Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Impressions: Ys V Expert (SFC)

Received: December 25th, 2013 / Written: February 19th-26th, 2014
Year: 1995, 1996 | Developed by: Nihon Falcom | Published by: Koei | [|O|]
Adol's back with more power than before!
Here's a game that I've been curious about and have been wanting to play for a while (long before I had access to a Retro Duo).  But first a little bit of background in the series.  In the wake of the adventure genre that was revitalized in the mid-80's came the Ys adventure games from a little company by the name of Nihon Falcom, starting with Ys I: Anicent Ys Vanished for the NEC PC-8801 in 1987, followed the next year with Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished - The Final Chapter also for the same system.  These two games were at one point meant to be combined into one big adventure, until it was decided by some people involved to split the two entries; which wouldn't be the case for very long as they got combined into the ultimate version Ys (Book) I & II for the PC-Engine in 1989/1990 with a little help by Hudson Soft.  Many concur that this was for the best, considering that the first game ended on a sheer cliffhanger, with the second game immediately taking place after the fact (sort of like the way Insidious: Chapter 2 followed shortly after the end of the first movie, except once you see it you'll wish they just stuck with the original; but that's irrelevant).
Jump your way through
The first two games were a massive hit with critics and gamers, being praised for the great storyline, good-looking anime cutscenes, astounding rock soundtrack, and the funny yet simplistic method of attacking enemies by shoving them.  One of the reasons the Ys series is lauded so is because of the storyline, and Adol Christin is such an ambitious and fun to control character.  It was clear that united these two games stood strong (and got many rereleases and ports as a result), and what was also clear was that a franchise had been born.  So Nihon Falcom decided to create a third entry in the series for the NEC PC-8801 in 1989; enter Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, which took the series in a very different direction and has since left many that played it divided.  It shifted from a top-down perspective to a sidescrolling RPG in the vein of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.  Some didn't mind and found it refreshing while others were turned off by this big shift in theme and the fact that it was linear and short.  It got a few ports (SNES, MegaDrive/Genesis, PC-Engine) and eventually got remade as an in-depth and challenging top-down adventure Ys: The Oath in Felghana on the PC and later for the PlayStation Portable, which was more favorably received.  Sensing the disappointment fans of the previous two titles expressed, Falcom figured it was time to bounce back.
Well, if it ain't another fiery salamander
In late 1993, a fourth Ys was being worked on and got released, but since Nihon Falcom was busy making Brandish 2: The Planet Buster at the time, they had to appoint different companies to make different variations of their game.  Tonkin House, responsible for the Nintendo 16-bit adaptation of the third game, crafted Ys IV: Mask of the Sun for the Super Famicom, while Hudson Soft handled their PC-Engine variant Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys a month later; Sega was slated to make their own take for the MegaDrive/Genesis, but it ultimately was canned halfway in development.  The fourth game went back to its roots by bringing back the top-down viewpoint, complex dungeon designs, and the attack-shove that was sorely missed in game three.  Naturally, because of this, it did exceptionally well, and has garnered quite a following.  While the former was the canon entry in the series (until late 2012), surprisingly it was the non-canon latter version that got more recognition and fame.  Unfortunately, Ys IV remained a Japan-exclusive entry for roughly two decades, up until Nihon Falcom made their own adaptation of the game, Memories of Celceta, for the PlayStation Vita which actually got a release in the West and replaced Mask of the Sun as the official Ys IV of the series canon; which I'm still bummed out about since the Super Famicom entry is fantastic and now I have to buy a Vita, but I don't wish to do it for just that game alone.  >=(

Now at this point it was clear that the series had reached its peak and that the title that would follow it would be nowhere near as good as Ys IV.  Feeling that the Super Famicom could handle just one more Ys game, work on the fifth iteration was being done.  Unlike the Nintendo 16-bit adaptations of the third and fourth games which were done by Tonkin House, the fifth installment was made by Nihon Falcom themselves, which was quite a shock to many as they never developed a Nintendo 16-bit (let alone a TV console, unless you count their 16-bit port of Popful Mail) game before as much of their library before and after consisted of titles made for home computers (with a few exceptions in recent years with select titles for the PSP and the PS Vita).  So this was quite a risk that they were making, and for their most highly celebrated series as well no less.  But, they pulled it off somehow.  So in December of 1995, gamers were given Ys V: Ushinawareta Suna no Miyako Kefin, an SFC exclusive in the series.
Both images from MobyGames
But if you've read my thoughts on Ys IV: Mask of the Sun, then you would know that it wasn't the only version of the game that was made.  Since it was criticized for its low difficulty, Nihon Falcom decided to make a slightly more challenging version in Ys V Expert, which was released less than three months later for the same console, but this time by Koei of all companies, in March of 1996.  Aside from the change in difficulty I'm not certain what else was altered if anything.  Being conflicted by this, since I knew that I only had a chance with one of these two versions and not both, I had to make a choice.  I did eventually, but I literally flipped a coin just in case, and it landed on the side that I wanted (tails), which meant that I chose the Expert version (which I got this Christmas in '13).  Alas, Ys V never received a Western release, like the fourth game before it, and since the latter got a localized release on the Vita, that makes this fifth volume the only game in the series that's stayed exclusively in Japan, and until 2003 it seemed like it would be the last installation for Ys=(  But why was that?  What was it about Adol's fifth adventure that has caused such a long hiatus?

Legends tell that in the continent of Afroka there was a big desert city by the name of Kefin.  It's been said that there is a great treasure in that place, but there are some that don't believe that is the case.  The thing about Kefin?  It's floating up in the sky, just like the land of Ys did in Ys II, however the outcome will be much different by the end.  So reaching the desert city will require certain assistance, items, and magic.  To travel there and discover its secrets will require that the traveler have courage, great strength, and a strong will.
As this is going on, a man on a mission/expedition discovers a small unconscious girl on the ground of a big desert with an ocarina clutched in her hand.  Not knowing where she came from, he decides to raise her as his own child and take her to his homeland.  Several years have passed for the girl, named Nina, is all grown up as her father takes off for another trip, not to return,  Things have started to happen along the way, and that's when Adol Christin shows up.
The neat thing about the first part of the intro is how the words scroll in English as there is Japanese subtitles at the bottom.  It's cool, though it almost makes me wish that the whole game did that.  Every other dialogue is in Japanese kanji; still, it's nice to have that one event.  =)

Battling in the dry lands
If you thought that Ys III: Wanderers from Ys strayed far from the series' formula (as far as the pre-2000 Ys titles are concerned), then you haven't played this game.  Like the first, second, and fourth installments, Ys V is viewed from a bird's eye perspective, but that's where the similarities end.  Adol no longer shoves enemies and bosses to kill them; rather, he attacks them with his sword this time.  Also, he can walk around in eight directions as opposed to the square-pattern of four like the old adventures, and he can jump too.  Adol even positions his shield ahead of him by holding the Y button, and later on once you collect enough elemental stones and convert them to magic, you charge up the magic with the R shoulder button (or tap it if you want to go faster until it reaches 100; the third set of numbers in your HUD), plus you can shift up to three of your selection with the L shoulder button.

"Uh, wrong way, Bub, you're supposed to
attack me head on!"
And all the while I'm playing this, I couldn't help but be reminded of Brain Lord with this control scheme.  Brain Lord of all games!  Yeah, I know, it's too obscure a comparison to make, but a part of me thinks this just cannot be coincidence.  The jumping and attacking controls have been switched of course (in that game, it's A to jump and B to attack; vice versa for Ys V), in both games you can place your shield ahead of you with the Y button (only your shield is more sturdier here than it is there), you can charge your magic (albeit with different buttons), and you can cycle through your magic spells in both games.  The things that make Ys V different than Brain Lord is that in here you cannot jump diagonally (only straight up or ahead of you), the menu interface is diverse, the distinct lack of puzzle plaques, and the fact that there are more towns and pathways to explore and traverse.  The controls are slightly polished (though Adol still has that trait of walking fast), and if you've been used to the attack methods in the past games (in particular Ys IV) then it may take some time for you to adjust to the controls; but once you do you'll have no problem with it.  =)

Oh, bull!
If you have a map on you, you can have a look at which portion of Afroka you're in via the Select button, and the menu interface is rather intriguing.  To access the menu you press the X button, and what makes it cool are how five small icons appear around Adol which you can cycle through (sometimes in a cross-pattern and other times in a linear pattern depending on which side of the screen you're at).  The five icons consist of equipment (stickman with sword and shield), inventory (brush-like icon), game settings (Super Famicom controller), magic settings (gemstone with starburst), and finally the save icon (small rectangular shape with shades inbetween).  It's intuitive in its own right, and for the first time in the series you do not collect your armor and weaponry as you did in the last games, for this time you actually not only buy (or find) them but you sell them to vendors too!  That's quite a drastic departure in the series.  You will also find specific elemental stones throughout the course of the game, and once you've got enough then you hand them to the necromancer to hand the magic technique over to you (how it works depends on which combination you chose, since there are several to pick).
Battling a sea demon in blue
But the gameplay is far from the only aspect that's changed for this entry, as lots of elements have changed too: like the soundtrack.  In the previous four Ys games there was a rock-style soundtrack which helped differentiate itself from other adventure series and made it unique.  For Ys V Nihon Falcom opted for a more symphonic style.  Uh, what?  I know Ys IV: Mask of the Sun had some symphonic melodies (and that a couple merged with the rock genre) but for the most part it stayed true to series' formula of music.  To listen to an Ys soundtrack that is exclusively symphonic and lacking any rock tunes at all feels very weird.  {=|  Anyway, how is the soundtrack?  Well, it's good.  The choice of instrumentation I feel was solid and a lot of them blend in so well with their respective environments.  The intro theme sounds slow and brooding, the theme for when you see the demo showcasing Adol's abilities sounds triumphant, and some of the town themes sound pleasant for the ears.  =)  Several other songs are good too, like the mysterious cave theme, a few of the triumphant overworld themes, an epic track taking place near the canyons, a slow and foreboding desert theme, and variously great-sounding dungeon themes.  The boss themes sound dark and ominous with the unsettling compositions.  The sound effects are decent, with different sounds for each magic conjured up and the sound each enemies and bosses make; though it might just be me but I could swear that a few of them sounded like they were lifted from some 16-bit SquareSoft games.  =|
Another departure for the Ys games for this installment were the visuals.  The past games were more about story than they were the visuals, with the standout pieces being the anime cutscenes and more detail focused on the areas, backgrounds, and bosses as opposed to the characters and enemies themselves, which were tiny by comparison; also, what made these A-RPGs unique were the fact that all the action was being surveyed inside a pretty-looking frame with the HUD below it.  Nihon Falcom decided to give Ys V more breathing room by excising the frame and filling up the whole screen, with a different-looking HUD as a whole.  And because there was more breathing room, the character and enemy sprites got bigger and a little more detailed in the process.  I'm sorry, I don't mean for this to be a comparison review, but it's hard not to notice (particularly for the time it came out), but the visuals are good to say the least.  Each area is designed with a slightly different design that for the most part they stand out; and they were done in such detail that wasn't seen in previous Ys outings before.  A few areas incorporate a style that involves grain and some indoor areas have a distinct look where details are so similar that navigation requires being careful.  The villages, forests, battlefields, deserts, falls, caves, bridges, ports, and dungeons all look good; and some have a nifty effect going for them from time to time (such as shading effects during the forests for a clever shadow effect, dark rain in this port-ridden area, and a wavy effect in the desert portion where sand is also flowing in the air).  Some of the more powerful magic elements look wonderful when seen in motion; like the heavy boulder or the fire burning around.
The character designs are decent, as are the animations; even though I admit that some of them look rather cookie-cutter.  Adol's walking and fighting animations are smooth (though I'm still baffled that his posture and various animations are eerily similar to those of Remeer's from Brain Lord; man, I need to review that one day), as are the NPCs' design and animations as a whole (some even have personality, and the good news is: the left and right sprites are different instead of copy-paste).    =)  The myriad of enemies you face have good designs and animation, such as a wasp that disguises itself as a flower until you approach it, flaming heads, evil gnomes, headless warriors, skeletal warriors, Treebeard's spawn, and more.  The boss designs are big and towering, for they're very menacing in look and style.  Now if there's one downside to the visuals it's this: the clipping is atrocious.  It makes me wonder if it was looked at before release; there are moments when if you're near (or rather, in front of) a pillar or a set of stairs and use your sword near there, the front fourth or third of it pops up when it should be obscured.  The water effects are nice, but they don't really look all that polished (in fact, it appears a bit choppy).  A few areas look surprisingly rigid, and sometimes the rigidness tends to make things look equal so you have to pay attention in order to locate stairs or doors.  But aside from these blemishes, there's nothing all that wrong with the visuals.

Such a deadly adversary
I've only experienced Ys V Expert (so I can't make a comparison) of the two, but the main thing I looked up about it was that the original pre-Expert version did not supply enough challenge to satisfy gamers (almost makes me wonder how easy it was exactly).  Ys V Expert has got a decent amount of challenge, but it's not a hard game per se.  It does start out hard, but it gets easier as you find better equipment and level up.  Aside from adjusting to the sword-attack techniques early on, there are elements that will keep you on your toes.  You'll notice that whenever you kill a certain enemy they'll leave behind special gems and jewels which you can trade to merchants for money.  Yes, you do not earn money by killing monsters (but you do still get experience points)!  Man, this fifth Ys venture sure likes to be different from the rest.  It took me awhile to realize that, but once I did I became accustomed to it just fine; trading's especially useful as they go for quite a bargain and there will be equipment that is costly near the end.  What I find neat is how you can level up not just your sword but your magic as well (if you do the latter, your health will be completely refilled, and if you do the latter your magic will completely refill itself; a little similar to how it occurred in Secret of Mana).  In the inventory you can store up to ten of each helpful item, whether it be herbs, remedies, and magic restorations, so it's a little helpful and convenient that way.

Even though it's not a sidescroller like the third Ys, Ys V is surprisingly linear for the most part (though up until you go to Kefin, you can backtrack to your heart's content).  Of course, there are forking paths in certain dungeons, but a lot of the time it's apparent where you have to go next.  A lot of the safe areas are easy to explore, and there are some dungeons where navigation is a requirement.  There is this underground dungeon later on which is designed like a maze so different stairs will lead you to different parts of the area, and while it's not necessarily unnavigable, it is a bit frustrating in terms of design and size (or at least, until you have the paths memorized).  The bosses cannot be fought with offensive magic, so you'll have to dish out the physical attacks yourself (a la Equinox).  The bosses offer a decent challenge (some are easier than others), and many require a good strategy to take them down (even though the core spot is the same).  But with all these changes that were made, can you still save in any part of the game (save for boss battles)?  Yes,... and no.  You do restart at the last portion you saved in if you lost a life, however if you wanted to continue your progress after a prolonged wait you'll have to save your game at an inn.  That is just something that keeps you on your toes.  This isn't anything major, but there are a couple moments with slowdown.

I liked the first four Ys games a lot (even the third, despite some of its issues; the fourth game I believe is the pinnacle of the series) and consider them to be fun adventure games.  So what does that make Ys V?  Well, that really depends on your perspective on this game.  For me personally, I view it in two categories: as an A-RPG, it's good; as an Ys title, it's a mixed bag.  While it's nice for the series to go in a different direction straying far from the predecessors' formula trying something new, it ultimately becomes its own undoing as it ends up feeling just like any A-RPG in the genre (I know that it's a bad thing to say, but that's just my observation for today's game), which may probably have turned off loyalists of the previous four Ys outings at the time.  I haven't seen many reviews of this game beforehand (which gives me the impression that this fifth iteration wasn't that well received), which made me feel a little apprehensive of it even though I really wanted to play it (ever since I saw a YouTube video of it back in '08 or '09 I think showcasing the intro and its demo sequence with Adol).  Despite the plethora of changes however, there are elements from past titles which were retained: Adol still walks fast and has his health fully refilled as soon as he defeats a boss, the boss disintegrates in a rainbow-like fashion, chests have to be opened while you're in front of them, the Metroid-like "found item" tune plays when you open a chest with a vital item, some items can be found by walking in certain gaps, Adol's health gradually fills up as he holds still in specific areas, a few sounds sound fairly Ys-like, there are still some anime cutscenes, and one of the ending songs is a remix from a previous installment; so really, it's not entirely devoid of these elements.

"Hey, you look like that guy from those Xak
games, do you know that?"
The dialogue box is different but it's not too bad a thing really (even though I miss the dialogue boxes overlapping each other like in the last games), for you have a choice of up to four different skintones to apply to it.  =)  The visuals are good (even though some models are cookie-cutter and the clipping issues are bothersome), the music is good (even if there's no rock present in it), the gameplay is good (even though it's a bit reminiscent of Brain Lord but with more polish to me), and the boss fights are good (even though they have the same weak spot despite differing strategies).  I finished Ys V Expert in about ten non-consecutive hours in roughly under two months' time (with some breaks here and there; I did look up a guide just a few times) at (sword) Level 19 and (magic) Level 15.  I liked this installment enough, and thinking about it now it was significantly better than I expected to be beforehand... buuuuuut out of the five Ys games that I played, this one was the weakest entry for me (not because it's bad, but because it tried to be different from the series' formula even if it meant that it played like any other A-RPG, and that's a shame because there's so much good going for it).  Still, for what it is, it's a fun solid adventure game; I thought it was interesting that depending on the sword you used Adol could either lunge at, swing at, or swipe at enemies (that I find a bit clever).  There's a fun Time Attack mode if you beat the game the first time where you must battle a series of bosses back to back, each with a predetermined level (and equipment); and it makes for a good replay value.  Another element I thought was nice was the fact that during any time of the game you could change the color of Adol's shirt, armor, and later on his hair; it adds some fun to the package, though that's not to say that there weren't any fun moments during the story, there were.
So, who would like this game?  That's a tough call to make.  If you want to play an adventure game that offers a lot of entertainment even if it has some issues, it's not bad.  If you're attached to the structure that was set from the last four games but expect it to be here, you may not like this game so much.  If you liked any of Adol's adventures but could care less if it was set up differently or not, then this adventure will be right up your alley.  It may have some issues, but the good outweighs the bad as far as I'm concerned (at least give the developers some credit for trying).  If you can, import it; you may find Ys' Super Famicom swansong to be an interesting experience regardless of whether you end up liking it or not.  After it came out it was the last game in the series until 2003 when Nihon Falcom surprised everyone by making Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim (too bad I don't have a backwards compatible PC; good thing I own a PSP, so I can't wait to try that one some day).  If it took the fourth Ys (of any kind) two decades to be officially released in the West, chances are the same may apply for Ys V=(
My Impressions: 8.0/10
( >'.')>TO EACH THEIR OWN<('.'< )
P.S.: Adol sure has got a nice, long green cape on him that you only see in the cover and the cutscenes.
P.S. 2: The reason I don't feel so highly about Insidious: Chapter 2 is because of many reasons.  I didn't mind the first half of it, but once it got to the second half the movie started to lose its effect on me (not to mention there are moments that completely ruin the first movie for me) so it was no longer frightening at that point (a couple moments made it enter self-parody).  I think it was a mistake for James Wan to direct this after having done the superb The Conjuring months prior, and the fact that this is the last horror endeavor he'll ever be involved in makes me feel a bit sad because he's obviously a talented director but this movie was just mediocre and disappointing to me.  =(
P.S. 3: Speaking of Xak, I heard it's a cross between Zelda and Ys so I'm very curious about playing Xak: The Art of Visual Stage for the Super Famicom some time this year (plus, I saw a gameplay video which immediately had me sold).  =)  I also wouldn't mind giving the Ys clone Lagoon for the SNES a go one of these days, despite its less than rave reputation among gamers.
P.S. 4: I've always loved the "fin" message at the end of most games.  =)
P.S. 5: Because of how this game was structured, I'm more than inclined to christen it Brain Lord 2.0=}
P.S. 6: I found out about Popful Mail by accident (as I was trying to remember what the ending song sounded like through YouTube while making my review), and I'd like to play it one day.  I liked Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, so I can't imagine myself not liking that one (as it turns out that it's a sidescroller).
P.S. 7: Years ago when I heard that Adol wasn't going to shove enemies in the DS remake of Ys I & II, I wasn't certain how it was going to work.  Having played Ys V, my doubts have been put to rest.  =)
P.S. 8: Go see The Lego Movie!  'cause "everything was awesome!!!"  =D
Thank you for reading, please leave a comment and let me know what you think.  Take care!  =)

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