Unlimited Lives is dead. It never quite figured out what it wanted to be. On to the next thing, then.
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It’s funny how the faces of some games shine brighter, even on a tiny little screen.
After what turned out to be the relative disappointment of Ice Climber, I needed something that I knew I would enjoy, something that had never disappointed me no matter how many times I returned to it. Looking at the 8-bit offerings on display, my eyes kept flitting back and forth, back and forth…
The Legend of Zelda might actually be my favorite NES game of all time. Mere mention of the name triggers the “Overworld Theme” in my head, a miniature 8-bit symphony that can last for days. It’s the only game that I’ve played start to finish enough times to legitimately have a case that I’ve memorized it; I could tell you where the blue ring is, where every heart container is, which gravestone the old man with the magical sword is in, and so on. It’s a game I’ve been able to relax and enjoy while whipping through it, taking down dungeons and bosses like it’s my job, planting bombs on inconspicuous walls to find even the most hidden of treasures (though I do still have to pay the “door repair charge” on occasion).
My only real hiccup so far has been the sixth dungeon, in which the ever-despised Blue Wizzrobes took me for a ride after one of those walking gullets called Like-Likes took my fancy shield away.
As of this writing, I am on the 9th dungeon and looking for a Red Ring, a Silver Arrow, and Ganon himself. The 9th dungeon is something like the 1986 version of Ocarina of Time‘s famous and infamous Water Dungeon, a confusing and difficult slog through difficult enemies, passageways that lead to other passageways, and a factory’s worth of doors that require keys. It is a dungeon that reminded me of 8-bit gaming’s utter willingness to trap you in a place where your only means of escape is either suicide or the Reset button.
Yes, I forgot to dig the Master Key out of the eighth dungeon. Of course, I paid dearly for my oversight, reduced to stabbing an old man so his fire would slowly, painfully (shoot fireballs at me and) kill me.
Being trapped in The Legend of Zelda is a startling thing, given that it is largely an extremely open and forgiving game, full of fairies and potions and stray hearts all strategically placed in such a way as to keep you going and make sure you can stay alive and explore as much of the world is possible, almost at your leisure. Sure, it’s not really a good idea to go anywhere near the sword-throwing Lynels before you have a Magical Shield or a Blue Ring, but even that’s not impossible if you’re determined enough. That the game would actually physically keep me from progression due to an oversight on my part, well, I hadn’t experienced that since maybe 1987. Given the intricacy of the dungeon design elsewhere, it’s honestly pretty impressive that such situations don’t happen more often.
Pondering the difficulty of this ninth dungeon, it seems hard to imagine that Zelda‘s second quest could offer up a more difficult version. It occurs to me that for all the times I’ve played through the first quest, I have never actually beaten the second quest; as a purist who tries to refuse all outside help in solving a given game, the second quest has always eluded me. I have always given up before conquering it; putting as much work as I did into learning the first quest exhausted my capacity for adventure. I suspect I moved on to something else meaning to cleanse my palette, never coming back as I intended.
This realization reveals a hole in my Legend of Zelda experience, a hole that must quickly be filled.
Friday and Monday saw no less than three of my music reviews show up over at PopMatters, and I wasn’t a huge fan of any of them. On Friday, my review of UNKLE’s latest actually managed the suddenly difficult to obtain front page treatment, and I have to say, I kind of hate it. It’s split pea soup. It’s cake lying dead in spilt milk. The music is bland, and you know, it’s so hard to push a visual art style that features lots of nudity without coming off as juvenile, and I just don’t think they pull it off. The whole thing is just ridiculous. I had high hopes for Dan le Sac and Scroobius Pip based entirely on potential, but their disc didn’t turn out to be all that exciting, either.
Then on Monday my review of dancehall denizen Poirier showed up, and I didn’t like that stuff either. He has one mode — loud and in-your-face — and while there’s a place for that, it starts to feel like a sledgehammer to the skull after half an hour or so.
If it weren’t for the new Yeasayer disc, I’d start wondering if I even liked music anymore. Of course, the Yeasayer disc sounds like it could have come from the ’80s, but we won’t talk about that.
Things are much more normal on the gaming front — of course I loved 3D Dot Game Heroes — it’s Atlus, it’s retro, it’s almost exactly like an old Zelda game. I eat that stuff up. Of course, despite the fact that it’s the thirteenth entry in a major franchise, there’s very little that’s retro about Final Fantasy XIII, and I dug that too. I did writeups of How to Train Your Dragon and the first episode of the new Sam & Max series for the paper, and you know, they’re OK.
So there you go. Here’s hoping I manage to pick up a few CDs that don’t bore the hell out of me the next time I have to write about them.
This post needs some life. Play me off, Ben:
You know, some people really hate Roguelikes. Who knows why — maybe the thought of being subjected to brutal difficulty, combined with the knowledge that if you die you’ll lose all of your items and the experience levels you’ve accumulated, combined with the idea that you simply can’t practice the levels you’re playing because they’re randomly generated, combined with (*GAAAAAASSSSSP*) the idea that your entire raison d’être is to explore a dungeon, pick up items, and find stairs…well, okay, there are lots of reasons to hate roguelikes. Really, a badly-done Roguelike can be one of the worst experiences you can have in gaming, because if the sheer frustration of losing isn’t properly balanced by a well-implemented reward system, it’s basically masochism.
That said, it’s also a genre of gaming that features permanent death as one of its core concepts. There is no sitting down and deciding that “this time, if I die, that’s just gonna be it” — when you die, you lose all your stuff, and you’re kicked back down to being a level 1 weakling. In most cases, you may as well start over.This makes playing a Roguelike a very stressful experience. As you crawl through the dungeons and do some basic turn-based combat with some silly little enemies, the idea that you could walk into a trap is always with you. The next level of the dungeon might drop you into a room with five or six enemies, and if you don’t have a spell, or an escape hatch, or some serious weapons with which to deal with such a room, you’re dead. And then that’s it. The farther you get, the more this stress is compounded. If a Roguelike features 30 hours worth of dungeon crawling and baddie beating, the idea that you could perish at any moment becomes an awfully weighty proposition at hour 25. If you die at this point, are you really going to play for 25 more hours just to accomplish what you’ve already done? You almost have to put down the game for a while, erase it from your memory, and allow the traumatic experience of Roguelike death to fade for months, maybe even years at a time before you remember the good times and allow your existence to be eaten alive by one of these sadistic things again.
It’s no wonder this is such a niche genre.
That said, this may be the perfect time for a console Roguelike to be making its way to the market. Shiren the Wanderer was released for the Wii this week, and it comes at a time when people are still enjoying fond memories of the terribly difficult PS3 exclusive Demon’s Souls. This is an RPG that was getting game of the year type buzz from some circles, largely because of the sadistic, gleeful pleasure it took in beating the player down.
That said, I’m oddly disappointed by one of the options given to us by Shiren the Wanderer: that of an “easy mode”. Specifically, this is a mode that removes the perma-death element of the game, allowing the player to keep all of the items and levels that had been accumulated to that point.On some level, I’m entirely aware that being nonplussed by a game mode that I don’t have to play makes me kind of a selfish bastard. After all, what right do I have to be nonplussed in any way about a game mode I don’t have to use? The thing is, it’s there. I know it’s there, I’ll always know it’s there, and every time I die while I’m playing the game on “normal” (that is, the punishing you-better-not-freaking-die mode), I’m going to feel like a little bit more of an idiot for not playing it on “easy” when I start it up again. None of this is even to mention that even in “normal” mode, the punishment for having the nerve to die is less severe — you may lose all of your items and weapons, but you get to keep the experience levels you’ve accumulated. A little bit of good fortune and a lot of luck later, you can find some decent equipment in the less punishing dungeons and be right back to business.
Has Chunsoft done Roguelike fans a disservice by making Shiren a little bit more like the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games? It seems like a huge gamble to leverage the existing audience for a genre in service of attracting a new one; the new faces will see it as curiosity, while the genre’s fanatics will see it as betrayal. Whether this results in a net gain or net loss in audience remains to be seen, but by removing some of the most important elements of Roguelike play, Chunsoft has made Shiren the Wanderer more like a traditional turn-based RPG. With so many graphics-intensive, cinematic, and full-featured (not to mention less repetitious) RPGs out there, it’s suddenly hard to see a case for Shiren.
Of course, I’m only four hours in…and I haven’t died yet. More to come, undoubtedly.
What do you know, the blog’s back, just in time for the end of the decade. You know what that means…lots of reflections and recaps, before I get back into the business of current events. Seems as good a way to start as any.