imageThe Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds was the best Zelda game in a decade.”

This is how Killscreen’s review of Triforce Heroes begins. A review that is already titled “The Legend of Zelda, now 75% less interesting”. From the get go I have to ask myself why I’d read such a piece.

Oh, right, Internet headline grabbing. You are doomed to draw in those that adamantly disagree, those that are seeking validation for their pre-purchase judgment of a product, and those that are curious how Nintendo could have “screwed it up so badly”. The opening line just allows you to know where the writer sits in regards to their feelings of the franchise.

The problem is that such a declarative opening line as that needs to be backed up in some fashion. Do you at least have Metacritic scores? Why was it the best in over a decade? In what way did the others fail? Is it the best Zelda game, or is it the best Zelda game? How do you quantify the latter, particularly when the two-dimensional entries vary in gameplay mechanics from the fully 3D ones? How do you determine the former? What metrics are being used here?

What follows is an analysis that may as well be summarized as “I hate playing with other people”.

Or perhaps the real issue is their interpretation of Triforce Heroes’ purpose.

If Heroes is meant to be a corrective to the lonely nature of Zelda

Author Erik Fredner first assumes that the purpose of Triforce Heroes is that it is a correction. If this is to be a correction, can it then be assumed that Nintendo’s intent is to replace the traditional Legend of Zelda formula with co-operative experiences? If they are, then E3 is going to reveal some fascinating new features of The Legend of Zelda WiiU. Of course, Erik himself draws comparisons to the earlier release of Four Swords Adventures, a multiplayer Zelda game that certainly didn’t overtake the standard Zelda template. I see no reason to assume this is any more a corrective than Four Swords Adventures or Hyrule Warriors.

It does, however, establish the author’s feelings. Creating a Zelda game that “must” be enjoyed with random players over the Internet is at conflict with his desire to play a Zelda game solo.

From the get go, before he even has a chance to really make his case, Erik fails in providing a proper review of Triforce Heroes. If it is to be consumer advice, then he is only providing suitable advice for those that share his stance on the game. People that, if you cannot play with friends on the couch, you’d rather play solo. In regards to Zelda games, at least. As a proper academic critique, it is just filled with too many assumptions and subjective statements to stand up to proper scrutiny.

Scrutiny such as my own!

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The puzzles in Heroes are, in a word, obvious, and that insult stings a lot worse when the only thing keeping you from solving it is the people you’re stuck playing with.

This is a curious statement, and once again subjective. In what way are the puzzles obvious? Is it different than any Zelda game prior? In fact, is it truly any different from A Link Between Worlds in its dungeon design? Aside from requiring two additional players, that is. If Nintendo and Valve have anything in common, it is over how vigorously they test their puzzles and levels to ensure that players do not get stuck. I would say Nintendo focuses a lot less on the “ah ha!” moment that Valve does and instead insists on perpetual motion. The player does not stop moving, because to stop moving is to stop playing. Therefore a puzzle should take little time to figure out. This was especially true in A Link Between Worlds, where every room in a dungeon was a puzzle of sorts.

The latter critique, however, in regards to player performance, that is not something under Nintendo’s control. One can argue that it is their fault for disabling voice chat, but I’ve got reasons to believe their use of icons is in fact beneficial to the mood of playing their games online. I shall detail this in a future article rather than here, however, as it would be a digression. To Erik’s credit, I will at least applaud him for not taking the easy jab of Nintendo being “behind the times” by removing voice chat.

Even so, it indicates a limitation on Erik’s part. Does he truly have no friends, is he truly a part of no community, that he could arrange to play this game with friends online? Does he have no friends with a 3DS that he could experience download play? If the problem is the incompetence of random online players, a purely subjective and anecdotal experience, then why did he not seek to play the game with friends online, using Skype to clearly communicate with voice? Why did he not seek out friends to progress through the game via Download Play?

In fact, that these, and the single player option, of the game are absent from Erik’s review further condemn this piece as poor consumer advice. The consumer is not made away of the myriad ways they can experience the game. It instead expresses the personal experience of just one player in one type of way to play the game. It reads as if Erik gave up rather than trying every option available.

One might argue that Erik was unable to find people to play with. I would argue back that as toxic as corners of Reddit can be, it’s also a great place to find people to organize games and play with. Even then, I would also say that this review would have needed to be restructured into something other than a review.

Do not mistake me. I do feel many of Erik’s criticisms are valid, and I will express my own thoughts in that regard once I’ve completed the game. However, it becomes quite clear that Erik’s mind is made up. Aside from completely ignoring how equally pointless a “puzzle” it is to shove a block in every dungeon to reveal an exit as it is to stack your friends and navigate to new heights, Erik also makes one final assertion.

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And yet the most frustrating thing about Heroes is that the problem it addresses doesn’t even need to be solved. Zelda’s solitariness isn’t lonely. It’s directly in line with the tradition of the epic (if somewhat scaled back for our postmodern skepticism of metanarrative). But really: Link is the hero of time, his people, the chosen one, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. His actions are world-historical. His value as a trope is directly linked to his unique (and I mean this in the sense that there is exactly one of him in a given game/diegetic time) heroism. The pleasure of the romance and the fantasy comes from the individual defying the odds, systems of power, history, etc. Splitting the responsibility for that action across three doesn’t make it more fun; it makes it less meaningful.

Now, this is a great read on the series as a whole and I’d love to read the full article or series of articles tackling this very subject. However, Erik is effectively criticizing Triforce Heroes for not being his Zelda. Or at least, not being the Zelda experience he prefers.

The claim is that Triforce Heroes is 75% “less interesting”, and the arbitrary use of mathematics says all you need to know about the arguments within this critique. If it were to be accurate, it would read 75% different. Which is the issue here. Triforce Heroes dares to be different, and all from a company that everyone declares makes the same game repeatedly. Another prime example of Nintendo being unable to win.

I don’t blame or condemn Erik for his feelings. However, as someone that once looked up to Killscreen’s lofty goals, I’d have expected much better from their editor. Particularly as their guidelines for writing for them emphasize so clearly the priority of writing for non-gaming audiences. How does this analysis benefit such a reader? How does the griping about Triforce Heroes being unlike all other Zelda games appeal to someone that doesn’t usually play games?

While I do enjoy some of the writing on Killscreen, they are as guilty as many of the publications they seek to be better than. As much as I despise the “checklist” approach to game reviews, at least IGN will provide something much more thorough for the consumer.


 

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