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‘The Legend of Zelda’ – 30 years, 15 Reasons why it Stands the Test of Time

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What is there left to say about The Legend of Zelda?

Shigeru Miyamoto’s masterpiece laid the groundwork for almost every action-RPG that came after it, and it has become a staple franchise for Nintendo that is still going strong, 30 years later. When it was released, The Legend of Zelda was a first in so many categories. Not only was it an early example of open world and non-linear gameplay, but it also introduced a battery backup to save your progress. The Legend of Zelda is, without a doubt, one of the most influential games of all time, and one of the greatest games ever made. It was ahead of its time and it stands the test of time. Very few games can make that claim. Here are 15 reasons why I had just as much fun playing The Legend of Zelda once again three decades later.

Legend of Zelda NES

1- Legend of Zelda Gold Cartridge

While it was originally released for the Famicom Disk System in Japan, The Legend of Zelda arrived in North America a year later in 1987, and in a clever marketing ploy, Nintendo released the game on a gold cartridge. While the look of the cartridge doesn’t really enhance the game itself, just owning the gold version 30 years later makes the game feel even more special.

2 – Legend of Zelda Opening Theme

The Legend of Zelda has always been praised for its iconic music, and the original 8-bit version is no exception. Many of the iconic tunes originated from this title, and the opening track is a song that needs no introduction. Anyone who’s ever played on a Nintendo console over the past 30 years should instantly recognize the main theme from The Legend of Zelda. The title screen set the stage for the entire franchise, introducing the main theme song before even introducing the protagonist and the hero of the Hylian race, Link. The song was a sign of things to come, and 30 years later, Koji Kondo’s score can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

Listen to the track

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3- Characterization Through Music 

Koji Kondo’s formal techniques were quite revolutionary during the NES era, and despite severe technological constraints, he composed a soundtrack that appeared to be larger than what it really is. Koji Kondo is like a magician, and with the NES soundtrack for Zelda, he creates an illusion of variety when in fact he is simply repeating segments out of their original order. Every great villain has a great theme song to accompany them, be it the shark in Jaws, Darth Vader in Star Wars, or even Scar from The Lion King, and Ganon’s relentless, claustrophobic dungeon theme is one of the all-time greats of the 8-bit generation. Characterization through musical theme is perhaps the most important task a composer is given when creating a soundtrack for movies, a TV show or a video game, and Kojo Kondo understands this perhaps better than any other composer working in the medium.

Listen to the track

4 – Sound and Landscape 

The soundtrack for The Legend of Zelda is indeed short –  it is composed of only five tunes clocking in at about nine minutes total. My personal favourite track isn’t one of the two mentioned above – that honor goes to the song heard when exploring the overworld. Koji Kondo’s music was designed to capture the vastness of Hyrule, and for an 8-bit game, The Legend of Zelda is vast. When playing Zelda, it feels like embarking on a long journey, even if the game can be finished in less than six hours. Kondo’s bare-bones technique is admirable because he gets so much done without technological bells and whistles to prop up his music. In short, the Zelda soundtrack is one of the greatest video game soundtracks of all time, despite its simplicity. Sometimes less is more, and Koji Kondo understood what his technological restrictions were but didn’t let them stop him from creating something magical.

Listen to the track 

5 – Legend of Zelda Opening crawl

The Legend of Zelda opening crawl is one of the first truly great things about the game. While not an original concept (Flash Gordon the movie did it first), it made the concept popular for video games. The crawl’s prologue gives a quick explanation of the most immediate events leading up to the start of the story and introduces players to each of the weapons and other items you must find in order to successfully finish the game. While the text is crawling up the screen, Koji Kondo’s famous theme is heard in the background, setting the mood and stage for what is to come. The last words that appear on the screen advise the players to refer to the manual for more details, and anyone who’s ever finished The Legend of Zelda can say that they indeed needed the manual and/or some sort of online guide to help them navigate through Hyrule.

6- Exploration

Perhaps the greatest calling for the original NES title lies in how the game unfolds. From the impressive sprite work to the evocative music, it’s clear from the moment it starts that the game won’t be holding your hand. That is to say, the game provides no direction, and players can choose to explore Hyrule in whatever way they want. The Legend of Zelda introduced an open world adventure to gamers across the globe before that term had any meaning. The non-linearity of the game is what makes it so special, and even today most games give you, at least, the barebones of markers on the screen to help guide your way to the end. The Legend of Zelda instead allows players to decide what they want to do first, leading to some frustrating results if they arrive at a boss battle without the right weapon in hand. This is why above any other Zelda game in the series, the 8-bit version grants players more freedom, and those that enjoy exploration in its purest form will find no better experience on Nintendo Entertainment System.

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7- Hyrule

The Legend of Zelda was a very large game for its time and was one of the first games to utilize the MMC1 memory mapper, which allowed for the ability to use a battery pack so players can save their progress throughout the game without needing to enter passwords. When the game was released, it was as much an eye-opening experience for gamers as Super Mario Bros had been. Hyrule provides players with a vast area in which they can spend their time, fighting enemies, collecting rupees, searching for secret dungeons, and finding items to help them throughout their journey. By and large, Hyrule is your oyster, and exploring the overworld is just as fun today as it was back in the late 1980s.

8 – Sound Effects

The sound design in The Legend of Zelda is also worth noting. Regardless of the hardware limitations of the NES console, Koji Kondo’s sound effects are still used in every Zelda game to this very day. Every strike of Link’s sword, every use of his shield, and every time you open a locked door, a jingle creates a sense of accomplishment in the player. This helps the game not only immerse the player but adds an ambiance that makes the entire journey just a bit more nerve-wracking. Take for instance when you draw closer to the labyrinth’s boss: you’ll hear the sounds of the creature roar through the dungeon walls, and when Link defeats the dungeon boss and grabs a piece of the Triforce, players will hear the triumphant tune we’d come to know and love so well decades later.

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9- Legend of Zelda Nine Dungeons

The Legend of Zelda takes place in between the overworld and the 9 dungeons that populate the underworld of Hyrule. Ideally, you will want to complete each of the nine dungeons in a specific order, but because of the open world exploration, you’re likely to discover them out of turn. This might seem like a problem, and honestly, it can be if you arrive at a destination without a specific item, but this is also what gives The Legend of Zelda so much of its appeal. Finding the entrance to some of the later underworld dungeons can be challenging (and I won’t lie – you will most likely turn to a guide), but the sheer variety and endless options are just another reason this game has replay value.

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10- Dungeon Maps

The Legend of Zelda challenges players to find their way through nine dangerous and dark dungeons, and with each dungeon, it gets increasingly harder. The further you dig, the greater your rewards, and in the days of no internet, finding the map for each dungeon was crucial to finishing the game. I cannot stress how important these maps are, and while players can now turn to the world-wide-web for assistance, those of you who try to finish the game without the internet’s help will feel a great sense of accomplishment once it is over. Every dungeon has a dungeon map hidden in one of its rooms, and finding these maps is just as fun and rewarding as defeating the dungeon bosses.

Zelda NES manual

11 – Difficulty

The difficulty in Legend of Zelda varies. If you have intimate knowledge of series you can speed through it in less than a day. At the beginning of the game things run pretty smooth, provided you entered the first cave and acquired the sword right from the start, but as the story unfolds, things become increasingly difficult. Once you obtain all the power-ups and sword upgrades, it’s not too hard, but if you are missing an item, you can quickly find yourself overwhelmed in several dungeons. It’s no wonder that the original Zelda came with one of the earliest strategy guides because without it the game is actually incredibly tough to beat. Top this all off with a more difficult and devious second quest, and you have a game full of replay value.

12 – Legend of Zelda Speed Runs

Speedruns aren’t just about setting records; speedruns are artistry. Not only do they demonstrate complete mastery over a game, but they discover new ways to beat the game that not even the creators of the game knew existed. The Legend of Zelda is so versatile that sequence breaking and speed runs are still popular amongst the gaming community. Half the fun of watching comes from listening to runners discuss the glitches, exploits, and tricks they need to rely on to shave a few milliseconds off the clock. And while it’s exciting to listen to them set new world records, some speedrunners are more emotionally invested in the task, and for them, it’s not about records, but about personal accomplishment. Watching a player finish the game without a sword, a shield, or with only three hearts is exciting stuff. These self-imposed challenges give even the best players a reason to play the NES classic again, and again.

13 – Items

Over the course of the story, the player grows their inventory to include several items, many of which have become reoccurring tools in every game in the series thus far. As for the items, there is not one that doesn’t get used. Every single one of them, be it the bombs, arrows, magic wands, boomerangs and so on, are all important when strategically dispatching enemies. Candles are useful for burning bushes to discover underground caves and lighting up dungeon rooms, while the whistle is useful for getting around the overworld. And don’t forget the Silver Arrow, because, without it, you cannot beat the game. Besides the simple fact that every item is recommended when completing the game, The Legend of Zelda‘s hidden secrets is just that – secrets. Unlike some modern Zelda games, the original refuses to lend a helping hand. This game is full of the unknown, making the thrill of discovery all the more satisfying.

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14 – Enemies

The Legend of Zelda offers a variety of enemies, sporting about 40 different foes for our young hero to battle. Furthermore, 6 of the 7 bosses return as mini-bosses later on in the game. Blue Darknuts and Blue Wizzrobes are particularly menacing in later levels, and tektites and goriyas will frustrate you throughout, but none are as great as Ganon himself, who transports around the room while invisible. Link must avoid attacks and swing the Magical Sword at Ganon several times. In order to do this, the player must study Ganon’s pattern and strike him. After he is hit a few times, Ganon will turn red and be paralyzed, but in order to defeat the King of Thieves, you will need to shoot him with a Silver Arrow to finish him off. Of all the 8-bit bosses in the NES library, Ganon remains the most memorable. He’s a character that is shrouded in mystery for the entire game, and the final battle with Ganon is the stuff of legends.

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15 – Presentation

Last but not least is the look of The Legend of Zelda. Since its arrival in 1986, the Zelda series has always pushed at the technical boundaries of whatever console it has graced. The Legend of Zelda plays from an overhead, birds-eye view no different than say, the early Final Fantasy games, and while some will say it is extremely dated by today’s standards, it has a certain charm to it. In fact, I would argue the game looks gorgeous thirty years later. With little more than a 16-pixel square grid and the Nintendo Entertainment System’s limited colour palette to play with, Shigeru Miyamoto and his team of designers managed to create a now iconic character, Link. The first Zelda provided the overall look for the hero, which has barely changed since, but it also provided the look of the entire series, from Ganon to Zelda and everything in between.

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The Legend of Zelda can be cruel and often bewildering. However it’s also mysterious and beautiful, and every accomplishment you make in-game, no matter how small, is legitimately satisfying. The Legend of Zelda has aged surprisingly well thanks to a brilliant soundtrack, creative visuals and masterfully layered adventure. The Legend of Zelda serves as the foundation of many modern adventure games, introducing now-basic concepts like dungeon maps, utility equipment, and boss formulas that we still see used today. It’s unapologetic in its open world approach, however, the lack of hand-holding might be what makes it great.

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Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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From ‘dnd’ to ‘Death Stranding’: Good Old Fashioned Boss Fights

If Death Stranding proves anything, and it does, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.

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Death Stranding Higgs Boss Fights

There’s nothing quite like a good boss fight. With the creation of dnd in 1975– a Dungeons & Dragons inspired RPG for the PLATO system– video games would be introduced to bosses. It’s hard to imagine the medium without bosses, those perpetual protectors of progress. For dnd, an incredibly primitive RPG, a boss allowed the game to feature these miniature climaxes — memorable events independent of the core gameplay loop. Bosses demand players pay attention or die, and beating one is a triumph in and of itself. Looking back, dnd’s concept of what a boss is amounts to little more than the average random battle, but video games could now build towards emotional highs like any other medium. 

A good boss can make or break a game, but they’re almost always a given. dnd essentially set an inherent basic of game design: video games have bosses. As the seventh generation of gaming ushered in more narrative driven and “cinematic” titles, however, boss design fundamentally changed. Where bosses had evolved from dnd to often serve as explicit rewards or a means to thoughtfully challenge a player’s grasp of the core mechanics, developers started to primarily embrace the “spectacle” of fighting a boss. 

Spectacle and boss fights naturally go hand in hand, though. After all, a boss is spectacle in nature. dnd’s spectacle is comparatively primitive, but it’s there and bosses do feel like events. Boss fights have always demanded our attention as an audience, isolating the world of a game into a singular objective. Some of the best bosses in gaming are almost pure spectacle: Baby Bowser in Yoshi’s Island, Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, and Metal Gear REX in Metal Gear Solid. None of these bosses are particularly hard, but they make up for their lack of challenge with scale, scope, and gravitas. Spectacle. 

At the same time, they engage with the mechanics of the game even if they don’t outright challenge them. Of course, it would be disingenuous to go on without mentioning that all of these bosses appear near the end of their respective games. They’re easier and focus on spectacle as a means of rewarding the audience for coming so far. Anyone who’s played A Link to the Past in full will likely remember Moldorm as vividly as Ganon, but it’s the latter who fans will remember. Ganon is a spectacular duel to the death inside of a pyramid where the environment changes over the course of the fight. The former is just a good old fashioned boss fight. Who wants that?

As it turns out, a good chunk of AAA developers. BioWare director Casey Hudson infamously spoke out about boss fights after the release of Mass Effect 3, criticizing them for being “too video gamey.” While, contextually, Hudson’s comment refers to narratively convenient bosses specifically, it’s a sentiment that clearly rang true with developers throughout the late oughts & teens. This isn’t to say games with amazing bosses didn’t release over the course of the decade -– very far from it -– but boss design has changed, to the point where the Iggy Koopas and Revolver Ocelots of the world seem almost out of place. 

That’s just a consequence of consuming only AAA content, though. The indie scene has been thriving, and Japanese game development is the best it’s been in quite a while. In a generation where gaming is more mature and grounded than it’s ever been, the medium needed to end the decade with a reminder of video games in their purest form. Death Stranding is anything but, but its core philosophies play to the strengths of the medium with an evident passion. Death Stranding demands that audiences slow down and play by the game’s rules. 

In a generation where holding a player’s hand is the norm, this is a welcome breath of fresh air. It’s not only appropriately old-school, it’s a step back in the right direction. Like any facet of game design, bosses need to be thoughtfully considered. Being “too video gamey” can indeed be a bad thing depending on a titles tone, but swinging in the wrong direction and playing it too safe is never a good idea. Especially since Death Stranding proves mature, grounded AAA titles can absolutely still have the same over the top, pattern-based boss fights of yore — and comfortably, at that. 

“No BTs. No Voidouts. No bullshit. Just a good-old fashioned boss fight.”
– Higgs, Death Stranding (2019)

What’s interesting to note about Death Stranding’s boss fights is that they all play up the spectacle. Now, given the context that’s been established, that might seem like a step in the wrong direction, but any medium has to evolve with time. AAA developers haven’t historically used spectacle well, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Not every boss should be Ganon, but they should always be memorable. The problem with modern spectacle is that it doesn’t go beyond the surface level. It often carries little to no weight or context. Players are expected to care for the spectacle of the spectacle, but that’s simply not where the medium shines. Games are inherently about interconnectivity, and nothing demands more interconnection than a boss fight. 

From the moment players formally meet Higgs and he floods Port Knot City, it’s clear that Death Stranding’s boss fights are more Snake Eater than they are Peace Walker. They’re all incredibly meaty with tons of health, typical of a modern Hideo Kojima boss, but they’re not bullet sponges, and Sam’s limited inventory means that players will constantly be cycling through different weapons over the course of a fight. Couple this with bosses having identifiable patterns and Death Stranding’s boss loops end up being real highlights. 

As expected of a first boss, the Squid BT is on the simple side. At this point in the game, Sam really only has hematic grenades to fight back with. Anyone who hasn’t taken the time to learn how to use the grenades are now forced to do so as it becomes the only means of making progress. Since Higgs also ambushes Sam, players won’t be prepared for a fight on their first playthrough, forced to scavenge the flooded environment for gear. Most bosses strip Sam of his gear, but this approach only results in tense, well crafted battles that offer plenty of variety. Should Sam already have grenades on him, players can rush in to fight the Squid. Should they not, however, they’re going to have to search while staying alive. 

Starting with the next boss, the first fight against Cliff, Death Stranding begins allowing players to choose exactly how they approach a fight. Much like in Metal Gear, there’s no right or wrong way to tackle a boss. Where bosses in MGS2 onwards could be tackled lethally or non-lethally, Death Stranding’s bosses are more about action versus stealth. Both approaches are totally viable, and they lead into their own isolated boss loops. As Cliff Unger hunts Sam through World War I era trenches, players can stealth their way around him or just dive in guns blazing. 

It’s an incredibly tense battle, but it doesn’t let the spectacle of the situation outdo the actual fight. Cliff isn’t a set piece even if he looks it. He’s a genuine boss and players have to play well to beat him. Stealthing around to hit him from behind is safer, but it means players will be fighting Cliff for much longer, requiring more mental stamina. On the flip side, cutting to the chase and unloading the moment he rears his head will end the fight sooner, but only for players who know how to get in & out of combat fast. Otherwise, Cliff’s personal army will slaughter Sam. 

Cliff is fought twice more over the course of Death Stranding, and each encounter builds off the last. The World War I trenches provided plenty of cover for players regardless of which approach they chose, so naturally the second fight takes place in a World War II city. There’s still plenty of hiding spots, but Sam is now out in the open. Just as easily as Sam can see Cliff, so can he be seen. Getting to Cliff is harder in general. Stealthing towards him means taking advantage of any and all blind spots, no matter how brief. Starting a gunfight either requires some pre-established course of action or quick reflexes. 

Death Stranding

By the third and final fight, Sam is taking on Cliff in an open Vietnamese jungle. Stealthing through and fighting back are both harder, but players will have built up the proper skills over their past two fights to adequately stand a chance. The fights against Cliff are the most video gamey Death Stranding ever gets, with each one sharing the same definable patterns, but they’re ultimately a net positive for the game. Having to learn a pattern, finding a way to fight back, and reveling in the scope of a great boss fight makes Death Stranding better on a whole. 

Honestly, the final fight against Cliff isn’t going to be a challenge for most players, but it’ll still stand out as a highlight. Each boss fight is a playground in and of itself. If Sam’s not being transported to a secluded battlefield, areas will be flooded with tar so that they can be molded into proper boss arenas. Even Dark Souls, a modern series that rightfully prides itself on its bosses, often won’t give the same level of care toward boss arenas. Good bosses need good level design just as much as they need good patterns. 

Perhaps more important than anything else, Death Stranding’s boss fights are long. Even if players know what they’re doing, they still have to endure an endurance match of sorts. Boss fights aren’t just about overcoming a challenge, they’re about surviving and making progress. Cliff’s not particularly difficult, but one mistake can result in Sam getting torn into. The majority of BT boss fights will try to overwhelm the player in the second half, the final one even featuring a nasty one-hit-kill that can easily sneak up on players wading through tar. Bosses should feel like events, from how players can engage mechanically, to how they’re presented narratively. 

No discussion of Death Stranding’s good old fashioned boss fights would be complete without mentioning the boss fight: Higgs. After serving as the game’s main villain for dozens upon dozens of hours, Sam finally gets his chance to fight back in a three phase boss fight that could have (very) prematurely ended the game on a high. Unlike the fights against Cliff, Sam really does have nothinghere, no matter what. He’s stripped of his gear, his weapons, and even BB. “Stick versus rope. Gun versus strand.” It’s a great way not only to wrap up Higgs’ arc, but it also challenges a player’s mastery of the most basic mechanics. 

Death Stranding

Phase 1 of the fight requires players understand not only Sam’s hand to hand combat capabilities, but his ability to throw packages. Throw a package at Higgs, beat him up, rinse, repeat. All the while he’s hunting Sam in one of the most constricted boss arenas in the game. Popping up too early means taking a few shots courtesy of Higgs. Popping up too late means needing to find him all over again. 

Phase 2 puts Sam on the offensive, and expects players to fight back with his strand. Higgs needs to be countered, hog-tied, and then kicked into oblivion. On-screen button prompts make the ordeal easier than it would otherwise be, but it’s thrilling to fight a boss who requires players to pull off reflex-based inputs that go beyond the typical QTE flare. Players need to set themselves up accordingly to counter Higgs, actively taking him head on. 

By the time fighting game health bars pop up for the third phase, it’s fairly obvious Higgs’ boss fight is a love letter to the very concept of the boss fight. It’s over the top, almost nonsensical, but it has the right narrative and emotional context to stand out as one of the best moments in an already spectacular game. The fight against Higgs is a miniature climax in a massive story that spans half a hundred hours, and is about to keep on keeping on for half a dozen more. 

Death Stranding

When it really comes down to it, there’s no right or wrong way to conceive a boss fight. Those spectacle bosses have their place, and this generation has seen a lot of amazing ones. What’s important is that developers build and contextualize spectacle accordingly. Boss fights aren’t just an inherent part of gaming, they’re a tool that can make a title better. Opportunities to shine light on the core mechanics, or an interesting aspect of game design. Death Stranding’s penultimate mission essentially pits Sam against a boss gauntlet across the entire UCA, a last chance for players to really indulge in everything at their disposal before the grand finale. 

Death Stranding would still be good without its boss fights, but it certainly wouldn’t be great. Each one elevates the game, not only by presenting a visually memorable and mechanically engaging challenge, but by existing as natural consequences of the story. Each boss is contextualized properly with enough weight where each victory has a considerable amount of impact. Boss fights have come a long way since dnd, but they’re recognizable for what they are: a reminder that games are games, and the medium should be embracing those video gamey elements. It’s through this “video gameyness” that the most memorable titles are made. If Death Stranding proves anything, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.

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‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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