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

Zelda.

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 review...to 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.

...so 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 feels...off?

Monday, May 22, 2017

My NYC May Haul!

Wow, to think I'd be back at New York City in only six months! It just sorta spurred from a conversation between me and Dad, and before you knew it...there we were!

Anyway, I didn't take too many pictures this time. There was a launch event at Nintendo NY for Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (which, by the way, HASN'T ARRIVED YET *cough* *cough*), but aside from a couple cosplayers there wasn't a whole lot of visual spectacle for it. I did get to play a demo, however.

Anyway, here's the two sides of a really cool Zelda display.



The Master Sword statue from the Breath of the Wild Master Edition is bigger than I thought it was! Huh, now I regret not picking that one up...

The Arwing and Ganondorf statues...I want them.

This Meta Knight one, too. This and a Cat Mario statue are on display at the Midtown Comic store as well.
I own a couple of these Game & Watches, actually: Mario's Cement Factory and Mario Bros. Will I ever scrape up the funds to own a complete collection...?




Cool box.

I've never seen a Color TV Game in my life, so this was pretty cool to see. Kudos to having Kirby's Adventure representing the NES!

Easily my best shot. Here we see Mario contemplating his downfall in relevance as everyone swarms around the Naked Cowboy. Just what is going on underneath that cost-er, I mean inside that jolly ol' head of his?

Anyway, here's my loot.


That's right: six posters! The first two are from Majora's Mask 3D and Star Fox 64 3D. Can you guess what the other four are?

Wow, how much manga is that?!? Best of all, all but two are in Japanese! For those curious, from top to bottom are Dragon Ball (Kanzenban edition), Dr. Slump, Straighten Up!, Spring Weapon Number One, Gintama, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure and One Piece.

I knew I'd be pickin gup Super Bomberman R eventually, but I had such a blast playing the demo with folks at Nintendo NY that I just had to grab it! It's pretty good, but definitely hard even with the CPU.

Larry, Ludwig and Wendy. Finally, the Koopalings are complete!

Koopalings, assemble!!

Meta Knight, proud as ever.

Two Zelda puzzles. I've been picking up some gaming-related puzzles in the past several years, but I've yet to work on them...I should fix that.


Finally got Pink Yarn Yoshi. Now, where can I pick up a Mega one for a good price...?

AND NOW, A SCENE FROM SPRING WEAPON NUMBER ONE PRESENTED WITHOUT CONTEXT

Oh, by the way, this arrived today, too.


Wow, if it isn't Kirby as he appears in Kirby's Dream Land's promotional art! This was made to celebrate his 25th Anniversary. I wanted the Super Star variant, too, but I didn't have the funds...

In any rate, I like his whisker-esque cheeks. I also wasn't expecting him to be that fuzzy.

I wonder what I can use his bag for.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Checking In + Apologies

And just like that, two and a half weeks blazed past me. I've actually been so busy with other matters that I hadn't noticed the blog was being neglected! For those awaiting my latest pieces, you have my deepest apologies.

So, what "other matters" were these? Well, I suppose there were three:

1. Since the past month, Hey Poor Player has been pushing itself quite heavily over social media and the like in an effort to grow and raise awareness. We've made it a goal to grow into a big site by the end of the year, so naturally we've been spending much planning and the like on that.

2. My current Front End Associate job at Weis Markets seems like it'll be sticking around this time, as opposed to the temp jobs I've been taking up last year. Aside from...let's say, "rough patches" in the beginning, it's going quite well. I'm not working every day of the week, but obviously with three or four days taken up, I have to juggle my time wisely.

3. I've been rushing to complete Fire Emblem Gaiden by the time its remake, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, hits shelves tomorrow; as it currently stands, it seems I'll barely make it tonight, although given my trip to New York City this weekend I probably won't be playing it until Sunday or Monday.

How is Gaiden? Well, it's status as the "black sheep" of the series is...well, probably true. I've been planning finally review Fire Emblem on here by the end of the year, but in the meantime, I'm looking forward to seeing how the remake improves upon it.

So there's all that. Again, sorry for the wait! To make up for it, I'll have a write-up sharing my goodies from NYC after I get home, as well as Biweekly Music Wednesday! and a new review in the next week!

Oh, and by the way, remember when I said I've been renovating my gaming basement? Progress has been quite smoothly on all that, and it's all nearly in a presentable state! As stated before, I'd love to show it off, and I'm hoping to finally do that this summer. Look forward to it!