The Legend of Zelda (NES), the first game in the Zelda franchise, was a breath of fresh air for the videogame industry. It was played from a top down perspective and provided the player with a long quest (or two) and lots of explorations and secrets. The second game, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES), was played mostly from a 2D side scrolling perspective. Though, it’s a great game on it’s own, it is considered by many to be the black sheep of the family when compared to the rest of the franchise. When The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES) was released in 1991, it was regarded as a return to form for the franchise and is considered by many to be be one of the best games ever made.
The Zelda franchise continued to evolve and eventually, became a franchise primarily designed and played from a 3rd person perspective (see The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time). The last Zelda game to be designed from a top down view and played with traditional controls was The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap for the Game Boy advance, released in 2005. Almost nine years later, Nintendo has once again returned to form by releasing The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, a direct sequel to A Link to the Past, set in the exact same world as ALTTP. It’s been 22 years since we’ve visited this particular iteration of Hyrule. Does the game live up to the hype? Does a Zelda game with a top down perspective and traditional controls still have a place in this day and age? Let’s find out…
Let’s get the worst part of the game, over with. The story in a ALBW is basically just a retread of A Link to the Past’s and Ocarina of Time’s stories. A young boy named Link has a dream. Through a series of circumstances, he ends up in Hyrule Castle where he meets Princess Zelda and embarks upon a quest to find three magical stones. Once he has them, he goes to find the “Blade of Evil’s Bane,” in order to be able to defeat the great evil. But of course, then you find out that you have to travel to another world to free the seven sages before you have the power to do so.
The main characters from both Hyrule and Lorule.
While the story itself is not original, there are a few bits that stand out. Instead of Agahnim, we have Yuga, who merges with Ganon in order to become powerful enough to rule the world. However, Yuga answers to someone else and it is not clear who until the very end. Additionally, instead of the Dark World or Future Hyrule, we are introduced to Lorule, a darker version of Hyrule where hope has been lost and darkness rules.
For months before the game was released….I thought Yuga was a woman.
I do have a few more qualms about the story, which are spoilery. The fact that you can choose any dungeon (more on this later) limits the amount of storytelling. For example, whereas in OOT you would know where to go because people (and Navi) would guide you during your quest, the same doesn’t really happen much in ALBW. Also, Ganon is relegated to a grunt in this game. In other games, he is the main bad guy and the mastermind behind all events. Heck, he even outsmarted Link and Zelda into finding the spiritual stones for him in OOT. Here, he just accepts melding with Yuga and that’s as much of his interaction as we see. His new incarnation as YuGanon (that’s what I call him) is mostly led by Yuga. I do have to say, the twists at the end of the game are really awesome. And the ending is quite fitting, which makes me wonder if we’ll see further adventures in the land of Lorule.
What do you think Zelda and Hilda? Wait a minute….Zelda and Hilda….Zelda and Hilda….Why does that seem so familiar?
The Graphics in ALBW are very well done. The best way to describe them is ALTTP upgraded and chibified. The characters are cute and rounded, as is the game world. In fact, the game world looks much better since our last visit to this particular terrain configuration of Hyrule in ALTTP. The colors are more vibrant and the world looks like you’re actually looking into the world, as opposed to just looking at sprites.
There’s a sense of depth with or without the 3D on. According to Iwata Asks: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, the top down effect required some trickery to work. Initially, all you could see was the top of Link’s hat. In order to see more of him, they had to tilt Link and all other characters backwards. The camera is also closer to the ground than it is in ALTTP. You can see how it works in the following picture.
Speaking of 3D, the effect in this game is one of the best I’ve seen on the system. It adds dimension to the game, as well as making your trek through the world that much more realistic. For example, in the Tower of Hera, you press down jumping pads with your hammer and launch yourself to the next level. But we actually see Link transition from one level to the next seamlessly, rather than fading to black and appearing in another room. It makes more sense when you see it in action.
It looks even better in-game.
The graphics are also really smooth (60 frames per second) and have a lot of attention to detail. At the beginning of the game, you can see a fog close to the ground as if it were morning in a high altitude region. It makes me wish the game had day/night cycles. One of the best effects in this game is the movement of the water. It is beautifully animated and makes the world come alive. There are also some nice graphical details such as paintings on walls that you can see better when you yourself are in “painting mode.” And if you go into painting mode with items equipped, they too can be seen on “Painting Link.”
Notice the lamp hanging from his waist
The sound effects in ALBW sound great. The designers made a great decision in keeping the old sound effects from ALTTP but upgrading them slightly for this game. So, while the game sounds nostalgic, it also sounds new. The dying sound is still annoying, though not as annoying as in other games. I would have prefered the Wind Waker sound effect, though, but I understand that they kept the ALTTP one for consistency.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is fully redone. And it’s spectacular! I’d say it may be the best soundtrack of any Zelda game, period. Almost every piece from ALTTP has been redone and the vast majority are better than the originals. Right from the very title screen, you know you’re in for an aural treat. One of the best things about the soundtrack is how it evolves as you delve further into the game. For example, the Overworld Theme transitions through 3 stages (1, 2, 3) each one more epic than the last. The same goes for the Hyrule Castle theme. It starts out as a poor imitation of the original. I was severely disappointed when I heard it. Then, when you come back to the castle later during the game and it has turned into an actual dungeon level, the music changes into this masterful rendition. Some other awesome redone songs include: Lost Woods (very similar to the original), Lorule Overworld (this song has a killer intro and a great instrumental feel), Death Mountain (one of the coolest remixes in the game), and Treacherous Tower (perhaps my favorite remix in the entire game; originally the Dark World Palace Theme).
And last but not least, there’s a musical duo in the Milk Bar that plays “live renditions” of the game’s soundtrack, just like K.K. Slider in Animal Crossing. Some of the best are: Overworld Theme, Kakariko Village, and Hyrule Castle.
As amazing as the game’s music is, ALBW shines best in the gameplay department. Link has never controlled more easily or effortlessly . This is due to a combination of the C-Pad, physical buttons, and touch screen elements. When you move Link with the C-Pad, it feels like you’re slicing through hot butter with adamantium. It feels even better than how he controls in Wind Waker HD. Most buttons are used in traditional ways, controlling the sword and items. The D-Pad is used to move the screen a bit in 4 directions (up, down, left, right). And everything is as responsive as it should be. You can also use the touchscreen in multiple ways. You can see the world map (which you can zoom into), place pins on the map, view your items, AND select them. Unfortunately, you can’t select them live, “as in” while you’re moving about, which would have been perfect, but you can place the items in a little window so you can scroll through them quickly and select them live from there. It’s a bit awkward so I prefered selecting them from the menu.
A few of the things you can do with the touchscreen.
Something that's a little different from ALTTP is that you can’t save your game anywhere. You have to go to a weather vane, of which there are many in the world, and save there. Afterwards, you can restart your game from the last weather vane you saved at, which is pretty convenient.
Screw you, weather vane! I do what I want!
The weather vanes also double as transport points on the map, just like the flute in ALTTP. Here, you will be transported by apprentice witch, Irene, who will pick you up, after you ring a bell, and take you to the weather vane of your choosing.
Travel and sass, just like a taxi driver.
If you don’t know where to go, you can resort to the tried and true method of going to the fortune teller, who will give you hints on where you need to go. Or, you can try something new. In Nintendo’s neverending quest to make their games more accessible via hint/help systems, Nintendo has introduced Hint Ghosts. These are ghosts that you can only see if you’re wearing special glasses. They will provide hints on what you need to do in certain places if you pay them a Play Coin (the coins you earn by walking with your 3DS). This is a pretty cool way of making the game easier, without actually dumbing it down for advanced players. It’s there if you want to use it, but it doesn’t get in your way.
Very useful and non-obstructive.
A Link Between Worlds tries do something new with its item collection system. Instead of finding items inside dungeons, as in every other Zelda game, Link has to rent items from a curious fellow who has set up shop in his house. This quirky fellow goes by the name of Ravio and his introduction marks a radical departure from previous Zelda games. There are numerous dungeons throughout the game and each has a symbol in front of it detailing what item you need to have to progress inside the dungeon. In order to obtain said items, you have to go to Ravio and rent them for a small fee. If you die (and have no fairies) Ravio’s little friend, Sheerow, will swoop in and collect the rentals. You will have to rent these items again if you want to use them. Or you can just buy them outright for a much higher fee, after you progress further in the game. This makes rupees far more important than they’ve ever been in any previous Zelda game.
Any resemblance to Nabbit is coincidental.
I am of two minds about this new feature. I find it refreshing that you can tackle the dungeons in almost any order. But, I miss the satisfaction of gaining the items through hard work and exploration in the dungeons. Now, beating a dungeon feels a little less fulfilling. It also diminished the amount of guided storytelling, as I mentioned before, that you find in entries such as Ocarina of Time, since you can tackle the game in whatever order you want. But I do applaud Nintendo for trying something new.
Another new feature regarding the items is that they consume magic energy instead of stock, like in previous Zelda games. For example, using a bomb will not deplete bomb stock (there isn’t any), it will deplete magic energy which replenishes automatically. Which also means that you don’t buy potions to replenish magic.
There are still potions, though. Four types in fact. The red and blue potions restore hearts (8 and all, respectively). The yellow potion makes Link invulnerable and the purple potion damages all surrounding enemies. You will need monster remains (tails, horns, and guts), in addition to rupees, to order the blue, yellow, and purple potions.
Double double, toil and trouble...
The most important new feature of the game, though, is turning into a wall painting. You will gain this ability after defeating the first dungeon. The moment when Link first comes out of the wall is really well done. It reminded me of David Copperfield coming out of the Great Wall of China in 1986. The mechanic is not a throwaway feature, either. It is used in the ENTIRE GAME. You can use it (by pressing “A”) to blend into the wall and reach places you couldn’t before, to surprise NPC’s, and even to travel through the worlds of Lorule and Hyrule (through glowing fissures in the environment), among other things. It uses your magic meter and, when the meter runs out, you un-blend from the wall. It is one of the most original ideas I’ve seen in gaming and it is extremely fun to do. Not only that, but it opens up the puzzle aspects of the game to new dimensions, no pun intended. Speaking of dimensions, this game is meant to be played in 3D (sorry 2DS owners). When Link turns into a painting, the view switches from a 3D over the top view, to a 2D side view; the switch is not jarring at all.
This never ceases to be fun.
As mentioned before, there are two worlds in this game, Hyrule and Lorule. Hyrule is the land ruled by Princess Zelda and home to Link, where most of his adventures take place. Lorule, is a Dark Version of Hyrule, reminiscent of the Dark World from A Link to the Past, though not the same place. For the effect of the game, though, it’s pretty much this game’s version of the Dark World. The terrain looks similar, the musics is a remix of the Dark World, even most of the enemies and dungeons are the same or similar. Lorule even has it’s version of the Lost Woods, which earns its name back.
This takes too long each and every time.
The dungeons themselves are some of the best designed dungeons in the entire franchise. While they are in basically the same locations as in ALTTP (except for two), the schematics are entirely different. One issue that arises from being able to go to any dungeon at any time is that the designers couldn’t make the enemies too difficult, or else, few people would actually be able to finish the game. The more I played, the more I realized that they went around this problem by making the puzzles in the dungeon more difficult that in previous games. That way, there is still a mental challenge, even if there isn’t much of a physical one.
The dungeons themselves are a treat! There some clever puzzles that utilize 3D, wall merging, stealth, light/dark mechanics, etc. There’s also mini-bosses and dungeon warps, just like in Link’s Awakening. There’s even one dungeon that takes place in Hyrule and Lorule. One of the most clever elements of dungeons is using enemies to help you solve puzzles, such as the wall masters. It’s a very entertaining strategy and you’ll feel really smart when you realize how to solve puzzles using that method. Perhaps the most insane dungeon is the Ice Palace, where you can reach all six floors from the very beginning, but actually connecting through them will be difficult.
This dungeon is something else!
Of course, no Zelda game is complete without sidequests. Some of the side-quests include: collecting Maiamais, bottles, bees, and pieces of hearts. Maiamais are little Octorock-looking creatures that are hidden throughout the environment. Every time you collect 10 and take them to Mother Maiamai, you’ll be able to upgrade purchased items. It’s a very rewarding way of encouraging a collect-a-ton.
”My, oh my, what a big mouth you have!”
And of course, there are also mini-games. There’s the old staples like, “guess what’s in the box,” and “dig up treasure.” But there’s new fun ones such as “Evade the Cuccos” and even “Baseball.” The Baseball game is kind of weird to figure out but it’s fun nonetheless.
Swing batter, batter, ssssssswiiiiiiing batter!
In addition to using the 3DS’ Play Coin feature, ALBW also uses Streetpass functionality in a fun way. When you StreetPass other players who own the game and have activated the Streetpass feature in-game, you’ll be able to play against their “Shadow Link” which is a version of their Link which is as strong as they are,equipped with two items of their choice. The stronger the Shadow Link, the higher the bounty (amount of rupees) you can collect from defeating them. There is no penalty for losing and if you win, you get rupees, so this is a pretty nifty feature.
Making your Shadow Link stronger for others to fight becomes an issue of much pride.
Last, but not least, after you beat the game for the first time, you unlock “Hero Mode.” The main difference between Normal and Hero Mode is that damage is quadrupled. You can still collect hearts from enemies, unlike Hero Mode in other Zeldas. Hero Mode is extremely challenging and makes up for the easy difficulty of the main game.
“The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds” is the Zelda game I’ve been wanting to play for decades. While all the other top down Zelda games have been excellent, none have really captured the magic, for me, that “A Link to the Past” had. The game plays, looks, and sounds like a dream come true. While it is not a perfect game (is there even such a thing) I still consider it to be one of the greatest games ever made, just like its predecessor “A Link to the Past.”
I think Nintendo should take the following approach from now on: make 3rd person Zelda games for the consoles and top-down Zelda games for the handhelds. It works to each system’s strengths and pleases fans of both types of games. As long as Nintendo develops the following top-down games with the same love and care as they did with this one, this could mark the beginning of a beautiful neo-retro era for the Zelda franchise.
Notes and Trivia (SPOILERS):
Starts with the same music as A Link to the Past.
You are named Link in the file.
Throwbacks to other games:
Gulley: I’m just a kid (taken from Link’s Awakening)
Ravio: Mr. Hero (taken from Ocarina of Time)
Lakeside Item Seller: C’mon. Buy somethin’? (taken from The Legend of Zelda). His Lorule counterpart actually says “Buy Somethin Will Ya” backwards.
Thief Girl: "Oh, thank you very much. You saved my life. Now take me outside." (taken from A Link to the Past).
The Stylish Woman in Hyrule looks just like the Fat Fairy from ALTTP.
The sound the weather vane makes when you save is the flute’s melody from ALTTP.
Characters from other games:
Dampe (both worlds)
Milk Bar Owner (Talon)
Ingo (Lorule Milk Bar Owner; Nice touch)
Cuccos still summon other cuccos if you hit them a lot.
Pendants: Courage, Wisdom, Power
Finally! An explanation as to why Zoras attack people!
You can see the Hyrule Castle Guards trapped in the walls as paintings.
Sages appear in the Sage Room from OOT
Cuccos are buzzards in Lorule
Majora’s Mask is hanging from a wall in your house.
A picture of the Ocarina of time and the logo from Wind Waker Link’s shirt is hanging from the same wall.
The story from ALTTP is told in painting form inside Hyrule Castle and if you let the game run during the title screen.
Lon Lon Ranch still exists in this world.
A Link Between Worlds' Hero Mode is the only one in the series to include recovery hearts.
This is the first Zelda game where the highlighted text is blue rather than the traditional red.
Ravio's purple bunny garb pays homage to A Link to the Past, in which Link became Bunny Link in the Dark World until he obtained the Moon Pearl.
A gulley is a type of ravine, canyon or gorge.
Gulley's visual design is based on the Flute Boy from A Link to the Past.
Seres's design and name appears to be based on Saria from Ocarina of Time. As well as her appearance (in particular her green hair and eyes), her portrait is found in the Skull Woods, the equivalent of Hyrule's Lost Woods, and performs a similar pose to her when the Seven Sages unite their power.
Yuga's name is derived from the Kanji 油画/Yuga, which is Japanese for oil paintings, a reference to his magical abilities.
A journal, presumably belonging to Ravio, can be found in the Vacant House in Lorule in Hero Mode that illustrates Ravio's internal conflict about Yuga.
Satoru Iwata has noted that many fans have compared Ravio to Nabbit from the Super Mario series, but dismissed it as an unintentional coincidence.
When Link approaches Ravio's bag with a Rupee symbol on it in Link's house, Ravio frantically stops Link, saying there's something "more important than life itself" inside
The Mother Maiamai appears to be based on the white storytelling creature from A Link to the Past, though larger, pink, and with a shell.
Her name "Maiamai" comes from the Japanese word マイマイ maimai, meaning "snail". The name is also a play on the phrase "My, oh, my!"
Lorule is an antonymic pun on "Hyrule." The first syllable, "Hy" (pronounced "high"), is exchanged with "Lo" (pronounced "low").
A remixed version of the original Dark World theme plays in Lorule.
@Zero I doubt it would be a higher number than everything that scores an 8 and above. And if you buy games based on review scores instead of the actual review text... then yeah, you have a point about scores. But something tells me you don't do that, so I still don't see the issue.
@Mop it up Sure, but "8 and above" isn't what I'm looking at, I'm looking at the specific scores, so say a 9.9 versus an 8.8 versus an 8.0 tells me three very different things. I actually do filter the games I'm going to check out at based on review scores on sites like Gamerankings and such, it's a system that works very well for me. But that wasn't really my point, my point is just that if you're going to put anything at the end, you're already kind of defeating the "just read the text" logic, whether it be a 100 point scale score or a 2 point scale score.
@Zero Those scores tell me nothing. I have no idea why a game got a 8 or a 9.9 just looking at the numbers. Games can get docked points for silly reasons that I don't care about, and conversely scores can be inflated for silly reasons I don't care about. But hey, it just goes back to what I was saying: everyone interprets scores differently. I don't have a problem with scores existing, it's more about the importance placed on them and squabbling over points that bothers me. A simpler system might help cut down on that.