Hello, Master Malstrom.
I’ve recently bought a 3DS XL with the Zelda Link Between Worlds bundle. Having just finished beating the game for the second time, I’d like to tell you my thoughts about the game.
This game starts in a similar way to Link to the Past. You get your sword, then go to a mini-dungeon where you have to fight some rats and snakes to save a NPC , then you go through some short cutscenes. Before your first hour of gameplay ends, you’re in the first major dungeon, which is similar to the first dungeon in Link to the Past, albeit with a different layout.
After the first dungeon, though, it’s when the magic begins. In this game, you meet a NPC named Ravio, who runs an item shop. Every combat item that would normally be found in the overworld or in dungeons has to be rent or bought from Ravio. After the first dungeon, you get the ability to rent every item (with one exception) he sells in his shop. The only constraint is that when you die, all of your items are returned, and you have to rent them all over again.
Since the rental prices are pretty low, you can rent every single item right after the first dungeon. Suddenly, you have a Sword, a Shield, a Bow, a Boomerang, a Bomb, a Hookshot, a Hammer, a Fire Rod, an Ice Rod and a Tornado Rod.
And suddenly, you are free.
Because now you can explore the entire overworld. Every location, enemy, heart piece or cave is available to you as soon as you finish the first dungeon. The game will point the next two dungeons in the map, tell you to complete them in whatever order you want, and release you to do whatever you want. You still need the Power Gloves and the Zora Flippers to access some places, but even those can be gotten right away from some quick sidequests. There is no place Link can’t go to (aside from the desert area). And then, after you beat those dungeons and Hyrule Castle, you get the ability to enter this game’s version of the Dark World, Lorule. And again, you can explore the entire world map, without having to get any dungeon item, and with the ability to do the 7 dungeons in any order you feel like.
That’s a level of freedom I haven’t seen since the first NES Zelda game. Not even Link to the Past was like this. And it’s amazing.
This game also seems to be all about eliminating the boring parts. Long cutscenes? It doesn’t have it. Long fetch quests between dungeons? Almost zero. Having to visit areas you have visited before every time you get a new item that unlocks a new part of the area? Nope, you have all the items, just explore whatever you want. I’ve seen people complaining this is one of the shortest games in the series, but it’s so short because Nintendo made a point to cut off every useless part the Zelda games usually have. This game is all about the raw fun of picking up your 3DS and adventuring to your heart’s content. Interestingly enough, the story, even though short and not taking a big portion of the game, is well written, has some great characters and a few good plot twists in the end that are pretty hard to see coming. I appreciate games that can tell a good story, specially if they can do that without getting in the way of the gameplay.
The dungeons… well, let me say that I don’t mind puzzles on dungeons, I’m used to them, so I liked this game’s dungeons a lot. But yeah, it’s Aonuma-style Puzzle Dungeons. So you’re probably not going to like them if you play this game. But I think you’ll probably like them more than the usual Aonuma Dungeon, first because they are shorter than usual, and second because the item rental system does wonders to the dungeons. Instead of having to find items inside of dungeons to solve puzzles, the game tells before you enter what is the item you need to have. So instead of feeling like glorified small keys that are used to unlock parts of the dungeon, they feel like actual weapons that can also work like puzzle-solving tools. You bring them in, you use them to beat the dungeon, you bring them out and go back to using them on combat. And dungeons are much less linear and more open to exploration thanks to that, leading to some cool designs and a better feeling of adventure. Also the painting mechanic, which at first seemed to be just a gimmick, is pretty well done, and soon starts feeling like second nature, a way to move around the world just like running or swimming. I don’t mind the Zelda series having gimmicks if they are so well implemented like this one was.
One thing I loved about this game is that it wants to make the player feel powerful. All of Ravio’s items can be bought after you get the Master Sword, for a much higher price than the rent price. And besides the fact that you won’t lose them if you die, buying them has another advantage: by doing a side-quest that involves finding a bunch of snails, an NPC will upgrade each of Ravio’s items, for every 10 snails you find. And then you’ll have a bow that can shoot three arrows at the same time, a bomb that has a bigger area of explosion and that deals double the damage to enemies, and other cool stuff. All of those make the player feel like a hero, full of magical weapons, ready to use them to conquer the land into submission. The snail quest might be kind of boring though, but it’s so easy, and the reward is so cool, that I didn’t really mind doing it.
The music is amazing, with some of the best tunes I’ve seen in the series. The graphics are great too. As for the 3D feature, this was the first game I’ve played on the 3DS. It took me 5 minutes with the 3D feature on to realise that I hate it and turn it off, but not using it didn’t affect the gameplay at all.
The one thing I didn’t like so much was that, as always, the game is too easy. It’s not among the easiest games in the series (like Wind Waker and Twilight Princess), but it’s a little easier than Link to the Past, and the fact that this is the most powerful Link in the series doesn’t help. The game comes with a second quest, called Hero Mode, in which all the damage you suffer is quadrupled, and this pretty much solves the problem (putting the difficulty level roughly between LttP and the first Zelda), but I wish I didn’t have to beat the game in the regular difficulty to unlock the hero mode. Nonetheless, I did it, and had a blast on both playthroughs. This game holds the honor of being the only game I’ve ever bothered to beat for the second time right after finishing the first playthrough. And this is a testament to how fun it is.
The bottomline is, if you have a 3DS, it’s a must buy. It shows how Nintendo still knows how to make their games fun, and that they will do it if they really want to. I want the item rental system to be in every Zelda game made from now on, because of just how much it improved the series. This is my favorite 2D Zelda, hands down.
Anyway, thanks for reading. I hope this email wasn’t too long.
They actually offer all the items at the beginning? That is so pathetic! Nintendo is admitting they can’t get the game fun with little to no items. The reason why it was fun before you got an item was because of the arcade-like sword combat. The items only supplemented the combat. You got excited to get the boomerang not because it opened doors or hit switches but because it could STUN enemies. You got excited to get the bow and arrows not so you could hit switches but so you had a ranged weapon to hit enemies. Link with just a sword made combat very challenging with EASY enemies and extremely frustrating with HARD enemies. As you got more items, the EASY enemies were just steamrolled and the HARD enemies became EASY. As a player, you began to feel OVERPOWERED which made the game so much fun due to that SENSE OF GROWTH.
Aonuma’s Way has none of that. It is just a bunch of crappy puzzles in an adventure game context. Any combat you do is something you engage in when going from one puzzle to another. The boss battles are nothing but a puzzle. Give me the intense-vein-popping-testosterone-pumping boss battles of Zelda 2.
Above: You don’t use ‘items’ to beat the bosses. You use skilled swordplay. While the fights look simple, be assured that they aren’t. The player nearly dies in most of them. The Shadow Boss Fight is probably the best boss fight of any video game ever made.
Thanks for the review, but I want to see Zelda return to being a swashbuckling RPG with a rich overworld instead of creepy-puzzle-game. The Zelda 3DS game is a move in the right direction, but it has only gone one step when it needs to go five.
What I don’t understand is that they do crazy shit with Zelda all the time. Zelda on trains! Zelda with motion control! Zelda with only a stylus! Zelda on a boat! But what about Zelda with swashbuckling RPG? Noooooooooooooooo. Can’t have that. Even though that was what Zelda was, can’t possibly do that! This is when a Nintendo developer begins lecturing us on how we need ‘surprise’ and ‘to do something new’. Amazingly, this always translates to doing what they want to do. ‘We can’t do the same thing’ or ‘we don’t want to make the same game over again’ never translates to Aonuma’s puzzle obsessions or Miyamoto’s 3d obsession or Sakamoto’s maternal instincts obsession. When confronted, they say on cue: “Don’t be nostalgic. We must move on.”
I’ve learned from experience that Nintendo developers are going to make whatever the hell they want and don’t give a crap whether you like it or not. Judging from the history of 3d Mario and Aonuma Zelda, I expect to see announcements to a follow-up to Metroid: Other M any day now.