Friday, April 28, 2017
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
North American Release Date: November 20, 2011
I'll be honest (always am here). The Legend of Zelda is my favorite long-running video game series, and it is time for me to tell a certain story for the last time:
For my fifth wedding anniversary, my wife and I did dinner and a movie. In between, we hung out in Barnes and Noble and read magazines. The cover of a video game magazine I grabbed sunk my spirits. Nintendo was releasing yet another Zelda game. Five years before that moment, when my wedding coincided with the launch of the Nintendo Wii, and Twilight Princess, a corresponding Zelda game, I had decided that video games, my key hobby, were childish things that I should leave behind. In 2011, as I sat in that Barnes and Noble cafe, I felt a huge pang of regret. This new Zelda game, Skyward Sword, not only looked awesome, but would now put me TWO Zelda games behind. Would I ever play video games again? Truthfully, I had recently pulled out my old Sega Dreamcast and dabbled, but would I ever play new games that had come out post-2006? Thankfully, the answer was "yes." Shortly after that anniversary night, as my son gained interest in video games, my love for them was rekindled. I discovered something I think many gen-X'ers eventually come upon--just because you enjoyed something when you were a kid does not make it childish. While Millennials might never grow up, many of us Gen X'ers, dismayed by our hippie me-generation forebears, can get over-cynical about the worthwhile nature of our childhood favorites. It would be easier to say all that Atari 2600 I played with my dad was frivolous, if I hadn't recently experienced such fulfilling times playing video games with my own child. There's a difference between "childish" and "fun." (All you damn millennials still need to grow the hell up, though, and get off my lawn!)
Thus, five years after its release, I finally played through The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. My Skyward Sword play-through comes as the third of the last three console Zelda's I've recently played over a year in release order, finishing The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess directly before it. I must confess, Skyward Sword suffers slightly, by comparison.
Skyward Sword is posited as a prequel to all previously released Zelda games. It begins in a small town on an island in the sky, creatively titled, Skyloft. Here we meet the very first incarnations of Zelda and Link, looking very teenager-ly, and not so epic hero-ly. Skyloft looks like a cheery medieval town, patrolled by townsfolk soaring through the skies on large, furry birds. As you would expect, Zelda gets kidnapped, and Link, with the aid of a robotic, yet chatty blue spirit sent by The Goddess, has to dive through the clouds to find her. You might not expect the dive through the clouds part, I guess.
It seems that a land beneath the clouds is rumored, even though no living person has seen it. However, young, wet-behind the ears Link discovers there is indeed a land beneath the clouds, from which a clear, blue and strangely not blocked by clouds-sky is visible. He also discovers that this more modern, though ancient and prototypical Zelda is in little need of saving. Seems she has gone off on her own mysterious adventure with a strange woman named Impa. This leaves Link with the afore-mentioned blue spirit, who looks like an attractive, blue-skinned woman in a mini-skirt. Considering this spirit had previously greeted and introduced herself to Link in his bed in the middle of the night like a Succubus after Zelda vanishes, making him chase after her in the darkness before she inhabits his sword, the game has some interesting sexual subtext I'd rather not explore here. Actually, I'd rather like to, but my reviews run long enough as it is, so I'll just leave it at that.
The blue spirit's name is "Fi," and she becomes Link's companion for the entirety of Skyward Sword. Much has been meme'd about how annoying a companion Navi the fairy was in the seminal The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. She actually didn't bother me that much, but Fi drives me crazy. She is constantly popping up in your face (from your sword), telling you stuff you already know, or could figure out with simple deduction. If you do need help, her verbal assistance generally adds up to, "You need help." Curious about how to fight a certain monster? "To defeat this monster, you must fight it," is about par for the course. She also does this C-3PO-esque thing were she tells you odds of things all the time for seemingly no reason. Unfortunately, there's no switch on the back of her neck to turn her off.
Anyway, you, as Link, are stuck on the surface doing seemingly random tasks, fighting monsters, and being sent on quests Link can't really comprehend, other than they will help him catch up to Zelda. Along the way, Link runs into a strange enemy named Ghirahim, a prancing, flamboyant foe who looks and acts like a tall, thin, androgynous screamo-revival band golem of re-animated rotten fruit thrown by the groundlings at The Globe Theatre. As in all other Zelda games, Link also has to duck down into complex dungeons, full of traps, puzzles, and enemies, usually finding useful items therein, like a bow, or a jar full of eternal wind, fighting a mini-boss halfway through, and a not-so mini boss at the end.
As not in all other Zelda games, Skyward Sword is the guinea pig for Wii Motion Plus controls. This means, when you play this game, you've got to get physical. Link's walking direction and geographic movement is handled with a Wii Nunchuk joystick, but his sword-fighting (the primary way enemies are battled), is controlled by waving the Wii Remote around like a sword. Swing to the left, and Link swings to the left...in theory. Many other items in the game are wielded with these motion controls. The immediate feeling for most players used to traditional controls will be confusion and frustration. You know what you want Link to do, but getting Link to do it is another matter.
Meanwhile, the surface world you've landed in, a bland forest, is graphically unimpressive, and anything more than ten feet from you blurs with some strange impressionistic painting effect in order to keep the graphics engine running smoothly. While you are running around in this world, the background music, an area in which Zelda games are generally an industry standard-bearer, is childish and simplistic.*^(1)
When you finally make it to another area, a volcano, things don't get any better. You also find that, after four consecutive Zelda 3-D games where the interconnected overworld got bigger and bigger, you are in a smaller world where each respective region isn't even connected to each other! I'd say "by this point, you'd be thinking," but I don't know what you'd be thinking, so I will say, by this point, I be thinking, How is a Zelda game this mediocre? This is supposed to be the greatest franchise known to video games, which has given me some of the all-time great highlights in my four decades of video-gaming life. Why. Is. This. So. Boriiiiiiiiiingggg???!!!
Then, suddenly, 10-15 hours into the game, something happens.
When Link arrives in Lanayru, the last of three provinces found under the clouds, the game suddenly opens up. I don't mean that you can now travel between the provinces freely--you still have to go back up to Skyloft, then dive back down to which ever respective region you want to visit. What I mean is that, all at once, the control learning curve, game design, graphics, and music all come together.
Lanayru is non-Alanis Morissette ironic*(^2), in that deserts are generally known for their vast emptiness, and Lanayru Desert Province is the best, most interactive region in any Zelda game ever, pre-HD-era. Tumbleweeds roll over shadows of windblown clouds racing across the desert floor, a beautiful ambient/percussive theme breezes out of the speakers, and the player, as Link, gets to explore to their hearts content. Lanayru's unusual hook, which I won't spoil here, is one of the most innovative in any Zelda game up to 2016. At the same moment in the game, the controls suddenly begin to seem intuitive, and the given tasks, fun. The next 30 or so hours of Skyward Sword are pure Zelda bliss, as the previous two areas, and then Lanayru, are expanded in creative ways, also making them more graphically satisfying, and somehow causing them to feature better music than what came before. Even the dungeons become more interesting, particularly one called The Cistern, which is a personal favorite.
This portion of Skyward Sword, which is truthfully, the majority of gameplay time, gives me everything I want from a Zelda game: the thrill of exploration, the joy of solving inventive puzzles, and the general feeling of being a hero while I fight huge, menacing bosses, and armies of wicked foes. Once I had the motion controls down, I often found myself standing to fight the trickier bosses, or when I came across mobs of lesser enemies. The fights involve quite a bit of strategy due to advanced enemy AI, and the direction you swing your sword, and the way you time defense maneuvers with your nunchuk-controlled shield, really matter. The experience is absolutely immersive. More than ever, the player truly feels like they are Link!
And then, for its last five hours, Skyward Sword comes back down to Earth, in a third back-tracking quest that just seems like filler, an insult to the player after the second time through felt so fulfilling. Skyward Sword took me far more time to beat than any other Zelda game, neither because I was floundering (I don't think I remember ever dying), or because of wide-ranging exploration. It took me forever to finish because of filler quests. After all, in the time it takes just to make this game interesting, I would have been halfway through my perfect-all-the-way-through initial experiences with say, Ocarina of Time, or A Link to the Past.
And while I'm complaining again, I haven't even mentioned the sparse, barely there excuse for a connecting overworld. Anytime Link wants to head to another region, he has to take to the skies on his loftwing bird, fly over a whole in the clouds (one for each of the three regions), and sky dive down. The skies themselves feature a few small islands to explore, but for the most part, seem incredibly empty. The learning curve on flying the loftwing is high, as well, and even when you feel like you are pointing your controller in the right direction, you can suddenly veer in the opposite.
So with all that said (and in my generally long-winded manner, more said than needed...sorry Ernest), what do we make of this game? Certainly it is the black sheep of 3D home console Zelda games, especially as gamers seem to be adding a little more rose to the tint of the glasses with which they view The Wind Waker, with every passing year. Should Zelda fans who haven't yet give Skyward Sword a chance? Should anyone play it at all?!
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a great game! That 30 hours or so stretch between the first ten and last five hours is unbelievably good. Unfortunately for Skyward Sword. most Zelda games are near perfect in their entirety, and any criticisms leveled against them are generally nitpicks. Skyward Sword, while a great game, has some major flaws that are certainly not nitpicks.
I've already mentioned how long it takes to really get the game going, and also the annoying back-tracking it employs near the end. I've also hinted at the problem with the controls. When they work, they really work: the only thing more life-like would be giving the player a Wii Motion Plus controller shaped like a real sword. Unfortunately, when the controls don't work, they are maddeningly frustrating, and as the game developers went all-in with the motion controls for every aspect of the game, there are plenty of opportunities for frustration. For instance, the entrance to every dungeon's final boss can only be unlocked with a special, 3-dimensional key. You don't just need to find the key, though. You have to use motion controls to shift it around and around until it fits right. There are also times when you need to draw on walls with your sword that make you feel like a toddler attempting calligraphy. And finally, any time you need to steer something for an extended period of time, the controls will inevitably and unexplainably switch axis. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, another Nintendo franchise member that deeply explored motion controls, did so far more intuitively, and never seemed to use them just for the sake of using them. I wish the developers of Skyward Sword had taken notes from that game. Especially when it seems like every boss near the end is following the same "slash sideways at me to hit me...okay, now slash vertically," pattern.
There's also the matter of the game's dash meter. It was intended to give the player the opportunity to run fast for short periods of time with no item required...but, unfortunately, the developers applied the meter to moments Link has to climb, as well. I don't know how many times I reached two adjacent ledges, and attempted to make the "jump to the next ledge" motion with the Wii Remote, only for the controls to fail, and my dash meter to run out--sending me plummeting to my death. Previous games allowed Link to hang from ledges as long as need be, without worry.
Also, the passing of the day, a staple in Zelda games for more than a decade, is left out of Skyward Sword. The sun doesn't move. Link can take a nap to change the time of day in Skyloft, but he can't leave for the larger world until he sets it back to daytime.
Lest this just be one huge bitchfest about a game I actually like, I would be remiss to go back and pick on these flaws without going back to praise some elements I haven't yet mentioned.
Link's home town and island of Skyloft is very well-designed, and feels more lived in and homey then any previous Zelda location. Its citizens' daily routines are interesting, and they are fun to interact with. The town bazaar adds much depth to the game (in addition to buying stuff, you can collect materials to upgrade what you already have), and is fun to frequently visit. The plentiful sub-quests (not required to complete game), many taking place in Skyloft itself, are very engaging. Link's item list is quite exiting. The option to collect bugs is a fun diversion, and adds color. Also, for the first time ever, someone not named Link or Zelda receives a deep character arc. I am typing of Groose, whose development throughout Skyward Sword is surprisingly rich, full, and satisfying. A twist with another character at the end of the game caught me off-guard, but was well earned. The music really does improve as the game goes on--it's the first Zelda game to use a full orchestra throughout, and the soundtrack as a whole almost sounds like that of a Miyzaki film...actually, there's a Miyazaki influence running throughout all of Skyward Sword, from the music, to some of the boss, character, and terrain design, just as Twilight Princess seemed influenced by Peter Jackson's then-recent Lord of the Rings films. With all that said, and going back to music in a final fanboy rant...what does it take for Koji Kondo to compose a Zelda game again? Does he just feel like he is too old for the work? Is Nintendo holding him back? Is his supervisory job more satisfying? These games have been well-scored in his absence, but they're also like a John Williams-less Star Wars. Come back, Kondo! Also, I never want Link to talk in a game, but voice-acting for everyone else would have made the overall story more immersive. Also, make Link left-handed again!!!
Despite debuting to great accolades, critical opinion on Skyward Sword seems to have trended downward only months after it was released. I know I seem to be coming down on the game harshly, but I really am fond of it, despite its numerous flaws. With Breath of the Wild now hitting stores, and the Wii U passing into the night with a Skyward Sword HD update conspicuously lacking, I hope Skyward Sword isn't completely forgotten. The motion controls, while somewhat flawed in practice, are a great idea, and incredible when they work. The dream-like, storybook middle 30 hours deserve to thrive in Zelda legend. Hopefully, at some point, the best qualities of Skyward Sword will find their place in history.*^(3)
*1 I get that, as the Twilight Princess portions of Faron Woods take place far in the Zelda future, it makes sense that their music is darker and more mysterious, while Skyward Sword's less ancient Faron Woods' music should be more playful and fun...I doesn't mean I have to like it, though!
*2 By non-Alanis Morissette irony, I mean that I used the word "irony" correctly.
*3 This really brings things full circle for me. While there are still plenty of Wii, and while we're at it, PS3 games I'd like to play through, I'll consider those more like retro reviews and put them on my "Classic Video Game Reviews" website--I've now played all the games I purposely missed in that generation due to my stupid, self-imposed gaming ban. Glad, with this reveiw now complete, to not have to mention that again.
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
Released on the Wii, March 4, 2016, by Nintendo and Tantalus
Wii U Game Reviews Score: 9.7/10
And now I come full circle with these reviews. When I went on a stupid, self-imposed video game-hiatus ten years ago, I managed to perfectly time its start with the release of the newest game in my favorite video game series. I kept tabs on Twilight Princess' review scores, growing more depressed with every perfect or near-perfect score.
"Are you sure you don't want to get a Wii?" my new wife asked me repeatedly.
"No. If I do, I'll play forever, and you'll divorce me," I answered moronically.
Well, with the release of Twilight Princess HD, a few years after the end of my video game hiatus, I can safely say that playing through the game will not result in a divorce. But is the game, ten years after its original creation, any good?
Oh cool, a game where some weird dwarf lady rides a giant wolf. Where are the pictures from the Zelda game?
That is from the Zelda game. As much as Twilight Princess is accused as being a throwback to 1998's The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a very large element of Twilight Princess' gameplay is unique to Twilight Princess. Also, spoiler alert: I really love this game because it is a throwback to Ocarina of Time.
Hi, Epona. I've missed you.
Let's get the classic Zelda elements out of the way, and by classic, I mean Ocarina of Time elements. After all, Ocarina of Time, possibly the greatest video game of all time, is simply a 3D update of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, also possibly the greatest game of all time, which is a higher pixel update of The Legend of Zelda (really awesome, but not quite one of the greatest games of all time). Like those great games of the past, Twilight Princess takes place in an ancient, medieval-like fantasy land called Hyrule, and stars a wet-behind-the-ears kid named Link. The player, as Link, gradually accumulates greater skills and weapons, traveres Hyrule's varied terrain, and dives into dungeons to fight enemies, solve puzzles collect items, defeat bosses, and collect some talisman that progresses the plot of the game. Twilight Princess, unlike its immediate Zelda game predecessor, The Wind Waker, does not break the mold. The Wind Waker was a huge departure from previous games in the Zelda series, instead sending out a now cartoony, cel-shaded young Link on a nautical adventure. After Wind Waker, a return to the familiar was certainly necessary...at least for me.
There's no place like home, there's no place like home.
Thankfully, this means building on the foundation of previous Zelda games: putting Link in a larger, more lifelike, graphically enhanced Hyrule, further evolving his abilities, and fine-tuning the games' controls,
As you can see from the above screenshot, Twilight Princess certainly presents a more lifelike, graphically enhanced vision of Hyrule than Ocarina of Time. While Twilight Princess' visuals might not compare with those of its contemporaries on the XBox 360 and PS3, and even though the it was actually designed for the older Gamecube and not the under-powered Wii, Twilight Princess is a good-looking game. Environments are lively and vibrant, evocative and full of motion. Link, non-player characters, enemies, and the game's giant bosses are animated better than ever. The HD upgrade for the Wii U gives these ten-year old graphics a boost--the game holds up again. I really have only one complaint, and it's visible in the below screenshot.
It goes. Through walls.
Your sword goes through walls. Yep, through walls. For some reason, the collision detection between Link's sword and many non-enemy textures does not exist. Not only do the polygons for the sword go through the walls, but the classic clink sound your sword made when it hit against walls in previous Zelda games is generally absent--because the game doesn't realize you are hitting anything. And before we get to the rest of the game, I'll reiterate again--THIS IS MY ONE COMPLAINT WITH TWILIGHT PRINCESS HD.For it, I deducted .3 points from the final score. This is an inexcusable detraction from an otherwise completely immersive game.
Back to the good, i.e., everything else.
Ocarina of Time introduced a lock-on combat system ("Z-Targeting"), where the player can hit a button to zero in and circle around a chosen foe. This was one of the hugest innovations in 3D gaming, greatly simplifying an experience that in previous 3D games had not felt very natural. Wind Waker further refined that element, adding additional moves for Link to master, though I feel that that game encouraged button mashing a bit. Twilight Princess brings Zelda combat experience to the next level, encouraging and empowering the player to become even more a master swordsman that did previous games. Fights in Twilight Princess feel more epic than ever, particularly when Link has to face off with huge, armored foes later in the game.
Twilight Princess also (THANKFULLY) brings back Epona the horse as Link's main mode of long-distance transportation. Peter Jackson's original Lord of the Rings trilogy is a huge influence on Twilight Princess, as the game-makers appear to have taken those films' horseback fighting scenes as a challenge. Link races Epona along goblins riding giant boars, able to cut the monsters down with his sword or bow. These segments of the game are incredible, an adrenaline rush of speed and clanging steel. There are key story moments from the game featuring horse-mounted combat, but later on, the player can hop onto Epona, venture to certain portions of Hyrule Field, and fight boar-riders any time they please.
Yes, those are fire arrows raining down upon me. Yes, this game is awesome.
I can't speak to how these horse-riding portions of the game controlled on the Wii or Gamecube, but on the Wii U gamepad, I forgot I was even holding a controller. The controls are seamless and intuitive.
So, uh...you like fishing?
How's it sound when you're doing all that stuff?
It sounds awesome. Outside of the aforementioned lack of sword-to-wall click, the sound effects sound authentic. Link still doesn't talk (He should never talk! He's a silent hero!), and characters communicate via text-box, but Link's grunts and yells are great. Sound effects during fights are as intense as they should be. Monsters make blood-curdling calls. Arrows whooshing all around. It's nice. But the true standout in this department is Twilight Princess' musical score.
A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time both have all-time great soundtracks, and fortunately, of all the Zelda games not scored by the legendary Koji Kondo (i.e., A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time), Twilight Princess' is the best. Nintendo assigned relatively green composer, Toru Minegishi, with the task of creating the game's music (with assistance from Asuka Ohta). Minegishi is apparently a huge student of Kondo's work because Twilight Princess' music sounds like a natural evolution of the maestro's work. Yes, I just called Koji Kondo "the maestro." He's created some of the most memorable compositions of all time, and deserves the title. Any doubt cast on my previous statement can be immediately extinguished by attending a Symphony of the Goddesses concert. And if you already don't have any doubt, you definitely need to attend a Symphony of the Goddesses concert. I did, cried the whole time, and had a transcendent experience--it was truly a magical night. Kondo gives a pre-recorded speech where he explains how he attempts to stir empathy in the listener when he composes a Zelda soundtrack. Incredible.
If you come here as a wolf, everyone pays a bit more attention to you.
The music in Twilight Princess is awesome: thrilling in Hyrule Field, incredibly relaxing anytime Link is near water, mysterious when he is traversing a misty forest, furious during a fight. The dungeon music, while not quite on the level of Kondo's haunting compositions, are a step above Wind Waker's. particularly Minegishi's work on Arbiter's Grounds. Minegishi also reprises and reinterprets Kondo's themes at key moments
So I've talked about everything Twilight Princess has in common with previous Zelda games. Now it's time to get to what's new.
You mean the wolf?
I mean the wolf.
Hungry like the.
Twilight Princess' biggest departure from the Zelda series is that, during certain segments of gameplay, Link is turned into a wolf. As the wolf, Link's attack moves (option 1. bite. option 2. bite) become limited, though his mobility and senses are enhanced. At first, playing as the wolf is a function of the story and mandatory, but later in the game, the player is free to switch between the two forms. These segments are a nice change of pace, and never take long enough to wear out their welcome. They also add to Twilight Princess' already thick atmosphere.
What's so thick about it?
The atmosphere arises from Twilight Princess' storyline. Zelda games are generally a simple battle of good versus evil, with a few extra details tossed in, but Twilight Princess does a great job of presenting something a bit more complex, without losing that classic Zelda feeling. The story this time has to do with a Twilight Realm that is essentially a parallel dimension, existing directly on top of Hyrule. In a twist, our main three characters, courageous Link, wise Princess Zelda, and powerful (evil) sorcerer Gannondorf are roped into the dramatics of this other world, and the game's action bounces between the Twilight Realm and Hyrule. I won't give anymore away, but the storyline is engaging and involving, and brings to the fore Link's greatest companion to date: Midna.
My apologies to Navi.
Midna possesses a certain attitude unique to the Zelda series, as she is possibly more powerful than Link himself. From early in the game, she is always near, riding Wolf Link in the Twilight Realm, and right behind Human Link in Hyrule. Her advice is always helpful, her jibes enjoyable, and her warping abilities later in the game eliminate any tedious backtracking.
To tie together everything that's new and old, I think Twilight Princess can be best summed up by its dungeons. While the Zelda overworld is a place to ride free and explore, meet new characters, and fight minor enemies, Link's journeys underground (and in one case, far over ground) to the dungeons truly test his, and by extension the player's mettle. That was a lot of commas, sorry.
Twilight Princess' dungeons, in a hyphenated word, are awe-inspiring. Their sense of scale, ingenuity in puzzles and gameplay, and diversity in aesthetic design are some of the greatest the Zelda series has to offer. Best of all, the incorporation of Wolf Link into the dungeons (after his use becomes optional) makes Twilight Princess an even more memorable experience. The amount of thought the game designers put into these dungeons, accounting for both Human and Wolf Link, is astounding. If you play this game for one reason, make it the dungeons. I repeat, Twilight Princess has some good dungeons. The dungeons are great. In case I haven't made myself clear...dungeons!
Pictured above...not a dungeon.
And finally, an HD upgrade isn't Twilight Princess' only Wii U improvement. Like Wind Waker HD before it, Twilight Princess HD sports a menu screen on the Wii U's Gamepad touch-screen controller. This means that the player can select and change out items or look at the game map without pausing. This Wii U innovation will be missed in the future, when Nintendo inevitably makes a course correction with following systems, and ditches the Gamepad screen. I can say with conviction, having that little additional screen for any 3D game involving exploration and an inventory has been a real bonus. I wish Nintendo could have found some way to make the Wii U catch on. It is going to be difficult playing future Zelda games without it.
Pictured above: startlingly, something actually apt to what I just talked about--the Gamepad touch-screen...and my items. Yes, that was a colon, hyphen, and suspension point in just one caption. Deal with it!
Double finally, I've heard some people complain about the emptiness of Twilight Princess' Hyrule Field overworld. Hyrule Field surrounds game-central Hyrule Castle, and leads to Hyrule's lake, forests, fire, and icy lands. The game makes quite clear that this Hyrule is a once great land that has fallen into disrepair. There are ruins everywhere, fallen columns, broken stone bridges. Yes, while Hyrule fields sports loads of enemies and secrets, there are certain sections that are a bit lonely--and this only serves to drive home this feeling of desolation all the more.
As a design choice, I think this is brilliant. It's not like the player has to ride for minutes through empty terrain--there is just a tangible feeling of emptiness, and that this is a world that was once thriving and connected, but now broken and dying.
Hey, look, a broken and dying little Goron...just kidding...I'm sure he's probably fine.
This is reiterated by the strife and paranoia between Hyrule's various intelligent species, which is gradually alleviated by Link as he opens the land and connects once separated areas togethger. It's clear there was once closer relationships between the humans, Gorons, Zoras, etc., but years of Hyrulian decay have severed these ties.
The best Zelda games champion exploration. My favorite moment came when I discovered an ancient, ruined theater on a hillside. Boar-riding orcs aren't the only Lord of the Rings influence on Twilight Princess. Making this discovery reminded me of Aragorn's wistful words about Weathertop. One could easily imagine the creatures of Hyrule seated at this theater long ago, gathered together in a period of unity and artistic prosperity. Now the area is overrun by monsters, as the humans huddle together behind the castle walls.
It's also a perfect place for target practice.
I'll show these birds to gather.
This sense of a land with a deep past links beautifully into past games, as well. For instance, villainous Gannondorf's race, the Gerudos, are mysteriously absent from the game. However, the desert still shares their name, and in the center of it is a great, ruined prison dungeon full of bones--a fitting resting place for a people whose leader attempted to mold Hyrule to his will.
At night, Hyrule Field's boisterous, dynamic theme segues to a quiet, meditative piece, punctuated by mysterious singing. The voice is that of Malon from Ocarina of Time, which occurred centuries before Twilight Princess. Malon was a ranch hand who befriended Link in Ocarina, and a possible shared romantic future is hinted between the two. Twilight Princess' Link lives on a ranch. Is this the voice of his ancestor comforting him in the night? Twilight Princess is full of this hinted past.
Not all of it is hinted, though. The ancient Ocarina Link is actually in this game. His spirit comes at select moments to train Twilight Princess' Link in combat.
The Hero of Time stands apart from it.
Once wouldn't catch on to this without having first played Ocarina of Time, which is not a detriment to Twilight Princess at all. However, as this gnarly old skeleton recalls moments from his past adventures, and teaches Link the songs of his youth, Ocarina fans will be smiling with the recollection of each note.
Oh yeah, and you can go fishing. If you get the time, you should probably go fishing.
Gonna catch me a biggun.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
Released on the Wii U, September 20, 2013, by Nintendo
Wii U Game Reviews Score: 9.3/10
Some relationships are simple. Then again, some relationships are the one I've had with The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker over the last 13 years.
Some history: Zelda for the NES did not strike my childhood fancy. It was not a 2-D platform game. In my mind, games that were not 2-D plaformers or sports simulations were not games. Then one day, hanging out in the lobby after being essentially abandoned at a Florida hotel, I became acquainted with Street Fighter II. This was indeed a game, too. That Christmas, I saved up all my money, returned some gifts to get more, and bought myself a Super Nintendo and Super Street Fighter II, just so I could play Street Fighter II at my house. Apparently, though, my SNES came with a free game: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.The game looked unfamiliar, and thus, weird, and I forgot it in the box, nearly throwing it away in between sessions of using Cammy to pummel Chun-Li and vice-versa. That's that.
"Why don't you try that Zelda game?" asked one particular cousin one day. That particular cousin has tended to be right most of the time.
"It looks weird," I said.
"But you have it, so you have to try it," he said.
After he left, I thought about his comments, checked out the window to make sure he was long gone, and tried out A Link to the Past.
Within a week, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past became my favorite video game of all time. A Link to the Past marked my departure from arrogant, stick-to-what-I-know child, to adventurous, fun-loving teenager. Several years later, in 1998, Nintendo released A Link to the Past's follow-up, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. A little under halfway through Ocarina, Link, the series-protagonist, grows from a child to a 17-year old. The game was released just weeks before my 17th birthday, during a time when my best friend was my Nintendo 64. To say that Wind Waker, released five years later on the Nintendo Gamecube, had a lot to live up to, is an understatement.
If that wasn't pressure enough, Wind Waker directly followed the release Ocarina of Time's N64 quasi-sequel, Majora's Mask. Majora's Mask is one of my favorite games in the Zelda series, but it entirely features an adolescent Link. As much as I love Majora's Mask, by 2003, I was again ready for a Link closer to my own age.
Leading up to the game's release, Nintendo announced that the Link of Wind Waker would again be a child. Not only that, but the game would be animated in a cel-shaded, cartoon style, instead of with the awesome, more-realistic graphics the Nintendo Gamecube seemed to be capable of producing. This whole Wind Waker thing just seemed to be not working out for me--it wasn't like finding A Link to the Past in your Super Nintendo box when all you want is Street Fighter II--it was like finding more ocean when all you want is land.
Still, this was a new Zelda game. Mario Sunshine had just disappointed me by not being a traditional Mario game. Certainly, The Wind Waker could not be that big of a departure. Just like with Ocarina of Time, I pre-ordered the game.
Fast forward a few weeks, and about 80% into Wind Waker, I grow frustrated with a fetch quest, and quit. I had already decided I wasn't a fan of the cartoonish graphics, the huge-ocean overworld, and the slight differences in puzzle logic from previous games. The fetch quest sealed the deal--it obfuscated every positive element Wind Waker had going for it (which, even then, I could admit, were a lot). I was done with this game. About that time, a buddy of mine gave me his old PS1, so that I could finally play my long-ago purchased copy of Chrono Cross, the sequel to Chrono Trigger, a game that had years-before overtaken Zelda as my favorite. My copy of Wind Waker soon grew dusty.
Much to my surprise, outside of a fun foray into the Game Boy Advance's The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (which I completed), I never played another Zelda game again. As the Wii was released, and with it two new Zelda games (admittedly, one of those was also released on the Gamecube), I looked on with jealousy, but never had my chance to play them...until I finally decided to be awesome again. Several years ago, I purchased a Wii U for my son and myself, and my life as a gamer was resurrected. The cherry on top: Nintendo announced they were releasing an HD-update to Wind Waker. Now I could finally take care of some unfinished business.
I Assume the Unfinished Business You Took Care of Actually Took Less Time to Complete than this Review Will to Read?
Oh, hi. I'm glad you're here. I was waiting for your snide comments. Actually, considering the intuitive nature inherent in most Zelda games, I am going to attempt to make this as brief as possible.
So James Joyce Length Instead of Victor Hugo? I Mean, You're Still You.
Sure. Let's shoot for that. I love Ulysses.
The world of Wind Waker actually brings to mind another Ulysses. There's definitely a heavy ancient-Greek vibe to Wind Waker. The game takes place between many scattered islands in a vast sea. This is a large departure from previous Zelda games, which generally took place in a generic (though generally beautiful and fun to traverse) fantasy world featuring an open field, a forest, a mountain,a lake, and a desert. Even Link's Awakening, the trippy old Game Boy game that shipwrecks Link on a strange island, stays fairly true to this form. Wind Waker breaks this mold, with its ocean overworld, and unique island locales. The setting is completely new.
Is Everything Completely New?
If everything was completely new, this wouldn't be a Zelda game. Wind Waker continues the control scheme started in Ocarina of Time. The B-Button is used to attack with Link's sword. The A-Button is context-sensitive, at times signalling Link to sidle along a wall--don't try this with your sword out, though, or instead of sidling, you'll leap forward with your sword--quite frustrating when you're sidling along a cliff wall. There are also context-sensitive moments in combat If there's a detriment to Wind Waker's A-Button context sensitivity, it's that Link doesn't always seem to do what you want him to. Sometimes you want him to jump up to grab a ledge and he sidles, or vice-versa. Maybe it's the rose-colored glasses of Time, but I don't remember this cropping up in Ocarina.
Like most Zelda games, the Link of Wind Waker accumulates a large variety of items throughout his quest, and also like Ocarina and Majora's Mask, the player can assign/map three items from their inventory at a time to three respective buttons, Y, X, and R.
During combat, the player can have Link lock onto an enemy (or out of combat, to a desired target like a switch or grapple point) by pressing XL, thus allowing Link to circle his prey, and center his attacks upon it (combat can be deep, with a variety of sword-fighting moves and critical hits at Link's employ...or the player can just mash "B"). This control scheme, revolutionary when it was first employed by Ocarina, still works wonderfully. The player saves a lot of time digging through inventory with the button-mapping, and the three buttons can be remapped to different items whenever the player pleases. The enemy-targeting solves the camera issue that often cropped up in 3-D combat games before its invention. While countless games have ripped off this control scheme, it has already been perfected by the Zelda games that invented it.
Wait...what exactly is a Zelda game?
*Sigh* Really? Well, I guess kids who've only played Call of Duty games might not know. Or maybe this is your first game in general. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.
Zelda games center on a hero named Link, who often begins the game as a regular teenager, and is chosen to undertake some quest to save his world. Link must learn to fight with a sword, and then travel through a vast land full of secrets and magic. He visits towns, ventures deep into dark dungeons, solves puzzles and battles foes in order to retrieve ancient artifacts to assist in his quest. The dungeons are often a centerpiece for Zelda games (Wind Waker's are fun, but not quite series bests), and follow general patterns: Link solves puzzles to unlock doors, and to find keys that unlock other doors. He fights many foes, some native only to that dungeon. He finds a compass to reveal treasure and boss locations, a map with a layout of the dungeon, and an inventory item, often a weapon or tool that will soon prove useful.
Link fights a mini-boss about 2/3 of the way through the dungeon, and then finally, at the end, fights said final boss (Wind Waker's are epic in scale, but only the last couple pose any challenge). When the boss is defeated, Link earns an extra heart on his hit-meter, and whatever pendant, or jewel the boss is holding that is key to reaching the end of the quest...
And speaking of quest, Link is often aided in his by Princess Zelda, who is portrayed just a little differently in each game, sometimes just as someone Link has to save, and sometimes as someone whose heroics are just as important to the quest as Link's (Wind Waker's Zelda splits the difference between tough as nails, and damsel in distress).
The key theme of a Zelda game, though, is exploration and discovery, as the player is free to venture across a vast world, and to undertake numerous mini-quests that aren't necessary to complete the main quest, but that may reward Link with items that make his journey easier. Even if one stays the course and follows only the linear plot of the game, the sense of discovery as Link visits new regions, encounters new foes, and gains new items, is still thick.
Outside of the Watery Setting, What Else Is Different about Wind Waker?
The key difference in Wind Waker, and what's been the lingering story even years later, is style. After the two Nintendo 64 Zeldas, many, including me, assumed Nintendo would then continuously create more and more realistic-looking Zelda games. Instead, Nintendo gave us something...else. Having already spent my teenage years defending Nintendo from people who said the company only made games for little kids, I felt like Nintendo was purposefully mocking me: not only do we make games for little kids...we make cartoons!
Wind Waker's graphics are cell-shaded in the same vein as the classic Dreamcast game, Jet Grind Radio.
Or in other words: yep, it's an interactive cartoon.
While this certainly was not my or most Zelda fans' first choice of style for a Zelda game, the Wind Waker's graphics end up becoming one of its most endearing aspects. With this more classic cartoon style, the graphics can't get dated. They still look great now...one doesn't watch Looney Tunes thinking, what this really needs is better graphics. A cartoon looks like it is supposed to look.
For this HD remake, a new lighting system makes Wind Waker look even better. While some may complain that this improvement diminishes the cartoon elements just a bit, the incredible sense of motion they create more than makes up for it. The greater effect of clouds over the water, and trees swaying in a sea-breeze only serves to make the game more enveloping. There's nothing like climbing to the top of the an island as the sun sets, fish jumping in the waves far below, grass moving in the wind all around you. While the HD-upgrade obviously makes Wind Waker look better on a modern television, these lighting improvements are also worth the price of admission.
Isn't Music Important to these Games, As Well?
Yes. Unfortunately, Wind Waker is the first Zelda game not to feature the name "Koji Kondo" next to the "Music By" credit. Kondo came up with the classic Zelda theme, perhaps second only to the Mario "Ground Theme" in video game music familiarity...and Kondo wrote that one, too. Kondo's soundtracks for the original Zelda, A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, and Majora's Mask are all legendary. Kondo is arguably the John Williams of video game music.
A team of composers take Kondo's place on Windwaker. They do a great job, creating a very memorable Celtic feel that furthers Wind Waker's seaborne atmosphere. The theme composed for Link's sailing through the open seas conjures an incredible sense of discovery and adventure that's about as Legend of Zelda as it gets. If I've got a nitpick, though, it's that some of the game's tracks are a bit too short and simplistic. In particular, the dungeon themes, as a whole, lack depth, and pale in comparison to the work Kondo did for the vast depths of A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. That nitpick aside, this is excellent work.
Wind Waker's sound effects are top notch, riding a great line between cartoonish during the game's more humorous sections, and realistic when Link is clanging his sword against the armor of his enemies, or running through the ever waxing/waning surf. Every sound-effect associated with the sea is right on the money. Also, because this is a Zelda game, Link doesn't talk (he is a classic silent hero), and everyone else speaks in text boxes.
Hey, What's a Wind Waker?
Hey, I'm glad you asked.
The Wind Waker is obviously key to the game that took its name--it is a baton Link uses to control the wind. This is necessary to sail Link's ship across the game's ocean overworld. The Wind Waker can be used to play several other songs Link learns throughout the game. These songs serve the same function as some of those in Ocarina of Time, allowing Link powers as to change the time of day, or warp to another location, among others. These abilities come in handy as the quest expands.
What Is the Quest Here Anyway?
It doesn't really matter. All that matters is there is a quest. People are kidnapped, and dark powers arise, and Link has to travel the world, collect various items, and become a great hero in order to save the day. With that said, Wind Waker does provide a bit more thematic depth than most Zelda games, with ideas like letting go of the past, and creating a better world for the next generation receiving particular focus.
You're Still a Long-Winded Gasbag, but You Seem to Be a Little Less Gassy than Usual. Why Don't You Conclude With the Reasons this Remake Won You Over.
I appreciate your direction, imaginary narrator. I feel like I have talked the game up without mentioning why I think it is so much better than the original (which I think I'd rate an 8.6/10.0). The Wind Waker HD contains multiple improvements that helped me to get over the original hump, and finally complete this game. I can easily identify the elements that caused me to quit the first time:
1. The Triforce Shard fetch quest at the end of the game seemed so needlessly tedious, I couldn't gather the will to complete it. Add to that the fact that often an individual Triforce Shard Chart had to first be collected in order to then collect the individual Triforce Shards, and you have the recipe to video game misery. In the intervening years since Wind Waker's release, I've spoken to many others who quit the game at this exact same point. The quest has been streamlined here, with less charts and shards to collect. While it's still unfortunate and a bit anticlimactic that the developers chose to make the latter portion of the game a mandatory fetch quest, the remake does do a decent job of making the fetching feel more like a good excuse to visit still unexplored portions of the map, rather than just to backtrack for hours..
2. The Wind Waker elements become tedious. Having to play the same song over and over again just because you want to slightly change the direction your boat is heading gets old really fast. I didn't particularly enjoy having to do this when I was bouncing back and forth between towns and dungeons, so having to do it ad nauseum for the previously mentioned fetch quest brought me to the brink of insanity. These two factors in conjunction led to my unbeaten copy of Wind Waker being unceremoniously shoved back into its case...forever.
But then, lo and behold, this updated, HD Wii U version added the Red Sail.
The Red Sail, which can be acquired near the game's midpoint at an island auction, allows Link to sail at lightning speed, regardless of wind direction. This way, just when Link's Wind Waker starts to lose its polish, the player can disregard that element and move on to other things. Nothing in an otherwise great game has ever ticked me off as badly as when I'd overshoot a sunken triforce piece by boat, have to pull out the Wind Waker and play to change the direction of the wind, overshoot it again, rinse, repeat. This red sail eradicates the misery.
This Wii U upgrade also takes fine advantage of the gamepad's screen, as the player can look at the map, or cycle through inventory without having to pause. Less impressively, the player can use the gamepad's motion control capabilities to aim projectiles.
One quick nitpick of an unchanged element that is emblematic of something larger: the Nintendo 64 Zelda games name the dungeon bosses as each respective one makes their entrance. Wind Waker does not do this, and that missing detail reveals the lack of a certain polish Zelda games have conditioned me to expect. While it's a small thing, this is still a disappointment.
So is Link swimming Around this Whole Time?
No! Haven't you been looking at the pictures and catching the references to the "boat?" The "sail?" That's cool, I'm not even mad. I will end this thing talking about the boat. That's a great way to finish this.
Link's boat is a talking, aquatic red lion. That sounds weird, but in the game, it is weirdly not. The sailing portions of Wind Waker, particularly in this HD remake, are one of the game's most enjoyable elements. Few things beat sailing into the sunset and on through the night, looming landmarks guiding the way through moonlight (and on occasion when the moon is gone, as the night sky in Wind Waker undergoes lunar cycles, starlight).
Link's boat functions much like Epona the horse did for Link's Nintendo 64 adventures, except this time, if you get knock off, you can drown (Link has a small oxygen meter). The reason Link can get knocked off is that the ocean are not an entirely friendly place. Enemy ships lurk the high seas, ready to rain down cannon fire upon our hero's head. Various sea monsters are also ready to send Link to Navi Jones Locker. Thankfully, once Link gains the ability to use bombs, his ship sports a cannon, making for some sweet ship to ship combat. Also, once the bow is earned, Link can tee off on any menacing creature that needs to get put in its place.
Most importantly, the boat also functions as a guide, directing Link to the next leg of his quest when the player doesn't know where to steer. However, there's nothing to stop Link from sailing to the (literally) four corners of this Earth. This is one of the game's greatest elements. Link's map of the sea is populated by a 7x7 grid of 49 squares. Each map square, which is generally occupied by at least one unique island, is blank to begin the game. It's up to the player to fill in these gaps...and the game can be saved at any point.
Admittedly, I had recently completed the Dreamcast RPG, Skies of Arcadia, before I picked up Wind Waker for the first time. This numbed my sense of discovery just a bit. However, the sense of discovery is this game's best aspect, and returning now with (the incredible) Arcadia less fresh in my mind, Wind Waker's adventuring holds much more of a wow factor.
So overall, I can't say that Wind Waker has become my favorite entry in The Legend of Zelda series, but I can say that it is a lovely game marred by several small flaws that might keep it from the top, but do nothing to tarnish its greatness.