably tie it to some Ganon amiibo, but let's not go there. It potentially could also be done by Madame Fanadi, who's a character that can be fully ignored otherwise. I've actually didn't visit her a single time on my last playthrough.

In addition this "Twilit Challenge" mode would let you play the Shadow Insect hunts again, similar to how you could replay all Silent Realms in the Lightning Round. It would start with obtaining the Vessel of Light, which now holds the full 16 Tears of Light again. So, in this mode you can still find the four Shadow Insects that got removed in each Twilight area. This way the Shadow Insect hunts still remain shortened for those, who don't like these quests, while the people, who did enjoy them, can still play the full package in this new game mode.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Twilight Princess HD: Hero Mode Diaries

When Twilight Princess HD got released about a year ago, I fully completed Normal Mode and left Hero Mode for a later date, where I could enjoy the game on a large TV, since I was only using the Wii U GamePad at the time. Well, by now I got a 49'' TV with nice UHD upscaling, so I finally was able to play it all again with many new angles.

I wasn't a big fan of the remaster early on, because it felt kind of pointless with the Wii version still available on Wii U and not like a huge graphical improvement. But seeing Twilight Princess HD on the big TV certainly has changed my mind, because it looks all very sharp and clear. I even compared back-to-back with the Wii version, which now looks like some pixelated mess in comparison. So, the HD version certainly has some value and I hope that Skyward Sword HD will follow on the Switch. But that's a different topic.

Well, right now I'm on a journey to complete all 3D Zelda games again in order, before Breath of the Wild gets released, and things are looking very good with Twilight Princess HD off the table. It was also the last major part of my Zelda backlog, where I'm now finally back to the point, where I have completed the entire series (with the exception of that Endless Cucco Rush in A Link Between Worlds), right in time for the next big Zelda game.

Luckily, myself from March 2016 gave me a little headstart here, where I had prepared a Hero Mode save file up to the point, where you're about to enter the Forest Temple. That took about one hour of tutorial stuff out of the equation, which was very nice to have. I could get right into the action. The game feels very "piped" and even has some parts that feel completely meaningless, especially those sewer passage under Hyrule Castle, because you can't ever return there. So, it's good, if you can skip some of it.

Overall the game gave me a very different replay experience, when compared to Majora's Mask and the Wind Waker HD before it. With those two games it was all about the "explore and scavenge" parts, while the dungeons felt like an obstacle for the actual fun. It was kind of the opposite with Twilight Princess just now, where the dungeons are the real meat. Most of them are also quite linear, but the design is great and they are fun to play. The sidequesting on the other hand lacks the motivation.

This may partly due to the terrible minigames, which can kill a good part of the replay value for 100% runs. Especially everything around the Zora's River is pretty bad. Well, I've actually grown fond of Rollgoal by now and used it to chill after the Cave of Shadows, so that didn't even frustrate me anymore. Trying to catch the Hylian Loach on the other hand did, because the landing window is just way too small. In the end I had to spam the A button while reeling to get the fish on board. And both the Rapids Ride and Fruit Pop Flight minigames suffer quite from some terrible controls combined with a "don't hit any walls" mechanic in an area, where it's quite hard to avoid walls.

At least with the Fruit Pop Flight I'm usually eager to go for that perfect score once per savegame, because it's doable with a little practice, but this still took me about an hour. It also would be so much better with actual 3D, because it sometimes it's hard to judge, where exactly the balloons are floating in the air. And I just can't stand the Rapids Ride, it's too easy to get caught up somewhere and lose lots of points due to one mistake.

It's not the only thing, where the controls are pretty bad, because the horse is beyond terrible in this version. It feels like you can't go straight, after you've made a little turn somewhere. On the GameCube I used to enjoy riding through Hyrule Field. There's this one circuit, where you can go through all fields without every hitting a loading screen, because it loads in the background. I used to ride this in circles again and again, because it felt great. But not on the Wii U version, the horse just gets stuck everywhere. It looks like they did a much better job with the horses in Breath of the Wild, so it's weird, how badly they screwed this up here.

Anyway, other than some messy controls and unfun minigames, the sidequest stuff doesn't feel as captivating. I like the bigger caves and minidungeons, but the dig caverns and Poe Souls and countless scattered treasure chests don't motivate me enough (though it did get better thanks to the Miiverse Stamps). Well, the Wind Waker also has some bland and repetitive things, but at least there it has a structure, which keeps you going. With Twilight Princess you also get access to most of these activities at once after obtaining the Master Sword, but here it's all over the place and you are bound to the game's daytime system, because Nintendo had failed to do anything about the Poes only appearing at night. And the Poes can be quite annoying to fight...

This leads me to the most interesting topic: Hero Mode. I combined it with the Ganondorf amiibo for quadruple damage and I have to say that damage-wise it felt like the right difficulty. Like in Tri Force Heroes one heart would be the minimum damage and you can rack up damage very quickly, so you have to be careful all the time. Unlike Hero Mode in the Wind Waker HD, where it's only somewhat challenging in the early game, it scales really nicely in Twilight Princess HD kept me on the edge for entirety of the game. For example King Bulblin in Hyrule Castle would do a staggering 12 hearts of damage with a single hit.

It gets a little bit too much here and there, for example falling off a cliff takes away four hearts. That's an instant Game Over early in the game, as if you were playing Zelda II - The Adventure of Link. I even died in the Forest Temple due to the long monkey "liana" at the end, because you have to time this jump correctly and it's easy to screw this up. Thanks to Link's Awakening I still have the "I cannot ever die on a savegame" mentality, so even if Twilight Princess doesn't count your Game Overs, I still never go for the "Retry" option, but I return to the title screen and go all the way back to where I died. But this mentality might change with Breath of the Wild and the new auto saving system.

There was another cheap death scene, when you go bug hunting in Kakariko. Whenever I tried leaving the exploding house, the fire hurt me with four hearts of damage, which also kills you at the time. If it wasn't for a fairy that I still had from the Forest Temple (I didn't even know that fairies worked while being in wolf form in the Twilight Zones), I wouldn't have been able to make it without taking away the Ganondorf amiibo effect.

Another big part of the difficulty is that you can't find any hearts to heal yourself. (That's not exactly true, by the way, the three fangirls in Hyrule Castle Town, as well as the Yeto & Yeta "love scene" still make hearts appear. But otherwise all hearts are gone.) And fairies are super rare, they only can be found at the end of dungeons and in the springs after completing segments of the Cave of Ordeals. I've even beaten the first segment early on, as soon as I had the chance, just to have some fairies available in Ordon Spring. And with that there finally was a good reason to go back to Ordon Province for a change. Also, Ooccoo was a lot more useful this time around, because you could use the warp function to go heal yourself at any time in a dungeon.

Anyway, it also made me use the Hero's Bow and Bomb Arrows much more than in the past, which might be a good preparation for Breath of the Wild. I usually had this mentality in Zelda games, where I don't want to deplete resources like arrows, unless it's completely necessary. But that's silly, because you're getting plenty of it in every corner, especially if you really need it. And Breath of the Wild seems like a game, where you want to make full use of your available resources to survive.

Apropos preparing for Breath of the Wild, another important part was going through the Cave of Shadows again and prepping my Wolf Link amiibo with a "20 hearts on the 40th floor in Hero Mode" record. However, it turned out that there is no such thing - whenever I scan the amiibo, it still only shows the floor number and the hearts total, but not the Hero Mode flag (unlike in the probably misleading result screen at the end of the cave). So, "20 hearts on the 40th floor" already was the best possible setup and I basically reset my save data on the amiibo for nothing.

It even shocked me at first that the second section of the Cave of Shadows opened up immediately. My plan was to secure a 19 hearts save on floor 6, which I then could use on my journey back to floor 40, where I would go for the 20 hearts by healing myself at the end. But then I feared that I wouldn't be able to do that. However, I still had to get to floor 20 once in order to unlock the rest of the cave, so I could get my 19 hearts save there. I also learned that you can use the new Toon Zelda amiibo to heal yourself an additional time, which came in handy to get that 20 hearts on floor 40 back. I wouldn't even be surprised, if you could just buy more Zelda amiibo to heal yourself more often...

The cave, however, isn't that much fun, because the wolf combat is quite limited and after floor 20 it uses a lot of cheap traps and enemy combinations to hurt you badly, if you are not careful and sometimes even if you are. The targeting system also might screw you, because sometimes it's important to target certain enemies first (e.g. Chilfos), but the game just keeps aiming you at Keese. If you use the right strategies, you can beat the Cave of Ordeals entirely without getting hurt, but this is much harder to do with the Cave of Shadows. Luck seems to be a factor here and that's not good... It's still an interesting challenge and finally a dungeon just for Wolf Link.

Last and maybe least, Hero Mode mirrors the entire game like the Wii version did. When I first played the Wii version, this confused me a lot, even caused a headache or two. And whenever I think of the world of Twilight Princess, I see the GameCube map in my mind. So, if I want to go to Kakariko, I'm thinking east. But for some reason I managed to get along with the mirroring a lot better this time around. It still felt wrong, familiar but strange. But I was able to navigate it all without any bigger issues.

So, that's it. Hero Mode done 100% with the Cave of Ordeals, Cave of Shadows, all 64 Rollgoal levels and what not. With Twilight Princess HD I'm closing the last chapter of completing the Zelda series for myself.

Breath of the Wild can come now. But I will use the meantime to replay as much of Skyward Sword as possible.