Zelda games are basically drugs to me. I don’t know what it is about them exactly but they bring me right back to my younger years.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed as a kid with so much free time and so many video games to choose from: this is still the case now just as it was when I was a kid, except now with marginally less free time. But in the past 5 years or so I’ve been going through a massive backlog of games from my childhood that I never beat, several of the Zelda games being some of them.
Here are my thoughts on three of them, all of which I beat within the past 6 months, in absolutely no order at all, as far as you know.
Oracle of Ages/Seasons
It might be considered blasphemous to some to put these together, but since they came out at the same time and had some similarities, it’s just easier this way. What amazed me about these two games is that, while they did come out at the same time, they played very differently. Nintendo (or Capcom, as it just so happens) could have simply mixed things up, changed the worlds, the puzzles, an item or two, and called it a day. Instead, you had Ages which focused primarily on the puzzles, and Seasons was centered more around action.
I found my original Ages came cartridge about a year ago, inside the GameBoy SP which I had also just found, and decided I was going to play through it. And man oh man what a trip it was. Although the ‘traveling through time’ element wasn’t quite revolutionary at the time (for Zelda games, specifically), the puzzles more than made up for it.
On the other hand, you have Seasons. Changing the seasons was absolutely a blast in that gorgeous ‘GameBoy Color’-esque palette. I remember thinking to myself, “boy, did they really have to design each tile of this huge map 4 times for each season? That must have been a huge pain in the ass!”
But when I finally got it switched to Winter for the first time, I recall brimming with excitement that I can finally cross the now-frozen pond to get the heart piece on the island. Or changing the season to Summer and seeing a dried up lakebed, realizing that I can now get into an underwater cave that was flooded in the spring. These little changes from season to season gave you 4 different worlds to explore. And that was just amazingly impressive to me.
I instinctively want to put Ages slightly ahead because Zelda is about puzzles to me, after-all, but the inner beauty of Seasons is what steals the show for me, officially.
This link has a great example of a tile in the world of Holodrum and how it changes throughout the four seasons. It still amazes me just how many unique characteristics they managed to cram into each tile on a huge map. And all of it fit on a cartridge the size of the palm of your hand!
As I mentioned in a previous post, my relationship with this game started out pretty well, then sort of went south, then went stale and was long forgotten. Until a few months ago, after modding my Wii, I was able to secure a copy of TP for the GameCube. Memories of flailing my arms around like I was battling a swarm of Japanese hornets were now distant – my future with Link only involved a controller. Sweet!
Here’s one thing I forgot about this game – it is LONG. At the end of it I had logged about 45 hours into it, and that was collecting nearly everything in the case, minus the Heart Pieces. But all those bugs? Yeah baby. Caught every last one. Didn’t even use a guide. Eat it.
The dungeons in this game were nothing short of perfection. While dungeon design and mechanics has never been a weak point for the series, the tradition of finding Item A in a dungeon and Item A being exactly what you need to finish the dungeon still feels rewarding. The fact that you need to use items from your arsenal in future dungeons and not just the dungeon you found it in is very supportive for dungeons to increase in difficulty as you progress through the game. This pleases me.
Going back to the dungeons though, specific to Twilight Princess, I just wanted to express how much I adored Snowpeak Ruins, or as it could be known, “the quest for soup.” It didn’t even feel like a dungeon, honestly, as much as it felt like some epic side quest. The ‘Ball and Chain’ weapon was satisfying to use to bash things open as much as it was to spin around, decimating everything around you.
And the Arbiter’s Grounds? Don’t even get me started on the Spinner. That thing was incredible. Hands down coolest Zelda item ever. I’ve actually had dreams where I had one of those in real life and all the walls were laced with those divots that you “hook in” to and cruise around on at 50mph. Blasting around maps has never felt so cool.
If there was one thing that got a little stale, it was the tear collection that occurred between each dungeon. But even that stayed mildly interesting, enough to not make me want to put the controller down until I was done. They managed to turn it into a little story, rather that just sending you on a fetch quest. And that says a lot about a game when even I have the patience to finish semi-repetitive parts.
One thing that always amazed me with Zelda games is that no space is wasted. Exploration is almost always rewarded, and usually not in the way you would expect. Sure, maybe checking behind a tree would yield a hidden alcove that lead to a heart piece. Or perhaps it’s a hole in the ground, that leads to a huge multi-floor labyrinth where you’ll need to fight to survive 50 floors of monsters, to finally get that heart piece. It really made you work for everything. But I had just as much fun exploring every nook and cranny of the outside world as much as I did talking to every single person in Castle Town.
And while we’re speaking of endless hours of exploration.. let’s finish this extremely long-winded and rambly piece by discussing…
…The Wind Waker!
I think this game can be best summarized by comparing it to a bad relationship that had some really high points, really low points, and then in the end you remained good friends. Truth be told, that’s never happened to me so I’m making some assumptions here, but if Hollywood’s taught me anything it’s that this shit happens all the time, so I’m sticking to my comparison.
Wind Waker is a really big mixed bag for me. There are times when I said “this is the best Zelda game ever,” and there were times when I said the opposite. I had some really enjoyable nights beating this only a few months ago, originally having bought it upon release on the GameCube many years ago, only to give up halfway between collecting all the bloody Triforce shards.
Now before anyone jumps down my throat, I understand that exploration was what they were going for here. I felt it was decently rewarded. Not Ages/Seasons or TP-tier of rewards, but close enough. Everyone knocks the sailing, which, yeah, was a tremendous pain at times. I honestly felt like half my time playing the game was spent watching Link wave his Wind Waker, or staring at the back of a red boat as it chugged along.
The trade route, let’s talk about the trade route. Trade routes and side quests have been a staple of Zelda since the beginning, and the problem with having a trade route in a game like this is that you’re basically sailing back and fourth. Specifically, in between three islands, about a dozen times, giving the next trader a flower, then getting a flag, trading the flag, getting a different flag, etc. It was extremely tedious and not fun at all. The only reason I did it was because I wanted to be done with the game. 100% done, I mean. And that meant doing every last thing so I would never have to do it again.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that Ocarina of Time probably had the best trade route in any game, ever. And the prize at the end was great and you worked your ass off for it. But you felt rewarded.
That being said, the whole PictoBox quest line was wicked cool. I really enjoyed interacting with the locals, who seemed much more alive rather than just ‘behind the scenes’ animated mannequins. This made up for the shortage of dungeons, something which became very, very obvious as the days went on and I hadn’t seen anywhere inside in seemingly hours. I looked into it more, and my hunch was right. Aside from some short dungeons, there were really only four large-scale classic dungeons. This bothered me. I think it also explains why I love the GameBoy lineup of Zelda games so much. All of them had so many dungeons and they were all a blast.
I recently stumbled upon a speedrun of Wind Waker HD, a game who’s existence of which I was completely unaware, and I was tickled to hear that they made a lot of improvements to make the overall gameplay faster. Evidently you can buy a ‘Swift Sale’ at the auction house on Windfall Island, which removes the tedious process of having to change the wind direction every 5 minutes. It also shortened a lot of the animations and made the game feel better. I watched a several hour speedrun and just witnessing it being played was enough to convince me: if you plan on playing Wind Waker, get the HD remake!
Anyway, The Legend of Zelda series has been a staple in my life since I was a kid and I have a lot to say on it. Unfortunately I have some weird issues with talking in-depth about Zelda in real life, so using this blog as my outlet has some sort of therapeutic value, I’m sure. So few of those games have been disappointing to me and I just keep going back to them.
Currently I’m in the midst of Majora’s Mask and I’ve put Skyward Sword to the side for now until I can come to terms with the fact that motion controls are here to stay.
Thanks for reading – more to come later in the next installment.