Saturday, March 1, 2014

Byte Sized Thoughts - The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

A Link Between Worlds sees Nintendo taking their green capped hero to new dimensions. The past couple of titles in the Legend of Zelda series have felt particularly bland but the latest title in the series has been given a fresh paint job and I have never been happier. In the latest game, we see our hero starting off in what has become quite the usual way, sleeping in bed while nefarious goings on are happening in the far reaches of his world. He is soon awakened and shortly after finds himself amidst a journey to save the world from an evil force. There are only so many ways to retell the same sort of scenario over and over again afterall but it’s really in the execution that it matters.

The past few titles in the series Nintendo hadn’t gone out of the way much to refining the game, but as the old colloquialism goes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” You can’t really fault Nintendo for this either, the games still sold hand over fist and even at their worst the games were still an enjoyable experience. With A Link Between Worlds, however, Nintendo really seems to have taken a step back from the series to re-evaluate what works and what doesn’t, snipping away at any trivial components that ultimately would not add to the experience of the game. The result is a boiled down Zelda game in it’s purest form.

Zelda games have always been about a few things in particular: exploration of the particular world you find yourself in, along the way gathering items and abilities that will aid in your quest, and of course the quest itself to save the princess and/or world. Story wise, this game doesn’t deviate much from previous titles, Hyrule is in trouble and Link must find a way to save the day. It’s in the exploration, items, and even the world itself that has been altered to better eschew Zelda into a new era. Previous titles would have Link travelling from dungeon to dungeon in a generally set order. You could easily have found yourself in a dungeon at some point unable to progress because you lack a certain item that must be obtained elsewhere. Or maybe you totally have everything you need, but halfway through the map you run out arrows or bombs and find yourself backtracking trying to farm more from some pots or grass.

In A Link Between Worlds these issues are no more. Without giving too much away, quite early into the game Link finds himself aided by a hooded stranger with every item needed to complete the game. It may sound strange being offered all the goodies up front but there’s a really interesting twist to the way that it’s designed. You have either the option of renting items for a small amount of rupees, agreeing forfeiture upon death at any point in the game. Or, you can save up for a bit and outright purchase any item you want. Either way is a completely valid option for completing the game in any order you please. The second refinement to items is in how inventory is handled, gone are the days of going out searching for bombs should you run out; or having to upgrade the bomb pouch just to carry more around in effort to not run out as frequently. Instead, you are given a replenishing item bar that acts as your inventory as well as your magic. You shoot an arrow or use a magic wand and a small amount of the bar is drained but then quickly refills. This creates gameplay that feels more quickly paced and in turn creates less panic when in the midst of a battle and you realize you only have two arrows left. If it were just for these two mechanics, the game would already be leaps beyond anything that has come from the franchise as of late but Nintendo didn’t just stop there.

Because of the way items are now obtained in the game, dungeons that once were filled with a treasure that would inevitably be some deus ex machina needed to complete it are now filled with, well, actual treasure. The same dungeon map and compass treasures are still found within each new area you must explore but aside from that, any treasure you find is either going to be rupees (which feel they actually have value now, thanks to the item shop) or a rare item not truly needed to complete the game but can prove to be quite helpful. One such rare item is Master Ore, which when enough has been collected allow Link to upgrade his sword to more powerful levels. Along the way, you can stumble upon other such treasures in the dungeons as well as some nifty items outside, that again aren’t required for completing the game but can add some extra fun. Outside of these revisions, the game retains the same basic gameplay concepts of hacking and slashing your way through the world. You run around defeating bosses and unlocking your potential as hero of the world. You continue along the way until you are finally ready to take on the final baddy thus saving the day.

But like any Zelda game the world is beautiful and lively, with many not so little nods to the Hyrule of A Link to the Past in particular; it is the same Hyrule after all. The dungeons feel fresh thanks to the three dimensional aspect of the game creating more opportunity for the game to move vertically with more ease. The graphics, while not the greatest around are still charmful and vibrant, and again with many nods to games from earlier in the series. One thing that really stood out to me was the music though. Some of the music in this game was just downright beautiful, while other songs were jovial and festive, all of them a perfect fit within the series.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, I would say was the best game to come out of 2013 and to boot is a great look into where Nintendo might be developing future titles as well. One must think that if they had come this far for one of their handheld titles that surely the next game in the home console lineup must surely be full of surprises. I hope that they have truly found the magic again that makes this series one that will continue to stand the test of time.

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