The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

a review of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
a videogame developed by nintendo ead
and published by nintendo
for the nintendo gameboy advance, the nintendo super famicom (super nintendo entertainment system) and the nintendo wii virtual console
text by Andrew Toups

3 stars

Bottom line: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is “a hell of a lot better than I remember.”

Well, let me clarify. Like every tucked-in-Aerosmith-t-shirt-wearing youth in the US in 1991, I owned a Super NES, and I begged my parents to buy me the new Zelda game, which I consumed like an 8-year-old consumes Pixy Stix (which is to say: effortlessly, joyously, in a single moment and without a second thought). I completed the game countless times, memorized all the puzzles, and even recorded the ending theme on a tape recorder for part of an imaginary videogame music radio show I made with some of my friends (Jake Millet, if you’re out there reading this: hi! I hope you’re a successful comic book illustrator by now!) From those days, I still remember the game as being great.

But soon after that, the N64 appeared, and a new Zelda with it, which I endured like a 15-year-old endures watching scrambled late-night cable porn (which is to say: eagerly, with great frustration, and with a nagging sense of guilt, ultimately culminating with disappointment). Following this, I largely lost interest in videogames, as the only games which could satisfy my then pulsing adolescent urges (read: Final Fantasy vii/viii) were exclusive to another console which my parents could not be convinced to purchase. In this time I did not play many videogames, but when I did, I was reliving the great games of my youth: Final Fantasy II (as I knew it back then), Chrono Trigger, Soul Blazer, and, of course, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. And it was at this period in my life when I realized that many of these games were meant to be consumed like an ear of corn: the first time around it’s delicious; the second time around, you’re just scraping for those last few kernels.

A Link to the Past is considerably more contrived than either of its predecessors. The original Legend of Zelda (still one of my all-time favorites) was ultimately about exploration and survival. Yes, you could buy items, upgrade abilities, and occasionally you were asked to solve rudimentary puzzles to proceed. Yet even in the dungeons, the challenge was not so much figuring how to get out of the room you were stuck in (hi Twilight Princess!), but merely making sense of where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there, and then actually doing it without dying. The overworld was laid out to encourage an order of playing the dungeons without forcing one. The idea of gaining new abilities which then “unlocked” other areas of the gameworld did not exist so concretely in the minds of game developers in that era.

The Legend of Zelda, like many early NES games, is not very fair. You are often thrown into situations that, thanks to unpolished controls, would inevitably rob you of a few hearts, regardless of your valiance. And so it is: once you know the route, you must buckle down, maybe buy a potion, and hope to survive the gauntlet between you and that precious, glowing triangle hiding in the dungeon’s bowels. Those desperate moments, lost deep within the maze, with nothing but your sword, boomerang, and wits, down to your last heart, are still among the most cathartic found in any videogame made since.

Link to the Past is a game of revision. Unlike Zelda II, it largely retains the framework of first game. It polishes what needs polishing, and expands upon what needs expanding upon. The controls are smooth and the combat is fair. Instead of Zelda‘s barren, abandoned overworld, the Hyrule of Link to the Past is a place where people live and things happen. There is a village, and there are country homes, and occasional scenes of dialogue. In the place of Zelda‘s winding, war-of-attrition dungeons are dungeons which are self-consciously puzzles. There is a much wider variety of switches, keys, and trap doors; often the layout of the dungeon is itself a puzzle.

These are the things that I pondered when other people my age were busy experimenting with booze and loose women. The problem was, my 17 year old self reasoned, once you knew how to kill each enemy, and once you know the secret to each dungeon, there’s no thrill left. If the first playthrough is rote memorization, subsequent ones are rote repetition. Why bother?

I decided to start a band, myself.

Well, now, fifteen years after the game’s release, seven after the birth of my ill-fated music career, and (perhaps more importantly), three major Zelda installments later, I play the game with a bit more perspective. My 17-year-old self’s criticisms are perfectly valid, but they overlook some important virtues.

 

For one, this is a dramatic game. While The Legend of Zelda begins with a man warning you to use a sword or face your death, Link to the Past opens with a lengthy, atmospheric sequence in which you hear a captured princess speak to you in your dreams, witness the death your uncle, and sneak your way into a well-guarded castle as rain falls from the midnight sky; by the time this sequence is over, you will have valiantly fought through those guards, rescued the princess, and led to her to safety, only to find yourself faced with the task of clearing your name for being her kidnapper. Thanks, however, to Dark Forces At Work, this can never be, and only by unraveling and fulfilling a Great Legend can things be set right.

On the one hand, yes this is obnoxious. Shouldn’t playing the game be motivation unto itself? After all, unless you actually had the patience to wait for the less-than-inspirational introductory scrolling text on the title screen, the original Zelda doesn’t even tell you where you are or what you are doing, and yet we still found it within ourselves to face that game’s challenges. On the other hand, though, the way Link to the Past drops you in the middle of a compelling dramatic situation is infinitely preferable to the way the subsequent games have started. Following the mysterious telepathic commands of a damsel in distress is indescribably more compelling than farting around a village for two hours wondering whose arbitrary whims you’ll have to satisfy just to progress the plot. That Link to the Past manages to maintain this kind of motivation throughout the game is simply because its inhabitants rarely, if ever, assume you have nothing better to do than perform an inane favor for them. Yes, heart containers are broken into pieces here, but at least they are tucked away in caved-in caverns and forgotten forest groves, where they belong.

While the game is indeed easy, it’s not that easy. There’s a lot of nuance and trickiness to killing the enemies. This is important: if you stop paying close attention, you will die. Thanks to fairies, bottles, and a bug catching net, you are granted a bit more leeway. But successful combat is thankfully not solely a matter of holding Z and bashing A. In the game’s lengthier, more convoluted dungeons, those few slip ups you occasionally make start to add up.

Here’s another hidden virtue cast into sharp relief by the Church of Latter Day Zelda: the game’s overworld design is really, really great. I understand, of course, that Ocarina of Time‘s wide open fields are perhaps closer to Miyamoto’s original vision than the screen-by-screen setpieces of the original games. But honestly: once you get past the “whoa” factor of seeing Hyrule Field for the first time, what, really, do you have? A big empty space that’s confusing to navigate without giving you anything to sink your teeth into in the meantime. The screen by screen layout of the first game is more mechanical, yet it’s also more memorable; and then Link to the Past outdoes even it by not only having screens which are, in fact, larger than the screen, but by having two alternate versions of the overworld with subtle (but often crucial) differences.

The layout of Link to the Past‘s Hyrule is open yet populated with enough landscape and locales to keep things interesting. Between any two points you have a variety of routes, divided by river, lake, forest, and rock structures; as you gain equipment, it generally only means new paths are opened up instead of new areas. Exploring the world, then, is not determined by how much the designer wants to you see at that given time, but instead by how motivated you are to find it. As you progress, new abilities subtly redefine the layout. The light/dark world mechanic, in addition to injecting the game with some much-needed atmosphere (as well as a heckin’ badass musical theme), deepens your methods of exploration. It’s possible to switch from dark world to light at will, and if you’re observant enough, you’ll take advantage of that trick to find even more shortcuts and hidden places.

All the little things this game does well make it seem so elegant compared to the beast the series has become since then. While it’s more talkative and assertive than the original classic, it’s ultimately an understated game. What’s more, the basic compelling elements are still intact: you’ve still got those white-knuckle moments when you’re down to your last few hits, and every encounter is a matter of life and death, and if only you could survive a few more screens you might find a fairy or at least a few hearts; they just come a little later in the game. You’ve still got that sense of wonder and exploration, and the satisfying feeling of finding a new shortcut or realizing the ways different areas connect; they’re just stretched over a greater period of time. What the game loses in intensity it gains in subtlety, all while maintaining the essential flavor of the original. While Link to the Past is still low on my own personal ranked list of Zelda games (I still prefer the rawness of the NES original, the gloomy atmosphere of the sequel, and the dreamlike goofiness of the Gameboy iteration), it succeeds in being epic in scope without ever ceasing to be compelling moment-to-moment. In light of where the series has gone since, this achievement is more praise-worthy than ever.

–Andrew Toups

Comments

69 Responses to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

  1. FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC game.

    I still play this gem (one of My All-Time Favorites) through once a year, and yes, I dorkily embrace the upon-entering-the-dark-world-get-every-item tact.

    Granted, none of the puzzles are as sanity-rending as that SMB1 iteration (url at bottom)…but they still convey a hearty sense of accomplishment to a twelve year old fledgeling gamer. This, along with SMW, laid the mortar on the NES’ foundation, turning me into the hardcore gamer that I am (sadly, at 26) today.

    Lord alone knows why my wife puts up with it. Even though I have a queue of a dozen or so RPGs to play through (and with Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, FFXII: RW, and Wild Arms V forthcoming, it isn’t likely to shrink), I’ll still take a few hours to play through the classics.

    Call it a warm up.

    Oh, the promised URL: if I somehow had to play through this guy’s SMB, I think I’d likely never play video games again.
    http://www.destructoid.com/experience-the-hardest-mario-ever-no-fluffing-required–30939.phtml

  2. some of my fondest memories come from alttp, getting lost in the dungeons. part of why it stings to go back to it. a few years ago, i zipped through, waiting for those “tough rooms,” but i never encountered them. i’d outgrown the challenge. one of the curses of the series is that it is so dependent on how acquainted you are with its motifs to be difficult.
    when it came out, i was six, there was no internet, i wasn’t aware of strategy guides or magazines, and none of my friends (did i have any?) owned it. coming upon secrets felt like it was opening up only to me. me, out of everyone in the world. even stuff that wasn’t a secret, like the flute-playing ghost. i rushed to get my dad and had him take a photo.

  3. Your “similie (explanation of similie)” formula for the introduction would probably be better replaced with just one or the other. In fact, I would say you can do without about half of the introduction and just get into the point you are trying to make about how your old opinion on the game’s replayability was overlooking important virtues. This would help the connection between the intro and the bottom-line summation be a little clearer.

    The sentence “I decided to start a band, myself.” doesn’t make sense. It seems you are trying to say “So I decided to start a band instead [of playing through again].”

    The rest of the article reads much smoother and your points seem to be more clearly stated. You seem to be painting of picture of what makes the game the game that is within the context of what came before it and also what came after it. I never felt like there was a great punchline at the end that really hammered home your point, and perhaps there could have been, but your final sentence says enough.

    **1/2 of ****

  4. I still don’t like the LttP overworld. Too constrained, with all those random fence/walls keeping you from getting to the “advanced” area, as well as the posts on the bridge that require the hammer, etc.

    Then again, this kind of thing really started in Zelda 2, so LttP shouldn’t get the stuff that it does for starting the “lock and key” method of design in the Zelda series.

  5. “It’s only ever gotten worse” being the operative theme there, still.

    (except Link’s Awakening!!)

  6. dude, ocarina of times level design is as dense as anything. and the fact that they did it that early into the history of 3d gaming is incredible.

    other than that, fine review, I suppose.

  7. “dude, ocarina of times level design is as dense as anything.”

    i believe he was only talking about the (very uneventful) field.

  8. “That early”? The thing was released in late hecking 1998. That was the same time period when Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid came out, and the Dreamcast was released in Japan. This was the same time that hecking Half-Life came out. Actually, Half-life came out a month earlier. This was the end of a hecking generation.

    When Ocarina came out, it was already old. The game contributed nothing to the field that wasn’t already being executed less clumsily elsewhere, except maybe the context sensitive controls — and though a neat idea, they even kind of sucked. The first game that really got those right was Resident Evil 4.

    Otherwise, the game’s most lasting legacy is Z-targeting. Which in retrospect wasn’t a very good design choice.

    Now, whether you like the game is another issue. Whether you think it was made well is a third. I don’t, particularly, on either count. I think it’s patronizing and awkward. You seem to like it, though. Fair enough. I like shemale porn. We’ve all got our kinks.

  9. thom:

    that was the beauty of the dark world! you could opt to “jump the timeline” and, after diving into the dungeons and getting the item (granted, that’s 80% of the dungeon), wreak whatever havoc you please throughout the rest of the game. the only exceptions being, of course, that you couldn’t get the “super bomb” until you had gotten the first six crystals, and you couldn’t get into ganon’s tower until you had rescued all the maidens.

    it was the achievement. like whoever said, there weren’t gamefaqs or strategy guides (until three months after release), you were pitted against what amounted to a mini-sandbox. and it feld good.

    then FFII came out, and my entire world changed. FFII might have happened first. Dunno, I’m at work, so Actual Internet Research (i dig that, count it stolen) cannot take place. Somehow actionbutton escaped the evil websense proxy.

  10. Final Fantasy II was a launch-window game for the SNES. Link to the Past came out around a year later.

  11. thx. remains (to this day) my favorite installment in the FF series.

  12. nix that. FFIVA was better. each character’s individual dungeon was a blast, as well as were the new bosses.

    /tangent

  13. Yeah. I recall reading of its development on an Apple II, along with much of the other launch software, since the processors were so similar. Not that I really know this subject, I believe that situation was just for the earliest games, before they’d had the time to work out anything specialized.

  14. go for it, turbo. do your worst.

    i’m actually finding my horizons broadened by you guys’ inane banter. as it should be.

    anyway, if i’m remotely honest with myself: the story could be conisdered contrived, some of the music (read: rosa’s theme) is sappy at times, most of the boss battles were ridiculously easy, graphics were so-so–even on an early SNES game–and the story was choppy at best (if I was a town full of mages, i’d pummel the SHIT out of EVERYBODY)…

    doesn’t change a thing. there’s an intrinsic, (perhaps contrived), quantifiable value that somehow transcends sentiment, and I’ve attached it to a surprisingly large number of games. am I blind to their faults? no! will i still swear to everybody that they should play Brave Fencer Musashi? hell yes.

    which is why I bought a Wii. and all the FF remakes on GBA. and super paper mario.

    and damnit if that game, swiss cheese though it may be, didn’t grow on me. just because mario rocked my world in the 80s.

    can’t argue with twenty years of gaming. most people had friends, I had Nintendo. and playstation. now xbox. can’t forget all the books.

    so somebody review valkyrie profile II: silmeria. and star wars: knights of the old republic. because I still haven’t gotten around to playing them yet, and if all you can do is poke holes in the periphery, they’ll both probably be worthwhile.

  15. man, i played the stuff out of SLIMERIA (intentionally misspelled)

    i could probably review it. i didn’t like it much, though hey. i’d probably give it about two stars.

  16. I would love to review KOTOR.

    I think it would be more appropriate, though, to do Jedi Academy. What a little gem that game is, and so overlooked.

  17. “When Ocarina came out, it was already old. The game contributed nothing to the field that wasn’t already being executed less clumsily elsewhere, except maybe the context sensitive controls — and though a neat idea, they even kind of sucked. The first game that really got those right was Resident Evil 4.”

    I think its funny that you’re getting mad at me for saying Ocarina was new when it wasnt, and then go on to say that the first game that got context sensitive controls right was RE4.

    Context sensitive controls are a simple idea that had been in execution for many years before RE4, and they were done “right” many times.

    Seriously, what was so botched about the Ocarina execution?

    And you bring up Half-Life, Metal Gear, and Silent Hill in order to prove that this wasnt early in the the life of 3d gaming, yet all of those games, along with Ocarina, are considered to be extremely innovative. I will admit that many other developers got it right around this time, as well, but to say that Ocarina didn’t reach a new watermark in 3d environment design is silly. Swap the textures and its still as finely crafted as any modern adventure.

  18. So I point out that the game was actually released pretty hecking late in the 3D era, and you counter by pointing out that all the other games I name were innovative. Okay then.

    I point out that the game only really contributes one substantial idea to game design, and it didn’t even execute it well (dude, the jumping for a start), and… well, I don’t know what you’re saying about RE4. All I said was it that it took six years for someone to figure out how to do something useful with the idea. Now that someone has, it’s the latter game that gets credit for implementation. OoT only gets credit for a rough notion that was of no use for six years.

    Then I say that whether or not the game is designed well, the point is unrelated to the assertion that it was way ahead of its time, considering that it was released in the stone age. Then you say “but it was designed so well!” And, well, no it wasn’t, really. It was designed with a fist of ham the size of nebraska. Again, though, that’s got nothing to do with your original point.

    See, the way you’d argue against anything I’ve said is by giving counter-evidence showing exactly what made it so visionary for November 1998. The period of Sonic Adventure and Thief, a year after Quake II and Goldeneye and Rockman Dash.

    Again, here, we’re talking about the equivalent of an Xbox 360 game released in fall 2008. This is not early days. Aside from camera issues, people had sorted out how to use 3D space by this point.

    At the time what seemed the most major and innovative thing OoT did was dodge the camera issue altogether with its Z trigger nonsense. As it turns out, that didn’t really help much in the long term. Again, Resident Evil 4 has done more for camerawork in a 3D game than Zelda ever did.

    Now, were you to get analytical, you could start discussing “weenies” in level design and the prescient way OoT used them to draw the player forward. My counter to that is that the game’s use of landmarks is inconsistent and clumsy in application, an inevitable design conclusion in the abstract, and not particularly novel to start with. Offhand, Tomb Raider’s level design worked along much the same principle.

    What OoT did in this regard was bring the design outdoors and provide a really distant vanishing point, increasing the scope of the landmarks. Thus it’s more an issue of greater musclepower, in terms of what can be drawn on-screen, than of foresight or skill in design.

    And so on. I could go on like this forever. And so far I’m just making a laundry list. I haven’t even gotten into what I mean by “clumsy” or “ham-fisted”. There’s a novel in itself.

    If you’d like to actually offer something in suport of your assertion, we can see how it holds up. If not, perhaps you should begin to entertain the idea that, in retrospect and under close examination, the game isn’t quite as progressive as people credit to it.

    And again, hell, a game doesn’t have to be progressive or innovative or even particularly elegant for a person to like it. I mean, one of my favorite 8-bit games is Ghost House. Why? It’s quirky, it’s got a neat atmosphere and art style, it’s got some amazing music.

    My real overarching point here is that almost nobody actually takes the time to examine games like OoT; their mythic status as holy cows of design is hecking blinding. It’s like a religion or something. You can make a solid argument that, overall, it’s an excellent and artistically important game despite its flaws. Or that it uses the medium pretty well for the period when it was released. And fair as hell enough.

    Arguments like the ones you’re making, though, have to go away and melt somewhere. Quantitatively, the game has done almost nothing of substance for design. If anything, there’s an argument that it’s helped in its precedent and visibility to ingrain some of the worst design habits that we’re still dealing with today — the implication being that since it’s perfect, everything it does should be copied to the letter.

    I’ve had it up to here with the fetishism, the idolatry, in this industry and in the community that flocks around it. Everything in life and art and science must be challenged. If a work has nothing to offer in its own defense, without resorting to a human shield a hundred bodies deep, then it deserves to get dragged down off its plinth and put somewhere more measured. Really, though, we should just blow up the plinth factory.

    Zelda as a whole, and this game in particular, are important targets for examination, in terms of how hecking distracting they are, and how adverse anyone seems to be to question them. And what ho, it turns out they’re not immune to criticism! And beyond that, their actual contributions to discourse are far more arguable than is commonly assumed.

    So what hey. If you can’t think of anything else that makes the game so hecking miraculous that you have to protect it from the mud, go on, take the thing back, and like it for what it is. Maybe you’ll even appreciate it better in the end. You don’t need to objectify, to quantify, the things you love to justify your love. Love is the hecking definition of irrational. To love, reason is anathema and hecking insulting, just as the reverse is true; don’t bring it near your love. Keep them in different rooms. Just cherish what you cherish for what it is and what you are, and know that you’re human. It’s a strength if you make it one.

  19. holy stuffs

    “I’ve had it up to here with the fetishism, the idolatry, in this industry and in the community that flocks around it. Everything in life and art and science must be challenged. If a work has nothing to offer in its own defense, without resorting to a human shield a hundred bodies deep, then it deserves to get dragged down off its plinth and put somewhere more measured. Really, though, we should just blow up the plinth factory.”

    ABDN Mission Statement?

  20. uh, okay, I admit you definitely win the “video game knowledge” award in this little fight, but Im not blindly defending the game, I just didnt know you wanted to actually argue on the internet.

    anyway, Ill just keep this post to a few short points.

    my point about other games being innovative as a coutner to the lateness argument was: we havent talked about a game released before 98 here. so what im saying is that, okay, maybe people have figured out three dimensional space, but ocarina was one game among (apparently) many which solidified design mechanics signify the divide between the modern 3d age and the “unplayable dreck” phase.

    second point, again, about the context sensitivity: what are you talking about? context sensitive buttons have been used TIME AND TIME AGAIN to add a wider depth of interactivity to games before RE4 came out. Countless games have used it to make a rich experience out of 8-button controllers. I dont know what else to say.

    the final thing Ill comment on is the z-targeting comment. z-targetting is a standard, widely implemented tool in the game industry which allows for efficient interactivity in three dimensional space. What I will agree with, is that its a little “ham-fisted,” as you say, in OoT, in that you actually have to press down Z to lock on to a target. However, I think this can be excused, since hardly anyone expects perfection upon the introduction of a new gameplay element, particularly one that nearly every three dimensional action oriented game will adopt in some way or the other. Widely acclaimed games like Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry use Z-targetting in a much more abstracted, intuitive way, but its still there.

    I was primarily a PC game player until I played Ocarina of Time, and it singlehandedly made me extremely interested in consoles. The game was miles ahead of the drab, unoriginal offerings I so readily consumed with my keyboard and mouse.

    Im interested in hearing why you think the game was so blunt and obtuse.

    And dude, I’m not some blind, mindless “fetishist.” I can understand how you might be fed up with people who annoyingly spew forth endless streams of baseless praise over their pet gaming classics; I dont like their behaviour either. But I’m not trying to personally attack your intellect, so please just dont take this as a personal affront.

  21. By the way, I would have a hard time coming up with a specific argument as to why the level design works so well, because… well, the last time I played this game was almost a decade ago.

    However, I do remember feeling, at the time, that the game was almost clock-like in its design. Every piece of the environment guided or responded to player interaction to make for an intricate world that was dazzling in its depth of design.

  22. eric, what don’t you like about the z-targeting?

    “since it’s perfect, everything it does should be copied to the letter.”

    yeah. tp emerges almost a decade later, and what does its field do? places some enemies in and stretches the boundaries. it’s ocarina’s design – only, now a much bigger hot-air balloon.
    wind waker seemed to be in the process of going somewhere. there were good ideas, like the squid fights and ghost ship.

  23. Ocarina is far more joyful than Link to the Past, you start in a happy village full of wood people, your first dungeon is 5 minutes into the game, then straight after you have a massive field to bomb around – something that WAS original and unheard of in 3D design, which was very tiny before that.

    In Ocarina you feel like part of the world – there’s a sun up and a sun down, zombies come up at night, and you’re empowered to go out and kill stuff. We can debate endlessly who did what first but that is essentially meaningless as Ocarina did everything right. Z-targeting works, it’s snappy, it leads to some nice duels.

    As compaired to LttP: slow start, bad first “trainer” dungeon (absolutely NOTHING interesting happens, at least nothing I want to play) then you’re dumped into a generic over world fun of unremarkable scenery and random houses. Ocarina has STRONG flow and world design, LttP is very, very weak. Link’s Awakening kicks the stuff out of it, thank christ.

    The biggest sin of this game is link’s pink hair – RUINS it for me.

    Hooray for people who are maladroit about videogames! Long may I ignore them and enjoy myself.

  24. And for the love of god, the context-sensitive button is PERFECT in Ocarina. Jumping is no problem. Pushing things is no problem. Perhaps it is a problem on counter earth, where some people apparently live. Resident Evil 4 doesn’t do anything much different with it, at all.

  25. games had a day/night system before (simon’s quest comes to mind), but seeing the sun rise in ocarina was stunning.

  26. ““That early”? The thing was released in late hecking 1998. That was the same time period when Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid came out”

    Metal Gear Solid is a ****ed-playing 2D NES-intelligent throwback executed with polygons and limitless pretension and Silent Hill, well, I’ve never played that. Regardless, it was a mere 4 years at most into an epoch, which is early by anyone’s standards. The Dreamcast barely did anything new with 3D until (arguably) Jet Set Radio or Shemune came out – Sonic Adventure or Pen Pen hecking Triathlon aren’t doing anything new with the genre. 1980 was an “early” year for 2D games. What Ocarina hinted at was (in a way) the massive world of GTA 3 (3 years later), which is the next paradigm leap after Mario 64’s fun cul-de-sacs.

  27. Link to the Past isn’t as immersive but it’s much more engaging. Playing through OoT these days almost always puts me to sleep. The combat is boring. The game is too long, and some of the dungeon design is awful (Jabu Jabu, Forest Temple, Shadow Temple, also the Water Temple sort of). I’d rather take the first dungeon of LttP, which, while not particularly interesting, is at least brisk and over in less than twenty minutes.

    If nothing else, the ease of navigation of LttP makes it easier to stomach the game’s faults. Solving dungeon puzzles, for instance, is a detached and pleasantly cerebral process in LttP since every relevant bit of information is laid out on a grid for you. Solving the environmental puzzles in OoT often entails fighting the game’s interface and camera, both of which are far less than perfect and make the game frustrating to play. And yes, this was even noticable to me when I first played the game (yes, when it first came out), and is the reason I compare it to watching blocked out cable porn. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the only real substantial gameplay in OoT comes from solving puzzles.

    Z targeting removed any nuance or challenge from fighting enemies in zelda. It leads to some nice looking duels, yes, but they still don’t play well. I mean, if you like button mashing games, more power to you, but it leaves me feeling bored and unsatisfied.

  28. So LttP is better because it’s over quicker.

    Excellent, toups.

    Excellent.

    Duels in OoT are not “button mashing”. Go to jail, do not pass start, do not collect 200 dollars.

  29. jabu-jabu’s “meat portals” on the ground were lame. maybe you had a problem with carrying ruto?
    the forest and shadow temple were okay. i mean, at the least, they weren’t crushingly bad. you couldn’t deal with a bit of box-pushing in the former?

    “Z targeting removed any nuance or challenge from fighting enemies in zelda.”

    not really. more like most of the enemies weren’t properly adjusted to go along with the design choice. taking on a few stalfos knights at once is pretty engaging, as they are an exception in enemy behavior. ocarina’s interface is smooth and hassle-free – i will take that over toughness due to sloppy controls (original zelda) – and the camera is a steady, unlike mario 64’s epileptic beast.

  30. “ocarina’s interface is smooth and hassle-free”

    Totally. I’ve never understood this burning desire to take castration over empowerment.

  31. I think the reason why combat is less engaging in the three dimensional zeldas has more to do with difficulty than z-targeting.

    Considering combat, the best Zelda is, by far, the original. That stuff was fierce.

  32. “Duels in OoT are not “button mashing”.”

    Yes they are. For the vast, vast, majority of the game, there is absolutely no challenge or even strategy involved with combat. Enemies also do much less damage, and hearts are much more common, meaning that you never have to deal with the threat of death.

    There are a few situations where the fights are kind of fun, but most of the time it’s just boring. Hold Z, press A, wash, rinse, repeat. You can also dodge side to side, but you really never need to.

    Both jabu jabu and the forest temple are confusingly laid out and have unclear, opaque solutions to some of their puzzles. I remember spending well over an hour going in circles in the forest temple because I had no idea where I was supposed to check next. All while that hecking terrible music played D:

    Also, yeah, the box sliding puzzle is obnoxious as hell.

    The shadow temple is a platforming/obstacle course in a game with controls that are not suited to the task.

    I mean, OoT has a lot of charm, and is pretty atmospheric in some places. It’s also severely lacking in oomph.

    And yes, LttP is better because it ends sooner. Aren’t you the one who complains about JRPG’s being too long? But it’s not simple matter of game length. Ocarina of Time is both longer and spread more thin.

    Any interface that constantly requires you to click buttons simply to make things viewable is neither smooth nor hassle free. It’s entirely possible to get used to it to the point where it no longer becomes a problem, but it never stops being awkward. I never stopped feeling like I should be seeing more than what’s in front of me, and there’s no elegant way to look around. It’s either change direction and hope you’re at the precise angle you want, and press Z, or go into first person mode, which means totally stopping, making yourself vulnerable to enemies, and then dealing imprecise analog stick looking. The problem is that most of the environmental puzzles require you to be acutely aware of what’s surrounding you, meaning that you can’t really get around this problem if you want to complete the game. It’s something that you’re constantly dealing with, all the way up to the last boss.

    Having to pause to switch items is clumsy as well, and is only made more obnoxious by the fact that this game frequently requires you to use the items you find in dungeons. Using the c buttons to quick select doesn’t really alleviate things, either, because there are so many times when the puzzle at hand requires something that you don’t have equipped, since the previous puzzle required a different set of items. It’s ultimately a design issue. LttP makes do with dungeon layouts that are interesting in and of themselves without resorting to gimmicky use of specialized items. Most situations in that game can be dealt with using whatever you have equipped — OoT is constantly asking you to pause, switch items, use the item in a canned and predictable way, pause, switch to another item, use it in a canned and predictable way, and so on and so forth.

  33. it’s all pattern recognition. windwaker had some fun tumbles, and ocarina and TP only got interesting with multiple armored foes. although flailing around like an idiot in TP in that abysmal final-final-final duel with ganon got repetitive quick enough.

    Maybe i was just frustrated by Zelda’s piss-poor aiming.

    give me the multi-stage shapeshifting shadow boss at the end of windwaker. the snake-tarantula/whatever was difficult enough that I was honestly surprised that I had succeeded on my first try.

    nothing really captures that challenge in OoT, or ALttP, for that matter. The reason I keep going back is purely nostalgia.

    Which is what it comes down to, really, in any hobby. Pucker up on that level of elitism, slick.

    what’s the running opinion of morrowind and oblivion? those are two that, while they should be in my queue, I am still irrevocably scarred from the heinousness that was Fable. Talk about hyrule field. stuffe that game blew.

  34. Well, the review of Oblivion on here seems to be a fair enough summary for a lot of the people here. I certainly don’t like it as much as Morrowind, mainly because Morrowind is interesting. Oblivion is genericly boring in far too many ways to think about, especially in the setting.

    I mean, Way of the Rodent joked about Morrowind being sponsored by Heinz Baked Beans (and were pretty much right) and it’s still far more engrossing than Oblivion.

  35. oof. the only things people tell me about morrowind is how you can, “shoot an arrow at a bucket hanging over a well, and the bucket tips because of the awesome physics; then you can walk over and pull out the arrow, and it tips back.”

    all i keep thinking is: a) how many minor details can the game keep track of at once, and b) who hecking cares?!?!

    of course, you guys care, because you are purists. which is why i adore these reviews. still doesn’t explain why i comment.

  36. I can only really throw in on z-targeting, here, but:

    It’s really awful, and like most 3D Zelda caveats, has only gotten worse. The games feel enough like you’re going through the motions as-is; combat in Twilight Princess for the latter half of the game (read: “when it gets complicated”) equated to hold Z, press left or right, tap A twice, shake shake shake. If it’s going to be the same thing every time, it certainly doesn’t have to be the same four things in a row. Hell – this is why I prefer Ninja Gaiden to Devil May Cry (helpless in fighting games though I am, which I’m told has something to do with it); in DMC you hold down a button to go into “attack mode,” whereas in Ninja Gaiden you do the homing thing from Sonic Adventure.

    I mean, yeah!!

  37. As compared to the amazingly complex and dense combat of 2D Zelda?

    Give me a hecking break.

  38. that’s the point, though; it didn’t pretend to be something it wasn’t, and the purely coincidental “oh no i have to back up before i slash!” timing mechanics involved worked perfectly well in an olde nintendo sense.

  39. guy – The bucket thing is Oblivion, actually. Morrowind is pretty basic in that regard. Basic and UGLY. It’s still an awesome game.

  40. The point is, ultimately, that you have to pay attention to what you’re doing in LttP, or you will die. You have to intentionally play OoT sloppy to even worry about needing to use a fairy in a bottle.

  41. I know this is kind of a over-used complaint, but my biggest problem with OoT was that, since the game was now in 3D, not being able to jump really sucks. Jumping in 3D Zelda games is still my biggest issue. I mean, if the game isn’t going to let you do it then they need to not make you do it.

  42. I love jumping in OoT! I just virtual console’d it and what I was mostly doing was jumping!

  43. “Is 3D Zelda really pretending to be something it isn’t, though?”

    Seriously!

    And Toups, I don’t think Ocarina is so easy that you have to be intentionally playing horribly in order to die. I mean, yeah its easy, most games are, but when I played it as a kid I died every now and then, and I’m not totally incompetent.

    I would say that Wind Waker has the best combat of the 3d Zeldas, because it really doesn’t make any attempt to stand on its “depth,” but rather gives you lots of really beautiful enemies to fight. Consequently, the fighting looks really good and its an enjoyable part of an excellent game.

  44. Hear, hear, right up until “excellent game.”

    This has been discussed to death, I think, but: I feel bad about not liking Wind Waker more than I do. Twilight Princess actually inspires malice in me.

    And yeah, I’ll give you “best combat of the 3D Zeldas” in an instant. Sure, the weapon pickups were almost always worse than your sword, and that “QUICK SHENMUE PRESS A” thing was paper-thin, but hey. Game had aspirations. I don’t know about anybody else, but I still have really fond memories of the general exposition in Wind Waker, drowned Hyrule and all. If only the world could’ve been just a _little_ smaller (yes I’m sorry okay QUESTIONABLE DESIGN DECISION) and Link took exactly twice the damage per hit, Zelda could’ve kept right on being Zelda. Mainly I’m just bitter that the most beautiful 3D game ever made doesn’t particularly make me (or most other people) want to play it.

  45. The way I played it, I made sure to visit every island between my current location and the next objective. That way, I was always doing something, so the sailing never got out of hand. I really didnt mind it at all, and I had a great sense of achievement from filling out every square of the map.

  46. toups 🙁 the forest temple’s theme is great!
    i did not experience endless item switching, save for the water temple and the iron boots/regular boots swapping.

    “For the vast, vast, majority of the game, there is absolutely no challenge or even strategy involved with combat.”

    there is little challenge in fighting – but no strategy? loads of enemies have patterns. you can’t kill skulltulas by button mashing. you can’t kill poes by button mashing. you can’t kill iron knuckles by button mashing. you surely can’t kill any boss by button mashing.

    why is this an enormous problem, again? zelda is about overcoming some sort of layout. complaining that ocarina’s puzzles are the “only real substantial gameplay” is ridiculous, because that’s what the series’ gameplay IS.

    “the only real substantial gameplay in devil may cry 3 comes from the fighting.”

    in the original zelda, enemies are meant to be avoided, but that’s tough because it’s like trying to navigate an old, blind man through traffic, and it’s just not worth it to fight the heart gobbling monsters. alttp’s “combat” is being close enough to an enemy to hit them with the appropriate weapon – usually your sword. if there’s a bunch of dudes in the way, use the pegasus dash!

  47. “why is this an enormous problem, again? zelda is about overcoming some sort of layout. complaining that ocarina’s puzzles are the “only real substantial gameplay” is ridiculous, because that’s what the series’ gameplay IS.”

    This simply isn’t true. Like I said, originally the series was about exploration and survival. The original game didn’t even really have “puzzles” so much as it had, well… at the very worst, you had to keep pushing each block in the room until you found which one was the switch.

    “there is little challenge in fighting – but no strategy? loads of enemies have patterns. ”

    Strategy is not the same thing as following the same steps every time. it’s a wash, rinse, repeat scenario for every boss monster and every regular enemy that you encounter. It doesn’t take long before it’s just going through the motions. Once you have to stop thinking about it is when strategy leaves the equation. After awhile it makes you wonder why the enemies are even there, aside from just giving you something to do with your thumbs. I guess that’s all there is to it, which is kind of hecking lame. Zelda was much more exciting to me when the hazards of its world actually posed a threat. When I actually had to be careful as I explored those maze-like dungeons.

  48. Yes: the whole “one way to kill each enemy type with the tools you have” approach to 3D combat is boring, hackneyed, and uninspired. The only place I can really forgive it is the first Prince of Persia, since it looked SO good and wasn’t really about combat at all, but even that game’s main flaw is that it had too much of it. This is the biggest problem with the God of War series, and the fact that DMC3 mostly eschews that kind of thing in favor of a fighting game-style combo-heavy system is one reason why it’s so engaging and fun.

    It’s sort of ridiculous to compare Zelda with DMC3, but it’s not too ridiculous to compare it to Sands of Time. If it’s not willing to go whole-hog with the 3D combat, it should be a) pretty and b) scarce. Wind Waker was much closer to the mark, as far as that goes.

  49. You can’t even button mash on the first enemies – the killer flowers. If you do they heck you up. And depending how they die, there are two distinct item drops.

    Toups fatally misremembers target of criticism itt

  50. My GOD, it is a breath of fresh air to finally find other people who understand why the 3D Zeldas put me to sleep!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111111elevenone

    You guys hit it on the head. Combat in LTTP was not like a championship match of Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo or Virtua Fighter 4 EVO, but enemies did move and strike quickly enough that you could take damage or even lose all your hearts very quickly if you got sloppy.

    Enemies in the 3D Zelda’s are basically just decorations and rupee dispensers. I feel compelled to compare the gaurds roaming about the LTTP overworld to the skeletons in OOT’s night field. The gaurds are not smart by any means, but they at least RUN at you pretty quickly and react to being hit by snapping right back at you. The skeletons in OOT WALK (it’s actually more of a hobble or a limp) slowly towards you and take their time bringing back their hand to swing. When you hit them, they don’t come back very quickly, and they don’t do much damage even when they do hit you. And that’s besides the fact, because they’re so slow you can pretty much ignore them and run right around them and they’ve never catch up.

    Some enemies do have patterns so you can’t button mash, but the pattern is so simple that it’s not any more of a challenge than button mashing. With enemies like the nut-spitters they go through so much trouble to make sure you’re ready for it, it’s like “hurry up and hecking spit so I can get on with the freaking dungeon!”.

    Zelda is not a fighting game or beat-em-up, but the 2D originals were originally composed of a winning combination of basic combat AND puzzle solving which made them pure fun….as Toups said, there was an element of survival. The 3D Zelda’s remove the combat element so it’s just about wandering around solving puzzles, which by itself is boring.

    Ocarina also felt like a chore to me because I felt like I was constantly wrestling with the camera trying to see where the hell I was going, and even then, the the painfully muddy textures got in the way and made the experience unpleasant. Windwaker’s camera is much better, but I still never feel like the camera is giving me a full, complete view of the situation the way it does in the 2D games.

    I haven’t played TP yet, but it sounds like they have yet to get the overworld right. In LTTP there was generally something going on on every screen…in OoT Hyrule field is just a whole lot of nothing. Windwaker was a pathetically transperant excuse to just render the whole overworld with a single water texture rather than actually structuring a landscape, but it does feel like there is more to see on the various islands floating out there than in OOT.

  51. so it all boils down to no other fault than one: the game is too easy.

    I still disagree, but whatever. I’m willing to concede such a small fault.

    I mean, I hardly saw any “strategy” in gears of war, for example. Every fight was exactly the same: hide behind cover, wait for enemies to get out from cover, shoot, repeat.

    As toups said, it ceases to be “strategy” when the same process works every single time.

  52. “Is 3D Zelda really pretending to be something it isn’t, though?”

    Twilight Princess spends *the entire game* pretending to be things it isn’t. Occasionally the ruse works, briefly, and it’s sincerely entertaining for a few moments. The game is a series of promises spaced out just close enough to keep you playing on the hope that it’s getting better. And then the game is over.

    Are there endearing and entertaining parts to it? Yes, definitely.

    It is ultimately a good game? Not really.

    Is it an honest game? Hell No. The entire damn thing is a shell game, using little gameplay stubs to hint at depth and inspiration and new ideas and almost never actually delivering on any of them. The hints themselves are pretty good, which is why it’s so disappointing when you finally realize the game is never going to make anything of them.

  53. “Like I said, originally the series was about exploration and survival.”

    the series still is about exploration.
    if the original was about “survival,” again, that was because the framework was so nebulous (and the setting so dead). you wander around nearly identical screens, trying to figure out what little nook or amorphous sequence you overlooked, all the while having your hearts drained by enemies who dick you over because of the arthritic controls (cv1’s motion, on the other hand, works).
    the dungeons are weak action containers that don’t test problem solving skills so much as how lucky you can get with the hit detection.

  54. diplo, I think it’s worth noting that in 1987, with a seven-year-old’s imagination, all those things you bring up as negatives (by modern standards) actually served to enhance the mystique and sense of discovery.

  55. i was wondering the same.

    and that’s fine, westacular. fine, but not good design. anyone can make things opaque. simply because the result is DREAM-LIKE doesn’t mean the product is well considered or enjoyable. often, it’s simply weird.

    the original zelda may have inspired awe or fear in a young mind, but so did the bfg, when i was seven. i’m twenty one and not impressed by the game’s stodgy, ugly meandering.

  56. Site is not dead. More reviews coming. As Tim said, this stuff got shoved in the spotlight too early, kinks are still being worked out, etc.

  57. So I’ve been playing this on VC, chipping through, for about a month now.

    I completely disagree with this review (at least the parts that aren’t Toups Autobiography (****) rite) in basically every way, frankly.

    It’s the overworld. Good heck I hate the overworld. Every second of this game that is not inside a dungeon is to be bitterly resented. Enemies are annoyances, needlessly punitive little bothers that sap you down. Navigation is fiddly and boring, picking back over old ground for the sake of it. Combat is hateful and Hyrule is so faked and empty that a kind of hecked up solipsism takes over. Dungeons improve the matter somewhat, but they’re absolutely interchangable.

    Ocarina (purchased at the same time) is still fairly grand, despite the issues of the day.

    I will probably write my own review addressing this soon.

  58. James, pretty much everything you said about LTTP would apply in my mind to Ocarina. LTTP may be a bit boring in retrospect, but to me, Ocarina was boring the day is came out. It would appear that you only enjoyed it because it was your first (possibly second) Zelda game.

    somes –
    “so it all boils down to no other fault than one: the game is too easy.

    I still disagree, but whatever. I’m willing to concede such a small fault.”

    If it were just a bit too easy, that would be forgivable. Ocarina basically takes combat and the threat on your completely life out of the equation; the enemies aren’t actually enemies, they’re just decorations to smash when you need more rupees or hearts. As a result, rather than being 50% combat and 50% exploration/puzzles, OOT is 95% exploration and puzzles, which is boring on its own, if not downright annoying given the camera-wrestling involved.

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