Monday, November 15, 2010

The Legend of Zelda: Majority's Mask

As I was sifting through my Backloggery in search of inspiration for my next GameCola article, I came to the stunning realization that I had beaten a lot of Zelda games. Ten of them, to be specific--as in, all but two or three of the games anyone's ever heard of. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, except for the fact that I don't really like Zelda all that much.

Blasphemy, I know. Everyone loves The Legend of Zelda. Hey, there are a few Zelda games I like well enough, and there's only one, maybe two games I've played that might actually qualify as bad. It's a solid series, but there's not a lot about the basic elements of the game that hook me.

I play games with lots of different weapon options, like Mega Man and No One Lives Forever. Zelda gives you a sword, a boomerang, arrows and bombs. In every game. And that's pretty much it. They're fine weapons, but I need to switch things up more often. I LOVE unmasking the Iron Mask enemies with the Hook Shot and setting everything on fire with the Fire Rod in Link's Awakening, but these kinds of novelty weapons often show up too late in the game or are too limited in their offensive usefulness to see enough use.

I also miss jumping. The jump-bestowing Roc's Feather in the Game Boy games and the ability to make your boat hop in Phantom Hourglass make me very happy, because I use jumping as a means of self-defense in everything from platformers to first-person shooters, and I still can't get used to dodging by not being in an enemy's line of fire to begin with.

On the flip side, I'm a big fan of puzzles, and Zelda is bursting at the seams with 'em. They may not always be as complex or mentally taxing as the ones in Space Quest or Monkey Island--quite often it's a matter of pushing blocks around or skillfully completing a task with the shiny new toy you found in this dungeon--but there's enough cause to pause and think on a regular basis, and that's good enough for me. Plus, it's nice to never worry about pretty much dooming yourself to failure halfway through because you forgot to pick up a tiny widget at the very beginning of the game. Stupid widget.

I'm not averse to item collection, otherwise I'd never have liked Metroid, another series that's very similar in style to Zelda. The key reasons I prefer Metroid are that it's platforming over top-down action, sci-fi over fantasy, and exploration over linear progression.

Zelda does have its fair share of open areas and hidden locations to explore, but the real focus is on the dungeons and bosses. It's all about getting from A to B and occasionally doodling around in-between. With Zelda, so much of the world outside of the dungeons feels like filler to me, whereas with Metroid, there's not always a clear objective or destination, so getting from A to B might as well be a dungeon in itself.

Linearity isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there's just enough of a mix of linearity and freeform exploration in Zelda for me to want more of one and less of the other. The bottom line, though, is that I like Zelda well enough...but not nearly enough to warrant owning nine of the Zelda games I've played through (having beaten Four Swords Adventures with three other friends at someone else's house).

Granted, most of my best friends are big Zelda fans, so I've received about half of my collection as gifts. Regardless, I was the one who made the decision to pick up the GBA Zelda II re-release, and I'm the one who chose to play through every game I owned before tackling things in my backlog that seemed more up my alley, such as Star Trek: Legacy and Sam & Max: Season Two.

I've noticed a growing trend of compulsively collecting and playing games from series I'm not wild about. It's not just Zelda, but also Final Fantasy, Wario Land, and even Police Quest. For one thing, I'm a completionist, so it simply won't do to have played one of these games without trying the others. I also find it's good for conversation and writing inspiration to have all these popular games under my belt. Yet there's more to it than just these things.

There are things about all these series that I like, but there are so many things that bother me or aren't as exciting to me as they're supposed to be. I'm giving these series second and third and tenth chances because I want to see what my friends see in these games. I want to find more than one installment that's enjoyable enough for me to replay simply because I miss playing it. I have a few favorites in the aforementioned series that fit this criteria, but they're all ones I played during the era of nostalgia when everything was a favorite. And I assure you that none of them are ones any "real fan" would pick as their favorites.

I'm looking forward to trying out Final Fantasy VII and discovering that, for the first time since Mario 3 and Super Metroid, I agree with the opinion of the masses about which game in a series is the absolute best. And I'm hopeful that Minish Cap or even Zelda's Adventure will be weird enough to win me over. I may have played most of the games in these two series, but don't let that fool you into thinking I'm a fanboy.

Whether I'm a naïve optimist or just a hopeless collector, I'll keep buying and trying these games until I can honestly call myself a fan...or until I realize I should've saved my money this whole time and written out one big check to Capcom to help finance the best Mega Man game ever.


Matt Link said...

I'm curious, what are your thoughts on Zelda II for the nes?

I've always had a soft spot for that one, and even though it's certainly not perfect by any means, I've found that its always been one of my all-time favorites despite the fact that it's the blacksheep of the Zelda family... fans either seem to love it or hate it (using reasons like "It's not top-down like the other Zelda games! Why did they have to change 'perfection'?" when really, you have to think back to the times. There were 2 games: a top-down one and a side-scrolling (for the most part) one. Zelda really hadn't set a precedent as to how a Zelda game 'had to be', not until Zelda for the SNES & N64 that is... I'm of the minority when I say the first Zelda is not the greatest NES game ever made. It's a good game, don't get me wrong, but nostalgia has a way of blinding people to some of the big faults the game has, like having to grind for money to buy a few bombs that are used up in a few short seconds of exploration, as well as using that same money you need for said bombs to fire arrows out of that new bow you just found... what?!

Anyways, enough of my rant :) My reasoning for Zelda II: I love the platforming/jumping aspect (*gasp* in a Zelda game?) the difficulty curve is very high (I'm a glutton for a punishment if I really enjoy the game well enough... like Gradius III for example), the overworld had just enough to do in it while the dungeons felt like you were going deeper and deeper, and it's very unique in the context of the much more famous and revered ones that came before and after this entry.

Going past the nostalgia into objectivity, there's a lot they could do to improve it, such as having to start all the way at the beginning every time you get a game over, and the random encounters with monsters on the overworld map is quite tedious when you're just trying to get from point A to B, and I suppose there aren't too many memorable characters (besides "I am Error").

Anyway, I suppose you could use all the reasons I loved about the game as reasons it wouldn't sit well with some, but to each his/her own. Those are my 2 cents.

Flashman85 said...

I enjoyed Zelda II. I played the GBA re-release, but I'm assuming it's identical to the original. Platforming is my favorite game genre anyhow, so it's already got that going in its favor.

I agree with basically everything you said, though, about both Zelda I and II, so no need to reiterate it all. Rare to find somebody who's apparently in perfect accord with me about being of a differing opinion!

Matt Link said...

Excellent, good to hear you dig the platforming! Yeah, from what I've heard, both releases are identical. I haven't played the GBA version yet, although I wonder how easy it is to see some of the enemies' projectiles on the much smaller screen.. I can picture some of the bubbles or flying maces to be very small and easy to walk into without knowing, but again, I'll have to try it out and see.

One thing I also forgot to mention was Zelda II's music. I love it, especially the dungeon & title screen. Most of it is very catchy and I like how this entry doesn't rely on reusing the original Zelda theme (while a great song, it's a tad overplayed methinks), but rather going with its own variation on it.

Btw, It's refreshing to come across someone who's not afraid to challenge the status quo of the public opinion on games, not for the sake of having a different opinion than everyone, but more to get to the core of what really has people liking one game over another and whether or not it's from personal preference or just blind obedience. Keep up the awesome!