The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Review – A Link to the Past Reborn

(Click here if you don’t want to read)

 

A Link between Worlds, highly praised by fans that also enjoyed “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past”. I can see why after playing this game.

The story begins with Link having a nightmare of Ganon. He wakes up in his house and we are informed by the blacksmith’s son that we are already too late for work. We go to the blacksmith and have to deliver a sword to a captain of the Hyrulian army, who is in the sanctuary. We are too late however as we witness that Yuga, the villain of this game, has defeated the captain and transformed the daughter of the priest into a painting. After he beats us unconscious, we wake up again and go to Princess Zelda to inform her of Yuga’s actions. She gives us a pendant and sends us to find the other two in different locations in order to defeat Yuga.

This game clearly takes place after A Link to the Past and tells its own story. The plot is very similar to the prequel. Gather two pendants (in ALttP three), plot twist and then go to seven dungeons in order to defeat the great evil in Lorule. Lorule is the replacement for the “Dark World”, meaning that you have a basic copy of the map with certain changes like more enemies, missing bridges, portals etc..

I will say though that there is one thing about the ending that I didn’t see coming but the game hints at it many times. The story unfolds to include Princess Hilda, the Lorule version of Princess Zelda and the game has overall a stronger narrative than A Link to the Past. While A Link to the Past, after the plot twist, leaves you to yourself, A Link between Worlds throws some trivia knowledge about Lorule and its current state at you as you explore the dark lands. I did enjoy the story and the ending was very nice, something I feel was a bit of a problem when it comes to 2D Zelda games (looking at you Minish Cap). It works, it’s enough and doesn’t really need much more than what we have right here, even if I would have personally liked a more dramatic ending, but the ending we get is a nice conclusion as well.

As with most Zelda games, we have some pretty big gameplay changes to cover. This game discards all new gameplay mechanics from the DS games and returns to the original style, or to be more precise, it returns to A Link to the Past. You move with the circle pad, attack with B, interact with A, use items with Y (with an upgrade also with X), navigate menus etc. via the touchscreen and if you have the optional shield or the Pegasus Boots, you can also defend with R or sprint with L. While you can move in a 360 degree angle, using items is only possible in 8 directions as if you would be using a D-Pad but attacking with a sword is possible in every direction you want. This is something that I didn’t like about the game, I prefer full control over my movements and actions if I’m already presented with perfectly working 3D controls. It’s not an issue, in fact, for many people it’s probably helpful, I just don’t like my controls to feel restrained.

Just like Skyward Sword, A Link between Worlds has a saving point feature, so unlike the older games, free saving is not possible. That’s not an issue though since there are plenty of opportunities to save and they are smartly scattered throughout the world. In addition to that, fast travel to these saving points is also possible, making traveling all over Hyrule and Lorule a piece of cake. You can always use fast traveling as long as you are not inside a cave, house or dungeon.

The game itself is somewhat linear at the beginning but after the plot twist, you can basically go wherever you want once you have the right item. In that regard, A Link between Worlds breaks the established formula and doesn’t give you items that are necessary to progress in dungeons with one exception. Instead, a new character named Ravio will set up his store in your house and sell you all dungeon items. You have the choice to rent the items for a small price, which you loose after you die, or, after the plot twist, buy the items for many rupees. This system, in my opinion, is great but comes with a big problem: The items in the dungeons are replaced with things like ore or stamina boosts. This makes the dungeons less interesting to me and also as a result, the items are somewhat basic this time. I was also always looking forward to the items I would get in a dungeon and how to use it to progress. The game gives me all the tools beforehand and offers all these upgrades as an optional bonus. The ore can be used to upgrade the Master Sword (no spoiler, it’s basically in all artworks anyway) and stamina is spend by using items.

That’s right, ammunition like arrows and bombs is gone. All there is now is stamina to use your items, which refills itself automatically. This is something I like to see for magic items, like how the series used to handle them (except for the automatic refill of the stamina/magic meter) but I don’t like to see it on my arrows and bombs.

Is it bad? No, but I feel like this system needs some more complexity, I just don’t really feel comfortable with having no ammunition at all. Did I ever feel limited or hindered by the new system? No, not at all and it is a lot of fun.

Also, while you require more rupees than usual thanks to Ravio’s shop, it’s not hard to buy all of the items since the game drowns you in rupees. I would have liked to have any significant use for my rupees once I buy the mandatory items. Only things like potions or one shield cost money but these are exceptional cases because you only have to buy the shield once and potions can be replaced by countless fairies that are thrown at you. Mentioning upgrades, you can later upgrade your items to be much more powerful by finding Maimais and bringing them to Mother Maimai. These stronger upgrades are certainly worth the effort and make your playthrough much easier. As always, there are also several optional bottles, heart pieces etc. to gather, but it seemed more easy or rather, it doesn’t take long to gather them all in this game, contrary to many other Zelda games.

These Maimais are later scattered all over Hyrule and Lorule and count a total of one hundred, resulting in you being able to upgrade all items and to get an ability upgrade as well.

As I’ve already mentioned, there are two worlds to explore or to be more exact, one world and its changed copy. The world map of Hyrule is almost identical to the map of A Link to the Past, even things like cave locations are often carried 1:1 over to the new game. This makes sense in terms of lore and the stuff that was added adapts itself perfectly into this world, like the new Milk Bar in Kakariko. You have to be very conscious of the fact that if you’ve played A Link to the Past recently, then you’ll basically explore the same world again that differs only little from the prequel. When it comes to Lorule, it’s a bit different. The enemies are mostly the same as in A Link to the Past and many locations are similar to the Dark World, but it is not a copy of the Dark World.

This can be applied to the entire game, it feels like A Link to the Past, similar to a remake or a very extensive add-on with unique ideas on how to approach progression in a game. Is it bad? Not really, since Nintendo has said exactly that ever since the game was announced.

The soundtrack blows the prequel out of the water, into space and into another galaxy. The entire soundtrack is orchestrated in high quality and the new songs are also a wonderful addition to the game. While there is one track I prefer in A Link to the Past (Hyrule Castle to be exact), every other song is vastly superior because of the orchestra.

What I’m personally kind of annoyed at is that many sound effects are directly from A Link to the Past, which got on my nerves near the end.

The music is not the only aspect that’s beautiful about this game though. The graphics and especially the art design are very nice and have a timeless feel to them. That’s not the only thing though, the 3D effect is used to its full potential in this game, since there are puzzles that benefit from having 3D activated.

What is this game doing good for it’s genre?
It’s another wonderful action-adventure with a lot to discover, to explore and to do in general. The soundtrack is fantastic and it doesn’t have any groundbreaking flaws. The new implemented features are a good idea and the stronger narrative keeps you more engaged than A Link to the Past did. The graphics are quite nice and the 3D effect also has uses in puzzles and helps in seeing the height of certain enemies.

What could have been improved?
Using items is only possible in eight directions which can help for aiming but I would have preferred full control, the game drowns you in rupees and after buying all items from Ravio’s shop they don’t really have any more use, I think having item upgrades also depending on rupees alongside collecting Maimais would have been a good implementation. There’s also gathering monster ingredients (guts, tails or horns) and the potions that can be crafted out of them are great, sadly potions are the only thing you can craft with them outside of selling them for rupees which you don’t really need.

Not having (with a few exceptions) necessary-in-order-to-progress items in dungeons kind of limits the dungeon design in my opinion, at least I didn’t find them, as a whole, as engaging as previous entries in the series since I usually use only one, maybe two items for one dungeon at most.

While I think the new system with having all items from the start is not bad, I feel like the shop shouldn’t already include all items from the start. It’s probably better to make the items in the shop limited to stuff like basic items (bow, boomerang etc.) alongside some special items (small boost items like heart pieces or bottles) while the dungeons themselves either feature hard to find well hidden upgrades or the dungeon items that are necessary to progress and beat the boss.

There is one dungeon in this game that does feature an item that you need to progress, but that’s only one dungeon in over eight. When it comes to new items, this game has a lack of them as well. All the items are very basic and there aren’t many new items to use outside of the mostly already seen tools.

Removing the “writing notes” feature is a shame as well. That was one of the things I enjoyed the most in the DS Zeldas (I hated drawing the messages though) and it would have been really easy to combine it with the pin-needles in the game. Maybe upgrading the pin needles could have allowed for message writing, I feel like that would have been a good addition.

Hyrule is a bit too similar to A Link to the Past, while there are small changes here and there, it’s not enough for my personal taste.

A Link between Worlds is basically a direct sequel to A Link to the Past, and a good one at that. People that enjoyed said prequel will have a great time with A Link between Worlds. Newcomers will find a lot to enjoy but those that disliked A Link to the Past will also dislike A Link between Worlds. That being said, we’re still talking about a great game here and I think that the new mechanics etc. are definitely worth a look. I will recommend this game to anyone who never played A Link to the Past or has played the game and enjoyed it, those that didn’t should leave this one out.

-M

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