The Wind Waker – Forest Haven

Wind Waker Koroks

Link has calmed the dragon Valoo, who tells him to head over to the Wind Shrine on the other side of Dragon Roost Island. At the shoreline is a large Shinto torii gate in front of a stone monument marked with triangle glyphs. These glyphs represent directions for how to use the Wind Waker baton that the King of Red Lions gave to Link when he first arrived on the island. If Link follows the directions (up, left, right) he summons Zephos, an amphibious demigod that has power over the wind. Zephos tells Link that, if he conducts the song on the stone monument with the Wind Waker, he too can control the direction of the wind.

This is extremely useful! Link can’t sail against the wind; and, if he sails with the wind, he can move quickly across the water. This essentially opens the world of the game to Link.

Before he heads out onto the Great Sea, however, Link is approached by Prince Komali. At Medli’s urging, Komali passes over Din’s Pearl, one of the magical items that the King of Red Lions has tasked him with collecting. Now that Link has received the first pearl, it’s time to collect the next one in the set!

Although Link can go anywhere he wants at this point, he’s still rather weak, so it’s best simply to sail south for the Forest Haven and the Forbidden Woods, twin rocky islands that have sprouted trees in their otherwise hollow calderas. The island housing the Forbidden Woods is inaccessible from the sea, but Link can scale the other by jumping between the stones emerging above a rapid stream flowing out of its interior. Once he reaches the inside, he encounters the Deku Tree, which is covered in red and green ChuChus, slimy creatures that tend to gang up on Link and aggressively attack him.

Link, being the stalwart hero he is, defeats them without any trouble.

(Interestingly enough, though – if he runs around like a moron, Tetra will contact him via her pendant and tell him to get a move on and help the damn tree.)

Once Link has gotten rid of all the ChuChus, the Deku Tree speaks to Link in Ancient Hylian, which is written with a rune-like syllabary based on Japanese katakana. Link makes an adorable face that conveys a comically pure sense of “Eh, what?” and the tree apologizes, saying that he saw Link’s clothes and “felt a longing for an age gone by.”

So… Is this the same tree that Link helped nurture in Ocarina of Time? But wait… If Wind Waker takes place in a timeline in which Link stayed in the future and never returned to the past… When would the baby Deku Tree have been planted…?

Time travel makes no sense. Moving on.

The Deku Tree quickly figures out that the King of Red Lions sent Link for Farore’s Pearl, saying, “I knew there was a reason the monsters had begun to congregate in the regions around my wood. Now I understand it. He has returned… Ganon has returned…”

I have grown extremely sympathetic toward Ganondorf, and this statement is strange to me. The former Deku Tree in Ocarina of Time told Link that it was cursed by Ganondorf because it wouldn’t relinquish the Kokiri’s Emerald. Because of Ganondorf’s magic, the Deku Tree’s ability to govern the Kokiri Woods had been compromised; and, without its protection, the area became infested with monsters. In Wind Waker, however, it’s Ganondorf’s mere prescence on the Great Sea that is blamed for the appearance of violent creatures. What’s going on here? Is the Deku Tree expressing a prejudice engendered by historical memory, or is there something about Ganondorf that does indeed exert some sort of influence on the natural world?

Regardless, before the Deku Tree will give Farore’s Pearl to Link, he asks that the boy plunge into the Forbidden Woods to rescue Makar, one of the Korok creatures that inhabits the Forest Haven. The Korok are root-like munchkins who wear leaf masks of various shapes and sizes over their faces, and it’s their job to plant trees and spread greenery over the Great Sea. Because they’re so small and light, and because they bear a portion of the magic of the Deku Tree, the Korok can fly by using adorable propellers fashioned from leaves. Once a year, they all return to the Forest Haven for a special ceremony. Makar, who plays a bright blue violin, is supposed to lead the ceremony, but he’s gone missing. Apparently, he flew over the Forbidden Woods on his way home, lost control in the wind currents, and fell. The Deku Tree therefore gives Link one of his leaves so that Link can glide over to the other island.

Or perhaps “gives” is a strong word. Instead of simply shaking his branches so that the leaf falls, the Deku Tree asks that Link climb up into the forest canopy via a series of purple flowers called Baba Bulbs, which will launch the small boy into the air. This process is a lot of fun once you get the hang of it, but it’s not entirely intuitive, and I always end up rage quitting the game at this point because I’m not immediately able to figure out how to aim Link’s trajectory when he bursts out of the flowers. Mastering the process requires a fair amount of trial and error.

Once Link finally gets the Deku Leaf, he is able to glide through the air, but only by expending the magic power that now appears as a bright green bar on the top of the screen. By using the Deku Leaf between Baba Bulbs, Link can climb even higher in the Forest Haven before finally emerging on a high cliff facing the Forbidden Woods. What he then needs to do is leap out over the ocean, timing his jump to that he’ll catch an updraft that will propel him all the way to the opening of a small cave that serves as an entrance into the island’s caldera. Before doing so, he must change the direction of the wind so that it’s blowing in his favor.

I had some trouble getting the timing right, so my Link plunged to his watery death a good three times before I finally got him where he needed to go. I don’t know why the Deku Tree thought it was a good idea to send this kid hang-gliding through tornados hundreds of feet above the ocean, but whatever – adventure awaits!

The Forbidden Woods is a neat little dungeon that expands on the vertical gameplay mechanics of the Forest Haven. Link can also use his Deku Leaf to generate large gusts of wind, stunning enemies and blowing rudimentary carts along hanging tracks. The sound design in this area is especially well done, with various environmental interactions producing wooden clunks and thonks and rattles. There is also the frantic rustling of thorny vines and the eerie chittering of insects. In many ways, the Forbidden Woods recalls the Deku Tree dungeon in Ocarina of Time, but it’s so much more atmospheric, less like “a Zelda dungeon” and more like a miniature world that has existed before Link came and will continue to exist after he departs.

The dungeon’s treasure is the boomerang, which can target multiple objects at once. On the GameCube version, this was a bit difficult to control; but, with the gyroscope in the Wii U controller, the player can just swipe the gamepad from left to right to wreak havoc. The boss fight is with a carnivorous plant called Kalle Demos, which hangs from the ceiling. Link can use the boomerang to knock the creature to the ground so that he can smack it with his sword. Because of all the moving vines, this fight is very busy and visually intense, and I’m impressed that the original GameCube hardware was able to handle it.

After Kalle Demos has been defeated, Makar waddles out and apologizes. Link escorts him back to the Forest Haven, where the yearly Korok ceremony can now be enacted. As Makar plays his violin, which he holds like a cello because he’s tiny and adorable and it’s too big for him, all of the Korok dance and sing. It’s a joyous sequence, and it makes the Deku Tree so happy that it’s able to produce a new batch of seeds, as well as Farore’s Pearl – finally!

The next in the set is Nayru’s Pearl, which involves wind, rain, and a lot of sailing.

( Header image from the French ZeldaWiki )

A Link to the Past

Link vs Ganon from A Link to the Past)

I’ve had my hands full with non-digital adventures lately, so I started playing about half an hour of A Link to the Past every night as stress relief.

In terms of gameplay, A Link to the Past is perfect. In terms of story, it makes zero sense. No one can agree on who Ganon is or what he’s doing or how and when the Dark World came into being.

I think there are two possible explanations for this sort of fractured narrative. The first is that Nintendo simply didn’t care, because nuanced storytelling wasn’t expected and wasn’t the point of the project. The second is that no one in the world of the game fully understands what’s going on, and so what Link is picking up are bits and pieces of hearsay, some of which is contradictory. In the end, all Link knows is that the wizard Agahnim (who is either Ganon’s servant or Ganon’s avatar) hurt his uncle and imprisoned Zelda, which is reason enough for him to flip out and start killing people.

When I played this game as a kid, I didn’t have a real sense of Agahnim or Ganon being threats. It always seemed to me that what Link was fighting was the world he lived in, which was dangerous even without political power struggles. Even if Zelda is safe on her throne, there will still be Zora shooting fire at people from the lakes, and boulders falling off the mountains, and all sorts of creepy crawlies feeding on each other inside lightless ruins.

Now that I’m older, this game reminds me of the conversation from Clerks about contractors on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi. Namely, if the Dark World only exists because Ganon is there, and then Link defeats Ganon, does the Dark World disappear? If it does, do all the people who have been trapped there for however long it’s been – two or three generations, I think – do they all disappear too?

Regardless, the pixelated graphics are gorgeous on my widescreen HD television. I’d really like to play Secret of Mana, which is equally beautiful and relaxing, but Nintendo removed it from the Wii U Virtual Console for some reason, alas.

( Header image from Zeldapedia )

Tri Force Heroes Wrap-Up Post

Tri Force Heroes by bellhenge

I completed all of the levels and beat the game. I did a few level challenges, but not many. I won a few coliseum battles, but I lost a lot more. I completed a handful of levels with strangers over wi-fi, but this experience was frustrating. I got a bunch of the outfits, but not all of them.

I feel like I need to try to say something positive about Tri Force Heroes. Let’s see…

The graphics and music and sound effects are wonderful, and they work together to make the game surprisingly atmospheric. For example, in the snow world, the quality of the light and the muted music and the sound of snow crunching under Link’s feet all come together to evoke a palpable sense of winter cold.

Some of the puzzles are very well designed. It’s good to get more play out the of A Link Between Worlds engine, and the totem mechanic was confusing at first but grew on me very quickly.

The outfits were actually useful. Being able to throw bigger bombs or walk on sand without sinking really comes in handy on certain levels. I appreciate how effective the outfits are in making the gameplay much smoother and more enjoyable.

The endlevel fights are a lot of fun. One fight in the “ruins” (haunted house) level has the player chasing ghosts through a dimly lit library. I enjoyed this battle, as it privileged quick timing, teamwork, memory, and navigation through a creepy setting. The occasional large boss monsters are gorgeously drawn and animated. There’s a giant snake at the end of the snow world whose tiny individual scales glisten in a way that had me staring at the screen and being like, Why is this so beautiful?

The town of Hytopia was interesting. Even though it’s small, it’s filled with touches that make it more real to the player, like the cicada tree in the southeast corner of town. The localization gives all of the characters great dialog, and the noises some of them make are priceless.

The game is refreshingly nonjudgmental concerning Link’s presentation of his gender. Just outside the dressing room of Madame Couture’s shop is a woman who gives Link cute compliments no matter what he wears. If he wears a dress or a pink cheerleading outfit with a miniskirt, nobody cares or makes any stupid jokes. There aren’t any “positive messages” regarding gender presentation either – it’s just completely normal that Link can dress however he wants. He’s cautioned against wearing his teddybear jammies into battle, but that’s less prescriptive and more of a silly statement regarding fashion.

It’s not a bad game, it just…

It just doesn’t have any of the things people love about the Zelda series. There’s no exploration, and there’s no gradual building of skills or opening of the game. There’s no clever dual world structure, there are no sprawling dungeons whose puzzles all fit together neatly, there’s no thrill of discovery, and there’s no story. Instead, there’s grinding for materials and beating up strangers over wi-fi, neither of which is particularly satisfying to me personally.

Tri Force Heroes works reasonably well as a multiplayer game, and I assume the “grinding for materials” aspect is supposed to reward the people who play for friendship instead of for the game itself. I can imagine a bunch of kids sitting around on Thanksgiving and completing the same set of stages over and over because they’re kids and that’s just how they interact with each other.

It’s therefore unfair to compare Tri Force Heroes to “a Zelda game,” but it’s also unfair not to expect people to make the comparison. I kept thinking that, if this weren’t marketed as a Zelda game, but rather as the first game in its own franchise, then people would have been a lot happier with it.

In the end, I had fun, but I’m not sad to put Tri Force Heroes down for the time being. At least I know I can always come back to it right where I left off.

( Header image by bellhenge on Deviant Art )

Tri Force Heroes – Grinding for Outfits

Shifuku ga are na yūsha kōho by Anri

In order to get all of Link’s outfits in Tri Force Heroes, the player needs to grind for both rupees and materials.

Grinding for rupees becomes significantly less of a problem after Link puts together the Rupee Regalia, which allows him to pick up between 300 and 500 rupees in about 60 seconds just by cutting the bushes around town.

The materials are more of a problem. There are two types of materials: those that the player can win at the end of a level, and those that must be won through competitive play via the game’s Coliseum feature.

At the end of each successfully completed level, the player is offered a choice of three chests whose contents are predetermined based on the level and any challenge the player has applied to that level. If the player is looking for a specific material, there are stages and conditions in which two of the three chests will hold that material. Still, because the placement is random, there’s no guarantee that you won’t open your chest at the end of the level to get the 1/3 probability material over… and over… and over…

There’s a street peddler in town whose wares change every day, and it’s possible to buy materials from him. There’s also a free random treasure chest game in town from which Link can win materials. You can’t get every material in this way, though, and the daily selection is random.

A subset of the materials can only be won by going into the Coliseum area, connecting to other players via wi-fi, and then beating the shit out of them. You only have a chance at getting your hands on one of the Coliseum-specific materials if you win the match, but there’s no chance that you’ll get the rare material even if you do win. Moreover, each material is connected to a specific area, and there’s no guarantee that the other two players won’t choose to play in a different area.

Each match in the Coliseum is very short – only about three minutes – but you have to be prepared to play a lot of them in order to get the materials you need to put together all the outfits. What happened to this game being meant to inspire cooperative play?

In addition, there are the two outfits that can only be bought with friendship tokens. You don’t get friendship tokens by playing with strangers or registered friends over wi-fi, but only by connecting with other players in the same physical proximity via the Local Play feature. What this means is that you have to have a certain number of (a) friends (b) who have 3DS systems and (c) will agree to play this game with you. Either that, or you need to arrange some sort of meetup with a local geek community or at a geek convention. This all sounds fine in theory…

…but bros I am a grown-ass woman and don’t have time for that shit.

The point I’m driving at here is that Tri Force Heroes seems to put a lot of emphasis on grinding for materials, which is neither enjoyable nor strictly even possible unless you the player put in the time in your real life to grind for friends to play the game with.

I suppose I could be less of an introvert and use this game as an excuse to go out and find my local gaming community, but let’s be honest – I have to deal with other people all day as part of my job, and when I get home I just want to have a glass of wine and sprawl out on my couch and play some video games.

What I’ve always enjoyed about the Zelda games is that they give me a sense of completion and progress that I don’t always experience in my real life. In a Zelda game, there are a finite number of things to do and collect, and once you’ve done and found them all you are the master of your own little digital domain. With Tri Force Heroes, I feel like I am never doing or collecting enough. This makes the outfit construction elements of the game both addictive and repetitive – so all about grinding, basically.

I understand that there will be a DLC update in early December that will give the player an outfit (modeled after Linebeck, one of my favorite characters!!) that will allow her to see the contents of materials chests before she opens them. After I complete the main portion of the game, I think I might wait until this update to dig my heels into the project of getting all the outfits.

( Header image by Anri on Twitter )

The Wind Waker – Dragon Roost Island

Komali and Medli by Onisuu

With sail and camera and Tingle Bottle in hand, Link leaves Windfall Island and heads south for Dragon Roost Island, where the King of Red Lions has told him that he can find something called Din’s Pearl. Link doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter, as the King of Red Lions is also his boat. If he tries to go anywhere besides Dragon Roost Island, the King of Red Lions won’t let him, telling him to get his ass back on course.

This is probably for the best, as the sheer size of the Great Sea can be overwhelming. There were open world games before Wind Waker, but they weren’t as common ten years ago as they are now, especially under the banner of such a high-profile franchise. I can therefore understand the developers’ decision to open the world of the game in stages, lest players go off course, get lost and die, and give up altogether.

On the way to Dragon Roost Island, Link can stop off at a small island called Paw Print Isle, which seems to have nothing but grass and a big mound of dirt. It’s easy to pass on by this tiny speck of land, but if Link cuts the grass he’ll expose a small tunnel carved into the base of the mound, which is hollow inside and covering a hole in the ground. Link can fall down the hole into an expansive cavern, which is overgrown with small plants and infested with jelly-like creatures called Chus.

The cave also contains treasure in the form of a heart piece, which will increase Link’s life energy if he collects enough of them. There are two lessons here: the first is that all of the islands on the Great Sea are worth exploring, and the second is that there are all sorts of secrets hiding under the surface of the ocean and its islands. Good to know.

Dragon Roost Island is the cone of an enormous volcano whose shoreside caverns are peopled by a tribe of birdpeople called the Rito. Link has already met a Rito named Quill, the flying postman who emotionally blackmailed Tetra into carrying him to the Forsaken Fortress back on Outset Island. Quill introduces Link to the Rito Chieftain, who says that he will help Link if Link will help him. The Rito’s guardian spirit, a dragon named Valoo, has been acting up lately. This is inconvenient, as Valoo bestows the scales that allow the Rito to develop wings. The chieftain’s son, Prince Komali, can’t complete his coming-of-age ceremony because Valoo has gone crazy, and he’s worried that this reflects poorly on him. The prince has sequestered himself in his room, and he refuses to come out or talk with anyone. His father gives Link a letter to deliver to Komali, hoping that Link’s upbeat nature will inspire the boy.

It doesn’t. Komali is a bit of a brat – but in his defense, he’s also quite young. He misses his mother (who is dead because this is a Zelda game), and he was already nervous about taking responsibility for his tribe even without its patron deity going apeshit immediately before he was set to ceremonially assume the role of the next tribal leader.

When Link leaves disappointed, he is approached by a girl named Medli, who is training to be one of Valoo’s attendants. Medli is a bit older than Komali, and she feels protective of him. She’s also headstrong and an adorable little badass. She therefore hatches a plan to go up the volcano and deal with Valoo herself.

Medli essentially invites Link to tackle the next dungeon; but, before he can start exploring, he needs her help. Valoo’s anger has caused the volcano to spew out lava and rocks, which have destroyed the bridge leading into the Dragon Roost Cavern dungeon.

Enter the game’s first wind-based puzzle! Link needs to pick up Medli, wait until the wind is blowing towards the dungeon entrance, and then toss her over the collapsed bridge. She’ll flap on over and then throw down a bottle. Link can use this bottle to scoop up water from a puddle around a boulder, take that water back up the hill, and use it to revive the dried-out bomb flowers on a cliff. Once they’re back to full health, Link can pick one up and use it to blow up the boulder blocking the water flow. Water fills the pit, and he can swim to the other side.

The Dragon Roost Cavern is a good starter dungeon that turns out to be more straightforward and much easier to navigate than the Forsaken Fortress. It’s fire themed, and many of its puzzles involve lighting sticks with torches and burning various things. This is also where Link comes into possession of the Grappling Hook, which is a cool and useful item that he can use to swing over gaps Tarzan-style. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s exactly what Link needs to scale the outer rim of the volcano.

At the top he encounters Valoo, who is apparently upset because his tail has been caught in the pincers of a giant arachnid called Gohma. Link defeats Gohma by swinging around the room like a monkey and causing Valoo to drop the creature into a pit of lava. Valoo immediately recovers his senses and tells Link to visit something called the Wind Shrine. The dragon speaks in Ancient Hylian, a language that Link can’t understand, but Medli is able to translate.

At this point Komali shows up, apologizes, and finally hands over Din’s Pearl. He fanboys over Link a bit, saying that he wishes he could be so brave. Don’t we all, kid. Don’t we all.

The Wind Shrine is on the other side of Dragon Roost Island, a stone platform that extends over the water. There’s a score carved into a giant rock. Link takes out his Wind Waker baton and conducts the score, causing the god of winds to appear. This god, who takes the form of a cloud-riding frog, informs Link that his name is Zephos and grants him the ability to control the direction of the wind.

Link is now “the Wind Waker,” and his new ability will help him better navigate the Great Sea.

( Header image by Onisuu on DeviantArt )

The Wind Waker – Windfall Island and the Deluxe Picto Box

Wind Waker Tingle by mysticmagix

The town on Windfall Island is built onto the slope of the island’s hill, and underneath the houses is a small prison with a single jail cell. This is the setting of the beginning of the sidequest for the Deluxe Picto Box, an optional item that allows the player to take screenshots of the game.

Crouched in a corner of this jail cell is Tingle, the lovely goateed 35-year-old man in a lycra bodysuit pictured above. Tingle has been imprisoned for petty theft and left unattended, and he asks Link to free him. Link, who has just escaped from his own cell in the Forsaken Fortress, does so, and Tingle thanks him by handing over the Tingle Bottle.

The Tingle Bottle is what the player uses to connect with the Miiverse, Nintendo’s online player network service. You can send short text messages and oekaki drawings, and there are still, even as I’m playing in late 2015, a bunch of talented and funny people fooling around in the Wind Waker HD corner of the Miiverse.

Tingle throws some glitter in the air and waddles off, but he will be back. Oh my goodness, will he ever be back. Tingle is one of the biggest pains in the ass this game has to offer, bless his heart.

Tingle serves as the trope namer for the TV Tropes category Americans Hate Tingle, in which something that’s relatively popular outside of the States is reviled by American fans.

As for Tingle in particular:

Joking aside, the main reason why Tingle is hated so much is that he is basically a Man Child, a character archetype that Western audiences have little sympathy for. In Japan, he’s seen as a symbol of whimsy. To most Western audiences, however, his behavior and appearance just comes off as creepy (especially the speedo).

Also:

And then he was made a DLC fighter in Hyrule Warriors, beating out the Skull Kid and any number of other potential Majora’s Mask characters. American fans were not amused. True to form, this was entirely because he was the top rated character that the Japanese audience wanted added in.

I’m a fan of Tingle, but I understand how he is the cilantro of the Zelda universe. I don’t know anyone who seriously hates him; rather, I think people just pretend to hate him to be silly. Or perhaps there are people out there who in all seriousness find the challenges Tingle presents to mainstream constructions of masculinity genuinely upsetting. Who knows?

Anyway, this next part is kind of creepy.

If Link enters the cell and pushes a huge wooden crate away from the wall, he uncovers a small hole. This hole is a tunnel that leads into a small maze of sorts. If Link navigates this maze correctly – and I will admit I always use a guide here – he’ll come to another cell even deeper under the town, one that has no other visible entrances or exits. This small stone room is filled with skulls, and on a dirt mound in the center is a treasure chest.

Inside the treasure chest is a bright red toy camera, because…

…because this is a Zelda game, okay? Strange things happen.

This is the Picto Box, and it can store up to twenty black-and-white pictures.

Back out in the daylight, Link can climb the hill and enter a store with a camera sign. This is Lenzo’s shop. Lenzo is a big man with a bushy brown beard who dresses in a bright yellow Confucian scholar outfit and calls himself the island’s photography master. He sits behind a counter on the first floor, but behind him is a staircase leading up to a gallery of framed photo prints. Should Link examine at least one of the pictures, Lenzo will climb up the stairs behind him and offer to take him on as an apprentice. In practical terms, this means he will upgrade Link’s camera so that it can take color pictures.

In order to prove himself worthy, Link must complete three trials. All three involve spying on people and waiting until the right moment to take a candid shot, which Lenzo will then use to emotionally blackmail the people in question. This is problematic, of course, but it’s also a cool way to get to know the people on the island. Just as in Majora’s Mask, in which everyone in Clock Town goes about their daily business regardless of what Link does or doesn’t do, the people of Windfall Island have their own small dramas playing out in a world in which the “Legend of Zelda” is entirely meaningless.

A middle-aged man mails anonymous letters to a woman who doesn’t return his affections, a young man has a reciprocated crush on a young woman but is too shy to say anything to her, and an old man sits in a bar drinking tea and cringing at every loud noise. Using Lenzo’s vague clues, Link is supposed to catch them in the act of revealing their innermost selves and deepest secrets, sort of like a photojournalist. This activity serves to highlight Link’s youth. Even if he’s standing right there with his camera out, no one notices him because he’s just a kid.

The game developers have waffled on this issue, but Link is either nine or twelve years old; which, if you think about it, is really young for someone to be tasked with saving the world. To make matters even worse, the King of Red Lions isn’t even asking Link to save the world, but only to kill Ganondorf. He’s like, “Go forth, you small child, and murder this person I hate beyond all reason.” One might argue that Link is a good candidate for the job precisely because he’s young and therefore unlikely to be noticed, but still.

Lenzo’s sidequest is a more contained version of the larger quest given to Link by the King of Red Lions. It’s also a kinder and gentler version, almost like a window into a parallel universe in which Link didn’t get sucked into a crazy epic murderquest by a talking boat.

More than any other title in the Zelda series, Link’s actions mean almost nothing to the common people who live in the world of The Wind Waker. If he completes his quest successfully, nothing will happen. I intend to return to this topic later in my playthrough, but for now let me say that it’s an interesting premise for Nintendo to apply to one of its flagship franchises.

After Link finishes up this sidequest, he can take color pictures. Yay! Although these pictures have several uses in the game, the player can also send them out into the Miiverse using the Tingle Bottle, attaching written or drawn messages. I’ve been taking a long time to write up this playthrough partially because I’ve been playing around with this feature, but I think it’s high time for Link to set out onto the Great Sea.

And away we go!

( Header image by mysticmagix on Tumblr )

Tri Force Heroes – Connectivity

Triforce Sanjūshi by lulu

Sometimes this game is so frustrating that I feel like I’m being punished in some way.

Here’s the deal:

You can play the game in single-player mode, but it’s clunky and repetitive.

In order to get all the outfits – or any of the outfits, actually – the player needs to grind for both rupees and treasure. There is very little fun involved in this in single-player mode. Replaying a Zelda dungeon once is okay, I guess; replaying a Zelda dungeon over and over and over in the hopes of getting a randomly generated treasure at the end is a waste of life on this earth.

The game really shines when you’re playing with other people, even if they’re strangers. There is an obvious joy in working together, figuring out puzzles as a team, and communicating via messages of support and encouragement.

HOWEVER.

In order for this type of play to work, all three players need to have a stable connection. If one of the players loses the signal – let’s say they’re using wi-fi on a train that enters a tunnel – everyone gets kicked off the game and all progress is lost, no matter how long your team has been playing together (and some of these levels take a long time). Also, if one person’s connection is spotty, then everyone’s game is going to be extremely jerky, which makes it difficult to perform complicated maneuvers like walking in a straight line.

So far I’ve spent about six hours in online play, and I’ve only had three completely smooth sessions. I performed a few diagnostic tests on my wireless connection to make sure that I’m not the problem, but who can say. I wonder if part of the issue lies with Nintendo’s servers, which were more than likely bombarded with a sudden influx of cosplaying Links these past few weekends.

There was obviously a lot of love put into Tri Force Heroes, but for me it’s almost painful to play at times.

Apparently I’m not the only one who has felt this way…

“It’s really too bad. Many of these unavoidable issues – lag, disconnects, bad teammates, etc. – are exacerbated by some baffling design decisions…”
(from the Kotaku review)

“For each wonderful moment there’s an equivalent frustration, however, with difficulty spikes that deplete a team’s shared life bar before you know what’s happening, or dungeon designs that are simply B-list in execution. There are even poor calls made in implementing lobbies online…”
(from the Nintendo Life review)

“But be warned: we encountered a few bouts of lag both locally and online, which is always a pain in puzzles that require careful timing. We couldn’t pinpoint the reason for the slowdown… Playing online was a much worse experience.”
(from the IGN review)

“You’d better hope your partners have a solid Wi-Fi connection, though. If not, the game will slow the frame rate to a crawl to ensure that everyone remains in sync at all times. There were times in my tests where I could literally count the frames per second on a single hand as the game chugged and buffered nearly unplayably. It’s hard to say how much Nintendo’s own server infrastructure is to blame for this kind of performance…”
(from the Ars Technica review)

“By choosing to play by yourself, you invite a level of micromanagement that transforms otherwise clever dungeons into heavy slogs.”
(from the Gamespot review)

“The game is challenging, multiplayer or not, and I cannot tell you how happy I am that this is the case. But on single player, it goes from challenging to just utterly annoying/frustrating.”
(from an editorial on Zelda Dungeon)

( Header image by lulu on Pixiv )

Tri Force Heroes – First Impressions

Triforce Heroes by Icy Snowflakes

Tri Force Heroes has been out for two days shy of three weeks now, and I’m only about halfway through it.

This is because I’ve been treating it like homework.

The game has eight worlds. Each world has four areas, and each area has four stages. Unless you’ve played an area before and know what you’re supposed to do in each of its stages, one area generally takes about fifteen minutes to complete. Some areas take significantly longer, however, and most of this time is spent trying to get a certain game mechanic to work properly.

For example, in the third stage of the second area of the ice world, there is a bomb throwing puzzle that made me so mad that I started yelling obscenities at the game, which is something I almost never do. This is how the puzzle goes:

Link A needs to pick up a bomb flower. Link B will then pick up Link A, and Link C will pick up Link B, forming a three-Link totem. Link C needs to be perfectly positioned before the player switches back to Link A, who will throw the bomb at a cracked block suspended over a chasm with the correct timing for the bomb to explode in midair.

If the player throws the bomb too early, it won’t hit the cracked block, and the player will need to disassemble the totem and do everything again. If the player doesn’t throw the bomb quickly enough (or doesn’t make the totem or the transition back to Link A quickly enough), it will explode in Link A’s hands, causing damage. To make matters worse, this all happens right next to the aforementioned chasm, so if one of the Links falls for any reason – if the totem is knocked over by an unthrown bomb, or if the player has one Link throw another Link off the totem carelessly – the damage is compounded.

It’s a huge pain in the ass, and there are several puzzles like this. (There’s one particular sequence involving bombs and water columns in the river world that made me rage quit the game for three days, but it’s still too soon for me to talk about that.) One might argue that the game works better with three players, but I can’t even begin to imagine how three people would coordinate the precise actions needed to solve these puzzles, especially if they’re not sitting next to each other and can only use the lower-screen buttons to communicate.

I’m only playing through one or two stages every day, if I can bring myself to play the game at all. I actually schedule time to sit at my desk with the game for half an hour, as if I were setting aside time to respond to email. In other words, playing Tri Force Heroes has been kind of a chore.

The game has been growing on me recently, though. We’ll see how I feel after another week.

( Header image by DaYo on Tumblr )

The Wind Waker – Windfall Island and the Killer Bees

Windfall Island Concept Art from Hyrule Historia

The King of Red Lions tells Link that, if he wants to venture out with him into the Great Sea, first he’s going to need a sail. This makes me wonder how he managed to rescue Link from the ocean in the first place, but let’s not worry about that. He’s brought the boy to Windfall Island, which is dominated by a town that serves as the central hub of activity in the game.

Acquiring a sail is easy. All Link needs to do is go through the town gate and walk up the main road, where he’ll be hailed by a diminutive man in a huge blue coat with a fur-lined hood. This is Zunari, who tells Link that he “hails from a cold land” and has come south to Windfall Island to try his luck as a merchant. This is interesting, as it implies a larger world beyond the area of the Great Sea. In any case, since Zunari has decided to settle down on this island, and he sells Link his sail for sixty rupees. Sweet!

At this point, Link could go back to the King of Red Lions and get started on his adventure, but why do that when there are so many sidequests to enjoy?

I want to take a moment to explain how wonderful this freedom is. At this point, the player is barely two hours into the game, but she has already explored one island, made her way through a fairly challenging dungeon, gotten to the main city, been given her quest objectives, and now has the option to undertake a number of sidequests.

Compare this to Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, whose opening sequences take hours to complete. In Wind Waker, Link gets his sword within the first fifteen minutes of the game, and then he’s off. The player will eventually be introduced to any number of interesting game mechanics (sailing the boat, for instance), but she gets the basics right away without needing to worry about learning how to fish or fly a hawk or wrestle a goat or glide with a parachute or ride around on a giant bird in order to proceed. Now that I’ve played the more recent games in the series, this streamlined simplicity feels so refreshing to me.

So, sidequests.

The first sidequest involves a group of kids who have formed a cute little gang that they call “the Killer Bees.” The four of them hang around in the dirt yard at the tallest point on the island. If Link tries to talk to them, they are rude and obnoxious, telling him that he looks like a hick. One of the buildings facing the yard is a classroom run by a magenta-haired woman named Marie, who asks Link to do something about these hooligans. After Link agrees to help her, the Killer Bees approach him and say that they know the teacher asked him to talk to them. Their leader says that they’ll listen to him if he can win a game of hide and seek.

This is a cool little minigame that encourages Link to explore more of the island. It’s fairly easy to find and catch the kids, who promise to stop being such nerds and reveal the location of their secret treasure. This treasure turns out to be a butterfly pendant, which Marie has expressed a strong interest in. When Link gives it to her, she says that the Killer Bees knew it was her birthday and must have put Link up to this because they were too embarrassed to give it to her themselves. D’awww.

Besides being an allusion to the Bombers Gang from Majora’s Mask, but I think part of what’s going on with the Killer Bees is that the game is making subtly suggesting that Windfall Island is a vibrant community with lots of children running around. When Link first emerges from the hidden cove where the King of Red Lions has docked, the first people he sees are two young girls playing in a patch of flowers. When compared to Castle Town from Twilight Princess, or even to Skyloft in Skyward Sword, Windfall Island occupies a relatively small (and mostly vertical) area, but the construction of a short minigame and story arc around Marie and the Killer Bees suggests that it’s the sort of place that has enough children to support a school.

There are also enough kids to keep Salvatore’s Sinking Ships carnival-style minigame afloat (LOOK I MADE A PUN), which is a blessing. It would be tedious to describe its mechanics here – it’s basically Battleships with giant squids – but what really makes it work is Salvatore, who pretends to be utterly bored but actually gets really into roleplaying. The sounds he makes are beyond adorable. When the player misses, he goes SPLOOOSH. When the player makes a hit, he goes KA-FOOOOM. If the player wins the game, he breaks out in precious “hooray, hooray” cheers.

If there’s any precedent for Captain Linebeck (from The Phantom Hourglass) in Wind Waker, it’s probably Salvatore, who is the sort of shitty uncle that kids always end up loving.

The other major sidequest available to the player at this point involves the acquisition of the camera and the introduction of Tingle. It turns out that I have a lot to say about this, so I think it should get its own separate post. To be continued!

( Header image from GlitterBerri’s scans of Hyrule Historia )

The Wind Waker – King of Red Lions

The War of the Kings by Skull the Kid

Link is rescued from the open ocean by a small sailboat called “King of Red Lions” (Aka Shishi no Ō), which is appropriately painted red and adorned with the head of a shishi. A shishi is less of a “lion” in the traditional Western sense and more of stylized representation of a mythological creature that is sometimes called a “Foo dog” – which is actually supposed to be a lion but doesn’t much look like one.

Shishi are most often seen in Japan at the gateways to Buddhist temples, with the one on the right having an open mouth (making the sound “ah,” which comes first in the Japanese syllabary) and the one on the left having a closed mouth (making the sound “un,” which comes last). Their manes and fierce faces are modeled on those of the Deva (or Heavenly) Kings, the fierce guardians of the Buddha realms. This is interesting, because Ganondorf also seems to be modeled on a representation of these kings – specifically the two Niō warriors, which often serve the same function as shishi.

The King of Red Lions and Ganondorf have a strange relationship. See, for example, the first speech the King of Red Lions delivers to Link:

Did I startle you? I suppose that is only natural. As wide as the world is, I am the only boat upon it who can speak the words of men. I am the King of Red Lions. Do not fear… I am not your enemy.

I have been watching you since you went to the Forsaken Fortress to rescue your sister. I understand how your desire to protect your sister could give you the courage to fearlessly stand up to anything… But such a bold attempt was foolhardy!

I suppose you saw him… The shadow that commands that monstrous bird…

His name is… Ganon…

…He who obtained the power of the gods, attempted to cover the land in darkness, and was ultimately sealed away by the very power he hoped to command. He is the very same Ganon… The emperor of the dark realm the ancient legends speak of… I do not know why the seal of the gods has failed, but now that Ganon has returned, the world is once again being threatened by evil magic.

Tell me, Link… Do you still wish to save your sister from him? And will you do anything to save her?

…I see. In that case, I shall guide you as we go forward…advising you on what you should do and where you must go. Ganon cannot be defeated by human hands, let alone what little strength you possess. The key to defeating Ganon is locked away in a great power that you can wield only after much toil and hardship. Do you understand?

If you think about it, this speech is somewhat strange:

“Hello, I am a talking boat. LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THIS GUY I HATE.”

Since this game is more than ten years old, I suppose it’s not a spoiler to reveal that the King of Red Lions is actually the physical manifestation of Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, the former king of Hyrule who is responsible for sealing Ganondorf away by covering his entire kingdom in water (as one does).

There are two extremely weird things going on in this speech.

First, Daphnes refers to Ganondorf as “Ganon,” which is not how he refers to himself later in the game. In other words, the king is dehumanizing Ganondorf by calling him by the name of the mythical demon in the mythology of the Zelda games.

Second, Daphnes tells Link that Ganondorf is “the emperor of the dark realm the ancient legends speak of,” which further dehumanizes him. Later on in the game, this is what Ganondorf himself says…

Wind Waker Ganondorf Speech 1
Wind Waker Ganondorf Speech 2

In other words, Ganondorf is an actual person with an actual story, but Daphnes is at pains to demonize him immediately upon meeting Link. Considering that Daphnes and the Hylians are fair-skinned and Ganondorf and the Gerudo are dark-skinned, I’m totally going to pull the race card here.

Daphnes, don’t be racist. Just saying.

I have more thoughts about this, but this is still early in the story, so I’ll refrain for now.

Before Link and the King of Red Lions can set sail onto the Great Sea, they need a sail. Presumably Link can acquire one on Windfall Island, where he now finds himself.

( Header image by Skull the Kid on DeviantArt )