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How ‘Spirit Tracks’ Disrespects ‘The Wind Waker’s Story

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“Ah, but child… That land will not be Hyrule.”

At its core, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker’s story is about moving on from, and letting go of, the past. Every narrative beat in The Wind Waker serves to lead up to the moment where Tetra claims she’ll found a new Hyrule only for King Daphnes to effectively tell her to let go of the idea of a “New Hyrule.” There can never be another Hyrule nor should there be. Hyrule’s legacy deserves to be washed away as Hyrule is ultimately not the grand takeaway from The Legend of Zelda as a franchise. The series can exist independent of Hyrule, which is ultimately the lesson The Wind Waker is imparts.

It can be argued that later entries in the series immediately rejected the notion that Hyrule does not necessarily need to be a series staple as Four Swords Adventures, The Minish Cap, and Twilight Princess all set themselves in the familiar kingdom, but no game directly contradicts The Wind Waker’s message. At the very least, there is some justification in why each title is set in Hyrule unlike in The Wind Waker’s distant sequel, Spirit Tracks.

Four Swords Adventures models itself heavily as A Link to the Past; The Minish Cap is a distant prequel to the Four Swords duology along with the series proper, necessitating it take place in Hyrule; and Twilight Princess deliberately contrasts The Wind Waker along with paying tribute to Ocarina of Time. Spirit Tracks, on the other hand, does not take place in Hyrule as the audience knows it, but in a new land called “Hyrule.” Conceptually, it’s different enough in both lore and geography to give it an identity of its own, but the mere fact that the kingdom is named “Hyrule” is in itself a major issue.

Spirit Tracks train

At the end of The Wind Waker, Link and Tetra set out past the Great Sea to find a new kingdom of their own, one that can serve as a jumping off point for a post-Hyrule world. Phantom Hourglass, which stars the same Link as The Wind Waker along with featuring Tetra, takes place at some point during their quest before they can find a new kingdom. Come Spirit Tracks, Phantom Hourglass’ follow up, and it’s revealed that Link and Tetra eventually found their own kingdom, naming it “Hyrule” in the process.

The problem with Spirit Tracks, unlike with Four Swords Adventures, The Minish Cap, or Twilight Princess, is that its version of Hyrule directly opposes The Wind Waker’s ending and main theme. Daphnes’ death in The Wind Waker is intrinsically tied to the idea that Hyrule as a concept is unnecessary. Choosing to drown with Hyrule is a symbolic gesture, one meant to push the narrative of moving on from the past. He even specifically counters Tetra’s desire for a new Hyrule by telling her that no kingdom other than Hyrule can be Hyrule.

For Tetra and Link to christen their new kingdom “Hyrule” after Daphnes specifically told them, with his last words, that no kingdom could or should replace Hyrule, is Nintendo spitting on The Wind Waker’s message. It shows a complete lack of understanding of both The Wind Waker’s narrative and themes. What is particularly frustrating about the Spirit Tracks taking place on a pseudo-Hyrule is that it is Hyrule in name only, meaning that naming it such was ultimately completely unnecessary.

Spirit Tracks Link and Tetra

New Hyrule’s landscape centers itself around the Lokomo, a rather alien concept for the series that focuses on steam trains. Aesthetically and narratively, Spirit Tracks very much has an identity of its own. The game even has a unique backstory completely disconnected from both The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass. There is no logical reason as to why Spirit Tracks needs to take place in a kingdom named “Hyrule.” In fact, while its setting is far more original than other post-TWW Zelda games, it comes off far worse than the titles that preceded it.

Twilight Princess in particular is seen as having a mostly derivative world, relying quite heavily on Ocarina of Time. At the same time, it mirrors itself after OoT on a very deliberate level. It understands that it is paying tribute to Ocarina far more than it perhaps needs to and revels in that fact. There is a clarity on Nintendo’s part when it comes to why Twilight Princess, as a video game, is the way it is. The same praise, or understanding, cannot be extended towards Spirit Tracks.

Spirit Tracks wants it both ways. It wants to be a sequel to The Wind Waker that moves past Hyrule while also being a sequel to The Wind Waker intent on reminding the audience that Hyrule’s legacy will never, ever die. This isn’t to say that The Legend of Zelda needs to abandon Hyrule altogether simply because The Wind Waker’s story urged players to move on from the past and any direct sequel to The Wind Waker must respect that fact.

Spirit Tracks

While not ideal, it isn’t all that big a deal for The Minish Cap and Twilight Princess to take place in Hyrule. Their stories do not impact or reference The Wind Waker in any capacity whereas Spirit Track’s entire existence hinges on the events of a post-Wind Waker world. Spirit Tracks actively disrespects both The Wind Waker and Daphnes’ death by taking place on a new continent named after the sunken kingdom.

A major theme of The Wind Waker was the acceptance that Hyrule’s legacy was largely irrelevant. The Hero of Winds was not the Hero of Time, but he still stopped Ganondorf; Tetra was not the typical Zelda, but she was the first incarnation of the princess to fight alongside Link in the finale; and the Great Sea was not Hyrule, but it still offered a gameplay experience that was very much in line with the rest of the franchise.

It would be wrong to say that “Nintendo doesn’t understand that Hyrule isn’t integral to the Zelda experience” as The Wind Waker contradicts such a claim. Nintendo knows Hyrule isn’t necessary; that’s the whole crux of The Wind Waker’s plot. Rather, they chose to ignore that idea in favor of blatant pandering. Spirit Track’s “New Hyrule” has no meaning. It has no legitimate content. Anything worthwhile that could be potentially gleaned from this new land is obscured by little more than fan service. Where The Wind Waker was bold enough to separate itself from the series’ past, Spirit Tracks is too cowardly to live up to its predecessor’s promises in earnest.

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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1 Comment

  1. Onilink303

    October 2, 2018 at 6:55 pm

    So I have a counterargument here. The thesis primarily concerns the integrity behind the continuity of The Wind Waker’s epilogue as something that Spirit Tracks doesn’t uphold to. I think that’s only partially true. Your basis behind this is the inherented namedrop of the word Hyrule without so much as assessing the meaning behind its historical relevance to whatever time period/era where the name Hyrule is applied to.

    For starters the term “Hyrule” (according to A Link to the Past) is etymologically derived from the Hylians, who in turn were named as such due to their roots being linked to Hylia according to the Hyrule Historia. Yet in much of a similar fashion as to how Spirit Track’s namedrop of Hyrule has no historical pertinence to the Hyrule up to Ocarina of Time (no mention of the Hero of Time, etc), neither does Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule or any post Skyward Sword Zelda title’s Hyrule, barring Breath of the Wild, have anything to do with Hylia’s influence on the kingdom’s foundation because it’s either irrelevant, distorted, or forgotten history in the context of modern Hyrule.

    The namesake of the land in whichever era is simply as A Link to the Past says is tied to the lineage of the Hylian race that initially occuppied it rather than the historical influence of the Goddess Hylia who initially governed it. The Wind Waker’s Zelda, Link and the other settlers are Hylian descendants that went on to discover a new continent and aptly named it Hyrule because of there lineage as Hylians rather than naming it as such to carry on the memory of old Hyrule, which is likely what Nintendo was aiming to convey.

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

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Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

“[Earthnight is] an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Death Stranding’

What makes Death Stranding the most important game of the year is how it has managed to divide gamers and critics alike.

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Death Stranding

2019 has been a banner year for gaming. With some excellent original properties making their debuts and a ton of great sequels, there’s been something for everyone and a lot of it. Still, with all of these amazing games to play, only one of them stands out as the most important game of 2019, and that’s Death Stranding.

Now, please note, I said “most important” and not “best”. Death Stranding is far from a perfect game. As my own review pointed out, Death Stranding has a lot of problems, and some of them are so egregious that they could be described as anti-fun. However, what makes the game stand out from its peers is the sheer scale and awe-inspiring hubris of its creation.

For the first (and possibly last) time, Hideo Kojima has been given a total carte blanche of creative freedom and financial resources to make whatever game he wanted. With Sony footing the bill, Death Stranding is maybe the most Kojima game ever made. Unfortunately, like some prog rockers and experimental filmmakers, Kojima could have well done with some reigning in this time around.

Death Stranding

Still, what makes Death Stranding stand out so much from the competition is that it really is almost nothing like anything you’ve ever played. The game is basically a delivery sim where you must cross an apocalyptic wasteland of America and battle a bunch of ghosts along the way. What caused America to fall, and where these ghosts came from, is still relatively unclear even after all of the overwrought explanations that punctuate the end of the game.

Of course, Death Stranding isn’t so much concerned with why and how these events came to be as it is with the experience of living in, and dealing with, them. This is the one game you’ll play this year that will balance out self-serious moral and religious philosophy with chucking literal piss bombs at ghosts and chugging Monster energy drinks.

Yes, Death Stranding has all of the classic Kojima staples. From egregious product placement to a never-ending stream of increasingly tragic backstories, all the hits are here.

Death Stranding

However, what makes Death Stranding the most important game of the year isn’t so much its utter weirdness as a AAA title but how it has divided gamers and critics alike. While some have slathered it with never-ending praise and perfect scores, others have labeled it “a very lumpy game” or “damaged goods“.

Few games, especially in the AAA space, are able to elicit such divergent responses from their audience. Fewer still are peppered with major actors like Norman Reedus and Lea Seydoux in painstakingly rendered motion capture. For these reasons and more, Death Stranding will be debated in critical circles for years to come, and if that’s not the mark of a game that stands out, then nothing is.

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