Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Legend of Zelda

So, after one thing and then another, week after week, I wound up deciding I needed some time off. I've only been doing the bare minimum of work for these last two weeks, letting myself get back in the Let's Playing mood.
Since I needed an article out this week, I figured I might as well review the game that I've been playing almost non-stop since I got it, the original Legend of Zelda.
While I've owned the original NES version, as well as the GameCube re-release for a while, I've never managed to beat it. But since Club Nintendo was offering it as part of their last round of rewards, and they didn't have much else I wanted, I figured I might as well get it.
Before I talk about the game itself, I might as well get this out of the way. I know that a lot of Virtual Console ports have a bad reputation for slowing down, introducing graphical issues and other glitches not present in the original version of the game, and for being relatively over-priced.
Not to mention the fact that the selection isn't exactly great. Milon's Secret Castle can see a re-release, but not Final Fantasy II, III or V.
Criticism of eShop pricing and selection aside, this port does have a few issues. As far as I can tell they're limited to a few sprite-flickering issues when a load of enemies are on-screen. And coupled with that usually comes slowdown. As someone who's extensively played the original Zelda, I don't remember noticing anything like that on the NES.
Now, let's go ahead and talk about the game itself.
Everyone remembers the first Zelda game they played. For me, it was the original on NES.
My NES was a gift from my grandmother. I still remember unpacking it, and seeing that gold cartridge.
Up until then, the only system I had ever played on was the SNES, and the only games I'd ever played were platformers, like Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country.
And a top-down fantasy game like The Legend of Zelda intrigued me. I used to spend so much time roaming around, looking for secrets, and fighting enemies with my sword.
And when I stumbled upon the first dungeon, I was a little freaked out by the music at first. But I roamed around, finding all the rooms I could, and stocking up on items.
When beating the boss rewarded me with another heart-container, I was surprised. Throughout all of Super Mario World you could only take two hits, and then you were dead. But this rewarded you beyond just unlocking a new area to explore. You got items, and extra health, and upgrades for existing items.
But unfortunately, the NES got packed away, and I stopped playing videogames for a while.
Later on, after I'd played Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask The Adventure of Link, and A Link To The Past, we got the NES back out, and I played it extensively. Multiple times, because the battery seems to be dying, and my progress was erased several times. I never beat it, though.
That's changed now, though. I know I promised an LP, which you'll get in the future, but it'll be the second quest.
So, the original Zelda is one of the most iconic games of all time. It defined a genre of gaming, it influenced gamers more than most titles could ever hope to. And it ripped off a game that hardly anyone has heard of, much less liked.
A game called Hydlide. Fans of the Angry Videogame Nerd or ProJared will have heard of Hydlide, an action-adventure game which pre-dated The Legend of Zelda by two years. It had an uncreative loop of the Indiana Jones theme-song as its sole source of music, the screen juttered when you moved around the map, and the game is full of small glitches.
Honestly, calling Zelda a ripoff of Hydlide is something that doesn't really work. Zelda is so far removed from Hydlide in concept and production (Considering that it was produced in concurrence with Super Mario Bros, which was released in 1995, which means that they spent longer on Zelda than T&E soft did on Hydlide.) that I doubt that much was even borrowed from Hydlide.
The Legend of Zelda was a revolutionary title, using extra space on Famicom floppies (For the newly released Famicom Disc System) to save the game, rather than a complicated password system, the way Hydlide did.
In addition, they made use of 128 kilobyte floppies, because the same size ROM cartridge would be pretty expensive to produce. It's amazing what used to be large and expensive. When we have 50GB blu-rays, 4TB hard-drives, and 32GBs of RAM at our disposal, and 128 kilobytes was pushing the limit!
They also made use of the extra sound channels provided by the Famicom Disc System for sound-effects, and made use of the second-player microphone as a method of killing the Pols Voice, a huge-eared rat-creature that populated later dungeons.
It's too bad they didn't include this as a way to kill them in the 3DS version, since the 3DS has a microphone. I wonder if they preserved that method in the Japanese version...
Since the Famicom Disc System was never given an international counterpart, all versions of the game released outside Japan (as well as the later release of the cartridge version in Japan) had to use the MMC1 chip, which allowed the game to switch between ROM banks, as well as allowing for use of battery-backed RAM to save the game.
The original Zelda was revolutionary in more ways that one, becoming a game that proved to the world that games could be epic adventures in exploration and puzzle-solving to a public that considered them toys.
The title-screen is one of the most famous of all time. The waterfall, the music. That music, destined to become one of the most iconic themes in all of gaming.
And when you start the game, that theme keeps playing. That very theme that's become the embodiment of adventure, and wonder.
The adventure begins in a field, with four ways you can go. Go into a cave, and an old man gives you a wooden sword, telling you that it's dangerous to go out alone.
Waxing poetic and nostalgia aside, there are some issues with the mechanics. Some of which are probably just issues with the lack of memory space for player data, rather than programming issues.
For instance, when you die in the overworld, no matter where you are, you go back to the beginning of the game. You start out with three hearts in your meter, no matter how many heart containers you've collected.
And if you die in a dungeon, you start in the first room of that dungeon with three hearts, no matter how many containers you've collected.
This wouldn't be so big an issue if fairy-fountains were a little more wide-spread, but there only exists two of them in the entire game. And odds are that you'll be too far from either of them to make the journey worth it.
This is easily overcome in the 3DS version through use of manually-created restore-points. Unfortunately, the process by which you pause the game, create a new restore point, confirm that you want to erase the last restore-point, exit the confirmation, and get back to the game.
And then when you die (Or in my case, take any damage whatsoever, because I can't stand not having the sword-beams) you have to pause the game, load the state, confirm that you want to load it, exit the confirmation screen, and then unpause the game.
It's tedious, but it gets the job done.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that it is still a great game, it hasn't held up as well as A Link To the Past did. But fortunately it still holds up better than Zelda 2 does.
Graphically, it looks pretty good. Some things do look better than others. For instance, the Zora's, the Darknut's, and Octoroks look a lot better than Link does.
But Link only looks weird up-close. From a distance, he looks fine. The fact that they managed to pack in a decent bit of detail into him, and into the other sprites in the game for NES sprites.
Unfortunately, the same courtesy can't quite be extended to the level design. All of the dungeons are mostly populated by open rooms, and rooms with two blocks in the center of them, or rooms with diamonds made out of blocks in the middle, or blocks arranged in diagonal lines.
The overworld has much more creative design, with hedges, rocks, trees, and lakes populating it. 
Not that I dislike the dungeons. The first few, and the last couple are pretty good, but the ones in the middle are a little over-populated with samey-rooms populated with Darknuts.
And the others are populated by Wizrobes.
The good thing about most of those rooms is that you can hide in the doorway, safe from damage, but unable to attack. I don't know if that's a glitch or not, but it helped me out to no end. Being able to avoid damage like that meant that I was able to clear rooms a lot faster than I would have been able to had I not known about that ability.
And the funny thing is that I discovered this without even looking it up on the internet. I've never even heard about this little thing with the door in all my time on the internet, in all my years as the Zelda fan.
Some of the bosses are repeated, and some of them are kinda easy. I actually beat Manhandla accidentally, having forgotten to assign the bow-and-arrow to the B button, and wound up chucking a bomb at it, and killing Manhandla in a single hit.
For some reason this didn't work for the mini-boss versions, but the fact that I beat the boss with a single bomb was kinda funny.

But for me, I think the final boss, Ganon was the most disappointing. For being one of the best dungeons, Level 9 lacked a great boss. You gotta run about and attempt to hit Ganon with your sword and then tap him in the head with the silver arrows. There's no real strategy to it. You just gotta stand in one place and keep hitting the A button until you hit Ganon with your sword.
Once you beat Ganon, you meet up with Zelda, and the credits play.
Then you've got the second quest.
The second quest is an arrange-mode created because they didn't wind up using all the space they had on the disc.
Any other company might have released that as another game. Nowadays it'd probably be DLC, but Nintendo added it on as an unlockable bonus if you beat the game.
And that's what more companies need to do. Less DLC, and more unlockables.
Rule of thumb. If you can include it in the base product, you should. You want to add more costumes for characters? Add it in as an unlockable. You want to add more characters or quests? Unlockable. Got extra space on the disc once you finish the main game? Add in unlockable concept-art, extra little bits and pieces of content that makes the customer happy. The kinds of things that will ship more copies of the game, and make people come back to you for more. You'll make more money in the long-run, because people will be more likely to buy your games new.
Anyways, I've never played the second quest, but I've heard it's pretty good. I do have to save something for the Let's Play, don't I?
All in all, even with the issues I have with The Legend of Zelda, I still like it. And if you're hesitating getting it from Club Nintendo, you should jump on it before they shut the website down, if you have 200 coins left in your account.
I give it, this classic game that almost everyone loves and has fond memories of....
See you next week!