Tuesday, December 10, 2013

100 Hours of A Link Between Worlds

My Nintendo 3DS tells me that I spent over 100 hours with the game now. This includes two full playthroughs, one through normal mode and one through Hero Mode. Two half playthroughs, one for checking, if the chests in Thieves' Hideout are missable, and the other one I just started for fun. Also, lots of time battling Shadow Links and collecting all 50 medals, both in normal and Hero mode, as well as playing the endless Cucco Run minigame and other minigames. Well, and quite some time, where the game simply was idle, lol.

But after so much play time, I think it's time to finally share some impressions about the game. To say some good things after all the nagging about the Cucco Run. This post contains spoilers for those, who haven't completed the game yet. So, don't read on, if you're in the middle of it.

Usually with a new Zelda game I blog about my progress each day. This started with Spirit Tracks, but I also did it for Four Swords (Anniversary Edition), Ocarina of Time 3D, Skyward Sword and The Wind Waker HD. But not this time. This time I got a review copy from Nintendo (thanks a lot!) for ZeldaEurope.de about three weeks in advance and naturally blogging about the game wasn't possible.

I didn't even write down all too much, which is a shame, because I don't remember my initial dungeon order anymore. Because this is one of the things that makes this game so great: the non-linearity, the freedom and the exploration. A good Zelda game is heavy on exploration and the previous games, especially Skyward Sword and Spirit Tracks, really lacked the exploration factor. They were very linear Zelda games with little freedom. A Link Between Worlds is the exact opposite and this really makes the game exciting. Thanks to the freedom every player has his own story, his own unique path through the game. And every story can be interesting.

As for my part, when I first arrived in Lorule, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the freedom. In a good way though. What I did was exploring every region first, even going to every dungeon entrance and then decide, which dungeon I would play first. But my first big goal was getting the Titan's Mitts. It's like the biggest item throughout the game, since you can rent and buy all others early. Only the big rocks (and the desert) remain as an obstacle. I even thought, they were required for the Skull Woods dungeons, because I missed the other path through the woods. So, my first goal was Thieves' Town, I think, because in A Link to the Past it was the dungeon that gave you the Titan's Mitt. But to my surprise you didn't get them there, but the Sand Rod at the end (at that point, I didn't know that the Master Ore would count as the dungeon item).

My next thought then was that each sage would give you a new item. After all you got the Sand Rod from one... so, I assumed that Rosso will give me the Titan's Mitt. Also, I wanted to upgrade the items, before I head into a dungeon that requires them. The first item, which I had bought, was the Fire Rod, because of the bigger discount. You save 600 Rupees instead of just 400. It was also the first item that I had upgraded. So, my next goal were the Ice Ruins. With about ten hearts, only some red potions and no stronger armor. And oh boy, I can tell you that was fun. I was close to dying a couple of times and I kept wandering around the dungeon, because it was so complicated. My favorite room was the one with the fairies, because I needed them quite often. It felt like a classic Zelda dungeon maze challenge!! It's definitely my favorite dungeon in the entire game and the only dungeon that comes close to the A Link to the Past quality of difficult maze-like dungeon design.

I don't remember the exact order after this point, but needless to say that all other dungeons paled in comparison after the Ice Ruins. I think, the dungeons were too easy with the enemies. A Link to the Past's dungeons had strong enemies and traps everywhere, but the dungeons here go very easy on you. It already started in Eastern Palace, where you can't find any Eyegors. And normal enemies from A Link to the Past often get treated as minibosses, which is a joke. I was hoping that Hero Mode would fix this and while the quadruple damage indeed provides a good challenge, the dungeons remain the same. It wouldn't have needed Master Quest style dungeons, but at least stronger enemies here and there would have been good.

Interestingly enough the overworld has tough enemies everywhere. I would even say that it's more dangerous than in A Link to the Past. For example you can run into Lynels really early, which is cool, because they're finally using strong enemies as an obstacle again. The overworld is also what makes you feel great about becoming stronger. The enemies in Lorule can dish it out and take in. And getting a stronger sword now becomes meaningful again! Finally it takes only half the hits to beat them. This is good classic Zelda design, which is still superior in every way. The Wind Waker was the first game to remove optional sword upgrades, where the difficulty progresses with the story and the story would give you a stronger sword at the right time. You can't feel the upgrade this way. And that sucks, I prefer the traditional Zelda, where sword upgrades were hidden and meaningful.

But A Link Between Worlds brought it back! But it didn't stop there... nearly every item receives an upgrade in this game and it's awesome. Collecting all the Maiamais is definitely the most rewarding collectible sidequest in the entire Zelda series so far. Sadly finding them all is a little bit too easy, but whatever.

The selection of items in this game is probably the best yet. I really enjoy the four different elemental rods and the other items, especially in combination of the new energy meter. Usually I try to save my arrows, bombs and magic for when I really need them (even though it's silly, because when you need them there's usually pots around). But I'm just this ammo saving type, I guess. However, with the energy meter I can use all items to my heart's content. And it doesn't feel cheap, because you can't spam the items. It's a great system that definitely has a bright future in the Zelda series. I never enjoyed all the items as much as in this game.

However, I spent quite some time looking for things that weren't there. Especially a 6th bottle. The inventory leaves a spot open, which is reserved for the Bow of Light, but I didn't know that and I really wanted to get everything before heading into the final battle. So, I kept looking for another bottle, which wasn't there. I think, I spent a couple of hours just running around and exploring every nookie until I finally had the thought I might get something in the final dungeon. Though I thought it would be the Light Rod, because it would have gone quite well with the theme of the game.

I wasn't able to look it up, but that's a good thing. Usually there's the temptation to look up the solution in the internet, if something is unclear or if you get stuck. Because it's fast and easy. I usually try to avoid this, because I usually hate myself afterwards (the last time I did this was with one chest in Hyrule Castle Town in Spirit Tracks), but this time there was nothing to look up. And I enjoyed that, because the game had some really clever puzzles.

My favorite puzzle is probably the one in the Palace of Darkness with the Master Ore chest. I thought this was genious. I know that some people hate this particular puzzle and say that it was unfair or even against Zelda principles, because it made them look up the solution in the internet (like I said, don't do that!), but I personally enjoyed discovering the solution. There's quite some logic behind it, even though some people pretend like it's the most random puzzle ever.

But puzzles like that really bring me back in the days of playing my first Zelda game: Link's Awakening. Sometimes I got stuck for WEEKS, because I couldn't figure out a puzzle. There was no internet and I didn't want to buy the guide book from my pocket money, so it was either figuring it out on my own or "lose" the game. I remember that it took me a long time to get behind the "eyes" of the mask in Level 6, Face Shrine. At that point I was under the impression that every room in the dungeon is on the map. And I was really playing with the map the whole time. I didn't play The Legend of Zelda before, so I didn't know that the maps usually have shapes and that the "eyes of the map" were hidden rooms. So, I couldn't find the Power Bracelet L-2 or the miniboss and I got stuck forever. But did I complain that the game cheated or tricked me, when I found out the solution? No. I was happy that I finally figured it out. And I got smarter on my way.

Zelda needs more crazy puzzles like this, because usually the puzzles aren't really puzzles, but chores. You don't even have to think about it, you know the solution right away and just move the block on the switch. That's only natural after 16 other Zelda games. So, I love it, when a new Zelda games brings some fresh puzzles. And the best way to design puzzles now is to go AGAINST the Zelda fan's intuition. Do the opposite of what a Zelda fan might expect. This way you can make it hard for longtime Zelda fans, while new players might find the puzzle not too hard, because they have a different view on things.

The best example for this would be the Pegasus Boots in A Link Between Worlds. In A Link to the Past you needed them to chase the running man through Kakariko. And naturally you would assume the same for this game... but no! There are even Zelda fans, who didn't get the Pegasus Boots until the end of the game. It's hilarious. And I say Zelda needs more puzzles like this.

Overall I have to say that this was the best Zelda game in about 12 years. I'm more a fan of the Zelda classics, especially A Link to the Past, Link's Awakening, Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. They have the exploration, the optional upgrades, the clever dungeons, the high replay value and so on. And A Link Between Worlds really took me back to the level of quality of traditional Zelda. So, it joins my top 5 together with these games. I'm really, really happy with this new Zelda game. It feels like the majority of the prayers on my blog have finally been heard. And if it's any indication of what Zelda U will be like, then I'm really looking forward to it. Zelda is officially back on track.


Anonymous said...

I must admit that I haven't had the Pegasus Boots until the lat dungeon... yes, I thought you would need them to chase the guy, and not receive it from him >_<

About the Palace of Darkness Puzzle: I loved it! Solved it quite by accident, but made me SO happy to finally get to that chest. How can people even complain about this? After Skyward Sword, I was happy to finally be challenged again.

Mephistophoscrub said...

I kept my expectations low for this one. I was so let down by Skyward Sword… the hand-holding and tedium and stale format really bummed me out. And now they were returning to LttP? Surely the backward-looking tendencies of the Zelda team had reached a new low.

But I am delighted to admit how wrong I was. I agree with everything you said. This is the best Zelda game since Majora's Mask … maybe since Ocarina of Time. And for me, today, it's the most fun Zelda game to pick up and play.

Here are two things worth praising that you did not mention, in this post anyway (and they are related to each other):

- The game is very fun to replay!

- There are no boring sections!

All Zelda games since Majora's Mask (which I love and consider a great Zelda) have had some really conspicuous boring sections that are a slog to get through, but you do 'em to get on to the next part. To be honest, I feel that way A LOT OF THE TIME while playing all Zelda games since the very first one. So to me, it's a revelation that this game is so much fun to play and there are no parts that make me groan and think about taking a break.

This lack of tedium is part of what makes the game so repayable. It's not just an experience you go through once, and accept as uneven. It plays fast, everything is very responsive and quick, the dungeons are pleasantly compact and to-the-point, and there are no dull sections.

I'm really amazed that Aonuma and his team changed their philosophy so much. I heard him say at the comicon panel that LttP had become a template for all the 3D Zeldas, and with LBW they were going back to that moment and taking things in a different direction. What could be better? I just hope they maintain this focus on immediate gameplay, this willingness to cut things that don't add to the fun, and don't allow Zelda U to get bloated with stuff that is "supposed to be in there".

This game restores Zelda to a series that deserves the accolades it routinely receives.

Lankelink said...

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if the merchant in kakariko could sell more things besides the heart... but it was fun!

Anonymous said...

Those apples on that tree...where did they come from?

TourianTourist said...

@previous post:

You get one more apple with every sign that appeared on the StreetPass meadown. This doesn't have to be StreetPass hits, the pre-generated Shadow Links do count.

The maximum number of apples is 20.

K2L said...

I thought you had liked TWW as well.

TourianTourist said...

Yes, I did. I liked all Zelda games to an extent. Doesn't mean they were top Zelda material.