Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Curse of the Master Sword

The sword - it is undeniably the most important item throughout the Zelda series, it's your primary weapon and also used as a tool to cut grass or activate certain switches. Since Zelda needed its own Excalibur, A Link to the Past introduced the Master Sword, which has become a staple throughout the series and an icon for the entire Zelda franchise. And with it swords have more and more become an essential part of the story in Zelda games, the pinnacle now taking place in Skyward Sword, which deals with the creation of the Master Sword. However, this development didn't come without a price...

One of the main essences of Zelda is growth. Growing from a weak and young boy into the hero of the legend. (With the expection of Zelda II) you do that exclusively by collecting items, that make you stronger. Better armor and shield defend you from nasty enemy attacks. Bombs open paths through walls made of stone and enemies. Bow and arrow let you fight distant foes. But the most important item is the sword. Getting a better sword makes you insantly feel more powerful. Now you can finish off the more dangerous enemies with fewer strikes, kill smaller foes with a single strike or even shoot beams to kill from safe distance. Your sword makes the difference.

Which is why in the first half of the series most sword upgrades were optional and safely hidden somewhere. The Magical Sword was hidden under a tombstone and only given to you, if you already had twelve Heart Containers. With it the fearsome Lynels on Death Mountain suddenly become much less of a problem. Getting this sword feels like a real achievement.

The Seashell Sword in Link's Awakening makes you go from zero to hero after collecting twenty Secret Seashells. It's not only twice as powerful as your normal sword, it also shoots mighty Sword Beams, which makes the stubborn Moblins on Koholinth pop like little bubbles. Getting this sword feels like a real achievement.

In Majora's Mask you take your weak Kokiri Sword from Ocarina of Time, sharpen and gild it to make it a lot stronger. Later in the game you can also find the mighty Great Fairy's Sword, which can kill a Dinolfos with one strike. Getting these swords feels like real achievements.

Now with the Wind Waker things changed. Suddenly all sword updates were mandatory, you get the Master Sword and upgrade it two times as part of the main quests. The game grows with you in these parts, you got stronger, but so did the enemies. You can't miss the upgrades and they don't feel like they were well desired. It doesn't really feel like an achievement.

The Minish Cap now did a similar thing with the Four Sword. In Twilight Princess you only got the Master Sword midways and that's pretty much it. No further upgrades expept the light thing, which was useless outside of the Twilight Realm and also mandatory. Both Nintendo DS Zelda games now got Master Sword-wannabes with the Phantom Sword and the Lokomo Sword. They look similar in shape to the Master Sword and they were also mandatory, usually with the function to strike Phantoms. And Skyward Sword just extended the pattern from the Wind Waker.

After the Oracles all Zelda games only offered mandatory sword upgrades, which I like to call "Story Swords". They are essentially based on the Master Sword from A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. However, both these games did more than just the mandatory main weapon. A Link to the Past did two things with the Master Sword, that didn't make a return in the series: it tempered and gilded the thing as optional upgrades. With these upgrades the tough bosses and enemies get easier to beat. Playing with only the normal Master Sword is a lot tougher. Ocarina of Time on the other hand offered an interesting alternative with the optional Biggoron Sword. It deals twice as much damage as the Master Sword, but you can't use your shield with it.

While the later games took the concept of the Master Sword and kept it, they forgot about the optional sword upgrades. You HAVE to get the better swords in order to progress through the game. Getting and upgrading the Master/Four/Phantom/Lokomo Sword happens at a fixed point. Enemies become automatically harder at this point and you don't feel like you achieved anything for yourself. You only get the necessary tools for progressing. The Master Sword just has become the key for the next area/dungeon, in Skyward Sword this is even literally the case where you open portals with the sword.

Optional sword upgrades are more interesting, because you can miss them. The enemies become tougher and tougher to beat throughout the game and your little Wooden Sword becomes more of an hindrance. There are fierce enemies like the Lynels that take eight hits from it, but with the White Sword it's only four and with the Magical Sword you can suddenly kill them with two hits. It feels amazing, like you have gotten a lot more powerful. It feels like a real achievement.

And that's why Nintendo should try to get away from the "Story Swords" back to the "Hidden Swords" from the classics.

And the Master Sword Shall Sleep Forever...!!


K2L said...

Or having the Master Sword since the very beginning. And giving it upgrades through bonus dungeons. Removing the MS isn't completely necessary, but whom am I trying to convince here?

seo.gopinath said...

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