Saturday, September 19, 2009

BS Zelda Tour: Ancient Stone Tablets




Ancient Stone Tablets (Kodai no Sekiban) is by far my favorite of the three BS Zelda installments. It's charming, has some replay value, fun dungeons and is pretty much the perfect Zelda game for playing in between. It's basically like a mod or a 2nd Quest / Master Quest for A Link to the Past, but the game is much shorter and easier than the original. With the exception of the game's end it takes entirely place on A Link to the Past's Light World, but there are eight new dungeons and several other modifications.



Like the previous BS Zelda game(s) this one comes in four episodes. Each episode places you in another part of Hyrule and you only have one hour time to finish all the objectives, which includes two new dungeons per episode. But the most important difference between A Link to the Past is that you're not playing as Link, but as yourself. You're referred to as the "Hero of Light", who enters the realm of Hyrule in each episode and then magically disappears again. Link himself is on a journey (probably a reference to Link's Awakening) and you have to save Hyrule in his place. You're collecting eight mysterious Ancient Stone Tablets (hence the title), that have the power to open a portal into the Dark World.



Every episode has a set of special events and sidequests. In each episode you will find a stronger sword, a new bottle, eight Pieces of Heart, a minigame, a Rental Shop and a Mole. The Rental Shops let you rent a stronger sword (unless you already have the Master Sword) and a shovel for 100 Rupees. With the shovel you can dig up a Piece of Heart, whose position is marked on your map. The Mole appears at a specific time in a specific place and when you talk to him, he will open a mole cave somewhere else. Those caves have tons of rupees, so you shouldn't miss this. Also, every dungeon has an "Upgrade Thief". Somewhere inside the dungeons one of those thief characters from A Link to the Past is hidden and he offers you the ability to carry more bombs or arrows. In each episode this offer will cost twice as much as before, it starts with 50 and ends with 400 Rupees in the last episode. But by then this amount of Rupees can be considered as peanuts. Furthermore the potion shop will offer a Golden Potion once per episode. This one works like a Blue Potion, but it also makes you charge your Spin Attack faster. And it's quite cheap, much cheaper than all the other potions, but you can only buy one per episode.

The dungeons are the most fun in this game. They are small and short, but they have lots of hidden rooms with treasure chests full of rupees. Opening those treasure chests was part of a highscore system and your goal should be to find as many of them as possible. Normally you have to blow up a wall to get into the hidden rooms, but there aren't any visible cracks. However, all hidden rooms are visible on the dungeon map, so it's not as hard to find everything as you may think at first. But regulary about 50% of a dungeon is optional, which makes the dungeons quite special. Additionally the dungeons usually contain more than one new item. The bosses at the end of the dungeons are very easy, they have much lower health compared to their A Link to the Past counterparts, but you don't have much time for battling bosses anyway.



Overall you're collecting tons of rupees in this game, since the treasure chests were part of a highscore system. I got more than 10,000 in my playthrough today, the only game, that has more rupees, is Freshly Picked: Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland. But you don't need all those rupees, only for the "Upgrades Thieves" and renting a shovel. Maybe also for the minigames, but those are optional and a waste of time.

Next to live voice acting Ancient Stone Tablets offered live music. CD-quality music from the "Sound & Drama" album was played during the game. This is why the original ROMs of the game don't have any music. When I first tried the BS Zeldas about two years ago, the game felt very empty because of this, but by now the BS Zelda Homepage team has included the music tracks from A Link to the Past to make the game more enjoyable and atmospheric.

The restored version comes in four ROMs, one for each episode. This has the advantage, that you can easily replay an episode in case you have missed an item. Since you carry over your SRAM, you only have to go for the missing stuff then. This might be necessary, because unlike in the first BS Zelda you're really short in time here. If you want to complete the dungeons 100% and collect all Pieces of Heart, you really have to hurry or else you won't make it. It's possible, but there's no room for mistakes. For example in episodes 3 and 4 I faced the second boss in the very last minute.



Let's take a closer look at the individual episodes.

Episode 1
  • Broadcasted on March 30th, 1997
  • New Items: Big Bag (Ocarina, Lantern, Bug-Catching Net, Bottle), L-1 Sword, Bombs, Small Shield, Bow, Pegasus Boots, Zora's Flippers, Magic Boomerang
  • Level 1: Armos Knights, Level 2: Moldorm
You wake up in Sahasrahla's little temple in the Eastern Palace area. He gives you the Big Bag, which contains an Ocarina, the Lantern, the Bug-Catching Net and a Bottle with a Bee in it. He will give you the Big Bag at the start of every episode and it contains from now on all the items you have collected. You can use the Bee to fight enemies until you get the sword, which is a cool idea. And the Ocarina is very important, it's a time saver and in dungeons it works like the Magic Mirror in A Link to the Past. The first dungeon is where the original East Palace was, but it's quite different. Most of the rooms here have a square shape, which makes the dungeon look quite "classic". And it's the perfect example for how rich of items the dungeons are. In Level 1 you will get the L-1 Sword, the Small Shield, the Bow and the Pegasus Boots. The second dungeon, which is located behind the Waterfall of Wishing, on the other hand only has the Magic Boomerang, but it's the only dungeon with just one item. Before the second dungeon you have to get the Zora's Flippers, but Zora's Domain is a lot smaller than in A Link to the Past. And there's a special sequence, where Zelda gets attacked by monsters in the south of the East Palace. You can rescue her, bring her back to Hyrule Castle and get 300 Rupees for your efforts. The road to Lake Hylia and Link's house and the archer bridge are blocked by rocks, so you can't leave the eastern part of Hyrule. Another interesting event is the storm, during a storm Zoras wander all over the world homing at you and you can't use bombs to open caves. Before and after a storm the world is clouded in fog, which is similar to the Lost Woods at the beginning of A Link to the Past.

Episode 2
  • Broadcasted on April 6th, 1997
  • New Items: Bottle, Magic Hammer, Blue Mail, Magic Powder, Tempered Sword, Large Shield, Hookshot
  • Level 3: Helmasaur King, Level 4: Arrghus
This time you wake up in Kakariko Village and you can't leave the village and its perimeters yet, except for the small forest in the east of the village leading to Hyrule Castle (and the area from the first episode). In this forest there's a hidden entrance to the fourth dungeon, which looks like a small Dark Palace, where you can get the Blue Armor and the Magic Hammer and where you fight Helmasaur King. After that you can enter the Lost Woods with the help of the Hammer, where you will find the missing blacksmith dwarf. If you bring him back to smithery you will get the Tempered Sword as a reward. The fourth dungeon is in the northeast corner of the Lost Woods, where you normally would play the money making game. There you will get the Large Shield and the Hookshot and fight Arrghus.


Episode 3
  • Broadcasted on April 13th, 1997
  • New Items: Worn-Out Glove, Power Glove, L-3 Sword, Bottle, Red Mail, Fire Rod
  • Level 5: Lanmolas, Level 6: Mothula
In the third episode you will wake up in Link's house. New areas include Lake Hylia, the Swamp and the Desert. Lake Hylia is smaller and doesn't have the Ice Rod cavern. At the beginning of the episode you will receive the "Worn-Out Glove", it works like the Power Glove, but you can only use it once per screen. You can rescue the Priest from drowning and bring him back to Hyrule Castle, where the King and Zelda reside. The fifth dungeon is inside the original floodgate shrine, it features the L-3 Sword, the Power Glove and surprisingly Lanmolas as the boss. It's surprising, because the dungeon is actually a water dungeon, but at the end you will enter a desert dungeon area similar to the Desert Palace. The actual Desert Palace is then the sixth dungeon, but it has more or less the opposite structure of the original version. The initial part is very small and the second part, which has three cave entrances, is the large one. The Red Mail and the Fire Rod can be found there and Mothula awaits you as the boss.

Episode 4
  • Broadcasted on April 20th, 1997
  • New Items: Bottle, Titan's Mitt, Cane of Somaria, Master Sword, Mirror Shield, Ice Rod, Silver Arrows
  • Level 7: Kholdstare, Level 8: Trinexx
The last episode is very special, because Zelda follows you all the time. She isn't of any use and you don't have to protect her from the monsters, but it's still a nice situation. She even follows you through both dungeons and watches you battling Kholdstare and Trinexx. Additionally you can go to the Lost Woods and the Master Sword will accept you as your Master. (So, it didn't sleep forever, huh? :D) It's still gilded, the way you left it at the end of A Link to the Past. Epic scene. Well, the episode starts in the Sanctuary and at first you will visit the graveyard together with Zelda. The dungeon is inside the grave, where you originally found the Magic Cape. Talking about the Magic Cape, it's in the code of the game and there's even a spot in the menu reserved for it, but you can't find this item anywhere. You have to use Action Replay Codes to get it. The same with the Book of Mudora, but the book is even mentioned in the game and used by Zelda to decipher the eight stone tablets. I guess, it was planned to include both, but those items got cut out because of time reasons. Well, the seventh dungeon is an ice dungeon and you can find the Titan's Mitt and the Cane of Somaria there. With the Titan's Mitt you can finally enter the final area of the game, Death Mountain. Like Lake Hylia this area is smaller, only the west part of the mountain is accessable. The Mountain Cave, which leads up to Death Mountain, is now more difficult and the final dungeon of the game. This is quite annoying, because there's no warp point on top of the mountain. So, in case you want to go back, because you missed an item or because you want to call the Mole, you have to run through the entire dungeon again. Of course most of the obstacles are gone and you don't have to beat Trinexx a second time, but still it's a waste of valueable time. Also, Level 8 is the only dungeon, where the bombable walls are cracked and easy to spot. On top of Death Mountain Zelda will use the Ancient Stone Tablets to open a portal into the Dark World. (It's still there? Shouldn't it be the peaceful Sacred Realm again? Well, never mind...) There Ganon awaits you in his castle. You only have to go up some stairs, no huge dungeon this time. But the fight is the same with the exception, that he doesn't cause the floor to crumble. If you have beaten Ganon in time, you will place the Master Sword back on its pedestal and magically return to your world. Otherwise it shows you the bad ending, where you lie in front of the witch's hut.



A Virtual Console port is definitely possible. It would miss the live voice acting and music, but you can easily use the music from A Link to the Past and text boxes. The timed events aren't as strict as in the first BS Zelda game (like a Heart Container only availabe for eight minutes), it's more or less just made so that not everything is available from the start. But you could time everything with the help of the tablets. As soon as you have collected two tablets the next episode will start. The Mole will then appear in the old area and you should go back to find him. The special persons, who are following you, like Zelda or the dwarf should appear after the first dungeon and so on. Like in the first BS Zelda there are also power ups appearing in a certain time including unlimited bombs and arrows, the sword beam ability and the powers of the three Medallions. The latter could be included like in Four Swords Adventures as pick up items, that are randomly dropped by enemies. But overall you wouldn't need a clock to play the game. For the Highscore system, they should add something like a percentage meter in the Metroid games, which tells you, how many percent of all the secrets you have found.

As a conclusion, Ancient Stone Tablets is really nice. It's perfect if you're in the mood for some A Link to the Past, but don't have the time to play through the actual game. It's a short and nice dose of Zelda for in between. Of course the game is very easy and doesn't provide any challenge for A Link to the Past veterans, but still every fan of A Link to the Past should check it out.

Screenshots:



This was the last part of my BS Zelda special. The BS Zelda games are really the "Lost Zeldas" and they were definitely the best games on the BS-X system. Nintendo should really look into this, those games on the Virtual Console would be quite popular. Until then every Zelda fan should go check out the BS Zelda Homepage.

2 comments:

Saurabi said...

This game it's like a better version of the link to the past and I never saw it or heared about it.
Thanks for sharing :P

TourianTourist said...

@Saurabi:
No, I wouldn't say it's better than A Link to the Past save for some improvements like the voice acting or that you can change directions with the Pegasus Boots. But overall it's a lot shorter and easier than A Link to the Past, but you have the time pressure. But it's definitely a nice little game, if you're a ALttP fan.