Disclaimer: A Link to the Past (LttP) is my favorite Zelda title.
If you own 3DS, this game is your next purchase. If you don’t have a 3DS, this game merits new 3DS ownership. Zelda, with few exceptions, has been the same formula since the series’ arrival back on the NES. This latest installment manages to shake it up a bit, yet still hold the integrity and feel of those that came before it. Perhaps you have an uncomfortable, choo choo taste in your mouth or have shunned from entering the seemingly endless quests in and out of Hyrule. Hey, listen. It is time to don some green, break some pots, and embark on one of Link’s most enjoyable endeavors to date.
The Zelda franchise certainly isn’t known for its depth. Skyward Sword aside, the games focus more on the adventure itself. LBW is no different. You are Link, and Link is the only one who can save the day. Is that necessarily a bad thing? I don’t think so. We are given the opportunity to impart our feelings and supplement back stories to both Link and the people he meets.
Speaking of characters, we meet quite a few in LBW. The side quests and villages have an array of charming personas that give life to the various zones in the game. In classic RPG fashion, you want to talk to everyone for hopes of acquiring a new item or information on where to find goodies. The colorful NPCs surely make this less of a chore and likely provide a laugh or two in the process. Ravio, a starring role, is a fine example of a character that was written well. He provides the tools for your adventure (in your own house, no less) and is present throughout the campaign. With so much mystery surrounding his origin and identity, players are naturally inclined to wonder on his peculiar, previous life. While his particular twist may or may not be foreseeable, it is a fun vignette just the same.
If you have played LttP, the nostalgia is going to hit you as soon as you load the title screen. While LBW has obviously borrowed and reimagined the SNES title, it has stolen nothing and holds its own weight as a standalone installment. The history of this version of Hyrule is only strengthened by the player’s experience with the series. This paragraph is at risk to devolve into a Groat/LttP/LBW love triangle, so I am opting to just cut myself off here.
If Nintendo narratives have sufficed for you in the past, this one will pose no problem. With so much fandom surrounding the Zelda franchise, this game stepped up to the challenge and knocked the octoball right out of the park.
Let’s start with the biggest mix up in Zelda’s history: Item Rentals/Purchases. In any given previous Zelda game, your dungeon experience has been pretty standard. Waltz into the dungeon, scour for the map/compass/dungeon item, use the item to defeat the boss and nab your heart container. A Link Between Worlds took a bold new route. What if you could you get most of the staple items in a store?
This posed many questions. How would I complete certain dungeons? Where do I go next? Won’t I be overpowered? Don’t worry. The balance and playability this daring mechanic brings to the table is nothing short of perfection.
The complete flexibility of this new system provides the player with the path most suitable for his or her play style. I, personally, have to collect everything possible as early as possible. With most items at my disposal, I can spend the first half of my game searching every nook and cranny for stray heart pieces, chests, and collectables without worrying about a dungeon taking me out of scavenger hunt mode. While I am on the subject of collectables, this game takes the cake in both presentation and reward. Other than heart pieces, LBW introduces Maiamais (pink octopus snails). Every ten will provide you with an opportunity to upgrade an item in your inventory to a more powerful/useful version! Naturally, I had to have them all. With 100 total of these buggers, I was nearing a sigh when I was presented with a smart map function. While I am not told where to find these babies, the map is zoned off to let me know how many are left in certain areas. Pure genius.
You do enough shopping in your own life? Don’t worry. With some of the best dungeon designs in quite some time, you can dash straight into the fray. Which dungeon though? It doesn’t matter. When presented with multiple goals, you can choose the order in which you complete them. Every dungeon has a loose connection with items like the old games, but to enter the dungeon you need its required tool. What if you get to a dungeon but haven’t obtained what you needed from Ravio? No problem. There is a fast travel system that ensures you can make it home and spend your earned Rupees to pick it up, and then fly right back.
The greatest addition to these dungeons is actually a reduction. No more fairies, ghosts, telepathic voices, etc. popping in every time you enter a room. You are expected to use the tools at your disposal to make your way through the enemies and puzzles of each level. This is beyond refreshing. Yes, Zelda games aren’t extremely difficult, but the reward of completing tasks without assistance feels great. On top of great level designs and unique item puzzles, you always get a treat at the end of each stage: the boss battle. These guys are always a mini puzzle in themselves, but I thoroughly enjoyed using Link’s new abilities to outmaneuver his oversized opponents.
It is a Zelda game. You are still hitting anything from a Keese to a patch of grass with your sword, and you are still eating heart cookies to regain health. With all of its new features, I can’t find much that needs improvement. My only complaint is Hero Mode. Hero Mode in itself is fine (increased damage taken) but I’d prefer an option to choose this from the beginning. The Ocarina of Time Master Quest was a great second play through because it was DIFFERENT. The dungeons were all completely remapped and presented brand spanking new puzzles along with the damage increase. As far as complaints go, I’ll swallow this small one.
This game hopefully heralds a new era for the Zelda series. With so much working perfectly, I can’t imagine Nintendo not taking copious notes on what was successful. Without a doubt, this game is somewhere in the Top 5 of 2013. I can’t recommend enough that you either pick this bad boy up or beg Santa for it the next time you are at the mall. My Shadow Link awaits your Streetpass, friend.