The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)

The long awaited and highly anticipated new Legend of Zelda game was released a month ago, and I have spent a lot of time playing it. Breath of the Wild is being heralded as a masterpiece, and I completely agree with that sentiment. This game is extremely unique, especially when compared to its predecessors. Breath of the Wild has a massive and completely open world to explore, and that is what makes it so special. There is a level of freedom that is unheard of in any other video games, you can do anything at anytime, that is in part why I love this game.

botw1

Most open world games allow for varying degrees of exploration and discovery, but ultimately restrict the player in one way or another. The main story, powerful monsters that block the way, or some areas require certain items to access, these are all methods that other open world games use to reign in the player to have them follow an expected path. Breath of the Wild throws all of that out of the window, you can go wherever you want and do whatever you want. Even the main story allows the player to tackle it in numerous different ways, you can even ignore it altogether and head straight for the final boss. There are so many creative solutions to any encounter in Breath of the Wild. Puzzles can be solved in dozens of ways, and there are numerous paths to get to any destination. Even fighting monsters allows for some innovative tactics through the use of the magical Runes that you acquire early on in the game. Breath of the Wild also allows for some creative use of the environment to gain an edge in fights. The fact that you constantly need to switch out weapons as they degrade and break forces the player to think on their feet and choose their weapons according to the appropriate situation. I am constantly surprised by new tricks, even dozens of hours into the game. Overall there is a lot of room for individuality and creativity in Breath of the Wild, it is a blast to just experiment with all the different ways to approach a single task.

botw6

The world of Breath of the Wild is massive, and its filled with things to find. There are plenty of sidequests, monster encampments, towns and stables to be found. Most importantly are the shrines and Korok seeds, which both act as a form of progression. Every four completed shrines allow the player to choose between an extra heart or some more stamina, and every couple of Korok seeds the player can increase their inventory space. With 120 shrines and 900 Korok seeds, there are plenty of these short and sweet puzzles to be solved. These exploration related objectives are a method for the player to keep up with the scaling difficulty as the game progresses. This is the most difficult 3D Legend of Zelda game that I have played by a long shot. Many enemies have the capability to kill the player in a single hit early on in the game. These enemies require to you be prepared, have precise timing, as well as creative thinking if you want a chance at defeating them. Certain enemies are extremely punishing if you misstep, which I think is a welcome change to the previously easy Legend of Zelda series. There is so much to do in the land of Hyrule, if you are worried about the world being “big but empty”, fret no more because there is no lack of things to do in this game.

botw2

There were many risks taken in the development of Breath of the Wild. The game does away with many traditional Legend of Zelda elements. Instead of using the Master Sword the whole game, now you use a plethora of weapons. Link can now wear a variety of different sets of clothing, all with different effects, rather than the green get-up we all know him for. There is voice acting for dialogue, which there has never been in a Legend of Zelda game. Traditional dungeons are swapped out for shrines and divine beasts. Link can now jump if you hit a button. Instead of memorable themes and melodies, the game goes for a much more atmospheric and understated soundtrack. All of these changes were huge risks as The Legend of Zelda series has been following a specific formula for a long time, and Breath of the Wild breaks the conventions. It has been six years between the release of Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild. This game was delayed multiple times to polish it, and I love Nintendo for making the decision to delay the release and perfect this game. Shigeru Miyamoto himself said a famous quote that I find applicable “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” Many risks were made during the development of this game and Breath of the Wild is all the better for it.

botw4

The beauty and awe-inspiring nature of Breath of the Wild is unparalleled. From rolling hills of lush grass, to dense and foggy forests, to the shifting sands of the desert, to snowy mountain tops, to rushing rivers,  there is just so much atmosphere that I just had to sit back and take in. The games magnificent environments are only complimented by its beautiful art style. I could spend hours just walking around Hyrule doing nothing but admiring all the scenery. Everything is well animated and pleasant to look at. The survival aspect of this game is also quite charming. You can no longer just chop grass to get hearts and arrows. Now you need to collect resources to cook meals that replenish your hearts as well as giving special benefits. For arrows you need to visit the small towns in stables to replenish your stock which encourages the player to interact with all the non-playable characters (NPCs) in the game. The NPCs are charming and have some depth to them, even if their quests are simple. Instead of a woman saying “get me 3 dragonflies”, they tell you that their little sister loves dragonflies but the woman is too scared to get them herself. Just a minor narrative change like that makes all the difference. Throughout the game there are many seemingly minor things that enhance the experience drastically.

botw3

I believe that no game is perfect, and Breath of the Wild is not an exception to that rule. It is extremely important to note the size of these issues, as most of them are nitpicks that I only discovered after dozens of hours of play. The first and most noticeable problem are the FPS drops. In graphically intense areas like villages or battles with many enemies, the FPS can and will drop. It happens often enough that it hurts the experience a little, but the vast majority of the time the game runs smoothly.  The first time in rained in Hyrule I thought it was atmospheric and beautiful. Then it kept raining, and raining, and raining. It feels like a third of the time in the game is spent in the rain. It is nice once in a while, but eventually it just gets dreary. The rain also stops you from climbing anything or using any fire related items, so that can slow the players progress by a significant amount. A little rain is fine, but I wish the developers had toned down the amount of rain in this game. There are a few small quality of life things that I would like to see, like faster cooking and faster animations of getting in and out of shrines. Issues like that are fairly minor but after many hours of playing the game I think I stopped caring about the shrine completion animation and I just wanted to skip it. Overall, I feel like while all of these are issues, they are fairly small and only noticeable after hours upon hours of play. In fact, all of these issues are fixable and I hope to see them resolved in future patches of the game.

botw7

Breath of the Wild manages to capture a feeling of childlike wonder and amazement. I feel like this game will be talked about ten years from now and it will be a benchmark for phenomenal open world games. I loved every minute that I played of this game. It breaks conventions and takes The Legend of Zelda in a whole different direction, and I appreciate the risks that the developers took in making this game. The amount of delays, setbacks, and risks all paid off in a spectacular fashion in the experience that is Breath of the Wild. The amount of creativity, thoughtfulness, depth, and soul in this game is astounding. It has a few flaws that I would like to see fixed, but they are specks of dust on the masterpiece that is Breath of the Wild. I firmly believe that this will be remembered as one of the greatest games of all time. For these reasons I give The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a 10/10. I cannot recommend this game highly enough, and it is a must play for anybody and everybody.

Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)

Majora’s Mask is the black sheep of the 3-D Legend of Zelda family. It was developed in a year after the massive success that was Ocarina of Time. Majora’s Mask uses the same engine and basic formula as its predecessor, but it takes a bizarre twist. There is no Zelda, no Triforce, and it does not take place in Hyrule. Instead, Majora’s Mask takes place in the doomed realm of Termina. The moon is set to crash into Termina and destroy everything in three days (about 54 minutes of real time). You are trapped in a Groundhog Day scenario, you must reset the three day cycle to prevent the moon from crashing into Termina until you gather the necessary items to save the world. Whether or not you like this game depends entirely on how much you enjoy this three day cycle mechanic. I personally thought it was a double-edged sword in many ways. I can appreciate the ambitious and unique aspects of Majora’s Mask, but I just could not get into it for a couple of reasons.

Majora’s Mask lives and dies on its three day cycle. Many people are scared away because of the 54 minute timer, but to be honest it was never a problem for me as I often used the Inverted Song of Time to triple the amount of time. Everything you do in Majora’s Mask is designed to be easily completed within those 162 minutes, so I had no issues with that aspect at all. That being said, there were many other issues I had with this system. First and foremost was the obnoxious saving system. The only way to permanently save the game was to reset the three day cycle, so I felt like I needed to play a solid two hours if I wanted to make any progress. Other games I can be satisfied by playing thirty minutes to an hour, but Majora’s Mask does not allow you that luxury and it forces you to play it in big chunks. Another problem I had was just the sheer repetitive nature of the game. When you reset the cycle, everything is reset except for your items which you keep. Due to this, there is just a lot of repetition and tedium in this game. My final issue with the three day cycle is more subjective but it was probably my biggest problem with this game. I felt like I was not making any progress. Resetting the cycle and watching all your work and time erased just felt demoralizing. There is no point of doing any of the side-quests or helping any of the characters when you know that your efforts are fruitless and ultimately amount to nothing. Of course you get a mask or some other reward, but I like to see how the world develops or how the characters change. Some argue this aspect was the entire point of Majora’s Mask, you are meant to feel helpless and like all your efforts are futile. While many may like this, I personally did not.

The other thing that makes Majora’s Mask standout in comparison to other Legend of Zelda titles is its lack of dungeons. It only had four main dungeons, while its predecessor had nine. To be fair, Majora’s Mask focus is not on the dungeons, but on its world and its side-quests. Still, dungeons have always been a core part of the Legend of Zelda experience and Majora’s Mask is lacking in that department. The first two dungeons were alright but nothing special. Great Bay Temple was conceptually interesting, but it was extremely frustrating to navigate. Stone Tower Temple was fantastic and one of the best dungeons in the entire series. All in all, if you enjoy Legend of Zelda games for the dungeons than Majora’s Mask is definitely not for you. The lack of dungeons is made up for with all the side-quests and the lengthy sections before each dungeon.

Everyone loves to talk about the complexity and interesting world of Majora’s Mask. The three day cycle allows for some complex interactions. Every character has a schedule that they follow and talking to them at different times during their cycles will yield different results. For example, if you talk to the old woman at the bomb shop on day two or three she will tell you how she was robbed on the night of the first day. Logically, you reset the cycle and save her from getting robbed and she gives you a reward. The quests are all interconnected as well. Following the previously mentioned side-quest, if you help the old woman then you will not be able to do a quest involving the thief later on in the cycle. Many of the of the side-quests utilize the three day cycle to help you figure out the solution and it is interesting to see how all the characters plots are interwoven with each other. Unfortunately, a couple other side-quests were not as well crafted as the others. Many of them boiled down to just talking to the character at the right time, or talking to the character and wearing the correct mask. I felt like some of the side-quests just wasted my time. The famed Anju and Kafei quest is about 45 minutes long and you need to complete it twice if you want both rewards. The quest involves a lot of just sitting around as you wait for the characters to get to the correct part of their schedule for you to interact with them. Overall, some of the quests correctly utilized the three day cycle, and others I felt like just wasted my time.

I feel like Majora’s Mask is a game that many people love, but others find it exhausting. I fall into the latter camp, it is my least favorite Legend of Zelda title that I have played so far. I can appreciate the creativity and the uniqueness of what Majora’s Mask achieved, but I just did not like it. I feel like you need an exceptional amount of patience to put up with all the tedium and repetitiveness that is in this game. If you are interested by the prospect of the three day cycle, impending doom, and themes of hopelessness and regret, then you will probably love Majora’s Mask. If you are more of a gameplay and action oriented person, I would recommend steering clear of this game. Overall, I understand what it was going for, but Majora’s Mask just did not click for me.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2002)

There is no game that can instill a sense of adventure and discovery better than The Wind Waker. While The Legend of Zelda games have a healthy mix of combat, exploration, and puzzle solving, The Wind Waker takes the exploration aspect to the extreme. Vast oceans cover the land of Hyrule and there is treasure and discoveries to be made in every corner and on every island that the world has to offer. Of course, The Wind Waker also has some great combat mechanics and intriguing puzzles tied in with the strong dungeon design. As somebody who can spend hours just exploring the crafted worlds in video games, The Wind Waker is probably my favorite installment of The Legend of Zelda series. I have played both the GameCube version and the Wii U HD remake of the game, and I can definitively say that the remake has made some excellent changes to the timeless title. Most of the changes made in the Wii U version were focused on reducing some repetitiveness as well as tedious tasks that were present in the original. Unfortunately there were still a couple of minor issues that still made it into the HD remake.

While I consider The Wind Waker to be one of my favorite games of all time, there are a couple of small problems that I have with the game. Even though the HD remake of the game speeds up some repetitive or tedious sections, there are still a few instances of the game moving a little too slowly. This is a not a big issue at all, but I do think that a couple of the mini-games or side-quests took a slightly too long with not enough payout. For example, training with Orca is just ten to fifteen minutes of using a repetitive pattern to get through the mini-game. Again, it is really not that big of an issue but they could have afforded to slim down these type of segments. Most of the side-quests in the game were actually extremely engaging and fun, only a select few were problematic. My only other issue with The Wind Waker the game was to easy outside of the final boss and the Savage Labyrinth. Enemies just did not seem to deal enough damage to ever be a realistic threat. While the combat was fun and engaging, it just was not punishing enough if I ever screwed up. So if you want a decent challenge I highly recommend you play on Hero Mode to alleviate this issue.

Although I do not think that the game was hard enough during combat, it was still tons of fun to fight all the different types of enemies. Controlling Link was smooth and using the different combos was simple to master and the use of different tactics was needed for every enemy. I enjoyed the intense sword fights with the Darknuts and trying to outmaneuver the hard-hitting Stalfos. There are plenty of unique and interesting enemies in The Wind Waker and adapting to different situations and enemies was great. There are also some interesting strategies that you can implement by making the enemy drop their weapon and picking it up for yourself. The boss fights were also fun, albeit easy. The dungeons that contained these enemies were also pretty well designed. There were plenty of interesting puzzles to be solved to match the quality of the combat. The Tower of the Gods and the Earth Temple in particular had some really intriguing puzzles. What really stood about the dungeons, and the game as a whole, were the atmospheres that were created.

Whether sailing across a vast ocean, exploring a cavernous mountain, or discovering the secrets of small islands speckled across the sea, The Wind Waker really feels like a true adventure. Every chunk of the ocean has something unique and worth exploring. Enemy strongholds, giant Octos, hidden treasure under the sea, or haunted ghost ship are just a few of the things that you may stumble across while sailing across the sea. I loved the treasure charts and how they made it feel like you really were treasure hunting. I was a little nervous to attempt a 100% on this game as the ocean is so ridiculously vast, but there are many tools at your disposal to find every item. Special treasure charts are there to detail where to find the Heart Pieces, Fairy Fountains, and all other important things scattered across the ocean.  Every island has a purpose and no piece of the world is uninteresting. I spent hours just sailing the high seas and visiting every island to see what it had in store. On top of the sense of adventure, it was extremely relaxing to just sit back and take in the beautiful world of The Wind Waker.

This installment of The Legend of Zelda is in my opinion the most aesthetically pleasing of the series. The cell-shading was masterfully done and the game is just extremely beautiful to look at. All of the characters had very expressive faces and you could easily tell what each character was thinking without the need for much dialogue. Being able to see places like Dragon Roost Mountain or The Tower of the Gods looming over the oceans from leagues away was a great to give a feel for how massive these places really were. I stopped every so often just to take in the scenery around me. It really was a pleasure just to look at the world.

I personally love The Wind Waker and I recommend it to anybody who loves adventure and exploration. I do think that you have to take this game a little slower than most other titles to really appreciate it. While there is plenty of classic The Legend of Zelda elements in The Wind Waker, its world and atmosphere are extremely unique. I do recommend the HD remake on the Wii U over the original version as it cuts down on some of the issues. If you just want to sit down and explore in video games, The Wind Waker is the perfect game for you.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

I was cautious when starting Ocarina of Time, a game heralded as the best of all time could not possibly live up to the hype, or so I thought. After playing the game I am not sure if I could say that is the best game of all time or even my favorite Legend of Zelda game, but I can say with confidence that is outstanding and certainly one of the most impactful games of all time. It is a quintessential action-adventure and the most classic Legend of Zelda game I can think of. If I were to recommend a Legend of Zelda title to a new player, I think Ocarina of Time is the most representative of what the series is about. I have to preface the rest of this article with the fact that I played the original Nintendo 64 version on the Wii U emulator, so a couple of the issues I will mention with the game were fixed in the 3DS remake of the game.

The first thing that really stood out to me about Ocarina of Time was the controls. For being released in 1998 on a console that time has treated unfavorably Ocarina of Time has pretty tight controls, even by today’s standards. This game introduced Z-Targeting, which allowed players to lock-on to enemies and move around them with great ease. Z-Targeting was a revolutionary advancement in video game controls and it is even still used in some modern games. Occasionally it was a little difficult to lock-on to the correct enemy in Ocarina of Time, but it usually pretty simple to cycle through different opponents until I had targeted the correct one. The sword fighting in this game was remarkably simple but it is some of my favorite sword play in any Legend of Zelda title. The only big issue with controls in this game was aiming. Aiming the Bow, Hookshot, and Boomerang was pretty rough. A single small tap on the control stick would send the pointer across the screen. There were plenty of instances of having to shoot at moving targets with extreme precision and it was usually more frustrating than fun. Even though aiming was unnecessarily difficult it was not so impactful or frequent that it significantly worsened the game.

One of my favorite features in Ocarina of Time was just how alive the world felt. Every area felt unique and it was interesting to see how the world changed from seven year gap between young Link and adult Link. The supporting casts of characters also were memorable and likeable. Watching the grumpy Darunia dance and smile when I played Saria’s Song was a joy and the whole game in general was just charming in that sense.  The world was very fun to discover and explore.  Whether it is uncovering Heart Pieces, finding Golden Skulltulas, or doing side-quests, there were plenty of extra things to do in Ocarina of Time. Everything felt very rewarding as well; it was properly gratifying to complete all of these optional objectives.

One of the core ideas in Ocarina of Time was using music and songs to manipulate the world around you. I absolutely loved this feature as it introduced a number of playable catchy songs on top of the already great soundtrack. Songs can be used to change the time of day, talk to your friend, access different areas, or even teleport to the major dungeons. The songs were such a vital part to the game and they were extremely useful and fun to play. I still occasionally whistle Saria’s Song unconsciously, that says a lot for how catchy these songs are.

The dungeons in Ocarina of Time were pretty stellar for the most part. The first three dungeons were played through as young Link. They were very simple, but rightfully so as they are the first 3D Legend of Zelda dungeons ever, so they are meant as an introduction. I was not a huge fan of the third dungeon, Inside Jabu-Jabu’s Belly. The aesthetic was unappealing, the design was a bit repetitive, and I had to carry around an annoying companion, these factors led to a mediocre dungeon. Luckily most of the following dungeons were so amazing that it made up for it. Most of the adult Link dungeons had great themes, puzzles, enemies, and bosses. The Forrest Temple, Fire Temple, Spirit Temple, and Inside Ganon’s Castle in particular were my favorites. All but one of the adult Link dungeons I would describe as phenomenal, the one outlier is the Water Temple.

I could write an entire thesis on how much I hate the Water Temple, but I will attempt to keep it brief. The biggest issue with this dungeon was the frequent use of the Iron Boots. In order to sink in water you have to equip the Iron Boots, and to rise to the surface you need to take them off. This would not be a big issue if you could assign the Iron Boots to a button like most other major items, but you have to go into the menu every time you want to equip or unequip them. This slows process to a grinding halt whenever you want to descend of ascend in water. Often times I would have to go into the menu twice within three seconds just to use the Iron Boots. The dungeon’s design in itself was an interesting concept but it was poorly executed in my opinion. There were so many branching paths that could be accessed and made this dungeon an incredibly confusing affair. The combination of the Iron Boots and the confusing nature of the dungeon made it incredibly tedious and slow. The mini-boss and the boss of this dungeon were also pretty bad in my opinion as they were ridiculously easy and felt like they were just a formality instead of actually interesting bosses. The Water Temple is a pretty big stain on the otherwise clean Ocarina of Time.

While I may not think Ocarina of Time is the best game ever I cannot deny its greatness and the magnitude of its achievement, especially considering its age. It is the best representation of what the Legend of Zelda series is all about. It still holds up pretty well today, although I recommend getting the 3DS version as it fixes a number of the flaws in the original game. It was definitely an enlightening experience for me, getting to see the roots of one of my favorite series was great. Ocarina of Time is the highest rated video game of all time, and I am certain that it deserves a playthrough by anybody and everybody.

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (2004)

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is a handheld game and was one of the four Legend of Zelda games developed by Capcom. The game focuses around shrinking down to a small size and interacting with the miniature people of the Minish. I really enjoyed shrinking down and how it affected the world of Hyrule and made this game was pretty fun little adventure. That being said the game also had its fair share of issues, most of which could have been easily fixed.

The first thing that comes to mind is Kinstones, which are both a positive and a negative part of the game. This mechanic introduced in The Minish Cap allows you to fuse Kinstones, which you find while exploring Hyrule, with other characters in the game and it gives you a reward. It was fun because it opened up new paths in areas that you have already visited and added an extra layer of exploration. I think it was an interesting idea and I did find it relaxing to go around fusing Kinstones with other characters, but the system had a number of flaws. The first issue is “shared” fusions, which is when multiple characters have the same Kinstone to fuse with. This can get confusing as I was talking to every character and taking mental notes on which character needed what Kinstone, but when I came back most of the fusions were gone after fusing with one person. The next issue was “finicky” fusers, which was when certain characters only occasionally wanted to fuse with me. This was annoying when I was getting all of the fusions but as I was checking all of the characters to see if I could fuse with them I would have to check multiple times just to make sure. My biggest issue with Kinstones however was the rewards. Some of the rewards were great, like Heart Pieces or massive amounts of Rupees, but sometimes the reward for fusing a Kinstone was another Kinstone. That is just nonsensical. I think the system was unique and had potential to be a great new form of collectibles, but fell a little flat in the execution.

While Kinstones were a little disappointingly executed, there is a far worse offender in this game: figurines. There is a shop where you can play a gashapon machine and collect 136 figurines. Each new one that you get decreases the chances of you getting another new one. There was so much wrong with this mini-game and it is possibly the most obnoxious and blatant time waster that I have ever seen in a video game. Of course, you do not need to play it to complete the game, but you need all 136 figurines if you want the last Heart Piece in the game. The last Heart Piece is not even accessible until you defeat the last boss anyway, so there is not even a reason to collect that last Heart Piece other than wanting to 100% the game. It takes about thirty seconds to do one roll of the gashapon, which can equate to one figurine if you are getting one every roll, which you are not since it is a game of chance. You can increase your odds by putting more money in, but it is wildly inefficient to do so. I probably spent three or four hours just on this stupid gashapon. I just watched some Netflix or a Twitch stream while doing it, but I really wonder how this feature made it into the game in this state.

Even though figurines were a mindless grind and were frustrating, The Minish Cap also had some really great features to it that cannot be ignored. The dungeons in this game are extremely fun and memorable. They all had unique concepts and implemented them well in the dungeon designs. Whether I am sailing on a lily pad, shrinking to access new parts of dungeons, digging through tunnels, or flying across cloud tops, the game constantly feels fresh and innovative in its dungeon design. This is partly due to the items in the game; the Gust Jar, Cane of Pacci, Mole Mitts, and Roc’s Cape were all very unique items and allowed for some great puzzles. The bosses in the dungeons were also very fun. Some of the bosses were normal enemies like Chus, but you had to fight them while small which was an interesting way of adding variety to boss battles. While there are only six total main dungeons in the game, they are high quality and that makes up for the small number of dungeons. Also, there are a couple areas that acted like mini dungeons; The Royal Crypt, Mount Crenel, Wind Ruins, Castor Wilds, and the Cloud Tops all were areas that required me to think like I was in a dungeon. The Wind Palace and Dark Hyrule Castle in particular were my favorite dungeons and honestly are some of my favorite Legend of Zelda dungeons that I have played to date.

The land of Hyrule in The Minish Cap was very interesting and I quite liked how the overworld flowed together. Using newly obtained items to access older areas much more easily was a smart idea as this game does have a lot of backtracking because of the Kinstones. Hyrule Town was also very well designed in my opinion, every building and character had a purpose; it was interesting to explore at both normal and small size. The characters in the game were pretty interesting, but unfortunately you do not get to interact with them much other than talking to them once or twice. Ezlo is an interesting companion and is certainly much less annoying and intrusive than a lot of other Legend of Zelda companions. He is more than just a helping fairy and actually has a personality so I quite liked him. As a whole, the shrinking mechanic added an extra layer to exploring the land of Hyrule. Searching for little holes and passageways was certainly interesting and added some variety to the game. Everything about being small was thought out and made sense. The enemies were bugs or small critters, small streams of water became rivers, and areas that were a little larger than Link became entire villages. I personally really liked the shrinking mechanic and Hyrule as a whole in this game.

The Minish Cap was by no means a perfect game, but it certainly was entertaining. The issues with the game were only really bad because I went for 100%, but in a normal play through the problems with the Kinstones and figurines would be a lot less apparent. Overall it was a fun adventure and although it was short it had plenty to do and explore thanks to the shrinking mechanic. It was certainly a very unique Legend of Zelda, both in concept and in execution, and I do think it is definitely worth a play through if you are a fan of the series.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)

When the topic of the best Legend of Zelda is brought up, A Link to the Past is frequently mentioned as the best 2D Legend of Zelda, if not the best game in the entire series. While I have not played every Legend of Zelda game yet, I have to admit that A Link to the Past thoroughly impressed me in almost every regard. The game is really the true successor to the original Legend of Zelda, and the amount of improvement between the two games is staggering. It is mind boggling to me that A Link to the Past came out in 1991, only five years after the original. The games length, complexity, depth,  mechanics, items, graphics, its dungeons, and its world all feel extremely modern and I feel like this game could have been released this year and still be a solid game.  Unfortunately this was also a bit of a drawback, as the game does show its age occasionally and I had to remind myself that was playing a twenty-five year old game.

While I do feel like this game could have been released this year as an indie title or maybe a handheld game, I do believe that some aspects of the game are dated. The first problem that I had with the game was a combination of two things. The first issue was that Link’s sword hitbox did not overlap with Link’s hitbox, meaning that if an enemy got on top of me, I could not swing the sword to get the enemy off. This is not a terrible mechanic in and of itself, but combined with the fact that Link is very sluggish it can lead to some awkward situations. This combination of the sword’s hitbox and the fact that Link moves slowly means that if an enemy gets on top of you, there is no option but to takes multiple hits instead of just the initial hit from the enemy. This was not that big of a deal but it was certainly frustrating when ever it did happen.

The other aspect of the game that felt dated was how much I had to search for certain items. The game definitely rewards the player for exploration and experience with the game, but I did not want to spend hours looking for the Bottles, Zora’s Flippers, Magic Powder, the Flute, etc.  While I do like the fact that the game rewards the player for exploration, I felt like I spent way more time searching the world for these items instead of playing through dungeons or progressing through the world. There was really no way around spending a ton of time looking for these items either as they were extremely powerful or just necessary to progress. In Super Metroid, for example, there were tons of hidden items to be found around the world that I could spend hours looking for, but they were just small boosts to my character instead of being so strong to the point of being a necessity. I made it pretty far into A Link to the Past without the Bottles to hold Fairies which were basically extra lives, but at some point I realized that the bosses were just too tough for me to fight with only one life. I am usually a huge fan of exploration and discovering items to make my character stronger, but I just did not enjoy how important it was searching for these items.

The game’s modern feel was probably its biggest strength, but the other aspect of the game that really impressed me was the dungeon design. There were a total of thirteen dungeons in the game and I am not going to go in depth with all of them, but they all were well designed in my opinion. Each dungeon had a unique style and way to approach it. Every dungeon had tough monsters to fight, interesting puzzles to solve, rewarding items to be found, and clever boss designs, all of this packed in to an extensive labyrinth to find my way through. My personal favorite dungeon was the Skull Woods, it had multiple entrances hidden in the woods above it and it was like solving a maze as I went in all the different entrances and put the pieces together in my head to figure out how I would make my way through the dungeon. Even though there were thirteen different dungeons each one was of quality design and they were all enjoyable

Despite only coming out five years after the original Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past made a ton of improvements to the Zelda formula. My personal favorite improvement was just the overall clarity. Walls that could be blown up with bombs had cracks in them, there were no more obscure hints that only confused the player more, all the dungeons were marked on the map, the enemies were a lot more obvious in how to defeat them, and the path to progression was always known. Another massive improvement was the graphics, I am not usually somebody who revels in the newest and greatest graphic improvements, but it is insane how quickly the industry progressed in the five years between this game and the original. I also enjoyed how much more frequently I actually used to items acquired in dungeons. While in the original game I felt like the items were mostly used just to unlock the next area, in this game I actually continued to use the items throughout the game to fight monsters are find secrets hidden across the world. The world itself was also a big improvement in this game. There were people to talk to, mini-games to play, hidden holes with Fairy Fountains or Heart Pieces, and just a lot to explore. Even though there were plenty of things to do, the world was also very compact and concise, so getting from one corner to the map to the other did not take more than a few minutes.

I personally believe that A Link to the Past is where the Legend of Zelda series as we know it was born. While the original Legend of Zelda set the framework and foundation for a great series, this is the game that enhanced the experience so much and many of the mechanics that we know and love today were first introduced in A Link to the Past. The game does have a couple of flaws but fortunately they were not that major. It is seriously impressive to me that this game is twenty-five years old and it still managed to captivate me and entertain me like a recent title would. While I have not played every other Legend of Zelda game to properly compare them all, A Link to the Past was seriously impressive and a great experience.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006)

The next game on my quest to beat all of the Legend of Zelda games was Twilight Princess. There is not really any reason for skipping ahead so far other than the HD version was on sale and came with the Wolf Link Amiibo. I did not really expect a whole lot when I started up this game; many people refer to it as the worst of the 3D Zeldas. Now, I do have a fair number of gripes with this game, but overall it was very enjoyable. Some issues I had with this game were: the tutorial dragged on for far too long, the Wolf Link portions at the beginning of the game became extremely repetitive, all of the side-quests were collectathons, and overall the game was just too easy. I will go into more detail about these problems later, but I want to start off talking about what made the game good.

The undisputed high points in this game were the dungeons and the clever layouts and puzzles coupled with intriguing mini-boss and boss battles. The first dungeon was the Forest Temple, and it was a good indicator of the dungeon quality in the game. The basis of this dungeon was that the monkey king had been possessed by an evil spirit and all of the other monkeys had been imprisoned. As you solve puzzles and defeat enemies, you set the monkeys free and they follow you around and help you reach new areas of the dungeon. I really liked this concept, I find it incredibly satisfying to help out different species across Hyrule, and it is nice that they return the favor. I was also surprised that the dungeon managed to have some unique puzzles including the Gale Boomerang; since there is a variant of the Boomerang in every Zelda game sometimes the puzzles get repetitive. Overall it was a fun dungeon, especially after playing two hours of boring tutorials and introductions.

The second dungeon was the Goron Mines. It had a similar premise to the first dungeon in which the leader of the Gorons had been corrupted and you have to defeat him; except instead of freeing monkeys, you find the Goron elders scattered across the mines and they will each give you a piece of the key to enter the boss room. There are actually two items that you use a lot in this dungeon, the first being the Iron Boots which you get a little before entering the mines. I thought these boots were boring to use at first, it seemed like you just used them to push down pressure plates, but they got a very interesting use in this dungeon. Some of the walls and platforms on this dungeon had this crystalline layer on them which was magnetic, and the Iron Boots allowed you to stick to walls and it allowed for a very unique and fun experience. You also receive the Hero’s Bow in this dungeon, which led to a massive archery battle in the central room of the dungeon which was almost reminiscent of an FPS as I dipped and dodged between cover, firing arrows whenever possible. This was another very satisfying dungeon to beat.

Oh boy, a water level! As far as water levels in video games go, Lakebed Temple is one of the better ones. One of the issues that many games run into when designing water levels is that the controls while swimming are extremely awkward, it has come to the point where most people dread playing water levels because they are almost always of lesser quality than the rest of the game. Luckily the designers of Twilight Princess realized this and minimized the amount of swimming in this dungeon, thank god. In the portions that I did have to swim in I strapped on the Iron Boots to walk along the seabed, it may have been slower but I did not have to fiddle with the controls at all. This dungeon had a very neat concept in which you release two different streams of water from the opposite sides of the temple and those streams of water ran through the entire dungeon and you could use their effects to reach new areas. As for the item that was received in this dungeon, the Clawshot, I thought it was pretty boring. There was not much to do with it and the puzzles that involved it were nothing more than looking for the next thing to grapple onto. I really liked the concept of this dungeon, but the Clawshot being so one-dimensional made it weaker than the Forest Temple and the Goron Mines.

“I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.” – Anakin Skywalker in the best Star Wars movie. Jokes aside I agree with this sentiment when it comes to video games. I am never really a huge fan of sand levels and the fourth dungeon, the Arbiter’s Grounds, are no exception. The sand really does not add anything other than impeding your movement, and if you stand in it too long you get to slowly watch yourself sink into the sand and die. I kind of liked the concept that you had to hunt down the Poes in Wolf Link form to gather their flames and advance to the next area, but I think it dragged on a little too long. I am still conflicted when it comes to the item received in this dungeon, the Spinner. It is similar to the Clawshot in which you can only really use it in places where the game tells you to use it, but some of the rail riding sequences where you jump back and forth on the rails and avoiding obstacles was fun. I wish this item had more uses because it can be fun to use, but you only get to use at very specific times. This dungeon also introduced an extremely annoying enemy, the Ghoul Rat. These things are invisible to Human Link and swarm on you, slowing you down, until you switch to Wolf Link and spin to get them off of you. It does not sound so bad, but when you have to quickly cross the sands or you die, getting swarmed by the invisible Ghoul Rats is a pain. Between the movement slowing Ghoul Rats, the sand that slows you, and the Poe hunting section that dragged on for too long, this dungeon was just very slow moving and for that reason it is probably my least favorite in the game.

The poorly named Snowpeak Ruins is the fifth dungeon in the game. It is more of a mansion than it is ruins. Anyway, this was probably the most challenging dungeon in the game because it actually houses threatening enemies. Between Chilfos, Freezards, White Wolfos, and Darkhammer, this dungeon had plenty of threats that could kill you if you were not careful. That being said, I think this dungeon had the appropriate level of difficulty while every other dungeon was too easy. The concept of this dungeon was similar to the first two in which Yeta, a Yeti, had been corrupted and made sick by the powerful forces of the Mirror of Twilight. Her poor husband Yeto is trying to make her soup to make her feel better and you have to hunt down the ingredients which are scattered across the dungeon. Of course when the soup does not cure her you have to fight her, but all is well and she is cured at the end, and there is a cute cutscene where Yeta and Yeto are hugging and their love makes a Heart Container. The item acquired in this dungeon is the Ball and Chain, which I really liked. There were not a lot of puzzles using it, but I liked it just because it was really fun to use it combat. Winding it up and throwing it to deal a devastating blow to multiple enemies at once was extremely satisfying. There are also cannons spread across the dungeon in which you can launch cannonballs to blast open previously blocked areas which I thought was cool. Snowpeak Ruins was definitely one of the best dungeons in the game; the Ball and Chain, the difficulty, the cannons, and Yeto and Yeta really made this dungeon very memorable.

I was worried about the sixth dungeon, the Temple of Time. Compared to most other Zelda dungeons, this one is very linear. There is only one path to take, and that is up. Despite this, the Temple of Time had a very clever design. Once you go all the way up, you get the item of the dungeon, the Dominion Rod, which allows you to control certain statues. That is when I realized that I would have to lead a certain statue all the way back down the Temple of Time to open up the boss room. It was very clever because the puzzles and challenges had to be two sided; they had to have puzzles going up as Link, then they doubled as puzzles coming back down with the statue. It was a very unique concept and stands out among a lot of other Legend of Zelda dungeons. The linearity actually worked very well in this case and made for a compelling dungeon. The Temple of Time seemed so simple and plain at first, but turned out to be the most unique dungeon in the game, which I love it for.

The City in the Sky is the seventh dungeon in Twilight Princess. The concept of this dungeon is that the Oocca, which live in the City in the Sky, are all hiding and are afraid of a giant dragon that flies around the city. This dungeon is shaped like a plus sign, with areas at the end of each point and bridges connecting them all to a central hub. As you complete each area the dragon swoops in and destroys the bridge so you cannot return. Luckily the item in this dungeon is the Double Clawshot, which is just an upgrade to the Clawshot. It allows Link to continuously use the Clawshot over and over, leaving him hanging precariously over nothingness. Unfortunately the Double Clawshot suffers from the same problem that the Clawshot does in that you can only use it when the game whats you to. I did like how dangerous this dungeon felt, how you quickly have to Clawshot from one surface to another or a flying Kargaroc will hit you and make you fall to your doom. Overall I feel like this was one of the weaker dungeons in the game because the puzzles were just looking for the next thing to Clawshot onto. It did have some redeemable qualities though: the grandiose feeling, the dangerous atmosphere, and the large scale and epic boss battle. It goes to show how great all of the other dungeons in this game are; even though this was a entertaining dungeon, it was lacking compared to some of the others.

The eighth dungeon in the game is the Palace of Twilight. In this dark and gloomy dungeon you have to retrieve the two Sol orbs to restore the people of Twilight to their normal forms. It is a little similar to Temple of Time in which the puzzles are two sided, the first part of the puzzles is to get to the Sols, and the second part is bringing the Sols back. It is a concept that I really liked and I am glad that it made its way into this dungeon as well. However, my favorite part of this dungeon has to be the boss battle. Zant was the villain for the entire game up until this point and is show to be a powerful sorcerer. The fight with Zant was probably my favorite fight in the entire game because of how often it changes. Essentially, Zant teleports you back to the boss rooms of the previous dungeons and you have to defeat him in each room using the respective items you gained in those dungeons. It takes you back and lets you relive all of the fun battles that you had in the game previously. There is also a sword fighting sequence with Zant where you have to be very quick and on your toes to defeat him as he teleports around the room. It was a very satisfying boss battle and overall a very fun dungeon.

The ninth and final dungeon in the game is Hyrule Castle. This dungeon was pretty unique in that it is one of the few dungeons that really makes use of Wolf Link. Whether it be digging under walls, or using your wolf senses to find the helpful ghosts, Wolf Link was very helpful here. If you are not a completionist like me, this dungeon was pretty short, but if you want to find all of the chests it can take a while. Hyrule Castle was also pretty challenging compared to the rest of the game. Between King Bulbin, Aerolfos, and Darknuts, this dungeon had some hard hitting enemies. I think this dungeon was so short to account for how long the final boss battle is. Ganondorf has four different forms you have to beat, each one being like a full boss battle on its own. First you have to beat Possessed Zelda, which was the classic hitting the energy balls back with the Master Sword battle. Then you have to fight bestial Ganon, it took me awhile to figure out that I needed to be Wolf Link to beat him, but it was pretty easy otherwise. The hardest part was probably fighting Horseback Ganondorf, in which you need to stay close to him on horseback and let Zelda shot him with Light Arrows then you have to run up and bat him with the sword. This was pretty tough to do because I had to get behind Ganondorf who was constantly trying to rush me. The last and final battle sequence was against just regular old Ganondorf. This was probably the easiest of the four battles as you just had to mash the A button a lot then stab him in the chest. Overall it was a long and tiring boss battle, but it gave me a feeling of immense satisfaction.

While the dungeons were very fun, I felt like the Overworld and all of the sidequests were a little lacking. It felt like the designed this massive world, and then realized it was completely barren so they just decided to add in Poes, Golden Bugs, and random Stamp/Rupee chests. The Hidden Skills were actually a nice addition to the Overworld but they are few and far between. There were a lot of areas in the Overworld that were fun, like Lake Hylia, Snowpeak, the Cave of Ordeals, and Castle Town which had a lot of things to do, but a lot of areas were just way too big without much going for them. The Gerudo Desert and all of the Hyrule Fields were massive but there was so little in them that it felt like they were big just for the sake of being big. I also felt this in the beginning of the game when I was doing the portions where you have to collect the Tears of Light as Wolf Link. It was just really repetitive and did not really add much to the game in my opinion. Especially since the first Tears of Light portion follows the long and drawn out tutorial, I can see how somebody would quit this game before even making it to the first dungeon.

I mentioned a couple times previously that I thought this game was too easy. The reason to me is clear why I think this title is so easy and laid back compared to most of the other Legend of Zelda titles. Very few enemies in the game do significant damage. There is plenty of enemies that require tight timing and precision, but they are not nearly punishing enough when you mess up. I think the majority of enemies do not even do over a heart of damage. On top of that, you can switch to Wolf Link and it is not to hard to find spots to dig up hearts if you are running low. If you have ever played a Legend of Zelda game before and want to try out Twilight Princess, I definitely recommend playing on Hero Mode, which prevents enemies from dropping hearts. At least this way you have to try to conserve your hearts.

In conclusion I think that Twilight Princess despite its faults is a enjoyable adventure and a very good game. Most of the issues with the game, like the all of collectathon sidequests, the low difficulty, and the boring at times Overworld are all pretty minor issues. The only really bad thing about this game is how slow it starts off, but if you can make it past the first couple of hours then the game is a lot of fun. The core of the game, the dungeons, is very good and all nine of the dungeons were memorable for their own reasons. Twilight Princess is definitely an underrated game among the rest of the series, I thought it was a very fun a engaging experience, and I would recommend it to anybody who has not played it yet.

 

 

The Legend of Zelda (1986)

About a month ago I discovered the Wii U shop and how many classic titles they had available to be played on the virtual console. I was excited for the new Legend of Zelda game coming out in 2017, granted at this point I had only played through Windwaker and Phantom Hourglass. I probably plan on replaying them later during my series playthrough because I haven’t played them in so long (and I’m curious as how the HD remake can improve upon one of my favorite games of all time: Windwaker). So where do I begin on this huge nineteen game series? The beginning of course, I wanted to see the roots of this storied franchise and how it all began. So I started up the NES virtual console and away I go.

Right away you are thrown into a vast world with no direction at all, I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going, or what my goal even was. And that was a good thing, it gave me a break from all these modern day games which hold your hand through every little step. It felt like a sincere adventure, discovering different areas, figuring out what different enemies do, effective ways of combating them, and looking for what to do without the constant nagging from a companion that many games suffer from. Something else I noticed was that the game aged very well compared to other games in its era, Link handled well and the art style of the game and top down view actually look decent for being thirty years old. As a testament to the complete lack of direction this game has, it took me about an hour  until I actually stumbled upon the first dungeon, and the entire game only took me about six to seven hours to complete. I plan on writing a paragraph or two for each dungeon in future Zelda game write-ups but for the most part these dungeons were short and uneventful except for a select few. The third, sixth, and ninth dungeons in particular were memorable.

The third dungeon was not that difficult in the overall scope of the game, but it was a sharp spike in difficulty after how easy the first two dungeons were. This dungeon introduced two of the more annoying enemies in the game: the Darknut, and the Bubble. The Darknut was a swordsman enemy who carried a shield and could not be hit from the front. This was tough to deal with because of how random their movement was and how they could turn in any direction at the drop of a dime, by the time I could swing my sword, they would turn and block my attack and hit me for a heart of damage. The Bubble is an invincible enemy that moved erratically and instead of doing damage, they would disable your attacks, which was pretty frustrating when trying to fight Darknuts. Overall, it was not that bad but it was a taste of what was to come.

The sixth dungeon was by far and away the toughest in the game except for the last one. At least a third of my total deaths in this game come from this dungeon. This is where I first encountered the Wizzrobe, possibly my most hated enemy in any video game ever. These guys teleport around the room and shoot magic attacks at you which your Wooden Shield cannot block, so you need to spend 130 Rupees to get a Magical Shield to even stand a chance. They do a hefty amount of damage and you have to try to get to them and hit them before they teleport away, all the while dodging their magical attacks. Usually there is a ton of them in a room so it almost feels like a Bullet Hell game trying to weave in and out of the magic beams. Wizzrobes are the core reason why this dungeon is so tough, but there is another reason: the combo of the Bubbles and Like Likes. Like Likes are not a new enemy in this dungeon but become a real threat when paired with Bubbles. The reason being that Like Likes are typically slow moving and easy to defeat, however if they do manage to get on you, these god-forsaken stacks of pancakes will eat your Magical Shield. So the erratic and fast moving Bubbles disable your attacks and open you up to be swarmed by Like Likes which suck your 130 Rupee investment down the drain. And since you basically need the Magical Shield to deal with the Wizzrobes, it makes for a particularly tough dungeon.

The ninth and final dungeon of the game was extremely challenging. The Wizzrobe/Bubble/Like Like combo makes a return but is coupled with an extremely lengthy labyrinth. It’s not just a regular labyrinth either, it’s got plenty of hidden rooms and stairways the lead across the dungeon to make it even more complicated. On top of that, the only way to find your way around this dungeon is to bomb every single wall in hopes of finding the next room. Another difficult enemy joins the fray in this dungeon, the mini-boss known as Patra. It is a floating eyeball surrounded by seven smaller floating eyeballs that spin quickly around him. I just swung my sword wildly until all the little eyes were dead but it is a very narrow window whether or not you will hit them. Only after you defeat the little eyes can you defeat the big eye, trust me I tried to go past the little eyes to save some time, it did not work. When I got to Ganon I was pretty relieved that I found my way through that maze, but my hopes were dashed pretty quickly when Ganon turned invisible and started teleporting around the room. Essentially to defeat him I just ran around swinging my sword hoping it would connect. Even though I did hit him eventually I didn’t find the Silver Arrow which is needed to finish Ganon off so I needed to do it all over again, at least time I knew where I was going. Ganon was not the tough of a fight, but it did feel really random and I was just praying whenever I swung my sword it would connect, but hey, at least there were no Wizzrobes involved.

Overall the most enjoyable part of the game was the pure sense of adventure and discovery in the overworld. The game rewarded you for figuring out its extremely cryptic and poorly translated text puzzles there was plenty of secrets to be found like Heart Containers, Potions, and the Blue and Red Rings. On the flip side there was also a ton of secrets that there is no way to find without either playing the game for hours or just looking it up (the entrance to dungeon seven comes to mind). While I did just write three paragraphs about why three specific dungeons irritated me at times, I still really enjoyed the challenge they provided. I said it before and I will say it again, this game aged extremely well. I spun up the game expecting to just be playing it as a homage to the rest of the series, but I was proven wrong and I was glued the screen for the six or seven hours that I played it. I only beat the first quest and there is a another quest to beat set in the same world, but I think I will come back to that at a later date. If you ever have a hankering for adventure, I highly recommend The Legend of Zelda (1986).