Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Twilight Princess HD: Hero Mode Diaries

When Twilight Princess HD got released about a year ago, I fully completed Normal Mode and left Hero Mode for a later date, where I could enjoy the game on a large TV, since I was only using the Wii U GamePad at the time. Well, by now I got a 49'' TV with nice UHD upscaling, so I finally was able to play it all again with many new angles.

I wasn't a big fan of the remaster early on, because it felt kind of pointless with the Wii version still available on Wii U and not like a huge graphical improvement. But seeing Twilight Princess HD on the big TV certainly has changed my mind, because it looks all very sharp and clear. I even compared back-to-back with the Wii version, which now looks like some pixelated mess in comparison. So, the HD version certainly has some value and I hope that Skyward Sword HD will follow on the Switch. But that's a different topic.

Well, right now I'm on a journey to complete all 3D Zelda games again in order, before Breath of the Wild gets released, and things are looking very good with Twilight Princess HD off the table. It was also the last major part of my Zelda backlog, where I'm now finally back to the point, where I have completed the entire series (with the exception of that Endless Cucco Rush in A Link Between Worlds), right in time for the next big Zelda game.

Luckily, myself from March 2016 gave me a little headstart here, where I had prepared a Hero Mode save file up to the point, where you're about to enter the Forest Temple. That took about one hour of tutorial stuff out of the equation, which was very nice to have. I could get right into the action. The game feels very "piped" and even has some parts that feel completely meaningless, especially those sewer passage under Hyrule Castle, because you can't ever return there. So, it's good, if you can skip some of it.

Overall the game gave me a very different replay experience, when compared to Majora's Mask and the Wind Waker HD before it. With those two games it was all about the "explore and scavenge" parts, while the dungeons felt like an obstacle for the actual fun. It was kind of the opposite with Twilight Princess just now, where the dungeons are the real meat. Most of them are also quite linear, but the design is great and they are fun to play. The sidequesting on the other hand lacks the motivation.

This may partly due to the terrible minigames, which can kill a good part of the replay value for 100% runs. Especially everything around the Zora's River is pretty bad. Well, I've actually grown fond of Rollgoal by now and used it to chill after the Cave of Shadows, so that didn't even frustrate me anymore. Trying to catch the Hylian Loach on the other hand did, because the landing window is just way too small. In the end I had to spam the A button while reeling to get the fish on board. And both the Rapids Ride and Fruit Pop Flight minigames suffer quite from some terrible controls combined with a "don't hit any walls" mechanic in an area, where it's quite hard to avoid walls.

At least with the Fruit Pop Flight I'm usually eager to go for that perfect score once per savegame, because it's doable with a little practice, but this still took me about an hour. It also would be so much better with actual 3D, because it sometimes it's hard to judge, where exactly the balloons are floating in the air. And I just can't stand the Rapids Ride, it's too easy to get caught up somewhere and lose lots of points due to one mistake.

It's not the only thing, where the controls are pretty bad, because the horse is beyond terrible in this version. It feels like you can't go straight, after you've made a little turn somewhere. On the GameCube I used to enjoy riding through Hyrule Field. There's this one circuit, where you can go through all fields without every hitting a loading screen, because it loads in the background. I used to ride this in circles again and again, because it felt great. But not on the Wii U version, the horse just gets stuck everywhere. It looks like they did a much better job with the horses in Breath of the Wild, so it's weird, how badly they screwed this up here.

Anyway, other than some messy controls and unfun minigames, the sidequest stuff doesn't feel as captivating. I like the bigger caves and minidungeons, but the dig caverns and Poe Souls and countless scattered treasure chests don't motivate me enough (though it did get better thanks to the Miiverse Stamps). Well, the Wind Waker also has some bland and repetitive things, but at least there it has a structure, which keeps you going. With Twilight Princess you also get access to most of these activities at once after obtaining the Master Sword, but here it's all over the place and you are bound to the game's daytime system, because Nintendo had failed to do anything about the Poes only appearing at night. And the Poes can be quite annoying to fight...

This leads me to the most interesting topic: Hero Mode. I combined it with the Ganondorf amiibo for quadruple damage and I have to say that damage-wise it felt like the right difficulty. Like in Tri Force Heroes one heart would be the minimum damage and you can rack up damage very quickly, so you have to be careful all the time. Unlike Hero Mode in the Wind Waker HD, where it's only somewhat challenging in the early game, it scales really nicely in Twilight Princess HD kept me on the edge for entirety of the game. For example King Bulblin in Hyrule Castle would do a staggering 12 hearts of damage with a single hit.

It gets a little bit too much here and there, for example falling off a cliff takes away four hearts. That's an instant Game Over early in the game, as if you were playing Zelda II - The Adventure of Link. I even died in the Forest Temple due to the long monkey "liana" at the end, because you have to time this jump correctly and it's easy to screw this up. Thanks to Link's Awakening I still have the "I cannot ever die on a savegame" mentality, so even if Twilight Princess doesn't count your Game Overs, I still never go for the "Retry" option, but I return to the title screen and go all the way back to where I died. But this mentality might change with Breath of the Wild and the new auto saving system.

There was another cheap death scene, when you go bug hunting in Kakariko. Whenever I tried leaving the exploding house, the fire hurt me with four hearts of damage, which also kills you at the time. If it wasn't for a fairy that I still had from the Forest Temple (I didn't even know that fairies worked while being in wolf form in the Twilight Zones), I wouldn't have been able to make it without taking away the Ganondorf amiibo effect.

Another big part of the difficulty is that you can't find any hearts to heal yourself. (That's not exactly true, by the way, the three fangirls in Hyrule Castle Town, as well as the Yeto & Yeta "love scene" still make hearts appear. But otherwise all hearts are gone.) And fairies are super rare, they only can be found at the end of dungeons and in the springs after completing segments of the Cave of Ordeals. I've even beaten the first segment early on, as soon as I had the chance, just to have some fairies available in Ordon Spring. And with that there finally was a good reason to go back to Ordon Province for a change. Also, Ooccoo was a lot more useful this time around, because you could use the warp function to go heal yourself at any time in a dungeon.

Anyway, it also made me use the Hero's Bow and Bomb Arrows much more than in the past, which might be a good preparation for Breath of the Wild. I usually had this mentality in Zelda games, where I don't want to deplete resources like arrows, unless it's completely necessary. But that's silly, because you're getting plenty of it in every corner, especially if you really need it. And Breath of the Wild seems like a game, where you want to make full use of your available resources to survive.

Apropos preparing for Breath of the Wild, another important part was going through the Cave of Shadows again and prepping my Wolf Link amiibo with a "20 hearts on the 40th floor in Hero Mode" record. However, it turned out that there is no such thing - whenever I scan the amiibo, it still only shows the floor number and the hearts total, but not the Hero Mode flag (unlike in the probably misleading result screen at the end of the cave). So, "20 hearts on the 40th floor" already was the best possible setup and I basically reset my save data on the amiibo for nothing.

It even shocked me at first that the second section of the Cave of Shadows opened up immediately. My plan was to secure a 19 hearts save on floor 6, which I then could use on my journey back to floor 40, where I would go for the 20 hearts by healing myself at the end. But then I feared that I wouldn't be able to do that. However, I still had to get to floor 20 once in order to unlock the rest of the cave, so I could get my 19 hearts save there. I also learned that you can use the new Toon Zelda amiibo to heal yourself an additional time, which came in handy to get that 20 hearts on floor 40 back. I wouldn't even be surprised, if you could just buy more Zelda amiibo to heal yourself more often...

The cave, however, isn't that much fun, because the wolf combat is quite limited and after floor 20 it uses a lot of cheap traps and enemy combinations to hurt you badly, if you are not careful and sometimes even if you are. The targeting system also might screw you, because sometimes it's important to target certain enemies first (e.g. Chilfos), but the game just keeps aiming you at Keese. If you use the right strategies, you can beat the Cave of Ordeals entirely without getting hurt, but this is much harder to do with the Cave of Shadows. Luck seems to be a factor here and that's not good... It's still an interesting challenge and finally a dungeon just for Wolf Link.

Last and maybe least, Hero Mode mirrors the entire game like the Wii version did. When I first played the Wii version, this confused me a lot, even caused a headache or two. And whenever I think of the world of Twilight Princess, I see the GameCube map in my mind. So, if I want to go to Kakariko, I'm thinking east. But for some reason I managed to get along with the mirroring a lot better this time around. It still felt wrong, familiar but strange. But I was able to navigate it all without any bigger issues.

So, that's it. Hero Mode done 100% with the Cave of Ordeals, Cave of Shadows, all 64 Rollgoal levels and what not. With Twilight Princess HD I'm closing the last chapter of completing the Zelda series for myself.

Breath of the Wild can come now. But I will use the meantime to replay as much of Skyward Sword as possible.

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