Tag Archives: Video games

#9: Fact – Twilight Princess Is One of the Worst Zelda Games Ever Made

With the recent release of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, everybody’s once again talking about this horrendous piece of shit of a Zelda title, bringing back to the surface all the pent-up rage I have against it and forcing me to compile my thoughts on it in one place after I’ve already ranted on it in numerous places around the internet, perhaps as much for my own therapeutic release as for the hope of waking others up to its true nature as a completely mediocre game with very few redeeming qualities. I’ve wanted to write this essay for a long time, but I’ve been putting it off because I knew it was going to be a lot of work. But here we are: my longest and most all-out essay yet.

Today I’m going to share my very unpopular view on Twilight Princess being by far the worst Zelda game I’ve ever personally played, and certainly one of the worst Zelda games ever made officially by Nintendo in general. However, due to my critique focusing on the basic principles of effective writing and game design, I am presenting this view as fact on the virtue of the game breaking so many of these basic principles. This review is going to spoil major plot details in Twilight Princess, so turn back now if you want to remain spoiler-free on the game.

I should probably start off by explaining what my history is with the series to prove that my opinion is valid as a general fan of the series as a whole so nobody can try to say “maybe Zelda games just aren’t for you.” I have played and finished the original The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. I started Link’s Awakening many years ago only to find myself stuck at one point without knowing where to go or what to do next and gave up on it. Although I’m not much of a handheld gamer as it is, so make of that what you will.

My favorite Zelda game of all time is Majora’s Mask for many reasons (my favorite soundtrack, core concept, gameplay and design, sidequests, and story in the whole series), but the primary one is that it had the balls to break the traditional Zelda mold and do something incredibly fresh and original with the series at a pivotal point, directly after the series’ riskiest and most successful (financially and critically) game yet, Ocarina of TimeMajora saw a new director at the series’ helm, Eiji Aonuma, and where this man could have played it safe and rehashed the same tired old Zelda formula that had been working and selling millions of copies since the ’80’s, Aonuma boldly took the series in its most experimental direction ever, even to this day, by making a game that dropped staple characters Zelda and Ganon from the story altogether (with only one quick mention of Zelda herself to set up a particular gameplay feature with the Song of Time), took the darkest and most emotional tone of any Zelda game ever made (which holds true even today), packed in more sidequests and bonus items to find than any Zelda game ever made (again, still true today), and made a much deeper, more nonlinear gameplay experience than any other Zelda game ever made (you guessed it – still true today) that can be experienced differently each time you return to play it depending on when you choose to do what. Not only is The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask my favorite Zelda game of all time, it’s also one of my all-time favorite video games altogether, and the only Zelda game that stands within those ranks.

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Each core game in the series up to Twilight Princess innovated in some major way. The Legend of Zelda was the first adventure game of its kind and size; Zelda II: The Adventure of Link experimented with sidescrolling action segments and an experience-based level-up system; A Link to the Past brought us a dual-sided world, where we could explore the same places in two very different realities; Ocarina of Time brought the series into 3D for the first time and gave us the brilliant Z-targeting, which has influenced 3D action games since, and many Zelda fans and gamers in general consider Ocarina to be one of the greatest games ever made; Majora’s Mask gave us clever ways to manipulate time, NPC’s with their own set schedules, and full character transformations with legitimate ramifications on the gameplay, along with a completely original story devoid of the typical “Zelda, Ganon, Triforce” trappings of the core console series prior; The Wind Waker, even unfinished and imperfect as it was, brought us a completely open world on the open sea and revolved all of its design and gameplay around that idea, and completely reinvented the aesthetic of the series with a beautiful, eye-popping (and controversial) art style that still holds up well to this day.

Then we get to Twilight Princess, a game that not only doesn’t innovate in any way whatsoever (although it tried to and failed miserably by introducing great ideas that go to waste with awful implementation), but in fact takes numerous steps back in the quality of both its writing and its basic game design compared to previous entries. The game mostly attempts to imitate Ocarina‘s more “realistic” (for its N64-circa-1998 time frame anyway) aesthetic and allow the player to control an older, more “adult” version of Link for only the second time in series history at that point, again in imitation of Ocarina.

The reason for this was because Nintendo showcased the Gamecube’s graphical capabilities with a tech demo themed around The Legend of Zelda (titled The Legend of Zelda 128) at an event in 2000 called Nintendo Space World. The demo was a video showcasing Ganondorf and Link having a sword fight in a dark setting with realistic graphics (again, for the time), and everybody totally lost it with excitement, thinking that it must be what the next Zelda game would look like. Nintendo clarified that this wasn’t the case and that it was a simple tech demo, but people believed what they wanted regardless of Nintendo’s assurance to the contrary, and rumors persisted that the next Zelda game would be dark and realistic like the tech demo was.

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However, a year later at Nintendo Space World 2001, The Wind Waker was revealed to be the new project, with a highly stylized, cartoony, cel-shaded art style; quite a stark contrast to the dark realism of the previous year’s tech demo. The gaming world was outraged and offended by this drastic shift in art style. How dare Nintendo keep its word that the tech demo was indeed merely a tech demo and not a sign of things to come from its beloved series?! How dare they take a risky, artistic, original approach to the visuals of their game instead of doing what would be easy and just making an updated version of an old game’s art style?! How dare they make the game THEY want to make instead of selling out to fan demand?! Waker released to widespread critical acclaim, but there were still many whiny Zelda fans who resist change no matter how good it might be, didn’t buy the game, and continued to pester Nintendo to make a “dark, realistic” Zelda game. This eventually spread to the gaming media as well, and before long everyone was once again clamoring for the next game in the series to be “dark and realistic.”

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Nintendo finally caved in to popular demand and the game we got was Twilight Princess, a game with virtually no identity of its own, a game that was clearly not the labor of love OcarinaMajora, Waker, and all the 2D games before them had been, a game that solely existed to try and quell the massive and widespread crying for a “dark and realistic” entry in the franchise and finally get those whiners off Nintendo’s back. The lack of passion put into the game shows as I will detail at great length ahead, and although we ended up with a completely mediocre game at best, it still released to ridiculous critical acclaim and a swath of perfect 10/10 scores from professional review sources and claims of it being the best Zelda game ever. And, just as every core series game since Majora, Eiji Aonuma directed TP as well. I was actually furious when I played the game, because before I bought it I read the reviews and saw it getting universal praise. I thought, “Oh man, this is gonna be great!” and I went out in excitement and bought it. And the whole experience could only be described as incredibly boring, tedious, and frustrating. I couldn’t believe the vast majority of professional reviews failed to mention any of the serious things wrong with this game, and many of the few who did mention the problems STILL gave the game a perfect fucking score. How does that work? They found flaws in a game and still called it perfect. It’s as if they were all blinded so completely by their orgasmic Zelda fanboy euphoria that they couldn’t look at the game objectively and see it for what it was. So what is it about this game that’s so terrible? Where did Mr. Aonuma go wrong? Strap in, because there’s a lot to say about all that’s wrong with this game.

TP begins with a highly promising premise, giving us a very different Link from the kind of character these games always start us with. Instead of being a nobody without many friends or much family, we’re introduced to a Link who’s a respected and beloved member of his community, Ordon Village. All the little kids want to be him, all the adults appreciate him, and he’s even got a love interest. For the first time in Zelda history, Link is given a fleshed-out personality and history, turning him from the sort of “insert yourself here” player avatar we’re usually given in the series, into a legitimate, established character of his own. For once I was excited to be Link. I felt proud and heroic. Unfortunately, somewhere around a quarter or a third of the way through the game, Link loses all sense of established personality and individuality. When Midna comes into the picture, after his initial hesitation to trust her, he just starts doing everything she tells him to without question and becomes her yes-man. I personally didn’t trust Midna from the moment I met her, but it didn’t take long for Link to just start assuming she must be on the side of good and doing everything she says. She’s obviously mischievous and we know virtually nothing about her or who she is. For all we know she could be playing us for a long con and making us do things that would ultimately screw over either Link or the world, but he just goes along with it. He makes some heroic decisions and performs heroic deeds all of his own accord before she comes in, like saving the kids in Kakariko, but after Midna comes in he just starts mindlessly doing her bidding and never makes any decisions on his own the whole rest of the game. He loses all the interesting and unique characterization he had in the beginning of the game and becomes Midna’s puppet. That’s terrible writing and inconsistent characterization. Link had great potential to be an interesting character of his own for the first time in the series and they waste it by chucking it all out the window as soon as Midna shows up. To make matters worse, the clear distrust the game is trying to build between Midna and the audience never pays off and she ends up being completely trustworthy anyway. She’s clearly untrustworthy, Link trusts her almost right away like an idiot, we don’t, and all of that is for nothing in the end. They could have made her character and her presence in the game far more interesting than it was, and it was another case of wasted potential, just like Link.

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Speaking of saving the kids in Kakariko, that event happens around a quarter of the way through the game, and immediately after you save them they all tell you that you should take them home. But you can’t. The game never lets you. And it makes no sense. They keep telling you how bad they want to go home and you’re like “okay then fucking let me take you home what the fuck” and you just can’t. So you continue on your way. And what’s your big reward for finishing the game? A big congratulatory, thankful fanfare like all the previous 3D Zelda titles to make you feel like you really saved the world and to make you feel like a hero? Nope. Your big reward for beating the game is finally seeing those fucking kids go home. This should have been resolved ages ago and I’ve long since moved on from it and stopped giving a shit, and that’s my big closing credits scene. Thanks. Just kick me in the nuts while you’re at it.

Although since past games had a large cast of funny, interesting, and memorable characters, their big closing fanfare scenes felt warm and joyous and exciting and really made you reminisce on your journey and everyone you encountered along the way. It reminds you that all these people have you to thank for their lives. Yet Twilight Princess‘s cast is so bland and forgettable that I’m not even sure a fanfare would have been satisfying regardless. None of the characters in this game are funny, interesting, or memorable except for Midna and Zant, and Zant is memorable for all the wrong reasons (which I’ll get to in a minute). I didn’t care about anyone I was saving. Nobody charmed me. They were all just so bland. So I guess a fanfare wouldn’t have been much better anyway, but it certainly would have helped me feel SOME sense of accomplishment after torturing myself through the experience that was this game.

The story is also full of plot holes. There’s this big, emotional scene where Zelda gives her life to save Midna, and at the end of the game Zelda comes back out of nowhere, with no explanation whatsoever, and nobody asks any questions or bats an eye. They just accept it. …What the fuck? This is completely inexcusable. They didn’t even try to make it make sense, it just happens and you’re supposed to just go with it. Zelda had no business being in the game for any reason, and her only role in the entire story is to create a plot hole that didn’t need to exist if they had just left her out of the story altogether. But since TP is a game made solely to give Zelda fans what they think they want, it just gives them the most predictable, tired bullshit it can and chucks known characters in for no other reason than “well it’s Zelda right? so i guess we need to have Zelda in there cuz that’s what the fans want right?” Shameful. And then you’ve got the bizarre nightmare sequences with dark Links that never get explained or justified whatsoever, like they’re just there to be “dark” and “unsettling” and have no place in the story at all. I’ve seen fans try to justify these plot holes through their own conjecture and guesses, but the plain fact is that the game itself never explains these problems and leaves gaping holes in the plot. That is broken, terrible writing. Even if you can find a way to justify it through your own conjecture, the fact that the game itself never explains it means it’s poorly written.

Speaking of characters who had no business being in this game, we have Ganon(dorf). Zant was being built up to be the first interesting, original, and legitimately terrifying villain in the series since Majora‘s Skull Kid. Good villain writing builds up tension between a villain and the audience/hero, having the villain show up from time to time to thwart the hero and be very intimidating and terrifying. It makes the audience/hero simultaneously frightened and exhilarated to face him, to take him down in the climax of the story. He’s so scary and badass and yet that makes you want to see him fall that much more. You want that epic battle to go down, you want to face this terrifying force and conquer it. Zant is mysterious, cool, and very scary, and the whole game through we’re led to believe he’s going to be the most badass villain the series has ever seen. And then, in the final act of the game, all of that potential, all of that tension the game had spent building up between Zant and the audience/hero is thrown out the window. Zant is revealed to be a complete spaz (which flies in the face of all his previous appearances all throughout the game up to that point and makes no sense for his character whatsoever), a total idiot, a joke, only for the game to pull the “GANON WAS THE REAL VILLAIN ALL ALONG AREN’T YOU SURPRISED” fucking tired-out gimmick the series has done before. It spends so much time building up the tension for Zant and making the audience hate him and excited to bring him down for good, only to pull the rug out from under you at the last minute and swap him out for the most tiresome villain of the series. It’s like being teased for hours by a lover and you can’t wait for them to let you finally climax, and then right when you think they’re going to push you over the edge and give you the orgasm of your life, they punch you in the groin and run out the door making silly faces and crazy sounds and you’re left feeling hurt, confused, frustrated, and unsatisfied. Then an ex-lover of yours that you never wanted to look at or think about again comes in to finish you off. Twilight Princess‘s climax is the most bewildering ruined orgasm imaginable. Your lover who seemed so smooth and sexy all this time turns into a fucking sadistic circus clown right before you cum and your bitter ex comes in to finish up. That’s the Zant/Ganon switch of this game in a nutshell. This is HORRID writing. Just like Zelda, it feels as if they just threw Ganon into the game as an afterthought because “hey it’s Zelda so i guess we have to have Ganon right? it’s what the fans want right?” Again, just like Zelda’s nonsensical appearance in this game, it’s fucking shameful. And then, to add even WORSE insult to injury, the final fight against Ganon in the field turns out to be one of the easiest boss fights in the entire game. I’m talking LAUGHABLY easy. Your final epic hurrah, your final bit of gameplay in this game, is a boss “fight” that’s so easy it’s pathetic. They brought back Ganon and replaced (and ruined) a legitimately great villain with him, only to end the game in the most disappointing way I could have never imagined. It’s so bad it’s sadistic. Remember the lover analogy and imagine that when your ex walks in after you’re left hurt and bewildered, she gives you the most lazy, passionless, limp handjob/fingering you’ve ever experienced. That’s the final fight against Ganon in TP. Ganon did not need to be in this game and it would have been a much better game had Zant been carried through as the badass he was supposed to be right up to the end. Instead they pathetically had to pull the same switcheroo ALttP already used and ruin the awesome potential of a great new villain. I fucking hate it. Majora already proved a Zelda game could have a great story and villain without bringing back the same old tropes, and it’s widely beloved FOR that boldness. TP takes several steps backward in its writing quality compared to its predecessors.

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Since Ganon has just given us a segue bridging the writing problems of TP with its game design problems, let’s dive into those design issues further. In nearly every way the game’s design philosophy works against itself and serves to continuously frustrate and disappoint players at every opportunity.

The first design choice I’ll mention since it’s unrelated to gameplay is the visual design. Remember in the early years of the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation of gaming there became a trend to make everything look “gritty and realistic and dark” by coloring everything in earth tones and adding a weird, washed-out glow to everything? Uncharted even set out specifically to rise against this trend and made a conscious choice to be as colorful as nature and the world actually are, going so far as to include an unlockable filter called “Next Gen” to make fun of how shitty it looks. That’s exactly what Twilight Princess looks like to a T. It has that exact same washed-out, glowy, earth tone-heavy “next gen,” “gritty and realistic” look. Even the greens in this game aren’t vibrant, from Link’s tunic to the grass itself. It all has that same lack of color saturation. We went from Wind Waker‘s inspired, timeless visuals to this trash, all because people bitched so much about wanting it “gritty and realistic.” This is not how Nintendo wanted Zelda to look, and the artistically perceptive will notice and feel a clear lack of passion and soul in the game’s art direction. Everything about it is just so bland to look at. Character designs (except for Midna and Zant who once again stand out) are completely bland and boring, nobody has any kind of aesthetic presence or memorability to them. They didn’t make the game look this way because they were inspired or they felt moved to do so, they made it look this way because they caved in to pressure from demanding fans. Well, they got exactly what they asked for and it looks like shit.

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Moving on to the actual game design itself, the first problem is its long, painful tutorial at the very beginning. If it doesn’t put you to sleep, you’ve got incredible power of will, because I had to fight to stay awake and push through it myself. It’s horrifically slow and unnecessarily long. Ocarina of Time, a game that came out seven years prior and was the first game to introduce players to playing Zelda in 3D, handled tutorials better than this game, making them completely optional by allowing you to either skip mandatory tutorial dialogue, or relegating tutorial dialogue to optional signs or NPC’s you can read or speak with if you choose. So why is it that the FOURTH 3D Zelda game EIGHT years later is spending MORE time on tutorials and FORCING you to sit through them? This is HORRID game design. And what’s sad is that, despite some critics complaining about the awful, mandatory opening tutorial bullshit, Nintendo went ahead and made it even LONGER and WORSE and STILL MANDATORY with Skyward Sword. What the fuck? Why are they regressing their game design instead of progressing it? Why are they devolving instead of evolving? It’s completely inexcusable and makes repeat playthroughs of this game even more painful than the first. Zelda players already know how to play a 3D Zelda game, and new players who had never played a 3D Zelda before had no problem picking up and understanding how to play Ocarina when it came out. Why would you do this? It doesn’t benefit longtime fans OR new players in any way and only serves to hurt the player’s experience.

Then you’ve got the new gimmick of the wolf form, which the game is so proud of that it plasters it on the front cover of the game and dedicates space on the back cover to point out. This form is completely worthless and adds nothing beneficial at all to the game’s experience. You smell a scent here…dig a hole there…fight a couple enemies…and that’s literally all there is to this form. It does nothing even remotely innovative or fun, and if it didn’t run so fast and wasn’t mandatory to transform in certain areas in order to progress, I contest that nobody would even use it. Even Majora, six years prior, utilized a transforming Link far better than this piece of shit game did. In that game you had three different transformations which each offered unique skills that were actually fun to use and added to the game’s experience, gave the player a ton of extra dialogue to discover by talking to all the NPC’s in each form, and even gave players completely different instruments to play around with just for fun. TP‘s wolf form by comparison is a lazy, pathetic attempt at a transformation gimmick and adds nothing positive to the player’s experience. And remember, the wolf form is the game’s big selling point, which they were so proud of that they dedicated half the cover art to it. It’s a testament to a game’s horrible quality when a gimmick so boring, useless, and lazily implemented is proudly emblazoned on the cover of your game and is the game’s main selling point.

Speaking of how fast the wolf form is, for some reason you’re given a horse in this game, but it’s slower and more cumbersome to use than your wolf form. WHY? Why would they do this? Not only is Epona slower than your wolf form, but to call her you have to hunt down a very specific kind of plant to use as a horse call, then wait for her to come, then mount her, THEN start moving. Why would you do this when you can just turn into your wolf form at any given time and move faster doing it anyway? It’s completely fucking pointless and another perfect example of the game’s broken design working against itself. If the horse had been made easier to call upon and faster, the wolf form really WOULD have been utterly useless, because the only thing it’s good for is running fast across the massive overworld when the problem could have been solved much more gracefully by making the horse legitimately useful and faster-moving.

And speaking of the massive overworld, this game sports the biggest overworld of any Zelda game to date, yet also the most sparse. Even in Ocarina you had a much smaller overworld with many more things to find and hunt and collect in a space-to-secrets ratio. TP has FEWER things to do and find in the overworld, spread out across a MUCH bigger area. Why the fuck would you do this? Why would you make a massive overworld with barely anything to do in it in a series that was literally conceptualized around the idea of the fun of exploration? So many times I found myself running all over the overworld looking for something, ANYTHING, hidden to stumble across and almost never found anything. Good game design rewards a player for going off the beaten path to explore. Twilight Princess kicks you in the jewels for it. Especially since whenever you DO find something, it’s almost always rupees, which is another problem entirely.

This game has a serious money problem: there is WAY too much money to find everywhere and not nearly enough use for it. Unfortunately, TP adds a potentially useful new feature that doubles back on itself and ends up only being frustrating because it’s not implemented well. This feature is that whenever you find a chest full of rupees and can’t carry them because your wallet is full (which it nearly always is because there’s never any need to spend the money you have), Link will put the rupees back and leave the chest closed for you to come back to later when you do need them or have room for them: a helpful idea. But this becomes a serious problem in both the overworld and in dungeons for different but similar reasons. In the overworld, let’s say you spend a bunch of time wandering around exploring and looking for things to find. This takes a long time as it is because, as mentioned, the overworld is obnoxiously huge and depressingly empty, so you could spend fifteen minutes wandering around hoping to actually find something until you finally do. So you go for it, but it’s rupees you can’t carry, so Link puts them back. Then let’s say you happen across that part of the overworld again twenty hours later in the game and see a chest in the distance, but you’ve forgotten you already checked that chest. You go back out of your way to check it again, only to find rupees you can’t carry yet again, and you’ve just doubly wasted your time. In dungeons, where unopened chests are marked on the map and the layout is often purposely confusing in order to be challenging, you’ll find rupee chests you can’t use and put the rupees back. But the map still treats these chests as if you’ve never opened them. So as you wander around the dungeon looking at the map for reference, trying to find chests with keys you haven’t found yet as you’re trying to make progress, you often end up accidentally arriving back at chests you’ve already checked and closed again because the game doesn’t indicate the difference between checked chests and unchecked ones. So once again you end up doubly wasting your time. This is even more problematic if you only play the game for an hour or two at a time and don’t play it every day, as most adults do, so the chests you’ve already checked don’t stay in your memory as well. If you don’t want to choke on your own tongue in frustrated rage after the twentieth time going out of your way for a chest you already checked and didn’t remember (not the same chest twenty times of course, but that scenario happening twenty times), you have to mark down on your own sheet of paper which chests you’ve already checked that were rupees you couldn’t carry. This is what I’m talking about when I say a potentially useful feature ends up doubling back on itself and being worse than it would have been if you kept the formula the same as previous games, where you just lose the rupees you find that you can’t carry. If they had offered some way in-game to mark previously checked chests that have been re-closed, the feature would be pretty useful, although it would still be frustrating going out of your way to get to a chest only to discover it’s almost always rupees you can’t carry, but marking those chests differently on your map from unchecked chests would have at least eliminated half of the problem. Yet another example of great potential gone to waste through stupid design decisions.

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(Image is from Twilight Princess HD, which is why it at least doesn’t look like total shit.)

Since I mentioned the dungeons, I want to point out that TP‘s dungeons are incredibly well designed and fun to play through. However, they become tiresome before too long due to the entire game being one long dungeon crawl. There are so many dungeons in this game and not nearly enough side content to balance it out. The game just expects you to slog through one dungeon after another after another and gives you very little to do outside of that. This is yet another example of the game’s design working against itself. You have great dungeons, but you tarnish their fun by giving the player almost nothing else to do when they want a break from constant dungeon crawling. I found myself bored to death of the game halfway through and only forced myself to continue to suffer through it because I thought, “Everyone’s raving about this game…so it’s got to get good SOMEtime, right? It has to get better…I can’t quit now. I’ll keep trucking. I have to see what all the fuss is about.” And it never changes or gets better; it’s just an endless string of dungeons. The pacing is exhausting and there’s no balance.

TP would have achieved much better balance if it had more sidequests, but there are only a pathetic few, and the biggest three are all flat-out broken in their design.

First is the shop-growing sidequest with the creepy, unnaturally mature-mannered baby-looking kid. This is a whole-game-spanning sidequest which you can only advance to each progressive stage by accomplishing other things first. Of these few sidequests, I actually had the most fun with this one. I enjoyed helping a fellow character chase and develop his dream. However, you can’t complete it until near the end of the game, and by the time you get the reward for finishing the quest, it’s practically useless. The reward in question is the “magic armor,” which isn’t magic at all; it eats your rupees in order to work. And to get it in the first place takes an utter shit-ton of rupees (really the only thing in the entire game that you’ll be using your rupees for, unless you skip this sidequest in which case there really is virtually no use for rupees in this game whatsoever), so you have to go broke in order to get it, and then it requires a ton of rupees to make any decent use of it. Broken. Again the game kicks you where it counts for putting so much time, money, and effort into something.

The second and third sidequests of the Big Three are the bug collecting quest and the poe hunting quest. The bugs are easier to find at night, and the poes ONLY show up at night, yet this game bafflingly gives you no way to change the time of day as you could in all previous 3D Zelda titles, which all had quests revolving around the time of day as well. You literally have to stand around and wait for nearly ten minutes for the cycle to change before you can continue your hunt. Now…why the fuck would you make two of the game’s biggest and longest sidequests revolve around the time of day and NOT OFFER THE PLAYER CONTROL OVER THE TIME OF DAY FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 3D ZELDA HISTORY? What kind of horrendous design is this? Why would you strip such a useful, staple feature of past games from your new game but still necessitate that feature? This is inarguably broken game design at its finest and most unforgiveable. And the cherry on top of this shit sundae? The rewards for the bug quest are bigger wallets to carry even MORE rupees you don’t need, and the ultimate reward for the poe quest, which is the longest and more broken quest of them all, is MORE RUPEES YOU DON’T NEED. …I give up.

The special items and weapons you get in this game are a further example of the game’s design working against itself and the player. There are so many very cool item concepts in this game that see virtually no use at all outside of the dungeons you find them within. It sets you up with excitement over your new find only to disappoint you as soon as you realize you’ll never need to use it again. “Oh man, I can use bombs underwater! How cool! …Oh…guess I’m never going to get to use that again…” “Oh shit, this spinner thing is awesome! I can’t wait to see what I can do with this! …Oh…well, guess I’m never using that again…” “Double claw shot?! WHAT?! THIS IS SO FUCKING COOL! Please tell me it’s not going to be useless outside of its dungeon…aaaand great…never using it again…fuck.” The game just can’t get anything right. Every time it has a good idea, it utterly squanders it with stupid implementation through bad design. So many great tools in this game are only used once, MAYBE twice if you’re lucky, outside of their respective dungeons. I can already hear the detractors crying foul and trying to say, “Yeah, well, Majora’s Mask is full of masks you only use once and never again! Hypocrite!” And I remind those people that the actual TOOLS in that game were all put to great use and were helpful in many situations across the entire span of the game, and that the non-transformative masks were all implemented very well for the purposes of both furthering one’s progress by leading the player to heart pieces and other gameplay-affecting rewards, but they also brought with their sidequests a ton of extra bits of story that added significantly to the living world in the game. Much of the game’s famed darkness and emotion comes from the mask sidequests. Thus, every one of those masks is more useful and adds more to Majora than all the tools of TP put together do for their game.

kafeianju

By all accountsThe Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a messy, sloppy game with absolutely atrocious writing and game design. It’s got a couple of solid aspects to it, such as its music and dungeon design, but everything else about it is an atrocious mess of disappointment and frustration. The entire game is nothing but a pandering, soulless piece of shitty fanservice with high production values, and a series of moments of potential greatness that only end in disappointment every time, from Link’s starting point as a legitimately interesting character, to Zant, to a boring and useless wolf form, to a gigantic but empty overworld, to rupees you can’t carry, to (broken) sidequests that pay off with horrible rewards, to great item concepts that are terribly implemented or are barely even made use of. It lacks an identity or soul of its own and merely tries to give fans another ALttP and Ocarina experience melded into one game with a forced and false “dark and gritty” tone.

It is an absolute journalistic crime that the game received such undeserved universal praise when it came out and is still widely considered to be a great game even today, and that nobody talks about all these horrendous problems that plague it. I contest that if TP didn’t have the franchise association, the name ZELDA plastered on the front, or any of the staple characters, replacing all these things with original names and characters in a new IP, it would have gone down in history as a mediocre game at best with a whole lot of huge flaws. But because it’s Zelda, and officially Nintendo-made at that, nobody can seem to see those gaping flaws or judge the game objectively. It is not merely my opinion that TP is a piece of shit, it’s a fact by the mere virtue that it manages to break so many basic rules of effective writing and game design and that it takes so many steps backward from all of its predecessors which did similar things with far better implementation.

Twilight Princess is the Zelda series’ Metal Gear Solid 4. It’s a total piece of shit with high production values and an enormous load of unforgivable writing and design issues that the creators clearly did not want to make and only did so to shut up bitter, demanding fans, but got an insane amount of praise merely on its name and associated series’ reputation alone. In both cases, both with Zelda and Metal Gear, if the game was a new IP and wasn’t part of its franchise, it would’ve been critically panned and forgotten. But because of their franchises, both games have a ton of dedicated fans who swear up and down that they’re great no matter how you break it down for them and prove to them on every conceivable level that it’s shit, and casual fans who don’t care enough to notice its problems and are pleased by anything with the franchise’s name on it.

I’ve been referring to Twilight Princess often throughout this article as “TP” for a reason. It’s not because it’s an abbreviation for the game’s title. It’s because using it to wipe your ass is just about the only thing it’s good for.

#3: Grain of Salt Vol. 1 – Finding Multiplayer Gold in Single-Player Games

I wrote a five-part series of articles called “Grain of Salt” a few years ago on a website called NerdRepository.com. It used to be a mixed bag of gaming and film news and opinion editorials, but since then it’s made film news its primary focus and the gaming editorials have been removed. I want them to remain published somewhere on the internet, so I’m going to repost them here as blog entries for your reading pleasure. Originally published on August 30, 2011, this is Gain of Salt Volume 1: Finding Multiplayer Gold in Single-Player Games.

 

When I was growing up in the NES era, I played video games alone for the most part. I had a sister three years younger than me who was into Barbie and Mary Kate & Ashley movies. My parents were largely uninterested in gaming, though my dad occasionally enjoyed some Xevious, Tetris, or Super Mario Bros. I didn’t have many friends when I was young, and the few I did have lived rather far away, which made visits few and far between. Therefore, most of my gaming experiences were limited to single player games, or playing multiplayer games by myself.

Like many young boys growing up in the early 90’s, I was a big fan of shows like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This got me interested in martial arts and the idea of fighting for fun at a pretty young age, and I’d always fantasized about taking martial arts classes. Unfortunately our family couldn’t afford such things, so I lived out those fantasies with my action figures, beat-em-up games, and fighting games, such as the TMNT and Double Dragon series on the NES and that one-off TMNT Tournament Fighters title. I didn’t mind playing games by myself, but when I started getting more games like these that had a heavier focus on multiplayer I began to wish I had somebody to play them with. Beating the crap out of baddies just wasn’t as much fun by one’s lonesome.

The Gameboy was my next game system, but I didn’t get another one until the original Playstation. I missed the entire 16-bit era of gaming, which had a much higher focus on the multiplayer experience compared to the 8-bit era. Such great multiplayer titles as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Donkey Kong Country, Kirby Superstar, and Mario Kart had escaped me, and I envied my friends who played and talked about these games incessantly. Fast forward to today and I’ve since made up for my 16-bit shortcomings by purchasing an SNES, but at the time I had to get my fill from arcade cabinets, a limited luxury for a kid without much money. Games like Primal Rage and The Simpsons had me drooling, and more often than playing them I’d just watch with mouth agape and eyes aglow as other people played or as the cabinet ran through its demos.

Thanks to my experiences as a child I still tend to favor single player games over anything else, but my favorite multiplayer genre is still fighting games. Unfortunately, it seems the popularity of fighting games has died down since the explosion of multiplayer shooters was kicked off by Halo and perpetuated with games like Call of Duty, games in which I have little interest. These days it seems most of the time when you ask a guy what multiplayer games he’s into, the first titles he mentions are shooters.

So multiplayer gaming has largely left me behind with my niche preference for fighting games, made even worse by my preference for the PS3 over the Xbox 360, because most people who have one or the other chose the 360. Finding people who play fighting games and who play them on the PS3 is not an easy task for the everyday gamer, and I hope it’s not just me who has difficulty playing the games I’m used to on a different console’s controller. Switching from the PS3 pad to the 360 pad is like coming up too fast after deep-sea diving: the change is so quick and radical that it leaves you essentially crippled for a short time – the gaming bends, if you will.

My pool of friends consists of a fairly unusual bunch. Not the typical “my friends are soooo weird” fantasy of social nonconformity that lets you entertain the idea that your friends are so much more goofy and interesting than anyone else’s while they really just act as a vicarious outlet for you to pretend your life is exciting through their diverse and wacky personalities. I’m talking about a pool of friends that really don’t have much in common with one another, making it difficult to have large hangouts due to their lack of similar interests. Some of them like racing games, some like shooting games, some like RPG’s, some like PC games, and so on.

Being of college age has me wanting to bring groups of friends together for parties and hang-outs. In the glory days of fighting games, you could have an entire party revolve around them in home-made tournaments of sorts. Today, I’m hard-pressed to find any two friends who enjoy, and are good at, the same fighting game. My racing interests are limited to things like F-Zero and Mario Kart, my shooter interests don’t go far beyond Metroid Prime and Bioshock (which are more like first person adventures in exploration than first person shooters), and beat-em-ups aren’t as popular as they used to be despite such great releases as Scott Pilgrim vs The World and Castle Crashers.

Maybe I’m just a picky bastard, but how is a man with such limited interests as myself to throw a big gaming get-together with other such people with limited interests?

Along came a game called Limbo. It’s been out on the 360’s arcade for a good while, but was finally brought to the PlayStation Store around a month ago. It’s a dark, artsy, single player game with a grizzly film noir vibe and not much in the way of story. It’s a puzzle platformer with simple controls, and you are guaranteed to die a lot when playing it for the first time. It’s a short game, maybe 3-5 hours on your first run depending on how good you are at solving puzzles, and it’s even got secrets and extra content to find if you’re diligent enough. And, dare I say, all of these qualities make it a perfect multiplayer experience and an answer to my difficulty finding a solid common ground for gamers of various interests to come together and work through in tandem.

As a visually striking game, it keeps one’s interest just to see what will happen next. As a dark, creepy game, it makes jokes all the funnier when playing through it with friends. As a game loaded with guaranteed player deaths, it’s perfect for passing around the controller every time somebody dies, which can double as a drinking game (every time you die you drink, or every time anybody dies everyone drinks, either way is a good time) and makes for loads of laughs whenever someone does die in the game. There’s almost no story to get in the way of gameplay and slow things down, which is great for a fast-paced party experience. With simple controls, nobody ever has to bother fumbling around getting used to how the game plays, even while drinking. The estimated time of completion at 3-5 hours is an ideal length for parties; not too short and not too long. Best of all, playing the game with other people helps solve difficult puzzles quicker, as you have numerous minds trying to work through the puzzles rather than relying solely on your own problem solving skills.

I tried this experience myself, and it went over quite well. We didn’t have the idea to turn it into a drinking game at the time, so people gave up after roughly ¾ of the way through the game due to frustration, but I would be willing to bet people have more fun with it and get frustrated less easily when alcohol is involved. This single player game ended up being the unexpected answer to my search for a solid multiplayer experience with people of all sorts of diverse gaming interests, and I’m excited to find more games like this. Perhaps Splosion Man or Super Meat Boy can be my next endeavor. If any of you out there have the same trouble I do in trying to bring your various gamer friends together, perhaps this can be your solution as it was mine. Feel free to share your personal stories of similar experiences in the comment section.

It worked for me! It could work for you! But if it doesn’t and your drunken buddy puts a foot through your wall or a controller through your television… just take this with a grain of salt.

#2: Art Never Expires

It’s a popular idea that spoilers “expire” within a certain time frame after a work’s release. This applies to all storytelling mediums: literature, film, interactive (video games primarily), and television shows. Ideas differ greatly on how long after a work’s release it should take to be able to discuss spoilers openly and without warning, from a few weeks to a few years. I’m here today to tell you that no story expires, ever, and why it’s so important to immortalize them, to preserve their twists and surprises for all time.

I’ve had this on my mind for a long time, but the particular inspiration for writing this now is the newly released Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I saw someone share an image on Facebook that said something along the lines of, “Let’s give people two weeks to see Star Wars before we start openly discussing spoilers.” As someone who doesn’t care when I see a film in theaters, with no desire to have to see it as soon as it comes out (hell, I don’t even buy video game consoles until they’ve been out for a few years, when their libraries are vast, they’re getting upgraded revisions, and their prices are down), this frustrated me, because it meant I’d have to go see the film ASAP before discourteous, egotistical people who don’t care about anyone else’s experience with a work start spoiling it openly. So I’m seeing the film tomorrow, more to get it out of the way to appease the selfish masses than because I’m actually ready to see it. And that’s not right. I shouldn’t be forced to go see something I may not have a comfortable amount of money or time to do and squeeze it in just because I don’t want other people to ruin it for me.

Spoilers are incredibly important to me, and having a big plot point ruined for me can oftentimes completely destroy any desire I once had to experience the work for myself. I have a strong appreciation for good writing and for the great lengths an author will go to in order to set his audience through specific emotions at specific times and get the biggest reactions he can from them. After all, people are most drawn to things that affect them the deepest, and heavy emotions tie people very heavily to the work that brought those emotions out. Think of every one of your favorite works of fiction and why they mean so much to you. Think back to the first time you experienced a work and how heavily it impacted you through the power of its writing, whether it was a moment so inconceivably awesome that it blew you away with how you didn’t see it coming at all, or a moment so gut-wrenching or heartrending that it still pains you to think about it, or a moment that took your breath away or left you in tears, or a moment so absolutely hilarious because it was so out of left field and unexpected. These are the moments writers work so hard to build up to, so as to give their audience the utmost amount of entertainment they can possibly provide, with the hope that they’ll remember that work for the rest of their lives. That’s every writer’s aspiration.

Final Fantasy VII, for example, is a video game with a majorly emotional plot-twist that left its audiences literally crying over when they first played the game in 1997. That moment, a particular character’s death, is a very big reason why that game had such a huge impact on people and why so many gamers call it their favorite game of all time. Unfortunately, that plot twist had become so commonly known after the game’s release that it’s nearly impossible to play the game for the first time today and not know about that event in the plot. I’m one of those people who played the game after having been told about this big spoiler, and because I knew it was coming, it didn’t affect me whatsoever. And because the game’s biggest emotional moment didn’t affect me, the game itself as a whole didn’t affect me much. I recognized that it was a well-made RPG, but because such a big moment of the story was ruined for me before I played it, I’ll never be able to appreciate the game on such a deep, intense level as all the people who played it when it first came out. And that’s simply unfair.

To say that spoilers have an expiration date is to say that stories themselves have an expiration date. Storytelling is an art form. Art has no expiration date. Art is timeless. As long as we preserve a work, it will last forever. Spoiling a story is not only disrespectful to its author (who works so hard to find ways to surprise and affect his audience) and its audience (who want to get the utmost enjoyment out of the stories they’re devoting their time to experiencing), but it’s disrespectful to the story itself. If you think a story is so great, it’s likely because you didn’t see its twists coming and they surprised and affected you somehow. To spoil that for someone else is to deny them the same great experience with the work that you had, which in turn denies them the ability to be as affected by it as you were, which then means that they won’t be able to appreciate it as much as you did. Usually when someone loves a work so much, they want other people to love it as much as they do. By spoiling it for someone, you’re ensuring that they won’t be able to love it as much as you do, because you’re sullying their experience with it by deadening the impact the big moments have on them.

There are always going to be people who didn’t have the money or the time to experience something when it was new. There are always going to be people who had never heard of something until later and then want to experience it for themselves once they do hear about it. And there is always going to be a new generation of people who have never experienced a work before because they were either too young to experience it or not even born yet when it came out. To all those people, you are ruining their chance of ever experiencing a work blind and unspoiled. You are effectively saying that YOUR time to experience a work was the only time that mattered, and everyone else who comes after you can suck it. You’re saying their experience with that work isn’t as important as yours was. That’s about as narcissistic as it gets. How selfish, how egotistical it is of you to trash someone’s experience with a work of fiction simply because they didn’t get a chance to see, read, or play it within the small window of time YOU decided would be be allotted for everyone on the planet to do so. Your life is a mere blip in the expanse of human history. A work of fiction will last forever. It will go on to affect more people’s lives than you can possibly imagine, gain followings and wikis and fan sites, spur discussions and gatherings and conventions. On the other hand, you will one day die, and at your funeral there will only be the people who were closest to you throughout your life, then after a few generations people will forget about you and you won’t be talked about anymore. A work of art is bigger than you. It is more important than you. You don’t get to decide when it expires, because it doesn’t expire. You do.

It is never acceptable to discuss spoilers without warning. It isn’t asking a lot for you to simply warn people that you’re about to go into spoilers for a particular work before you dive into the details. If you’re posting online, all it takes is something along the lines of “Warning: Walking Dead spoilers” at the start of your post. If you’re discussing a work in person, just ask the people you’re talking to if they’ve seen/read/played the work before going into spoilers, and if they haven’t, warn them that you’re going to discuss some spoilers for that work. If you’re out in public, you can talk about spoilers in hushed tones so everyone around you doesn’t have to hear you blab about it. These simple displays of courtesy give people the option of not reading your post, or walking away or covering their ears for a minute while you discuss the work. Or, if spoilers don’t bother them, they also have the option to continue reading or listening. But always give people the chance to avoid spoilers for a work so that they may experience it as it was intended to be experienced. Stories old and new deserve equal respect, and so do their authors and audiences.