Monday, September 25, 2017

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS) Review Redux

Little by little The Legend of Zelda series has moved along with progressing the formula, but none so pronounced as what the gaming world saw with this year's The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. With a brand new open world setting and structure, as well as its moving from series norms, Breath of the Wild dawned a new era in The Legend of Zelda franchise.

However, Breath of the Wild wasn't the first Zelda game to try something new to shake up the formula after Twilight Princess (where the series started to sort of go through the motions). The Zelda game I'm referring to is the subject of this Monday morning's Review Redux, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

A link between tradition and progress

After playing the delightful Nintendo Switch launch title The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (also on Wii U as a swan song for the system), I wanted to play some older games in the Zelda series. I didn't really have an idea on which entry I desired to replay, but then I thought about things from a deeper viewpoint rather than "which game will bring me the most fun".

The idea came to me, entering into my mind as if the thought came through my ear canal, that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a bold new direction for the Zelda franchise as it completely eschewed series conventions and traditions for the most part. However, this change to rework the conventions of The Legend of Zelda didn't begin with Breath of the Wild. It began with the Nintendo 3DS game, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. I believe that A Link Between Worlds serves as a real link between the foundations and traditions of older Zelda and the all-new take with Breath of the Wild.

Part of that is what occurs about a third of the way through A Link Between Worlds. After you've gathered the three MacGuffins to remove the evil force field surrounding Hyrule Castle and take care of the guards inside, you wind up within the realm of Lorule, an ominous kingdom coated under a dark and dreary sky and filled with powerful, horrifying monsters and creatures. This is where there is some freedom to be found in A Link Between Worlds, as a new batch of dungeons is unlocked. In most of the Zelda games prior to Worlds, you had to complete each dungeon in a linear fashion. Sure, there were times where a choice could be made, but those were few and far in between. With The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, you can opt to complete each dungeon in Lorule in any order.

A theme with this review is how A Link Between Worlds bridged the gap between
traditional Zelda games and the new kind seen with Breath of the Wild. So... here is a literal bridge!
Generally in past Zeldas, a given dungeon would provide you with its own unique item waiting within the monster-filled, puzzle-heavy rooms and corridors of its boundaries. With A Link Between Worlds, this is different, and this formula alteration assists in letting you reach and complete any dungeon in whatever order you wish. Instead of gaining Link's tools like the Boomerang, Bow and Arrow, Hookshot, et al within the dungeons themselves, you can rent them from a jolly character named Ravio who takes the phrase "make yourself at home" literally by turning Link's house in Hyrule into his own shop. All of the items to be used in Link's dual kingdom adventure are housed here, and can be rented for a price. The catch is that if Link falls in battle, Ravio's faithful bird companion will retrieve the rented items and return them to its master. Though that isn't really a threat in the standard difficulty as Link can take lots of hits and can gain tons of extra hearts. When Hero Mode is available (which sadly requires you to beat the initial game to play) with its damage multipliers to Link, the rental system is more pronounced and more of a game-changer.

Lorule is already rather inhospitable, unfriendly, and dangerous as is, but in Hero Mode? Even more so!
Eventually you'll be able to buy items for good rather than just rent them. This is where collecting Rupees in both Hyrule and Lorule become prominent within A Link Between Worlds' design. Items from Ravio cost anywhere between 600 to 1200 Rupees to keep. Thankfully, the game encourages exploration to find chests within the two overworld maps as well as within the dungeons. There are even puzzle rooms sprinkled about Hyrule and Lorule in hidden and/or hard-to-reach locations within both kingdoms' maps. These generally require a specific item or combination of items to solve the puzzle or challenge and acquire your Rupee reward at the end. Exploration is also encouraged by all of the Heart Pieces in the game to find or earn as well as cute creatures called Maiamais that when ten are collected, the creatures' mother gives you an upgrade to an item you currently own. With 100 to find spread across Hyrule and Lorule, it seems like an insurmountable challenge, but thankfully, the bottom screen shows how many Maiamai are remaining in each section of both kingdoms.

Whether it's the Ice Rod in Turtle Rock...
Dungeons in A Link Between Worlds require one particular item from Ravio's shop. While this is how Link can complete most dungeons within Lorule in any order (save for the Desert Palace which cannot be done first as it requires the Sand Rod, only available after beating the Thieves' Hideout), using only one item per dungeon means that you seldom truly get stuck in these labyrinths. Hit an obstacle that you don't quite know how to pass or overcome? The dungeon's required item will work by using it in some way. This is the same with bosses. They're defeated by using the weapon required for the dungeon as well. You just have to come up with how to utilize it for victory.

...Or the Hookshot in the Swamp Palace, each Link Between Worlds dungeon
needs one specific item to complete it.
Dungeons have the Zelda tradition of housing keys, Boss Keys to reach the dungeon boss' domain, treasure chests and more to acquire while the Compass reveals all treasures, locked doors, and boss locations on the bottom screen map, a lovely and convenient use of the Nintendo 3DS' second screen. While I said you don't get Link's traditional arsenal of weapons from special treasure chests in dungeons like in previous Zelda games, there is one special chest in each dungeon. These optional chests are well worth the rewards in finding them, ranging from added defense with new tunics, ore to give to a blacksmith who will create a more powerful sword for you, and more.

Feel free to come up with your own rock-related joke here! Tonight's an off night for me with puns!
The main mechanic in A Link Between Worlds is magnificent and one of my favorite twists to the gameplay of any Zelda game. It's a mural mechanic, where Link can use a ring handed to him by Ravio to literally merge into walls, resembling a Link mural, walking along the wall to reach otherwise impossible to access locations. It really opens up the world and dungeon designs of the game to make you think in a spatial kind of way that you may not have thought about before. There are obvious methods of crossing short chasms with Wall Link, but when you need to circle around as Link in an extended length of a room, switch between both forms on the fly like in the Tower of Hera with its moving platforms, or figure out which level of height will allow you to cross a gap and reach a certain platform, things get a bit trickier.

The many uses of merging with walls and the like are immensely cunning,
but what else is there to expect from the Zelda team anyway?
You can't just perpetually stay in mural form either. That would be too easy. Instead, many of the dungeons and areas in Link Between Worlds consist of sections where you have to manage your energy meter well. This meter is a new feature in the Zelda franchise. It empties while in mural form, and if it depletes fully while you're inside a wall, you're tossed out. With that Tower of Hera example where you have to navigate around a jutting piece of wall as Mural Link that blocks regular Link from continuing to ride a moving platform, you need to manage your energy meter carefully so it doesn't run out while hanging over a pit. Not only is the meter spent from being Mural Link in general, but it also serves as ammo for all of Link's items. So instead of having to pick up arrows and bombs from defeated enemies, you just wait a little bit for Link's meter to replenish to continue bringing destruction and carnage to enemies.

Wall merging as Link isn't just used to solve puzzles or to get from location to location. It's the whole basis upon which Link travels between Hyrule and Lorule. There are myriad magical cracks or rifts within the walls of Hyrule and Lorule, and as being Lorule is heavily segmented, it's crucial to find rifts within Hyrule to reach the various sections splitting up the kingdom. Better yet, if you find these, they are put on your map on the bottom screen via icon so you never have to 100% remember where they are.

Rifts like these allow Link to travel from one world to the other.
Apart from traveling between worlds, backtracking is also prominently done with Link Between Worlds, but it's done in a way that doesn't feel tedious or repetitive. This is greatly helped by the inclusion of bird signposts that not only serve as save points but fast travel locations. Even still, Hyrule and Lorule are so well made, especially Hyrule, a kingdom filled with so much in such a little space, one might worry that areas wouldn't blend in with one another naturally. After all, when you have deserts, towns, mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, marshlands, and more in such a small area of space compared to the open world spaces of larger budget games, it's a little bit of a concern to a tyro of Zelda. Fortunately, that is not the case at all. You feel like you're playing in a wholly complete world that exudes personality, flows effortlessly from segment to segment of Hyrule, and the feeling for that reason is because Hyrule is a complete kingdom and has no design oddities within it.

Places with multiple sprawling platforms like this Ice Ruins section look fantastic in 3D.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds remains one of my favorite games on the Nintendo 3DS with one of the best implementations of 3D around next to Super Mario 3D Land. The way Link bounces towards your face when being jolted up a floor in the Tower of Hera is one notable moment where the 3D slider needs to be turned up all the way. While sharing many familiar themes to A Link to the Past from the Super Nintendo -- the game Link Between Worlds is essentially a love letter for fans of the game and pretty much a sequel to -- the music in this 3DS classic is phenomenal with its new renditions of old faves and completely new compositions such as Yuga's theme.

Nonetheless, some issues are present with A Link Between Worlds, but they didn't really harm my viewpoint of the game even with my fourth play-through of the game. I'm talking about things like dungeons requiring only one item each, making them less challenging -- and speaking of difficulty, the overall difficulty of the game is low. Despite these issues, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds served as a nice preview of how Nintendo EPD would change Zelda series even further and to a much more extreme degree with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Those looking for a bridge or better yet, a link between traditional Zelda and the whole new world of Zelda, seek out A Link Between Worlds.

[SPC Says: A]

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