Thursday, December 30, 2010

Replaying Spirit Tracks

A good Zelda game has a high replay value. A Link to the Past, Link's Awakening, Ocarina of Time... you could play those games dozens of times and they'll never get boring. They're awesome and fun, they offer enough freedom and non-linearity to encourage some experimenting and even speed runs. While some Zelda games are just fun to replay, others might "force" you into replaying them by offering a 2nd Quest and content, that can only be gotten by replaying the games. The Wind Waker and the Oracle games are good examples for this. Sometimes you replay a Zelda game, because you missed an item (I hate missable items), or because it was re-released for a newer system and you don't want the new copy to remain untouched. There are many good reasons to replay a Zelda game, but some of them are just bad in this department. Especially the last ones. Zelda games lately have no replay value and that's sad.

I finished each Zelda game at least twice, I even replayed Phantom Hourglass out of curiosity. The game offers quite some non-linearity, which is rare in modern Zelda games, and I wanted to test if I can get the third and fourth sea chart in one run, so I could play Mutoh's Temple first, then the Ice Temple and the Goron Temple at the end before returning to the Temple of the Ocean King. And it worked. Adding some non-linearity to games is usually a good thing, because it can produce a new experience each time you replay the game.

And achieving the 100% for a second time was really dull. The random factors just make it a very boring, repetitive and tedious experience. Actually the randomness was much better handled in Phantom Hourglass, because there were spots, where you could specifically get rare ship parts more easily (like scoring over 2000 points in the archery or the two treasure chests at the end of the Ocean King Temple). The problem here was the high amount of ship parts, because the chance of getting a specific part is very low. So, if you were down to a couple of missing parts, getting them could take forever... And this really destroys the replay value of the game for completionists.

Well, since I replayed every Zelda game, I recently thought I should do the same with the newest installment, Spirit Tracks, even though I never really wanted to. I usually replay a game willingly if I really liked it. Heck, I even replayed Metroid: Other M shortly after my first playthrough and the game wasn't very good. But for some reason I didn't want to replay Spirit Tracks and that reason is called tediousness. All the slow train travelling and collecting all the treasures for the train cars again makes replaying very unattractive. In Phantom Hourglass the sea travelling was okay, the distances were really short and you could warp all around the sea. But the train travelling in Spirit Tracks takes A LOT of time. You can't just simply go from A to B by using some warp like in most of the other Zelda games and this artificially lengthens the play time with dull travelling.

And then there's the treasure hunting. Actually on the paper the treasure system is a lot better than collecting the tons of ship parts in Phantom Hourglass, because there are only 16 random items and some of them can be even gotten in determined spots. But Nintendo screwed it by making some of your treasures extra rare, which varies with every save file, because they wanted to support trading treasures via the Contact Mode that way. In Japan, where everyone runs around with a Nintendo DS and where they play Zelda in the subway, this might be okay... but good luck finding someone for trading treasures here in Europe or the United States. And it doesn't work online. So, all you can do is try to get all the treasures yourself, which can take a while and is very repetitive. This time, one of my rare treasures were the White Pearl Loops... you need more than twenty of them and I still haven't gotten enough. And I can't see that stupid sword training minigame (which is the easiest way to score some 150 rupee treasures) anymore. I have the Platinum Membership in the Beedle Shop (which is also absolutely ridiculous), but not all train cars yet...

But on the bright side, I got a better look at the game. For example I noticed that all the other side quests are far better distributed than I thought they were. Originally I dodged most of the side quest until the end of the game because of the slow train riding, I was rushing from dungeon to dungeon. And then at the end I had a total sidequest overload. But that's something that can happen in all the Zelda games, when you're playing them for the first time. The main quests are always the obvious choice, a new dungeon is far more exciting than collecting some treasures. But when I replay a Zelda game I always focus to finish all the sidequests as early as possible. And that way I noticed that there are enough side quests before each dungeon and each section of the tower, which is great.

Little Update: Another thing I haven't noticed during my first playthrough was, that if you blow the whistle after picking up one of the Tears of Light in the Dark Realm, your train goes EXTREMELY fast. I love that and it also makes battling the Dark Trains a lot easier. That speed update should be somehow available in the main game, it would be tons of fun. This time I haven't saved after battling the Gannon-Train, so I can always replay the Pacman part. Fast is fun.

So, what we learn here, is that a tedious side quest can be a real replay killer, if you want to go for a 100%. It's the same with The Wind Waker for example and all it's figurines, that's one aweful sidequest. The Minish Cap is actually short and fun, which is why I replayed it like three times, but the figurines there AGAIN were totally annoying and you basically waste a lot of time there in the lottery just to get the 100% again, while the rest of the game is long finished. So, Nintendo, please stop adding random factors and repetitive tasks to side quests. Zelda shouldn't be some grinding game. Also, a Zelda game shouldn't give you the feeling that it's a long and boring task, like The Wind Waker and Spirit Tracks did with all their sea and train travelling. A Zelda game needs to be more dense.

Miyamoto recently acknowledged in an interview with pocket-lint, that they have to focus more on the replay value with Skyward Sword:

“What we are focused on is creating gameplay mechanics so the gameplay experience feels very dense. In fact, the overall experience is going to feel more dense. We hope that people will want to go back and replay the game once they finish it”.

That really sounds good. Less is sometimes more. Have a smaller overworld, but rich in detail, action and exploration. Have less sidequests, but quality ones, not that random crap. Replay value is very important to every game, not just Zelda. What's a game worth, if you can only play it once and then it catches dust? It definitely wasn't worth the money spent on it. And the sooner the Zelda team realizes the importance of replay value, the better for the Zelda series.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This game it's very nice, I like the train thing and stuff and zelda's spirit it's very funny ;D