Friday, March 14, 2014

A few thoughts on A Link Between Worlds

After completing it the other day, I have this to say: remember how I used to say that top-down Zeldas just didn't do it for me as much as the 3D ones? Well, I might have to review my stance on that! LBW is the best of the bunch, no friggin' contest. And I can't put it down to just one thing, it's just a multitute of small factors that ended up piling up.

It's quite a feat when you think about it, considering just how much it borrowed from LttP. The overworld's the same as ever, the music also is (not that it's a bad thing, mind you!)... but I was surprised to find out that so was Lorule compared to the Dark World. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting Dark World Mk II. The same areas in the same places, often with the same names (except for the Swamp of Evil and the Village of Outcasts, which were named after the dungeons that were in those areas in LttP)... but wait, the locations of the fire and ice dungeons were reversed! WHAT A TWIST! But the fire dungeon's still named Turtle Rock, despite being in another corner of the map.

It may sound like I'm being all negative here, but things actually DO feel different from what they were in LttP, despite the striking resemblance. There are more things to do, for one thing. Nintendo is the undisputed master of taking old stuff and make it feel new, and nowhere is this as glaringly obvious as in LBW. I feel many people have been unfair in their assessment of this game, outright calling it a "remake" (sometimes before even having entered the Eastern Palace)... and while it seems rather close to that in appearance, it really IS a full-fledged sequel. I guess another thing Nintendo's good at (factoring in its subsidiaries, considering the example I'm about to use) is blurring the line between sequel and remake - just look at Pokémon Black/White 2.

I must say, I found the idea of doing the dungeons in any order you please (barring the Desert Palace, which must be done after the Thieves' Hideout) very interesting. The fun part is that if this game stuck to the classic formula of "find item in dungeon, then use it a whole bunch for the rest of the game", it wouldn't have been possible. The mechanic of renting and buying items is what made that possible, and it made for a refreshing change of pace (as well as a fantastic rupee sink). I wasn't so sure when I heard about it before getting the game, especially with the seemingly outrageous prices, but playing it definitely convinced me (that, and rupees are incredibly common anyway).

The best part is, even if there are no "dungeon treasures" in the traditional sense, like the bow, the hammer or the Hookshot, there are still items to acquire in them that will make your journey much easier, meaning that they still gave you a reason to do dungeons in this and this order. These items, aside from the Desert Palace's Titan's Mitt, are entirely optional (and can in fact be missed easily, especially the Master Ore in the Palace of Darkness). And even in the case of the Titan's Mitt, there's absolutely nothing stopping you from doing the Desert Palace last (though I wouldn't recommend it, considering all the things it opens up).

What I did, personally, was go through the Swamp Palace first to get the Blue Mail. Can't say no to instant 50% damage reduction! I then did the Thieves' Hideout to get a Master Ore and unlock the Desert Palace, where I then went to to grab the Titan's Mitt, which I used to find the second Master Ore needed to get the Tempered Sword and a whole bunch of Maiamais. After that it was off to the Palace of Darkness and the Skull Woods for the remaining Master Ores, then the Ice Ruins where the Stamina Scroll was, and finally Turtle Rock for the relatively useless Hylian Shield. Is there any special way you tackled the dungeons, or did you just improvise the whole way through?

There is one problem with the ability to do the dungeons in any order, though: there's no real increase in difficulty as you go through them. You keep getting better and better gear, more and more hearts, and the dungeons don't get harder, meaning they actually get easier in comparison. The one exception, in my opinion, would be the Ice Ruins, which took me a while to figure out. Always the freaking ice dungeons...

Speaking of difficulty, that's another minor complaint I have: there's just not enough of it. Even not knowing what was coming next, I still breezed through any combat situations (buying and upgrading the Fire Rod as soon as you're given the chance is a huge difference maker, admittedly). Including bosses. I never even came close to dying against any boss, not even the heavily watered-down Moldorm. (I'm not sure if the way it was hit with the nerf bat was a good thing for the game's balance, or just tainting its legacy and reputation as one of the most annoying bosses ever.) And of course by dying I meant "drinking a potion". Never did that either. I blame hearts being much more common than they were in the likes of LttP - and having full health now is more helpful than it was then, because even though the Tempered and Golden Swords were nerfed, the projectiles they shoot out at full health were buffed instead.

On the subject of death, the fact that you lose any rented items when dying really isn't a big deal considering how easy the game is, so buying the items for really high prices would honestly be an exercise in futility if not for the fact that you need to buy them to upgrade them. Which you really really should do. I'm not sure if it's by design, or if they really meant to sting you by losing rented items if you died, buf if it's the latter then they mucked it up.

Heck, you want to know how easy this game is? Wind Waker and Twilight Princess had 50-floor super-dungeons that were, in each case, the hardest part of the game, even when you were equipped with everything that could be found in the game. LBW tried its hand at this, and while it feels different with the small arenas, bottomless pits and frantic pace, it works well. Unfortunately, when I tried the highest difficulty (they were kind enough to give you the traditional heart piece for beating the INTERMEDIATE difficulty, which had only 15 floors), I had 20 hearts, the Red Mail, the Golden Sword, and every item fully upgraded, and at the end I still had over half my health. Yeah, the upgraded Tornado Rod and the Great Spin utterly break this place, but even with them, it was still my first time through, and I would've survived without a single potion had I had the Blue Mail instead. Yeesh.

But you know what? It's fine. Wind Waker was even easier than that, and I still rate that game very highly. While adequate difficulty definitely enhances the experience, it's not THE criteria. Or the second one. Or even the third.

One feature I did thoroughly enjoy, despite its possible contribution to said lack of difficulty, is the energy system. In most Zelda games you have a magic meter that you use up when using certain items, and you have to replenish it by finding magic pots at random. You also have a finite supply of arrows, bombs and what have you. Not here! In this game, when you use an item (even one that typically doesn't use up magic or run off a supply, like the hammer or the Hookshot), some energy is consumed, and it fills back up quite rapidly. Only if you start spamming an item very fast will you actually drain all of it. This allows you to be much more liberal with items than ever before, and if you play it right the upgraded Fire Rod can well become your primary means of offense - something that's utterly unthinkable in any game with a magic meter.

Another huge improvement over LttP is transportation. Back then, you could only quick travel in the Light World, but you could only do so once you reached the Dark World, and getting back there was more of a pain than it was worth. It wasn't THIS time-consuming, it was just a bit tedious is all. Here, the game takes a page off Majora's Mask's book (in one of the few things it did right, thankfully) by allowing you to quick travel to any save point you've encountered. Portals between worlds are much more numerous as well, which is quite convenient.

All this combines to make a very fun experience, definitely the best I've had out of any 2D Zelda game. Of course I could nitpick about the plot endlessly, such as how the hell can mere mortals destroy the essence of the gods, how come the Triforce can create more of itself, and my personal favorite, how desperate you have to be to entrust an obviously clinically insane Dragon that could already crush you like wheat beforehand with the task of obtaining the Triforce of Power and inhabiting Ganon's body. Suddenly the king of Hyrule trusting Ganondorf in OoT doesn't look so bad! But ultimately, as you know, I really don't care much for story in games, unless my intelligence is being insulted, which clearly isn't the case here, just minor nitpicks. At least they didn't bring back "the Master Sword sleeps again FOREVER!!!" from LttP, despite the exact same shot of it being laid to rest at the end being used., my, look at the time. Once again I didn't think I was going to write this much, but clearly I did. So I'm not holding you up any longer. Bye!


  1. I feel the exact same way as you about the game, it's definitely the best 2D entry and one of the best in the series, too. I can't decide whether I like ALBW or LttP better. My only complaint is, like most other people, the rental system. It worked well for what it was, yes, but I feel they could have worked the items in more organically and still allowed for the non-linearity of the game. For what it's worth, the 'dungeon items' that WERE in this game were very cool because they were actually useful, missable and required some thought.

    You're definitely right about the upgrade system. I actually did use the upgraded Fire Rod as my primary weapon for a good portion of the game, because I got it early and it kicks so much ass. It even made a comeback in the 50-floor challenge place, because the small, narrow rooms mean that you can clear out half of it in one go and give yourself some Great Spin space.

    Truly a fantastic game, better than Skyward Sword by miles in my opinion, and the kind of handheld Zelda we should have been getting all along with the DS.

    1. If you need Great Spin space, the Tornado Rod probably works better, because while it's not as damaging as the Fire Rod, it hits a way bigger area and stuns most enemies.

    2. True. I liked the Fire Rod in the rooms with soldiers in particular, though, because the strongest ones were always right in the middle. While the Fire Rod didn't often kill them outright, it manages to push them back so I can deal with the rest of the enemies. It was also incredibly useful in the dark rooms because it let me see what was in the room without even taking a step forward. All of those weapons that you can use from a standstill really come in handy when you're in a room with ice physics, which I'm sure you appreciated quite a bit, haha.

    3. Oh yeah. How many times was I close to the edge and just activated the Tornado Rod...

  2. I liked it a lot too, and I found it generally pretty easy as well. I only got really stumped for a good while at the Palace of Darkness. But even then, it wasn't because I kept dying... I was just having an hard time with the puzzles... and one key I just couldn't seem to find.
    After replaying LttP, I noticed that the one thing that made the combat so much easier is how the sword strikes hitbox is much more lenient. Also, the fact that you see for a brief moment where your spin attack will hit right as you charged it up helps a lot and actually made me use it quite often. While I just couldn't get the hang of the hitbox in LttP. So yeah, whether it's a good thing or not is subjective, but I'm okay with this. But they could have made some of the enemies more durable in return I guess. (Except Lynels. Screw those things.)

    ***SPOILER ALERT !!!***

    Some people were speculating that Lorule's Triforce of Wisdom actually belonged to Ravio and that Hilda had the Triforce of Courage instead. Not saying outright I agree with it, because it's just a theory, but it would be an interesting take that could explain their actions...

    1. Um, how could that happen if their Triforce was destroyed eons before the game's events?

    2. Hey, I'm not the one who made up that theory. Don't ask me. I guess they would have made up some crap about chosen ones being born even without the Triforce present... since it seems to be a bloodline thing as well.

    3. It's okay. The Zelda fanbase seems to be the champion for silly theories that don't hold much water.

      Right up until the point where they're made canon, that is.

    4. The reason why I think the theory is interesting is because it's true that Ravio's action were far from courageous (he basically ran away and let Link do all the dirty work of fixing his world) and saying Hilda would deserve the Triforce of Wisdom would be complete madness. But then again... Zelda's "wisdom" is arguably also questionable at some points.

  3. What'd you think of the music? I played this game from start to finish with some really high quality headphones, and I just about wet my pants when the post-Master Sword pull theme music came on. Same thing with the first time I heard the Lorule music. And the second Lorule theme. And Lorule Castle. And Death Mountain. And both of the final boss themes. And the end credit theme. Needless to say, I'm not entirely sure if I could pick just one piece that I'd qualify as best among them all.

    Oh man, I was SO worried that they got rid of the Hyrule Castle music in favor of that more royal sounding version that you hear in the beginning, and I was so incredibly happy once I came back after getting the Master Sword.
    Of all of the new pieces of music that were introduced for this game, I'd have to say Lorule Castle takes the cake. Out of the songs that were remade for this game, I don't think I could pick just one. Hyrule Castle turned out amazing, and I really liked what was done with Lorule's music, Death Mountain included.

    I'm surprised you didn't comment on the wall merging at all. I have to say, what looks like such a simple feature on paper really added a lot of gameplay depth for me. It was really quite cool.

    For my dungeon order, I did the thieves' hideout first, and after that I believe I tried to stick as close to the LttP dungeon order (as far as crystal numbers go) as possible. Embarrassingly enough, I got stuck early on in Turtle Rock because I was too stupid to figure out that I needed to use the Ice Rod on the see-saw platforms to keep them from moving. And strangely enough, I didn't get stuck in the Ice Palace my first playthrough, but when I played Hero Mode I got stuck at one point in the dungeon. I'm not sure how I can clear it easily once, and then forget how to clear it the second time soon after.

    Any of the Maimais give you trouble? There was one that hid from me for a long, long time. It's the one in the very bottom right corner of the map that you have to wallwalk around and find under a rock or bush, I can't remember which it is. Good lordy I could not find that one because I couldn't hear it when I was searching around that area.

    Whew, once you start talking about this game it's tough to stop. I guess my main point of all this is the music was absolutely amazing, and the gameplay was fresh enough to keep me entertained the whole way through. This is a definite 10/10 in my book.

    1. I guess I should specify that the Maimai I was talking about was in Lorule.

      Anyway, I wanted to bring up a complaint or two about the game. My biggest complaint, without a doubt, is that stupid baseball game being necessary in the sense that if you want all of the heart pieces, you have to play it. It felt WAY too random to me, and always took me over 10 tries to get the heart piece. My other complaint, same as you, would have to be the game just isn't that difficult, given the resources you have (hearts aplenty throughout the game, and not four, but FIVE bottles). Even in Hero Mode, the only real danger I faced was early on when you can only take one or two hits. I think that really hurt the replayability of the game, but I was so happy with my first playthrough that I couldn't really hold that against it. It's still a game I'll be able to replay once in a blue moon (same thing with games like Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid, LttP, FF8, things like that) just for nostalgia purposes. My last complaint is a bit of a


      even though I figure nobody would be reading this if they didn't expect them. I thought the whole Ravio thing was just dumb. The story of the game was pretty weak in itself, but a minor character who was just a money grubbing item hoarder ending up being what was supposed to be Lorule's hero just felt really dumb to me. Hilda's textbook betrayal I didn't have a problem with (even though I bet Link was fed AHP wit dis world) but the Ravio thing was really weird to me.

      Oh, one more minor complaint: those random hidden puzzle dungeon things. It was nice that there were some somewhat difficult puzzles hidden throughout the game. It was not nice that completing them only gave you 100-300 rupees, nor was it nice that on top of there being someone at the entrance that basically told you how to complete it, there were also sometimes pictures of the items you needed to complete it also. I think those places could have been a little more worthwhile if that's where they kept bottles or other random items.

      Okay, that's enough time I've spent talking about this game. It's just that good though.

      P.S. The Milk Bar music those two guys play for you is awesome. Listen to all of the different songs they play!

    2. Don't worry, it took me a while to figure out you could freeze those see-saw platforms as well. To be fair, it's not that obvious... but I'm okay with that.

      And I like to think of Ravio as a manipulating bastard. XD

    3. I realized you could do that completely by accident while fighting off Wizrobes with the Ice Rod, so it wasn't that bad.

      And I actually quite liked how well Ravio was done as a bizarro-world Link, being everything Link isn't aside from his equally good nature.

  4. I think Link Between Worlds is one of the best Zelda games in a long time, but saying it's better than Link to the Past is blasphemous to me. You just don't do that.

    1. Yeah, "better" just isn't strong enough of a word.