I am enjoying the hell out of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. The first whiffs of the game seemed promising and fun, and after playing a demo at PAX Prime 2013 I was hooked and anticipatory for its release. I received it as a Christmas gift and jumped into the game shortly after the new year. As I've been playing I've been jotting down my first impressions and my overall feelings about the game. I'm happy to say that it's a handheld Zelda that I actually like. I loved Minish Cap, as well as Oracle of Ages and Seasons, and I'm still stumbling and struggling to get through the tough-as-nails Link's Awakening, but Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks were just bleah to me. There's no bleah over here though! Here are my thoughts on the newest addition to the Legend of Zelda series. This will contain some spoilers!
So, A Link Between Worlds (here on out referred to as ALBW) is the story of our constant Hero of Time being called up in Hyrule's time of need. This time a strange man (at least I think it's a man) named Yuga is turning important, and sometimes (seemingly) random, people into portraits with his magic powers. Sahasrahla begs for your help because you happen to be nearby with a sword.
Your chase leads you to Hyrule castle where you're too late! Zelda has been turned into a painting. After following Yuga through a strange, colorful crack in a wall you pop out into Lorule, the Dark World equivalent in ALBW. Yuga is harnessing Ganon's Triforce of Power to be... beautiful? It was a weird scene. This is when Hilda, ruler of Lorule, shows up and begs for your help in fixing the devastatingly horrible world that is hers to reign over. And with that, the Hero of Time sets out to recover all of the paintings that turn out to be descendants of the Seven Sages from Ocarina of Time (here on out referred to as OoT) in an effort to help Hilda and save Lorule, while also restoring those descendants to their rightful living place in Hyrule.
It's really exciting that ALBW is set in the same universe as A Link to the Past (here on out referred to as ALttP). I knew this going in, of course, but getting to explore the same map with new goals in mind just feels... cool. Familiar but different at the same time. It instilled a sense of confidence in where to go and how to get to certain places. ALttP ties for my favorite Zelda game along with OoT, so any opportunity to explore the area is fine by me!
When meeting Zelda for the first time I got a real kick out of the fact that it's the same music that plays in OoT (when meeting Zelda for the first time). I felt a good little shiver at the bone-deep memories that it conjured. In a way it felt like I really was the Hero of Time and past lives/parallel lives were reverberating through me with hearing that music and seeing that girl. It was also pretty neat that Nintendo reused the plot device of both Link and Zelda having evil premonition dreams.
I stayed pretty far away from preview videos and teasers before the game was released because I like to be surprised as the story unfolds. I also hate those "First 20 minutes of gameplay!" videos. Objectively I understand their purpose and appeal, but if I watch them then the beginning of the game will be boring! With that in mind, I had no idea that ALBW would circulate around the Seven Sages! A swish and a win for more OoT references! It further instilled my Hero of Time feelings.
The first thing that I really didn't like about ALBW was the fact that you have to rent your weapons. I scoffed and pouted and wondered why on earth Nintendo would take from me the great joy of finding new weapons in each dungeon. How could they do this? Don't they understand how great an experience it is?! I have to *pay* for weapons, and if I get a Game Over then I lose the weapons and have to pay to rent them again? What's with all the rupee grubbing?
If you don't like the sound of what I'm saying, keep reading! I have good news for you. It turns out that Nintendo had an excellent reason for this rental system: for the first time since the NES days players can explore the dungeons in ANY order they want! Whaaaaat?! Yeah. Big news. Of course, I'm terrible at following in-game prompts (especially the ones that are in bold letters and are highlighted in red giving clear instructions on what to do next) so I missed the repeated hint to go to the fissure behind Sahasrahla's house (which would have lent a semi-sense of order to the dungeons) and merrily wandered off to the Thieves Hideout and the Swamp Palace first.
The sense of freedom was inordinately intoxicating. I'd look at the map, review the Xs indicating dungeons, and just... decide on a whim which one I would go to! It was refreshing! I think precisely the perfect balance of old and new, familiar yet innovative. Also, eventually the rented weapons become purchasable and so you don't have to worry about re-paying for them if you fall in battle. Another thing that Nintendo finally did right was to give you an infinite (or nearly infinite) wallet from the very start. There's actually a reason to chase all of the rupees and even conquer the random treasure hunting locations that you'll find. Thanks Nintendo!
Another aspect of the game that I dislike, yet understand, are the save points. I despise when games don't have a 'save anywhere' feature. As a very busy and important adult I may have to shut my 3DS at the drop of a hat. I don't want to worry about losing my progress! This is a very minor gripe though because in reality there are a lot lot lot of save points and they also serve as a way to integrate fast travel into the game. Near the beginning you're given a bell by a young witch who is trying to be more charitable and from that point on if you ring the bell she'll swoop by on her broom and take you to any save locations that you've activated. Pretty sweet!
When a dungeon has been conquered and a Sage has been saved you're taken to the Chamber of Sages where they'll talk to you, and in this chamber you can actually walk around! I always wanted to be able to walk around in the chamber while playing OoT, so it really is the little things that make the world go 'round.
I feel it's important to note that the wall merging is pretty damn slick. I think a lot of people were afraid it was just a super gimmick, but I feel that Nintendo incorporated it very well. It's really not that different from the mirror/warp points in ALttP, except there are more of them! Plus the wall merge is used for more than just going into fissures to get from Hyrule to Lorule and back again. Many of the dungeon puzzles are based off the merging and some places on the map are only accessible via merge. The only real downside to this aspect of the game is that the "regular" view is bird's eye view. As in completely top down. I prefer to be more over the shoulder angle and so at first this really bothered me. I realize that it's because seeing more of the surroundings would make the merging puzzles useless. I got used to it after a while, so ultimately it wasn't a deal breaker.
As of this writing I'm still attempting to beat the game. I made a huge push toward completion while hanging out with my nephew during the Super Bowl. He sat with me as I worked my way through the last two dungeons as well as Lorule Castle. He whooped and hollered and said things like "I'm too nervous I can't watch!" as I attempted to defeat Yuga-Ganon thing. Unfortunately I failed spectacularly because I only had two faeries and no potions. I recently read on a walk through that 3000 rupees tossed into a special faerie pond will grant Link another bottle, so I'll be going after that before I try to beat the game again.
A Link Between Worlds has been getting rewards and outstanding reviews all over the place and is definitely worth at least one run through. When I'm finished with it I can't wait to lend it to my friends! Have you played it yet?
*All images property of A Bit of Geek! I took them with my phone, they are masterpieces.