Review by 21cDigitalBoy
"Finish the game? Naw man, I've still got stuff to do!"
When I was fourteen, I was a big fan of the Legend of Zelda franchise, even though I'd spent far more time watching other people play Zelda than I'd spent playing it myself. I owned a bunch of the games, but I usually didn't get far in them before my brother or my cousin would play them, and I'd print a strategy guide off of GameFAQs to read to them along the way. If I'm not mistaken, The Minish Cap was the first Zelda game which I ever played to the end, and was also the last Zelda game that I ever played.
Zelda is a virtually ubiquitous gaming franchise, so I won't be detailing the whole history of it here. Suffice it to say, it's a wildly popular franchise whose games are almost always at the tops of all-time best lists. The Minish Cap is the twelfth Zelda game, and was developed by Flagship, a subsidiary of Capcom which also made the Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons games for the Game Boy Color, and sadly no longer exists.
As far as Zelda games go, The Minish Cap is one of the less talked-about titles, and like every other game in the series, is a bit divisive amongst fans. Of course, in Zelda terms, less talked-about and a bit divisive means sold really well and got a bunch of awards.
I chose The Minish cap as my reintroduction to Zelda simply because I saw the cartridge on my shelf and decided to play it. I'd remembered it as a fairly short and easy Zelda game, and it sort of is, but for the most part, I remembered nothing about the game except that it's the one where you shrink.
Leaping right into it, the art in this game blew me away immediately. The Minish Cap creates beautiful environments not through how much detail it can pack into its pixel art, but through one of a kind style and design, which hinges on the bright and splendid color palette. It takes a world layout which is very similar to that of A Link to the Past and reinvigorates it through color and style.
Spectacular visual design contributes hugely to why The Minish Cap's world is so engrossing. A vital part of my willingness to continually return to each area in the game was that I genuinely loved being in that world.
And oh, did I ever explore the hell out of that world. I beat the Minish Cap to 99% completion over the course of two days, with some help from online guides to find some of the game's secrets. I actually held off on playing the final dungeon because I was so engrossed in getting all the heart pieces and weapon upgrades, and I had nearly all of them by the time I beat the game. I even beat the damn cuckoo-catching mini game, as well as beat the game and reloaded my save so that I could get the mirror shield and everything.
There were three heart pieces that I ended up leaving alone. After I found out about the light arrows, which I couldn't get because you have to get them before a certain point in the game, I lost a bit of spirit. What finally crushed me was spending an hour and a half trying to collect all of the figures in the game--a process which slowly broke my mind. I started seeing the figure room as a microcosm of the economy, and then of the world, and I started really hating the guy selling me the figures because I couldn't not keep reading little parts of his dialog that he says every single time, and eventually I decided this was bad for my mental health and finally stopped playing.
There are a ton of sidequests and extras in The Minish Cap, if I haven't made that clear. I think I spent forty percent of the twenty-plus hours that I played the game just doing side-quests. Every time I completed a side-quest or learned a new secret about the game's world, I became even more attached to it. The Minish Cap features a system called Kinstone Fusion, in which you collect kinstone pieces and match them up with pieces held by NPCs. Each fusion creates some kind of small change in the world, such as making chests and NPCs appear, or opening passages into hidden areas.
I love it when my actions in a game have a noticeable impact on the world around me. In Soul Blazer, I cared about the world because I'd personally put the effort into building it. Changing the world in Zelda isn't as intrinsically tied to the game's story, but its impact was deeply felt because of how familiar I was with the world. As part of the main questline, The Minish Cap naturally sent me back through places I'd been before, only now I had new equipment and could interact with those places in new ways. I saw the world very consistently, so every little change was immediately noticeable and exciting. It helps that some of those changes lead to a few of my favorite moments in the game.
Another endearing aspect of this game is, of course, its music, as is always true of Zelda games. I'll admit that I'm not often as into video game music as most gamers are, especially coming out of a GBA game, but it's hard not to enjoy the nostalgic tunes of Zelda. There were times when I got sick of the music, but only because I was playing the game for ridiculous ten-hour stretches, and my brain just needed a rest.
The aural double-edged sword in this game is less the music, though, and more the sound effects. The Minish Cap has a constant cacophony of sound effects, and most of them are very satisfying. It has that low-hearts alarm that I've always hated in Zelda games, but thankfully, I didn't have to hear that very often. Why then do I call this a double-edged sword? Because seriously, the effects are CONSTANT. Every time Link rolls or swings his sword, there is both the effect of the action, and a voice effect of Link grunting. Since rolling is a faster way to get around then walking, I was rolling pretty much at all times, and Link's voice started drilling a hole into my brain.
But I didn't hate this. I just got so used to it as a part of the experience that now when I listen to songs from the game, I can actually hear Link rolling around and breaking pots in my head, and it's just ever so slightly maddening. But would I trade this for less-satisfying sound effects on every little thing that I do? Hell no.
Satisfaction is in fact one of the things I'd call a Zelda tradition. The series knows how to make the player feel in control and like a badass for being good at it. I greatly appreciate that in this game, Link can swing his sword exactly as rapidly as I can press the attack button, so when I expose a boss's weak point, I can go absolutely buckwild on it. I love that squishy slicing sound when I land a hit, and how the boss is flashing colors, looking almost desperate as it's hit by my sword barrage. And Zelda has always known that after landing the final blow, I want to see that boss explode into a slimy mess.
Satisfying combat and a deep, immersive world create a foundation so strong that you could just have that and call it a game, but there's more to the Minish Cap than that, which is where the dungeons come in. Dungeons will throw all sorts of enemies at you, and there's no shortage of different ways to deal with them. I ended up using my sword on most enemies just because I love using it, and I'm too lazy to keep opening my menu and changing items, but this only meant that I was giving myself a bit more of a challenge, and I genuinely think that using the right weapons for the right enemies makes combat much easier, and that it's worth having so many options open to the player.
Dungeons are also home to a great deal of puzzles, whose satisfaction comes from those a-ha! moments that you get from figuring out what you're supposed to do. The game pushes you to really think about what you're doing with each puzzle, and continually utilizes most of your items throughout the game in new and unique ways.
The Minish Cap is not bereft of moments that pissed me off, though. There were at least two parts of the game where I really didn't know what to do, and ended up running around for twenty minutes before turning to the internet for answers. One of these moments was when the game wanted me to bomb and unmarked wall, even though up until that point, every wall that I'd needed to blast was clearly marked.
Yes, there was a nearby sign that said, no blasting, on it, but I thought it was talking about the area in general, which was a volatile mountain. And yes, in a Zelda game you're supposed to know that if there's two pieces of fence on either side of a piece of wall, you should put a bomb there, but I haven't played any Zelda in over five years, and I totally forgot about that. It seemed weird to me that such a veiled puzzle would exist in a game that otherwise usually didn't hide the solutions from you to nearly that extent, and it got me wondering if this was in here solely because this was a Zelda game, and in a Zelda game, these walls exist.
Like any Zelda game, The Minish Cap has a ton of throwbacks to its predecessors. The art style, enemies, and weapons come from The Wind Waker and Four Swords, the world layout comes from older 2D Zelda games, and there's a whole slew of old characters here, from the Oracles to Malon of Lon Lon Ranch, who even plays the first three notes of Epona's song each time you talk to her. These throwbacks are a lot of fun and a bonus to anyone who's a major Zelda fan, and they are unobtrusive, so that new fans can still appreciate the game. It's only a couple of instances, such as bombing an unmarked wall as a way to progress through the main story, when I wonder of breaking tradition a bit more wouldn't have been a good idea.
Another tradition that I'm not sure is purposely being carried out, though I'm starting to suspect that it might be, is that the water temple in The Minish Cap sucks. Now, it's been a long time since I've even watched someone play a Zelda water temple, but it seems to be generally agreed-upon that each game to feature a water temple becomes a pain upon its introduction.
The Minish Cap's water-slash-ice temple isn't really difficult, so much as it is boring. The puzzles were unintuitive, making you slide around on ice while bushing ice blocks, but in patterns that were easy to figure out. It is the only dungeon to feature one of the past bosses as a mini-boss, and it generally wasn't fun to play through. It also had easily the worst, most aggravating boss in the game.
The water temple was totally made up for by the awesome and truly challenging Wind Temple which came after it, though, which had easily the coolest boss fight in the game, so I'm willing to forgive and forget.
Altogether, I loved this game. Not knowing what to expect out of revisiting the Zelda franchise and with little memory of playing the game seven years ago, The Minish Cap caught me off-guard and totally blew me away. Right now, I'm definitely calling it my favorite Game Boy Advanced game of all time, and one of my favorite action RPGs.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/24/12
Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (US, 01/10/05)
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