Friday, September 2, 2011

Four Swords, Final Round

This is it. I've fully beaten Four Swords today together with Den. We got the last Hero's Key from Death Mountain and blasted through all 12 floors of Vaati's Super Palace. After eight years I've finally got a perfectly finished save file on my GBA cartridge. If you've beaten the most difficult version of Vaati's Palace a golden Four Sword appears between Link and the Medals of Courage on your save file.

Death Mountain was a pain, we resetted the stage about four times until we finally got a set-up that wasn't brutally hazardous and which offered a lot of Rupees. Especially those annoying fire monsters that always come from the lava could easily break your Rupee Fever, so we avoided levels with those. But in the end we managed to collect more than 6000 Rupees to receive the red Hero's Key. The fairy then warns you that Vaati's Palace will have 12 floors of madness instead of the usual three.

But during playing Death Mountain we really noticed that the biggest strength of Four Swords is also its biggest weakness. The random level design. It's a double edged sword. It really adds to the replay value and it will take you many play sessions to experience all possible layouts. I probably haven't seen all of it yet and I will continue to check out the dungeons. However, in some set-ups it is very hard if not impossible to meet the 5000 Rupees requirement for the Hero's Keys. Even with Rupee Fever. So, all you can do is try again after a failed attempt, which can be frustrating, or to reset the stage until you finally get a set-up which looks promising, like we did. Luckily this is not a problem in the final dungeon, Vaati's Palace

In the final version of Vaati's Palace every third floor featured one of the game's four bosses, their order seemed to be chosen randomly except for Vaati of course, who always appears on the 12th floor. But you battle all four bosses again in this stage and the length of this dungeon is equal to playing all four normal dungeons in a row. The other floors with no bosses on them got random settings and layouts, anything could happen. I usually enjoy the forest stages the most. But after the trouble of Death Mountain, where we really struggled to get enough Rupees, Vaati's Palace felt like a relief. There's no Rupee Limit at the end here, you only collect Rupees to revive fallen players. We didn't die a single time, so we basically didn't have to collect a single Rupee. But we are so drilled to collect Rupees by now, that we still got more than 27000 Rupees at the end, which is a tremendous amount.

Overall I have to say that Four Swords is an amazing little game. You have to consider that this was just a bonus, something tacked to an already established main game, A Link to the Past. Normally a game like this would use the main game's engine, you would expect the looks and sounds of A Link to the Past. However, Capcom made their own artstyle - a 2D version of The Wind Waker's artstyle -, sprites, new items, enemies and music all for this little bonus game. Of course all of it would be later reused for The Minish Cap, but at that time this was a remarkable effort. (Ironically Four Swords Adventures then would just copy everything from A Link to the Past, lol. You would it expect to be the other way around.)

And overall I would say that this is the best multiplayer experience of Zelda there is. It got this exciting mix of cooperating and competing, because you really want to be the one who gets all the Rupees, Four Swords Adventures doesn't have that, it doesn't really matter who collects the most Force Gems. And Four Swords sometimes even encourages the competition with special set-ups. The multiplayer puzzles are far more clever, everything in Four Swords Adventures can be solved using the single player formations, which doesn't allow more complex challenges, where a good player coordination is required. And collecting enough Rupees is far more challenging than collecting the 2000 Force Gems in each level. The only thing that's missing are the really awesome mass fights from FSA, where you hack yourself through dozens of enemies. The GameBoy Advance isn't capable of that. But overall I'd say that Four Swords is a much more clever multiplayer game than Four Swords Adventures.

But this comes with a price. While the multiplayer is more interesting, there's no singleplayer mode. Let's say they add the controls and formations of Four Swords Adventures to the port, then it would be still impossible to play the game because of certain obstacles like enemies that have to be pulled from two sides. You really need at least a second player to join. And because of this you can't play and enjoy this game whenever you want. But I really enjoyed the randomisation of the levels and the idea of collecting a lot of Rupees as a goal. And I wish I could play this game in singleplayer...

Well, this is a historic day in my life as a Zelda fan. It's not only that I finally managed to conquer this game after eight years, but from now on I can finally claim that I've completely beaten all Zelda games for 100%. Oh, wait, I still can't do that, because I haven't played Ocarina of Time 3D yet, but Four Swords was always the one big obstacle in my way to an 100% completion of the entire series and now this is gone. (I somehow hope that they don't change anything in the DSiWare vesion save for the necessary separation from A Link to the Past, because otherwise I would have to face the same obstacle again. :D Or at least add a singleplayer...) Thousands of thanks to my buddies Den and Rob for making my dream come true. It wouldn't have been possible without the two of you. (I doubt they'll ever read this blog, but I leave my thanks just in case.)

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