Saturday, November 7, 2009

Spirit Tracks Hype

Okay, didn't see that coming. Before yesterday Spirit Tracks was pretty much doomed to be the single most hated Zelda game ever, a lot of Zelda fans easily dismissed it as a "casual, kiddy Phantom Hourglass rip off with trains" and weren't even planning on ever touching this game. No Zelda game suffered from so much prejustice since The Wind Waker. But one single new trailer and the whole community goes crazy over the game. They talk about redemption of the Zelda series or for example this loud mouth over here even publicly apologized to Nintendo (like they care, lol). If you followed my blog for a little while, you know, that I've been one of the very few people out there, who actually defended the game. And for me nothing much has changed, I know exactly, what I'm getting with Spirit Tracks. An improved Phantom Hourglass sequel, nothing more and nothing less. If you didn't like Phantom Hourglass because of the touch screen controls, the graphics and the Ocean King Temple, it should be pretty clear, that you won't like Spirit Tracks as well, since it still does have all that (although the new Ocean King Temple might be not as bad). And let's not talk about the train idea, everyone was like "WTF?!!! Link in a train, are you kidding?!" So, what changed, what made all the Spirit Tracks Haters looking forward to the game from one moment to the other?

She did. Our beautiful princess. I admit, the Ghost Zelda idea was a big twist to the whole game and is just absolutely awesome. Pure genious. She and the whole story of Spirit Tracks changed things. And I'm really impressed how much the story weights for lots of Zelda fans. It goes so far, that they forget about trains, about touch screen controls, about toon graphics and all the other complaints they previously had just to play the game for the story. And this is something I don't understand, because I personally never really was into the story of Zelda games or games in general. If I want a good story I read a book or watch a good movie or TV-show. But in games the gameplay always comes first and I dislike all those games recently, that try to be like movies.

Luckily Nintendo is (with the exception of Other M probably) on my side and cares about gameplay first. And the story is always wrapped around the core gameplay ideas, it's especially obvious in the Zelda series. Take Twilight Princess for example, you can pretty much sum up everything with "wolf" here, the wolf idea was the key. Midna just exists, because it looked more interesting, if something would ride on the wolf. The Twilight Realm just exists, because the game needed to force you into the wolf form, because otherwise most players wouldn't use the wolf much. How someone can talk about a genious story here is beyond my imagination, sorry. I'm not saying, that the stories in the Zelda series are all bad. I certainly enjoyed the story of Link's Awakening or Majora's Mask was pretty crazy and open to interpretation. Or for example the backstories of A Link to the Past and The Wind Waker were epic. But overall it has been the same lately, the story itself is mostly just created to justify the core gameplay ideas and not because Nintendo came up with some great legend. While some might think, that an evil being banned in Hyrule by large chains that form a railroad system is epic, for me it's just an excuse to explain how the tracks can dis- and reappear in the game. Because otherwise most of Hyrule would be accessible from the the start, but with this story they come around that and are able force the player on certain tracks. For someone, who enjoys free and non-linear exploration in Zelda games, this is rather bad news. Okay, like I said, the Ghost Zelda idea is really great and I'm really looking forward to this, but it doesn't change for me, that this is a Phantom Hourglass sequel.

I've always underestimated how much Zelda fans out there are into the story. Those "timeline theorists" are normally the most extreme example, I've seen Zelda fans in forums, who only played certain Zelda games like Oracles, because they wanted to know the story details and how they fit into the timeline. They weren't interested in actually playing the games, ZELDA games. For me Zelda is all about the exploration, the puzzles, collecting items and that combined with typical Zelda elements like certain sounds or music pieces. In 3D Zeldas the ambient atmosphere is also very important. But the story? I'm fine, if the Zelda game has a good story, but I'm also fully aware, that the story is often just a tool to justify the main ideas of the games like Link turning into a wolf, riding on a boat over the ocean or even going on a train. Only in rare occasions like Link's Awakening the story came in first. Which is why I would like to see the Zelda series turn away from the typical core idea concepts and let's have a Zelda game again, which is just a pure Zelda game. And not the Zelda game with the wolf, the train or the hat that makes you shrink. That way the story would probably flow in more natural, because it's open and not necessary to explain how Link ended up in a train or whatever.

But with Spirit Tracks we have a rather funny and extreme example, how a fan-hated idea turns into something wildly accepted. The story is the ONLY thing, that gives certain people excitement for the game, since they didn't like Phantom Hourglass, the touch screen controls and the train idea. And this is big. I mean, how can you play and like a game, where you pretty much don't like anything, just because of the story? This is close to hypocrisy. But I'm happy for the game and that Nintendo managed to somehow hype it a little before it will be released soon. I liked Phantom Hourglass, I liked the touch screen controls and the overall game design and while I think the game certainly had its room for improvement, I also think that Spirit Tracks might be able to fill up that space. I was looking forward to Spirit Tracks for a while now and Ghost Zelda makes the waiting time just harder. However, I won't decide, if this game is good or not just based on the story. There are too many other important factors left to see. How is the new Hyrule and will the exploration be fun? How non-linear is the game? How is the dungeon design? What sidequests are there? Does the game offer something for long-time Zelda fans? We don't know yet and it's still to early to dismiss or praise the game. Well, it should be at least good enough to be part of your Nintendo DS collection, that's for sure. It's a Zelda game after all. And I will certainly get it, play it and judge it here as soon as I'm finished.

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