Category Archives: Video/Online Games

First Impressions of the Nintendo Switch and Breath of the Wild

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The initial release weekend has come and gone. Finally, am I right? How long has Nintendo been hyping this game in particular?

I will preface this by saying that I spent the weekend constantly trading off my playtime with my boyfriend, who works significantly different hours than I do, but we both can safely agree that we love this new system.

The portability is amazing, and any graphical quality reduction that might occur when moving from a TV screen to the Nintendo Switch’s screen is more than forgivable, assuming I even noticed it in the first place (which I haven’t). No longer are you tied to Wii U’s exact location, unable to take the controller more than 10 feet away  before it starts fussing. Now, you could take The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on a several-hour car trip, provided that it is properly charged on the docking station beforehand.

I’m saying all of this because I started playing the Switch almost completely blind. Unlike my boyfriend, who has been watching updates on the system and the game for months, I ignored all news, obsessing over other things in my hope to make the time go by faster.

It worked, by the way. I was excited, but not agonizingly so, like someone I know…

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The switch controls were a bit confusing and awkward at first, but you can arrange and rearrange them at your leisure. The system comes with a classic-style controller, into which the joy-con controllers can be snuggly inserted. Otherwise, you can strap them to your wrist, much like the original Wii’s controllers. The flexibility is a welcome change, and while I was dubious at first, I’ve come around to it very quickly. Overall, the Nintendo Switch feels like a fully realized-realized innovation over their original Wii system, whereas the Wii U was, as I’m sure many will agree, a floundering, confused half-step in the right direction.

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As for Breath of the Wild (hereby referred to as BotW) itself….my God.

The comparisons to The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim are apt, but at the same time incomplete. Both games have impressively large overworld maps to explore, numerous side quests to choose from, vast amounts food to prepare, and various different weapons to pick up along the course of your adventure, but Skyrim allows for a complex job system with its enhance-able skill trees. For example, a person could, in theory, choose to improve their magic spell-casting and nothing else, and spend the game as a mage. In BotW, you have that one “job” you always have in The Legend of Zelda series: Swordsman Hero of the Land. Sure, you might employ a bow, hookshot, bombs, etc., but at the end of the day, you’re going to use the Master Sword to defeat Ganon.

I don’t even need to finish playing this game to tell you that.

The towns are fewer than in Skyrim, due to much of the population being scattered one hundred years prior to the time of the game. They are also very Japanese. It’s almost like being back in something like Okami, but with less Ukiyo-e.

Or like stepping into a scene out of Princess Mononoke.

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The roads between locations are more visibly populated with enemies as well; the encounters tend to be less random at every time but night, when skeletal monsters can pop out of the ground, but even then, the location still feel like they have been pre-ordained by the programmers. The only enemies that seem to truly appear out of thin air at any given time are the Guardians, the ancient, large, autonomous, mechanical beings that move quickly and shoot death beams at you. But I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on game design. I just tried returning to a location where a Guardian was meandering around before, and it wasn’t there anymore.

I won’t go into any spoilers here, but BotW is very addicting and fun. Exploring the land feels organic and engaging, and once you get the Paraglider, there is no limit to where you can go. You can go straight to Hyrule Castle at that point, not that it’s advisable.

My favorite things, as with Skyrim, are hunting enemies and animals out in the wild. You use the parts and meat collected from your kills to make different food and elixirs, which grant health and status effects depending on the combination. Link’s cooking and eating animations are adorable and hilarious as well, and I personally feel that they help to break up the monotony of long cooking sessions.

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I also like finding wild horses. I’m a bit confused by the ones that appear to be blue and pink, but otherwise, the experience of catching and taming them is not too terribly removed from actual riding and training (keeping in mind that this is a video game). Each horse almost has a mind of his or her own, and he or she may try to fight your control occasionally, especially if you have a heavy hand with the reins and don’t soothe your mount at all. It’s not as difficult as riding Agro in Shadow of the Colossus, but it’s not as easy as riding Epona in earlier games like Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess.

The camera system also feels much less out-of-place than it did in The Wind Waker (regular and HD).

BotW feels new and different, but recognizable enough as a Zelda game. It is just as ambitious as it looks in the previews, but by no means feels like it’s taking on too much. At least, not in the beginning.

We’ll have to see as the story progresses.

But I think that long-time fans of the series will adore it, provided they can comfortably adapt to the less linear, more open-world elements. Those who prefer the 2-D games may find themselves presently surprised, as this might just be the 3-d iteration they’ve been waiting for. It seems to be marrying story and exploration very well, but keep in mind, I haven’t even reached the first dungeon yet. My boyfriend has, however, and he definitely agrees with me in this aspect as well.

 

So far, 9/10

*The images in this post do not belong to me. They belong to Nintendo.

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Diary of the Casually Linear: Skyrim

DCL…It’s like DLC, but scrambled!

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For reference, this is my first not strictly-linear video game. What can I say? I’m a moron who likes following the plot and knowing where to go next. This is why I tend to watch more movies.

But my boyfriend is getting The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as soon as he can, and he said this game would be a good way to prepare for its epicness, so there’s that too.

And yes, I know mods for this game exist, but why would I start on those? I’m going to have enough chaos as it is!

 

Day One

I booted up the game, only to be told I was arrested for crossing a border. The gentleman planning to execute me seemed unsure of who I was, and very nicely allowed me to spend half an hour meticulously designing my character.

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She’s a Wood Elf.  🙂

Then, in a suspiciously timely fashion, a dragon attacked the prison. My boyfriend started trying to direct me, telling me to follow the arrow, but I’m still adjusting to the controls, graphics, and general confusion as the dragon barbecues everything within a mile radius of my character. Frantically scrambling to get out of range, I ended up going with the Imperial Soldiers who just tried to cut my head off, and after my boyfriend was done laughing at me, he insisted that I follow through with that storyline, as he’d already chosen to follow the Stormcloak rebels in his file. He seemed intrigued by the dialogue as we meandered around Riverwood, but having the world opened up to me right from the get-go, I just founded myself dazed and hopelessly lost.

Is the land called Skyrim or Tamriel? Is there a difference between the two?

On the way there from the prison, my boyfriend told me that it was up to me whether or not I kept a weapon out at all times. It seemed to slow me down a little bit, but I decided it was worth it for now once a small pack of wolves tried to chew my face off. Also, I know now to not pick up things like buckets and tankards. They don’t sell for much gold and they just take up space and weight you could be using for other things.

Time to figure out how smithing works now…

 

Day Two

I helped a guy named Sven convince his crush that another guy she liked wrote her a mean letter, but then got Sven killed while trying to retrieve some claw artifact stolen by bandits from the Riverwood Trader guy. He randomly said he’d accompany me, so I let him. And now the other guy is pissy with me. Whoops.

He’s still offering to teach me archery for a price though, so he can’t be that mad, I guess.

I also got this Dragonstone tablet thingy. My boyfriend tells me that will be important later. I wish he would have told me not to take Sven along on my first real quest earlier, because he told me after the fact that the guy is a weakling, but whatever. Now I have the keys to his house and I spend time using his cooking pot and bothering his mother. There goes my plan of trying to be an upstanding citizen.

 

Day Three

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I made it to Whiterun, and it seems like a nice place. I got my hands on a bow and took an extra long time getting here because I got distracted by trying to shoot deer, foxes, and rabbits on the way over. I think I want to improve my archery, but first I have to process how the skill progression works.

People keep approaching me with minor quests, but no one seems to be in that big of a hurry, so I figure I’ll do them whenever I feel like it. For now, I’m trying to follow the main story. Probably out of sheer habit.

I found a little girl who wants to be adopted, but I have no house to put her in. 😦

I’m a thane now, which I assume is like a Lord or Lady. All I had to do was give the Jarl some news and kill a dragon squatting at a nearby watchtower. I have a housecarl named Lydia who offered to follow me, and I’m told she’s good. She can double the amount of items you can carry by trading with her, which especially helps for things like dragon bones and scales. I’m surprised I don’t have to pay her a cent for risking her life and purposefully weighing her down. 😄

Speaking of Dragons, I now have a destiny to fulfill, so I’m going to see these old mountain hermit guys.

 

Day Six

I am a Dragonborn(e?), and I can shout at people using the dragons’ own language, which does things. Cool. So far, I can knock people over or jump 20 feet in whatever direction I’m facing.

There has been yet more running around in the wild and shooting things. On the way, Lydia and I also ended up at a place called Hillgrund’s Tomb, and helped a man kill a necromancer who was messing around inside. He has a lot of scary family members, although that might just be because they’ve been there so long that they’re skeletons now. What’s a draugr?

After much trial and error (and a lot of deaths. I handed my boyfriend the controller at one point so that he could give it a few tries, but he hadn’t come across this quest yet and only did slightly better), I managed to keep both Lydia and the guy alive. I’m happy I did something my boyfriend couldn’t manage to do. 🙂

I read online that this guy can’t reward you if he dies…which makes a lot of sense, actually. How could anyone willingly reward you if they’re dead? 😄 But even if you could just take the reward off his corpse, the quest won’t be considered successful. Maybe not even complete.

Anyway, I got gold and raided the enemy corpses for goodies. Huzzah!

I discovered that I really like lockpicking, so that’s another skill to work on. I like searching around rooms for things you can pick up and sell. Or eat. You’d be surprised where you can find fresh food in this game. 😄

I don’t read most of the books I pick up because our TV is tiny. Well, tiny isn’t the right word, but it’s far enough away from the couch that it makes serious reading a struggle. I can barely see the dialogue options half the time unless I’m sitting on the floor, and that starts to get uncomfortable before too long.

 

Day Nine

So much map space, so little time.

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I finally bought a house in Whiterun and filled it up. I adopted Lucia, the girl I met a few days ago, and Sophie, a girl who was selling flowers in Winterhold. I found her sleeping outside in an alley one night and adopted her on the spot, despite the fact that she and Lucia seem to have the same voice actress. I get so confused when either one of them calls out to me. It’s very disorienting.

I stopped doing so many main story quests after a while and just started exploring, or doing minor quests that popped up. Riften seems like fun, although any ideas that I had about playing an even remotely moral character got thrown out the window once I got there. I somehow ended up joining the Thieves’ Guild while searching for this one peasant’s missing bow-heirloom, so now I’m just rolling with it.

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It took me an embarrassingly long time to get how skill progression works too. So whenever you level up, you get 1 point you can apply towards any skill you want, provides that skill has enough of its own levels internally. If that makes as little sense to you as it did to me (my excuse is that I’m a better hands-on learner when it comes to stuff like this), it’s like this: your character can be level 15 as a whole (which can determine what you fight in certain dungeons/areas), but your archery skill can be level 30, or as I like to think of it, you have 30 archery “points”. There are special abilities within the skills that you can unlock, but you can develop any skill you want right off the bat and improve it anytime you want.

To unlock the zoom/slow-down archery ability, I might need to have at least 30 archery points. If I don’t have those the next time my character levels up as a whole (level 16), I have to pick something else and just keep training in the meantime (using my bow out in the world or paying a trainer to give me a point automatically). It’s funny to me that if you’re impatient and have the coin for it, you can just pay someone to essentially use your skill for you until it goes up a point. I wish I could pay someone who would make me instantly better at soccer or volleyball in the real world.

Here’s a visualization, but with the Conjuration skill tree:

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By the way, sooo glad I spent all that time sculpting my character’s appearance. I pretty much never see her face because she’s always wearing helmets! 😄

 

Day Thirteen

So I found this guy who asked me to befriend a dog that he’d seen on the road outside of town, and somehow that dog speaks my language in a bizarrely out-of-place accent. My first thought was that I drank some potion with wonky side effects or something.

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He told me to help him patch his relationship with this guy, who is some kind of statue-god-thing as far as I can gather (a daedric prince?), and that led me to a cave full of vampires. Now I’m one because I guess I got bitten at some point, so after that quest seemed to have finished up, and realizing that the sun was starting to hurt me, I went to Morthal to see a man about a cure.  I could never quite figure out how to lure and feed on victims as a walking abomination, but talking to Falion eventually led to much fun discovering how to buy and use the spell Soul Trap (you need it to fill up a black soul gem, and it has to be a human you use it on), as well as me learning how to raise zombies.

I went back to the prison where the game started, only to find it crawling with bandits, so I didn’t feel too bad about imprisoning one’s soul in jewelry so that I can get rid of this pesky undead thing. Nifty.

In other news, I bought a horse….well, technically two by this point. These things are suicide-ily loyal, because as long as you’re not on them, they will attempt to curbstomp every enemy that comes near you. I lost my first horse that way; I didn’t even want it to go fight a bear. It just did it.

R.I.P. Stupid, Loyal Horse #1

The second one I got was from a stable outside another town (Solitude, I think. Whichever one has palominos). I wanted a different color, and this one thankfully has lasted so far. It seems kind of pointless to own it for riding because it doesn’t go that much faster than you can, running on foot. But I’m an Equestrian at heart and it is amusing to see it go kamikaze itself at wolves and the like.

I only wish I could actually name it. Right now, it seems to go by “Freya’s Horse,” which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

 

Day Seventeen

Lydia doesn’t annoy me as much as she seems to annoy my boyfriend. According to him, as a male character, she only says, “I am sworn to carry your burdens,” in this tired, sarcastic tone of voice. She mixes that one up with, “I am at your command,” for me, and I think at least one other thing, so it doesn’t bother me. It makes me laugh, actually.

I’ve grown so attached to her (and terrified of having her die or simply get permanently lost on quests with me) that I just went ahead and married her in the Temple of Mara in Riften. She lives in my house anyway, and now she can help watch and nurture my NPC children for me.

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Otherwise, I keep killing dragons and bears. Once I was even ambushed by a bear during a random dragon encounter, and that was fun. Another time, I got attacked by a Frost Dragon in a town. I guess that starts to happen more often, as you fast-travel at higher levels. I’m not as annoyed by that as I am by cultist and other NPC group attacks somehow. Either way, it’s funny to watch townspeople run around screaming in panic, and then two seconds later, they’re back to normal conversations. They completely ignore corpses and bones in the street, even if I steal the clothes and it’s just a naked assassin lying there.

I wonder if that’s Skyrim’s equivalent of a snow day. Maybe in the south, people freak out at one dead body in the road, but in the north, they just shrug and don’t cancel schools or anything.  “In my day, we had 10 ft’s worth of dead bodies in the roads, and no one got out of school!” 😄

So far, I am loving this game. It allows for so much freedom, letting you set your own pace and do basically whatever you want first. I’ve never had that kind of experience with a game before, but The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim also draws me in with mythology and fantasy. I need to pay more attention to the conflicts and lore, but then again, it’s taken me forever to figure out the basics of gameplay. 😄

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My favorite moment (a.k.a. glitch) so far was when I was climbing a mountain to fight a dragon marked on my map. It was proving very difficult until the bugger knocked me off the cliff, sending me a good ways down to the ground. I survived, and found it sitting up on the ledge, looking down at me in its usual menacing fashion.

So I pulled out my bow and started shooting at it. Usually, after so many hits on the ground, a dragon will take off into the air again and circle around you for a bit, breathing fire or ice or whatever, but this guy just sat there, not moving at all, letting me take as many shots as Jenassa and I felt like. Eventually, we killed it, and it rolled down the side of the mountain just like I had, before crashing at my feet and beginning to decay/surrender its soul/etc. My boyfriend and I laughed, and he said that was the easiest dragon fight he’d ever seen.

Granted, he’s only been playing for a year (and not even much during that year), but still. 😄

 

…To be continued? Let me know if you’d like to hear more, and definitely feel free to share your own stories in the comments.

*Also, I took one or two of the pictures myself, but the rest came from the Internet. The Skyrim screenshots belong to Bethesda, and the original meme that was Skyrim-ified is courtesy of the blog Hyperbole and A Half.

 

 

My Top 10 Favorite Generation 7 Pokemon

Happy 100th post!

Before the release of Pokemon X and Y, I was all but begging Nintendo to pull the plug. Many of the new designs were eyes slapped onto random objects and scribbles, and Ash, who should be pushing thirty years old by now, was still ten, but somehow has seen enough lady friends come and go to start up his own maid cafe. I officially quit playing the games after Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum, consoling myself that maybe this was just that whole “growing up” thing I kept hearing about.

Whether it was my individual tastes or not, it just felt very tired, as though the franchise was running on nothing but steam anymore. Obligation and sheer momentum would keep it chugging forward, but it wouldn’t ever seriously capture my attention or child-like wonder again. It was too busy trying to keep up with the trends of its intended demographic, which tend to age as quickly as they do. That’s why Ash never ages, after all; no ten-year old could possibly relate to a kid who is even slightly older than them. 

Side Gripe: Nintendo, can we talk? If you can’t get a trainer’s license until age ten, then what’s the deal with these little snot-noses?

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Thankfully, the two newest installments (and YSun and Moon) resuscitated Pokemon right before my eyes, showing me that it could still be creative, interesting, and at least slightly more innovative, in addition to upgrading the graphics. Then Pokemon Go came in for the kill, buttering me up with nostalgic indulgence and some costly, sweaty wish-fulfillment.

And, in the spirit of fairness, let me share with you some Pokemon that I’ve actually genuinely liked since the resurgence. After all, I was never a Generation I and done kind of girl; I liked plenty of Pokemon from the other generations just fine. Five just rubbed me the wrong way, for whatever reason.

10) Rowlet

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This little guy is adorable, and pretty great to start Sun or Moon out with too. The first trial has Normal-type Pokemon, but the two following it include Fighting and Water-types respectively.

Disregarding what he evolves into it, Rowlet just makes me want to hug him. And kudos, Nintendo, for finally making me like the Grass-type more than my other starter choices.

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Meh. It’s cute.

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OH HOLY GOD, WHAT IS THIS MONSTROSITY?! I’D SAY KILL IT WITH FIRE, BUT THAT WON’T WORK! KILL THIS SUCKER WITH LIGHTNING!

 

9) Mudsdale

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Oh, cool! More equine-based Pokemon!

I wasn’t crazy about Mudbray’s design (Side Gripe: I don’t know why it looks stupider than Mudsdale because mules and donkeys tend to be a lot smarter), but I can definitely get behind this majestic evolution, even if it is based in mud. Its speed stat is the lowest, which seems ironic, but it’s only really weak to three other types and its Ground-type moves get much better with leveling. Mudsdale looks like a “salt of the earth” kind of guy, pun intended; the design is a  nice contrast to Ponyta and Rapidash’s distinctly mystical, feminine look.

 

8) Lurantis

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It’s a humanoid mantis with cute striped hakama. A great balance struck between cool and pretty without being too cutesy. According to its Pokedex entry, “It requires a lot of effort to maintain Lurantis’s vivid coloring, but some collectors enjoy this work and treat it as their hobby. It fires beams from its sickle-shaped petals. These beams are powerful enough to cleave through thick metal plates.”

 

7) Cosmog (a.k.a. Nebby)

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I’m awarding this one mostly because for once, a Pokemon game got me actually kind of invested in my mute avatar and her friends. Well played.

Actually, while we’re on the subject…

 

6) Solgaleo & Lunala

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NANTS INGONYAMA BAGITHI BABA!

 

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Both of these legendaries are surprisingly cool and elegant. I love that the creators tried to keep them in form with the actual sun and moon; they aren’t just the same color of the game title, for once. Solgaleo probably would have topped this one out of sheer awesomeness if I’d been playing Pokemon Sun, but I just like Lunala too much. Halvsies it is!

 

5) Tapu Fini

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The Guardian Pokemon are interesting in general, but excluding my brief story arc with Tapu Koko, Tapu Fini is probably my favorite of them. I love her color scheme and Water/Fairy-type combo, and the swordfish-like shield she pops out of reminds me of Aphrodite’s clamshell. Supposedly she is based on sirens, mermaids, and the Hawaiian god of the ocean, Kanaloa.

She is one of the most obnoxious Pokemon to catch, however, considering that she can heal herself with every turn and her catch rate-of-success is among the lowest of the low.

 

4) Type: Null

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At first, I thought, “This is a Pokemon? At best, it reminds me of a jagged armored Mewtwo that needs to be put out of its misery.”

It does use the heavy mask on its face to keep its power in check, according to the Pokedex entry,  and the fact that it was a failed experiment by the Aether Foundation that Gladion freed in the hopes of helping it…awwwwwwwwww!

It’s weird-looking, but it just needs a little love. Literally, to evolve it, you have to max out its friendship, and its evolution, Silvally, is much happier and more in-control, thanks to you. Isn’t that sweet?

 

3)  Palossand

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At first, I scoffed at this one. A ghost sandcastleReally, guys? The very idea of a Ghost/Ground-type combo sounds contradictory by itself!

But, kind of like with Sylveon, with time and exposure, I warmed up to the idea. This time, I was helped along by its disturbing Pokedex entry: “Possessed people controlled by this Pokémon transformed its sand mound into a castle. As it evolved, its power to curse grew ever stronger. Buried beneath the castle are masses of dried-up bones from those whose vitality it has drained.”

What a unique ghost story! The souls of its drained become balls of hatred that form more Sandygast, its pre-evolution, and children are drawn to its whimsical shape and meet their doom by reaching for the shovel on top.

…Who comes up with this stuff? Do you need any therapy?

 

2) Mimikyu

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The ghost that wants to be loved so badly, but one glance under its sheet will drive any human or Pokemon insane. It wears a uber-cheap Pikachu cosplay, but looks like a poor imitation of Pokemon’s beloved icon. Is it trying too hard, or not hard enough?

Whatever it is, Mimikyu is tragic, pathetic, and adorable. Maybe it can be the underground mascot for awkward, lonely otakus everywhere.

 

1) Oricorio

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Oricorio is my favorite Gen 7 Pokemon, and probably my favorite of all bird-based Pokemon. It can take on four distinct, colorful forms, resembling a cheerleader, Hula dancer, Flamenco dancer, and Japanese fan dancer. These “styles” are based on the island meadow it inhabits or the kind of nectar you feed it, and much like the Fairy-type combo Guardian Pokemon, Oricorio pairs each with its own unique Flying-type combo.

The Pa’u (pink) Oricorio looks the most suited to Alola, but the creative team must have decided that wasn’t enough. My personal favorite forms are the Sensu (purple) and Baile (red) because they look so beautiful, elegant, and downright classy, but I was excited to see all of these birds and their dances for the first time. You can bet I was running around with my Rotomdex camera, trying to capture the best possible shot of them in the wild.

It still astounds me how much culture could be crammed into one game. Even better, it feels totally natural, inclusive, and fun. Pokemon could still stand to see more innovative gameplay, especially in its main series, but I’m much more optimistic now, thanks to Sun and Moon in particular. It’s not some monstrous, shambling zombie that obstinately refuses to die.

 

*None of the pictures in this post are owned by me.

Pokemon Moon

I literally just finished the main story and Elite Four battles, and I can safely say that I love it.

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Pokemon Moon is about as unique as a Pokemon game can get; the Kahunas and their captains (Alola’s equivalent of Gym Leaders) are scattered across four islands, pose trials that don’t always focus exclusively on battles, and the Z-Crystals (a mix of gym badges, TMs, and Mega-evolutions)  are extremely fun and useful. It takes the basics that we all know, love, and associate with Pokemon games, and puts a different spin on them with a dash of culture and a surplus of story.

You start out like every kid in the Pokemon world everywhere: te-eleven years old and looking for adventure. Having recently moved to the Alola region from Kanto with your mom and Meowth, you go out and make friends with the neighbors, who invite you to a local festival. You come across one particular girl named Lillie, who timidly accompanies a bizarre Pokemon named Cosmog around the islands in search of its home, and Hau, the grandson of the island Kahuna and your laid-back rival for the game.

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Spoilers below. You have been warned.

I like that the usual Team enemies (in this case, Team Skull) are kind of a red herring; it’s really the Aether Paradise employees that are hiding some insidious operations beneath a guise of kindness, inclusion, and sanctuary. Slightly undermined by the fact that an opening cut scene largely hints at it, but it’s still interesting story-wise.

Team Skull harkens back to Jessie, James, and Meowth, who by this point are so inept and goofy that no one can even remotely take them seriously. Add to that the faux-coolness they appear to be shooting for, with silly poses and word choices that make rappers sound like college English professors, and you have the living embodiment of the phrase “non-threatening.” I’d personally be more intimidated by a team composed of Bewear or Mimikyu.

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But hey, Team Skull is adorable. They have quite a following already.

Aether Paradise is more like Team Plasma if it were run by confused teenage otakus; a worthy question about how we treat Pokemon is warped and rendered ridiculous by one lonely mother with a lot of money and screwed-up priorities. President Lusamine learns of another world/dimension/thing with creatures called Ultra Beasts, and decides that she wants to collect and keep them all to herself. When her children rightly defy her and reject her designs for them, she disowns them and descends further into her living-being-hoarding madness.

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It’s okay though. She might be possessive, crazy, violent, and abusive, but she’s a woman and pretty, so it’s less creepy and reprehensible I guess. We’ll look the other way this one time.

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P.S. I could guess who she was related to the moment I saw her. Only two of the “twists” in this game are genuinely surprising, and this little reveal wasn’t one of them.

My favorite new mechanic is the Ride Pokemon. Instead of having a HM slave that you drag around everywhere, now you can summon a specific Pokemon anywhere you want and they will do one specific thing for you. Uneven terrain? Call a Mudsdale. Need to bash a bunch of rocks in your way? Summon Sharpedo or Taurus. Want to surf on a Lapras for no real reason than that it’s calming and has spectacular graphics now? Yes please.

Ever since I was little, I wanted to be able to ride a Ponyta like that one episode of the TV show. Now, I’m one step closer to that dream.

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My only major complaint about the game is, ironically, the story. Overall, it’s pretty solid and compelling (hell, for once, I actually felt emotionally connected to the legendary Pokemon before I tried beating it to a pulp and shoving it inside a tiny ball), but the cut scenes drag on and are either generally too numerous or grouped so closely together that I honestly wonder why the developers bothered taking their hands off the reins when they’re just going to violently wrench them back in under one minute. It’s one thing to do that for a tutorial at the beginning of the game (which Pokemon Moon does) but even then, you run the risk of testing your audience’s attention and patience.

Nintendo, while I appreciate your attempt to write an actual story that compels and sets this installment apart in the series, remember that this is Pokemon. A) I’m mostly here to battle, catch, and breed animal hybrids, which doesn’t require Lord of the Rings-level detail, and B) it undermines the emotions that I invest in the characters, story, and the game itself when half the time, I’m jamming the A button in annoyance just to get to the next playable segment. I was especially irritated and impatient when, upon beating the Elite Four, I had to endure 20 minutes of ending filler cut scenes AND a legendary battle-catch, all without being able to save or hit up a store for more Ultra Balls.

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Some serious pacing and spacing needed to be done. That aside, there’s also only so much I can feel genuinely invested in a story that feels the need to constantly bash me over the head, screaming, “OMG, PROFESSOR KUKUI IS THE MASKED ROYAL!” I GET IT, NINTENDO! THANKS! Not to mention the occasional, borderline vague friendship speeches that, at worst, seem to be parroted straight from the dark days of 4Kids Entertainment.

I’m sorry, but real people, real friends, good friends don’t talk like that to one another, and even if I could stomach a few such speeches, this game gives me one too many.

I know this is technically aimed at kids, but even if I were ten years younger, I’d still be insulted by how little the game thinks of my intelligence. I personally like linear games, but I think we can all agree that extensive hand-holding is obnoxious and unwelcome in games. Not many people look on these characters fondly:

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Otherwise, outside of a few gripes with the new and returning creature designs and how needlessly complicated evolving can be, Pokemon Moon (and by extension, Sun) is definitely in the top 3 of best main-series Pokemon games ever made. It’s upbeat, colorful, fun, and packed with interesting content.

The ghost-type trial is my favorite out of all of them. You get to snap pictures and meet Mimikyu, the simultaneously saddest and most adorable Pokemon I’ve seen in a while. The Pokemon Pelago is absolutely brilliant and I’m surprised Nintendo didn’t do something like it sooner. The idea of all of the Pokemon consumed by your “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” quest sitting in boxes on a computer for all of eternity is pretty depressing; at least this set up seems more humane.

Lillie’s character arc is pretty admirable, and she’s genuinely likable the more time you spend with her. And thank Arceus that everyone and their mother offers to heal your Pokemon for you.

 

7.5/10

*Pictures featured in this post do not belong to me. 

 

 

 

A Quick Review of Pokémon Go

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Whelp, I’m hooked. Anyone else?

But it’s really fun, and I mean REALLY FUN, and it’s getting me to take more steps per day that I have in quite a while.

As you would expect,  it’s barely been out in the U.S. for a full day and memes and parodies are popping up everywhere.

Personally, I love this one:

 

My favorite moment of game time so far was last night, when my boyfriend and I went out wandering our neighborhood at 10:30pm looking for new pokes by the pond. Two passersby greeted us with wide smiles, asked simply “Pokémon Go?”, and that was that. I asked them how to get free items from the PokeStop, and they told me the trick: spin the circular token in the middle of the screen (once you’re close enough for the icon to go from a blue cube to a flat, blue pokeball) and just pop the bubbles.

More of a tutorial would have been nice, but hey, we were just happy that the servers were staying online for more than thirty minutes this time.

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Approaching the second Pokestop in our neighborhood, we met more evening trainers. A group of at least 10 of us converged on the sidewalk, trading tips, tricks, victories, failures, and best of all, happy exclamations that there were so many nerds living in our neighborhood, which we had never known before.

Because we live by several ponds, one person remarked that now we all had to be water-type trainers. The local tavern/brewery is apparently a yellow team gym, and we, as red team members, must go there at some point for drinks so that we could topple the yellow team and take over. Another guy joked that we should go to D.C. and “take over.”

So much laughter. So much connection. And yes, millennial-haters, we were staring at our cell-phones 75% of the time, if not more. But we, as a collection of disgruntled 20-somethings, still relatively new to the adult world of bills and responsibilities, found a bunch of people who shared similar interests. A similar golden childhood of virtual battles and trading cards. A childhood of belting out a single theme song, not just in front of the T.V. at the start of the show, but anywhere that we felt like, and anywhere that other people smiled and joined in.

Pokémon appear in funny places...
Pokémon appear in funny places…

 

Pokémon Go is fun, though admittedly the repeated and prolonged server-crashing is obnoxious. Sometimes, you freeze, or are booted out in the middle of a quest. Sometimes, most frustratingly, in the middle of a catch. For those who want to keep tabs because you are seriously that obsessed and/or have nothing better to do, I recommend this website here.

When the servers in the U.S. go down and I do need a mobile fix of some kind, I recommend Kingdom Hearts Unchained X. It seems pretty fun so far, and like Pokémon Go, it’s free to play.

But hunting for Pokémon is fun, even when it’s common types that you’ve caught before. You can transfer them for Pokémon-specific candies that buff up and evolve your current Pokémon, and you also get experience with every catch.

So far, I haven’t found any eggs, but I did catch a ghost in broad daylight at a farm.

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Pokémon fans young and old will love this simple but charming mobile game. It’s the closest you will come to feeling like they are really there, in the real world, with you. And now, if you will excuse me, I’m back off to get some more exercise and Pokémon!

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Other good resources for new and returning (a.k.a kicked out by crashing server) players can be found here, here, and here.

My personal recommendations for future upgrades: trade, chat, and basic friending social media features; and a more interactive experience with the Pokémon you catch (something like the Pokémon-Amie feature that premiered in X and Y).

 

My Thoughts on Kingdom Hearts 3

 

Well the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts 3 finally has a release date: April 2017. It also sounds like we’ll be getting an appetizer in the form of Kingdom Hearts 2.8, because God knows we haven’t dragged this series out long enough.

Kingdom Hearts was born in 2002 out of the concept of putting the more popular Final Fantasy and Disney characters in the same game and having them interact. It was certainly bizarre, as while Disney movies have plenty of dark themes, Final Fantasy often dealt with things like mercenaries and deicide. But market research has shown that more and more adults are holding onto nostalgia (the movies and games they grew up with) with iron-clawed fists, and both franchises are beloved by children and adults alike, so in a sense, it’s not completely out of left field.

Gotta love Tumblr
Gotta love Tumblr

 

I enjoyed the first game for its concept and relative simplicity (friend kidnapped, go on an adventure to save seven princesses and multiple worlds from evil and destruction), but as much as I have enjoyed the following games, I am both amused and bemused by the convoluted progression of the story. Initially, the basic villains were the Heartless – so named for their lack of and desire to eat hearts – but now we also have Nobodies (the hollow shells of people who have lost their hearts to the Heartless), the Unversed/Unbirth (fledgling emotions that feed on negativity to grow), and the Dream Eaters (who can be good companion monsters a la Pokemon or monsters that fight you).

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As best as I can follow the story, one man named Xehanort wants ultimate power via the deus-ex-machina, never-quite-explained-entity known as Kingdom Hearts, which contains either great light, great darkness, or some combination of both. Xehanort researches it, hurts a lot of people in pursuit of it, and forms an Organization of Nobodies led by his Nobody Xemnas to make copies of himself…to live forever? Gain dominion over the hearts and mind of men? It’s kind of complicated.

His Nobody’s name is an anagram for “Ansem,” another character who is not in fact Xehanort but his one-time mentor Ansem the Wise…who his Heartless pretended to be in the first game, but we didn’t learn was actually a different character in the second major installment…

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…yeah…

Sora, the protagonist of most games, is a kid from a world known as Destiny Islands (subtle, right?). In the first game, his not-quite-girlfriend goes missing, and his other friend chooses the path of darkness because…he really wants to see the outside world, and it’s easy and he can save the girl… or something. This friend, named Riku, gets more character retroactively from more recent games.

Set adrift when his home world is destroyed, Sora teams up with Donald Duck and Goofy, who work for King Mickey Mouse, to save the worlds by sealing their keyholes – with which the Heartless can infiltrate the worlds en masse – with a sword born of light and heart power or whatever called the Keyblade. Initially, it looks like a group of classic Disney villains is running the show, but it is actually Xehanort’s Heartless, who calls himself Ansem but isn’t really, trying to fuel Kingdom Hearts and get it to do….something.

It’s kind of silly when you really try to think about it. Major emphasis on the word “try”.

The first game is by far the easiest to follow of the bunch, and for a decade-old game, it doesn’t look half bad today. But it did clearly have some budget cuts going on when it came to rendering; at times, Sora is fully animated in cutscenes,

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but at other times, he just stands there with that blank, vacuous, dead-eyed expression that he wears during general gameplay.

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At best, this makes him look like Willy Wonka reprimanding a spoiled child.

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But, you know, about to walk the plank straight into a crocodile’s mouth….so yeah. That’s the face of emotional investment right there.

The Final Fantasy characters (composed of those from 7, 8, and 10) are sprinkled in here and there, partnering up in unlikely alliances and not completely fitting in with their game counterparts or even the overall story that they’re in. They contribute nothing outside of making compulsive cameos and justifying the underlying premise of the game: Square Enix meets Disney.

But I didn’t know who they were when I started playing anyway, so that didn’t really bother me.

Death seems non-existent, as virtually everyone who has been “killed off” usually finds some way or another to come back. It’d be interesting if the Underworld on Hercules’s world served that purpose for all worlds across time, space, and hearts, or otherwise explain why some characters “die” and other don’t. But no. That might actually be interesting. Instead, let’s go back to focusing on weirdly dressed pre-teens angsting about the meaning of love and friendship.

Oh no, Axel's dead!
Oh no, Axel’s dead!

A hop, skip, and a jump later…

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Oh, no wait…he’s okay!

 

Kingdom Hearts 3 is rumored to have a playable Star Wars world coming up, but I have a sneaking suspicion that any interesting philosophical implications (how the game’s mentions of light and darkness relate  to the light and dark side of the Force) will be glanced over in favor of TIE Fighter battles, angtsy teens, and pew pew pew!, but who knows? Maybe Square Enix will surprise us.

I certainly hope so.

I look forward to playing the newest games and finally finishing this (pretty much unnecessary) franchise, because despite what I have said, the gameplay is fun and the story definitely has its moments. The worlds are colorful and entertaining to play through, and the music is great. I also like several of the original characters. Some of the angst does actually work when the game keeps focus on the greater drama, rather than its more abstract concepts.

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I do genuinely enjoy this franchise, though it hasn’t made it easy for me. I would recommend Dream Drop Distance the most for its fluid gameplay and fun worlds, but I warn newcomers that story is all but impenetrable at this point. If you start at 1 and keep to the main titles, you’ll probably be fine, but that might already be more time and money than you’re willing to spend, and I understand that. Kingdom Hearts is rated E for “everyone”, but it’s not for everyone, if you catch my meaning.

Again, the first game is good for those who want a simple, coherent story, pretty fun from beginning to end.

The trailers for 3 look good so far, but I won’t get my hopes up too high because that’s to be expected. They want to sell this as the epic conclusion that we’ve all waited so long for.

But before I go, here are a few suggestions I have for the makers of Kingdom Hearts:

 

  1. Reenacted Disney Scenes as Cutscenes

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Imagine watching the stampede scene from The Lion King, with no music and very little dialogue. Imagine just about any iconic scene from any iconic Disney movie, and picture it with less dialogue, little to no music, weird facial expressions, and awkward, stilted movement.

Can you at least interact with the characters or affect the scene during?…No? Then why am I watching it? I’d rather go watch the movie it came from.

 

2. Could someone please react to Sora, Donald, or Goofy? Please?!

What in the holy halibut is going on in these characters’ heads? As much as it’s cool to visit and play around in the world of Tron, or Port Royal from Pirates of the Caribbean, why don’t any of the realistic human characters comment on the weird, disproportionate anime kid, or better yet, the walking, talking cartoon duck man that can cast magic?! Does Captain Jack Sparrow just think that he’s really high or something? Why doesn’t he have any questions about this?

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One of these things is not like the other…

 

Come to think of it, almost every character on every world that Sora and crew ever visit takes the meeting in stride, like Sora is just an average citizen that they would come across in their own world. What is the point of that?

Let’s say that one day, you woke up in Aladdin’s Agrabah. People would comment on your strange clothes and expressions, if nothing else, right? You wouldn’t just instantly become BFFs, no questions asked, with Princess Jasmine or Jafar. Just dropping out of thin air would be suspicious, and you’d expect that the knowledge of other worlds might cause some characters to undergo an existential crisis of some sort.

That would be perfectly in-sync with Final Fantasy tones!

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Having it go virtually unnoticed is lazy, it far exceeds suspension of disbelief, and it takes a cool, interesting, and immersive layer out of the story by having people just shrug off Sora, Donald, and Goofy’s existence, especially when the characters in a particular world look drastically different. At least some worlds fix the problem by having Donald alter their appearances to match the surroundings. If you’re not going to do that for every world, at least do something like Terry Pratchett did with his Discworld Death character. People could still see the Grim Reaper, but they didn’t want to believe the sight before their own eyes, so it was much easier to just see a generic looking man who acted strangely, who you could never quite remember after he had left the room.

The whole “friends forever” tone doesn’t make much sense if Sora doesn’t have to work to make or keep any friends, now does it?

 

I’d really like to see these persisting elements dealt with in the last few installments. I can cope with every other ridiculous thing that comes up.

And finally, Square Enix likes to console-hop when distributing its various games (PS2, PS Portable, 3DS, etc), which is obnoxious and greedy. They should not piss off their fan base by making them buy a different console every time a new game comes out.

We are not, in fact, made of money.

 

*All credit due to Square Enix and Disney.

The Zelda Awards

Today, we are here to honor some of the best of the best that The Legend of Zelda has offered to us. I don’t even need a prelude here; let’s just get right to it.

Warning: thar be spoilers below

 

Best Dungeons: Twilight Princess

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Many have sited the Stone Tower Temple from Majora’s Mask s as the best Zelda dungeon of all time, and while that may be compelling and challenging, Twilight Princess has the most consistently excellent dungeons, with great weapons to match.

My favorite is the Arbiter’s Grounds, with the Snowpeak Ruins as a close second. The Temple of Time has grown on me over time, and once I got over my initial confusion, City in the Sky and Lakebed Temple are pretty sound too. I think the only place I can’t stand going through is the Twilight Palace, and that’s only because of the goddamn Zant Hands and their unnerving chase music.

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They are more obnoxious than fun, and I hate them more than I initially hated the Silent Realms and the guardian chases in Skyward Sword.

The Arbiter’s Grounds feels like something out of The Mummy or Indiana Jones, and it takes advantage of your newly acquired ability to switch between your wolf and human forms at will. It also borrows the Poe quest from Ocarina of Time’s Forest Temple, which is a pretty clever throwback; here, you track down the Poes using your sense of smell. The mini-boss has one of the coolest designs I’ve ever seen,

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and the Spinner item is ridiculously fun, even when trial and error is required to cross a room. In my opinion, this is what the Shadow Temple from Ocarina of Time should have been: creepy and crypt-like, but not overly gruesome and severely clashing with the tone of its game. Not that the Shadow Temple is that bad, mind you; it just comes out of nowhere and kind of undermines the dark and sinister implications of Ganondorf’s plans thus far.

Trying to murder an entire race via starvation, and then, failing that, feeding them all to a dragon on their own mountain? Poisoning a race’s deity and freezing them under thick sheets of ice? A castle guard dying in a back alley after Ganondorf’s siege? That’s cool and all, but now check out this temple we made that’s a precursor to the Saw franchise!

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…the hell?

It’s like watching a Japanese horror film for an hour, and then at the 30 minute mark it gets hijacked by Eli Roth.

Ikana Canyon is much the same, but it was perfectly in alignment with the tone of Majora’s Mask, and it does have it subtleties, believe it or not. I think the most disturbing, semi-subtle thing about the Shadow Temple is that Hyrule would even have a place where the worst criminals in history were entombed, and that their murderous spirits haunt the place. I can buy the Gerudo doing that because they are a warrior-thief race of badass amazon women who probably rape men to continue their population and wow have I digressed here. But again, dark implications that get a lot of their creepiness sucked away by the “In-Your-Face” Temple.

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In conclusion: if you want fun dungeons, play Twilight Princess. They’re grrrrrrrrreat!

 

Best Enemies: Wind Waker

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The common monsters, for the most part, are all variations of the same thing you get in every Zelda game. But while I like the design of the Twlight Princess incarnations, and love being able to beat on them as a human or tear them apart viscerally as a wolf, Wind Waker’s monsters are goofy and lovable in their own way; the moblins are in particular are somehow creepy and hilarious at the same time, all because of how they are animated.

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As an added bonus, many of them drop piñatas full of hearts, rupees, and other useful items, and the ones that don’t often guard treasure chests or other important areas. It’s fun being able to sail up to an enemy watchtower, bomb the beejezus out of their canons, and climb the ladder to engage them in a twirling, fluid swordfight.

Or just snipping them with your bow or boomerang.

These enemies are pretty creative, but most importantly, they are fun. The ReDeads are a unique and clever improvement on their Ocarina of Time predecessors.

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Best Sidequests: Majora’s Mask

See my top ten list here for more details.

Save a farm from alien ghosts. Stop bandits from attacking a milk wagon and smashing all its cargo. Put longing souls to rest. Do an awesome, physically impossible sound check.

Not only are the quests awesome, challenging, and even emotional, but the items you get from them are useful on their own or great for getting the Fierce Deity Mask.

 

Best Adventure (aka Most Fun Overworld and Gameplay): Wind Waker

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Sailing the seas discovering new islands, people, and treasure; that’s what this game is all about. It looks like a Saturday morning cartoon, but it has plenty of emotion and pathos too. In fact, the ending is probably the most depressing in all of 3D Zelda history.

This is the game I would recommend most to newcomers. The dungeons and monsters aren’t particularly hard, but the graphics and gameplay are engaging and awesome, and the sailing music really puts you in the mood for an adventure.

 

Best Bosses: Ocarina of Time

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Twinrova, Volvagia, Phantom Ganon, and more. How can you not love these bosses?

Better bad guys may have come along, but I feel that Ocarina of Time has the most consistent fun, want-to-play-again bosses, and they set the sound foundations for many a boss battle to come. None of them are super hard, but they look cool, their lairs are cool, and I enjoy seeking them out on repeated playthroughs (or Ocarina of Time 3D’s bed of infinite rematch).

 

Best Character: Midna, Twilight Princess

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Midna is also the least annoying companion character, so I’m including that in this category as well.

She is the young princess of the Twilight Realm, the Australia to Twilight Princess’s Britain. Her people are the descendants of power-hungry magic users who were banished from Hyrule when they tried to take control of the Sacred Realm. With the help of Ganondorf and his Triforce of Power, a Twili man named Zant steals the Twilight Realm and curses Midna, forcing her to flee. With his new-found power, Zant moves on to conquer the world of light as well.

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When we first see Midna, we don’t know who she is. She seems arrogant, happy with the state of things in the world of light; and flippant in her concern for most people’s safety. Seeing an opportunity, she frees Link from prison and helps him restore light and order in exchange for gathering 3 items called the Fused Shadows, which she believes will help her overthrow Zant.

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She genuinely wants save her people, but initially, she makes herself look like a bitter rebel. Midna also mocks Zelda, no doubt thinking that she is a coward who is trying to save some semblance of face by remaining a powerless prisoner with her people.

But as Link acquires each Fused Shadow, Midna grows more and more attached to him, to the point that she tries to protect him when Zant thwarts her plans and steals the cursed items away. After that, she is mortally injured, only saved by the actions of Link and the willing sacrifice of Princess Zelda’s life force.

In an early cutscene, it is revealed that Zelda willingly surrendered Hyrule to spare her people from death. While we don’t see the exact condition of Midna’s confrontation with Zant (a waaaay later cutscene), she implies that she was weak and ashamed of her cursed form. Midna went into exile and hid, allowing her people to suffer and mutate at the hands of Zant, so a parallel is definitely drawn between the two princesses and their choices.

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Deeply moved and with a new respect for Zelda, Midna becomes more humble and considerate. She still gets angry, cocky, and impatient, but it’s more understandable, and definitely more subdued than the beginning. She clearly cares about Link and the world of light much more than she did before; for example, she feels awful for what the shard of the Mirror of Twilight did to Yeta, and for the fact that Link had to hurt her to stop the possession. Zelda’s people lived in fear and hopelessness, but she acted for their sake with no regard for her own fate, and she did what she could to aid Link and Midna, knowing that they were her best hope for saving Hyrule.

Like Tatl and Fi, Midna gets a character arc, but hers is far stronger and more emotional than either of theirs. She’s also much less annoying to take with you; her advice can actually be helpful, and she can lift large, heavy objects; warp you and said objects; and later, she can change you into a wolf or human whenever you want (thanks to an accidental “gift” of some of Zant’s magic).

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She’s not only a great companion, but a great character in general, and she really makes Twilight Princess a more fun and compelling game than it already is.

 

Best Ultimate Villain: Motivation: Skull Kid, Majora’s Mask

                       Boss Fight: Ganondorf, Twilight Princess

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I’ve already discussed the Ganon boss fight on my Top 10 Zelda Bosses list, so you can find the breakdown there.

Fifty points to Ocarina of Time Ganondorf for the best played game of tennis that Zelda has seen these many years.

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Wind Waker Ganondorf had a little more humanity and insanity added to his character than the standard “Get Power/Take Over the World” mindset. Zant is a deranged, merciless heretic that is used and empowered by Ganondorf to plunge the Twilight World and the world of light into shadow and chaos. Ghirahim is the minion and sword of Demise, Skyward Sword’s ultimate villain; ambiguous like Fi, who is the Master Sword, but without any of her compassion and curiosity for human beings. Like Zant, he is deranged and unpredictable.

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Despite often having the plot hijacked by Ganon/dorf, it’s clear to see that the Legend of Zelda franchise has some great villains that are especially fun and challenging to defeat.

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But Skull Kid is, in my opinion, the most human and tragic of all of the villains. He’s a natural prankster, but he means well. When his friends, the four giants, appear to be leaving him, he tries everything he can think of to make them stay, including acting out like a spoiled child. His actions hurt and sadden the people of Termina, who summon their guardian giants back to save them from him.

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While Skull Kid is terribly upset, he befriends two fairy siblings named Tatl and Tael, who briefly distract him from his pain. They start playing and pulling pranks together, which results in Skull Kid finding and putting on Majora’s Mask, a dark, possessed magical item that then uses him to inflict even more pain on the people of Termina. Majora’s Mask convinces Skull Kid, in his bitter loneliness, that he should even go so far as destroying the world, and soon, it is unclear how much of Skull Kid is left in the body being manipulated by the mask. Like Zant and Ghirahim, Majora’s Mask itself is deranged, dark, and dangerously powerful.

Among his many terrible actions, Skull Kid uses the mask to seal away the guardians, making them unable to hear the calls of the very people they are there to protect. It is a cruel, but poetic revenge.

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Eventually, Skull Kid is defeated by Link and the guardian giants, but the mask then casts him aside like a doll and challenges Link directly, drawing him up into the moon that Majora created and intended to crush down into the town.

But, if you will remember, I’m picking Skull Kid, not Majora’s Mask itself.

It’s a sad story, and even somewhat relatable to the player. Skull Kid misunderstands his friends’ duty and inadvertently drove them away when he needed them most. It is everyone’s fault and no one’s at the same time, leaving everyone feeling betrayed and/or hopelessly alone. Skull Kid’s new friends try to help, but they can’t heal his bitterness, and they are powerless to stop his possession and subsequent terrible behavior. They are somewhat responsible for the monster he becomes.

 

You don’t have to be a genocidal asshole to see the tragic and pitiable elements, but that doesn’t mean that you have to condone or forgive Skull Kid’s actions either. He does bad things for bad reasons, but even Tatl, in all her harsh directness, can’t find it in her heart to completely hate him.

In the end, you can only work to clean up the mess he made, and bridge an understanding between old, estranged friends.

 

Best Link: Majora’s Mask

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I’m basing this category not on personality, items, or hotness, but on which Link was best suited to his game. As far as I’m concerned, that would be Majora’s Mask.

While Wind Waker Link is adorable and bursting with cartoonish expressions, he was the outlier for a while as far as Zelda games were concerned. Link is the “link” – clever, right? – between the player and the game, so he has no real personality to speak of. I think that’s for the best, and it will be even better once the game designers finally figure out how to make players’ dialogue and choices actually mean something in the game experience.

Majora’s Mask Link is the epitome of a hollow shell, to the point that he can even summon one of himself with the use of his ocarina to solve certain puzzles. Because the clock is reset every 3 days and Link is constantly donning different masks to take on new identities, his actions are either forgotten or attributed to someone else entirely.

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It really feels like he’s saving the world because he feels compelled to, not because anyone asked him to or it was preordained by some prophecy. Like the player, he is just some guy who now has the chance (read: is forced) to take on an adventure, and if you think about it, your choice to do any one thing in the game is ignoring and dooming other people throughout the world of Termina.

You wanted to spend 3 days working through a temple, or getting a side item? Well congratulations, you monster: the little girl at the ranch was abducted by aliens and is now a tormented, confused shell of her former self.

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Despite its often colorful exterior, Majora’s Mask is grim, bleak, and unrelenting. It’s not just in the subtext; it is text. There’s a reason that it’s one of the more polarizing 3D Zelda games ever.

Cartoony Link was the closest we came to Link being an actual character (although Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword Links at least had jobs), but as far as player avatars go, Majora’s Mask Link made the most sense and fit the most with his given plot. His is a sad, sad, horribly tragic story, and it translates to his sad, sad, horribly tragic reincarnation into the Hero’s Shade in Twilight Princess. There, he got some character retroactively handed to him as a lonely, regretful soul, unable to pass on what he has learned and thereby rest peacefully in the afterlife.  

Majora’s Mask Link can be a Zora, Goron, Giant, Fierce Diety, or Deku, on top of his other masks and items. There is also that.

 

Best Overall Story: Skyward Sword

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It’s the one (for now) that started it all. This is why we have Links, Zeldas, and Ganondorf’s appearing across time and space.

Link and Zelda don’t have the most personality here, but they do get a believable friendship and almost romance going on, having been childhood friends. I like that while Link is gifted at the Knight’s Academy, Zelda makes it clear that her father spoils him, treating him almost like a son. Despite Groose being the way he is, you can understand why other kids might be bitter towards Link for all the favoritism he seems to get.

Zelda is snatched from your grasp by an unknown force, and Link leaves his sky island to dive down below the clouds, where no human, except one, has been in…centuries? I think I’ll go with that. He explores an uncharted land to save Zelda, discovering that she is the human reincarnation of the Goddess Hylia, who faithfully protected the Triforce and her people, but also wished to experience humanity.

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Meanwhile, a long-banished demon is resurfacing, and he sends his minions to thwart Link and hunt Zelda down so that he can use her to fully revive.

The idea that Link and Zelda are both reborn, doomed to face Ganondorf forever but also bound by their eternal friendship, is tragic, powerful, and romantic. And in the game context, Link, not unlike Hercules, is given many tasks to prove himself worthy of protecting Zelda and being the hero that Hyrule needs and deserves.

 

Most Satisfying Endings: Skyward Sword

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The villain is defeated, the people of the isolated town of Skyloft can now experience and repopulate the lower world; and Link and Zelda remain together in Hyrule as friends, their bond now stronger than ever. The saddest things involved in the conclusion of events are Impa remaining with the Master Sword and Fi retreating into the sword and going into a long slumber, but the latter is at least hopeful in that all games following, you can think of Fi being bonded to Link and helping to protect him and the land through the ages.

Fi can be very annoying as a companion character,

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but she had her good moments, and it is genuinely sad to see her go, after she has come to understand humans so much better. It is sadder than Navi leaving, but also less of a relief (although to be honest, Navi never annoyed me nearly as much as she seemed to annoy other players).

Impa is a decent character as well, but her departure is sadder for Zelda’s benefit than the player’s. Old Impa was nice, wise, and helpful to you, but young Impa liked to give you crap for not coming to Zelda’s aid fast enough, which is fine I guess, but if I had no way to avoid being late to the party, it’s not really my fault then, is it Impa? Especially when I was only partially informed of the situation and was going above and beyond what an average person would do in a situation like that.

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Just saying.

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But yes. The ending is a bit sadder than in Ocarina of Time, but it has more weight and emotion attached to it, so it wins.  

 

Best Item: Any game with the Double Clawshots

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My God, is this item awesome! The original hookshot was a great idea, but this? Turning Link into Spiderman? Genius!

Bravo, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword (as those are the only two games at the time of writing that employ them)! On the one hand, the former game lets you hang down on a chain if you need to and grab far away items, but on the other hand, the latter game lets you use the clawshots from hang vines, and uses the Beetle to fill that second function just fine.

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Either way, great idea, great items, and unlike the much beloved Spinner, they actually have tons of use outside of the temple you find them in.

 

Best Use of Rupees: Skyward Sword

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Way to make your in0game money finally mean something, Nintendo.

In Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, money was ridiculously easy to get your hands on, and in Twilight Princess, you definitely had to save for some occasions, but it was more annoying than fun. Especially when having to pay for something pulls the break on the story, like fixing the Sky Cannon.

And though I love the campy store, getting Malo Mart at the Castle Town is pretty much like doing homework. And what did I ultimately get for my efforts? I paid 3600 something rupees to get a cool suit of armor that sucks even more rupees out of me in order to function. Wheeeeeeee!

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In Skyward Sword, there is only one real “shop,” but it allows you to upgrade your items, shields, and potions. Sure, you need bugs and loot as well, but rupees as an absolute must if you want better, cooler toys to play with. While they are easier to find than a lot of monster drops, there is some actual planning involved in their acquisition. I make it sound as though it’s mostly salad dressing, but this is the first game to really implement shield deterioration and increased potion potency.

Even your non-wooden shields can take damage and be destroyed now. And, as you might guess, the number of hearts a Red Potion can recover can now be increased.

That may be the closest any video game will come to actually teaching your kids the value of money, but only in the eccentric, spend-a-holic sense.

 

And finally, we come to some Honorable Mentions, which I have reserved for Zelda herself. She is the legend, after all.

Ocarina of Time gave us a great, positive gender-ambiguous Zelda incarnation. I have always believed that Zelda and/or possibly Impa altered the princess magically, so that she was physically a man. Zelda was aware of her true identity, but she was so committed to the disguise that she didn’t just tape her chest flat and pad out her ninja spandex. No, she became a man.

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That has opened up so much room for debate over the years, but sadly, more recent games have tried to sidestep controversy by make Sheik indisputably female. I think that is a shame and even an insult, both to a character and the LGBTQ fanbase in general.

American game localizers have a bad habit of censoring and striping down positive gay and “coded gay” characters, while overemphasizing depraved, ambiguous villains, all in the name of parents, many of whom rarely give a crap about what their kids play. Japan has a bad habit of stereotyping people who are not Japanese, sometimes even demonizing characters who do not fit their ideal. In this case, I believe Japan made a good, interesting character, and then folded to pressure from America and other interest groups who didn’t want to offend the “right” people or raise difficult questions.

Nevertheless, I appreciate and admire the original Sheik. If you want an even more interesting take on his/her story, I suggest the Ocarina of Time manga. It’s not canon, of course, but it adds another layer of intrigue to the Sheik/Zelda distinction.

 

Wind Waker Zelda is probably the best character of all the Zelda’s.

 

Skyward Sword paints the young girl as a fairly typical anime-esque love interest and childhood friend to Link, but adds some depth when she remembers being the reincarnated goddess Hylia in human form. That’s pretty cool, but we only get the insight of Zelda distantly remembering her past life under a human filter. I’d personally be interested to know more about her mentality and exploits as a goddess, especially because the bigger goddesses Nayru, Din, and Farore never get any character whatsoever. Would they be like the Old Testament Christian God? The Greek Gods? New Testament God? Where did they come from, why did they want to create the world in the first place, and how are standings and power established?

Skyward Sword raises a lot of questions, but its Zelda is still an interesting and compelling character.

 

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Wind Waker Zelda begins as Tetra, the leader of a crew of pirates. She reminds me of a fully realized Tatl or Princess Ruto; sassy and definitely aware of her standing , but warm, caring, and even fun. Even before being made aware of her great destiny, she feels obligated to help Link save his sister, compassionate for the people of Outset Island when a destructive storm threatens to destroy them, and even comes to Link’s rescue after she could have just sailed away to a great reward.

Tetra is great because she represents a moral grey area. She’s a thief that loves her life, but she’s also bound by her own code of honor, which is shown to not always align with her crew’s priorities. I have to dock some points, however, for how bland and ineffectual she becomes after donning the official Zelda dress.

You could say that she’s overwhelmed by the new sense of responsibility and purpose she feels, but that doesn’t change the fact that it feels like a downgrade to an awesome character.

Tetra is the kind of girl who should have been able to save her own damn self.

 

*Pictures and video belong to Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto.