cave canem

Cave Canem- Beware the Dog

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Legend of Zelda: A Comparison of Three Games

I am not a gamer. The only console I've ever owned is a Wii, and I hardly ever even use it. However, I do, occasionally, enjoy playing Legend of Zelda games. Three, specifically; Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword.

Now, OoT and TP are awesome, so I was super excited when I got SS back in December. However, I... wasn't overly fond of it. Recently, I got bored and started replaying it in hero mode, and I'm remembering, once again, all the things that I disliked about it. (And, okay, a few of the things I did like too.) Now, my friends and sister apparently think that I'm just being my usual complaining self when I talk about how obviously inferior SS is to the other games, and so now I'm going to prove that my bitching is substantiated by FACT! (Or, you know, informed opinion. Whatever.)

By the way, severe spoilers ahead for all three games. Read at thine own risk.


Ocarina of Time does not, admittedly, have the greatest graphics. It looks weird and papery, like the people are just painted origami on a rubbery clay background. It's in an awkward growing phase between the classic charm of 8-bit graphics and the smooth, lifelike graphics of the modern day. However, I think we should give credit for the fact that, for its time, the game was a groundbreaker in the field of 3D gaming. For its time, it was really pretty impressive.

It kind of grows on you, really.
Charm aside, after having played OoT, I was blown out of the water when I started playing to Twilight Princess. The graphics are absolutely gorgeous. I could happily have just sat there watching the opening animation forever. (Of course, I sort of had to anyway.)  It was amazing. The colors, the textures, the sheer amount of detail that went into it. It was cool, is what I'm saying. 

Funny story- the site where I found this image was complaining about "graphics whores" who only like this game because it's pretty. Y'know what? Bite me.
After playing Twilight Princess, I, possibly naively, expected Skyward Sword to be at least on the same level. I popped in the game. I looked at it. I looked at the case. Then back at the game. Then I said, "This was made after Twilight Princess?" Seriously, it looked like a halfway point between OoT and TP. Seconds in and I already felt like they were backsliding.

Okay, not terrible, but they set the bar so high with the last one!
Okay, graphics are not the most important part of a game by any means. But they're the first thing people see of the game, and first impressions are important. They set the tone for the story. With Twilight Princess, the graphics say "epic". With Skyward Sword, they say something more along the lines of "early-morning PBS cartoon". 

I won't be focusing on Link here. He doesn't really have a ton of character in any games; he's the bland everyman hero the gamer projects themselves onto.

Zelda in Ocarina of Time was excellent. Rather than spend her time in exile being a pointless damsel in distress, she became a badass action girl (or possibly shapeshifted into a dude? The fans are still arguing over this one, apparently.) She was tough and determined, whether as a little girl, an adult Shiek or even as a captured princess. Hey, she may not have fought Ganon, but she did lead Link out of the crumbling castle, so that was helpful.

In Twilight Princess, she was much less involved in the plot. She was a mysterious, solitary figure, cloaked in guilt and sorrow for the fate of her land and her subjects. Maybe it was my inner emo kid coming out, but I can appreciate a darker, more mellow Zelda. (I won't lie, it probably also helped that she was pretty attractive. What? I played it as a high school freshman. I was shameless.)

In Skyward Sword, she was......well.... Annoying. Seriously. I think that the game was trying to make her cute and endearing, but come on. It's an adventure game, not a freakin' dating sim. I appreciate the attempt at character development, but why the hell was Zelda giggling all coyly and asking Link how she looks? Wasn't the intro long enough already? I swear, it was an hour before they let me save that damn thing. I guess later on she became more tolerable, but honestly, it was too little, too late.

The Companion

I never developed quite the hatred for Navi that most OoT fans seemed to, but then again, I played the first half of the game with the sound off. And I have to say, the constant 'Hey! Listen!' does get a little grating. The problem with Navi, I think, is that she was never really a character, just a gaming convenience given annoying voice. Still, she was pretty helpful at times, and, I'll admit it, I was a little sad when she left Link at the end of the game. 

All the problems with Navi were mitigated with Midna. God, I love Midna. See, unlike Navi, Midna had character. She had a backstory and a motive and was an integral part of the story. You started out hating her, but it was by design, and by the middle of the game, when she was in danger, you realized exactly how fond you'd become of the odd little monster girl. She was snarky and manipulative, but she was really quite sweet underneath it, and, well, she was basically awesome. Hearts to Midna. 

Skyward Sword introduced Fi, an AI built into the Master Sword. Since Skyward Sword was the franchise's origin story, that means that in every other Zelda game ever, we've all been slashing at monsters using the corpse of a dead robo-girl. You're welcome for that mental image. Anyway, Fi was.........really, really, really super irritating. She didn't help the very strong impression that I had that SS was meant to be played by small children. Every time you walked by a door she stopped you and said something like, "This appears to be a door. There is an 85% probability that it is meant to be opened by a key. I suggest searching for a key in the nearby vicinity." There were countless other ways she had of pissing people off and getting on people's nerves, and not even her incredibly cool design was enough to rescue the character. She was just obnoxious.

The Villains

In OoT, there was really only one main villain. You know who I mean. Ganondorf. There were a few smaller guys, but they weren't important or memorable enough to count. It was all about the Ganon. He was pretty much awesome. He rose to power by tricking Link into practically handing it to him. After he'd taken over and turned the world to shit, he retired to become the  archetypal evil overlord, complete with the giant evil fortress and the pipe organ of doom. He wasn't particularly cool or original, but you have to respect the classics.

Twilight Princess had an interesting villain in Zant. He was mysterious, dark and shadowy, a figure from Midna's past. However, he proved, in the end, to be a simple puppet to the greater power of Ganondorf. I think it was interesting to mess with players' expectations like that. I'm not entirely sure whether it was good or bad, but it was most definitely interesting.

Okay, villains are one area in which Skyward Sword shines. You all know who I'm talking about, right?

Lord. Freakin'. Girahim. His heart is full of rainbows, and you're going to die.
Offensive camp, hilariously awesome effeminate badass? Aw hell yes. I loved every second of him.
Now mister not-Ganondorf/Demise? I was a little less interested in him. I really disliked how he was set up as the (literal) spiritual predecessor to Ganon. Seriously, Ganondorf is cool, and he's the main villain of the series, but couldn't we leave him as a person with complex motivations rather than just some dude who got possessed by an ancient evil? That's just crap characterization retconning.

All the games have basically the same plot. Find the plot tokens, rescue Zelda, defeat the big bad. Simple. However, they all have a couple gimmicks to go along with it. For OoT, it was time travel and music. Both of these were great. I loved how the game played around with stable time loops, I loved the incorporation of music magic (my favorite kind of magic), and I loved the gut-wrenching impact to be had when comparing the cheery, pleasant past Hyrule with the dark, broken future Hyrule. 
In Twilight Princess, the gimmicks were the twilight and the shapeshifting. They were also very. Very. VERY. Cool. I've always been a tad bit obsessed with werewolves, so wolfman Link? Best thing ever. The twilight was also a really cool concept. It gave you the same sense that the time travel in OoT did of the difference between the good times and the bad, but in reverse, which lacked that harsh impact of the time travel but did serve to give a sense of progress, being able to see how your actions in the game directly helped heal Hyrule.

Skyward Sword's gimmicks, as best as I can tell, seemed to be the sky island/birds and the gods/dragons/whatever. I'm pretty indifferent to the latter; as far as I'm concerned, they're just another bunch of people telling you where to go next. The former was a little more interesting. I didn't mind the sky island, I guess. It was a little weird but also a little interesting seeing Link more involved in the lives of his peers. I do prefer the loner hero aesthetic, though, because I'm just that lame. The bird was okay, but I preferred Epona. One thing I'm a bit concerned about was the apparent population on the sky island. There were, what, thirty people there? I'm forced to conclude that future generations were forced to breed with kikwis in order to survive. 

Again, I'm not a gamer, so this is not my area of expertise. But I will try my best. 

Honestly, for the most part they were fairly similar in my limited opinion. Obviously, TP and SS, being Wii games, made use of the pointer and the motion control. SS used the Wii Motion Plus controller, which is difficult to control and drains my Wii remote's battery with ridiculous frequency. I think I liked the GameCube controller best, honestly, and that's even accounting for the fact that it was an old clunker I borrowed from a friend and the joystick stuck like hell. I'll give SS credit because, after a brief adjustment period, the controls were actually fairly intuitive. Also, the motion control was implemented in some pretty cool ways. However, that did not make up for the irritation of having to readjust the controller every time I wanted to shoot the slingshot, nor did it make me feel any better about the small fortune wasted on AA batteries.

Best Moments

Just wanted to take a sec to mention my favorite moments from each game.

Ocarina of Time- The bit where you go into the Gerudo warcamp and have to sneak around knocking out guards by shooting arrows at them? Best part of the game. Plus, it had the best music ever. (I'm glad they included that song on the 25th Anniversary soundtrack, but it was better with the guitar than the full orchestra.)

Twilight Princess- The ice dungeon. It was awesome; slightly creepy, great atmosphere, and that soup looked delicious. Alternately, any time when you got to run around as a wolf.

Skyward Sword- The bit where you parachute down to the surface only to be beaten up and robbed by the creatures which I insist upon calling orcs, and you have to steal back your items and weapons one by one. (You may have noticed that I like sneaking around.)

I'd talk worst moments too, but you know I'd just rant about the overly long intros that Nintendo feels compelled to stick into every Zelda game.

Final Thoughts

So, all the games had their strengths and weaknesses, but I really feel that Skyward Sword was the weakest of the three. The controls were frustrating, the plot was disappointing, the main characters grated, and the visual style was lacking. It's worth a replay for its good bits, but I'd much rather be playing one of the other two games. Unfortunately, they were both loans from friends and I had to return them. Just my luck that the one I ended up buying turned out to be my least favorite. Ah well. Such is life.


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