Monday, April 15, 2013

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GameCube)

Time played: 20 hours

Hello, neglected blog!

I spent the last week and a half (2 weekends included) *finally* playing Wind Waker! Ocarina of Time is one of my favorite games, so it seems like I should have played this one a little closer to when it came out, but I never had a GameCube. While I was playing Twilight Princess the year before last, a friend let me borrow Wind Waker to check it out - and then I forgot I had it until last week!

What Happened: 

I played this game for a lot longer than I ever expected to! This is due at least in part to the fact that I was completely unable to save... Apparently when you play a GameCube game on the Wii, you need a GameCube memory card, which I don't have. I didn't think it would be a problem when I started, since I usually max out around 5 hours on a game and give up - but in this case, since it was always on and I could lose my save at any moment, it kept me playing.

In the end, I had to shut my Wii off this morning because of some scheduled electrical outlet maintenance. Perhaps this game would have joined the exclusive Games I Have Finished Club if this hadn't been the case? Maybe I should play more games without the ability to save. :)

Gameplay-wise its... well, Zelda. It's a 3rd person game where you run around exploring temples and generally doing good. The story starts with your sister being abducted, and you running off with some (goodish) pirates to go save her. It turns out that Ganondorf is responsible for her capture (what!), and wants to cover the world in darkness, etc, etc, so your mission is to become strong enough to defeat him. The world in Wind Waker is a large ocean dotted with islands, so a substantial amount of gameplay consists of sailing between them. You possess the legendary "Wind Waker" which allows you to do magicky stuff like control the direction of the wind (vital in sailing), at some point warp from place to place (thank god), and do weird stuff like take temporary control of people who are willing to be controlled by you... You build up an arsenal of items through the game which expand your abilities, like a leaf that lets you float, a grappling hook, fire & ice arrows, etc. It's a mix between traversing, puzzle solving and combat.  

When I had to shut the game off, I was a few steps away from repowering the master sword. I think I only had a few hours to go. Oh well!

What I Liked: 

Triforce. I think there was a really wonderful blend of combat, platforming and puzzles, which is how I also felt about Ocarina & Twilight Princess. I didn't feel like any of the three was dominant - they were all in play, and I think the game stayed interesting because there was a wide variety in *how* you were playing.

Story. In general, I like the narrative setups of all of the Zelda games. They're definitely simple and tend to repeat from game to game, but they do the job. Your motivations are always clear. You feel like a Good Guy. It's very Disney in that way. :)  

World. The reason I like Ocarina of Time so much is because I feel like there's a real sense of place to the game. When I remember it, I remember specific places and how they made me feel, as opposed to what was happening in the story, or what I was doing. Wind Waker is perhaps less successful at this (maybe this would be better judged after a longer period of time), but it's still there to some degree. I really enjoyed exploring all of the temples. There's also a fun sense of logic to the people in the world (maybe this goes in story?) - like the dragon that gives the Rito people their wings, and the fact that the Rito run the mail service for the world. It's imaginative and fun.

Physics! Haha, yes physics are in a lot of games, but there were a couple of hanging platforms and bridges that made for some cool little physics "puzzles" in the earlier half of the game and I wrote a note about it. Stuff like needing to burn or detach the ropes to drop the platform - although the plant monster that used this same idea (shoot all of the tentacles) was tedious and awful, so I didn't like that part as much (but also I don't think it was really using physics, it was more like a checkbox).

Art style. Charming aesthetic! I loved the colors and the hand painted details in the environment. There were some really cute and surprising animations that made me smile - like Link's crawl and sidle animations. The effects were generally very neat (I like that you can see Link's arms underwater when he swims). I felt that the character designs were hit or miss (what a disappointing dragon! what happened to the Great Deku Tree??), but overall I liked them, and the facial animation. Additionally, the characters' voices were really great and were helpful in conveying personality, despite the fact that they were never saying actual words (except the boat shopkeep). Link's voice in particular added a layer of charm to basic climbing and moving.

What I Didn't Like: 

Opening. It was soooo slowww. It was some drawings and text... moving very slowly. The idea was cute though: a great hero garbed in green saved the world, so when boys in your village become a certain age they wear that outfit for the day, and should be 'inspired to be heroic.' :)

HUD. The HUD that shows which items and weapons you have assigned to which buttons - and it is a mess! Also, (because I'm bad at games) I always hit the wrong buttons anyway, despite having a little map of the buttons right in front of me. I'm not really sure how this could have been handled differently, because you can always change what item is where, and this way immediately makes sense (or, maybe not "immediately" when I'm panicking - but it definitely makes sense when you think about it.) Perhaps they simply could have been styled a little differently to reduce the feeling of clutter? I'm not sure!

Handling? I wrote this down at the start of gameplay, but I guess I was used to it by the end because I didn't notice it anymore and this note surprised me. I felt that I was having to turn, and then move forward. The handling during swimming is definitely bad - you sort of shoot forward in the direction you're trying to go, which makes for some awkward misses when trying to get onto the boat, or onto ladders.

Library. In your village, one of the guys has a "library" which serves as a tutorial for a number of things that aren't explained elsewhere though the game. It's definitely an example of telling instead of showing, which is pretty weak! I don't want to read big chunks of text when you could explain those things to me through the game itself. It felt lazy (even though the text was flavored)!

Unskippable text! Most of the text in the game can be sped through - but there are a number of Important Things you need to read. I think this is fine for story stuff (which you usually can't repeat), but it's definitely not ok to be unable to skip things you've already read. By the 8th time, I know what the deal is when I get a room key or a joy pendant, and I don't want to read about it.

Unarmed. I'm never a huge fan of combat in games, but I can let it pass when it's cartoony - but there were a few cases where you specifically needed to unarm dudes to then kill them... which feels a bit un-heroic! Also there were a couple of enemies that had particularly sad sounding takehit and death sounds. Why! :(

Item drop. The first time I got a glowing sphere for defeating a bad guy, it did not occur to me that I should hit it to break it open. I eventually got it, but I made a note about it. I wonder how this could have been communicated differently? Maybe if it even had like, a small crack on it, I would have thought that I could break it. It didn't really look physical (it looked magicky).

Grappling hook. The functionality was a little awkward (a lot of situations require you to hold a button to stop swinging, then reorient yourself and start swinging again, slowly rebuilding momentum), but the irritating thing is that every time you use it, you're treated to a short camera shot and animation of the rope wrapping around whatever...

Camera. There were a number of combat situations where the camera definitely worked against you by not showing the whole view. In one fight in the forest temple, there were trees lining the sides of the room, so my view kept getting blocked by them. The camera was particularly annoying during the triforce puzzle in black and white Hyrule - it kept landing on extreme closeups of Link while you were trying to move blocks into place (which required a far away view). The camera is also occasionally a problem when using the Deku leaf, because you can't see the ground below you to know if it's safe to drop down.

Holy crap, sailing. Sailing is super boring and not fun.

Sea battles. Sailing is already boring, so I guess in an effort to give you something to do, stuff attacks you sometimes - which is not very fun at all. You aren't travelling while you're fighting (so then you actually have to sail for longer), and when you get hit, you fall off of the boat and have to get back on (and this is already a little hard because of the handling while swimming). One time I got attacked by a whole pack of sharks, and a scrawled an angry note in my book with a lot of exclamation marks.

Communication. There were a number of things I made notes about because I didn't understand them at first and got mad, so I'll capture them in this paragraph. There's a whirpool 'sequence' when you're trying to get to the water god - I didn't understand if I was supposed to be trying to get out of the whirlpool (first response), but you can't... I died the first time. There are floating fire skull enemies soon after you get the bow and arrow. My thought was to take them out with arrows from a distance, but it's really hard to hit things without Z-targeting (and they were too far), my conclusion after seeming to hit them a few times was that you couldn't use arrows, so I used bombs on them for awhile, which is almost impossible. Eventually I figured out that plenty of weapons work on them, including arrows, as long as you can target them. There are flower pods called baba buds which shoot you into the air - the first time you ever use them calls for a level of precision that (at least for me) takes some practice, so I was incredibly frustrated. Also you have to get to a hard to reach platform before a guy gives you some better advice about how to use them. You shoot from flower to flower - it might have been better for your first go to let you land on bigger targets (i.e., platforms).

Boss fights. Most of the boss fights were pretty lame. You learn a single sequence of events, and then just repeat it (wait until the bird's beak is stuck, then hit him - blast the ghost with light, then throw him at a spike) Sometimes the boss moves faster, or adds some attacks in, but they are almost always very easy to avoid. I always felt a little let down.  

Zelda. What the heck happened to Tetra?! She's so cool, and then suddenly she's wearing eye shadow and you have to leave her in the basement and trap her down there with a giant stone statue.

Deku plants. This is a weird note, but it feels weird to slice up plants for loot when you're in the Great Deku's like, holy chamber. There's still stuff in them though. I also felt bad about messing up my neighbor's garden.

Goose chase. I think one of the worst parts in the game is when you can't get into the sage's temples, and the fish are like "oh, you need this thing that's 3 squares East and 2 squares South" and then you go there, and another fish is like "go 5 squares West and 4 squares North." When I acquired the ability to warp it wasn't as bad, but it still seemed unnecessary and annoying.

Deku leaf. When you first get the deku leaf, you have to use it to float to an island and I felt like everything about that part was really clumsy and set you up for failure. First, they didn't explain what the updraft was, but I'm pretty sure you needed it to reach the first platform (where someone tells you what the updraft is). I ended up hitting it by mistake while trying to avoid it, and assuming I was going to die. They do, after all, look exactly like the little whirlwinds you're told to avoid while sailing. Next, the camera is directly behind Link, so his body blocks whatever is in front of him - like, for example, an enemy that he's about to run into. I died like 8 times in a row. This whole part almost made me quit the game!!

Command. It's ok when you command a stone statue - but when Medli asks you to take control of her mind... it's really weird. Also it's completely unclear that this is what she's asking you to do, when she tells you she can fly. I had to look it up online. More than that, it's tedious. You have to get the Wind Waker out each time, play the song, wait for it to tell you you played the song, then watch the mind swap animation. It's too much time considering how often you need to do it.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

I can't! I think I would have finished it though. This game has definitely motivated me to give Skyward Sword another shot. Despite this long list of things I didn't like, I really enjoyed this game and the other Zelda games I've tried.

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