I’m Tired and Sad, So Let’s Talk About The Legend of Zelda: Episode 3

I’m actually not that sad right now (super tired, though), but I feel compelled to stick with the title. My time off messed up my sleep schedule since I didn’t make myself go to bed at the right time every night and my past few nights haven’t been much better thanks to anxiety and new video game enthusiasm. The two kind of feed into each other, so it’s no wonder I’ve had trouble the last few nights. Anyway, time to start the third installment of my favorite recurring series on this blog! This time, I’m going to talk about Koroks in Breath of the Wild.

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Three Hundred of the Most Occupied Hours of My Life

In my nightly video game time, I’ve been doing another run-through of Fire Emblem: Three Houses. I’ll admit I’m not particularly interested in the game any more and I approach playing it the same way I approach playing Sudoku: I don’t expect to really get anything out of it other than a stretch to the non-artistic parts of my mind. I enjoy strategy and puzzle games for this specific reason, but a lot of the time I play them, it’s because I think I need some mental exercise or a monetary occupation rather than because I actually enjoy it.

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Reclaiming Past Gaming

Today, as I consider what birthday plans I have made and what my holiday weekend has in store (this is going up after all that, since I write these a week ahead of time), and I gotta admit that the idea of buying my favorite chips, my favorite sodas, my favorite snacks, foods, and treats so I can hunker down in my apartment to play old SNES and N64 games is so tempting I’m not sure I can deny myself.

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Legendary Moments From My Poképast

I finally got to the point in my replay of Pokémon LeafGreen where I can start catching Legendary Pokémon, and my recent attempts to actually catch them reminded me of some fun moments from my poképast and the strange way games can play out when they rely on random chance. If you don’t really care about Pokémon, or maybe even actively dislike it, then feel free to head out. Everything after this is going to be about Pokémon. Or stick around. I’m not your boss. Do what you want.

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Do You REALLY Gotta Catch ‘Em All?

I’ve been doing a replay of the Pokémon franchise lately, sort of around everything else I’ve been playing. It is my idle time game. During little breaks from other activities, or while waiting for something to finish (be it laundry or dinner), I’ve been filling that time with Pokémon.

I started playing Pokémon as a child, with Blue Version. I remember standing around the house, playing it on my brand new Game Boy Pocket, and learning the ropes as I experienced the game. My strongest pokemon in that first play through was my Pidgeot, followed closely by my Blastoise. I don’t remember any of the other pokemon I had on my team, but I remember those two. I remember choosing Squirtle because that was what was on the game cartridge and Pidgey because even as a small child I had an affinity for birds.

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Time to Switch From Skyward Sword to Something New

I finished Skyward Sword last night. Stayed up a little late to finish it and everything. Beat the final boss, collected everything I cared enough to collect, and and then overwrote my save data with a Hero Mode file I’ll play eventually maybe. Probably not for a long while, though, to be honest. The game was fine, story-wise, and there were a lot of improvements that cleared out the worst of Fi’s interruptions, but it is still a rather stiff, clunky game that tries to be expressive without the character model elasticity they need for what they’re doing. It’s a fun game, and while I can’t say I enjoyed the whole replay, I can say that I enjoyed it more than I used to.

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Retreading Familiar Ground in Animal Crossing: New Horizons

The first and only Animal Crossing game I’ve ever played longer than a day (I borrowed one in college but didn’t have the time to do more than make a character) was the original one on the GameCube. That isn’t a result of a lack of willingness on my part so much as a result of my disconnect from buying new games during college (I think the only new game I got while I was in college was Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword) and my lack of free time as a post-college adult. I’ve always had something come up that make a time-intensive and daily play game like Animal Crossing prohibitive.

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Let’s Talk About Pokemon Go’s Newest Adaptation

There’s a new Pokemon game coming out for the Nintendo Switch, called “Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee!” If you aren’t aware, it’s basically a remake of the original Pokemon games with a few changes. The biggest ones have to do with wild Pokemon and the player’s interactions with them. In previous iterations of the standard style, you would wander around in the grass until you spawned a random encounter with a Pokemon from wherever the grass is located. Then you fought the Pokemon until it was weak enough to be captured or you defeated it. Now, you actually see the Pokemon walking around and can pick which ones you encounter.  Additionally, you catch them like you do in Pokemon Go. You use a berry if you want to, select your ball, wait for the circle to be the right size, and then attempt to throw the pokeball so it lands inside the circle. Then you either catch it or you don’t. There’s no battling involved, except with the occasional trainer.

This was one of the first things we learned about the new game and it upset a lot of people. More so even than the fact that it was a third remake of the first generation of Pokemon games. The change is a pretty big departure from the core games. Battling wild Pokemon in order to gain XP and level up is such a core element of the game that felt like spending money on this game would be a waste. Wandering around, training Pokemon, and collecting XP has always been a core aspect of the games for me because I use them primarily as a way of shutting my mind down for a few hours or as a way of quieting my mind when I can’t sleep. That’s going to be a lot harder to do when I actually need to look at the game and employ motion controls with any degree of accuracy since you only get XP if you catch the Pokemon. How am I supposed to just cruise through the game with an overpowered team if I can’t dedicate a few mindless hours of battling wild Pokemon to each area between cities or gyms so my Pokemon stay above the curve by five to ten levels?

Thinking about it like that, it made it clear that this wasn’t a game for me. News that has come out since then, about other things that will be different about Pokemon: Let’s Go has made it clear that this game wasn’t meant for me or anyone like me. This game was meant for people getting into Pokemon for the first time. Children who have had to try to pick up the games that are always at least partially targeted toward older audiences, casual gamers who want a quiet couch game that doesn’t involve a lot of meta-analysis, or people who haven’t really played many games before but have started now that Pokemon Go has proven so popular and accessible. It’s a reintroduction to the series that somewhat mirrors the way the first game was simpler than all the ones since then.

For instance, Let’s Go won’t have eggs or breeding. All of the highly competitive aspects of the game that stem from that won’t be present either. There will be no breeding for natures, IVs, or EVs. Egg moves, secret abilities, TM/HMs won’t get passed down through generations to create the perfect Pokemon after a dozen hours of breeding, walking, and hatching. Now you need to catch the Pokemon or send them over from Pokemon Go if you want to try for a specific nature and all of that is more or less random. Sure, there are elements the game has that the originals did not, but it’s stuff like playing little mini games with your Pokemon to make it like you more or handing over surplus Pokemon for candies that boost your Pokemon’s stats (which actually maps pretty well to IV/EV stuff and the various stat-boosting items you could get when you inevitably wound up with more money than you knew what to do with).  Everything they’ve added fits within the relatively simple and less competitive framework of the original game. Your only real competition are the friends you battle against using the system link or the game itself, most of which is pretty optional.

In order to entice the older, more competitive audience as well–and I’m willing to admit that this idea has gotten me interested in buying the game again–they’re adding “Master Trainers” to the game. These trainers are the specific master trainer of one type of Pokemon and you will have to battle them with that specific Pokemon as well. Your Charizard will have to battle their Charizard, and it’ll actually be a tough fight since their Pokemon will allegedly be specifically geared toward fighting its own species. Gyarados has been able to learn thunderbolt for a long time, but trying to beat one that knows that with another Gyarados? That sounds like an incredibly tough challenge that would require me to not only level up my Pokemon, but maximize its potential stats and find a way to give it an unbeatable set of moves. Which is exactly what most of the super-competitive Pokemon players where saying this set of games lacked. I’m not that competitive, but the idea of being declared a Pokemon Master after all these years sounds incredibly tempting, especially for my favorite Pokemon.

I’m still curious about how the game’s going to go once it comes out, but the twin powers of nostalgia and disposable income have convinced me it’s worth buying. I doubt I’ll try to get anyone else to buy it and just make up for the lack of a trading partner with Pokemon Go, but I expect it’ll be a good time now that I’ve started looking at it the right way. This isn’t a remake, it’s a reintroduction, and I think that’s a great thing. I hope more people online start to see it for what it is as well.

I’ll Always Love the Legend of Zelda

One of my first memories of playing video games was sitting on the carpet with my friends while we took turns playing Super Mario Cart. I remember the ease with which I made turns, hopped over puddles, and the ways we laughed whenever we ran into the moles that appeared in a couple of the levels. It was a fun, social activity. It set the foundation for the way I still view video games today, as an activity best done with friends. As I grew, and my friends all moved away or disappeared as such things do, I found myself less and less able to find people to play with other than my siblings. That was always fun, but my older brother wasn’t very interested in playing because he always won and my younger sisters weren’t as interested when I initially needed people.

Around that time, the N64 came out. I wanted one so badly, so I could play the new Mario game I got to try when we visited some of my dad’s friends, but no amount of begging or pleading would sway my parents. It was just not in the cards for us. Long after I’d given up, though I of course still asked frequently as a matter of course, we got the limited edition, see-through green edition that came with the expansion pack and Donkey Kong 64. I was so excited that I woke up at five in the morning or earlier every day during winter break to play it. Donkey Kong 64 was one of my first experiences with a game that was meant to be played by a single player and it was way more fun than I expected. Then, I don’t remember when it happened or who gave it to us, but I got my hands on a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and my world changed.

I honestly hadn’t expected much going into it. My first Legend of Zelda game was A Link to the Past, because we borrowed it from a friend for a while. My older brother enjoyed it, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. I was five or six while I was trying to play it and I just couldn’t figure out where to go next at one point, so I didn’t get very far into it before we had to give it back. When we got Ocarina of Time, I was excited by a new single-player game of course, but I was a little skeptical that it’d be nearly as fun as Donkey Kong had been. I let my brother take the first turn and I immediately fell in love as I watched him play. There was just something about seeing a child who looked like he was my age fight against evil and go on these adventures before ultimately growing up to continue them. Most of the thematic elements of the game went right over my head, but I had so much fun wandering around the world, searching for heart pieces and Gold Skulltulas before ultimately trying to look up guides online, that I didn’t care about anything else.\

A year later, not that long after my brother and I had gotten tired of finishing Ocarina of Time, we got a Nintendo Power magazine telling us all about the new Legend of Zelda game that was going to come out, Majora’s Mask. I demanded the game immediately, which didn’t get me very far, of course. I had to save and beg and wheedle and convince my parents to get it for the family since no one person could have a game console (there were four of us kids at that point and we used any power we had to get one-up on each other). I don’t remember the day we finally got it, but I remember how excited I was and then how frustrated I was when I couldn’t get through the first part of the game. At that point, due to how much we played video games and how many of us wanted to play, there was a strict thirty-minute restriction on how long your turn with the N64 could be. If you’ve played Majora’s Mask, you know that thirty minutes is barely enough time to get through the first part of the game even when you know what you’re doing and that there’s no way to save the game until you’ve finished. Needless to say, it took a lot of tries to figure everything out so I could actually finish the first part. My brother cheated by getting up in the middle of the night when no one would call him on playing for longer than thirty minutes but, joke’s on him, I beat the game before him using that method.

This game was different from Ocarina of Time, though. I’m not sure if it was because of how much I’d grown in the year between starting Ocarina of Time and playing Majora’s Mask or if it was because the themes of the game more closely matched the issues I was struggling with at the time, but I finally starting to realize what was going on behind the missions and adventures. I saw all these crazy characters who were struggling to deal with the things that happened in their life and they went from being hilarious or weird caricatures to being sad but truthful depictions of the way we struggled to cope in a world were we ultimately have no say in how things turn out. The big moment for me was watching the Zora hero, Mikau, tell his story and then die. I didn’t really understand what was going on and what the game meant back then, but it has stuck with me for over a decade as something that opened my eyes to the fact that lots of people feel powerless and want someone to help them.

I mean, even the hero can’t accomplish everything he wants. He has the power to help other people, to fix some of their problems or at least act in their stead when it is too late for them, but even he can’t find the person he’s been searching for throughout the entire game. It’s a lot like the stories we tell ourselves as we try our best to live our lives. It can be really easy to step in for someone else, to help them fix a problem that feels insurmountable to them but that we have the tools to address, but we often find ourselves unable to help ourselves in the same we. We struggle and fight our way through whatever comes up, but can’t always guarantee that the struggle is going to be anything but an obstacle to overcome. Winning doesn’t guarantee that we’ll get the prize we seek. Or any prize at all, for that matter.

As a ten-year-old kid, I couldn’t have put this into words, but I understood it. I felt it deep inside my heart and recognized it in this game that was a rush job slapped together using old assets by a team of people who had a vision and a plan and not much else. It reach into my soul and let me know I wasn’t the only one who felt this way or had experienced these feelings. It was a revelation and the reason Majora’s Mask is always going to be my favorite Legend of Zelda game. Even with Breath of the Wild’s amazing open world and the hundreds of hours of joy it has brought me, Majora’s Mask will always be the nearest and dearest to my heart because it taught me about depression and how to handle it before I even knew that’s what I had. It set the stage for a lot of the most important mental developments in my life and is more a part of who I am as a person than anything but “stories” as a whole. I’m glad I got to experience it when I did and I’m glad I can go back to visit it and find it the same after all these years so I can measure how I’ve grown and changed.

Octopath Traveler Was Pretty Alright, I Guess

So, I’m willing to admit that a certain amount of my “underwhelmed” reaction to this game is because it was hyped so much by friends and the few advertisements I saw. That being said, the game I was sold via recommendations and the advertisements does not, at all, feel like the game I actually bought. The game I was promised had tons of choices and all this variation and wonder and the game I got has fun battle mechanics and a rather stunted plot with little variety available to me. Because, if I’m being honest, the plot is kinda boring, even for a JRPG. Honestly, I’m still not even sure what the plot is beyond individual quest lines that have nothing tying them together.

Your character has a skill. They use the skill to complete a task in order to resolve a conflict that has interrupted their routine. They are prompted by some minor portion of their personality to pursue some greater task elsewhere. You move on to the next town. You repeat the whole saga for a new character. They join your party. You continue until you get to another portion of one character’s mission and then stuff happens that really doesn’t differ.

For how convoluted the skill crap is, in terms of actually completing the side quests, there really isn’t a whole lot of explanation. If you’re playing through this, I recommend ignoring the side quests until you’ve unlocked all of the characters so you understand what all the abilities are and can figure out how the shit you’re supposed to get fresh ingredients for some whiny-ass baker who can’t go talk to the shop keeper 50 pixels away from him. I mean, c’mon. Literally hiding them all behind these stupid skills that, for the most part, do nothing but force you to tap a bunch of buttons on every character who has the ability to talk? That’s super frustrating!

And don’t even get me started on how many unnecessary clicks there are in this game? Want to sell something you only have one of? First you have to select it, then you have to select the quantity, then you have to push up to say you want to sell it and then you have to tap the “A” button again to actually sell it. This mechanic is present EVERY TIME you have options, most of which mean nothing beyond choosing yes or no on selling something or saying if you’re reading to move on in the dumb little plot bits. Also, while I’m complaining, the writing is super cliché. There’s no real depth to the characters and they’re about as interesting as a cardboard cutout.

Now, all that being said, the game is still kind of fun. The battle mechanics are fun, the powers are interesting, and it’s got a rather smooth grind (in this case, grinding is the act of completing repetitive tasks in order to level up characters or gear in a game) without being entirely mindless. It’s basically a step up from Final Fantasy (auto-attack to grind and win), so about the same as Pokemon. You need to use the weaknesses of the enemies in order to gain an advantage over them, dealing more damage and preventing them from acting for a turn or two. Some enemies are weak to things you won’t have in your party, so it’s usually best to make sure you have a wide range of magic abilities and physical attacks so you can handle whatever comes your way. There’s a lot of grinding that happens early on, unfortunately, because all of the areas around the towns, the main areas you travel through as you pick up the characters, are really low-leveled. It quickly became pointless to fight those battles and it was frustrating to continuously have to run or to have to remember to equip a character’s special skill that lowered the chance of a random encounter (which I didn’t want in higher leveled areas because those areas were worth grinding in).

What makes the game the most fun for me is how easy it is to pick up and put down. There’s a bit of a long loading time when you start up the game, but that only happens whenever you fully exit the game. On a Switch, the only platform that supports it right now, that’s incredibly easy to avoid. I haven’t left the game in a week, despite only playing for half a dozen hours in that time. It’s a great unwinding game because it requires little input from me beyond actually pressing buttons and, if you get enough distance, the cardboard cut-out quality of the characters can actually be quite amusing. Hell, one of them seems like something straight out of a bad anime and I laughed my butt off as his super-serious and grandiose voice actor butchered his way through the lines. I don’t know if they just didn’t give the voice actors the context of their lines or what, but a lot of the emotive responses from this guy seemed a little out of place.

Aside from gameplay, the best feature is the beautiful pixel art of the game. It is a callback to old 16 bit games, but only in artistic style. The trees blow in the wind, the waves shift the water along the short, and there’s a level of detail to the environment that older games could only dream of. You move in two dimensions the entire game, but the backdrop and scrolling as you move around give an amazing approximation of three dimensions. The sound design is also impeccable. The music fits each scene perfectly and even the sort of off-key voice acting doesn’t negatively impact that.

Fun as it can be, I definitely understand that this kind of grindy game isn’t really everyone’s cup of tea. It’s barely my cup of tea. With a price point of sixty bucks, I wouldn’t really recommend it. If you can get it on sale for forty or less and want something to eat up some time, then I’d recommend it. There are plenty of hours in the game, they are just grindy hours with small steps in the plot that are so far apart that it seems like they just drop the stories between plot points (which they basically do).

Also, don’t let the demo fool you. Going through the initial arcs of the various characters gets old real fast. Just make a bunch of different profiles on your switch and play the demo once for every character. That way, you can experience most of the game without actually paying for it.