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‘A Link to the Past’s’ Mythological Structure

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Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past

It says quite a lot about the quality of the game that A Link to the Past’s contributions to The Legend of Zelda franchise are still, more or less, relevant to this day. While both A Link Between Worlds and Breath of the Wild took steps in pushing the series forward, denying A Link to the Past’s influence on the games that came before would be foolish. This was the entry that gave dungeons proper puzzles, started (but not yet solidified) the trend of dungeon items being used against bosses, and established the “Zelda Formula,” a structure which saw the majority of games being split into two key sections. Along with the many gameplay additions, A Link to the Past brought with it a more focused narrative that worked to expand the lore and mythology of the series.

While both The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link had a clear mythological identity, the first two installments’ faith felt more analogous to Christianity than the wholly unique religion found in the rest of the franchise. The Triforce clearly always played a divine role in the series, in both it how it was utilized in the first two games along with its appearance, but it wouldn’t be until A Link to the Past where the Triforce would be fully fleshed out into more than just a godly symbol. A Link to the Past establishes the Triforce as a tangible object rooted in divinity, coveted by all. It’s through the Triforce’s expanded role that the series gains adequate context for the conflict between Link and Ganon while also making A Link to the Past feel classically epic in nature.

More than anything, it’s A Link to the Past’s narrative structure which allows the game to properly establish a more focused mythos for the franchise. While Link is already on his adventure by the time players take control of him in The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link, A Link to the Past opens with a literal call to adventure, the first step in the Hero’s Journey. In the middle of the night, through telepathy, Princess Zelda calls for Link to come rescue her in Hyrule Castle’s dungeon. Upon being told by their uncle to stay inside, the player is then given control of Link and tasked with disobeying his mentor figure to rescue Zelda. Through spiritual aid, Zelda leads the player to the castle’s secret entrance where Link meets his now dying uncle who bestows upon him his sword.

A Link to the Past

Although Link’s Uncle is really no more than just a means of giving Link a sword as far as the gameplay is concerned, that doesn’t mean his minimal role isn’t impactful or devoid of thematic relevance. While there’s no emotional attachment in his death for the player, the act of passing his sword onto Link is quite ceremonial given the context. Despite not being in any true danger, Link proves himself by avoiding the guards, braving the storm, and finding a hidden passageway into the castle. The entire opening works in service of Link “earning” his sword. In The Legend of Zelda, he’s simply given it inside a cave while he begins with it in The Adventure of Link. A Link to the Past uses its introduction to establish a scenario where Link proves his worth and takes up his Uncle’s sword as his last will and testament.

From there, Link rescues Princess Zelda, escorts her out of the castle, and leads her to a Sanctuary where she takes refuge for the game’s first act. Now having rescued the Princess and inherited his uncle’s blade, Link is properly set out on his adventure to retrieve the three Pendants of Virtue so that he can wield the Master Sword and defeat Agahnim. It’s in leaving the Sanctuary to go about their quest that the player crosses the first threshold in the Hero’s Journey, properly beginning their adventure.

It should be explicitly stated that this threshold is for the player and not Link since the key difference signifying A Link to the Past opening up is the storm’s clearing. Realistically, Link would be familiar with a clear-skied Hyrule whereas someone playing the game for the first time wouldn’t. Worth noting, however, is that Link is still very much a blank state at this point in the series so, in a way, this first threshold still counts as far as Link’s arc is concerned since he’s less of a character and more of a vessel.

A Link to the Past

The order in which the three Pendants of Virtue are attained are also worth making note of as they lend themselves to a subtle arc of sorts for Link/the player. The first pendant Link is tasked in finding is that of Courage. Courage is a theme that will go on to play a large role as far as future iterations of Link are concerned so it’s only natural A Link to the Past kick off with Link proving his bravery. Although the Eastern Palace lacks elements that would traditionally test one’s bravery, it housing the Pendant of Courage still works as an extension of the opening.

Link proved his bravery earlier by entering Hyrule Castle swordless and then helping Princess Zelda escape at the expense of being labeled a criminal by Hyrule. Now, in a worse situation than he’s ever been in, he still agrees to help Zelda, braving a dungeon so that he can obtain the Master Sword and defeat a wizard terrorizing an entire country. The narrative doesn’t need to make a note of Link proving his bravery since the context of the adventure up to that point already does so.

Tucked away in the Desert Palace, the Pendant of Power actually does have some synchronicity with the actual gameplay. As the Pendant of Power, it’s natural to associate it with swordplay. Even though the dungeon itself doesn’t emphasize action any more so than usual, it is the third major dungeon in the game, (counting Hyrule Castle,) so players should be expected to have a better grasp of the combat by this point. Whether intentional or not, the Pendant of Power’s placement makes sense within A Link to the Past’s overall structure simply due to the fact that it gives players enough time to adjust to the combat and understand how to properly fend for themselves.

A Link to the Past

Of all the pendants, the Pendant of Wisdom at the top of the Tower of Hera feels the most appropriately placed in regards to context and dungeon. By this point in the game, players have taken on more than a few puzzles and should have a grasp of what A Link to the Past expects from them. This is reflected in the Tower of Hera’s main puzzle: obtaining the Moon Pearl. It is incredibly easy to miss the Moon Pearl and simply head to the Boss fight, but previous dungeons will have bestowed upon the player the wisdom to know and understand that Boss Keys serve dual functions. Not only do they open the door to the boss, they also open the dungeon’s biggest chest, giving Link access to a new item.

Once Link retrieves all three Pendants of Virtue, and ideally the Moon Pearl, he can then head into the Lost Woods to pull the Master Sword out of its pedestal. Scenery wise, the Master Sword could not be placed in a better location. Traversing a fogged, labyrinthine forest only to be greeted with a serene grove filled with animals is the perfect place for a legendary sword to sleep. It’s mystical in nature, surrounded by nature. The scenario is only made better by Link needing to transcribe the text on the Master Sword’s pedestal with the Book of Mudora before he can actually wield it. As the Japanese script reads:

“When the ‘Great Catastrophe’ befalleth, the ‘Hero’ carrying three crests shall come, and by those hands shall be drive out the sword. That person will be one who doth carry the blood of the Knight Family.”

The inscription itself adds a considerable amount of weight to the story up to that point. The Japanese text implies that the Great Catastrophe has begun in earnest and time has effectively run out, or is running out, to stop Agahnim. Should Link return to the Sanctuary after obtaining the Master Sword, the priest who was taking care of Zelda will reveal that he failed in keeping her safe before dying. As the Sanctuary was also one of Link’s spawn points when booting up the game, along with serving as a quick way to regain health, there is a substantial feeling of loss in the priest’s death, at the very least eliciting some sort of emotional reaction from the player if only one out of convenience.

A Link to the Past

Link storming Hyrule Castle to rescue Princess Zelda effectively signals the beginning of the end for A Link to the Past. Even with the Master Sword in hand, Link fails in rescuing the Princess, fails in stopping Agahnim, and fails in saving Hyrule. At the end of the boss fight with Agahnim, Link and the player find themselves at the lowest point of the Hero’s Journey. Not only have they failed, but they’ve also been transported to a separate world entirely: the Dark World.

A perversion of the lush and full of life Hyrule, the Dark World is a land rampant with monsters and desolation. It is a completely warped version of the overworld players have gotten used to for hours. In many ways, the Dark World is analogous to a journey through the Underworld for Link, a staple of classic storytelling. To make matters worse, should Link not have the Moon Pearl, he’ll take the form of a defenseless rabbit in the Dark World, preventing him from attacking and requiring him to use the Magic Mirror to go back to the Light World in order to grab the Moon Pearl from Hera’s Tower.

It’s only through that Moon Pearl that Link is able to retain his true form in the Dark World, allowing him to rescue the seven maidens Agahnim kidnapped so that he can finish his quest and save Hyrule. Depending on how the players takes Link’s loss to Agahnim in Hyrule Castle, the Dark World’s narrative can be seen as a prolonged atonement where Link makes up for his failure to prevent Zelda’s capture. As is to be expected from a metaphorical journey through Hell, the Dark World sees a difficulty spike all around. Enemies are more aggressive, puzzles aren’t as clear cut, and dungeons are substantially longer.

A Link to the Past

As Link rescues the maidens locked away in the Dark World, it’s revealed “the sacred land where the Triforce was placed” before Ganon took hold of the Triforce and corrupted the land into the Dark World. This context gives the Dark World an even more hellish personification since it’s confirmed, in text, to be a literal corruption of a sacred land. With this in mind, Link’s goal becomes more than just saving the maidens and stopping Agahnim. He’s now responsible for bringing balance back to the divine order of the world by stopping Ganon, retrieving the Triforce, and undoing his wish.

After rescuing all the Maidens, the road to the final step in Link’s Hero’s Journey takes him to Ganon’s Tower where he confronts Agahnim one last time only to learn that Agahnim and Ganon were one and the same the entire time. From a narrative perspective, this allows there to be a deeper bond between Link and Ganon before heading into the final fight. Ganon isn’t just a random villain showing up for the finale as he was actively working against Link the entire time, albeit disguised.

The actual final fight with Ganon is very mythological in nature since Link is required to use a mix of the Silver Arrows and the Master Sword to defeat Ganon. While also being a reference to the original Legend of Zelda, the silver arrows simply add another layer to the story’s structure. The Master Sword alone wasn’t enough to fell Ganon in Agahnim’s form so of course Link would require another mystical weapon to help finish the job. Link obtaining the Silver Arrows is even Arthurian in concept, requiring Link to toss his arrows into a Fairy’s pond within the Pyramid of Power.

A Link to the Past

Upon finally defeating Ganon, Link is welcomed into the Triforce’s chamber where it’s revealed that the Triforce “is the ‘Golden Power’ of the gods.” It can be taken for granted considering later games frequently make mention of the goddesses, but this is the first explicit in-game mention of Hyrule being a polytheistic world outside of A Link to the Path’s Japanese title, Triforce of the Gods. Not only that, it’s confirmation that multiple gods to in fact exist in The Legend of Zelda’s mythos. Fittingly, Link coming in contact with the Triforce fills the criteria for the Gift of the Goddess within the Hero’s Journey where the hero receives a reward for their actions. In this case, Link wishes for the world to return to the way it was before Ganon began terrorizing Hyrule, also fulfilling the criteria for the Hero’s return at the end of their Hero’s Journey.

Before the credits roll, the player is shown the result of Link’s wish. Characters who died come back to life, order is restored to Hyrule, and the Master Sword is returned to its pedestal, never to be touched again. While that last part is certainly debatable considering the chronology of the series and how future games link back to A Link to the Past, it doesn’t change the fact that A Link to the Past is mythological in structure from start to finish and that its structure contributed greatly to how future games would approach the series’ lore and narrative. It is a tale that is epic in its most traditional sense, giving players the chance to live out a Hero’s Journey all while establishing a mythological identity for The Legend of Zelda as a whole.

As Koji Kondo’s score plays over the credits, slowly easing into a rendition of the series’ main theme, it becomes abundantly clear that The Legend of Zelda’s mythos is more than just a few Christian references with mentions of a Triforce here and there. It’s a fleshed out, fully realized world with something meaningful to say. Whether it be about the nature of man or what it means to be a hero, A Link to the Past takes a serious attempt at expanding the Zelda lore and it does so spectacularly. A Link to the Past is a complete redefinition of The Legend of Zelda’s world, elevating the series to a new standard entirely. One rooted in myth.

An avid-lover of all things Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry, and pretentious French lit, Renan spends most of his time passionately raving about Dragon Ball on the internet and thinking about how to apply Marxist theory to whatever video game he's currently playing.

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Game Reviews

‘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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Games

‘Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ — A New Height to Survival-Horror

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Resident Evil 3 Nemesis

If we can forget that Nemesis was a poorly designed rubber goof in the Resident Evil: Apocalypse movie, we can easily state that he is the apex predator of the series. The follow-up to Resident Evil 2 had quite a few expectations to fill and, for the most part, Resident Evil 3 delivered. While not so much a fan-favorite as RE2, there was a lot to like about RE3. The return of RE‘s Jill Valentine, some new intuitive controls, and, of course, theNemesis.

RE3 marks the first time in the series where you are limited to one character – Jill. Through this, the story is slightly more focused and straightforward – despite the plot being all about Jill trying to leave Raccoon City. RE3 director Kazuhiro Aoyama cleverly sets in pieces of RE2 to make this work as both a prequel and a sequel. If you’ve never played RE2 – shame on you – you would not be able to scout notable tie-ins such as the police station. With a large majority of the building still locked up, Marvin Branagh, the wounded police officer who helps you in the second game, is still unconscious and has yet to give anyone the keycard which unlocks the emergency security system.

resident_evil_3_psx_marvin_branagh_by_danytatu-d812bgk-768x480

Where RE3 really shines is in its latest entry of Umbrella Corps. bio-engineered tyrants called Nemesis. The hulking tank brought a new dimension to the series, invoking more cringe-inducing terror and stress than ever. As if zombies and critters jumping through windows weren’t bad enough, now you have to worry about an RPG-wielding maniac busting through a wall and chasing you around the entirety of the immediate environment – and chase is certainly brought to a whole new level indeed. It became a running joke when you would encounter a handful of zombies, but could escape unscathed by simply running into another room. Nemesis, on the other hand, will continue his pursuit no matter what room you run into. At the time, this brought a whole new level of detail in the genre. Knowing that at any given moment he will just appear and will certainly derail whatever key or plot item you’re quested to look for made Nemesis a very intense experience.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror.

The gameplay also takes a few different approaches in this game. There will be moments when you encounter Nemesis, or certain plot occasions where you will be prompted to make a decision. It was a great alteration to the series, as it added new layers and weight for the player. Another addition to the gameplay came in the form of control although as minute as it sounds, is having the ability to turn a full 180 degrees – yes you read that correctly. Resident Evil quintessentially coined the term survival-horror, and survival certainly predicates the genre. There will be times – if not numerous times, you will run out of ammo. When those moments used to occur, you would have to make your character turn in the slowest fashion imaginable to make a run for the door and to safety. It was those moments back then that would pull the player away from the action. With the addition of the quick-turn ability- which was actually first introduced in Capcom’ Dino Crisis game – it gave the player the chance to just cap a few zombies and dash creating more seamless and dynamic gameplay.

resident-evil-Nemesis-768x402

The level design of Resident Evil 3 is grand, if not grander than RE2. A lot of the setting and scenery take place in the open air of the city and a few other places around the vicinity. RE and RE2 mostly took place indoors, and those settings helped create unique moods especially when it is all about tight corridors adding a more claustrophobic feel. Aoyama definitely went with a bigger setting and atmosphere in the follow-up. The game takes you through a police station, a hospital, a local newspaper office, a clock tower and a factory. More often than not, though, people tend to forget the scope and grandeur of RE3. Not to mention you can only… spoiler… kill Nemesis with a Rail-Gun at the end.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror. It took everything that it did so well in the previous titles and made it bigger and better. Nemesis encapsulated fear and dread in ways rarely experienced at the time. The scene where he popped through a window and chased players through the police station has always remained a nostalgic moment, much like anything that comes through a window in the RE series. In fact, a bit of advice for anyone playing the first-gen of RE titles: beware of windows.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 16, 2016.

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