Dear Mr. Malstrom,
I’m a relatively new reader of your blog (I found it when searching for the Birdman Fallacy article, which I had read years ago when it was first published) and have been enjoying your posts since then, regardless of whether I agree or disagree with any individual opinion expressed (the split is about 50/50.)
I was moved to write in response to the email that you published on November 23, “Email: A Link Between Worlds,” where the author wrote regarding his disappointment in the game, how he felt it was simply a continuation of the Phantom Hourglass/Spirit Tracks Aonuma-style puzzle-focused plot-driven Zelda that is commonly reviled on your blog.
I have played all of the main series Zelda games, including this one, to completion, so I am intimately familiar with the gamut of quality which they run. The earlier games remain some of my favourites, while Spirit Tracks is one of the least enjoyable games I have ever encountered. I am likely a bit more forgiving of the titles than you are. I provide this information as background context for the next paragraph.
I found A Link Between Worlds to be quite the return to form for the series. As a result, I was baffled by hearing it described as “polluted by a ton of Aonuma garbage (terrible, TERRIBLE NPCs, overabundance of puzzles, too much stupid dialogue, improper controls, piss-poorly designed items, lack of real challenge, strange controls…” The plot-critical NPCs average perhaps four or five lines each over the course of the game. The puzzles I encountered are on par with A Link to the Past in terms of distribution and difficulty. The controls use the circle pad and buttons, not the stylus a la Phantom Hourglass/Spirit Tracks. The total cutscene length, not counting the ending, was perhaps ten or fifteen minutes over the course of a 10 hour game – the plot was very thin: “Bad guy! Save Hyrule!” The challenge was higher than any Zelda game in years (I cleared it with 21 deaths, which is 21 deaths more than I’ve had in a game since Majora’s Mask,) &c, &c. You get the idea.
The ability to challenge the dungeons in any order felt at once new and retro, as obviously you had a large overworld to explore in the first Zelda title. It led to some new challenges, as the lack of a Dungeon Item meant you had to determine what item in your toolbox was the right item for any particular job. It meant that a dungeon could require more than one item to complete. It meant that sometimes I was stumped and had to think for a while about where to go and how to progress, as there was no “helpful” fairy telling me what to do. The game certainly had flaws – but they didn’t drag down the experience in the same way that things like the Train or Fi in Skyward Sword did.
The above is all words, and they paint an incomplete picture at best. I feel that perhaps the best testimony I can give is that I sat down and played through this game in two sittings, broken by sleep, something that I have not done with a Zelda title, or really any title, in years. While increased responsibilities have played a part in that, the gameworld and gameplay was simply compelling enough that I had no desire to stop. While I would not rank this game equal to A Link to the Past, and with the risk of sounding like an apologist (which, given the circumstances, I suppose I currently am,) the title felt like a return to form. Fat and cruft was trimmed. I am not worried for the series in the way I was before I played this game. I suspect you will not be playing this title anytime soon, but if and when you do, I would very much enjoy hearing about your own personal impressions. I suspect they will fall somewhere between mine and the author of the aforementioned email.
Thank you for continuing to write interesting articles and providing industry commentary of a sort unavailable elsewhere.
PS: I don’t expect to see this barely-coherent letter on the blog. I only wished to offer a more moderate, counterbalancing opinion to the one already provided. Thanks again!
I’m really enjoying these type of emails. I’d love to see any more (or on the PS4 and Xbox One).
BTW, it is MASTER Malstrom, not MISTER Malstrom. I’m not married. I’m not a mister.