Another Adventure Map completed, only one more DLC Adventure Map to go. Last night I've completed the "Grand Travels Map" with all A ranks and everything unlocked, so it's time to share my impressions about this new map. And like with the Koholint Map I'm quite happy here, the Grand Travels Map is a very enjoyable experience with similar traits.
It's also the largest map that we've gotten since the original Adventure and Master Quest Maps. It uses the full area of 16 columns and 8 rows, so there's a lot to do here. It even makes me a little bit angry that the Koholint Map turned out so small and distorted. However, in this case they combined the worlds of two games into one: the Rail Map from Spirit Tracks and the ocean world from Phantom Hourglass. And the results are equally distorted. The center of the map has a final Dark Realm area and the other two maps sort of yin yang around it, so that the worlds aren't quadratic anymore and have some of their areas in the tips. For example the Ocean Realm of the Rail Map is up in the north, east to the Mountain Realm. Or Gale Island lies to the Southwest of Mercay. Locations are not exactly there, where they should be, but in the least they are all fully recognizable.
It's also the first Adventure Map that gives you two starting locations and you can chose, which half of the map you want to complete first. The only shared item card is the Cannon to unlock rewards under rocks. The ocean half then uses Cyclone Slates to make enemies appear and Fishing Rods for additional rewards, while the rail half has you collect Railway Tracks to unlock new squares and the Whirlwind for rewards.
The remaining item cards are the classic Compass, which you don't need at all, and three Ship cards and three Train cards (starter, steel/iron and gold), which give you different buffs. They are in a way similar to the Instrument of the Sirens, but you don't need to use them. In fact I never used them once. The ships lower the requirements for A ranks, e.g. the Golden Ship lets you take more damage. The trains change the conditions on the map, e.g. you can lift character restrictions with the Golden Train.
It's an interesting feature, but luckily not required in order to proceed, because the difficulty of the map again is quite moderate and balanced towards level 99, not the new level cap of 200. Some of the 4+ weapon missions can be tough, especially Impa's Crackling Naginata gave me some trouble (just barely made it with 9400 damage), but thankfully it's not like you need to grind your characters all the way up. This might change with the final map, but right now it really does look like they are increasing the level cap only to give you some room for your favorite characters, not to artificially slow you down. And that's good. However, if you already had all the characters leveled to the last maximum, it might be too easy for your taste.
The map also uses some sort of time mechanic similar to the Termina Map. There is a Phantom Hourglass in the center and every three battles some sand falls down. The only way to get it back up is to beat one of the "Final battle!" dungeon boss battles and in the beginning it felt like some really stressful feature, but it then turned out that it only changes the rank requirements for progressing to "A" everywhere. And for a skilled player, who wants to collect all rewards, this does change absolutely nothing, because you're going for the "A" rank everywhere anyway. And even if you have trouble with it, you can always use the Spirit Train item card to turn it back into a "C" rank. So, it's negligible and I completely ignored the whole thing. A more threatening approach would have been, if it really followed the curse of the Ocean King Temple and made you take constant damage in every battle. THAT would have been something to deal with, but probably massively annoying.
The Phantom Hourglass does go away, as soon as you defeat the two "Big Bosses", one at Mutoh's Temple and one in the southwest corner of the Rail Map, where the entrance to the Dark Realm lies. (Caution: there is currently a bug, where you won't be able to proceed, if you leave the game right after entering the Dark Realm. Make sure to play at least one more battle or leave the Adventure Map menu first so that it saves the game!)
The time mechanic also gets used for item card trading. There are Song Stones and Linebeck Trading Companies all over the map, which you can use for your advantage. Song Stones duplicate an item card of your choosing and Linebeck trades item cards for golden foods. For example you can give him the useless Compass cards in the beginning. Every once in a while he also offers are Two-For-One Sale. Thing is that time also progresses, if you abort a battle. So, you can just make it so that Song Stones and Trading Companies quickly reappear to farm food. I haven't fully exploited this yet, but it does seem like the food you get is entirely random, so it's not a method of farming specific fairy food.
In general the Grand Travels Map gives double food drops. So, it's a perk similar to the Twilight Map, where you get double materials, and the Termina Map, where you get double weapons. For the A Link Between Worlds Map they might give you more Rupees to follow the theme, but I personally still prefer the Koholint Map, where you can actually chose the perk.
At least this map offers more variety with its battle types. There's a little bit of everything in here, as well as some really enjoyable new battles types. The new Challenge Battles are called "Deal with the copycat infestation!" and "Thwart the supercharged enemies!". The copycat missions are funny, you have a series of character enemies and some officer enemies around them, who are transforming into the character after a while. However, this takes such a long time that I actually had to wait and see what happens, so it's not a fast way of farming certain character materials. In the "supercharged enemies" missions you also have a series of character enemies around the area and some small magic grunts, which you can defeat in order to take away the Super Saiyan God mode from the enemy characters.
They also expanded the "incoming support" mechanic from the Koholint Map in some of the Adventure Battles. Now, you might have Toon Link or Linkle come to your aid, who inspire or heal your troops. In their cases the background music also changes to Molgera's or Linkle's theme, which inspires even yourself.
I was also happy that they added four red zone "divisive plan" battles against Medli, Phantom Zelda, Twili Midna and TINGLE! While these battles got heavily nerfed compared to the Wii U version, they are still a nice and quick grinding place, where now you can also use fire element weapons and take it out on twelve Tingles at once. And with the 4+ weapons you have much more options now. In fact I constantly check the enemy characters on the 8-Bit battle screen and chose my own characters accordingly to cover all the element weaknesses. The Grand Travels Map lets you chose 2nd and even 3rd characters a majority of the time, so you can chose what deals the most damage often enough.
Overall the Grand Travels Map is great. The 8-Bit travel theme from Spirit Tracks is just lovely and there's lots to do, even though due to the size there are also quite some empty spaces without any rewards. But there's lots of variety and a good selection of new missions. However, from my perspective the whole "Phantom Hourglass" part was negligible and in the end they could have just turned it into a "Rail Map" and make this the "Spirit Tracks Pack".