17
Apr
14

button mashin’-ations with street fighter alpha

in an effort to soldier on with the street fighter series (which i haven’t spent much time with since i played super street fighter II: the new challengers on SNES almost four years ago), i spent some time with the first street fighter alpha game via the PS2 compilation, entitled street fighter alpha anthology. i generally have a hard time remembering the differences between the hundreds of versions of the games, but apparently super street fighter II introduced super moves (stronger versions of special moves executed by performing even more-complicated sequences of button presses). according to this article on eurogamer.net, the unique aspects of street fighter alpha included “many new gameplay features to Street Fighter”, namely:

    …multiple Super moves per character, different levels of Super move power, the ability to taunt your opponent, air blocking, Chain Combos and Alpha Counters. Chain Combos allowed the player to cancel the animation of a standard attack with another standard attack effectively chaining moves together.

suffice it to say, for a casual street fighter like myself, the finer points of this iteration were generally lost on me. i studied up on super moves but didn’t bother mastering chain combos and alpha counters, although i’m sure that in doing so i’ve earned the scorn of self-titled “hardcore” gamers everywhere. haha. but in any case, i was fine getting through the game with my go-to guy, ryu. i was happy to rely on his familiar moveset, and i randomly picked the new-to-the-roster rose as another character to spend time with. that turned out to be a bit of a disappointment since her moveset was, for the most part, very similar to ryu’s, but she did have m. bison as her final boss instead of sagat which helped make my time with her more worthwhile.

in terms of progressing from SFII, the expansion of super moves in alpha was interesting and does lead to some strategizing which is nice (do you use up just part of your saved-up super meter for one special move or do you blow it all on a more-powerful attack that may be blocked?), although this game just about reaches my limit of how much i’m willing to tolerate in terms of moves that are complicated and too hard to execute. the game adopts cartoonier visuals, but they were a nice change of pace so i didn’t mind them. the cast didn’t feel that different from SFII, though, but i’m hardly an expert on that.

anyway, i don’t have a whole lot more to say about the game. i’m sure fighter enthusiasts could write volumes about the progression of the series, but i was happy to give this game a whirl and move on. i don’t have any plans to get into alpha 2 and alpha 3, and am setting my sights on SFIII next. hopefully i’ll finally be able to get to that before another four years goes by!

button mash these street fighter alpha links:
- entry at strategywiki.org including a complete list of move sets
- if, like me, you’re wondering what all the victory symbols mean, check out this FAQ (section 5.2) which also includes the text of all the characters’ endings
- entry on streetfighter.wikia.com
- entry on wikipedia
- and just for fun, check out this mashup: If Disney Princesses Were Old-School Street Fighter Characters…

10
Apr
14

shin megami tensei: devil summoner: soul hackers hacked

in my last post i gave an overview of the shin megami tensei series, and explained why i chose shin megami tensei: devil summoner: soul hackers, a 3DS re-release of a previously japan-only sega saturn title, as my first SMT title. i had played enough of the first SNES shin megami tensei game and others in the series to feel that soul hackers was pretty classic SMT, but i was also able to recognize its unique aspects.

first off, in terms of standard SMT mechanics, my immediate reaction to demon negotiation was that it was too random. i didn’t see why having the same conversation with the same demon should elicit different responses, and initially the indeterministic nature of these interactions really bothered me. after getting deeper into the games, though, it became clearer that you do still have to follow general approaches to different demons in order to recruit them (e.g. flattery for some, intimidation to others), and that making the system more rigid would make it overly complex and finicky. the mechanism does work well, and picking demons to recruit in order to avoid having to battle them adds a nice strategic element to the usual dungeon crawling grind.

the second aspect of the SMT games that took adjusting to is that you’re always looking to fuse your current demons into stronger ones, so the games are set up for you to not get too attached to the demons you currently have. later games in the series have tried to alleviate this in various ways, such as in SMT IV where your demons actually level up and learn new skills. SMT IV also succeeds in making you more interested in the various demons by showing close-up character portraits of them when you talk to them as opposed to just their full-body battle sprites as in soul hackers. unique to this entry, the game incorporates a loyalty mechanic whereby demons will be more obedient the more your orders match their personality (e.g. wild demons prefer to perform physical attacks). this is somewhat similar to purifying shadow pokemon in pokemon colosseum, and for the most part it does help make you more attached to your current set of demons. however, you’re still changing demons all the time, which detracts a bit from the overall experience, and i certainly didn’t reach the levels of affection for my team that i would in, say, a pokemon game or a more-traditional RPG, even taking the demons’ inherent lower cuddly factor into account.

although demons don’t level up in soul hackers, they can pass skills to their fused demons within certain constraints (which i didn’t bother following since they were too obtuse), and there’s a special demon called the dolly kadmon that you get early on that you can fuse to become stronger but that still keeps its identity. the game encourages you to use the dolly kadmon because, unlike all the other demons, it doesn’t cost any magnetite (one of the game’s two currencies) to summon it or keep it in your party. but since it averages its level with the demons it fuses with it’s always weaker than other demons you could fuse. apparently there are special fusions that will result in that demon becoming super powered, but they require a series of fusions that would require a FAQ to unlock: i certainly never came across them on my own, FAQ-less playthrough. i kind of hate it when games include really obscure “secrets” like that, but it didn’t seem to handicap my playthrough in general.

anyway, in terms of other features unique to this entry, sword fusion enables you to fuse a demon into a sword, and it’s a small but worthwhile feature. there’s also a “pet store” where you can deliver demons with specific attributes (e.g. knows a certain spell) to customers to get rewards, but i didn’t bother with that at all. for this 3DS remake the developers also added a special streetpass demon that evolves with streetpasses (or play coins) which unlocks demons exclusive to the 3DS version. this was another minor bonus that i didn’t really bother with. the game includes a set of in-game “apps” that give small bonuses, such as being able to talk to more types of demons. the only really worthwhile one among them is the one that allows you to save anywhere. again, SMT IV takes this mechanic a step further by allowing you to install many more apps and many more types of apps, and thus makes it much more worthwhile. for the 3DS remake the developers added more configuration options to make the game less old school (including letting you adjust the difficulty at any time), but i didn’t bother with those either since i was trying to keep to the more-classic original sega saturn experience. the game also includes some significant post-game challenges, as well as an extra dungeon specifically created for the 3DS, and a new game plus mode, none of which i bothered with.

in terms of the rest of the game, i enjoyed the cyberpunk story, although the characters (with the exception of your female partner) are all pretty generic. the dungeons tended to be a bit drab, but a decent number (particularly in the virtual reality world) had some twists to keep things interesting. the game is actually the second in a spin-off of the main SMT series (the first was never released outside of japan), and the game features some cameos of people from the first title, but that didn’t affect my experience at all. the game isn’t overwhelmingly difficult, although you can expect that every boss encounter will initially result in failure. this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as often the way to get past it isn’t just to grind (although that never hurts), but rather to take stock of what demons you have available and put together a team that will really attack the boss’s weak points. this entry also incorporates a mechanic where both your team and the enemies are separated into front and back rows. the main difference is that only characters in the front row can execute physical attacks, and many special attacks can only attack a character in the front row. this def. adds to the strategy of battles, although it’s not a terribly unique mechanic for RPGs in general. for the remake the graphics are in glasses-free 3D, although for the most part it’s very much just limited to the text being put on a closer plane than the action, and the cutscenes, which in most games would show off the 3D the most, are disappointingly, but understandably, completely in 2D.

anyway, overall i did enjoy the game although as with the vast majority of RPGs it drags on way longer than it should. fans of old-school RPGs will enjoy the experience, and the game did accomplish my main objective, which was to play an SMT game very close to the first entries, but significantly less primitive. i’m happy to have played it and finally broken into the long-running SMT series, but i’m definitely looking forward to some of the more acclaimed entries.

hack these shin megami tensei: devil summoner: soul hackers links:
- the megami tensei wikia has pretty much everything you’d want to know about the game, including details on all the demons and skills (although beware of spoilers)
- the official site is nicely designed but fairly standard, but it does include a few wallpapers
- good walkthrough at gamefaqs
- info on a game-breaking glitch that occurs early on and how to fix it (not sure, but it seems to occur if you’re starting a new game and save to an old save slot that has the same name)
- interview with the localization team
- glowing review at gameinformer and tips on beating the game
- entry at hardcoregaming101.net
- glowing review at nintendolife.com
- entry at metacritic

06
Apr
14

an intro to the shin megami tensei series

there are several reasons why i’ve been trying to get into the shin megami tensei series for awhile. apparently in its native japan it’s a highly regarded series, ranking in popularity right behind the huge dragon quest and the also very popular final fantasy series (well, according to the source from c. 2000 that wikipedia cites anyway), and it celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2012, the same year as the final fantasy series. i suppose the SMT series (aka megaten) had first come to my attention via the persona series, one of its many spin-off series and one of the first of the series to be brought to the US. one of the main features of the persona games (starting with #3) is building relationships between your team members in order to gain advantages in battle, and as that’s one of the things i love about the fire emblem series i was interested in finding out more. on top of that, last january nintendo announced a crossover game between the SMT and fire emblem series, which renewed my interest, although in this case the crossover seems to be with the mainline SMT series as opposed to its spin-off series persona. and on top of that, nintendo had a promotion to encourage fans of fire emblem to try out SMT and vice versa by giving a sizable eshop credit to motivate people who bought one to buy the other.

all well and good, but for a completist like me it took a bit of work to sift through the series’ long history, replete with spin-offs with extremely similar-sounding names, and to decide where to start. the series actually began on the famicom (i.e. japanese NES) with a pair of titles, released in 1987 and 1990, the first of which was called digital devil story: megami tensei (“megami tensei” apparently means “rebirth of the goddess”). those games include all the trademarks of the general series, namely 1st-person dungeon exploration, typical RPG battles, a cyberpunk setting, assuming the role of a male protagonist who is accompanied by a female magic wielder, and its most noteworthy feature, negotiating with demons to either recruit them, receive items, and/or avoid having to fight them. the demons are drawn from all of the world’s mythologies and range from angels to devils to egyptian, greek, and roman gods to pixies and fairies and elves. the other main characteristic of the series is fusing demons together to create stronger ones. those two games have never been released in the US, and even amongst the online community they apparently weren’t interesting enough for fans to want to translate them into english.

on nintendo’s next console (called the super famicom in japan and the super nintendo everywhere else) the series really picked up with three releases: shin megami tensei, shin megami tensei II, and shin megami tensei if…. the added “shin” apparently translates to “true”, so the full translation of shin megami tensei is something like “true goddess reincarnation”. the first two of these games have been translated into english by fans and patches can be found online, and very recently an official english-language version of the first of these games was published for iOS for $8. the games have a completely different storyline than the famicom titles, but they basically include, refine, and expand all the elements of its parent series. the games seem to generally stick to post-apocalyptic settings, and SMT is also notable for introducing the concepts of player choice: throughout the game you’ll choose to align to the law or chaos sides or remain neutral, and your alignment apparently affects the ending. the game makes a notable distinction by making the conflict be between law (i.e. order) vs. chaos rather than the usual light vs. dark in order to point up that neither order nor chaos is “better”, but that each leads to very different consequences.

i started playing the first SMT game, but eventually decided to go with shin megami tensei: devil summoner: soul hackers as my first entry instead. that game is a 3DS remake of the second of a pair of japan-only sega saturn titles and is technically a spin-off series, but by all accounts the core mechanics are the same as the mainline series. in terms of the series as a whole, it seems it wasn’t until around 2003 with the release of SMTIII that atlus got itself more organized and really started to differentiate the various spin-offs from the mainline series. up to then the three SNES titles in the mainline series, the first two devil summoner, and the first two persona games were all very similar, all featuring first-person dungeon crawling with demon negotiation and fusion as the core mechanics. here’s how the overall series evolved:

  • unsurprisingly, the mainline series stayed the closest to its roots, although SMTIII, released in 2003, established a 3rd-person perspective that would be reused in SMTIV.
  • the digital devil saga series, begun in 2004, was a brand-new series that had you and your party transforming into demons rather than summoning them.
  • the persona series reinvented itself in 2006 in the form of persona 3 which, as i mentioned, put building relationships with your teammates front and center, and completely got rid of demon negotiation altogether (although fusion is still an element of the game).
  • that same year the devil summoner series also reinvented itself in the form of devil summoner: raidou kuzunoha vs. the soulless army, a real-time action RPG which had you recruiting demons by battling them rather than by negotiation (although, again, summoning demons and fusing them is still a major part of the game).
  • lastly, the devil survivor series, begun in 2009, is the latest spin-off, and features typical grid-based tactical RPG gameplay but with demons as part of your party.

one interesting thing to note is that although SMT has an array of spin-off “series”, the number of entries in each series is pretty much limited to just two in every case, so it remains to be seen how each of those series will continue within the niche they’ve already established, or if they’ll change directions as they have in the past. there have also been an assortment of games outside of these “main” spin-off series, including japan-only mobile games, an MMORPG, a fighting game, and an upcoming rhythm game, as well as some games specifically targeted to kids and given a more pokemon-like spin (a pair of which, demikids: light version/dark version, were released in the US for GBA).

phew! once i had wrapped my head around all of this, it became apparent that the easiest SMT game for me to get into was soul hackers, even though it’s technically not in the main series. the english-language version, available on iOS, might be a good place to start nowadays, but i found it just a bit too primitive to get into. apparently the DS entry, subtitled strange journey and released between SMTIII and SMTIV, took a step back from mechanics introduced in SMTIII and is thus also very close to the original series, so it seems like that would make for a good alternative as well.

hopefully this write-up is useful to other people looking to get into the series. my next post will finally get to the punchline and will include my thoughts on soul hackers, so stay tuned.

links with overviews of the megaten series:
- really in-depth look at the series (as of 2010) at hardcoregaming101.net
- brief summary of all the major games in the series at neogaf
- megaten wiki

30
Mar
14

donkey kong jr. to the rescue

i needed a quick game to play, so i dusted off my copy of the original gamecube animal crossing (for the first time in 31 months apparently, as my villagers were all quick to point out) in order to give the NES version of donkey kong jr. a spin. as i mentioned in my post about playing through the NES version of donkey kong, growing up i had owned the two games in the form of donkey kong classics, an NES cartridge that contained both of them, so i was looking forward to revisiting my childhood. (the game has also gotten more attention recently for being one of the club nintendo rewards and for being one of the 3DS ambassador rewards).

anyway, as with my experience replaying donkey kong it didn’t take me much time at all to remember exactly how to get through each of the game’s four stages. i was reminded of the stiffness of the jumping controls of these early NES games, and i can see how people would be frustrated by it. the climbing mechanics are wholly enjoyable, though, and very responsive. they feel refined and are fun to master, and include a satisfying amount of variety, namely: a two-armed fast climb, a one-armed slow climb, a two-armed slow drop, and a one-armed fast drop. those mechanics have been revisited in subsequent games (such as the underwhelming donkey kong ’94 on game boy and mario vs. donkey kong on GBA), although more as minor diversions as opposed to being the main focus as in this game.

the game is colorful, fun, and well designed, and has memorable enemies and locales. also, aspects of the game feel like they’re loosely connected to the original, such as the final stage of each game in which you have to repeat an action to free the captured target (in the first game you were tasked with jumping over rivets whereas in this game you’re pushing keys into locks). as with many of those early NES titles, the game provides 1 and 2-player alternating normal and hard modes, as well as virtually infinite looping of the game’s four stages. for retro game lovers the fun and challenge is in chasing a high score or seeing how many repetitions of the four stages you can get through, and although most people dismiss the game i personally find it a worthy sequel to the original. each stage has a distinct personality, and the climbing mechanics give the game a completely unique feel that still feels fresh. the one element that sticks out a little and doesn’t quite feel like it belongs is the spring in stage 2, but i find the game enjoyable and it would be awesome if a true revisit were ever created (or if donkey kong, jr. came back as a true character). i don’t recall ever playing the third of the trilogy (creatively titled “donkey kong 3“), but i’ll have to track that one down before too long.

donkey kong jr. links to the rescue!:
- entry on wikipedia
- less-than-enthusiastic review at nintendolife.com
- entry on mariowiki.com which includes details on each stage and the enemies (apparently a spark is not the same as a hothead. who knew?)
- this walkthrough on gamefaqs has info on the scoring
- comparison of home console versions at strategywiki.org

23
Mar
14

ranking the zelda series

i recently finished my last remaining zelda game (of 17!), and so that means it’s time for my ranking of the entire series. this time around for the companion ranking i’ve decided to include nintendo power’s list, although since they’ve shut down i don’t have a ranking for the most recent game in the series, a link between worlds (they also didn’t include a separate rank for the original four swords game). also, although they did a ranking right before spirit tracks came out, i’ll be using the order and text from the the top 285 games list that appeared in their final issue. in the few cases where they didn’t include a text blurb in that issue, i’ll revert to using text from the older list.

let the legendary zelda ranking begin!

ranking the the legend of zelda series
as ranked by geozeldadude and nintendo power
# geozeldadude’s list nintendo power’s list
1

the legend of zelda: majora’s mask (N64): the zelda series is full of standouts, but in the end i have to give majora’s mask the top spot. although the original entry, link to the past, and ocarina are all great and each did much to really define the series, majora’s mask was just so full of memorable moments. i found its off-kilter view of the zelda universe to be utterly compelling, and the 3-day limit, the expansion of the masks in ocarina (including getting to play as completely different characters), and the darker tone were all huge draws. however, the series of sidequests involving helping the NPCs in the central town were what really added a new dimension to feeling connected to the game. it’s a game whose drawbacks (namely, its time-rewind mechanic that often has you repeating whole sections) can hardly put a dent in the overall experience. a game that i’m really hoping gets remade for 3DS by the time i get around to replaying it!

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64): Whereas A Link to the Past perfected the series’s core mechanics and structure, Ocarina of Time added a sense of dramatic scale and cinematic sweep that wasn’t possible in the series’s 2D entries. A spectacularly innovative game, Ocarina of Time pioneered methods for dealing with the control and camera issues that had bedeviled developers of 3D software for years. What’s most impressive is that it managed to navigate the incredibly difficult transition from 2D to 3D while delivering the series’s finest story, most memorable dungeons and a main quest of then-unprecedented length. This is the quintessential entry in what has become gaming’s most critically beloved series.

2 the legend of zelda: link’s awakening (GB): this was one of the first zelda games i played as an adult, and the amount they managed to pack into such a tiny cartridge astounded me. if i had played link to the past first i may have given that preference for my #2 spot, but looking back link’s awakening had not just the puzzles and action of the best of the series, but also a livelier cast, thanks in no small part to the required trading quest, a first for the series. the game also had some surprisingly emotional moments, including a bittersweet ending. it astounds me how much of an impact a handful of black and white pixels and some chiptunes can make. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES): The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past introduced dozens of series mainstays (the Hookshot, the ocarina, heart pieces), but is perhaps more memorable for the degree to which it perfected the satisfying formula of the Zelda series. The game nailed the balance between open-world exploration and scripted storytelling, between familiarity and freshness, and between satisfying challenge and well-paced progression. Its innovative Light World/Dark World concept was one of the most imaginative hooks to a video game ever, and is still being imitated today.
3 the legend of zelda: ocarina of time (N64): without a doubt ocarina is a classic game, and it’s only a testament to the quality of the series as a whole that it ends up third on my ranking. much as i enjoyed it, having played wind waker before it really skewed my experience. still, the expansion of the zelda universe was immense, including the introduction of the zoras, gorons, kokiri, sheikah, and gerudo, not to mention epona, and i appreciate the leap it made from 2D to 3D. i’ve been enjoying my experience with the 3DS version, and will hopefully find the time to finish it before too long. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GCN): The wonderful thing about The Legend of Zelda games is that they start small and unfold into something grand. The Wind Waker exemplifies this better than many of its siblings: what starts off as a seemingly young-gamer-skewing adventure (due to its cartoony cel-shaded visual style) concludes with one of the most shocking moments in the entire franchise. …
4 the legend of zelda: a link to the past (SNES): like ocarina, my experience with a link to the past was another case where i had played it after a game that succeeded it, so my viewpoint is skewed. although i enjoyed the game and appreciate it for everything that it introduced, its relatively light story and lack of characters made it less memorable to me overall. a high-quality zelda game that holds up even years later, but for me it’s overshadowed by games that did more to tweak the now-classic formula this game established. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii): Built from the ground up for Wii, Skyward Sword realized the potential of motion controls like few other titles and stood out as one of the console’s most beautiful games. It also boasts some of the best storytelling in the series, as well as our favorite take on the Zelda characters to date.
5 the legend of zelda (NES): the game that started it all. i replayed this a couple of years ago (having played it a ton when i was a kid) and was somewhat relieved to find that for the most part it still held up, despite having aged more than the original mario or perhaps even metroid in terms of having any idea of where to go next. i honestly can’t be very objective about the game since i know it so well, but the gameplay, graphics, sound effects, and controls are all extremely polished and i think the game is still enjoyable today. a classic by every definition. The Legend of Zelda (NES): The Legend of Zelda was a rare NES title inspired not by a specific style of play or setting, but an attempt to capture the thrill of exploration and discovery. It succeeded with aplomb, ushering in a new style of gameplay built more on finding secrets and solving puzzles than on fast-reflex fighting. Beyond standing as a triumph in its own right, many of the creations inspired by the original Legend of Zelda rank among the greatest games ever made.
6 the legend of zelda: spirit tracks (DS): i can’t see why this game gets ignored, even amongst zelda fans. the game improved on phantom hourglass in every way. although it includes the same easy-to-use controls, it also focuses on an underused dual-character mechanic (link and his “phantom” buddy), a train-travelling mechanic that was much more fun than the sailing mechanics of phantom hourglass, and some new items and new baddies. even though it sits at #6 in my list, it’s still one of the best zelda games, and is on my list of greatest games of all time. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX (GBC): Imaginative, emotional, and packed with quirky humor, Link’s Awakening proved that a handheld Zelda could be just as epic as its console counterparts. The DX version for Game Boy Color even managed to improve upon the black-and-white original.
7 the legend of zelda: a link between worlds (3DS): the most recent game in the series, and a sign that the series is still going strong. a game that cribs so closely to its predecessor (in this case, a link to the past) shouldn’t have drawn my attention nearly so much, but the game’s new 3D-to-2D mechanic, freer structure, and silky smooth gameplay were compelling. not to mention new characters including a new villain, hidden tokens (in this case maimais, a first for a handheld zelda title), streetpass battles, and the classic zelda mix of action and puzzles. a game that by its simple description shouldn’t have ranked so high on my list, but as a whole is a great experience, despite being on the easy side. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii): Gamers around the world exploded with delight when Twilight Princess was unveiled in 2004, and when the game was released as a Wii launch title more than two years later, it lived up to the hype. Once players made it into the meat of the game, they found a huge and stunningly beautiful world to explore, powerfully cinematic event scenes to marvel at, and plenty of well-designed dungeons to take on.
8 the legend of zelda: skyward sword (wii): i’m not quite sure why, but although i generally enjoyed playing skyward sword, looking back there’s not a lot i found really memorable about it. at the time i was struck by how many of the mechanics seemed taken directly from wii sports resort, and the game felt heavily padded. revisiting the same locations with different objectives felt tedious, and there were whole sections that i found much more annoying that fun. in my notes i have this ranked higher than twilight, probably due to being more colorful and being a bit more original, but i’ll have to see which one holds up better on my second playthrough. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (N64): An attempt to cash in on the success of Ocarina of Time by banging out a sequel in just over a year shouldn’t have produced a masterpiece of a game. Although Majora’s Mask has less content than most Zelda entries, it features a mind-bendingly brilliant structure that has players repeating the same days over and over to make incremental progress toward averting an apocalypse. It may be the most effective implementation of time travel in gaming.
9 the legend of zelda: twilight princess (wii): the problem with twilight princess isn’t just that it felt like a retread of ocarina, but that it just didn’t seem as flat-out fun as other titles in the series. at the time i played it i had said the game didn’t have “much charm, humor, or surprise”, with the exception of midna who provides the game’s best moments, even more so than zelda herself. despite feeling overly padded in a similar way as skyward sword, the game’s formula of overworld exploration plus tricky dungeons was still a winner, and still puts this above the majority of other games. that said, overall it felt like an average zelda experience to me. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA): Although Link’s Awakening started things off right, the Legend of Zelda series’s portable installments have rarely been as satisfying as their console brethren. The Minish Cap beat the odds by copying everything that made A Link to the Past great: a colorful 2D world, an exploration-focused structure, cool items, and strong dungeon design. It wasn’t the most innovative Zelda entry, but it was easily one of the most entertaining portable ones.
10 the legend of zelda: oracle of seasons (GBC): the rest of the list is generally ranked by how much the games follow the standard formula. the season-changing mechanics of oracle of seasons were entertaining although not that much of a hook, but the animal helpers and the reworking of elements from the original NES title along with a very polished zelda experience overall made this a more worthwhile entry than some of the others in the series, and distinctly superior to oracle of ages. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES): … With side-scrolling combat and an RPG-style world map, Zelda II is a radical departure from the series that some fans call a refreshing change of pace and others consider an outcast. The game cuts down on puzzle solving to focus heavily on action, and it’s the most difficult Zelda game by far. Even the most basic enemies are tough, and once you’re out of lives and have to continue, Link is sent all the way back to where the game starts! Urg! Frustration aside, Zelda II debuted Link’s iconic downward-thrust attack, introduced magic to the series, and remains the only title where Link can earn experience and level up.
11 the legend of zelda: phantom hourglass (DS): while in many ways it improved on wind waker, phantom hourglass really lacked originality. aside from the new touchscreen controls, which worked great, the game felt like a dumbing down of the zelda experience in a way that spirit tracks didn’t. the game didn’t introduce any new items and dungeons felt uninspired. still, the game was enjoyable overall, even if it’s not among the best in the series. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons (GBC) and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages (GBC): Although Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages are each full, distinct games, they were released as a set and certain items can be traded between them via a password feature. These Game Boy Color standouts are classic Zelda adventures, but contain totally unique elements. For instance, you can equip different rings to customize Link’s abilities… and you can use animals to help Link in different ways… We give a slight nod to Oracle of Seasons over its brother because of its titular hook — being able to switch between spring, summer, winter, and fall — is like having four versions of the world to explore and makes for cooler puzzles. The ability to travel between past and present in Oracle of Ages is fun, but A Link to the Past did this kind of thing first — and best — with its Light World/Dark World setup.
12 zelda ii: the adventure of link (NES): even aside from its old-school difficulty and one-off game mechanics, the adventure of link felt limited in its scope. temples felt very same-y, and the overall experience felt fairly short rather than epic. not a bad game by any measure and it’s fun to see where the series could have gone, but not among the best in the series. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (DS): [No text available]
13 the legend of zelda: the minish cap (GBA): the minish cap was a cute game and looked great on the GBA, but it was short and pretty easy. despite a potentially interesting dual world mechanic (in this case, link can shrink down to the size of a bug), the game itself follows the standard formula without much variation. not one of the more memorable games in the series. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (GCN): Four Swords Adventures isn’t a typical Zelda game; the adventure is split into various stages and works best with multiple players. Despite those differences, however, the onscreen action is classic Zelda. The game is also noteworthy for being the last 2-D console entry in the series, and it enhances the visual style establish in A Link to the Past with the extra power of the GameCube… Up to four players can help or hinder each other during the quest… The game really loses something when played solo, however.
14 the legend of zelda: oracle of ages (GBC): although a lot of people seem to consider oracle of ages about on par with oracle of seasons, i much preferred the latter which had a more interesting hook. as NP mentioned, the dark world/light world mechanic of oracle of ages just felt tired, and coming near the end of my zelda saga there just wasn’t anything about this game that really grabbed me. we’ll have to see how my opinion changes on the second time through. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS): This [game] proves why the Nintendo DS is a great home for The Legend of Zelda. Stylus controls make the familiar Zelda action feel fresh again by adding fun interactions and abilities to traditional weapons like the boomerang and bow. It’s a drag, however, that Link’s inventory is smaller than usual. The game’s biggest drawback is its central feature: that you have to return to the Temple of the Ocean King over and over, exploring its depths a little more each time. Too much backtracking is required, and if you put the game down for a few days, it’s hard to remember the paths you’ve already discovered. Sailing isn’t as tedious as it is in The Wind Waker, however, and exploring new areas of the ocean adds to the game’s fun sense of adventure.
15 the legend of zelda: wind waker (GCN): although i liked the visual style, i just found the game to be a big snooze-fest overall. odd, seeing as how it was my first of the 3D zelda games. rather than giving a sense of wonder and adventure, sailing just felt slow and tedious, and the dungeons didn’t seem to have a lot of the “wow” factor. it will definitely be interesting to see how my opinion changes after playing the wii u remake. -
16 the legend of zelda: four swords (GBA): most people don’t count this as a separate game as it was the multi-player game included with the GBA remake of a link to the past. still, i enjoyed it despite its limited scope, and much more than four swords adventures which took the concept, acceptable as a short diversion, and stretched it out into a slogfest of a console game. -
17 the legend of zelda: four swords adventures (GCN): one of the very few zelda games that i actively disliked. it took me ages to finish it, and i hated the stage-based setup and the lack of any feeling of progression whatsoever. the game really felt like a watered-down zelda experience, and although i played it single player i can’t imagine playing with other people is anything other than a big waste of time. there were some moments later in the game that were more puzzle-oriented that were more worthwhile, but even that wasn’t enough to save this game from earning last place on my list. -

well, there it is. the zelda series stands as a titan among video game series, and i’m def. looking forward to revisiting old favorites and, of course, hoping to hear about new entries in the future. huge kudos for all the game developers who have been involved with the series over the years, and here’s to many more!

15
Mar
14

hard to latch onto fluidity

fluidity (aka hydroventure) is generally regarded as one of the highlights of wiiware, but even though i got it a long time ago it’s taken me many attempts to gain enough momentum to actually finish it. although the game is visually appealing, with its storybook conceit and the resulting aesthetic, the controls tend to provoke a “love it or hate it” reaction. much as i tried to tolerate them, it was hard for me to feel anything but varying shades of annoyance with the controls, particularly the often needlessly motion-controlled movements which can be downright obnoxious. the most obvious example is having to pull the remote vertically to jump, which by now i imagine most anyone who has played any number of wii games will agree is one of the worst uses of the wii remote ever. also, while a novel idea, having the main character be a puddle of water ends up being a pain because it’s hard to control. even with the “gather” ability, which you unlock early on, despite your best efforts you’ll find yourself continually accidentally dividing your character and awkwardly trying to reassemble it into a single mass. in some ways the controls are actually worse than those of kirby tilt ‘n tumble and yoshi topsy turvy, b/c at least those games didn’t use the tilt mechanics as the central movement for a side-scrolling type of platformer, as having motion controls requires sacrificing a lot in the way of comfort and precision.

aside from the extremely frustrating controls the game is fairly well designed. the game isn’t a real metroidvania in that it’s more just like a series of levels that can only be tackled in a particular order as opposed to providing much sense of exploration, but the levels make good use of the water mechanics (and the various transformations you’d expect) and there are some cute objectives, like rescuing fish and returning them to their bowl and collecting rubber duckies and dropping them into a bathtub. nothing too surprising, but there’s a good amount of variety and some gentle surprises, and overall the levels are nicely done with some nice touches. one other annoyance comes in the form of the boss levels, which are simply levels that are significantly longer than regular levels and no continues beyond the five lives you can hold in reserve. in the regular levels dealing with the hard-to-tolerate controls is easier since you usually have unlimited retries, but in the life-and-death situations of these longer levels, which are more focused on defeating enemies and have many more environmental hazards, having to restart the boss level and redo huge chunks of it gets old fast, esp. since by their nature the game’s controls make the game proceed at a much slower pace than the average platformer. i’m glad to see that totilo over at kotaku had a similar experience as i with the end of the game (although he was much more positive about the game overall). he said:

    The problem wasn’t just that a few of the jumps required in the game’s final goop-clearing boss stage are tough. The problem is that, after each failed attempt, the developers inexplicably force you to replay more than five minutes of complex gameplay before you try it again. And when you lose your four or so lives, you get to re-play at least 20 minutes of gameplay to try again. Infuriating. … It suffers from an archaic flaw — the intensifying of its own difficulty due to forcing the player to re-play significant chunks of levels they can pass easily just to get back to that one tough jump.

although the game left a bad taste in my mouth and i felt like the controls were working against me most of the time, i can see why others would enjoy it more than i did. i’m skeptical the sequel, which is available on the 3DS eshop, will leave me much more satisfied since it seems it uses the same mechanics with the added annoyance of having the screen constantly shifting around, but hopefully the overall experience will be a bit more smooth and streamlined.

latch onto these fluidity links:
- official site, includes interviews with the developers
- entry at wikipedia
- barebones guide which also includes links to more-detailed maps that writer submitted to gamefaqs
- review at nintendolife
- entry at metacritic

08
Mar
14

zelda’s awakening in zelda ii: the adventure of link

after working through a significant amount of wrecking crew, i had some NES momentum and was finally able to start and complete a game that’s been hanging over my head for ages, namely zelda ii: the adventure of link (on the original NES no less, meaning no save states!). the game is easily the blackest of the black sheep of the zelda series, and it was partly the fear of old-school NES challenges that kept me from starting in on it. (for a run-down of the game, see check out the review at nintendolife).

overall, though, the game wasn’t too hard to complete, with the main exception being the last temple which required a concerted effort to get through, and multiple attempts to beat (esp. since i was missing a heart container and a couple of the last level-ups). [pro tip! to save at any time, press start on the first controller, and up + A on the second controller. also, fortunately at the final temple getting a game over and continuing simply returns you to the start of that temple rather than the starting point of the game.] the game was one of the many games i remember playing as a kid, although i don’t recall if i ever actually beat it. i certainly recognized some of the areas near the end, but i didn’t remember anything about the final temple which makes me think i hadn’t beaten it. perhaps my muscle memory from childhood remembered more than my brain did, because i got through the game pretty efficiently without any guides, although it was pretty much just a stroke of luck that i stumbled across one of the essential items that i had wandered by several times before, the absence of which would have led to a lot of aimless wandering, wondering where to go next.

as for the game itself, i enjoyed it and it’s definitely a polished experience, although it pales in comparison to most of the rest of the series. miyamoto himself has expressed some regret about the game, and although the game is definitely not a “bad” game, it does feel a little limited in its scope. the focus on platforming (and some cheap deaths that result) feels a bit out of place, and the battle scenes and temples tend to feel very same-y, not to mention its inclusion of a range of bizarre characters that, rather like super mario bros. 2, have yet to see a return. i have a vague recollection that the battle of olympus, which appeared on the NES about a year later and which i also had played as a kid, borrowed much of the same mechanics but improved upon them, so i’ll have to dig that one out at some point.

all in all, a nice change of pace from the norm, and it would be fascinating to see nintendo revisit this unique take on the zelda series. regardless of the quality of the game itself, though, i’m just uber-psyched that i’ve now finally officially completed every zelda game, and in almost all cases on the original hardware. whoo! i should be putting together my ranking of the series before too long, so stay tuned. i’m also looking forward to replaying various entries, mostly via their remakes, including the 3DS remake of ocarina which i’ve already dipped into.

awaken these zelda ii: the adventure of link links:
- page at nintendo.com
- entry at zeldawiki.org
- interesting comparison of the original japanese text vs. the english translation
- maps at vgmaps.com
- some player stats from wii’s now-defunct nintendo channel
- someone made a FPS adaptation (of the first part at least) in unity. here’s a video of someone playing through it.
- scans of the original manual
- youtube video of the entire soundtrack
- since i’ve finished all the official zelda games, i thought now would be a good time to take a look at the atrocities that are the trio of obscure CD-i games. here’s a let’s play video of wand of gamelon and here’s one for zelda’s adventure. fortunately the completionist in me feels no need to pick any of them up.




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