Saturday, July 22, 2017

Kirby Concert Available For Streaming on NicoNico (Limited Time!) (Hey Poor Player)

It's been two days and I still can't get over it: I watched a Kirby concert!! I may not have been there, but thanks to the benevolence of NicoNico, I got see an incredible livestream I keep watching again and again.

In particular, that part with Kirby on-stage, the entire hall singing Happy Birthday to him, him begging for cake ("ke-ki!") is just...just too cute for words! Ah, for that alone, I demand a DVD release! A CD would be just fine, too; it's not that I don't expect one, but this moment must be immortalized for all time.

If I had to pick three of the best suites, they would be ones for Kirby's Adventure, Air Ride and Triple Deluxe. While I was sad Rainbow Resort didn't make the cut for the Kirby's Adventure medley, Grape Garden took its place as the gentle lullaby quite wonderfully, and the whole suite was just as sugary sweet and nostalgic as the original game! Meanwhile, Air Ride and Triple Deluxe were delightfully bombastic, and it was delightful to witness Shogo Sakai conducting the former! (By the way, I bungled my Japanese when I reached out to him on Twitter afterwards, ahaha. Thankfully, he was quite polite about it!)

Needless to say, you must watch this! Immediately! Now! If you can't, then join me and the rest of the NicoNico commentators on hoping for a CD!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Super Mario 64

Dear reader, should you be the gaming type--and I'm assuming you are, considering you're reading a video game blog-- let me ask you this: if you could, would you take on the impossible task of playing a game forever? Personally, there would be far too many earthly pleasures to give up for such a venture: while the luxuries of drinking Welch's White Grape Juice and stroking cats could simply be delivered to me, the simple pleasures of taking afternoon walks, watching cat videos and reading weathered One Piece and Eyeshield 21 volumes would simply be too much to give up.

And yet, a number of games pop readily to mind. I remain endlessly entertained by Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, for example, and I've yet to grow bored of Splatoon even on the eve of its sequel. I've never tired of the cathartic seas found in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and my fascination with Bubble Bobble on my beloved NES Classic Mini hasn't ceased. I've lost count of how many times I've completed Star Fox 64 and Tales of Symphonia; in fact, I'm at the tailend of a playthrough for the latter right now.

All fine choices, but I wonder how they'd stack up to Super Mario 64, a game that is second nature to me. It is a game that invites me in the moment I see Mario's big goofy face pop up, ready to be stretched by the glove cursor. The moment I hear Koji Kondo's woodwind composition for the file select, I'm instantly drowning in nostalgia. When Peach's courtyard opens up to me, I'm already lost in a whirlwind of jumping, worlds locked away by magic paintings, and soaring across the sky with my Wing Cap.

Needless to say, I love Super Mario 64, the game not just responsible for bringing Mario to 3D but reinventing the gaming landscape as we knew it. It is not the first to do everything it does, but it is the first to do everything it does well: Mario's sense of control is pitch-perfect and yields endless experimentation, all complemented by how most of its environments subscribe to a wondrous sandbox philosophy. Even the oft-criticized camera was something of a marvel: for all the hyperbole critics spout in "fighting the camera" (which I must confess has never happened to me), there was nothing quite like panning the camera around Mario to soak in the world around you.

However, let us admit what perhaps the more nostalgic players won't: Super Mario 64 is a flawed masterpiece. A masterpiece that will continue to inspire video games for generations to come, but one that carries wear and tear by virtue of its own status. As admitted by even its own developers, Super Mario 64 is very much an experimental title in which Nintendo was still figuring out 3D design, and that's why more than a decent portion comes across as rudimentary, be it the easy-peasy boss design or some of its elementary objectives ("stomp on the Chain Chomp's post three times!")

When considering that, it's all the more a miracle it ended up being as amazing as it did. Mario 64's success lies in its new identity as a "sandbox" platformer: whereas Mario's previous 2D efforts involved timed jumping exercises and acrobactics, here we explore as according to the whims of our objectives and curiosities. Older fans of 2D Mario take issue with this direction in that it strays too far from their strict platforming philosophy, instead taking on an exploratory approach. While true, I cannot disagree more in it being a problem: the leap to 3D must require a different--if not still familiar-- avenue of play to stand out, and what better way to complement Mario's superb jumping skills than big, wide environments to hop around in?

And what better place to emphasize this than the very beginning? Yes, the courtyard of Princess Peach's Castle is something discussed in every Mario 64 review, but it simply must be analyzed. Everything when starting a new game changes the world of Mario henceforth: The princess introduces a letter via voiceover, her signature as "Peach" subtly bidding farewell to her North American name hitherto ("Toadstool"). A Lakitu holding a camera--our fourth-wall proxy as the game's own "camera"--soars around the castle's courtyard in glorious 3D. Finally, Mario emerges from his Warp Pipe, and is left to his own devices.

There's no time limit urging you forward, no enemies to squash. After a brief text box introducing the controls, you're left to soak in your surroundings. Experimentation is inevitable: you can jump, double jump, triple jump anywhere. You can climb those trees. You can swim in the moat. You examine the gated cannon, confused at its purpose. If you're particularly ambitious, maybe you'll try to jump and reach the top of the castle. By today's standards, it may seem dry and featureless, but the range and natural flexibility of Mario's moveset begs you to test everything in sight. What seems like a waste of time is somehow rendered a most imperative, fulfilling prologue.

Note the transition into the awe-inducing scope of Bob-omb Battlefield. The mountain in the distance beckons you; as it should, considering it's home to the Big Bob-omb boss. This is where every Mario 64 adventure begins: the game's progression system, which gates the doors of Peach's Castle behind a numbered Power Star limit, rewards said stars by tackling each world's set of missions, be it defeating bosses or collecting coins. They can be grabbed in any order, but only after the Big Bob-omb.

It is a bold shift from the previous Mario rule of play; barring the secret exits of Super Mario World, much of Mario's platforming antics urged towards the goal in one direction. Here, while the mountain does beckon you, the world's immense scope captivates just as the courtyard did minutes ago. Ask yourself: the first time you went here, did you stay on the path to the mountain, with its giant Chain-Chomp and tilting bridges and all, or did you walk off so you could punch that Goomba? I'll bet it's the latter, and Mario 64 continues to come to life via experimentation. For example, did you ever figure out how jump-kicking a Bob-omb from behind makes it explode? Ever try throwing a Bob-omb at the Chain Chomp to see what happens? What happens when you run around those wood pillars?

Nearly every world adheres to this philosophy: Shifting Sand Land, with its big pyramid, scalable pillars and fascinating enemies (perhaps tools?) in the form of Fly Guys, Crazed Crates and Tox Boxes (a favorite of Miyamoto's); Cool, Cool Mountain, decorated with slides, hidden teleportation and red herrings in the form of baby penguins; Hazy Maze Cave, home to intertwined passages and a playful sea monster; Wet-Dry World, constructed with water level-changing switches and an eerie Playskool-esque town, and Tick-Tock Clock, which employs a genius time-related gimmick to adjusting the difficulty for any one player's needs.

Needless to say, their uniquely distinct takes on the sandbox all fascinate, although not all are successes: Lethal Lava World always felt a tad haphazard to me, and the straightforward design of Dire, Dire Docks simply doesn't adhere to the type of game Mario 64 is. Only two misses in fifteen worlds is a mighty fine feat, however, and I'll defend every other one to the death. Rainbow Ride, for example, is another commonly-cited "bad" level due to the length of its carpet rides, but I ask its critics this: did you ever stop to turn around at the beginning? Like me, I bet you'll have your mind blown.

It's impossible for me to elaborate on more than one level without making this essay impossibly long, so let's go back to Bob-omb Battlefield for my next point: as you progress through the game, more each and every world becomes populated with new toys. Some of these serve obvious purposes: cannons, for example, gradually become available and must be shot out of to reach certain Stars. Others are more nebulous in their purpose, but are immediately understood upon function: maybe you'll find jumping on a Koopa will lodge it from its shell, and jumping on that reveals that, yes, you can ride it up that slope or all the up the mountain.

And then there's the Wing Cap, one of three available power-ups induced via cap. Introduced in a stunning special stage where Mario flies around the sky for Red Coins, its appearance in Bob-omb Battlefield leads to unparalleled highs: jumping three times to initiate flight doesn't score much air, but when combined from a cannon launch, we're sky-bound, zipping and soaring across the world. There's no time limit crippling our flight, no urgent objective forcing us to do it this way or that way: we're just having a good time.

It's here the true genius of Mario 64 unveils itself: you don't have to do the primary objective to have fun. Cynical critics dismiss these activities as pointless, but it was Shigeru Miyamoto's own wish for us to bask in this pointlessness: it compels us to keep trying different things, to strive us to do better in how we play the game. It asks us how far we could carry Big Bob-omb down the mountain, or grab all the coins in every level, or even if we can jump to the floating island with the Koopa shell. The open-ended design leads not just to intentional wonders like stumbling upon stars by accident; the game takes on new lives unforeseen by its own developer (as proof, here's a whole website dedicated just to the coin thing!).

So much of this has to do with how amazing Mario feels; by far Mario 64's greatest achievement are its physics, which render Mario a kinetic virtual action figure operable via triple jumps, wall jumps, long jumps, side jumps, dive jumps, and somersaults. As mentioned in the above developer interview, the physics don't necessarily follow our own laws, but the parameters within follow its own complex, yet accessible, rules that they feel real; in that, I'd perhaps argue I've never felt a game as precise in control as this one.

The "sandbox" direction of the game comes to life here: the physics and movesets provided are what develop our addiction in how are snappy and responsive they are, for it is they that convince us anything is possible to achieve. To the developers' own admission, they included more moves than necessary: you don't really need the slide kicks and sweepkicks, but they're so fun to pull you can't help but experiment.

Being the first successfully-crafted 3D game of its kind, however, predictably led to many unforeseen glitches, but these hardly negatively impact the game; in fact, they have only prolonged its longevity. You have the sequence-breaking trickery of the Backwards Long Jump, for one, and how it rockets across stairways to plow through locked doors. Meanwhile, the crafty player who carefully inspects the level design may recognize certain walls and ceilings possess fragile seams to slip through, and it is there they discover they can swim underneath Whomp's Fortress or Cool, Cool Mountain, or the shortcut in jumping through the stairwell of Peach's Castle.

(Actually, through the use of a GameShark device, I found one of my own: you know the spooky merry-go-round in Big Boo's Haunt? I discovered an unused steel paneling underneath it! Not that I discovered the way to get there without a cheat device, but hey, I don't know anyone else who bragged about finding it before 2004).

How impressive it is the pioneer of 3D gaming can grant such invention to the player! Yes, some of may be owed to programming oversights, but that they only serve the game's purpose renders it a sign of how strong the game's design and physics systems are. A poorly-designed 3D game initiates the frustrating tedium of falling through walls; the masterwork that is Super Mario 64 uses its missteps to let us bend the game's reality. Perhaps you could say I love these physics so much that you could plant Mario and these physics in any game --or really, any sort of 3D environment-- and I could spend the entire day just experimenting on what I can do (And if you really to delve into the love people have for the physics, check out this mind-bending TAS-evaluation of Mario 64 and its utilization of parallel universes).

But let us not forget the traps Mario 64 falls into within its own design philosophies. I mentioned before how rudimentary Mario 64 can sometimes come across in its gameplay elements, and the most obvious example is what I like to call "oddjob Stars," which typically don't involve much platforming or exploration at all but instead have Mario performing brief, menial tasks, be it riding itty-bitty lifts and elevators or solving some trivial, five-second puzzle (not that there aren't good puzzles, but there's a big difference in quality between Tiny-Huge Island's ambiguous "five secrets" and Big Boo's Haunt's "punch the five library books!".) Actually. this is actually a big reason why I've never been crazy about Lethal Lava Land: barring the volcano adventures, much of its stars can be earned in maybe thirty seconds, with two being nearly identical in knocking the horned Bullies into lava.

It's a good thing, then, that Mario 64 is so open; you don't even have to get these stars if you don't want to. Remember that you can grab any star in any order, and with only 70 stars necessary to complete the game, these oddjob stars are easily skipped. "But what about completionists," you may ask, and even then Mario 64's flexibility offers other solutions; just grab them alongside the 100 Coin Star, since those won't boot you out of the level. For every flaw presented, Mario 64 is flexible enough to provide a comeback, and that's how it seems so endless.

And if this is an endless game, then it's only fitting it'll pleasure our ears. Let us not forget this is the first officially-published Nintendo product to provide Mario's voice courtesy of Charles Martinet. The gruffness of Bob Hoskins or Captain Lou Albano he ain't, Mario is is now a jolly, affable fellow whose cries of "Mammia mia!" immediately grow on you. In a move wisely upheld over twenty years later, Mario hardly speaks in full sentences, instead relying on grunts and quick catchphrases, letting our own fun echo through his ecstatic yells (A shame the same can't be said for Leslie Swan's bookending role as Peach: while her introductory letter is fine, her actual, on-screen presence at the ending sorta proves the notion you shouldn't just grab people around the office to do voiceover).

Naturally, series composer Koji Kondo must be at the top of his game for his N64 debut. Whereas his later efforts in Star Fox 64 and Zelda: Ocarina of Time may've suffered from low-quality samples here and there, there's not a speck of that to be found here; look no further than the infectiously bouncy Main Theme that plays for Bob-omb Battlefield and other field-esque areas (Believe it or not, I never noticed it was the game's leitmotif--as in, it echoes through the winter and slide themes--until maybe eight years ago!)

Meanwhile, even if the water levels aren't among the game's strongest, the music may certainly grant the illusion that they are. Dire, Dire Docks is one of the great underwater Nintendo themes, recognizing that an exploratory game requires a slow, meditative accompaniment. It's little wonder this beautiful composition is often cited as players' association with nostalgia, although the aforementioned File Select theme may be a serious contender: both do have a knack for absorbing us into sweet, sweet childhood reverie.

Of course, we do hear reprises here and there: the infamous Starman theme from the first Super Mario Bros. is rearranged much the same way it was in Yoshi's Island the year prior, granting a soaring motif that wonderfully expresses flight. Meanwhile, the famous Underground Theme remixed for Hazy-Maze Cave/Wet-Dry World is perhaps my favorite iteration of all, if only for the eerie, aural segue that plays as you delve deeper into their respective areas: it channels a level of unsettling loneliness and mystery never before--and hereafter-- expressed in Mario, one I remain fascinated by in its expression of dismal hopelessness.

This same bleakness is echoed within Bowser's Road which perhaps rivals Super Mario World's Castle Theme as the best of the evil king's lair themes. By far the darkest these themes have ever gone, its disheartening percussion conveys the linear natures of the level, shuffling Mario ahead to his inevitable confrontation with Bowser. Given how the game's spooky, hypnotizing skyboxes are at their most prominent here, the song alone feels massive enough to swallow the poor plumber whole.

The aforementioned flaws of Super Mario 64 still exist: the localization feels more than a little unnatural ("Oh, Bowser is so wicked!" cries Princess Peach in a written message), the emptiness of Peach's Castle does require some suspension of disbelief, and the usage of the Vanish Cap fits squarely into the rudimentary oddjob Stars I mentioned earlier. I imagine there are other things that slip my mind.

But none of these matter: the realization that Mario 64 becomes a blank slate we can wash off again and again, to keep trying more and more to mine whatever else we can of something so ancient is a glorious testament to Nintendo's design ethic. Future open-ended endeavors in Pikmin 3, Star Fox 64 and Zelda: Breath of the Wild may have surpassed what Mario 64 began, but I can hardly think of any other Nintendo game that breaks free of its own objective and takes on a new life in juggling sandbox play, glitches and speedruns; in a way, Mario 64 become a way of life, a state of being that continually evolves through time.

Even now, I still can't stop stretching Mario's 3D face into abominable proportions at the game's opening screen; to tell the truth, I only found out the other year you can freeze the animations, thus heightening the absurdity. Revelations like this make me keep asking: how far can this game go? Does this mean Luigi will ever be found in the game? Probably not, but I still can't help but try until the end of time.

Unless, of course, my phobia for the eel in Jolly Roger Bay sparks up again. Zoinks!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 51 ~Main Theme~ (Star Fox)

Origin: Star Fox
Plays In: Credits
Status: Original Composition
Composed By: Hajime Hirasawa

The SNES Classic Edition -- it's been two weeks since its announcement, and it's all I've been able to think about. It's the first time Star Fox and Yoshi's Island will be officially available via emulated form. I've been checking the listings on Amazon and Best Buy every day in scant hopes I'll be able to pre-order. Thoughts and prayers are sent out to the universe every day that we'll see these games unfiltered, just like the glorious NES Classic Mini before it. (My kingdom to have a bright, unglitched Kirby Super Star!) An equal amount of thoughts and prayers sent out in hopes I'll secure one.

Most of all, I think about how we will witness the very first release, to my memory of a cancelled game in Nintendo history: Star Fox 2.

Needless to say, I'm psyched. I mentioned this in the above article, but while prototype ROMs have leaked online since way back, it's been confirmed by Dylan Cuthbert himself that it's not the final game. Finally, after twenty-two years, the completed vision he, Katsuya Eguchi, Takaya Imamura and the rest of the staff will be shared with the world, be it the never-before-seen planet Eladard or the first real appearance of Star Wolf and the Arwing Walker mech.

What's most exciting about this is that Star Fox 2 is a Super Nintendo game. Think about that: we're going to see an unseen, completed title from Nintendo's Golden Era all these years later! What better era for a game lost to time to hail from! Too cool.

Some may say the original Star Fox hasn't aged well, but I personally can't disagree more. Sure, I agree Star Fox 64's score-attack design lends to more depth, but look past the original's dated look and you'll discover an incredibly competent shoot-'em-up; in fact, maybe you'll realize the basic polygonal design lends it a unique immersion all on its own.

And that's not even getting into the soundtrack, which is basically my main point for this article: Hajime Hirasawa created one of the SNES's greatest soundtracks in Star Fox, with the likes of Corneria, Sector Y and the Main Theme --the song featured in this installment-- impeccably blending rock and orchestral together into aural gold. Sadly, however, he didn't return for Star Fox 2, and instead Kozue Imakawa (The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening) and Yumiko Kanki (F-Zero) picked up where he left off.

Thanks to the leaked ROM, songs have been uploaded on YouTube and such, and taking a quick look reveals they're solid efforts. However, I can't help but shake the feeling they won't surpass Hirasawa's efforts. Such is the power of nostalgia, you may see, but to my mind Star Fox hosts one of the very best SNES soundtracks, and on a console as amazing as Super Nintendo, that's already a very hard distinction to make.

Therefore, the only logical answer to is to approach Star Fox 2 on its own merits; naturally, we'll all end up deciding which game is better, but there's surely strengths to it that the original cannot measure to. In the end, not only will Star Fox 2 likely bring some quality to what's an infamously imbalanced franchise, but it is confirmation Nintendo is still interested in continuing the series. I'm looking forward to it!

Final Thoughts: By the way, I really do wonder if Faye and Miyu, the two lost female characters, will make their way into future Star Fox entries now that Star Fox 2 is coming? I'd rather see them than Krystal, that's for sure.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

ARMS Review (Hey Poor Player)

ARMS is pretty neat, although its flaws are more evident than Nintendo's other recent debuts. We'll see how Nintendo's future support improves the game, but as it stands, it's still worthwhile.

As far as other blog-related stuff goes...since I had most of my week off from work, I did want to use it to write out a review I've wanted to do since forever, but this article and other priorities overtook it; actually, I still haven't even done my E3 impressions yet! At this rate, that may not become a reality... I'll give it my all this weekend!

Oh, and I've been neglecting to update my game journalism section in The Archives, haven't I? I'll get right on that.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Metroid Prime 4 and Metroid: Samus Returns: What They Mean (Hey Poor Player)

This took longer than I expected! I had a crazy busy weekend, and I was only able to squeeze out this just last night...oh well.

Anyway, this contains pretty much all my thoughts on the Metroid games announced at E3. I'll go in-depth into everything else this weekend instead, but before that, you can expect a Hey Poor Player review this week!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 50 ~Main Tunnel~ (Metroid II: Return of Samus)

Origin: Metroid II: Return of Samus
Plays In: Main Tunnel
Status: Original Composition
Composed By: Ryoji Yoshitomi

Where do I even begin with this E3? The pseudo-3D sequel to Yoshi's Woolly World? The "best-of" approach to the new Kirby Switch game? The remake of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga that comes packed with a hilarious sidestory? The genuine, infectious passion behind Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, which is as unpredictable as the concept itself? The DLC for Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which I desire to play this very instant? The explosion of ideas, presentation and joy that is Super Mario Odyssey, which I believe without a doubt will be GOTY?

Well, I think my selection for today speaks for itself. Out of all the wonderful announcements and previews from yesterday, there was nothing more exciting, blissful and cathartic than the news of not one, but TWO new Metroid titles: Metroid Prime 4 and Metroid: Samus Returns. As a fan of the original Prime trilogy, I let out something resembling an inhuman scream of joy upon the announcement for the former, so that should tell you how excited I am for that.

But more than that, has anyone else picked up on how much this mirrors Metroid's previous hiatus? Think about it: both Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion --home console and handheld games, respectively-- were announced in roughly the same time period many years after the last installment, Super Metroid. Now, we have yet another home console and handheld Metroid duo announced, one again, some time after the last main installment, Metroid: Other M. Kooky, right?

Except there's one, big difference between the two situations: Super Metroid is regarded even today as an all-time masterpiece, whereas Metroid: Other M is perceived as the game that killed the series. The vitriolic reaction to last year's Federation Force spin-off only cemented that unfortunate -- perhaps even certain -- perception, and all seemed lost for the Metroid faithful.

That both 2D and 3D Metroid are returning after such a slump, however, proves one thing: Nintendo still believes there is a future for the franchise. The Metroid games remain some of the finest adventures the company has ever produced, with one of the most passionate fanbases I've ever witnessed. The lack of games in-between Other M and Federation Force prove that Nintendo was, indeed, burned by the former's reception, but it was that very same passion that made them give the series a second chance: we criticized those two games not just because they weren't what we wanted, but because we love the series so much and know the Metroid teams at Nintendo could do a better job.

And what better way to show goodwill by revitalizing the series with Metroid Prime sequel and a 2D remake? Metroid: Samus Returns is particularly fascinating; it's no secret Nintendo's older games for NES and Game Boy are difficult for newer fans to appreciate, with their high difficulty and ugly graphics. Having played through Metroid II: Return of Samus once on 3DS, I can certainly see why Metroid fans of today could be put off: just like the NES game, it's very easy to get lost, and the monochrome graphics aren't very pleasing. A remake with 3D graphics is the perfect decision, especially when you're bringing back a beloved franchise!

Question is, how much will the music be improved? Readers unfamiliar with the game will undoubtedly recognize how amazing the game's Main Tunnel theme is, but the rest of Metroid II's music is rather...underwhelming, to say the least. Much of it is just bleepy, bloopy ambience as opposed to that one theme's strong melody, and it grates on the nevers rather quickly. I know I was deflated when I realized that was the case; that tunnel music is just so damn cool!

Thankfully, signs indicate we're in for an audio treat.  For starters, Nintendo certainly seems proud of the game's music, as they're offering a 25-song soundtrack with the game's Special Edition. While watching the game on Nintendo's Treehouse, I also noticed several sound effects and even a music track (Magmoor Caverns) lifted directly from Metroid Prime; does this mean Kenji Yamamoto is helming the game's music?

Regardless, I know I'm ready for a new age of Metroid. And needless to say, I'm hardly alone.

Final Thoughts: Oh, that reminds me: I'll be discussing my thoughts on Nintendo's E3 this weekend, alongside a new Hey Poor Player article on this very subject! Look forward to it.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Worldly Weekend: Kingdom Hearts (PS2)

Note: Please excuse the imbalance of quality for screenshots here; for whatever reason, viable screenshots of earlier PS2 game are especially hard to find. 

Dear readers not familiar with Kingdom Hearts, I implore you to look, just look, at the cover above. Yes, that is Goofy and Donald Duck of Disney fame chilling in the moody, moonlit sky alongside three anime teenagers. Their normally-cheery faces are now solemn, decorated with such wistful melancholy that does away with their kid-friendly personas, evoking an aura of maturity never before displayed to the public eye.

Needless to say, Kingdom Hearts was one of the most bizarre debuts of the PS2/GC/Xbox era, and yet somehow it ended up being one of the most beloved. A collaboration between Disney and famed RPG developer Squaresoft (now Square-Enix), the 2002 action-RPG's outlandish concept of pitting Disney icons and zipper-laden, key-wielding adolescents against Disney villains in command of heart-harvesting shadows--a tale bookended by Hikaru Utada pop songs, mind--is so uniquely ludicrous that it demands your attention. But why?

My theory? By framing itself as a "darker" take on Disney, Kingdom Hearts ropes in the nostalgic RPG player who once associated with their films in early youth. I am no exception to this: the game was responsible for restarting my fervent following in Disney animation, the soundtrack never left my CD player and I clocked out the "Hours Played" stat in the course of a year. Since then, my association with Kingdom Hearts has floundered over the years: it birthed as an obsession that required a near-intervention, followed by a burning hate that wanted nothing more to do with the series, and am now settled as a casual fan who partakes in it like the finest of junk food.

And yet throughout all three phases, it's never ceased in fascinating me. While presented with the prestige of a typical Square title, what's stunning about the original Kingdom Hearts is despite being in possession of highs unique to the series, it consists of a shockingly embarrassing balance between being a professional AAA product and sloppy, freshman-effort design. This imbalance provides an ever-shifting sense of quality, from irredeemably awful lapses in gameplay (most anything involving the Gummi Ship) to moments that achieve the masterpiece status it desperately wants to be (Yoko Shimomura's score, tied with Super Mario RPG as her absolute finest work).

Needless to say, these flaws undermine any pretentious ambitions Kingdom Hearts prides itself on accomplishing, right down to the menu trailer being accompanied by an orchestrated Utada cover. However, they don't necessarily undermine that it's fun to play; actually, just playing it reveals a pretty great game underneath all its flubs. At its core, Kingdom Hearts is a competent work that's in a constant tug-and-pull to prove its own worth: where one element fails, something else is almost guaranteed to instantly pick it up.

What better place to start than the world design? In that case, the Alice in Wonderland segment is absolutely the finest example; like, what's going on with the Queen's Castle courtroom? Are technical limitations are what's behind it literally being shaped like a box, or are the castle and its courtyard being painted on a wall a stylistic choice much like her painted roses? I mean, I'd have to guess it's the former, considering it didn't look anything like that in the movie. And that's hardly the end of it: what's behind the Mad Hatter and the March Hare pantomiming from a painting? Last I checked, they were alive and well, yet their ghastly 2D expressions are needlessly confusing and creepy.

Needless to say, it's something of a contextual mess even by the standards of the source material, and yet gameplay-wise, it is absolutely deep. Echoing the absurdity of the 1951 classic, characters grow in size, furniture pops out of walls, and even falling down that hole can reverse all sense of direction. Likely the first world players will encounter, it's impressive just how much there is to uncover within such a relatively confined area, especially when considering the gradual acquisition of new abilities (can you say, gliding?).

 One of the aforementioned unique highs of the original Kingdom Hearts is a vital touch the sequels sadly dropped: coming to life via interaction. The individual Disney worlds aren't merely levels to be cleared, but can poked around to one's pleasure. There's a veritable amount of little touches, be it Jane's camp experiments in Tarzan's Deep Jungle, the 1:1 recreation of Winnie the Pooh's house in the 100 Acre Wood, or the gift-granting clocks of Peter Pan's Big Ben. Make no mistake: the weird de-emphasis on NPCs outside the films' casts has the eerie side-effect of portraying the worlds as deserted Disney theme parks (a problem that'll only continue to grow, as we'll eventually learn in later entries), but in terms of gameplay, they never feel more alive than here.

It goes to show just much love Square put into the worlds, even if the actual platforming is a little clunky. Yes, jumping and poking around nooks and crannies is pretty fun, but not so much when you're forced into most other alternate means of movement, be it swimming or climbing. Some are better than others: as expected, soaring over Captain Hook's Ship and around Big Ben is a blast, whereas the stiff vine-swinging in Deep Jungle do all but fail to undermine the density of Tarzan's home. In this regard, The Little Mermaid's Atlantica ends up the game's one true stinker; no, it's not the commonly-cited swimming controls that are the problem, but rather that it's an in-navigable mess that not even the wall-carved trident markers can solve.

Combat, too, presents an interesting juxtaposition of quality: there's the magic, for one, and how it ranges from the absolutely vital (Cure and Aero) to the absolutely useless (summons, which barring Tinker Bell are either too gimmicky or too weak to be worthwhile). Meanwhile, the aforementioned clunky platforming can't help but intrude upon some of the game's flashier boss setpieces -- namely, the second phases for Jafar and The Nightmare Before Christmas's Oogie Boogie -- and they're never not especially tedious.

It's good thing, then, the physical side of things remain the very best the series has to offer. While Sora's antics with the Keyblade are hardly as flashy as in later entries, the relatively grounded combat grant such weight to every strike, and it's not long until addiction sets in. In enduring through such grit, one will discover everything from the MP feedback to countering for tech points lends to a deep combat system. (And that's not even mentioning the scenic boss fights that do work: the second phase against Ursula the Sea Witch -- a heart-pounding torrent of rampaging thunder and currents -- is by far the game's most thrilling, demanding a constant influx of dodging and healing/defensive spells as you constantly fight against the currents)

And compounding upon that is just how well the animation's held up. Hailing from the early age of the six generation of games, it's amazing how Square nailed the look and feel of Disney, especially when they had be paired with their own Final Fantasy-esque designs. (Or even just straight-out cameos, like when Final Fantasy VII's Cloud Strife participates in the Hercules scenario) The Disney characters are appropriately fleshy and colorful, whereas the original settings of the ever-nocturnal Traverse Town and the dreamy, stained-glass abyss Sora visits at the game's beginning appeal to our inner nostalgia. (But we'll get into how that works later.)

The Nightmare Before Christmas segment and the Heartless creatures stand out as the visual highlights, albeit for different reasons. The former is obviously the one exception to the "fleshy and colorful" rule above, instead adhering to the film's blend of grimly whimsy. Between its tasks of bringing claymation characters to life, fitting Sora, Donald and Goofy with appropriately spooky outfits (Goofy's claws and screw-to-head lobotomy being the star attraction) and recreating the grimy landscapes from the original film, it's a visual feast that's unique all to its own, even within a premise as bizarre as this. Meanwhile, the Heartless' animal-like animation is a wonder to watch as they fidget about and stalk your party, all the while flailing around with every hit from your Keyblade.

Which is all the more shocking that this is mostly within the confines of gameplay; when actually watching Kingdom Hearts try to tell a story with its cutscenes, it's more than a little technically inept. I mean, what's with the awkward three-second pauses between character dialogue? The clunky transitions between voiced and text sequences, the latter of which gives the scriptwriters an excuse to fill them with base-level prose? The even clunkier shifts between animated faces and pixel mouths, which just...well, look at poor Peter Pan below to see what I mean.

The imbalance of quality here is honestly distressing when considering the highs it reaches; just look at the very first launch of Donald and Goofy's Gummi Ship: the comedic timing, animation and mannerisms all perfectly match that Disney touch, with animatronic gloves plopping a hapless Goofy and a not-too-happy Donald inside their vessel and capping off with a blink-and-you'll-miss-it lift-off. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have Terk -- the Rosie O'Donnell gorilla from Tarzan -- dropping a Gummi piece as if she pooped it out, or how it just plain gives up when, due to plot reasons, Donald and Goofy momentarily break away from Sora in a shockingly abrupt, hurried scene that's supposed to be presented as if it's a difficult choice, but it just makes them look like total assholes. (This isn't even getting into how often they just stand there in reaction-demanding developments, a betrayal of their typically-animated hi-jinks)

Which reminds me: there's also the actual story itself, which...look, I like what it's trying to do. I enjoy partaking in abridged versions of Disney films or the occasional original take, carefully being fitted into its inventions of Heartless and missing friends. I enjoy the absurdity of Disney characters participating in this bizarre new mythos, be it the likes of Donald Duck serving as my mage, Aladdin and Peter Pan joining my party with their unique blend of skills and spells, and waging spectacular boss fights against Maleficent and Captain Hook. What I do not enjoy, however, is watching their respective stories be stumbled not only by clunky cutscenes but to a stumbling script that's clearly not all there. Read the following exchange between the protagonist, Sora, and the mysterious cloaked man he encounters early on and spot where it trips up.

Sora: "Wh-who's there?"
Cloaked Man: "I've come to see the door to this world."
Sora: "Huh?"
Cloaked Man: "This world has been connected."
Sora: "Wh-what are you talking about?"
Cloaked Man: "Tied to the darkness...soon to be completely eclipsed."
Sora: "Well, whoever you are, stop freaking me out like this. Huh? Wh-where did you come from?"

Did you just catch how Sora practically asks him the same question twice, the second instance echoing the first as if he's meeting him for the first time? There is nothing in between each instance to warrant this, and it's woefully clumsy. There are other such instances littered here and there throughout the script, and even if we could chalk one or two of them up to inevitable lapses in localization, that can hardly excuse what happens above.

Let us praise Kingdom Hearts' story for one thing: it doesn't disappear up its own asshole like the convoluted mess the series evolved into, as the lore and heartwarming themes involved present just the right amount of intrigue. The problem, however, is that it fails on various levels of thematic purpose, be they relying on messages far too sugary-sweet for the story it's trying to tell ("Believe in yourself!"), don't really make sense ("With Donald and Goofy at my side, I can do anything! Even though I just beat Hercules by myself."), or really, really don't make any sense (the events surrounding a certain magical door at the end, but we'll get into that when I cover Kingdom Hearts 2).

Really, I could nitpick the cutscenes all day, be it how The Little Mermaid's Flounder is only gifted with one line, or how the opening of the Pinocchio segment hinges entirely on an optional scene players are all too likely to miss, but at least the voice-acting props up any illusions of them actually working. Being such an ambitious project, Disney wasn't about to let the voicework go to waste, and so a special effort was made to nab as many of the original actors possible, right down to Kathryn Beaumont reprising her 1950's roles as Alice and Wendy. Naturally, voicealikes are provided for anyone who's dead or unavailable for whatever reason, and they generally do a fine job, although I confess that I maybe, kinda, sorta prefer Dan "Homer Simpson" Castellenta's take on Aladdin's Genie than Robin Williams. Heresy, I know.

When considering Disney's pull, it's only natural the celebrity voices -- namely for the main cast -- are the star of the show. You have the child stars for the protagonists (Haley Joel Osment, David Gallagher and Hayden Panettiere), and while I'm unnerved by Panettiere's hideous giggling, I remain impressed at how natural they sound even within the unnatural script. The same also applies to Billy Zane's role as the villain, all the more reason why I'm saddened he never signed on for the sequels. The celebrity reach even stretches out to the Final Fantasy cameos, and I'm actually surprised at how spot-on they are.

Well, almost. Celebrity castings being what they are, the Kingdom Hearts series has been plagued with some nasty miscasts, and the original is perhaps the most egregious in this regard. For starters, I'm not quite sure why Tate Donovan couldn't reprise his role as Hercules, and I'm less certain as to why they decided to cast Sean Astin instead, and I'm even less sure why he's channeling Josh Keaton's teenage take on the character when he's supposed to be doing the adult version. Needless to say, it's immensely distracting, and it's actually the one time I'm glad a character has such few lines. Meanwhile, you have...uh, NSYNC singer Lance Bass as Final Fantasy boss cameo Sephiroth, which is vile, vomit-inducing sacrilege to anyone even remotely familiar with those nouns. Even putting the mediocre performance aside, it's just...Christ, really?

That alone should cement the game's status as a rough product, yet believe it or not, there is one thing absolutely, undeniably perfect about Kingdom Hearts, and that is Yoko Shimomura. Her familiar selections of violins, xylophones, pianos and the like are the glue that keeps it together, and I fail to think of any game composer more suited to channeling the numerous venues of Disney nostalgia than her, be they the wistful, misty reflections on our youth or the warmth that envelops our hearts when we remember that one summer night watching Pinnochio.

I mean, is it possible not to stop and listen to Dearly Beloved play on any one Kingdom Hearts title screen? It's what I'll always point to as the series' real theme in representing what the series wants to be: the crossroads between childhood and adolescence, whereupon we realize our youth will inevitably shape who we become in the future. No matter how much Hikaru Utada's works frame the games' presentation, this one piano piece is Kingdom Hearts, to my mind. (Complete with the accompanying ocean waves)

But the real magic of Shimomura's score lies within how it picks up where the game slacks off; as in, anything that should be objectively garbage is rendered tolerable by virtue of the music alone. Case in point: the Gummi Ship shooting sequences, which exists only to serve its context (each world lies separate in space, so you use it to travel in-between) and nothing more. Operating with the grace of a 1996 PlayStation shoot-'em-up, they're slow, plodding, clunky, ugly and just downright not fun. In a lesser game, they would be emblematic of its quality; in Kingdom Hearts, they are an insult to its very ambition.

And then I hear this, and suddenly all is forgiven, because I'm right there at my first trip to Disney World as a wee lad. Yes, the Gummi Ship still sucks, but I don't mind that it sucks; indeed, what should be aggressively terrible is smothered by nostalgia, and now it's something merely tolerable that also happens to have amazing music. Meanwhile, clunky boss fights? No problem, because the likes of Destiny's Force, Shrouding Dark Cloud, and The Deep End all render them the huge battles they should be, particularly with how Destiny's Force recalls the towering nightmares of Disney villains we had in our youth.

It's all the better when it's not covering for a weak link, thereby building upon what already works with impeccable music. In terms of representing the aforementioned nostalgic venues of Disney, Traverse Town and Treasured Memories are the perfect candidates: the former a nightly stroll through our warmest memories, the latter not only accompanying one of the game's only successful cutscenes (I imagine it's no coincidence it's silent) but in itself touching upon we've lost to the sands of time: friends, homes and playthings gone by in the blink of an eye.

It should come as no surprise how well Shimomura expresses Disney within their respective scenarios as well, although I'm most intrigued whenever she chooses to take on an actual song from the source material. Her takes on Winnie the Pooh and even the Mickey Mouse Club March are perhaps the funnest, but my favorite lies in her arrangement for This is Halloween, wherein just like the world itself applies just the right amount of mischievous darkness to be the game's catchiest song.

As you may've figured out, I probably could up talking about the music forever, so I'll cap it off with one final note: what really makes Kingdom Hearts seem as "big" as it does is how well it pulls off choirs or big orchestral pieces, be it the chanting of Dive into the Heart -Destati- accompanying Sora's introspective, nebulous dream at the beginning or the grand Scherzo di Notte complementing the battles of Hollow Bastion.

The former is especially important as that "dream" sequence is the one and only moment that successfully conveying that aforementioned purpose of Kingdom Hearts. There's no voicework, instead silently linking Sora to the player through our choices, our hopes and dreams deciding the game's difficulty and progression. All this happens upon stained-glass podiums of Snow White and Beauty and the Beast within the lonely abyss, presenting an air of mystique that frames our judgements and preferences through youth as sacred as our memories of Disney.

Which leads me to my final point of Kingdom Hearts: when you're playing it, it's mostly fine. When you're watching it or even just really thinking about it (like, say, that moment you realize Neverland features everything from Hook's Pirate Ship to London and yet not the actual Neverland itself), you're practically dying of second-hand embarrassment. And yet I keep returning to it time and time again, as if its goal of speaking so deeply to me is actually working.

Kingdom Hearts is an obvious freshmen effort, but for as much as it stumbles, it's an awfully sincere one that I don't have the heart to write off. When considering the ambitions it reaches, I consider it something of an accident that it's rendered as humble as it is, and that's why I always approach not as the genesis of an epic, but as an individualized, unique tale. I mean, can I really get mad at a game that has Winnie the Pooh in it?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Ten Weird Nintendo Commercials (Hey Poor Player)

As you may expect, this was a real fun piece to write. If you're acquainted with other similar lists, you may spot several commonly-cited examples, but I made sure to include some...let's say, "unique" commercials I don't see mentioned often. 

At the very least, the first one's certainly a bit scary, eh? Ah, Japan!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Legend of Zelda

When Super Mario Bros. launched in 1985, it captivated a worldwide audience through subtle accessibility and an addicting idealism that made players say "I can do that." It was a game that fed upon muscle memory via carefully crafted physics and manipulation of Mario's surrounding environment, all nuances anyone could enjoy thanks to its accessibility. It was a pick-up-and-play game of the best kind, with level design fine-tuned as subtle tutorials and music that manipulated us to try, try again.

In contrast, its wombmate The Legend of Zelda offers relatively fewer cues, doesn't involve as much exertion, and requires a dedicated commitment for full enjoyment, but it captivates us through a slightly different ideal: "I can do it this way." Its world of Hyrule entices us with an open world, one where we can explore anywhere and are rewarded for doing so. Much like Super Mario Bros. before it, it becomes "our game": Shigeru Miyamoto's personalized garden can be tackled any way we wish, even if it's not bound by a set order.

Take what happens when the game begins: thrust into an unknown valley, we're immediately compelled to enter the cave on the very first screen, where an old man grants Link a sword. This is how most everyone starts the game: the cave's right there, the black square an obvious clue that's where you're supposed to go. Here's the curveball: did you ever stop to think about how you didn't have to pick up the sword? That's right, you can just skip the cave, accumulate over 100 rupees to purchase a Blue Candle and some bombs, and you're set for the rest of the game. Up until the final duel with Ganon, you don't need a sword to vanquish monsters, as the rest of the weapons you eventually collect can do the job just fine.

The infamous "swordless run" is perhaps the most extreme example of The Legend of Zelda's openness; after all, you'd have to know about the secret Rupee stash in Hyrule's northeast corner to even initiate it, and it'd take only the most hardened, passionate Zelda fan to even think of undertaking such a trial. (I, myself, shiver at the mere thought of it) And yet, that you can actually do it speaks to the game's depth: if that's possible, how deep this thirty one-year-old hole really go?

It's a shame that like other adventure games of its era, Zelda's barrier to entry is difficult for today's gamers to appreciate. One getting lost in the mountains and forests of Hyrule is, yes, the point, but that's hardly any consolation for us modern gamers who're far too accustomed by directions and handholding. Compounded upon by the 80's tropes of difficulty, relatively rudimentary design and par for the course 80's localization ("DODONGO DISLIKE SMOKE," hints the old man regarding a boss's weakness), it's only natural modern gamers can be turned off.

However, much like its action counterpart Metroid, said barrier to entry is exactly why I love it. As you're forced to forge your own path, you're compelled into thinking: what if I tried things this way? What if I burn down this tree, or push this gravestone, or play the flute over here? Barring its own offbeat sequel (Zelda II: Adventure of Link), the original Hyrule Fantasy remained the most open Zelda for nearly three decades. Once you grab the sword, it becomes your adventure; sure, you won't be heading into the eighth dungeon without a blue candle, but who cares when you can bomb everything in sight? 

It's a game intentionally designed to confuse, but hardly in an obnoxious way; in fact, Zelda uses its confusion to captivate us by subtly building upon its world. By far my favorite example is how certain hidden passages lead to a solitary Moblin's abode, who grants you 50 Rupees and the message "IT'S A SECRET TO EVERYBODY". Moblins are a common enemy, so this abrupt gift grants us pause: is this an act of betrayal to Ganon he wants to keep hidden, or is he speaking directly to the player and telling us to keep this gift secret from our Zelda-playing friends and family? Whatever the case, it's delightfully absurd enough to render the first instance of character in the series: it's just vague enough in making our minds go crazy with his motives and history.

Regardless, you're rewarded for your curiosity and eagerness to explore. It's the same mouth-dropping absurdity that catches us off-guard even when we accidentally stumble upon solutions. We can canvas an entire dungeon, for instance, scanning for that one door, that one elusive entrance that leads further into its depths...only to accidentally press against a wall and walk through it. Of course, the game is careful enough to only reserve this surprise for optional bonuses, but it's enough to inspire us to think outside the box.

That's a good thing, too, because The Legend of Zelda isn't afraid to pull punches. For one thing, the game's economy is tight (so tight, in fact, rupees are used as arrows!), and you'll find that you'll plan your adventure around that. As you'll always start over with three hearts, you'll be grinding for rupees alongside hearts, and maybe you realize you'll have enough for a healing potion. And isn't that swell, because you'll be needing one to tackle the dungeons, which emphasize Zelda's true nature as a survival game. The likes of Darknuts, Like Likes and Bubbles will do everything in their power to screw over the first-time player, and there's really nothing more disheartening than entering a dungeon with full health only to be skewered two minutes later. 

Strategies must be formed, and in here Hyrule becomes a living, breathing 8-bit ecosystem: you explore, you forage, you discover, you plan, and then make your move. Maybe you die, and so the cycle resets, but you're compelled to try it over again and again. Unlike Metroid, you're not being constantly pounded by enemies all the while starting over with pitiful health, but unlike Super Mario Bros., you don't have to start over from the beginning. You know what's to be done, you just have to try again, and there's nothing stopping you aside from player fatigue.

The key to The Legend of Zelda's success lies in its balance of difficulty and player assistance: it's never afraid to deal punishment, but it recognizes the punished player must receive reprieve to gain incentive to continue. It's not entirely perfect: the tedium of saving up for, say, yet another potion on top of more bombs can grate on the nerves, but that the Fairy Fountains grant instantaneous hearts provide a springboards of our own choosing; perhaps we're compelled to try again immediately afterwards, or maybe we slowly plan our comeback.

And once it's all over, it's all new again in the Second Quest, a programming accident turned into a feature amazingly ahead of its time. A vast improvement over Super Mario Bros.'s largely-samey take on the concept, The Legend of Zelda rearranges the anatomy of Hyrule's already-treacherous dungeons in both location and interior layout, which automatically inspires us to see how our foraging and detective skills match up in a more grueling adventure. (One that, sadly, I was this to finishing until a 3DS SD Card mishap erased my data. Ack!)

Once again, Koji Kondo arrives to capture our ears. Perhaps as every bit as famous as his work for Super Mario Bros., is there anything in gaming more inspiring and courageous than the famous overworld theme? A song designed to escape the buzzing boundaries of NES sound, it's at it's most impressive when juxtaposed alongside the crashing shores of Hyrule's lakes. Meanwhile, the evil dungeon theme is one I've always thought of as Kondo's take on a 8-bit organ, and even now I wonder how the youngest, most imaginative players had their fears spark to life with this one song.

What's interesting about The Legend of Zelda is while it features a sparse number of songs ala Super Mario Bros., it certainly feels more sparse in how it's utilized. Only the Overworld and Dungeon themes--and the Game Over theme, if I'm feeling generous--make up the mass constitution of the game, and it's quite common to hear the former interrupted by moments of silence. This is why the cave encounters like the aforementioned moblin bit are so striking: the weight of our discoveries, be they losing money for door repairs or discovering the White Sword, speak for themselves as opposed to being smothered by droning chiptunes.

Much as I've heaped praise on it, The Legend of Zelda is not without fault, mainly lying within several unpolished factors: for example, the concept of the skull-ish Bubble enemies is a viable challenge, but the methods for undoing their sword-cancelling spells feels overtly long-winded (this can even lead to game-breaking oversights; be sure not to get swallowed by a Like Like while under their effect!). Meanwhile, warp points frustrate more than they help, as their undesignated (perhaps random?) stairwells likely means you're not certain to traverse to your desired destination.

But even such antiquated missteps do not prevent it from being a classic. The Legend of Zelda is, like Super Mario Bros. before it, a timeless masterpiece that doesn't just continue to inspire adventure games generations later; it is, over thirty years later, still at the top of its game. Even with the steady quality-of-life improvements found in A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time and Breath of the Wild, Hyrule's inception is as adventurous and inviting as the legends it spawned.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 49 ~Overworld Theme~ (The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past)

Origin: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Plays In: Hyrule (Light World)
Status: Arrangement

Arranged By: Koji Kondo


For two months, Zelda has graced us with its glorious presence. Breath of the Wild made the gaming public fall in love with the series all over again, with an avalanche of perfect scores (including my own!) from the media and players still being overwhelmed by its massive world. I am no exception to the latter: even now, nearly two weeks later and having already beaten the final boss, I still feel like I haven't so much as scratched the game's surface.

Of course, Breath of the Wild is not without its criticisms: be it the oversights found in the "Blood Moon" mechanic, the difficulties in rain patterns, or people's woes with weapon durability, it just goes to show no game is perfect. Personally, I find the "drop and switch" nature of the weapon durability to be the most interesting gameplay Zelda's utilized in over a decade, and I find most of the voice acting complaints to be rather overblown; really, I've found the game to be a near-perfect experience.

One particular complaint that's rather common revolves around its usage of music, as some say there's not much in the realm of memorable tunes. Actually, this was something I found myself agreeing with in my Hey Poor Player an extent, anyway. There's certainly a good number of well-composed tracks that captivated me, be it the enigmatic shrine theme or the castanet-heavy battle theme, but I did find myself agreeing the best songs often lied in familiar arrangements, be it Rito Village's beautiful take on Dragon Roost Island or how the stables weave in Epona's Theme.

Do I see this as a flaw? Well...not particularly. Do remember not only was that review was only done after five days of playtime, but it's been over two months since. Since then, I've encountered several other fascinating original works, namely the diminutive march of Korok Forest and the foreboding Lost Woods that precedes it. It might not be my favorite Zelda in regards to music, but there's certainly many pieces I enjoy. (Any Hateno Village fans?)

Breath of the Wild
is a game designed to destroy Zelda traditions while maintaining its identity as the most ambitious game in the series; in that respect, it's only natural Nintendo, a development team that's only just exploring open-world gaming, is going to make missteps, let alone please everyone. For every success they've had in the game's physics or dynamic combat, surely those who praise those aspects take issue with dungeon design or the minimalist approach to story and music (and do remember that those who called for change aren't necessarily the same people disappointed with said change; instances of hiveminding like this are what lead to false preconceptions such as the infamous "Zelda Cycle").

I could list several suggestions for improvement if I wanted to, but they're hardly enough to dethrone what I and many others consider the current top contender for Game of the Year. As far as the music goes, it's not the best, but I hardly find it as forgettable as Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword, and that alone renders it a success for me. which Zelda game does have the best soundtrack? Well, why do you think I selected a song from A Link to the Past? Chalk it up to nostalgia all you like, but I consider everything about the Super Nintendo to be timeless, from the graphics to gameplay to music. A Link To the Past is one of the very few games I could consider to be perfect, and its score  is one of the many, many reasons why. Songs like the Dark World, Time of the Falling Rain, Lost Woods and the Light World Sanctuary still chill me all in different ways, and this happens to be my favorite version of the classic Zelda overworld theme! That buildup is just delicious.

Could a future Zelda game overtake it? Who knows, but I have a strong feeling we'll be moving on from minimalist in the next entry...whenever that may be!

Final Thoughts: Actually, to avoid burnout, I've been taking a bit of a break from Breath of the Wild...but I'm hearing the cooking music calling me back.

By the way, does anyone else think the Smash Bros. for Wii U rip for this