Category Archives: Video/Online Games

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.

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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.

Marge’s Top Ten Zelda Boss Fights

At this, the tail-end of what the fans have begun to dub “Zelda Month”, I wanted to offer my own paltry praise and tribute to the massively-entertaining and immersive series of games known as The Legend of Zelda. 

I have been playing a little bit of Triforce Heroes with my friends, and I got to thinking: Zelda has some really fun and memorable bosses. Only in this most recent game have we been able to use other players to team up and defeat them, but the variety of settings, monsters, items, and, for lack of a better phrase, ways to expose and exploit weaknesses, have become pretty ingeniously inventive since the first game’s release in 1986. Add spectacular graphics and wide fields of movement to the mix, and you come away with much more challenging battles.

So today, I thought I’d give you my top ten favorite boss fights across the whole series.

I’m sorry to say, and don’t hate me for this, there will be no 2-D battles on this list. I haven’t played many of the earlier games, and most of the ones I have tried didn’t grab me the way 3-D Zelda games have. I think that is mostly due to how I was introduced to the series in the first place, with Ocarina of Time.

I love Oracle of Seasons and Ages, but those are the only ones I’ve beaten. And I digress. 

Here we go!

 

10) Majora 

At the very top of the list, we have the final boss battle in Majora’s Mask

If you’ve obtained the Fierce Deity Mask, the fight is insultingly easy, but it makes my number ten spot because it’s fun, fast-paced, and batshit insane. 

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Majora’s first form is the mask itself, hovering around the arena while shooting beams at you and bringing the mask-remains of the former bosses to life to distract you.

Once you’ve sufficiently slashed that, Majora grows limbs and a head with a single, large eye as its second form, and it darts around and dances wildly while a silly, distorted version of its theme plays in the background.

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The third and final form bulks Majora up like a body builder, and gives it shocking whips that grow from its hands.

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This is the hardest stage of the battle, but again, not that hard for boss standards and certainly not for those of final bosses. But because the rest of the game is fairly challenging, Majora’s Mask can be forgiven in this instance.

 

9) Ganon (TP)

Zelda games fall under two categories most of the time: those in which Ganon (Ganondorf) is the villain throughout, and those in which Ganon hijacks the plot away from another villain (usually by way of Villain B attempting to summon him). Twilight Princess is probably the most egregious example of the latter, and while the battle with Zant was epic and challenging and I feel bad for not putting him here, some room must be made on this list for the king villain of the entire series. 

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Of all of the Ganon/dorf fights, this game has my favorite. The first stage involves fighting a possessed Princess Zelda, doing the classic light attack volley. Then, a massive wild boar charging at you, and you have to alternate between your human and wolf forms to defeat him. The wolf form is one of my favorite mechanics introduced in any Zelda game, and pitting a beast against a much larger beast and still coming out on top is very satisfying.

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In the third stage, you are chasing Ganondorf on horseback across a wide stretch of Hyrule Field, with Zelda reprising her role from the final battle in Wind Waker by firing light arrows to slow him down. 

Being able to use your sword while riding is a great upgrade from the last game, and you can either beat a path to Ganondorf or lag behind, slashing at his virtually ineffectual minions. It’s really fun.

Just avoid energy beams, as they will sting.

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Lastly, you fight him mano-a-mano, applying the sword techniques you learned from the Hero’s Shade throughout your journey. The only one you really need is the finishing blow, which you will be made to learn anyway, but the introduction of specific sword and shield techniques to the gameplay adds thrills and even a bit of skill to your battles, especially this one. Ganondorf can move and block fairly well, so being able to roll behind him and slash at his unprotected back can really help you.

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Really, this game added a lot of good things. Some people say it’s just a rip off of Ocarina of Time with more story and better graphics, but I don’t think that’s fair. It’s not the most creative entry in the series, but it’s definitely not a straight-up rehash. A beefed-up, though still flawed, spiritual sequel is what I’d call it.

 

8) Volvagia

Ocarina of Time presents: Whack-A-Mole!:

 

7) Armogohma (TP)

I was tempted to put Gohma from Wind Waker here (Zelda has quite a few Gohma incarnations across the series, actually), but as fun as it is to hook on to a dragon’s tail with a grappling hook and swing over a giant beetle-centipede lava monster’s head, angering the dragon and unsettling the rocks on the ceiling and crushing said monster (yes, really), you know what’s more satisfying?

Squishing a spider!

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The Armagohma fight in this game is a nice and familiar retread of the Gohma fight in Ocarina of Time, but, as you might have guessed from the gushing in the Ganon section, incorporates new elements for a relatively challenging battle.

Armagohma is bigger and more spider-like than ever, but with the help of the Temple of Time’s item, the Dominion Rod, you can bring her down quickly. Literally. When she crawls up onto the ceiling, shoot her in the giant eye on her back with an arrow. When she falls to the ground, Link can use the Dominion Rod to take control of one of the nearby giant statues and crush her weak spot with its hammer. 

 

The only part I don’t like is when you finally break her hard exoskeleton, she turns into a bunch of gross mini-spiders, led by a main spider that apparently made up the eyeball on her back. This is gross and mildly annoying, but once you get here, you know you’re basically in the clear.

 

6) Hellmaroc King

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Spoilers: It’s a giant flying chicken. 

In Wind Waker, you take the most awesome hammer in the entire series and smash a giant monster chicken in the face! How cool is that?

This villain was a bit more personal for me than most others. It appears a few times before you fight it, once when kidnapping Link’s little sister and then again catching you just before you can rescue her, only to fling you out into the sea to drown. Sure, it’s technically a lackey, but the game got me to build up a vendetta against this stupid giant chicken and boy is the conclusion to that plot satisfying!

First, you goad the bird into trying to attack you, causing it to bury its beak in the ground and trap it momentarily.

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The hammer then chips away at its protective mask, until you can finally do more damage to the chicken itself. Meanwhile, dodge its gliding swipe attacks and gusts of wind, which will blow you into the painful spikes ringing the arena if you aren’t careful. 

It’s not the most fun battle in the whole series, but it’s definitely one of the most satisfying.

 

5) Blizzeta

In Twilight Princess, you come upon an old, dilapidated mansion in the mountains and meet two yeti, a husband and wife, who hold one of the pieces of a cursed mirror that you need.

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The yeti are nice and obliging, but the husband is preoccupied with making soup for his sick wife, and his wife can’t remember where she put the key to their bedroom, where the mirror shard lives, and you have to follow her baffled directions several times before you get it right. It’s a dungeon in practice, but not in name.

Eventually, Yeta the yeti will lead you to the bedroom and unlock it. In a case of complete tonal whiplash, the sweet yeti takes a look at the mirror and goes full-on Gollum over it.

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This boss battle involves using a spiked ball and chain to chip away at the moving ice chunks that encase Yeta. The boss will go up on the ceiling, so watch the reflection on the floor and dive out of the way as she attempts to crush you with each ice chunk. Once that is done, you have a brief moment to break the ice, and eventually, you will attack the center chunk and free Yeta.

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I love the music, the fight style, and the nice, helpful character who is corrupted and forced to battle you. It would be more emotional and dramatic in a movie, I think, but it works well in the game.

The moral of the story (and the theme of this list, so far): smashing things is fun.

 

4) Twinrova (OoT)

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I really like witches and natural element-based powers, so why not combine the two? Elemental witches!

In the last temple of the game, the Spirit Temple,  you fight Koume and Kotake, Ganondorf’s mothers(?), who can shoot beams of fire and ice respectively. When Koume fires you (pun intended), target Kotake and let the mirror shield do the rest. When Kotake gives you the cold shoulder, target Koume.

I just love turning the enemy’s powers against them; it’s a more epic version of “Stop Hitting Yourself.”

After about three or four successful deflections, the witches will combine into this delightful thing:

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She still has two staffs, one per element, and you just have to let her hit your shield three times with the same element, and it will create a blast strong enough to knock her to the ground…I guess because at least half of her is weak against either element? Then, hop over to the platform she’s on and smash! (your hammer does more damage, so I use that)

It’s relatively simple, but very fun, and combined with the cutscenes, it makes a nice conclusion to your journey through the Spirit Temple and your dungeon/temple run in general.

…But she is kind of creepy too.

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3) Koloktos

Speaking of using your enemy’s power against itself…

The whip seems a little lame compared to most dungeon items, and switching between it and the sword when you need to slash immediately afterwards can be a bit annoying, but it makes this fight a fan favorite, and one of the most memorable in all of Zelda, for one major reason: you rip off your enemy’s arms, steal its sword, and then beat it to death with it.

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Koloktos is a giant golden automaton reminiscent of an ancient Buddhist deity, bearing multiple arms and swords. It sits still at first, striking at you and then chucking blades at you when you get too far away. But once you do enough damage, it gets up on legs as well. It can also summon up zombie bokoblins to hurt you.

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The exterior of the boss is very hard, so once it puts a cage around its weak spot (can you guess where?), the only way you can get to it is by using something just as hard and massive. This is where the real fun comes in, but you have to be quick on your feet. Even if you manage to detach one or two arms, Koloktos has a wide range for its powerful swipes, and you have to balance staying in range so you can attack while also not getting completely clobbered.

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Hearts will burst from any pillars Koloktos destroys. These will be your friend.

Then, when at least one arm/sword combo hits the ground, pick up the blade and go to town. Bowl over bokoblins, or go straight for the boss. Whatever you do, it is absolutely essential that you cackle maniacally. 

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This fight is made all the more enjoyable by the vastly-improved motion controls (improved since Twilight Princess, which was not designed with them in mind to begin with). If only you could also hit something in real life, I think this fight would be damn near perfect. As it stands, it’s pretty satisfying.

 

I give this one major points for creativity, and for being the most fun sword fight of all of the games. This boss even gets a little bit creepy when you hear the girlish, childish giggle it lets out upon defeat (~4:40 of the video above).

 

2) Goht

Short, but sweet, and without a doubt my favorite boss fight in Majora’s Mask.

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He’s not the prettiest boss, but he packs a wallop.

Goht charges around the track/room as a giant mechanical bull, and you must don the Goron mask to roll out and give chase. Every time you slam into him, he will send chaotic bolts of lightning back at you, as well as place extra obstacles in your path, from falling stalactites to kicked up bombs.

The nice thing is that you don’t need to worry about running low on energy; the room is full of green energy pots, and all you have to do is roll into them and keep on going.

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I’ve heard some people call this fight difficult, and I guess that’s because it’s a rare instance of controlling a racing object, rather than moving more slowly with a sword in hand. But it’s not rocket science. Hugging the inside of the track will make you go faster, and dodging projectiles is fairly easy when you’re over or under a certain distance behind Goht.

It’s not nearly as difficult as the Goron race track.

I love the hell out of this fight. Majora’s Mask very kindly lets you go back and replay any boss fight that you want at any time, and more often than not, I find myself back in Snowhead Temple, ready for another run with Goht.

 

1) Stallord

After rocking your way through one of the best dungeons in the entire game (Twilight Princess’s Arbiter’s Grounds), and snagging one of the most fun and memorable additions to the LoZ arsenal, the Spinner, you reach my favorite boss of all time.

Stallord the Twilit Fossil comes alive as a towering skeleton creature, held up by several small vertebrae, emerging from a sea of quicksand. In addition to breathing fire and surrounding the outskirts of the sandpit with rotating circling blade traps, he summons up armored but otherwise harmless soldiers to surround and protect his spine, which serves as the weak point.

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To defeat Stallord, mount the spinner like a skateboard and latch yourself onto the circular edge that runs around the sandpit. When you see an opportunity, or have to avoid a blade trap or fire blast, detach from the edge and make a beeline for his spine.

You may pinball off of the soldiers, but each one you hit is one less that you will have to go through the next time through. Avoid losing momentum and getting stuck in the pit by hooking back onto the edge whenever possible.

After the traditional three to five good hits, this battle actually gets a part two.

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Stallord will fall to the ground, leaving only the head. It will come alive again, levitating, and shoot fire blasts at you some more. Hop back on the spinner and hook onto the ridge along the center pillar. The wall to your right will also have a track, and you must jump back and forth between the two surfaces to avoid being burned.

The blasts will cause Stallord to slow down slightly, so eventually, you’ll end up right next to his head. Jump into him, and then once he is lying helpless on the ground, strike the sword in the center of his forehead as many times as you can. When he gets up again, the blade traps will start to appear more frequently, making the next few hits a little bit harder to land.

 

Much like the Ghot fight, this boss battle involves staying in motion almost constantly. Riding around on the spinner is inexplicably, ridiculously fun, and it’s a shame that the item has virtually no use outside of its dungeon. Using it in battle is a test of your planning and reaction time more than anything else, but the crunch of breaking apart Stallord’s spine is just as satisfying as striking anything with a sword. 

I’m not usually a fan of boss battles that have multiple parts/forms/etc, but I’ll gladly make an exception for my favorite Zelda battle of all time. 

Who agrees? Who disagrees? Who’s feeling half and half? Let me know in the comments, and Happy December Holiday!

*The pictures and footage belong to Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto. I do not own nor claim right to any of it.

Top of the Food Chain: Silent Hill vs. Silent Hill 2

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Welcome, friends, to Top of the Food Chain. This is going to be my new series for comparisons, particularly sequels, remakes, retreads, what have you.

The survival horror genre of video games is a relatively new territory for me. I’ve watched a ton of horror movies, specials, and even a few t.v. shows, but with games, I either don’t have much time, much money, or the right platforms to play. Or, you know…general distractions…

That said, I’d heard numerous people talk up the Silent Hill series; even Yahtzee Croshaw, who is infamous for taking the piss out of even his favorite games. Silent Hill 2 is one of his favorite games ever, and the best in a series that has, in his humble opinion, trickled down into mediocrity since its adoption by American developers (see any of his Silent Hill reviews).

But is 2 really better than its predecessor? Which one is truly the scariest?

To answer these, let’s look at the games together and weigh their merits. In this semi-case study, we might also discover what makes horror gaming unique and, in a word, terrifying.

 

Storytelling

I’ll start with Silent Hill. Because, you know, it came first.

*Spoilers below, if you haven’t gleaned that already*

You play as a man named Harry Mason, a writer, widower, and adopted father to Cheryl, a little girl that he and his wife found abandoned as a baby. He gets into a car crash while he and his daughter are on vacation, and wakes up to discover that he’s at a very…unique destination.

Silent Hill, Maine.

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…Yep. If there’s one thing I learned from this man in particular, it’s that you don’t go to Maine. Ever. Things will kill you there.

Harry sees his passenger door sitting wide open, and sets off to find Cheryl in the creepy, foggy, nearly deserted town; sparsely salted with monsters, and generously peppered with bizarre lighting and weather shifts.

Let us disregard that in real life, any person with half a brain would beat a path out of there. Best case scenario, they do so to call for back up.

Also put aside that unless there is a cut scene (i.e. a nicely rendered scene where the player doesn’t have to press any buttons for a bit), Harry says virtually nothing. Not even so much as a “what in holy %$@& is going on here?!,” like a normal human being would conceivably say. He might as well be taking a leisurely jog through Central Park in the summer time.

Harry slowly discovers that there is an evil cult that has been growing in the town for quite a while. Their goal is to birth their deity into the world, and to do that, the cult leader, Dahlia Gillespie, burned her telekinetic and bullied daughter (think Carrie, but less secretive about her powers from the get go) alive in one of the impregnation rituals, and kept her in pain and suffering for many years. Alessa, the daughter, who was understandably resistant and angry, was able to refine her abilities through her pain, and she split her soul in two to escape and halt the birthing process.

Cheryl is the other half of Alessa. Dahlia summoned Cheryl to Silent Hill so that she could complete the ritual, but Alessa wanted to end her pain and finally die. The town became foggy, dark, and dangerous because Alessa’s power wreaked havoc on it, and the monsters within all represent her childhood fears and anxiety.

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Along the way to figuring things out and stopping the god from being born, Harry meets a few people. Dr. Kaufman, Dahlia, and nurse Lisa Garland are all involved with the cult in varying degrees, and Cybil Bennett is a policewoman from a neighboring town, investigating the sudden lack of communication from the Silent Hill police. She gets possessed at one point, and you can either choose to save her or kill her.

There are four possible endings to the story, and certain factors within the game determine which ending you get. The ending that continues the story into Silent Hill 3 (Silent Hill 2 is a story that is unrelated to the first game) has the god defeated, Dahlia and Cybil dead, and Alessa reincarnating herself and Cheryl wholly into a new baby, later named Heather, who Harry flees town with.

Quite a lot there, isn’t it?

Silent Hill 2′s story is a bit simpler. At least, in words.

A man named James Sunderland gets a letter from his previously thought-to-be-dead wife, Mary, asking him to meet her in Silent Hill. Confused but suddenly hopeful, James travels to the town in search of her, coming across monsters and a few other human characters who are either strange, unhelpful, or some combination of the two.

Like Harry, James could leave at any point, but chooses not to. And while seeking out a young, defenseless child might be slightly more justified, James is all the more tragic and compelling for his utter refusal to give up.

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There is no cult or crazy Carrie girl directly referenced in this plot. The monsters are all representations of James’, and occasionally other people’s, psyche; his feelings of guilt, frustration, sadness, and sexual repression while his wife was alive and suffering in the hospital.

Again, there are multiple endings depending on what you do in the town, ranging from ambiguous to silly to depressing.

Believe it or not, both stories (Silent Hill 1 and 2) don’t tell you much outright. You have to figure things out from the clues, the symbolism, and/or (depending on your laziness) the Internet. Newspaper articles, diary entries, and forms are scattered everywhere, if you have the patience to seek them out.

If you don’t have time or patience, and instead enjoy beating bad things with various weapons until they fall down, there’s some of that as well. But both 1 and 2 are extremely plot-driven.

The fact that I am revealing far less about 2 probably tells you right off which game I think is better, but for fairness sake, let’s look at a few more elements of distinction.

 

Gameplay 

It’s utter crap. In both games.

I’m not going to lie. I want desperately to tie a leash to the camera and force it to stay still just so I don’t get disoriented, or miss small, crucial details.

It’s not cinematic in the same way as something like Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls, but the way the camera angle changes when you, say, run from one side of the street to another, or down an alleyway, remind me shot techniques you’d see in a movie. Nice to watch, but not practical for viewing, especially at important moments.

 

Losing control of where you can look isn’t scary. It’s frustrating.

Trying to memorize and master the controls, on the other hand, do contribute to the tension and scares in some scenes (particularly when you’re caught in a bad situation), but sometimes, they too are more frustrating than horrifying. After all, you should have a fair shake at killing what is trying to kill you.

But at the same time, it can make you feel accomplished and proud to have survived in the end. And really, the people you are playing in each game are average Joes, so I guess the game developers were trying to convey that experience faithfully…by handicapping you.

Even with your flashlight, some areas are still just too dark.

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Ammo and various weapons are scattered throughout the town, but you really have to keep your eyes open for them, or you could walk right by. And trust me, you don’t want to pass up a steel pipe.

In certain fights, you have to switch between guns when you run out of bullets, or settle for the slower, but far less wasteful process of just bashing the monsters’ heads in with melee weapons. Either way, enemies have no life bars. You have to just keep hitting them until they fall down; in most cases, when the static on your radio cuts off completely.

Fighting multiple monsters at a time was as hopeless and frustrating as wading through a river of molasses, so when I could afford to, I just ran away. But sometimes you don’t have that option. And not everyone plays the same way, so…yeah.

You do have some long stretches of no monster encounters in both games, though, which helps build good tension. The town has two main phases in the games: half of the time, the nearly deserted, “foggy” phase,

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and the other half with many monsters, clanging sounds, decay, and steel grating in the “Other World”.

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I can’t rank either game higher than the other in this aspect. At best, gameplay is irksome but fun, and at worst, it makes me want to chuck my controller at the T.V. The aspects I personally liked least were: having James or Harry stay in one place for too long, or having to hunt for more health and ammo when it’s scarce and hard to see, and you’ve pretty much milked every spot in that place you can’t leave until the story progresses.

Let’s give the two a solid tie there.

 

The Monsters

Both games have a nurse monster for the portions where you wander around a creepy, run down hospital, because who doesn’t love hospitals?

But otherwise, the creatures that you come across are as different as night and day.

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Note here that the designs are similar to that of bugs, reptiles, and other animals.

In Silent Hill, the monsters are all based on the abused mind of young Alessa. She was afraid of things like bugs, dogs, and dinosaurs, like any little girl might be. Add in the abuse that she suffered from the other kids and adults in her life, and you could see these things coming to life more dangerously in her twisted imitation. Monsters in a more traditional sense, like the Wolf Man or Dracula.

The Beast for the first half of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the hag from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and most of the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches were frequent personal night terrors for me as a girl, but many people my age said Gmork from The NeverEnding Story was the greatest monster of their childhoods.

Imagery tends to frighten children more, but when they reach adulthood, they tend more to fear concepts and behaviors. But they are not mutually-exclusive at all. The transformation scene in Disney’s Pinocchio was horrifying to watch for many, both for the imagery and the concepts it presented. And how about that lovely scene from All Dogs Go to Heaven, where Charlie dreams of going to Hell?

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In terms of games, how about all of the grown adults peeing their pants over Five Nights at Freddy’s? It isn’t just the jumpscares, people.

But in real life, if you came across a giant bug or dinosaur thing, it’d be scary mostly because it’s immediately threatening, even people who aren’t normally scared of those.

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In the first game, the monsters didn’t horrify me (except for maybe the creepy nurses). I just really feel like I’d only be scared in the most basic sense, if I was actually there. And depending on how invested you are, they won’t horrify you either.

Fitting Alessa, the horror of these monsters is more basic and childish. Dare I even say natural?

Silent Hill 2, on the other hand…

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It takes a natural approach as well; to take an aspect of life that we, particularly those who were raised in heavily Judao-Christian societies, are all uncomfortable with on some level, and twist it into something truly gruesome.

James’s fears are much more adult in nature, and because of the themes of repression and anger, most of the monsters are effeminate and sexual; the former with the exception of Pyramid Head, or the “Red Pyramid Thing” as it is called above.

Pyramid Head is perhaps the most iconic thing about this game, occasionally stalking the protagonist with lumbering steps and a big blade dragging on the floor behind him. But more often than not, he attacks the other monsters, in decidedly more…suggestive ways.

 

Whatever malevolent forces are at work in the town in this game, it’s clear that they want to torment James and drive him utterly insane before they kill him.

The nurses make a return, but they wear distinctly shorter, tighter outfits. The Lying Figure monster limps about in a straight jacket made of its own skin. The Mannequin is literally two sets of female legs sown together hourglass style. The Abstract Daddy looks like two people under a flesh sheet on a flat bed or stretcher.

Adult themes all around, but they don’t feel like a cheap gimmick used just to be scandalous or “edgy”. Even if you don’t know what each of these monsters represent in the minds of the characters, you don’t have to know. Just their appearances and movements make you uncomfortable, and they’re coming right towards you, moaning and groaning, invading your personal space. And even when the creatures are scarce, the very prospect of being isolated with these things in dark, sometimes claustrophobic spaces adds more tension and fear.

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This approach is more psychological, and that atmosphere is all the more brilliant for it. You can easily feel as lonely and anxious as the protagonist would, and see the depths of his denial and delusion projected all around him.

Everyone has a unique fear or set of fears, stemming from childhood and other life experiences. But sex is a universally awkward subject, so point goes to Silent Hill 2.

 

Music and Sound

I’d say the quality is about the same in both games, for the most part. It’s quiet and haunting when it needs to be, followed by clangs and other hectic effects when there is action. While not musical, the use of the radio static to signify an approaching monster is both useful and creepy, if not groan-inducing after the umpteenth time.

The first game’s opening music, “Silent Hill,” is incredibly memorable with its initial twangy mandolin melody, and “Carousel Battle” sets a good mood for potentially disturbing fratricide, Silent Hill 2‘s perhaps most famous song, “Promise,” is both pretty and unsettling, with and without context.

The voice acting in both games is, quite frankly, terrible. The sound effects are the same quality, and do what they have to in order to get across this creepy world you have to transition through. So I’m calling it another tie for the sound aspect overall.

I can’t pick which soundtrack I like better, and while they’re both good, I wouldn’t list them as the biggest reason to play either game.

 

In Conclusion

Silent Hill is a good series of games (from the 3 I have played so far). Both in this specific comparison have frustrating controls and prima dona movie cameras at times, which can unfairly boost the difficulty and frustrate gamers, but the story and atmosphere are where the games really shine.

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I didn’t mention graphics above just because they were good for their time (very good, in fact), but aside from the gorgeous cutscenes in Silent Hill 2, they are very outdated and kind of ugly by standards now.

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Overall, Silent Hill 2 is the superior game, and an 8/10. It has a better twist, better “character development”, greater room for interpretation, and the monsters are more memorable and likely to frighten, regardless of age. It truly is a classic game, despite some slow moments; smaller than its predecessor, and yet larger, more isolating, horrifying, and mysterious without the hokey, bulky cult backstory and characters weighing it down.

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When you get right down to it, games have the potential to be more horrifying because it’s an interactive medium. It puts a real-life person in the place of the character, as their brain, and the trick is to convince said real person that they are really there, and that they can be hurt. And unlike movies, you have some agency; the ability to make decisions and change aspects of the story (those that you are granted).

If a game truly manages to pull you in, you will be afraid. You will feel the consequences, even just temporarily, and your heart will pound a hole in your chest.

But horror movies and horror games both have the same pitfall: no investment, and automatically, the audience isn’t scared. If films can put us in the moment without us having any control at all, what’s you’re excuse? You had one job, developers, and you failed.

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It’s not really about finding each person’s unique fear and exploiting it, hoping every gamer who comes to play ends up crying for mommy. Like all good storytelling, it’s about conveying a genuine human experience and, in this case, showing us how horrifying it can be. Fear can be everything, from the general, great unknown that we will never truly explain, to the knowledge that we aren’t all that different from the “monsters” that we condemn, lock up, vilify, kill.

And in video games, basic, deep-seated fear is easily accomplished by just giving us a gun. The gift of an illusion; making us think we’re so capable – that we could protect ourselves, our homes, and our loved ones – before showing us just how screwed we still really are.

You’ve got to be creative, especially without the Oculus Rift.

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to their respective owners. None of the images or sounds belong to me.

 

 

Video Game Consoles: Food for Thought

This one is going to be a short one. I promise.

We all are used to buying the next gen consoles whenever they come out, right?

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The hype is all there and the competitive nature of choosing the next console, like which one is better and which one sucks, is always a fun thing to be apart of.

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But you know it’s coming to a sort of crossroads of innovation here. The next gen consoles don’t seem to be offering as much value as they use to between generations. This is also keeping in mind we pay more for very small changes between generations.

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Are you shitting me?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about a question. Some of you may have been asking it yourselves. Is there really much more room new video game consoles have to grow and develop? How much more innovation can realistically go into the next gen consoles? Will these changes justify the cost we have to pay for a new console?

Leave your thoughts in the comment section below cause I want to know what you bros think. And as always stay thirsty my bros.