Review by super_luigi16

"A Link Between Worlds Is Outta This World!"

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is perhaps the best Zelda I've played since Wind Waker. This game is better than Twilight Princess, better than Skyward Sword, better than Spirit Tracks, and better than Phantom Hourglass. Simply put, A Link Between Worlds is nearly the apex of top-down Zeldas—the penultimate level of maturity. It shows that the developers know exactly what they're doing and why they're doing it, and they know that they're going to love it. And, while A Link Between Worlds may be one of the “safer” entries into The Legend of Zelda series, it certainly knows how to upheave idiosyncrasies of Zelda that have been with us for decades.

The game does everything right; there's simply so little to criticize. It may not have a large world to explore, but it makes Hyrule (and Lorule) feel huge. It may not have the most complex dungeons, but they are still enjoyable and they can be completed in any order. The game may not be the most graphically impressive titles on the 3DS, but it has a graphical charm that I haven't seen since Super Paper Mario. A Link Between Worlds is a thoroughly excellent game, and it deserves every integer in its 9.5 score.

Beyond Magnificence: A Look at Hyrule (and Lorule)

A Link Between Worlds is a top-down Zelda, meaning that you look straight down on Link and the world around him. This is, I believe, the first time that Nintendo has used the top-down point-of-view since Four Swords and Minish Cap (don't quote me on this). While the top-down Zelda does feel a bit awkward at first, top-down is not a fault; it's simply another way of playing the game.

Anyway, many of A Link Between World's combat mechanics are very similar to other Zeldas. You have a sword, and you can buy, receive, or find a variety of other tools to make dungeon-crawling and overworld exploration much more manageable. However, a collection of tools that used to be truly yours are now only available from “rent” from Ravio, the traveling merchant. Ravio is very generous and will let you keep any and all tools that he lends you until you fall in battle. Furthermore, Ravio's tools are subject to a modified iteration of limited-use. In previous Zelda games, you had a “stock” of arrows or of bombs; in this game, you have a Ravio bar that will be depleted as you (over)use Ravio's items.

The overworld is divided up into pseudo-zones. I say “pseudo” because A Link Between Worlds is basically one gigantic world divided up into many “areas” that are different only in that the game quickly reloads when you traverse from one area to the next. In every other way, the world is dramatically interconnected and extremely easy to navigate with the help of your traveling witch. She will take you to any save spot (of which there are copious amounts) throughout the world so that you don't have to spend ten minutes trekking from the Zora Domain (northeast Hyrule) to the Southwest Desert or Kakariko Village.

Dungeons are scattered about the overworld, and they are relatively easy to access at any point in the game. It may take some elbow grease to gather all of the necessary components to access various dungeons, but there's literally nothing stopping you from going to any dungeon (barring the Desert Temple) immediately after the introductory dungeon.

The Beauty of a Comprehensive, Connected Overworld

A Link Between World's overworld is stunning. It might be small, but it is so densely packed with content that it's very easy to “thoroughly” explore a section and still miss collectibles or accessible areas. Furthermore, the developers did a brilliant job hiding these desirables, making you really search for their existence. For instance, when I started my first playthrough of this game, I played very slowly and still missed several Pieces of Heart that I only found upon playing the game again and exploring the areas with more trained eyes.

Moreover, A Link Between Worlds demonstrates that these puzzles don't have to be artificially thrown into the game. The overworld is wholly genuine. You don't feel cheated for not discovering something that you find later in the game or in another playthrough—it's simply something that the developers tucked away.

A Link Between Worlds density also means that many areas have content that you will only be able to explore once you have the necessary items. The backtracking is a little disconcerting (especially if you're like me and you like to go back to every area every time you get a new item), but it's made easier by one simple addition by the developers: the ability to place pins on your map. This means that you can mark, for instance, that inaccessible Piece of Heart that you noticed earlier. Backtracking is also made significantly easier by the ability to teleport throughout the map with the help of Irene, a witch who is indebted to you. She only lets you go directly to save spots, though.

The coherence of the overworld is also breathtaking. While Hyrule is obviously divided up into different sections (the Eastern Temple, Death Mountain, Kakariko Village, etc.), the map hardly distinguishes this incongruity. Rather, areas blend into one complete overworld, and there's significance to be found in each area, defined or not. It really feels like Hyrule is an actual place, not a quilt of fragmented dungeons.

And Lorule Only Makes It Better

“The Shadowy World” mentioned on the back of the box is Lorule: a mirror image of Hyrule. Basically, this separate world has its own dungeons, its own citizens, and its own enemies. Generally, Lorule can be thought of as “dark” Hyrule because the entire area is much more inhospitable. There are many connections between the two worlds, and they can be accessed with relative ease.

Although Lorule may be a mirror image of Hyrule, it is very different. After years of strife, Lorule has many quirks that make the world so much more… foreign. Lorule evokes such strange, conflicting feelings; it is reminiscent of our Hylian home, yet it is unsettling and eerie.

Emotional aspects aside, Lorule adds significant depth to the game. The attention to detail and finesse in Lorule is not quite as strong as it is in Hyrule, but the atmosphere more than makes up for this discrepancy. Furthermore, Lorule's dungeons are far more conniving and complex; they are even more inhospitable than the land itself. Nevertheless, being able to explore a second, more ominous Hyrule is a huge bonus. A Link Between Worlds makes full use of its name, and the game deserves to be lauded for this accurate punnyness.

Amazing Atmospherics

I know I alluded to this earlier, but I simply cannot say this enough; Hyrule actually feels like Hyrule! And it's not just the overall, “Look at Hyrule, look at how big it is!” type of feeling. Each and every section of Hyrule looks and feels like it was intended despite the soupy feeling of the entire world. The Lost Woods is mysterious but not necessarily foreboding, Death Mountain is uninviting and imposing, the Eastern Temple is sleepy and ancient, and the Southeastern Desert feels like its own world apart from the rest of Hyrule. In fact, each area, despite being so close to Hyrule Castle, is simply worlds away in terms of atmospherics.

And, as mentioned above, Lorule does a much better—seriously, it's fantastic—job of constructing these environments than Hyrule. This is not intended to belittle Hyrule at all. Lorule is simply awe-inspiring. It's scary how well the developers managed to build a mirror (dark) Hyrule with such startling effectiveness. The distinctiveness of each area is somewhat lessened by omnipresent darkness, but I haven't been this impressed by Zelda's ability to construct atmospherics since Twilight Princess (and Twilight Princess is second-to-none).

Oh, Nostalgia…

One last word on the overworld: A Link Between Worlds is not necessarily a sequel of A Link to the Past, but they sure are related. The two games have very similar maps, and Nintendo did an excellent job of both integrating the new and paying homage to the old. References to A Link to the Past are quirky, but the game doesn't stumble in its attempts to nod to its predecessors. Rather, those who understand the references will be delighted to see them while those who have not playing A Link to the Past will not be scratching their heads wondering why certain lines of text are there. This isn't nostalgia for nostalgia's sake (Re: Final Fantasy: All the Bravest)—this is nostalgia because it works.

Combat with a Punch, Gameplay with Pizazz

A Link Between World's overall gameplay system is rather traditional. To be honest, the developers really did not push themselves with regards to the gameplay or combat. Items are quintessential Zelda items. Enemies are familiar. Environments are not new. In fact, there are very few core mechanic changes to Zelda's traditional build in A Link Between Worlds. This obviously leaves one question to be asked and answered:

Is this a bad thing?

No, it's not. It really isn't. The reason why Zelda can “get away” with what is traditionally Zelda is because it works. The gameplay and combat are simply timeless, and A Link Between Worlds makes sufficient changes to save itself from criticism. The gimmicks are a bit… gimmicky, but they're not bad by any means.

Do I wish that Zelda would change it up a bit? Of course. A Link Between Worlds may not showcase Zelda's stagnation, but it's certainly there. The developers certainly could've experimented quite a bit more, and I'm disappointed that they didn't even make the effort. Nevertheless, the gameplay is still great.

Ravio's Bracelet

This is the major addition to A Link Between Worlds: Ravio's Bracelet. This little trinket—bestowed to you by none other than Ravio, the traveling merchant, himself—allows you to “merge” into walls and traverse them as if it were a canvas for your painting.

This has great implications for such a traditional Zelda construct. Dungeons and the overworld in general are no longer simply defined by what's laying around on the landscape; rather, they are also defined by what's on the walls of, well, nearly everything. The devil is in the details.

Moreover, the game makes fantastic use of the top-down viewpoint. Because such a view can disallow direct appraisal of walls, the game can make brilliant use of these walls to “hide” things. There are, of course, usually clues, but the sheer use—and abuse—of Ravio's Bracelet makes the game so dramatically different with regards to exploration. Ravio's Bracelet honestly engages a whole a different mindset within the player.

Combat rarely uses Ravio's Bracelet, but it rarely needs to. Bosses are as fresh as ever, and enemies are still fun to battle nonetheless. As I mentioned above, Zelda is timeless; no matter how little the fundamentals change, the combat still remains engaging, interesting, and exhilarating.

Other Changes

There are plenty of “other changes,” but this review only concerns itself with what is relevant. Firstly, the method by which items are used has been altered. Many items are not found within temples; rather, they are “rented” from Ravio. All but one of his items are available immediately after the first dungeon, and this makes the game very liberating—you can oftentimes tackle anything that you want in any order.

Ravio's items can be bought later in the game, but they all come with a stipulation whether they are yours or not: they have limited use. Rather than said limited use being defined by finite resources (e.g., a certain number of arrows for your quiver or a certain number of bombs for your, uh, bombs), all items are covered under what I like to call the Ravio Meter. The Ravio Meter depletes as you use any particular item, meaning that you must choose wisely and, most importantly, not spam bombs. The meter regenerates over time (rather quickly, might I add), so it's not as if the game is rendered significantly harder by the implementation of a meter rather than a tangible resource. It does make the game seem a little less genuine, though.

Other changes include the addition of various sidequests (the most notable being the Maiamai sidequest in which Mother Maiamai has lost 100 of her children), the presence of bees in the overworld, and a few weirder items/gear. These changes aren't really significant to the game, though, barring the sidequests.

A Surprisingly Intricate Storyline

Okay, A Link Between Worlds is not The Last of Us or anything, but it's certainly got some spunk. The storyline seems very traditional until about halfway through the game when the entire premise is turned on its head with the introduction of Lorule. Let's backtrack, though.

Link is the Blacksmith's apprentice, and he lives alone just south of Hyrule Castle. Link is late to his job yet again (oh how utterly relatable that would be if this weren't Zelda), but is saved from a scolding by the need to deliver a sword to the Captain. Upon finding the Captain at the Sanctuary, the Priest's daughter, Ceres, is kidnapped by an evil-lookin' dude, Yuga. From there, we start the traditional Seven Sages storyline in which the importance of various people across the kingdom becomes pivotal. As time progresses, Link's role as the hero becomes evident.

Lorule comes into the game shortly thereafter, and it is certainly a game-changer. A Link Between Worlds does a very good job of making the game seem like nothing special throughout the first few hours (trust me, it's still enjoyable and engaging to play), and Lorule comes as a huge surprise. The people within Lorule come to be the subject of even bigger plot twists later in the game, though.

A Link Between Worlds undoubtedly has a respectable story. It is strong on its own right. It's not as dull as other Zelda entries, but it's not as magnificent as, say, Majora's Mask.

Breathtaking

Overall, A Link Between Worlds surpassed all expectations. The game hit every note, and it strung every heartstring. The story's there, the gameplay's there, the combat's there, and the overworld is certainly there. A Link Between Worlds is undoubtedly the best game I've played on the 3DS as of the writing of this review. If you have the cash, you should definitely pick up this game. A Link Between Worlds lives up to its Zelda name, and, even if you aren't a huge Zelda fan, you will still enjoy this game. It's got a lot of charm—a lot of spunk—and it would be a shame to miss out on such an amazing game.

FINAL SCORE: 9.5/10 | EXCELLENT

Gameplay
+ Magnificent overworld.
+ Majestic dungeons.
+ Lorule adds a lot of depth.
+ Combat/Gameplay is as strong as ever.
+ Ravio's Bracelet is well-implemented.
- Could've used more experimentation.

Story
+ An effective cast of characters.
+ Lorule's characters offer surprising plot-twists.
+ Lorule is introduced well.
- Slightly one-dimensional beginning.

Graphics
+ Atmospherics are amazing.
+ Lorule is particularly true to the developers' intentions.
- Figures can be somewhat hard to see at times.

Music
+ It's Zelda music. Seriously—it's good.

Replayability
+ Decent sidequests.
+ Hero's Mode quadruples damage, adding replayability.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/25/13, Updated 12/03/13

Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (US, 11/22/13)


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