Reviewing Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is hard to do.
The nostalgia glasses I wear for a Link to the Past, the 1991 Super Nintendo classic, are rose-colored and of the strongest prescription. Can a game marketed as the spiritual sequel to one of my favorite games possibly live up to any amount of hype?
Link Between Worlds is a world imagined over two decades ago, reborn with a second opinion — an extra dimension. It is a 22-year reunion that you attend while babysitting your eight-year-old.
The “link between worlds” references the generational bridge of the game’s design just as much as it does the bonds of scenic Hyrule and decrepit Lorule.
Because the opposite of Hyrule is… “Lo”rule?
Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds is not unlike most of the other games in the series when it comes to the story. Going into a game as nostalgic as this one, you have to know that Zelda is going to get kidnapped, Ganon is going to get resurrected by a new evil, and the Hero of Time is going to step up to save the world.
In this case, the villain’s name is Yuga, an evil artist who likes to paint sages and princesses into picture frames.
What follows is classic Zelda. You fight your way through different dungeons in an effort to make it to the final confrontation and save the princess. Along with keeping true to the original layout of Link to the Past’s Hyrule, Link Between Worlds also has the same play between light world and dark world.
Only the dumbest thing ever happened and they named the dark world Lorule. As someone who did not know this prior to playing, I actually laughed out loud when the name was revealed. Typing the name on this screen is making me chuckle.
There are a few new characters too, like Princess Hilda of Lorule (*snicker). She looks like Zelda with dark hair. Ravio, a mysterious and hooded vagabond who wants to crash at your place, provides the other new face. Even the new characters are pretty flat though.
Speaking of flat, Nintendo has given Link the Paper Mario treatment for A Link Between Worlds.
The major new gameplay mechanic is the ability to merge into ANY wall in the world and travel along the wall like a moving painting. You can’t do this indefinitely, so a lot of the game’s puzzle and secrets are accessed by using this method of travel.
For me, the act of merging into walls for travel never really got old, and, through to the end of the game, I would consistently forget that the ability existed. This made for exciting “aha” moments throughout.
Becoming two-dimensional is also the way as you travel between worlds, as this game has you travel in specific places rather than use an item anywhere (ala Link to the Past).
So other than that, the game is tried-and-true Zelda, right?
What seems like a trip down memory lane at first is actually one of the most progressive Zelda titles in recent years.
Much like in Skyward Sword, the game utilizes statues to save and fast travel around the map. Gone are the days where you save anywhere, which makes for a more casual and pick-up experience.
Rupees for Days, Items for Days
There is also no foreseeable wallet size or wallet upgrades to be found. At one point, I had over 5,000 rupees on my person without the need for an upgrade.
This is smart in a sense because really the only things to collect are hearts and rupees, which leads to an abundance of both.
As for the typical arrow, bomb, and item drops, they are non-existent, because A Link Between Worlds changes a fundamental design of the way it handles weapons and items.
The aforementioned Ravio rents out all of the “dungeon items” in the entire game for a set number of rupees. Once rented, you have the items until you die, in which case you have to go back and re-rent every item you want or need.
This means that, right from the beginning, you can explore just about everything in the world of Hyrule. I loved it. I also never died (more on that later), so I effectively had every item that Link would ever need, making for a compelling experience.
This is what Zelda used to be about — exploring the environment aimlessly and discovering secrets and areas that feel like hidden treasures you were never supposed to find. In fact, Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto has said that his inspiration for Zelda branched from his adventures as a child — with nothing but a torch — exploring caves in Japan.
Zelda: Link Between Worlds is the first game to realize a sense of adventure since Wind Waker, in my opinion.
It should be celebrated.
I explored for hours before I made my way into even the second dungeon.
The dungeons in Link Between Worlds are largely forgettable. I had much more fun exploring the world itself, to the point that dungeons were “something I had to do” to gain new items for progression.
The dungeon design initially impresses. The first dungeon gets you into the swing of things, and the Tower of Hera (the games second OR third dungeon, depending on how you want to play) is absolutely brilliant. The Tower of Hera alone justifies the 3D dynamic, as you progress the tower vertically over many smaller floors.
Beyond the brilliance of the Tower of Hera, most of the dungeons are short, linear, and disappointing affairs.
Because the dungeons can be tackled in any order, there is no true sense of progression, aside from the power of the hero. Every later dungeon has optional treasures to discover, like new shields, tunics, and sword upgrades. But because you may not have all of the items (due to the rental system) most dungeons rely solely on one or two items. In other Zelda titles, you would have to revisit older weapons to solve certain puzzles which added to the complexity.
Some of the dungeons would have been cooler had I not played the original Link to the Past. The Lost Woods dungeon still has you going outside to solve some of it, for example.
The Thieves Den is another neat idea, with its emphasis on teamwork; there are a few brilliant ideas here.
Walk in the Park
But my biggest problem is that I never felt challenged at all. Only the final boss had me near death.
Most Zelda titles are fairly easy, but this is the spiritual successor to Link to the Past, which I always found difficult. There were plenty of encounters in that title that were challenging and some that would repeatedly kill me.
I never died with Link Between Worlds. That means that all of those items I rented stayed with me forever, and further took the challenge out of the game. The fact that there is no quantifiable limit to the amount of ammo you have meant I could run around enemy encounters, spamming fireballs, arrows, and bombs.
The game also has plentiful fairies and rewards, so there is never a sense of death –only discovery.
Music of Link Between Worlds
The music is a nice balance of old tunes and new grooves.
There are a lot of new takes on existing songs. In particular, the new “Dark World Theme” and “Lost Woods” themes are great. I could care less for the game’s variation of “Kakariko Village”, which is too overblown given the spirit of the town.
Most of the new music is found in the dungeons, and it is very good. Typically dungeon music is quiet and ominous, but in this game there is melody to be had in even the darkest of places.
Zelda in 3D
A lot of comparisons can be drawn to Ocarina of Time 3D when discussing the visual style of Link Between Worlds. Much like Ocarina 3D took the existing style of Ocarina of Time and spruced up the look, Link Between Worlds does the same from Link to the Past.
The difference is that this is a spiritual successor and not a direct port, like Wind Waker HD or Ocarina of Time 3D. Because of that, there are new graphical additions. The game looks like a modern handheld title, complete with 3D trappings. This is meant to be played on the 3DS, and there is a quite a loss when switched over to two dimensions.
Additionally, cutscenes, which move from the top-down perspective to a more typical 3D title view, are in play here. These reveal characters with an art style vaguely reminiscent of other RPGs like the Tales series.
Should you buy Link Between Worlds?
If you have a 3DS and like Zelda, you have probably already picked up the game. If you are still undecided, however, I can tell you that it Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is worth a purchase due to the length and quality of content.
Handheld titles are usually very good, and this is no exception.
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