Thursday, February 9, 2023

Nintendo Direct February 2023 Roundup

the Blood Moon rises once again!

A good summary of the Nintendo Direct would be "get hyped for a lot of old stuff coming back". Whether it's GameBoy (Advance) games, Metroid Prime, Camilla, Birdo, or some classic Zelda enemies in Tears of the Kingdom, there was some nostalgia for everyone here!

Still, it was a very good Direct overall, I'm personally just a bit underwhelmed by the important last part. I was hoping to see some gameplay of Tears of the Kingdom, but instead it's just another trailer with a lot of snippets that the internet can and will dissect. To be fair, there is a lot to dissect here. And maybe I'm getting my wish that Nintendo won't show too much of the game in advance, which is also fine with me.

The biggest surprises for me were probably Metroid Prime Remastered and the GameBoy additions to Nintendo Switch Online. It's not so much the fact that these are a thing, where this has been expected and rumored for quite some time, it's just that I didn't see this happening right now. It's even all available on the eShop already... I will be waiting for the physical release of Metroid Prime Remastered, however, which comes out on March 3rd.

What I'm getting right after this Direct is the Expansion Pass for Fire Emblem Engage, though. It's probably the most surprising thing here how excited I am for this... But I've been playing the game for a couple of hours and I do enjoy the Emblem Ring feature quite a lot, where it's nice to see some old faces in new glory. It definitely feels different from Fire Emblem Heroes, it's much more special, where I was also surprised that they've turned Veronica into an Emblem as well.

Anyway, it's getting very late here and I will dive into all the interesting topics over the course of the weekend. There will be a lot to talk about, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Nintendo Direct February 2023 Predictions

Nintendo Direct logo

As announced on Twitter, we will be getting a Nintendo Direct tomorrow, 11PM CET, with 40 minutes focused on the first half of 2023. And I probably don't need to tell you what we can expect here: it's going to be 35 minutes of waiting through smaller announcements, before the big marketing push for Tears of the Kingdom will finally begin.


Time for Tears of the Kingdom

We haven't really seen that much of the game yet and this can either make you worried, or it can be seen as a good thing. I would personally prefer it if Nintendo were to restrain themselves from showing too much of the game, because I like to be surprised while playing myself. But I also don't want to be out of the loop and I want to talk about the game before its release here on this blog, so ignoring the official media isn't an option for me.

The Nintendo Switch Presentation Trailer for Breath of the Wild, as epic and amazing it may be, had used so many key scenes that I often thought, "Oh, I know this from the trailer", while playing through the more story-focused parts of the game. Of course it was all just small glimpses and up until that point they hadn't even shown us that game's Zelda... You have to build up some hype somehow and that's what's going to happen tomorrow, where they want people to talk about the game for the next three months straight. And that's best achieved with a meaty trailer.

Surely, we will also get to see the first actual gameplay, where they may introduce us to some of the new core mechanics, like morphing through ceilings, the object-based time reversal, or the more sophisticated sky diving. So, they will certainly elaborate on some of the things that got teased in the three previous teaser trailers.

Other than that it will be all about the marketing around Tears of the Kingdom. With Breath of the Wild Nintendo got a huge money maker on so many fronts, where the sequel surely won't be any different. We can expect things like:

  • Nintendo Switch OLED Model - Tears of the Kingdom Edition
  • Tears of the Kingdom Limited Edition
  • Tears of the Kingdom Expansion Pass
  • Tears of the Kingdom amiibo
  • Other merchandise

Unusually for Nintendo, we already had some leaks in the last two months, where we apparently can look forward to that Nintendo Switch OLED and potentially even some Zelda LEGO. Well, take my Rupees, Nintendo!

I don't necessarily expect them to announce a full amiibo line, like they did with Breath of the Wild, since the age of amiibo is over. But they will very likely bring back the amiibo system from Breath of the Wild and may introduce one or two new figures, like Link in his new ancient look, with the long hair and the corrupted arm. The Eyegore monster would also make for an awesome amiibo.

said Eyegore monster from the second trailer

An Expansion Pass isn't a safe bet, since the development of Tears of the Kingdom already started as DLC and they had five years of adding all sorts of things to the Hyrule from the previous game. So, they might go without one and just move on to the next game, but it's still a possibility, especially since DLC keeps a game in the news and will offer more content throughout the rest of the year. We will see.

Maybe there also will be some special exclusive armor piece if you have a savegame of Breath of the Wild on your Nintendo Switch, or something like that, but they have already done this with Age of Calamity, even though this only gave you the Training Sword.

There is also the question whether they will open the Nintendo Direct with Tears of the Kingdom or save it for the end. If they open with it, to get it out of the way so to speak, this means that they have another ace up their sleeve, something big to end the Nintendo Direct with. But I don't really see this happening, because I personally expect that Tears of the Kingdom will be the big thing for 2023 and they don't want to distract from it, even if there is something else on the horizon.

It also feels like this may be the swan song for the Nintendo Switch and any other big shots, like a new Super Mario or even Metroid Prime 4, are probably already in development for the next system. There is still Pikmin 4, though, which could be a title for later 2023 and could be shown in the Direct.

What about other Zelda?

If you look at comments on Twitter and the like, which you probably shouldn't, you will see quite a number of people asking for ports of The Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD, as well as remakes of Oracle of Ages & Seasons. And this is what you call "setting yourself up for disappointment". Since it's a given that we will be seeing Tears of the Kingdom tomorrow, it seems like some people desperately need something else in their hopes and expectations that won't be happening.

Naturally, it would be nice to get all these Zelda ports and remakes at some point, but there is the right time for this and this time is not now when we're getting the next big AAA The Legend of Zelda title in just three months. A The Wind Waker HD or a Twilight Princess HD can't and shouldn't compete with that and are best saved for a time with no new Zelda release. Nintendo does not want their releases to cannibalize each other.

At this point I believe they are saving these for the Switch successor and will also throw in Skyward Sword HD for a three-in-one collection. Maybe with all these titles upgraded to 4K... And the Link's Awakening remake already ran quite badly on the Switch, where a follow-up certainly will profit from better performance as well.

So, what else?

If we're talking about ports and remasters, I'd love to see Metroid: Samus Returns on the Nintendo Switch, running in the same engine as Metroid Dread. The timing would even be a great fit, where the original came out after Breath of the Wild and maybe didn't get the attention it deserved due to being released on an older system with the Nintendo 3DS. This will also give the Metroid fans something to do in the meantime, where I don't expect to see Metroid Prime 4 tomorrow.

The fourth wave of the Booster Course Pass for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will certainly be teased. Here I'm hoping for a release in April, so that this is out of the way before Tears of the Kingdom will eat up all my time. We've recently seen the new Piranha Plant Cove in Mario Kart Tour, where this course will likely make it into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe as well this year.

Speaking of DLC, Fire Emblem Engage will likely have its second pack announced, where the Expansion Pass will offer four up until the end of 2023. And it's smaller announcements like this that will fill the Nintendo Direct. It always is. There is also the Bayonetta Origins game coming soon, which hasn't been featured in a Direct yet. And likely some more third party ports and JRPG stuff, even more ports, and so on.

I don't expect to see Silksong, but I'd love to be wrong. People keep claiming that it has to come out soon, because Microsoft said during their presentation in June 2022 that all featured games are slated to come out in the next 12 months, but Hollow Knight: Silksong wasn't part of that infographic, even thought they've showed a new trailer for the game. So, don't hold your breath!

The big star tomorrow will be Tears of the Kingdom and everything else will most likely just be padding.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Got Fire Emblem Engage Divine Edition

photo of the Divine Edition box

Well, I got this about two weeks ago, but I wasn't able to make photos until today, because it is the first day with some sunlight since then. I also haven't played the game yet, where I may give it a try today...

But I got lucky and was able to pre-order the Divine Edition of Fire Emblem Engange from the My Nintendo Store when it briefly came available for a second time in early January. And this time everything went well, so the items were properly packed and nothing got damaged.

photo of the game, steelbook, and card box with a card of Celica displayed

The Divine Edition comes with the usual steelbook and artbook, where those are always nice to have and are the main incentive to collect such Nintendo special editions for me personally. That and the cleaner cover for the card case.

In addition there is a collection of a dozen high quality cards of the different Emblems, like Marth, Celica, Corrin, and Byleth. In this way it feels similar to Special Edition for Metroid Dread.

The artbook is much bigger, though, where it has A4 size. And there is an A1 poster of the game's cover art. The My Nintendo Store also put a second poster on top, in A2 size and with the motive from the artbook's cover, and a pin (the latter is not pictured).

Now, before I revisit Breath of the Wild on the Nintendo Switch, I want this to be my "Fire Emblem February". I have been playing Fire Emblem Fates for a bit lately and I also want to get (back) into the other two Nintendo 3DS titles, mainly to see if there's any worthwhile DLC before the eShop closes at the end of March.

There are a lot of Fire Emblem games on my backlog (including Three Houses and Three Hopes), where I'm having a hard time to catch up with it all, but in the least I'm currently trying.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Zelda LEGO Leaked?


Now, I couldn't tell you how often I reported about Zelda-based LEGO IDEAS during my time writing for ZeldaEurope, where there has been a lot of interest in this. Of course they never would go anywhere, because they were made by fans and something like this would require an official license.

But then the official Super Mario LEGO happened during the 35th Anniversary of the franchise and this has opened the doors for other Nintendo collaborations in the future, like for The Legend of Zelda. And this leak looks like the real deal, where to my understanding this possibly comes from some user testing.

This is a two-in-one set of the Great Deku Tree, where you can build either the variant from Ocarina of Time or Breath of the Wild. This is ingenious, but with 1920 pieces it will be also more pricey and probably aiming at serious collectors. But it makes sense to have something sophisticated for Zelda, after the Super Mario stuff felt more like it came out of the LEGO DUPLO line for small children.

Well, I loved LEGO in any form as a child and got nice collection back then, but it became uninteresting the day I got my GameBoy. And now all of this sitting in boxes at my mother's basement... But I would most likely get this set if it came to the market, and revive my early childhood passion, even it's just for a day or two.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Progression in Breath of the Wild

beginning of Breath of the Wild at the cliff on the Great Plateau

In the previous post, Progression in Traditional Zelda, we have been looking at the different mechanics of how the Zelda games make you go through a series of dungeons, before you can face the final boss and finish the game. These mechanics have been an integral part of the series for 30 years, but then came Breath of the Wild and threw all of this out of the window by letting you go everywhere and do everything right out of the gate.


The Great Plateau

Actually, this isn't entirely true, because the game's tutorial still employs some of the traditional progression mechanics. You can't leave the plateau until after you've obtained the Paraglider. And this isn't just because you're missing the item, but because the game surrounds the area in a deadly fog and won't even let you climb down to the rest of Hyrule. You are trapped there by design. (Well, you can get off with Stasis, but this is not intentional.)

And in order to get the Paraglider you will have to clear the four Shrines on the Great Plateau first, where each of them gives you a Spirit Orb. The Old Man wants you to collect these orbs, so they are basically your traditional Triforce Shards at this point. And the Sheikah Shrines are your need-to-clear dungeons, where you get all the main items of the game in the form of the Sheikah Slate Runes. It's just that these dungeons are much smaller, where the Great Plateau feels like a "mini Zelda game" overall. But this is what makes it one of the most special tutorials ever made.

Once you've left the Great Plateau, you will have all the tools needed to clear the game and the freedom to go wherever you want. So, what's stopping you from just running over to Hyrule Castle to give Calamity Ganon a beating? Well, nothing really, only your own skill...

Progression Based on Strength

You will only get as far as you're able to get past the enemies. This is all there is to and a concept that's not completely new to the series... In fact, the first The Legend of Zelda also did this for the most part. While you could theoretically go right into Level 8 from the beginning of the game, the monsters there will surely give you a hard time. And already on the overworld you may not be able to go everywhere because of some stronger monsters, like the Lynels around Death Mountain.

Breath of the Wild embraces this idea. Right before leaving the Great Plateau you're given the quest to "Destroy Ganon" and you can go just do that. However, you will have to get past by multiple Guardians and beat all four Blights in the throne room of Hyrule Castle, who are protecting Calamity Ganon with what's essentially a boss rush. With only three or four hearts this is extremely challenging and something that only the most experienced Breath of the Wild players will take on.

Your best course of action is to go elsewhere first, where you're also told to seek out Impa for additional directions. She will then guide you to the four Divine Beasts, which are the main dungeons of this game. Clearing a Divine Beast will reward you with the respective Champion's signature ability, but it will also remove the corresponding Blight from Hyrule Castle and take 12.5% off from Calamity Ganon's health during the decisive battle.

So, it all will make things easier for you in various ways. And on your journey you will find additional Sheikah Shrines for more Spirit Orbs, which can increase your heart meter or your stamina wheel. You will also find Korok Seeds, which can be used to upgrade your inventory space for more weapons. And you will obtain better armor to protect you from damage or different environmental hazards. With every step you slowly will grow stronger and more confident in taking on challenges, like facing the tough Lynels.

fighting a Silver Lynel in Akkala with 27 hearts

This was also true for the Lorule part of A Link Between Worlds, where the dungeons gave you items like better armor, more stamina, or ore to temper the Master Sword. All of those are important steps of becoming stronger, other than collecting more Heart Containers and Maiamais. But for the most part it didn't really matter in what order you took on the dungeons, except for the more difficult Ice Palace and maybe Turtle Rock.

It's the same problem with Breath of the Wild, where Vah Naboris stands out a bit, but the other Divine Beasts are around the same difficulty level, since you should be able to play them in any order. It all feels pretty much the same.

The rest of the game also employs level scaling, where certain enemies upgrade based on how many foes you've already defeated. This goes against your progress in certain areas, where you may feel like you're not getting stronger at all, simply because the game is holding against it...

The Loadout

The freedom of going everywhere right after the Great Plateau came with a price: there is no progress based on new abilities, like you would have in any classic Zelda or Metroid title. You get all the main items at the beginning of the game – the Paraglider and the four Sheikah Slate Runes: Magnesis, Bombs, Stasis, and Cryonis. And this is everything you need to overcome every obstacle and to solve every puzzle in the game.

Stasis in use

As a result there is zero backtracking afterwards, but you also won't get the satisfaction of "I can now do this". You won't have a mental map of all the secrets and places you couldn't reach so far without the Bombs or the Hookshot, which kicks in once the needed item is finally obtained. Not everyone likes this, of course, where it can be seen as padding and some players just don't want to revisit areas. For them Breath of the Wild certainly has improved things, while for others there is something missing that has been part of the DNA of Action Adventures.

But let's do a thought experiment here. How would Breath of the Wild play out if it only gave you the Paraglider on the Great Plateau? All the main Sheikah Slate Runes have to be obtained from the Divine Beasts in this scenario:

  • Cryonis in Vah Ruta
  • Bombs in Vah Rudania
  • Stasis in Vah Medoh
  • Magnesis in Vah Naboris

Ignore for a moment that you need these abilities to enter the respective Divine Beast in the first place, except for Stasis. The game would be changed accordingly.

The Sheikah Shrines could work similarly to the mini dungeons in A Link Between Worlds, where they will tell you what runes are required in order to clear the trial. Even if you don't have the necessary runes yet, you will have gotten a warp point and can quickly return there later. It already works like this with the different Tests of Strength and the strength-based progression. If one of these Guardian Scouts are still too difficult for you, you may battle it later. So, with the shrines this isn't much of an issue.

Still, in a game world of the scale of Breath of the Wild this causes problems left and right: no matter where you go, you will have to leave something behind. All these sunken chests in the water? You can only mark them on your map for later. All the puzzles where you have to move a heavy object? You can only mark them on your map for later... And before you see it you're out of markers.

With Bombs this would actually not be an issue, because they can be substituted with hammers, a Drillshaft, Bomb Arrows, or similar consumable items. Having Bombs would simply be more convenient in the end, because you always have them available, but it would also not give you the "I can now do this" effect of getting the Bomb Bag in Ocarina of Time for example.

Cryonis could technically be substituted with Ice Arrows if they worked anything like in Majora's Mask (or the Trine games). You can also try to move the swimming chests towards land, but it wouldn't be much fun and very inconvenient.

The powers of Magnesis can't be replaced and Stasis only to a small extent, so as long as you don't have these two items, you will be missing out eventually, especially with Magnesis. It's part of the reason why this rune is given to you in the first Shrine you will see, because otherwise there already would be quite some backtracking on the Great Plateau with all the chests found underwater. It may not be much of an issue there, but it certainly would be in the full scale of the game.

Progression in Tears of the Kingdom?

So, how might the sequel change things? Will it even change things? Well, there are a lot of loud voices within the Zelda community who would like to see traditional dungeons and ways of progression back. The fact that we may have to repair the Master Sword in some form could already be a hint that the game may shy away from the sole strength-based approach of Breath of the Wild.

Here you could face Calamity Ganon at any time after the Great Plateau. There is nothing else needed other than some weapons and your skill. But in Tears of the Kingdom it may be necessary to restore the Master Sword before you can face Ganondorf, like it was the case in The Wind Waker.

You may also have a classic main quest collectible with the tears, but this could also be a way of improving Link's abilities and be related to the vials that he is carrying. We will probably learn more soon...

However, there is something that will feel more natural in the new environments: areas that can't be reached at first. You should be able to traverse and explore the Hyrule from Breath of the Wild in the same fashion, but the world will get expanded upwards and potentially also downwards. And there may be sky islands that are simply too high up at first. Or you might find caves with dead ends.

Since these are just small chunks within the world and you probably will have plenty of warp points again, it could work as something where you need to find certain items first, like in classic Zelda games. But we will see.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Progression in Traditional Zelda

What is your name?

What is your quest?

What is the number of tokens required to fulfill said quest?

Every game has a goal and in case of the Zelda series this goal usually is something on the lines of "defeat the villain, save the princess, and bring peace to the people". In Breath of the Wild you can go and do just that, but things weren't always as "simple" and the game broke multiple conventions to allow this.

First, let's explore what these conventions were and how the player was progressing through Zelda games since the NES times. In follow-up posts we will then look at how Breath of the Wild has changed things and what Tears of the Kingdom could be doing differently, when it launches in less than four months.

The Legacy of the Triforce Fragments

In the original The Legend of Zelda you are only granted access to the final dungeon, Death Mountain, if you have fully assembled the Triforce of Wisdom. It was broken by Princess Zelda into eight fragments and you have to retrieve these fragments from the other dungeons in Hyrule, eight of them in total.

classic artwork of Link piecing together the eight Triforce Shards

It was a simple construct to ensure that the player goes through all of the dungeons in the game. And this concept has been copied by the Zelda series (and other games) up until Breath of the Wild, only that the Triforce Shards were now crystals, pendants, musical instruments, medallions, essences, pearls, and so on. It's simply a quest status item that represents your progress in the game, where you have to collect a number of something in order to proceed into the final confrontation.

A Link to the Past split this up into two stages. First you had to collect the three pendants for the Master Sword, which opened the way into the Dark World, where you have to free seven Maidens from a crystal, before you can enter Ganon's Tower. This was also copied a couple of times, like in Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, or Phantom Hourglass, but others kept the simpler formula, like Link's Awakening, Majora's Mask, or the Oracle games.

Still, the purpose of this never changed and this was to make the player go through a fixed number of dungeons, ranging from four up to twelve. And the way you progress from dungeon to dungeon can actually be very different. Some Zelda games are entirely linear, others less so. With a completely non-linear dungeon order, like in Breath of the Wild, it wouldn't really matter, but no other Zelda games has that, not even A Link Between Worlds. So, there are usually a couple of mechanics in place that ensure a certain dungeon order...

Progression via Dungeon Items

This is the oldest trick in the book: in order to get to the next dungeon you need to have obtained the main item from another dungeon. The first game on the NES did this in two instances – one where you need the Raft from Level 3 to enter Level 4, and the other where you need the Recorder from Level 5 to enter Level 7.

Otherwise you are essentially free to enter any dungeon from the get-go, where you can try your luck in Level 8 right from the start. Things aren't that simple, however, because you also need the Stepladder from Level 4 to finish the Levels 5 to 7, while the Bow from Level 1 is required in Level 6. You won't know this until you've hit the corresponding roadblock, where for first time players it's best to orientate themselves by the level numbers and do them in order.

Link in front of the candle inside the Parapa Palace

Zelda II - The Adventure of Link then tried to give this a cleaner structure by making things more linear. With one exception you need the main item from a palace to leave the current area and to proceed to the next. You (technically) need the Candle from Parapa Palace to leave Northern Hyrule, because the surrounding caves are dark. Or you need the Flute from the Ocean Palace to get to the last area. The exception is the second major area, where both the Midoro and the Island Palace reside. But here you need the Handy Glove from the former to proceed inside the latter, which is similar to the Stepladder from the first game.

Otherwise this is dungeon-to-dungeon progression in its purest form, where you would think that this became the norm for the entire Zelda series afterwards. But that's actually not the case. The only other Zelda game that has this type of progression from start to finish is Majora's Mask, where you always need one or more items from one area to enter the next.

You need the Bow from the Woodfall Temple to enter the Snowhead region. You need Epona to enter the Great Bay region, for which you need to obtain a Powder Keg from the Gorons at Snowhead first, which in the least requires you to have the Fire Arrow from the Snowhead Temple. And to get to Ikana Castle you need the Hookshot from the Pirate Fortress and the Ice Arrow from the Great Bay Temple (or only the Hookshot and some pixel perfection on the N64).

Other Zelda games only have this partially. For example, the second half of Link's Awakening works exactly like that, where you just need the Hookshot to enter the Face Shrine (Level 6). The L-2 Power Bracelet found in there then lets you move the weather vane at Mabe Village, so you can have the Flying Rooster on your side to make your way to Eagle's Tower (Level 7).

Link and the Flying Rooster at the opened entrance of the Eagle's Tower

Some people like to only grab the Mirror Shield from this dungeon and the proceed right to Turtle Rock (Level 8), because the Magic Rod makes fighting the Evil Eagle much easier. And this is one of the main advantages of this method of progression: you can leave the bosses of a dungeon for a later time, if you feel like it. You could even wait with the bosses until the end of the game.

In Zelda II - The Adventure of Link this may be something you want to do intentionally, because finishing a dungeon gives you enough EXP for the next level. Plus, fighting the bosses later in the game makes them much easier to handle. A Zelda-like that has absolutely perfected this formula is Death's Door.

But what about the first half of Link's Awakening? And all the other Zelda games? What are they doing to make sure that you can't just run off with your shiny new gadget to the next dungeon?

Progression via Events

In A Link to the Past the dungeon items, like the Power Glove or the Hammer, are primarily used in order to proceed to other dungeons in the game. But there is one exception, right at the beginning; you first need to finish the Eastern Palace, before you can move on, because only then you will obtain the Pegasus Boots from Sahasrahla. They then let you obtain the Book of Mudora, which is required in order to open the Desert Temple (we're taking glitches out of the equation here).

While the Pegasus Boots are still an item that gives you a new ability, it's not the main item from the Eastern Palace. That's the Bow. So, there is a bit of a difference here from what we had in the previous two games.

And Link's Awakening really expanded upon that, where in the first half of the game you can only progress if you have beaten the current dungeon. You can leave the Tail Cave just with the Roc's Feather and go into Goponga Swamp, but this won't do you any good, because you don't have anything to destroy the plants there, which are blocking the way to the next dungeon.

You need Bow-Wow for that, but the Chain Chomp companion only becomes available after he was abducted by the Moblins. And this won't happen until after you've obtained the Full Moon Cello... Likewise, in order to get into the Key Cavern, you need to talk to Richard. But he won't talk to you, as long as you have Bow-Wow with you, where you can only return him after beating the Bottle Grotto. Convenient, right?

So, there are certain events in place, which only get activated after having beaten a dungeon. The player is not able to progress any further with his new abilities alone and must beat the next boss in order to proceed. And this has become a staple for the series, where some Zelda games do this from start to finish.

At first, Ocarina of Time only did this very partially, more akin to A Link to the Past. You can't leave the Kokiri Forest / Lost Woods, unless you've obtained the Kokiri's Emerald from the Great Deku Tree. You don't actually have to finish Dodongo's Cavern, however, you can just take the Bombs and then move on to Zora's Domain, where it's back to classic progression via dungeon items. The second half is much less linear, but there is an event-based restriction, where you can't obtain the Nocturne of Shadow until after the Fire and Water Temples are done and their respective medallions were collected.

Rosa appearing at the edge of the Eastern Suburbs during fall

Oracle of Ages & Seasons on the other hand completely ran with this concept for progression. For example, even if you leave Horon Village to the east, Rosa won't appear until after you've completed the Gnarled Root Dungeon. Or there is a Zora blocking the path into the Sea of Storms, who won't go away until after you've finished your business with Jabu Jabu. There are some exceptions, but for the most part this is how you're progressing through the worlds of Labrynna and Holodrum. Just having some fancy new item isn't enough.

In The Wind Waker the King of Red Lions won't let you leave Dragon Roost Island until you're done there. And the pirates won't appear at Windfall Island until after you've went through the Forbidden Woods to save Makar. And speaking of the little Korok, he will disappear in the second half of the game until you've reached the end of the Earth Temple with Medli...

Twilight Princess usually tries to find good excuses as to why you can't progress to certain areas as of yet. For example, Barnes won't have Bombs in his shop ready until after you're done with the Goron Mines and the good relationships with the Gorons are restored. So, it's not always just random stuff that just happens to happen, because you've reached a certain point in the game. But in the second half this boils down to one member of the resistance showing up at where you need to go next...

Finally, Spirit Tracks structured the whole game around clear events triggered by completing a temple. Doing so will restore power to the Tower of Spirits, which adds another section to the main dungeon. However, there is more to all this with the Rail Maps, which brings us to the next topic...

Progression via Key Items

Let's go back to the example of A Link to the Past, where you need the Book of Mudora to enter the Desert Temple. It essentially acts as a key here for the dungeon, but it's also needed to obtain the Medallions, where two of them are later required to enter certain dungeons in the Dark World...

opening the Face Shrine in the Link's Awakening remake

Link's Awakening came up with a more methodical approach: just lock the entrance to a dungeon and make the player find a key, like the Tail Key or the Face Key. Then you can have a quest before the dungeon to find the required key, like getting through the Mysterious Woods. This doesn't always have to be a real key, where you could see Bow-Wow as the key to enter the Bottle Grotto.

In Majora's Mask these keys were songs, where each of the four temples can only be entered after learning a specific tune, like the Sonata of Awakening for the Woodfall Temple. Once you've learned the respective song, you can enter the temple at any time, but first you will need to go through a series of main quests in order to learn it.

The Minish Cap streamlined things to ensure a linear order with a new trick: the item that you obtain the end of a dungeon, mainly the four elements, acts as a key to enter the next area. Well, technically these elements power-up your White Sword at the Elemental Sanctuary, so that you can make more copies of yourself, which then let's you progress somewhere else. There is also a lot of event-based progression in this game, but it showed a new direction – one where the quest items that you collect from the end of each dungeon act as individual keys.

Phantom Hourglass used this in the first half of the game with its three Spirits. Well, the main way of progression is finding sea charts – similar to the Rail Maps in its sequel, Spirit Tracks. Only with the sea charts you can travel to new islands. And you will obtain them from the Temple of the Ocean King, but in its first half you will find doors that only open with the corresponding Spirit. At the same time collecting all Spirits is your first main goal to locate the Ghost Ship. So, the Spirits act as "Triforce Fragments" and as unique keys at the same time (and companions with different abilities on top). It's quite sophisticated.

Fi dancing at a Spring

Last and maybe least, Skyward Sword just ran wild with all of this. While the main goal was to find Zelda during the first half of the game, it's simply a carrot on a stick on your way through the surface areas, where you need tablets to descend through the cloud barrier. The first one, which you get right away, is the Emerald Tablet, which grants you access to Faron Woods. Both the Skyview and the Earth Temple then just give you a new tablet, which lets you proceed to the next main area, until you finally obtain the Goddess's Harp.

In the next part of the game you will then learn new songs from the Isle of Songs, which let you enter a Silent Realm, which rewards you with a new item, which then lets you proceed to the next dungeon. Each dungeon now will temper your Master Sword and afterwards you can return to the Isle of Songs for a new song. With Skyward Sword the series reached the pinnacle of being formulaic, where afterwards it took a 180° turn.


Ravio's Item Shop

In an effort to mix things up A Link Between Worlds experimented with how you're progressing through the game giving you access to most of the necessary tools and abilities very early. This was mainly in the form of Ravio's Shop:

Link in Ravio's Shop with the Hammer, Boomerang, and Fire Rod on the table

Here you can rent and purchase the nine main items whenever you desire, with one exception. You will also quickly find the Pegasus Boots, the Zora's Flippers, and the Power Glove at this point in the game. Only the Sand Rod and the Titan's Mitts are out of your reach at first... This eliminates most of the usual backtracking, which occurs with obtaining new abilities, and gives you a lot more freedom overall, especially with the order of the dungeons.

But for the most part A Link Between Worlds still works like its predecessor, A Link to the Past. You first will have to clear the Eastern Palace before you can get all those items. Then you will have to collect the three pendants to obtain the Master Sword. And once in Lorule you will have to free the Seven Sages before you can enter Lorule Castle and beat the game. So, it's overall still very traditional in how you progress... but it was nonetheless paving the way for Breath of the Wild, where we will be leaving the realms of traditional Zelda. So, let's look at this game separately in the next post.

Level-Based Progression

For the sake of completeness, we should also take a look at the multiplayer-focused Zelda games, which so far all had in common that you have levels on a world map screen, similar to your typical Super Mario game. Of course you have to beat a level in order to progress, but things are actually very different between all three games. It already starts with the terminology, where "level", "stage", and "area" can mean different things...

In Four Swords there are three stages, where with each you have to play through a randomly generated level with multiple floors to obtain a key. Getting all keys grants you access to Vaati's Palace and after beating the game you can repeat the process with higher difficulties, where you have three different "epics" for the keys.

Four Swords Adventures is the most straight-forward. You have eight levels (the areas) with three stages each and you have to play all 24 stages in order. It doesn't get any simpler than that.

overview of all areas in Tri Force Heroes

With Tri Force Heroes you have eight areas in total with four levels each, but you don't have to play them in a particular order and can even skip most of them. To progress to the next area(s) you will only need to beat the last level of an area, where you can freely choose between all four levels from the start. This may seem weird at first, but this was to ensure more flexibility within an online environment. And different materials for crafting outfits give you an incentive to play all the levels multiple times anyway.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

End of Unreal

modernized Unreal logo

As of today, Epic Games has killed the master servers for all Unreal games, which means that they can't be played online any longer, at least not officially. In case of the abandoned pre-alpha of Unreal Tournament in Unreal Engine 4 you can't even start the game anymore, at least not officially. On top of all of this, the games were all pulled from the digital stores, like Steam or gog. You can still play them if you have purchased them before, but you won't be able to purchase them any longer.

The Unreal series has been one of my favorites, next to Zelda and Metroid, so it's sad to see this happening, though it was inevitable. It's even astonishing for how long they've kept up the support, where the original Unreal will be getting 25 years old in May. Meanwhile Nintendo is already closing the eShop on Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, where it's only a matter of time until you won't be able to play online with these last-gen systems...

Plus, with PC games it's much easier to keep them alive from the fan-side, where there are already community patches and alternative master servers to work with. Rest assured that there are still passionate people out there who are willing to keep such games alive. And it would be a shame if this wasn't the case, because there exists a ton of fantastic custom content for most Unreal games.

When I play one of the multiplayer Unreal games again, it's usually against bots just for fun, which means that the missing master servers don't really affect me personally. And luckily, I never really got into the pre-alpha of the latest Unreal Tournament, where this won't be a big loss for me either.

It's more saddening that "Unreal" is now first and foremost the name of an engine, though a very good one, while the Unreal series has sunken into insignificance. It's simply not a cash cow like Fortnite, where all developers who had been working on the new Unreal Tournament were removed from the project about six years ago and nothing has happened with the series ever since, except for some weapon skins in Warframe. I suppose this is how F-Zero fans must feel like.

Greed mode preview screenshot

It speaks for itself that I'm actually a bit excited about the announcement of Unreal Tournament 3 X, which will be a free-to-play version of Unreal Tournament 3, using Epic's new online infrastructure. Maybe this will breathe some life into the title, where people might give this a chance again or for the first time. I'd be happy to join in.

Unreal Tournament 3 is usually viewed as the weakest entry in the series, but I personally thought that it had the best weapon balance and felt like a good compromise between the classic Unreal Tournament and Unreal Tournament 2004 in terms of gameplay. And Greed is my absolute favorite game type in any Arena Shooter, where it's simply the most fun approach to the Capture the Flag formula. Only the art direction and story of UT3 were quite terrible, because it was heavily influenced by Gears of War, following its success. It just wasn't the best fit.

The Unreal Engine 5 looks quite amazing, though, where getting something in the Unreal universe made with this engine would be quite the dream for me, but a pipe dream at that. I will be happy with anything at this point, even if it's just a new version of Unreal Tournament 3.