Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS) Review

Received: December 25th, 2013 / Written: January 30th-February 1st, 2014
Alternate Name: Zelda no Densetsu: Kamigami no Triforce 2 [|O|]
Year: 2013 | Developed by: Nintendo and Monolith Soft | Published by: Nintendo
Let's see how many Zelda games I've reviewed... none?  All right, my first ever Zelda review, but which one?  *ponders*  How about the most recent entry of the series: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds=)  But first, a little history with the series.
In 1986, a game on the Famicom and NES called The Legend of Zelda made its grand appearance and revolutionized the adventure genre and inspired many titles to come.  It was a big hit considering it was slightly ahead of its time and introduced some elements rarely seen in similar games of the genre at the time, so it got a sequel the following year in the form of a sidescrolling adventure title Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, also for the NES.  If you've heard anything about that game, chances are you know that it didn't do as good as the original and some have even reviled it because it strayed from the original's formula and the fact that it was slightly more difficult; however, despite its less than pleasing reception, it has garnered quite a following over the years.
Flash forward to 1991 and 1992, Nintendo decided to go back to the original game's formula as well as improve and expand upon it in more ways than one in the third iteration of the series The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (or Triforce of the Gods for the Japanese folk) for the Super Famicom and Super Nintendo.  It did incredibly well and left a strong impact on gamers and critics alike, most lauding it as the most quintessential Zelda game of all time, if not for best SNES game or best adventure game.  Many still feel this way after all these years, and lots of games followed in the series but few managed to ever hold a candle next to it (some believe the Nintendo 64 entry Ocarina of Time is arguably superior).  While the majority of Zelda series is comprised of entries viewed from a bird's eye perspective, there have been a select few that decided to opt for a 3D-oriented feel to it along the way.
And that's where this game comes in.  When news spread that the newest Zelda for the 3DS was going to be a sequel of sorts to A Link to the Past (temporarily called A Link to the Past 2 before eventually changing its title to what it is now), crowds of gamers felt overjoyed and there was lots of hype building up to and surrounding it.  Now, while that was the case, considering that it had been two-plus decades since that game came out, a small part of the crowd worried that there was a slim chance that it wasn't going to be fresh.  And to be fair, the same could be expressed for the hype of other sequels to twenty-plus year old games.  There's lots to take into account when it comes to these kinds of sequels; will it live up to that original's name, will it capture the feel and charm of the original, will it do the series justice, will it bring something new to the table while at the same time preserving said original's style, and more importantly, will it be good?  While there was no doubt that A Link Between Worlds would be a good game (especially when you take into account the series' impressive track record), one could not help but wonder these exact questions.  That's a lot of hype to live up to!

A couple examples spring to mind.  One is DreamRift's Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion (while it technically is an Epic Mickey game, it's more in line with the Illusion games of old than anything else) from 2012.  It was made as an homage to Sega's 1990 MegaDrive/Genesis classic Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse, and despite their good intentions critics and gamers alike considered it to be a gigantic flop; because it failed to live up to the aforementioned platformer, involved lots of fetch quests, it was short, and feeling that it got redundant from time to time.  And while I won't say it's none of these things, I actually find it rather underrated and I liked how DreamRift captured the look and feel of the classic 2D Disney video games from the '90s, and I thought that as an homage it was quite genuine.

The other example is WayForward's DuckTales: Remastered from last year.  On one hand it was an updated reimaging of Capcom's original 1989 NES game, but it was more than just a remake as it was also a brand new game on its own.  And Scrooge McDuck's revival in video game format was superior to Power of Illusion, but not only that; some (like myself) consider it an absolute improvement on the original DuckTales, and unlike Mickey's 2D revival, it was a hit with generally positive appraisal.  With areas that were extended, incredibly fun gameplay, an actual storyline, exclusive areas, really good sense of challenge, and the way that it emulated the look and feel of the '80s animated show (right down to the voice actors, including Scrooge's voice actor Alan Young), WayForward has done the series proud.  Considering it was originally a downloadable, I'm glad that it eventually got a retail rendition (though it probably would not have made a difference, as it's still fantastic).

The point I'm trying to get across is that if a sequel is being made a very long time after an original came out, chances are it's either going to succeed or its going to fail; it'll either be better than or worse than the original.  Nintendo surprised everyone with A Link Between Worlds for doing neither and accomplishing what many overdue sequels only wish they could do: be just as good as the original.  And considering that A Link to the Past gets lots of unanimously positive praise, garnering some of the best scores and ratings around, that says a lot right there.  My thoughts?  Just like Gravity is the best movie I've seen in 2013, so too is The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds the best video game I've played last year.  =)  So without further ado: let's jump right in and see what makes this 3DS epic... well, epic!

A long time ago the land of Hyrule prospered in peace and remained stable thanks in part to the Triforce, their entity and symbol.  It's been said that if one touched the Triforce, it would grant their wish.  If it was a pure wish, it would do good; but if it's mal-intended, then it would cause ruin.  Due the fact that there were a series of people that were greedy and wanted to have the wish granted for themselves, it was instructed for the fabled Seven Sages to seal the Triforce and hide the pieces away.  Up until Ganon took it, when he turned Hyrule into a dark hellhole of a place.  Fortunately, the hero of legend stopped the evil tyrant for good and Hyrule went back to normal afterwards.  =)  It's a Link to the Past sequel, all right... six generations later.

So the game starts with the main hero Link sleeping in bed.  =\  I guess some clich├ęs never die.  It's a regular day in Hyrule, when Link's woken up from a long sleep (after having a dream of battling Ganon) and is late for his job as a blacksmith's apprentice.  But because a swordsman who was just there forgot his newly fashioned blade, it's up to Link to take it to him.  However, it doesn't take long until conflict shows up: his name is Yuga, a flamboyant and self-obsessed evildoer who looks like a cross between the Joker and Kefka from Final Fantasy VI (I imagine he must sound like Mark Hamill's Joker).  He's taken out the swordsman, and is trapping people inside paintings.  Yuga plans to uncover the Triforce, and when he does he's got one goal in mind: to recreate the world in his image.  The bastard!!!  >=(  So it's up to Link to stop Yuga at all costs, save the people that he's encased inside paintings, and become a hero like the one from legend before its too late.

The gameplay is like that of A Link to the Past, where it's viewed in top-down format, with Link moving around in all eight directions and charging his sword to do a spinning attack.  You can also toggle the menu to select which secondary weapons you wish to use at the opportune time (whether it be with the Select button or with the stylus; at first you'll only use one, but then once you find a pack you'll be able to carry two).  But this time there is something new: after you encounter Yuga and battle him for the first time, he will transform you into a painting, but fortunately thanks to a bracelet that the elusive Ravio has given you beforehand, you can pop out and blend in to the walls with your heart's desire.  The best thing about it?  You can walk within the walls and access certain spots you may not been able to do beforehand, and you can reach certain gaps that would either take a long time to access otherwise or cannot be accessed in any other way.  However, best be sure to check your gauge, for if it's been drained completely you'll be forcibly pulled out and will have to wait until it fills back up gradually in order to do it again (same for the majority of the secondary weapons, which vary in terms of how much it'll use up per use).  It's rather unusual at first, but after awhile it becomes second nature and is very fun to do!  =)  The controls are versatile and very good, plus they're incredibly intuitive.

But it wouldn't be a Zelda game unless there were multi-tiered dungeons and pathways to explore, and A Link Between Worlds has got plenty of that going for it.  Each dungeon varies in terms of how big it is or how many floors it consists of, and on the bottom screen you have the option to either view which floor you're currently on or have a sneak peak at what the other floors have in store for you.  It's really convenient since you'll know right away which part of the dungeon you're at.  And like most dungeons there are doors that will have to be unlocked with small keys, and boss doors that can only be unlocked with the big keys.  Luckily there are chests scattered around, for one of them will contain a compass which will alert you of how many unopened chests are left.  Other chests may contain unspecified amounts of Hyrule's form of currency Rupees while others may contain special items that may serve you well in your journey.  And of course, at the end of each dungeon is a boss battle, and once it's been defeated it will leave behind a heart container for you to add to your health.  Eventually there will be dark and mysterious tears in several walls which you can use to transport yourself to Lorule, the Dark World equivalent of Hyrule.  Nintendo weren't kidding when they gave it the teaser name A Link to the Past 2, but that's not to say it's a bad thing here, but more on that shortly.

The moment you hear the classic A Link to the Past jingle in this game's title screen, you know you're in for something special.  =)  Since it takes place in the same universe as the aforementioned Zelda, several of the themes from that game have been remade (like Kakariko Village, the main theme, the Lost Woods, and the Dark World); and suffice it to say, they sound really good.  But it's not just the remix of a classic soundtrack as there are countless songs exclusively crafted for A Link Between Worlds.  The Dark Palace theme is incredibly brooding and ominous, the Swamp Palace theme is chilling and mysterious, the theme for when you try to sneak in to the Dark Palace is soft and a tad playful, and the Desert Palace theme sounds so somber and melancholy with its very low notes and the mournful chanting in the background that it sounds a little depressing, to name a few examples.  Regardless of where you are, the background music does a very great job at giving these areas a sense of mood and atmosphere.  I even recognized a couple of Ocarina of Time themes lifted from there, one of them taking place in some of the Kakariko Village houses.  The final battle theme sounds absolutely epic!  A Link Between Worlds' soundtrack is really magnificent, and one of the best I've heard from the series, let alone the 3DS.  While Koji Kondo's signature style is nowhere to found here, Ryo Nagamatsu makes for a good replacement and manages to emulate his style rather neatly in the process.  Kudos!  =)

This game is viewed in top-down fashion a la A Link to the Past, which I find this game is better off for it.  Don't get me wrong, I like 3D platformers and adventure games like the next person, but I've always had a fondness for titles of this ilk being viewed from the bird's eye perspective.  What I think benefits A Link Between Worlds in that regard is that it's a 3D game viewed from top-down.  That's something I approve right there.  And the visuals as a whole are quite splendid to say the least.  A lot of the familiar areas from the aforementioned Zelda look really good in 3D, and the colors are bright and well-selected.  Everything looks well-structured, and I liked the contrasting looks between the Light World of Hyrule and the Dark World of Lorule.  What's quite interesting is whenever a character is in a wall or a painting, and what's neat about it is how stylized and ancient it looks.  Whenever Link is walking inside the wall, it zooms in on our hero and follows him wherever he moves, which is something I find a little refreshing in what is otherwise a game with a camera that usually remains stationary as it follows him.  Speaking of 3D, it's got some of the best I've seen on the 3DS; particularly in Rosso's Ore Mine.

The areas all have a distinct look, like the Ice Palace with its chilling setting and all the realistic look ice that abounds.  Or the Desert Palace where it's all mysterious and brooding largely filled with sand as it's dimly lit.  And how about the Dark Palace which lives up to its name as unless you light some torches up it is incredibly pitch black (unless there are invisible patterns which only appear in the dark)?  Hyrule Castle looks majestic, and the Water Palace is rather soothing as it's replete with water and blue tones around.  Something I find rather fresh is if you merge in to the wall and walk to a very wafer-thin gap, in certain dungeons you'll actually be able to explore it outside its walls (should it let you).  It's rather cool.  The character designs are colorful and likable, and every boss design looks fantastic.  From time to time there will be small cutscenes, and I think they look really good.  Really sets the mood.  =)

A Link Between Worlds is not exactly a very hard game, but it does offer its good amount of challenges, and in my opinion the difficulty is fairly balanced with well-thought out dungeon designs and really engaging boss battles.  Both in Hyrule and in Lorule are weather vanes that are scattered about, and whenever you see them, save there!  And here is why: early on one of the characters will give you a bell which you can use to summon a broom and can transport in any one that you choose.  Once you save at the weather vane, that position will be marked down forever.  Throughout the course of the game you'll find items which will augment your skill/stat a certain way or help you a certain way; such as the Titan's Mitts which will help you lift larger rocks.  Some areas can only be accessed if you have some secondary weapons with you, such as the Sand Rod for the Desert Palace or the Hookshot for the Water Palace to name a few.  What's quite neat is that, save for specific ones, there is no strict order to follow as far as dungeons go; you can choose a dungeon to go to at your heart's desire.  That's really rare for this series; such a feat hasn't been seen since the first game twenty-seven years prior.

While this is largely an homage piece dedicated to A Link to the Past, I found that it cleverly paid homage to the other games as well.  There are some nods to the first game (like the "secret to everybody" comment one of the dwellers in the cave tells you), some bits that link back to Link's Awakening (i.e. the warps that appear in each dungeon if you defeat its midboss and the kid Gulley commenting on how he doesn't know how he knows something works because "he's just a kid"), the playful theme from Ocarina of Time plays inside some of the buildings and some of the found item moments harken back to that game, there is a Majora's Mask hanging inside Link's house, ................why?  =|  And Princess Zelda here is modeled after the one from Skyward Sword, and let me tell you; she looks colorful and beautiful here, perhaps the best Zelda design I've seen yet.  I really liked that about this game, I thought it was a good way of referencing previous games albeit in a subtle way or in a way that only experienced gamers would recognize.  Nice!  =)

But the real draw to this game is its inspiration and predecessor to A Link to the Past.  Because it takes place in the same universe as that game, one would think that everything would be pretty much the same, including the dungeons.  Oh, but you'd be sorely mistaken with that assumption.  Yes, the exterior areas are about equal to those of A Link to the Past, but the great thing about it is how even though it's in the same universe that you've traveled before, it still feels brand new because the inner areas are new and even the familiar dungeons are new.  The characters especially feel new, and the Dark World does as well.  In the Lost Woods after you've gathered the three medallions, you're close to the location the Master Sword is dwelling, however there's this series of sneakily playful ghosts that plan to mislead you so you have to guess properly which direction one (or more) of them are heading off to, to name one.  Specific areas can only be reached via the transporter warps, like the Desert Palace.  A lot of enemies make a return from the last game, and a fair amount of them look more dark and imposing than they did before.  And the newer enemies are cool too.  It's nice to see the Ganon of old once more rendered in 3D, but wait'll you take a load of what he looks like merged with Yuga.  O_O  Now that is grotesquely terrifying.  And lots of sound effects were lifted from that game, save for the voices.

So, given everything that's been seen and witnessed in A Link Between Worlds, are there any downsides?  Well............. any time you're low on health there will be a consistently beeping sound that plays until you've gotten more health or until you die.  I mean, c'mon, Nintendo, this grating noise has been a complaint since Game One; would it hurt to have a Zelda that doesn't play that annoying sound, just once??  Unlike most Zelda games where you find a secondary weapon in a dungeon, you actually rent them at first, and if you lose all your health and not have a fairy revive you from one of the bottles, you lose a life and Ravio's birdlike creature Sheerow will swoop in and take them back from you.  It'll be awhile before Ravio gives you the option to buy them, and when you do you'd better have a fair amount of Rupees by your side.  It can be a little frustrating when your items are rented.  After you beat the game for the first time, you'll unlock Hero mode, which is the same as normal mode except for one detail: how much health you lose.  Unless you have either the blue or red mail on you (which will reduce the damage by half each time), should an enemy come into contact with you you'll lose somewhere from two to four to even eight full hearts of health.  That is just insane!  Even though it's more challenging than Normal mode because of that, I actually prefer Normal mode more.

There is a big twist later on surrounding one of the characters you encounter in this game, though considering how it's set up you'll probably see it coming a mile away.  But that's not to say that it's a bad twist, it isn't; it's just something to get you prepared ahead of time until then.  Another neat aspect is how there are mini-games incase you feel like taking a break from the adventure; such as evading oncoming chickens, the treasure chest game, Rupee Rush, a baseball-like mini-game where the object is to try to score as many Rupees as you can as you swing towards enemies and vases, and even a gauntlet full of enemies in the Treacherous Tower.  It's a really good chance for a breather.  You'll also partake in the search of a hundred missing baby Maimais, scattered around; some will be sticking on the wall while others will be hiding (a lot of them really well, and you can sense their whereabouts by hearing their cries).  Collecting ten of each of them will have your secondary weapon upgraded, and gathering them all will grant you a special surprise.  =)  Since it paid homage to a lot of Zelda games from the past, I wondered if the chickens would go batshit crazy on you and attack you if you hit them several times just like in Ocarina of Time.  Several hits landed on them later, the answer is "yes", and it's very scary here since you won't see it coming.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a magnificent adventure game, not just as a member of the Zelda franchise but as a game by itself.  It does many things right and does what a only a great homage piece to twenty-plus year old games would do: pay respect to it by preserving its style while at the same time offering something new to the table.  It's pickup and play formula is really intuitive, the visuals are fantastic, the amount of atmosphere is wonderful, there is lots of replay value and tons of other stuff that will keep you coming back for more (and considering how it was set up, you'll find yourself trying to nab everything, and I mean everything), and is quite an exceptional and worthy entry to the series.  A Link to the Past is still the better game for the impact that it's left behind and its grand epic scope, but A Link Between Worlds is a really close second.  It is that good!  It's hours and hours worth of fun, with lots of charm and personality.  If you haven't played a Zelda game before, this isn't a bad place to start; however I feel that those that have experienced A Link to the Past or any of the other games beforehand will get the most from this epic.  Playing this game feels right at home while at the same time feeling fresh and brand new.  Check it out and see for yourself.  =)

( >'.')>TO EACH THEIR OWN<('.'< )
P.S.: I spent tons of hours into this game on both modes.  I must've tired my poor 3DS out in the process.
P.S. 2: Speaking of twenty-year overdue sequels, I hope the Pickford Brothers are still going through plans of making the Plok sequel.  And for that matter, how are we coming on Yoshi's New Island, Arzest?  It'd better be great; don't you dare let us down!
P.S. 3: Did I just go through a whole review without making a Wander Over Yonder joke and/or reference?  That's not good; I must do something to fill in that gap.  I know!  Here's something slightly relevant for your amusement: =)
Hey, I had to sneak in something!  Also, I loved the first season finale of Gravity Falls and how it came into play.
P.S. 4: Now if you excuse me I'm going to watch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 for the first time, since I remember liking the original when I saw it years ago.
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment and let me know what you think.  Take care!  =D

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