The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Introduction

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks was originally slated for a 2010 release. When the staff desired to move on and work on a new console installment, the release date was rescheduled to the end of 2009. Once Spirit Tracks saw its release, a majority of its development team were immediately assigned to work on the game that would become Skyward Sword. Three members of the Spirit Tracks team, including Hiromasa Shikata and Shiro Mouri, opted to begin work on a completely different project that would bear the Zelda banner. They originally intended to build a game around the theme of “communication”. Six months into the project, they presented their idea to Shigeru Miyamoto. Unfortunately, Mr. Miyamoto felt it “[sounded] like an idea [that was] twenty years old”. Realizing they couldn’t proceed with this concept, they decided to rethink the concept of the game from the ground up.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Shikata proposed an interesting question: what if Link could enter walls? A day later, Mr. Mouri created a prototype to demonstrate the mechanic.

It was through seeing it in action that they truly grasped the idea’s potential for both puzzles and exploration. As they considered the new game to be an extension of the DS installments, the prototype used the same viewpoint and art style as Spirit Tracks. It was around October of 2010 that the trio presented the prototype to Mr. Miyamoto. To their delight, he approved of the new concept and was more than happy to see the project through. However, another major setback two weeks later prevented this from happening. Nintendo was preparing to launch the Wii U in 2012. As a result, core members of the development team were quickly reassigned to work on launch titles for this new console. The trio disbanded, and any further development of this game ceased.

Meanwhile, after Skyward Sword was released in November of 2011, series producer Eiji Aonuma began thinking about the future of the franchise. Nintendo’s newest handheld console, the 3DS, was launched earlier that year. Among its own launch titles was a remake of Ocarina of Time. Fans were highly enthusiastic about the remake, and as a result, the demand for a new, original Zelda installment for the console grew. Having heard of the prototype created by three former members of the Spirit Tracks team, Mr. Aonuma elected to revisit the idea of Link entering walls. With Mr. Shikata and Mr. Mouri still in the middle of developing Wii U games, Mr. Aonuma decided to personally revive the project without its core members – thirteen months after it had been shelved.

Kentaro Tominaga continued where Mr. Shikata left off, refining the system for entering walls and designing small dungeons – all of which were presented to Mr. Miyamoto in May of 2012. Mr. Tominaga then planned to create fifty more small dungeons to further utilize the wall-entering mechanic, but Mr. Miyamoto criticized the approach. Mr. Miyamoto then proposed basing the game off of A Link to the Past – known domestically as Triforce of the Gods. From this, Mr. Aonuma proposed combining the mechanic with the top-down perspective and landforms of A Link to the Past. The shift in perspective would be complemented by the stereoscopic capabilities of the 3DS. Converting the two-dimensional landforms into a three-dimensional space, they began testing the feature extensively. Many more presentations to Mr. Miyamoto ensued, and the project was allowed to proceed in earnest in July of 2012. Even better, two of those core members made a return with Mr. Skikata helming the project and Mr. Mouri serving as the lead programmer.

It was in April of 2013 during a Nintendo Direct presentation that the company made known the existence of this new Zelda installment. The release date was scheduled for late 2013. Having taken several cues from A Link to the Past, there was only one logical thing to do with this installment: make it a sequel to the 1991 classic. As if to erase any doubt, the game was to be titled The Legend of Zelda: Triforce of the Gods 2 in Japan. Even its English title, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds made its connection to A Link to the Past quite clear, following a similar naming convention. The game was released in Europe, North America, and Australia in November of 2013 before seeing its domestic launch the following December. As opposed to Spirit Tracks, A Link Between Worlds received nearly universal acclaim with many critics believing it to be one 2013’s strongest titles. Given that the game was advertised as a sequel to A Link to the Past, skeptical members of the circle felt its positive reception could be chalked up to Nintendo cashing in on nostalgia. Time and again was progress on this game stopped only for it to subsequently rise from the ashes every time. Was A Link Between Worlds able to escape its tumultuous development cycle and emerge as one of the 3DS’s best games? Could it even begin to do justice to a game that had over twenty years to establish its legacy?

Analyzing the Experience

WARNING: This review will contain unmarked spoilers for both A Link to the Past and A Link Between Worlds.

When things looked their grimmest for the Kingdom of Hyrule, a hero emerged to drive away the darkness. He avenged the fallen Hero of Time when he soundly defeated the Ganon in a climactic duel. He obtained the Golden Power, the Triforce, for himself. In doing so, he erased the demon king’s negative influence on the world. The Sacred Realm, which had been morphed into the desolate Dark World due to Ganon’s desires faded away from existence. A long era of peace followed Ganon’s defeat and the hero’s exploits became the talk of legends.

Six generations have passed since then. The protagonist of this story, Link, is an apprentice to the Hyrule’s greatest blacksmith. He is beset by a nightmare in which he faces an evil figure before being woken up by Gulley, the blacksmith’s son. Upon arriving at the smithery, Link is scolded for being late and is subsequently tasked with bringing a sword to its rightful owner – the captain of Hyrule’s knights. He eventually finds the captain at the nearby sanctuary. Before his very eyes, a man named Yuga appears, transforming both the priest’s daughter and the captain into paintings using a fell, arcane magic. Link attempts to fight Yuga, but he is easily defeated.

He comes to in his house and finds himself face-to-face with a masked figure who introduces himself as Ravio. He is a traveling merchant who found Link unconscious in the sanctuary, and brought him to what he believed to be a vacant house. After Link explains the situation, Ravio asks to rent his house, rationalizing that he barely uses it. Link reluctantly agrees, and the man gives him a strange bracelet in return.

Before he lost consciousness, the priest told Link to warn Princess Zelda of Yuga’s attack on the sanctuary. Realizing time is of the essence, he sets out to Hyrule Castle. Though the guards initially fail to take him seriously, he is eventually granted an audience with Zelda. When he tells the princess of what happened, she fears the evil of the past may be reawakened. She asks Link to meet with Sahasrahla, the elder of Kakariko Village and gives him a special charm she claims he will soon need. The elder informs Link that the only way he can harm Yuga is with the Master Sword – just like the legendary hero of old. To pull the sword from the pedestal, Link must obtain the Pendants of Virtue. And so, Link sets out for the Eastern Palace where the Pendant of Courage may be found. There was no way he could’ve known the true scope of the conflict in which he now finds himself embroiled.

Similar to Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, A Link Between Worlds is a 3D game played from a top-down perspective. What differentiates this game from its DS predecessors is its control scheme. Whereas Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks relied almost entirely on the touch screen to control Link, A Link Between Worlds relies primarily on the buttons built into the console. The circle pad is used to control Link’s movements. The directional pad, on the other hand, allows one to control the camera in certain areas. Unlike the installments that debuted in the Game Boy family, A Link Between Worlds has a dedicated sword button – the “B” button specifically. Meanwhile, the “A” button performs contextual actions such as talking or reading. What action it performs at a given time will be written on the onscreen “A” button graphic.

When Link obtains a shield, you’ll discover that though you don’t need to assign it to a specific button, it does not automatically protect him from projectiles as was the case in Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. Instead, in a manner similar to a typical 3D console installment, you hold down the “R” button to have Link defend himself with his shield.

Though the writers gave them no shortage of creative premises over the years, longtime fans knew how a typical Zelda title panned out in terms of gameplay by 2013. Being action-adventure affairs, Link is appropriately placed in a large world players can explore at their leisure. Where Link can go at a given point in the game is limited by two factors: his inventory and the plot. Scattered throughout the game would be obstacles that could only be cleared using certain items. Said items couldn’t be bought; players had to find them in dungeons. Consequently, each dungeon was effectively divided into two acts: finding its associated item and using it to clear a path to the boss.

In this game, Link’s journey hits a significant roadblock when he realizes he is unable to enter the Eastern Palace. How he goes about solving this dilemma effectively twists the series’ formula into a nigh-unrecognizable shape. Noticing a sign written by Ravio, Link returns to his residence only to discover his impromptu tenant has opened up an item shop there. Further expressing his gratitude, Ravio allows Link to rent a bow from him, allowing the young hero to enter the temple. It and any future item can be assigned to the “X” or “Y” button.

This development is what sets A Link Between Worlds apart from any game in the series thus far. Artifacts one would typically consider dungeon items are instead rented from Ravio’s shop. In the early development phases, the team considered allowing players to rent items for a limited time, imposing a fee on them if they were returned late. The system in the final product is more straightforward. Link can use these rented items as much as he wants. To prevent players from using them indefinitely, there is a purple energy gauge located on the bottom-left corner of the top screen next to the health meter. Using any item expends Link’s energy – including ones that had no such limitations in preceding installments such as the hammer. As a trade-off of sorts, the usage of any item that would have required ammunition such as the bow is instead limited by the energy gauge rather than, for example, finding arrows.

However, there is a catch to this system. Unlike in most games in the series, dying isn’t a particularly major concern for this incarnation of Link. He is merely returned to the entrance of the dungeon as though nothing happened. On the other hand, should he collapse, his rented items will be forfeit, necessitating him to pay a fee to Ravio so he may obtain them once more. After a certain point in the game, Link can buy the items outright, thus keeping them even if he falls in battle.

Savvy players might be wondering what the point is in buying the items. After all, it’s possible to circumvent this penalty by restarting from the last time one saved. The only possible setback is that the hypothetical player might lose quite a bit of progress by doing this. The answer to this question arrives in the form of an octopus-like creature who calls herself Mother Maiamai.

She is distraught having lost her one-hundred children and asks Link to find them. For every ten children he finds, she can upgrade one of Link’s items into a “Nice” version, increasing its potency. However, she cannot upgrade an item Link doesn’t own. These enhanced items could mean the difference between success or failure, so players should strive to buy them when they can.

Not unlike Skyward Sword, the boss awaiting Link in the Eastern Palace is none other than Yuga – this game’s primary antagonist. It’s a fairly easy fight, but without the Master Sword, Link cannot defeat him properly. To make matters worse, Yuga has an ace up his sleeve in the form of the magical paintbrush he used to curse the priest’s daughter. Deciding better than to let his arrogant attitude get the better of him, Yuga opts for the pragmatic approach by turning Link into a painting. Yuga gloats about his triumph and leaves the palace.

Suddenly, the bracelet Ravio gives Link begins glowing and he finds he’s able escape the wall. Unfortunately, Link finds he is unable to leave the way he came in.

This is where the game mechanic Hiromasa Shikata and Shiro Mouri presented to Shigeru Miyamoto finally comes into play. With the aid of Ravio’s bracelet, Link can turn into a two-dimensional painting and merge with a wall. To do this, one need only walk up to a wall and press the “A” button. When moving along the walls, Link cannot use items and is limited to moving forward and backwards. That is to say, if it’s possible to walk into the wall from a higher altitude, he has to enter it from the ground – he cannot climb up to reach it in his two-dimensional form. Using this ability is vital, for it allows Link to enter narrow passageways and reach areas he couldn’t in his normal form. Keep in mind that he cannot stay in this form for long. His energy gauge steadily drains as a painting. If it runs out, he will be ejected from the wall. Depending on what lies below, this can result in a simple loss of progress or him falling into a bottomless pit.

It is after obtaining the three Pendants of Virtue that the game’s subtitle becomes relevant. With the pendants in tow, Link is able to pull the Master Sword from its pedestal in the Lost Woods. He returns to Hyrule Castle and challenges Yuga once more. The sorcerer disappears before Link can strike the final blow. Shortly after his victory, a strange fissure appears on the wall. Using Ravio’s bracelet to walk into the walls, he enters the fissure. When he emerges on the other side, he finds himself in a room similar to Zelda’s chamber – only in a state of disrepair.

Exploring this strange castle, Link happens upon Yuga again. As it turns out, the people he kidnapped are the seven sages. Now that all of them are in captivity along with Zelda, he is able to revive the Demon King Ganon and marge with him. Yuga attacks, but is stopped by this mysterious land’s ruler: Princess Hilda. She teleports Link to safety and explains to him the nature of this realm. He finds himself in Lorule. With its dark skies and powerful monsters, it exists as a dark twin to Hyrule. Yuga has banished the paintings of the seven sages to the corners of Lorule. Unless Link can free them, nothing will stop Yuga from conquering both worlds.

The biggest turning point in A Link to the Past occurred when Link found himself in the Dark World for the first time. He had gone through five separate dungeons in his quest to obtain the Master Sword. Appropriately climactic though the battle against Agahnim may have been, the game was far from over. This was punctuated with the Dark World’s first dungeon having been labeled “Level 1”. Players had to go to great lengths to obtain the Master Sword only to be told with one word and one number that their trials and tribulations were merely practice.

Lorule similarly marks a major spike in difficulty. This time, the team behind A Link Between Worlds took note of how players went about exploring the Dark World in A Link to the Past and embraced it wholeheartedly. Though the Dark World dungeons were labeled in a similar manner to that of The Legend of Zelda, there was little stopping players from completing them in an order other than the intended one. Some dungeons required items found in earlier ones, but those who knew where each one was located would march straight to Level 4 upon completing Level 1. This is because the fourth level contained the Titan’s Mitt, the upgrade that allowed players to completely crack open the overworld and obtain various helpful items.

What A Link Between Worlds does is completely forego any and all notions of linear progression. Once you reach Lorule, you can tackle the dungeons in any order you so choose. Indeed, it is at this point you learn the real reason why A Link Between Worlds had you rent and buy key items rather than find them in dungeons. Rethinking the series’ conventions, the development team wanted to grant players freedom in how they could advance through the game. Obviously, using the tried-and-true formula that led the 3D installments to success couldn’t work. After all, what would happen if a player got stuck halfway through a dungeon due to not having the item required to clear it? Hence, Ravio and the rental system. It’s easy to deduce based on the bow’s importance to accessing the Eastern Palace that all of the items will see their use. The ability to upgrade items incentivizes players to collect as many rupees as possible to buy them.

In place of where dungeon items would normally be stored in a typical Zelda game are upgrades to Link’s equipment. This includes the Blue Mail and Hylian Shield, which halve the damage Link takes and protect him from powerful attacks respectively. Some dungeons house chunks of Master Ore, which can be taken to a blacksmith so they can, in turn, enhance the Master Sword. None of these items are required to complete the game, but they improve Link’s survivability, thus providing worthwhile rewards for the perceptive.

Though I give this system a lot of credit for experimenting with the series’ sensibilities, I have to admit the switch to a non-linear design is something of a double-edged sword. Much like in A Link to the Past, the story comes to a dead stop when Link enters Lorule. Considering that, in a stark contrast to a majority of the installments leading up to it, A Link Between Worlds is clearly focused more on gameplay than story, this isn’t too glaring of an issue. Nonetheless, it has richer lore than that of A Link to the Past, making this aspect particularly notable.

There is a more pressing problem with how A Link Between Worlds handles its progression that has an adverse effect on the gameplay. Old-school detractors lambasted the series for abandoning the premise of the original game, which codified the concept of open-world design, in favor of crafting a metaphorical rollercoaster ride. One unequivocal advantage of this shift in design ethos is that it allowed the games to subscribe to a natural difficulty curve. Outliers may have ensured this didn’t always work in practice, but you could generally count on later dungeons to be more difficult than early ones. Link would face off against stronger monsters while being made to solve advanced puzzles that incorporated his ever-expanding inventory. This doesn’t happen in A Link Between Worlds. As a result, the game as a whole has trouble building on itself. It becomes more difficult when Link reaches Lorule, but once he obtains better weapons and armor, the challenge sinks like a stone.

Furthermore, because your inventory could vary wildly at a given moment, dungeons are usually centered on one gimmick, and one gimmick only. In fairness, dungeons tend to get the most out of the items required to complete them, and it does expect you to update your inventory frequently. You’re better off renting items as soon as they become available to avoid having to backtrack too often. Even so, A Link Between Worlds runs into a reoccurring problem with the series in how certain items see limited use outside of the dungeons that explicitly require them. The most notable example is the Sand Rod. Much like its Spirit Tracks counterpart, this magical wand raises columns of sand to create temporary surfaces or hoist enemies out of hiding. Because of how the item system works, you’re better off upgrading it immediately to make the desert region easier to navigate. There is a second reward for saving all of Mother Maiamai’s children, so if you completed the Desert Palace before upgrading the Sand Rod, the best course of action is to refrain from upgrading it until the very last minute.

Thankfully, for all of the niggling issues plaguing A Link Between Worlds, there are several more good things to say about the experience. First and foremost is the story’s effect on the gameplay – or lack thereof. While the AAA industry as a whole pursued multiple avenues of storytelling, A Link Between Worlds, graphics notwithstanding, seemed as though it stepped out stepped out of the nineties. I say this because the story is very similar to that of A Link to the Past in how it has its beats, yet never overstays its welcome at any point. While I can appreciate a good story in an action-adventure title and the Zelda series itself has had no shortage of intriguing scenarios, playing a AAA effort primarily focused on gameplay was exceptionally rare in 2013. If you wanted an experience that sold itself solely on its gameplay in the early 2010s, you typically had to look into indie efforts such as Papers, Please or La-Mulana. What made A Link Between Worlds so refreshing is how it channeled the best aspects of a bygone era to craft an experience equal parts familiar and new. You are not forced to watch any lengthy cutscenes, backtrack excessively, or sail an endless ocean just to get from Point A to Point B – A Link Between Worlds is as pure of game as it gets.

Though it certainly has its execution issues, I personally applaud the rental system. In addition to giving Rupees a defined purpose, it allows players to explore Lorule on their own terms. The series doubtlessly accomplished many great things when it switched to a linear design and yet bringing back what made the series’ debut so good was a brilliant idea. The various teams that came and went over the years thought not to fully explore it until now.

Better yet, A Link Between Worlds avoids a common pitfall I’ve seen with these types of games. To wit, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins stood out from its predecessors in that players could visit the six worlds in any order. While it made for an interesting idea, there was ultimately no benefit to clearing them in a certain order. It wasn’t as though the titular golden coins granted Mario a new ability upon collecting them. Because each dungeon in Lorule contains an item that will significantly help Link on his quest, players who know about them ahead of time can use this to their advantage. Should they go to the Swamp Palace and obtain the Blue Mail first, thus allowing Link to take more than one hit without dying from Lorule’s hostile fauna? Would they deem a good offense to be the best defense and collect all of the Master Ore chunks straight away? Could the desire to see what lies beyond the enormously heavy stones prove too great, thus spurring them into visiting the Desert Palace where the Titan’s Mitts lie? All of these questions are for the players themselves to answer though the actions they take.

I concede that from a story standpoint, A Link Between Worlds isn’t as ambitious as its direct predecessor, Skyward Sword. For that matter, even preceding handheld installments such as Link’s Awakening and Spirit Tracks could claim to have more intricately crafted storylines. Although the cast could be seen as bland as a result, I feel the narrative of A Link Between Worlds shines in much of the same way its gameplay does. That is, the writers manage to get the most out of their characters’ sparse dialogue. This facet becomes apparent when you reach the endgame.

With the help of the seven sages, Link reaches Lorule Castle. He expects to confront Yuga only to find Hilda waiting for him. Here, she fully explains the realm’s sad history. Lorule wasn’t originally that much different than Hyrule. It too possessed a Sacred Realm and a Triforce. Much like in Hyrule’s conflict six generations ago, the people of Lorule sought to obtain the Golden Power for themselves. To this end, they waged many violent wars against each other. To put an end to these senseless conflicts, Hilda’s ancestors destroyed the Triforce. Though this action ended the people’s strife, Lorule was thrown into chaos, and the once beautiful realm began crumbling. In her desperation, Hilda sent Yuga, her trusted advisor, to Hyrule to steal the Triforce, knowing that if he were successful, the parallel world would suffer the same fate. It is at this moment Hilda drops any more pretenses. Taking Zelda’s component of the Triforce, she summons Yuga, who has successfully merged with Ganon, to defeat Link.

What I admire about this twist is how cleverly it’s foreshadowed; it plays off of the expectations one would have after having experienced A Link to the Past. The Dark World and Lorule by necessity share many similarities, being dark, corrupted versions of Hyrule. However, to those paying close attention, they are not the same place. While the Dark World had communities, they solely consisted of Hylians unfortunate or foolish enough to be trapped there. Lorule, on the other hand, has a very obvious permanent population – even taking Hilda and Yuga out of the equation.

Regardless, Lorule evokes a similar atmosphere to that of the Dark World. In fact, in some ways, it’s even worse off than the Dark World ever was. While NPC dialogue in A Link to the Past suggested that people had lived in the Dark World for an exceptionally long time and would have continued to do so in spite of their obvious hardships, Lorule is clearly on the brink of destruction. This becomes clear when you realize Lorule is markedly more difficult to navigate. Large chasms separate entire regions of Lorule. While this design choice is likely a holdover from A Link to the Past in which new areas in the Dark World were accessed by finding new magical transporters, in A Link Between Worlds, it’s actively woven into the narrative. With its restrictive design, you get the sense the world is falling apart at the seams.

Skyward Sword fell woefully short when it came to its villains, and I believe the ones A Link Between Worlds has to offer to be vast improvements. Hilda is an excellent example of a villain who isn’t evil. She is understandably dismayed at the state of her world and is willing to do anything to ensure its survival – even if that means jeopardizing Hyrule in its stead. She has been pushed to the absolute brink, and her actions are the result of sheer desperation rather than malice. Meanwhile, I propose that Yuga is the villain Ghirahim tried, but ultimately failed be. Ghirahim was an insufferable character through and through, and his over-the-top antics only became more grating as the game went on. While Yuga is equally contemptable, being incapable of finishing a sentence without insulting someone, that the writers showed restraint when forming his dialogue made him much more palatable as a villain. Players will want to bash him with the Master Sword as soon as possible, but they don’t have to move heaven and Earth to reach that point.

He also manages to top his already detestable actions by betraying Hilda at the last minute. He never cared about the fate of Lorule; he collaborated with Hilda so he could get his hands on the Triforce, allowing him to rebuild both worlds in his image. Fans were a bit divided over him for usurping Ganon’s usual role as the primary villain, but I personally found it to be a refreshing change of pace. In doing so, I feel Yuga also manages to be the villain Demise should have been. For most of your first playthrough, you’re going to operate under the belief that Yuga will be overtaken by Ganon. It is when the expected twist doesn’t occur that you realize just how much the writers experimented with the series’ sensibilities in the last thirty minutes. The game establishes its main characters early on, yet takes its time with their arcs, ensuring a big impact will be left on the players willing to give these story beats the time of day.

Drawing a Conclusion

Pros:

  • Excellent music
  • Fast pacing
  • Creative boss fights
  • Renting system allows for an interesting take on series’ formula
  • Open-ended gameplay
  • Worthy follow-up to A Link to the Past
  • Good level design
  • Strong finish
Cons:

  • Somewhat short
  • Difficulty doesn’t ascend naturally
  • Story is a little underdeveloped

Released in the same year as A Link Between Worlds was The Last of Us, which the press and fans alike agreed to be the year’s greatest effort – the former faction dubiously declaring it “gaming’s Citizen Kane moment”. The gaming outlet, GameSpot, adding to their decidedly storied history, managed to earn the ire of countless enthusiasts when they gave A Link Between Worlds their “Game of the Year” award in lieu of The Last of Us. Such outrage did stand to some reason. After all, while The Last of Us pushed the boundaries of what constituted good storytelling and characterization in gaming, A Link Between Worlds seemed to completely ignore the direction in which the rest of the AAA industry was heading by delivering an experience equal parts terse and simple. It is for this reason that I can say A Link Between Worlds was exactly what mainstream gaming desperately needed in 2013. With Western AAA titles attempting to model themselves after the film industry, out comes A Link Between Worlds – a game that has absolutely no shame being a game.

Furthermore, though the game doesn’t last long, it uses every single one of its minutes to deliver a quality experience with nary a trace of fluff or filler to be found. This too ended up being a welcome reprieve from what was then the big-budget model at the time wherein companies would regularly boast having hundreds of hours of content per game. Even Naughty Dog, a company that had garnered much acclaim with linear experiences, wasn’t immune. Their games often featured sequences that could have been heavily abridged or cut out entirely without losing anything important. It’s a little ironic that, given how badly they wanted to emulate the film industry, AAA developers often failed grasp a basic part of their ethos – a work should only be as long as it needs to be. To be clear, I’m not saying that A Link Between Worlds is only good as a breath of fresh air when compared to the material the AAA industry regularly put out in the early 2010s – quite the opposite.

As people praised this game, detractors insinuated A Link Between Worlds achieved its accolades by riding off the coattails of A Link to the Past. It was to the point in which one prominent critic turned what could have been a legitimate critique into a tangential, borderline incoherent rant about Nintendo’s alleged reliance on nostalgia to sell their products. Though this point does have some basis in truth, I don’t think it’s a valid criticism of A Link Between Worlds. While it clearly uses its distant predecessor as a base, Mr. Shikata’s team didn’t rely on it as a crutch. They took something they knew would work and used it to experiment with the formula, giving fans something familiar, yet new. Though A Link Between Worlds is officially a sequel to A Link to the Past, it is, in more ways, the first true follow-up to the game that started it all.

It may be overshadowed by A Link to the Past, the older game having an extra twenty years to establish its legacy, but I firmly believe that at the time of its release, A Link Between Worlds was the greatest handheld Zelda installment. Given the ethos of the AAA industry at the time, A Link Between Worlds likely served as the first exposure a new wave of enthusiasts had to a title sold entirely on its merits as a game. Because of this, I can say A Link Between Worlds is worth looking into whether you’re a fan of the series or not. Gaming accomplishments are always more inspiring whenever they stay true to themselves rather than attempting to retread ground sufficiently covered by non-interactive mediums.

Final Score: 7/10

15 thoughts on “The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

  1. Pretty solid review, it pretty much mirrors my thoughts on the game, and that ZP jab at the end was rich.

    I feel this game’s central mechanic (The wall merging) is the most well stablished it has been in the Zelda series since Majora’s Mask, too bad the focus on sequence breaking made the game a bit toothless in terms of challenge.

    I also feel that the only time Nintendo truly relies in nostalgia is when they develop Smash Bros games of which there have only been 4 (Soon 5) And people always want more fanservice out of those.

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    • Hey, if he’s not going to take his job seriously, I’m not going to take his opinion of this game seriously. He really should’ve known better.

      The wall-merging mechanic is brilliant, though I’d say the non-linear design was better executed in Breath of the Wild. That game took the Dark Souls approach by making things really difficult at first until you amass more power and make things more reasonable. In a lot of ways, A Link Between Worlds was a prototype to Breath of the Wild (albeit one that can stand as a solid entry in its own right).

      Considering Smash Bros. actively incorporates nostalgia into its gameplay, it has more of an excuse for having all those callbacks than most franchises; the Uncharted series evoked nostalgia before it even hit the ten-year mark.

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      • Ben Croshaw is a useless bitch. Sorry for the language, but it’s true. Just a tired, generic, outdated hipster circa 2002 whose outdated contrarianism is as predictable as his juvenile humor. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like anyone with half a brain pays attention to him anymore.

        Also, it’s always humorous when people use the whole “Nintendo relies on nostalgia” card for a number of reasons. For one, they’ve actually done a pretty great job at keeping their franchises fresh, despite their age. Their nostalgia is usually just window dressing. For another, people don’t seem to grasp that they’re a Japanese company, and culturally, nostalgia has always been a cherished concept there. Any culture that emphasizes hard work as much as Japan’s – which is admirable, though understandably stressful – is obviously going to lead people to long for the carefree nature of childhood. Also, we’re at a point where Sony and Microsoft have been in the gaming world long enough that they too use nostalgia, so you can’t accuse any one party over the others these days. Finally, many of the indie games that contrarians like Croshaw lavish with praise play up nostalgia just as much, if not more so, than Nintendo. Considering Yahtzee liked Undertale (which seems unbelievable, considering that game is actually good), I wonder what he would do if he found out the Mario RPGs were large inspirations for it? Probably have an aneurism, I assume.

        As for Smash Bros., I also don’t mind that series using nostalgia because, well, it’s a game comprised of video game history. It’s not something with original characters that’s falling back on yesteryear, but a Frankenstein’s monster of Nintendo history (well, video game history at this point). And I’m actually glad they’re adding more fan service to the series. King K. Rool was long overdue. How the hell Ice Climbers made it in all the way back in Melee but we’ve had to wait this long for so many fan favorites will always be a mystery.

        I liked A Link Between Worlds, but never finished it. I’ll have to fix that. One of the better handheld Zeldas to be sure. I don’t like it as much as A Link to the Past though, which is one of the few Zeldas I’ve beat multiple times.

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        • I wouldn’t say he’s completely useless – he did get me to try out Dark Souls, Papers, Please, and Shovel Knight (in case you’re wondering, I was interested in checking out Undertale before he praised it, so no credit for him there). Funnily enough, that means he’s indirectly responsible for you getting into Papers, Please given that my review of it prompted you to check it out. So while I wouldn’t go that far, you do have a point. When I began truly critiquing games, it made me realize that Yahtzee, while a decent entertainer (if wildly hit-or-miss when it comes to humor), is a decidedly poor critic. I’d say his biggest weakness is that he often can’t come up with reasons for why a game is good/bad other than “because I say so”. He can elaborate if it’s something he cares about, but it often speaks to his rather narrow definition of what constitutes a good game. In fact, while a lot of people (deservedly) criticize him for his anti-Nintendo bias, I would say this problem is even worse when he’s praising games he likes. Spec Ops: The Line is a terrible third-person shooter, but it condemns the modern military shooter, so “Game of the Year”. Limbo is a subpar platformer with design choices there were abandoned in the early nineties for a reason, but it looks pretty, wasn’t made by Nintendo, and has symbolism he can get behind, so “Game of the Year”. BioShock Infinite has a story that doesn’t synergize with the gameplay at all (something he regularly lambasts Naughty Dog for, by the way), but said story criticizes American exceptionalism, so “Game of the Year”.

          At the end of the day, having Yahtzee be a legitimate authority on games would be like if the Nostalgia Critic were a legitimate authority on films. I thank him for me getting into a few excellent titles, inspiring me to talk about games, and forming a lot of vital opinions (such as what constitutes good storytelling in this medium), but once I found my own style, I was more than happy to drop the shortcomings I picked up from him, and I haven’t watched his reviews in about two years. Though I have to ask: has his popularity really been waning?

          Anyway, on to A Link Between Worlds. I figured nostalgia was an important part of Japanese culture as evidenced by their continued love for the early Fire Emblem games over their superior sequels, but I didn’t really connect the dots until you mentioned it; that’s an interesting piece of trivia. I think the problem is that a lot of Western critics approach their analysis of works under the impression that nostalgia = bad. Whenever I find a situation like that, I’m always asking “but does that really make it bad?” There is definitely bad nostalgia (a point I intend to make with my next review), but A Link Between Worlds builds on its goodwill rather than rolling around in it. I’d say go back and finish it when you can.

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          • Perhaps the word ‘useless’ is a bit harsh, but if his biggest contribution is highlighting relatively obscure games, it doesn’t exactly disprove my “hipster contrarian” argument. Pretty much anyone can (and has) claim smaller, lesser known works as great while deriding mainstream stuff. It’s an easy and convenient way for one to trick themselves into thinking they’re smart, I suppose. The same mentality goes for his take on Bioshock Infinite’s criticism of American exceptionalism. Though I am pro-exceptionalist and thus many would claim I’m being defensive, I can set aside my own worldview to look into a work on its merits and how well it makes its statement (it might help that I value art over politics). With that said, anyone and everyone in today’s worlds of art and media seems to take a stab at American ideals, so when people, such as Yahtzee, try to come off as original, forward thinking individuals because of it, it kind of comes off as an “egg on their face” kind of thing. Sure, they’re allowed to think and believe whatever worldview they want, but if what you’re doing is parroting what pretty much everyone else has already done, don’t act like it makes you unique.

            Basically, Yahtzee is just a tired hipster. Indie = good. Mainstream = bad. Beloved things suck. Obscure things don’t. Another instance of someone following a dogma of contrarianism and thinking it makes them unique. Not to mention his whole “style” is just ‘bitch about a game and then in the end say if he likes it or not.” Nothing constructive about it. And I would say his popularity has waned, seeing as you never see him referenced anywhere and his videos don’t seem nearly as promoted on YouTube. He probably still has his following, because, well, sycophants will do as they do.

            Western gaming critics really do have a bad habit of extremisms. If there’s even an ounce of nostalgia in a game, it’s just trying to live off the past. If a game is linear, it’s not good. Etc. It’s really tiring. I’ve really gotten to a point where I can almost exclusively give independent bloggers credibility in terms of gaming critique. Mainstream critics, while well-meaning, tend to buy into hype too easily. But even worse are independent critics who use video formats, since they just spout cynicisms and contrarianism to get cheap views. I do still enjoy Edge Magazine’s reviews, even if in recent years they’ve become a little too “new games are better than old ones” centric.

            It is pretty funny how people don’t seem to understand that Japan is a different culture with different ideals. We are quick to point out the cliches of Japanese video games (the psychotic pretty boy villain, the amnesiac hero), without acknowledging that western games have just as many cliches (be sure to take cover under these conveniently waist-high vertical objects!).

            I really do need to go back to A Link Between Worlds. And although they’re not nearly as good, I should revisit the DS entries if even just to review them. I especially liked the wall-painting mechanic in ALBW, it seemed like the kind of schtick you would find in a Mario game.

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            • No, it really doesn’t. I thank him for getting me into those games, but in hindsight, those glowing recommendations come across as happy accidents. They just so happened to get the thumbs up from him because… because. Even then, two of those recommendations relied heavily on the circumstances surrounding them. I wasn’t sold on Papers, Please until he made a video of himself playing it and his praise of Dark Souls only got my attention due to him having bashed Demons’ Souls previously. In other words, with the exception of Shovel Knight, his actual reviews barely had anything to do with inspiring me to check those games out. Meanwhile, when he gushes about classic games he likes, chances are they haven’t aged well (e.g. Thief II and System Shock 2). I used to watch his Let’s Play series because they were more interesting than his ZP or EP segments, so when he stopped doing those, I ended up dropping him like a lead balloon.

              Also, if it’s one major failing critics (and not just Yahtzee) have, it’s that they’re too easy on a work as long as it has a message they can get behind. They really need to be tougher on said works because confirmation bias is detrimental when applied to criticism of any kind. To wit, I was totally on board with the LBGT community getting equal rights, yet I couldn’t support Gone Home because A) it’s a real nothing experience and B) I felt (and still feel) they deserve better.

              Yeah, you’d think the people who criticize Eastern nostalgia were in some sort of cyro-chamber for the last four decades, thereby failing to grasp the Japanese influence on the medium. It’s easy to take for granted the cliches of Western media while decrying foreign ones because we’re constantly exposed to the former. If nothing else, at least Nintendo took their time before they began evoking nostalgia. System Shock 2, had a gratuitous callback to the original – and that was long before either game had a following. Even better, it’s the second-worst stage in the game. Not to mention the Uncharted series rolled around in its past achievements in the fourth installment – the series wasn’t even ten years old by then.

              And I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who got Mario vibes from the wall-entering mechanic. It feels like something that would be in the Paper Mario series.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Finally, another Zelda I’ve actually played through (even if it’s been a while)!

    I seriously loved this entry to the series. Part of it was definitely nostalgia- it felt like coming back home to Link to the Past’s trappings in plenty of places- but it also felt fresh. I don’t really feel like I need to go into how it succeeded since your review did a fantastic job of doing so, but I do feel like a large part of why I enjoyed it aside from the usual Zelda aspects was Hilda and the whole concept and story of Lorule. The characters involved in all of that were just so interesting to me and felt like such a neat addition to the mythos. Sadly, my one real complaint was how short the game was which goes hand in hand with this given I would have liked to have seen a bit more of the world while I was visiting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, that’s the major downside to evoking nostalgia; you import the original work’s weaknesses along with the strengths. That’s a major reason why I can say it doesn’t surpass its predecessor. It doesn’t really matter because A Link Between Worlds is a solid game. You’re right; I really think this game did a better job incorporating the duality between the worlds into the narrative. I like how the Lorulean characters function as foils to their Hyrulean counterparts. I kind of wished it went on a little longer, but it was still refreshing playing a game that delivered such a compact, good experience in 2013.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a tough question. This was the first Zelda game I’ve played and completed on my own though I’ve watched my sister play through and beat every other Zelda game. I definitely have to think on that one though. You might have just inspired a new blog post, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I absolutely love A Link Between Worlds. I agree with many of the points you make, including how short it is and how it fails to provide challenge due to how it is setup to be tackled in whatever order one feels like (though Nintendo could have easily gone around that issue by making bosses and enemies deal more damage as one advanced through the game).

    I will also add that I think it has a very band art style. It looks exactly like one would expect a 3-D version of A Link to the Past to look like. I compare it to the New Super Mario Bros. series in that regard, as Nintendo could have taken a very artistic path in bringing that old-school kind of gameplay to newer consoles, but ended up taking the safest possible path.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now that would’ve been an interesting way to address the issue. That’s essentially what Bethesda did with Fallout 3 and Skyrim – they made it so that enemies in an area would scale to the level you achieved when you reached them rather than having all enemies universally scale to your level like in Oblivion.

      That is true; the art style isn’t as interesting as the animated one used in The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, or Spirit Tracks. And it’s interesting you say that because from what I’ve heard, the game’s working title was New Legend of Zelda, so Nintendo clearly noticed the parallel as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s interesting. I did not know Fallout 3 and Skyrim were implemented like that. It’s a great solution, and I am sure Nintendo will have to give it a shot once the next console Zelda comes around.

        I hadn’t thought of that, but you are right. Considering how successful the NSMB games were, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nintendo intended to model than in a way with ALBW.

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