Thursday, November 27, 2008

Replaying Link's Awakening

I finally rediscovered my long-lost copy of the Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX for the original Gameboy Color. My brother and I are replaying it for the first time in years on my Super Gameboy for the SNES. It's addicting and a surprisingly robust adventure for such a small cartridge. The trademark fetch-quests and retreads of already covered ground can be somewhat frustrating, but the solid gameplay, surprising graphics, and humorous storyline filled with Nintendo references keep us coming back.

Best Zelda game ever? Maybe not. But it's close.


SuiginChou said...

Retreads can be done right, but the Zelda series has struggled with the formula for years.

In the original Halo, Stages 1-4 are played back at you as Stages 7-10. But the differences are many: new missions, new enemies, new visuals (e.g. weather), and new weapons. Zelda can only seem to get the first and fourth parts of this together, combining the classic(ally annoying) RPG element of backtracking to old locales with new weapons to acquire new goodies. (e.g. bombing a huge rock to get a piece of heart once you have bomb-arrows and a hookshot) I really enjoyed Halo and didn't mind the backtracking that much. The levels onboard the Covenant dropship felt entirely different in playstyle even though "they were the same basic map." It was all thanks to new objectives and new minibosses and whatnot.

Pokemon has long been guilty of the retread sin but it has found its own unique ways of atoning for it which Zelda has been slow to adopt. One of these, straight from the get-go, was the game's guided path. Your next major objective was always forward, never backwards. By the time you were ready to "backtrack" to Viridian City's gym, you had "forwardtracked" in a full circle all the way to it again.

Another way in which Pokemon defeated the backtracking monotony was by granting you HM 02, "Fly." In under 5 seconds, you were teleported to any city you'd ever visited. From there, it was usually fairly simple to Surf or bike your way to your destination in no time at all. But best of all? Super Repel. For 500 PokéDollars you were good for 250 steps. You already had over 200,000 spare cash by the time you first returned to Viridian City -- clumsily, foolishly, having made many oafish mistakes and expenditures along the way -- never mind when you played through on subsequent save files! 200,000 spare cash? You had all the repels you needed. And more repels meant less wild monster encounters while backtracking. Zelda? No such luck: every time you backtrack you've gotta play a song, watch an animation, play another song, see your horse race to you, mount the horse, get him up to speed, make him gallop for 2+ real-world minutes minus interruptions, and by the way deal with the many interruptions you encounter on Hyrule Field and in various other places.

The 2nd-to-most annoying thing about Zelda's backtracking is how often it is very much mandatory. In Halo, it's equally mandatory but doesn't feel like backtracking. In Pokemon, all but Viridian City itself is non-mandatory backtracking ... and like we just said, that wasn't backtracking either, that was forwardtracking. (i.e. you don't have to get Mewtwo. You don't have to get Zapdos). In Zelda, you *have* to get the _______. But to get the blank you need to get the _____. And to get the ________, you need to get the _________. (A good example is in Wind Waker where you had to get pieces of Triforce, which required you to get decoded map pieces, which required money to pay off Tingle. Each individual process was a bitch, never mind the mandatory chaining of them!)

The most annoying thing about backtracking in Zelda, though, is that you have to do it so many goddamned times. Most games make you explore an old stage for 2, maybe 3 secret treasures tops. In Halo, the stage lasts 5 minutes. In Pokemon, you find up to 5 TMs per town or dungeon and if you're lucky 1 legendary monster. Zelda makes you explore every single grotto and dungeon of Hyrule for as many as 50 pieces of heart, 100 spiders, 12 Poes, 12 Great Fairy chambers, on and on it goes. Yes, not everything on there is mandatory, but (again with Wind Waker) don't forget such numerous and annoying mandatory tasks as fetching 8 triforce maps, 8 triforce shards, and something like (what was it?) 10,000? 15,000? 20,000 rupees for Tingle? People say "oh that's easy" but (a) your max wallet was 5,000, (b) you encountered sooooooooo many rupees prior to upgrading from the 200 or 500-rupee wallet to the 5,000 one, and finally (c) don't forget OTHER mandatory things you'd had to buy up to this point, such as bottles, item upgrades, etc.

My relationship with J-RPGs like Final Fantasy and J-Adventure/RPGs like Zelda is very strained because of this. The Japanese (or at least Japanese beta testers and game developers) have a warped sense of "gamer masochism." They enjoy suffering these huge pains and real-world loss of tens if not hundreds of hours of time just to complete one game. Me? I'm not a masochist. I fucking hate that bullshit in games and the only reason I keep coming back to Zelda is for the (unfortunately for me) entertaining stories.

Pokemon's story sure as hell wasn't epic. (Not the original one, anyway.) It was the game which was fun. And Halo? What a fucking campy and scifi-cliché story! But the game was fun. Zelda, Xenosaga, Final Fantasy, ... I only put up with these games' bullshit because of their stories. If they didn't have those, they wouldn't have anything and would be out on the street with Bratz and Garfield: A Tale Of Two Kitties.

SuiginChou said...

I forgot to mention: Okami is the extreme of this example. I have all but abandoned Okami because:
- the music isn't that good
- the Charlie Brown adults' "wah wah wah" talking audio is annoying
- the visuals really aren't that impressive. Even for the GameCube they would have been pretty meh. The artstyle is amazing, yes, but not the graphics themselves (e.g. textures, polygons, etc).
- the controls are meh

But worst of all, and why I thought of it just now, is Okami's insistence that:
a) I be happy to have to buy passage to future stages (in the form of purchasing training lessons at the dojo), but
b) I have to collect that money through random, repetitive creature fights on the world map,
c) no one fight provides nearly enough money (maybe 1% or less of the goal for any one dojo lesson), and
d) each fight takes even a flawless expert approximately 30-60 seconds to complete.

This means that to get the amount of money necessary for the dojo lessons, you have to play the game for (on the order of) 50 to 100 hours of just grinding for cash.


It's the same crying shame for World of Warcraft (which I beta'ed waaaaaay back when in Fall 2004, remember that? :)). I'd never pay money for a game which is such a shameless timesink! "Give me the next 10 hours of your life so you can gain a 'rare' item as a Level 30 paladin that every single other player on the server has over twenty of already because you can buy it at later levels. But oh! You can't wait to buy it then! I'm telling you to go on this 10-hour campaign right now! No treasure? No ticket to the next mission!"

I like to think that people play games with some purpose in mind. Me?
* Mario 3: "just have fun." Can't explain it, but it's fun to pick up that game and smash baddies with familiar power-ups. And powerful power-ups, I should add! Ones which let me roam the skies and explore nearly every last pixel of the map of every last stage. (P-Wing, I'm looking at you. :))

* Xenosaga, Shenmue, Phoenix Wright: the story. You play these games for the story. Shenmue's added bonus is a fun and immersive game engine, but these games would be just as cool as visual novels (i.e. click-click-click novels with pretty pictures for the PC, which is pretty much what Phoenix Wright already is)

* Pokemon: partly the Mario thing ("it's just fun!"), but a big part of Pokemon's appeal is the society. Discussing team strategies with friends. Playing against friends. etc.

I can understand that a big part of what keeps WoWers WoWing is the community, but then why keep grinding? why keep going on the game's pre-programmed missions? Why not go on a roleplay server and do your own things? make up your own missions (even if they lack scripts), like, fastest to the top of Mt. Vesuvius wins? People fundamentally do that with Pokemon all the time (or do you think the game tells us what teams to fight one another with? ;D), and they do it with Mario too (as explained, nobody ever told me to use the P-Wing to explore every last square inch of Stage 6-1. I just did it. I thought it would be fun. And it was fun. And it still is fun).

In a world with so many lovely games that have good stories and good gameplay, I don't have to be a slave to the whims of Iwata and Miyamoto anymore. If I don't like Zelda? I can simply put it down. The story's good, but it's not that good. I can put it down: and I have done and will continue to do so.

fulleju said...

i'm replaying ff7 right now. its fun. i can't believe people are paying over $100 for it on ebay right now though. thats crazy.

Jay said...

I bought FF8 a couple years ago for 15 dollars used. Yesterday, I found a used copy in a store selling for $60. I win!

Ryan: I don't get all the praise for Okami. I tried it for a little while and found it neither engaging or fun. I've heard the wii version rectifies some control issues. Even so, I've decided to pass.

As for Zelda, the series has a real problem making fetch quests feel anything other than arbitrary. So far, I've had to find a bowtie, then exchange it for some dog food, exchange that for some bananas, exchange that for a flower, exchange that for a letter, exchange that for a pearl necklace, exchange that for a fish's like a glorified game of hot potato. It's kind of fun to figure out the clues and finally discover the correct exchange, but it's mostly a pointless time waster.