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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD


Paulando
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1 hour ago, Mr. Gerbik said:

I'm really enjoying this! It looks way better than I expected, properly beautiful in places even. The normal (non-motion) controls work extremely well, the right stick sword takes a bit getting used to but after that it's very precise and quick. Zero frustration this time around, it all works surprisingly well!

 

Most of all I'm loving the game itself. It's good being back in a proper Zelda, exploring dungeons. I really missed that I guess. Playing this makes me wish and hope Nintendo doesn't focus on sandbox Zelda exclusively from now on. It would be great if they alternated. 

 

In short: this is really good! 

 

It took 10 years, but I knew you'd come home....

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I never finished Twilight Princess either and with how much I'm enjoying SS, I'm hoping they do that one next. Gimme dat Zelda!

 

(I played all the way through the Wii U HD version of WW, so not really interested in that one myself - loved it though!)

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6 hours ago, Kevvy Metal said:


I strongly disagree with John Lineman’s comments on the controls here, while agreeing that yes, you need to calibrate the centering on the Switch version MORE than you do on the Wii version. Which makes me actually like the Switch motion controls LESS! 
 

The Right stick camera control is absolutely not important - or at least isn’t for me - and the game was designed with Z-targeting camera placement in mind. I use that then let the camera follow link just like in the original and it works just as well as ever. 
The right stick camera option I only use when surveying a room, it’s totally not necessary to be engaged all of the time and the sword actions on the buttons work SO much better… so much better! 
 

Ive noted that if you engage the L button right stick camera, then disengage it won’t automatically start following link again. You have to do a further Z reset.  

I've played the Wii version for probably 100 hours. Never once thought it needed a camera. 

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4 hours ago, Darhkwing said:

Managed to get the first dungeon finished. Motion controls mostly okay, but those rope walking sections are a nightmare. Maybe im just not getting it.

 

That Ghirahim boss fight was a pain as well. 

You might be doing the same thing I was on the ropes. I was twisting the right joycon. You just point it left or right. Is a breeze after that

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16 minutes ago, Vorgot said:

You might be doing the same thing I was on the ropes. I was twisting the right joycon. You just point it left or right. Is a breeze after that

I'll give it a go in a bit! 😁

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1 hour ago, Hulot said:

I’m sure this will prove a wounding experience for me – all the more so because the length of what’s to follow invites ridicule, if not outright dismissal – but here goes: I profoundly disagree with your assessment of Skyward Sword in general, and this assertion about its environments in particular. Far from being attenuated and vestigial – serving as a mere container for otherwise isolated setpieces – the world of Skyward Sword is replete, sophisticated, and holistically integrates with the game’s themes and motifs to dazzling effect. In this category, it’s an exemplar of the medium. Furthermore, its treatment of setting was best in class for its series prior to Breath of the Wild, well, widening our horizons.

 

Provocative declarations perhaps, but no more so than the harshest judgements found in this thread. I love this game to bits and wish to offer a partisan’s interpretation of its environments in order to help widen the discussion. Although I had planned a different post to this one, covering far more ground, I realised that the subjects I most wished to speak about could all be found in closely examining the Ancient Cistern, the game’s fourth dungeon.

 

I have two reasons for selecting this specific locale. The first is in response to your assertion that this game favours “puzzles” at the expense of “place”. The Ancient Cistern challenges this perspective: within it, puzzles are place. Interestingly, they distinguish themselves in a dungeon context by serving as part of an ensemble of challenges and activities – they are excellent, but not domineering. This area has a marvellous evenness to it that is achieved through its constituent parts flowing together, from one element to the next, in sympathy with its (mostly) tranquil ambience. By immersing oneself within the puzzles’ forms, a wealth of subtextual detail about the wider environment can be gleaned, along with the narrative it hosts.

 

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A collection of Akutagawa’s shorter works – no prizes for

guessing the story featured on the cover

 

Which brings me on to my second reason for choosing the Ancient Cistern: this section of the game famously draws upon The Spider Thread, a parable by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, one of Japan’s most cherished authors. The tale’s dénouement receives a treatment in SS that is as perfectly matched with its surroundings as it is an exhilarating disruption of them – a consummate tour de force, and seminal demonstration of Nintendo’s mastery of the form. However, for all the (fully earned) praise heaped at the feet of this episode, scant attention has been paid to the fact that the scope of the adaptation extends well beyond it: most of The Spider Thread’s major plot points are touched upon elsewhere, with even a specific simile approximated at one juncture. (Indeed, the game is so respectful of the text that it defers to it in commencing its retelling outside of and prior to the Ancient Cistern itself.) It’s a singular meeting between literature and videogames, and I would like to delve into its underexplored aspects, highlighting the artistry of the game’s design as I go. I don’t really know what to call the following – a travelogue and critical commentary, I suppose. I hope it proves interesting.

 

And yes, I am perfectly aware of how absurd this gargantuan, metastasized post is. Perfectly aware. Mortified about it.

 

Familiarity with the entire game is assumed – spoilers range the length and breadth of Skyward Sword.

 

All Spider Thread excerpts and quotations featured below are taken from the superb translation by Jay Rubin, whose notes also proved invaluable in writing this post. I recommend his collection of Akutagawa’s short fiction published by Penguin; in lieu of that, this translation conveys the gist of the story well enough.

 

Preamble and the return to Skyview Temple

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Before getting into the thick of it, I’d like to comment on the general character of Skyward Sword, at least as I perceive it. To that end, here’s a comparison of the worlds of Breath of the Wild and Skyward Sword, and how each informs the temper of their respective game.

 

In BotW, the environment is a consistent, self-contained entity, and it overawes as a landscape. Rivers meander as the force of their currents and inclines permit; rich loam gives way to spartan scrubland that segues into barren mountain slopes; ecosystems observe the strictures of topography and climate to accommodate life in its correct measure. Everything, from frogs to snowbanks to volcanic plumes, feels as if it is the sum of an integrated, coherent natural history, and so the earth and its treasures (ostensibly) enjoy a regal independence from such game system vulgarities as ‘function’ or ‘utility’. Even man’s grandest designs are but bagatelles here: the Divine Beasts, for all their thunderous thudding and stomping, can only claim the dignity of tin toys; the ruins dotting the world, less still than that.

 

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Satori Mountain

 

Unsurprisingly, the relationship between the player and all this inviolate magnificence is marked by a certain distance. BotW’s adventurer is placed at a remove from a world which grants nothing save an opportunity to participate. You won’t be kept from scaling cliff faces, nor are there any prohibitions on bear hunting – but rainfall and the beast’s claws have the same licence. Nature picks no favourites. The brilliance of this teeming, exuberant, responsive, tight-spun Hyrule resides, curiously, in a discreet indifference on the part of that world to its protagonist. Not that an estrangement makes itself felt; rather, what value there is to be found in foraging, gliding, fighting, and so on is left exclusively to the player’s unprompted judgement. Breath of the Wild leaves the general impression of two factors operating in strict parallel, with the player’s free-ranging will and resourcefulness being set-off by an aloof, studiedly neutral backdrop.

 

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The Lanayru Sand Sea

 

Skyward Sword takes the opposite tack: in this adventure, there is the closest possible intimacy between the player and the world they inhabit. In fact, to speak of a ‘between’ at all is somewhat misleading as SS does its utmost to confound those distinctions – the world is an extension of Link, and Link a microcosm of the whole. Through severity and guile, the motivated landscapes structure the player’s awareness, cultivating a cluster of precepts which beautifully undergird the immediate business of combat, traversal, and puzzling, and which by their very deliberateness confer a richness upon those limited activities.

 

If all of this sounds quite abstract that’s because the game’s concerns very much are – whereas BotW may be labelled a work of materialism, SS is a study in idealism. (A game of mandalas over maps, as we will see.) Locales and their contents ought to be chiefly viewed through a psychogeographical lens: metaphor, concatenation, allusion, juxtaposition, affect, displacement, symbolism, reification and allegory are to the fore, and with them a reflexive quality which makes playing the game so delicious – not only is it a matter of ‘what’s the next thing?’ but also ‘what’s the next thing going to be about? And what will that be like in relation to this?’ Not that it’s a one-way street, as the player’s progress alters the fabric of SS in ways ranging from the unassumingly slight (opening a shortcut with a rolled log, after much huffing and puffing) to the demiurgically decisive (blooming stone flowers on rivers of fire with a magician’s nonchalant sword flick). Places are regulated by the contours of a subjective, internal landscape – whole complexes of rooms and expanses of terrain may hinge on the tiniest of cues or slightest of actions.1 The experience of this charmed and dialectical world’s unfolding is that of a warm conversation which gains its zest from never being completely one-sided, either in pandering to the player, or by having the environments suborn one’s will – reciprocity is paramount. ‘Thoughtfulness’, in the fullest and most humanly generous sense, is an attribute that comes to mind whenever I look back on SS and how it arranges itself.

 

Of course, opinions differ: one of the most frequent complaints is that the game is mind-numbingly padded out, with the revisiting of Skyview Temple, the first dungeon, cited as a prime example of the game’s purposeless and wearisome detours and recapitulations. With this trip prefacing the Ancient Cistern, let’s take a closer look at both it and the naysaying it’s engendered.

 

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Never the liveliest of dungeons, its gloom and dreariness seem heavier than ever upon your return. Weeds and fungi have colonised the margins. A subterranean tree licks the masonry with a tongue of bark. Dust motes idle in the air. The score drags its feet, lurching from a sustained note to the hurried completion of its main phrase. Nothing new except (ironically) the tinge of staleness. In retracing your steps, the area now seems a castoff, a moated grange of blackest moss and rounding grays. What use is there for a completed dungeon? An errand to fetch water serves as the immediate pretext for coming here, but there must surely be a deeper reason for this particular place at this moment in time. Already, at the threshold, an important conceptual shift has been effected that decouples the repeat engagement from the initial experience: in passing through the space at leisure rather than under the driving excitement of conquest, the player is prompted to consciously dwell upon it, interrogate it at a newfound distance – “OK, I’m here again. Why?” Teasing out any hidden meaning necessitates an analytical, sober frame of mind which departs from the chipper pragmatism that is Zelda dungeoneering’s habitual mode. A certain reserved attentiveness is called for which nicely complements the prevailing calm.

 

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Not that your visit will be entirely without incident. A short way in and one of the burrowing mogma creatures from the volcanic region makes an unexpected appearance. Avaricious and cagey as ever, he asserts, in spite of protestations to the contrary, that you’re a fellow ransacker, before scrabbling away to stake his own claim on the loot. Cheeky git, branding you light-fingered – you’re the destined hero, and whatever appropriations you make in your quest are a result of exigencies beyond your control (if those requisitions happen to include cool gadgets and piles of rupees you can hardly demur). Continuing on, you’re stymied by a locked door; whilst you're searching for a key, who should pop back up but Mr Libel. He says he swiped the key from a monster but now can’t remember where he buried it. A diligent spot of digging after the pair of you part and, gosh, you have a brand new, one-of-a-kind, custom fit lock loosener. Onwards.

 

Before concluding your dealings with the mogma, a few things you (re)encounter on this flying visit must be noted for future reference:

 

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  • The round central chamber of Skyview Temple, reached after passing through a series of dark, dank anterooms. It features a lightwell, with a biomorphic structure occupying pride of place (its lines are reminiscent of your flying beetle, or a nesting bird).

 

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  • The abyss separating the boss chamber from the rest of the dungeon, its two sides spanned by a tightrope. Your crossing was imperilled the first time by a pair of daredevils who advanced out to accost you midway, whilst this second one involves some sniping archers. In any event, whether it be by hand or arrow, funambulism and physical contact don’t mix.

 

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  • A trio of stalfos who have taken up residence in Ghirahim’s old boss chamber. There are six swords between them.

 

Between those last two items we have our final meeting with the mogma. Dissapointingly empty handed, he’s had his fill of treasure hunting and is going to return home. Your attention is seized, strangely enough, by the following sentence:

 

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Odd that this should feel so pers– oh. I understand now. He’s talking about you. You’re the thief. Your attention was seized because you’re guilty. He’s probably alluding to the key, or if not that then the artefacts which once resided here, but either way, you did it. From a certain point of view, you are indeed a ransacker, and you definitely took what was – again, from a certain point of view – his key. Hmm.

 

Still, he’s a fine one to talk, isn’t he? Nought but hypocrisy from this rodent. Let this be a lesson to him that there’s no honour amongst thieves. Yes, you’re sort of, arguably, robbing, but it’s all for the greater good. Now that you’ve thoroughly ambiguated the matter to your satisfaction you can move on, secure in a righteousness that is all the stronger for having been lightly challenged.

 

Stand aside, allow that fatheaded mindset to proceed – we’ll resume contact with it when we reach the Ancient Cistern. Reverting back momentarily to the cogitating arising from the ‘why’ of this irregular, repeated dungeon: one senses that this business with the key and the stealing is of some importance. It hasn’t been included merely to freshen up this retread as it’s altogether too slight to serve as sufficient distraction from the recycling. No, it’s more like the game is urging you to focus on the essential elements and interplays of this little narrative by having them take place in an area that, because it’s familiar if not exhausted, won’t get in the way. What’s the deal with this microstory? It has the concision and ethical profile of a fable, yet there’s no particular conclusion or discernible moral to be drawn from it. Puzzling. One will just have to put it to the side for now, despite suspecting that there’s more to it than meets the eye.

 

That was the drift of my thinking when I originally played this section. The subsequent dungeon does provide a capper to the story here, as I guessed it might, but what I didn’t have the slightest inkling of at the time was that the belting short story I recognised as being integral to the Ancient Cistern first slips into the game here, in Skyview Temple, and in such an intelligent and witty fashion that to know it is to marvel at it. Let’s start addressing The Spider Thread and how Skyward Sword adapts it to its own ends.

 

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Whilst bearing in mind everything gleaned thus far, rewind to this point, where you first met the mogma. The conduit in the top-centre of the picture was something of a loose end or curiosity when initially exploring here: when opened, it offers a shortcut between the entrance (where Link is standing) and a major hub room. Quite why you would want such a thing is a bit of a mystery as only a single, tiny chamber separates entrance and hub, and there’s no need to travel backwards anyway.

 

On your return, with the curve of the staircase drawing your eye to its recess, the purpose of the conduit – as an expedient for this second tour – becomes clear. Following that chat with the mogma (plundering allegations and all), the majority of players will make use of the shortcut and be on their merry way. An archer in the hub room monopolises you when you enter, hastily pulling you forwards from the wall you’ve just leapt down. (It should be noted here that this is the most arboreal part of Skyview Temple, with trunks and branches dominating the upper half of the space.) What are present on the wall, and afforded only a moment’s diversion when creating the shortcut two dungeons and several hours prior:

 

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Spiders. Negligible, nuisance grade spiders. When using the shortcut, jumping over their heads and into the room, they are literally beneath your notice. Later, in searching for the key, you’re likely to cast a glance their way without paying them any mind. There’s nothing to be gained by killing them, not even the sport of it.

 

A lateral move is necessary here in order to introduce The Spider Thread. The story begins one morning in the garden of Paradise; the Buddha is strolling through it with perfect equanimity. From his supreme metaphysical vantage point, the Buddha peers down through the garden’s pond and across an unfathomable distance to behold the grisly spectacle of Hell (aka Naraka). He regards Kandata, a robber and murderer in his former life now subject to endless drownings in the Pond of Blood, Hell’s deepest and worst region. “But it seems that Kandata had performed one single act of goodness”:

 

Passing through a deep wood one day, he had noticed a tiny spider creeping along the wayside. His first thought was to stamp it to death, but as he raised his foot, he told himself, “No, no. Even this puny creature is a living thing. To take its life for no reason would be too cruel.” And so he had let it pass unharmed.

 

The “deep wood” is, of course, what surrounds you in this hub room. You are a murderer (understanding it in your bones, thanks to the sword’s motion controls) and a thief. The game even replicates – within the constraints of its language – Kandata’s foot pausing above the spider, by having yours sail overhead. Without the player being fully aware of it, Skyward Sword is inducting them into the role of this sinner, steering them towards the moment where they grasp the thread of salvation and start to climb. (The theme of destiny receives from SS its most complete and emotionally perceptive treatment in the medium, with the ensnaring of the player here a choice instance.)

 

Aside from the exceptional elegance and startling cogency achieved here, what absolutely thrills me is how appreciating that this reheated dungeon has been woven into the plot of Akutagawa’s work radically recontextualises and enriches it. If interpreted as a world of vanities, as the transient realm of the unenlightened degraded by the likes of Kandata, its flyblown, withered qualities gain a new currency as proofs of a wider spiritual corruption, intriguingly offset by it also being the game’s forest dungeon (with connotations of vitality and wholesome growth).2 Similarly, there being no explicit resolution to the (tawdry?) mogma storyline is in keeping with our naïve experience of this life; it is not the way of the world for things to be tied up neatly. Any catharsis or apprehension of solace must be provided by something beyond the everyday. By an afterlife, perhaps. Skyview Temple being both a seat of worship and in the throes of terminal decay, it doubly anticipates that undiscovered country, points the way to the ultimate: it makes an inevitability of its successor, the Ancient Cistern.

 

Notes

 

1 This subjectivised, psychological formula is highly unusual for a Zelda title, though not without precedent in the wider medium. Honestly, I believe it’s more productive to approach SS with the notion that it’s closer to the pensive and nuanced interiority of Silent Hill 2 than to the phlegmatic simplicity of, say, A Link to the Past.

 

2 This union of opposites also figures prominently in Ocarina of Time’s two woodland dungeons, the Deku Tree and the Forest Temple. A spiral motif further links the pair with Skyview Temple, furnishing us with a subtle example of how SS echoes its predecessors in both symbol and substance, advancing the game’s discourse beyond its own borders.

 

‘Padding’

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Oh, yes, ‘padding’ – I did say I’d look at it, and this is a good place to do so, between dungeons. I think the above is sufficient to get this part of the game off the hook, but I’ll go further and say it strikes me as completely untenable as a charge against SS in general. Although not each and every one of the most harumphed sections is as slyly bountiful as the return to Skyview Temple, all of them can claim a distinction of their own and a suitable place in the overall firmament (especially the tadtones). The extended and delightful opening makes perfectly clear, in both feeling and form, by alternating between The Breakfast Club and Beowulf, that the forthcoming adventure will be one of divertissements and frivolities as much as it is of epiphanies and grandeur, and this admixture ethos produces some rather wonderful things when the two extremes are forced to cohabit.

 

Take that old bugbear, the Imprisoned: Calashnikov is right about the first battle, it can be a (bracing) slog hacking away at the toes, darting between redwood-trunk legs as it laboriously slouches towards the top to be reborn – but there’s also the germ of the absurd, the humorously grotesque in its lolloping and your hurrying. That comedy is iterated upon to the point where you find yourself, during the third and final clash, frenziedly circus cannoning out from a zippy, jury-rigged contraption by your new mensch and weapons researcher Groose, aiming to bop the head of a creature which has now sprouted a cartoon halo hoisting it upwards – a Quetzalcoatl by way of Abner Dean, or possibly Tex Avery’s Leviathan. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all still very much a stern contest betwixt good and evil, it’s just that there’s now a buddy comedy, model railway, acrobatics and shooting gallery involved. Somehow. This progression doesn’t come across as hollowly repetitious because the respective tones, tempos, intensities, scales and framings of each bout are too unalike for that. The ‘congestion’ angle doesn’t bear scrutiny either, there being a dozen hours or so separating the first encounter from the second, while the single one between the second and third lets the endearing Groose storyline clip along very punchily. No, pleasure argues decisively against this idea of padding.3 Rather than being vacantly drawn out, SS is whipsmart in marshalling its resources with the frugallest economy and greatest poise.

 

 

3 Which isn’t to say that SS is without its longueurs. The retrieval of the pinwheel, for instance, is a needless chore, whilst the first part of the volcanic dousing quest feels tedious. Such errata add up to perhaps thirty minutes in a game tens of hours long and so must be considered like they are here – as footnotes. Even Homer nods.

 

The Ancient Cistern – Paradise in mind

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The opening of the Ancient Cistern and its ambience are a case in point. Coming from a space that had, in every sense, been emptied out, you arrive here to find abundance and lushness – indeed, you’re almost actively greeted by them, such is the vitality enveloping you.

 

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Instead of dust, a crimson fenghuang is in the air. The camera can’t help itself, it flies along with the bird, taking in the doors (where do they lead to?) and ledges (how do you reach them?) of the surrounding wall before coming to rest on this artificial waterfall, which descends like silk on marble to the lilting music. Lotuses blossom like “perfect white pearls”, wafting forth a “never-ending fragrance wonderful beyond description”, sumptuous in the golden rays oozing from their glass facsimile in the ceiling above. The round space, central structure, flora and yellowish hues invite comparison straight away with Skyview Temple’s main room, though it’s really not fair to do so: there, you staggered from darkness into the drab light of sunset; here, it’s “morning in Paradise”, passed into with the assurance of the blessed (or fatheaded).

 

Whilst preserving the ghost of the earlier temple as a contrapunt, SS places the player in one of the primary settings of The Spider Thread, the garden of Paradise, and lavishly lays on what an adventurer would deem heavenly: doors, advantageous ledges, treasure chests, switches – all possibilities to be explored and exploited. It leaves a good first impression, and restores back to the player that dungeoneering yen. Still, not content with juggling two discrete areas of its own and an external short story, the opening room adds another layer of reference. In the picture above, there is a large metal cog; together with the wall switches, pipes and general salutary character of the place, it suggests something like a municipal waterworks (the faux organic decor even puts me in mind of Bazalgette and Paxton’s great industrial cathedrals). The ‘Ancient Cistern’ title by itself indicates a degree of straddling high and low, announcing a dynamic of headbutting between the sacred and profane that will work itself out over the course of the dungeon.

 

It’s a locale filled to bursting with personality and freighted with meaning. To talk of the game having no sense of place: I think quite the contrary is in evidence, which is to say SS maximises its spaces by braiding various subjects, conceits and styles, all whilst being disciplined enough to allow each component to come through clearly and inflect the overall arrangement, as they do here.4 (The Lanayru Desert, with its time-shift stones, constitutes the acme of this approach.) However much this mode may jar with a sensibility insisting things not overlap and remain essentialised, it seems thoroughly perverse to hold that SS’s environments are without any flavour because they elect to offer many.

 

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The dungeon’s star attraction underlines my argument. Again, it’s very multum in parvo, being equal parts monumental religious statue, pavilion and Mechanical Turk. I would like to concentrate for the time being on that first attribute: those acquainted with The Spider Thread and alert to its influence in SS will recognise Akutagawa’s Shakyamuni Buddha, who compassionately extends the titular strand to Kandata. In due course this equivalent will do the same for you – and therein lies a problem for the game.

 

As it proceeds, the Ancient Cistern splits itself in two, polarising around a heavenly realm of lotuses and light at one extreme, an infernal cavern of blood and damned souls at the other. Your rescue from the latter is at the discretion of a gracious actor, with this Buddha the only plausible one to be found in the aftermath. Naturally, one would appreciate something of their goodness by that act alone, yet to have this virtue demonstrated all in one burst would seem a tad pat, too bluntly deus ex machina-ish. Association with a welcoming space only goes so far: the wisdom and benevolence of this Buddha need to be actively vouched for ahead of time so as to lend ripeness and internal logic to the act of mercy. How does SS achieve this?

 

In this instance, it pursues a strategy of characterisation by guided inference. An orthodox puzzle is adapted to an unusual end by having it illuminate a state of mind, and bridge the gap between two beings through a shared “eureka!” Though dense in its cultural allusions, its best parts can nonetheless be understood without prior knowledge of either The Spider Thread or Buddhism, as the game lucidly expresses itself in immediate formal terms (for example, the sense of ‘transference’ I outline below is readily intuited via gameplay alone).

 

The cultural sphere enlisted here to help flesh things out is, predictably, the religious one: the positioning of the statue amalgam at the heart of a circular room (and, indeed, the entire dungeon), combined with its, er, Buddha-ness, recalls South Asian cosmograms. An immense and complex body of tradition(s), these cosmograms include both illustrative visualizations (such as mandalas, varieties of which do centre on Buddhas) and psycho-corporal practices (e.g. yoga) which aim to accomplish a “move from subtle, hidden, and potential space into external, visible space”5 as a means of parsing the universe and one’s place within it. Your first task here finds you making use of these schemas in order to access and conceptualise not the universe but a sacralised model of it – the Ancient Cistern.

 

After the opening cutscene, you begin exploring the dungeon. In a room leading off from the central chamber, your progress is halted by:

 

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A combination lock, removed by hitting its jewelled petals in the correct sequence. If you choose to consult it, an adjacent stele mentions the temple possesses a “secret order”, knowledge of which is required to advance further. Either way, it’s back to the main room in search of a solution.

 

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From the entrance, a couple of quick hops bring you to the base of the Frankenbuddha and another stele. It reads (emphases in original):

 

Carved into the great statue are inscriptions of gratitude. They reveal the secret order of this temple.

 

An itinerary of points on the statue’s body follows. The spiritual (“gratitude”) and mystical (“secret order”) import of these sentences helps bed in the tone of the Ancient Cistern. A hierarchy is also established, with the environment – the construct containing and divulging the esoteric whatsits – in a senior position to the player/initiate. (The air of tutelage and idea of orderliness fixed upon the Buddha should be borne in mind for later.) Touring the “great statue”, you come across these emblems –

 

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The consonance with the jewelled lock is obvious, and so too is the homage paid to venerated artistic forms by these roundels. They range from the interreligious dharmachakra to works like this:

 

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A Buddhist cosmic mural from Punakha, Bhutan (photograph by Eric Huntington)

 

Simple though they are in comparison, the roundels are definitely derived from Dharmic geometricizations. So far as purpose is concerned, there is an appreciable correspondence between the two groupings, with mandalas and other devices chiefly serving as aids to unlocking inner knowledge, or orienting the individual within an interfolded, multiplanar space (broadly defined) – puzzle clues stake out the same territory within their smaller domain. Furthermore, the emblems’ symmetrical placements on the Buddha’s body calls to mind related mystical frameworks such as chakra, wherein a noncorporeal physiognomy may be affected by exercises directed towards focal points of the human anatomy. For unassuming textures, their semiotic reach is gargantuan. Those with an eye for such details may consider it a shame – bathetic, actually – to squeeze them for information and move on, but needs must. It’s exceedingly rare for a videogame to deploy such dense symbols as appositely as this, and one should be content in enjoying the fleeting harmonisation of a mere adventure title with several world religions.6

 

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A brief check that you’ve got the emblems in the right order (i.e. committing them to memory) and then you return to the lock. Four swift slices and we’ll see what lies ahead. A one and a — it’s here, in the rumbling afterquake of the first blow struck, that it dawns on you, all at once, just what’s happened. Sighted on the Buddha, then carried in the mind back to this door, now entering into your own person through the labour of your muscles and the reverberation in your hand – those cosmograms have synaesthetically leapt from visual geometries to ordinal abstractions to ritualised physical acts, preserving their essence whilst flashing through their conventional religious expressions. (Yet not beholden to them. The continuity in the play of form is eminently intelligible without giving a moment’s thought to the nondiegetic world.) You weren’t moving away from a puzzle but internalising it in the most palpable way, ensorcelling your body and decentring your consciousness within an infinity as near as it is far. One word captures the mental and sensational rush, the entire sweep of the sequence: transcendent.

 

Racing back from the puzzle’s climax to its beginning, you can see that what ended in a body also started on one. If your being can be said to incarnate the ‘journey’ of this episode, the same holds for the Buddha; the difference is only one of serene anticipation versus fresh realisation. Whether subliminally or catching all the details, the player becomes simpatico with the resident luminary – after all, they grant passage and assist you towards insight. Shorn of an everyday personality and depicted through a graven image, they seem to be goodness itself. This may lead adventurers with a high opinion of themselves to feel a deeper connection, that they are one and the same…

 

Airily breaking down barriers and fostering novel connections between disparate things is a high-minded, syncretic way of manifesting that multiplicity discussed earlier. A Gothic alternative approach towards the same ends is dualism, whereby internal divisions are erected and items swing violently between opposed, morally-charged aspects of themselves. These syncretic and dualistic modes together form a schema that underlies the structure and organisation of the Ancient Cistern. During the preceding cosmogram puzzle, dualistic elements of the dungeon are also introduced, allowing the dynamics of the schema to commence operating from the get-go. As a couple of minor occurrences intimate, not all is holy light and beatific smiles.

 

When first entering the room with the jewelled lock, you come to a drop. Boldly leaping down –

 

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– you expect the wide lotus foliage to support your weight. Leaping down and skydiving are common actions in the game, usually conjoined with opportunities to demonstrate your heroism and strength (‘death from above’, threading past hazards to land on a miniscule target, etc).

 

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But not here. The pad gives way from the force of the impact and…

 

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… flips to reveal a previously unseen system of spiky tendrils and hooked roots…

 

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… whilst leaving you in the drink, encircled by the same prickly plant matter. You’ll do yourself a mischief swimming into them; at the same time, there’s no hope of punching through the leaf above – it has closed over you like an oubliette’s trapdoor. Chastened, you circumspectly dive under and out from the organic barbwire.

 

Chalk up the misadventure to overlooking the laws of physics, not anything untoward from the locale. Minutes later, you’re surveying the great statue, collating the roundels for the lock. Two of them are located on the idol’s submerged hands.

 

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Nothing on the open palm. Is there a way to see the back of the hand? Perhaps if you were to remove that rupee…

 

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Too slow a pass by and the fingers curl, trapping you within a fist. Writhing and flailing you do manage to get loose but not without a scare at the violence, which is heightened by the placid atmosphere. This one you can also take the blame for: interfering with a balanced system of pulleys and counterweights is sure to invite disaster. It’s what you’d expect to happen if you were to look at all the elemen– wait. Why would the Buddha be holding on to cold, hard cash, crushing anyone who dares to relieve him of such worldly dross?

 

Elevating you heavenwards to meet with the divine, SS simultaneously thrusts out from below to tug you back down and fill your ears with innuendo of trickery, seediness and charlatanism – the Buddha yoked with the Mechanical Turk. Yes, yes, perhaps you can discount the unseemlier stuff because there’s the smack of probity and religion – but aren’t nine tenths of that racket the suggestion of virtue? If it’s a matter of picking up on cues, one shouldn’t be selective, so shove to one side the cosmograms and insight and all that vaporous piety – what is brought to mind by your visceral experiences of drowning, pain and entrapment? Something vaguely unnerving for the ingenuous player; for Spider Thread readers, however, there is one obvious, specific answer: Kandata, who at this point in the story is afflicted by the posthumous agonies of the Pond of Blood. In the same way that Akutagawa’s Buddha gazes down into the Lotus Pond and witnesses the murderer’s degradation, your immersion in its videogame counterpart have brought you to apprehend the damned man’s suffering without placing you directly within Hell itself. (This deftly handled and innovative vicariousness will be returned to.) Clearly it is not only the dungeon that has a lot going on: perhaps ten minutes or so in, the player is a bodhisattva, fire-and-brimstone fodder, and cognitive dissonance personified.

 

Notes

 

4 This eclectic yet slightly noncommittal world building/environmental design orientation is shared by Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask. Along with SS, they form the core grouping of philosophical Zeldas (for want of a better collective term).

 

5 David Shulman, ‘Buddhist Baedekers’ – The New York Review of Books, 26 March 2020.

 

6 Serendipitously, the David Shulman review I quoted above contains a description of Himalayan mandalas that would serve as a fantastic précis for the Zelda series – I include it here only because the coincidence is delightful:

 

A Himalayan mandala is usually a crowded space: there are godly and demonic spheres, labyrinths, palaces, gateways guarded by terrifying gatekeepers, mantric buzzes and hums, disorienting temporal rhythms, and hosts of deities, some ominous, others benign. With persistence, a meditator learns to create in open (mental) space the entire three- or four-dimensional universe with all its objects and living beings.

 

 

Eyes, mouths and keys

  Reveal hidden contents

Moving on, with the understanding that the Ancient Cistern is an uplifting place possessing a dark undercurrent: the room past the jewelled lock has you sending giant arachnids to watery graves and learning to take advantage of the lotus flipping mechanic (falling on one turns it over and stops its roots from blocking an exit). A small key is the reward, allowing you to open a door into the great statue. On entering this (slightly austere) silo, a brief cutscene plays. Above –

 

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– a reaffirmation of the providential ordering of the dungeon, centred on this lotus flower/boss room door (note the brief reprise of Skyview Temple’s spiral motif). Below, where you drop down to after the cutscene finishes –

 

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– a four-armed skeleton in golden armour. Huh. Well, the Ancient Cistern is a Zelda dungeon after all; notably vicious adversaries are to be expected. What enemies there are here must be gatecrashers, in the dungeon but not of it (restoring dungeons to their prelapsarian dignity is a series staple). In fact, it doesn’t detract from the peaceful splendour at all. No, this is obviously an allegorical enemy: a mouldering bag of bones, bitterly clinging to life and treasure, dwarfed by the grand monument to nirvana imprisoning it? If that isn’t an authoritative statement on the superiority of the ascending spirit to the recalcitrant flesh then I don’t know what is. Fell this vice figure and move on.

 

It puts up fierce resistance, though, keeping you on your toes and at the limit of your swordsmanship. Part way through, it brings out an axe and another sword to supplement its existing two. Thrusts, swipes, the clanging of metal on metal, shield bashes, limbs strewn everywhere, gold plate clattering to the ground, bedlam. Towards the end the skeleton’s helmet is lost, so move in for the kill, another flurry of blows and – there! Done!

 

Exulting in your hard-fought victory, it would be easy, all too easy to overlook something that only came into view at the frenetic climax of the battle, and which vanishes with the disintegration of the skeleton moments after it concludes.

 

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A third eye in the middle of the forehead. The most ominous sign yet of the Ancient Cistern’s intrinsic two-facedness, its introduction here is so very cunning. Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it to the letter, it arrives when your assumptions about the justice of your battle (and, by extension, the wider environment) are at their zenith, blinding you with action and its triumphant hangover to let this slip past. It really borders on a visual joke – only those who know what they’re looking for will be able to catch sight of a higher consciousness.7 (A further structural grace note: the third eye is another motif from Skyview Temple, leading to the top and bottom of the statue interior having matched second-hand symbols.)

 

Let’s assume you saw nothing markedly sinister in the fight and that you’re still enjoying this fool’s paradise. Good news, you’re about to like it even more as it’s time to collect the dungeon item, your new plaything. The holy ritual of the chest opening, that tune, a burst of light and —

 

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Ooo, a whip! It’s brilliant fun, and really the, erm, whippiest to be found in videogames by virtue of the motion controls. Using it feels liberating, adroitly swinging, cracking and curling it round things through natural arm and hand movements. Whilst it’s a near iron law of games that new equipment and powerups let you do more and with greater latitude, the degree of emphasis placed here upon freedom, in both action and as a concept, is noteworthy. The sense of licence it affords is enhanced first by what the game asks you to do with it (brushing aside one of the series’ oldest conventions, as we will see shortly), then by coupling it with the dungeon’s foremost token of emancipation, the spider thread (their forms resemble one another; you hang from both; they appear to be gifts of the Buddha).

 

But all that in due time. At the base of the statue interior, a new type of valve presents itself. Latching on with the whip and pulling it like a spinning top cord turns on a water spout, which lifts you back to the entrance. In the central room again, you can now swing across a gap, leading you to the chest with the dungeon map (reinforcing, in passing, the space’s cosmogrammatic connections). Down on the pond, your new whip helps you to flip a lotus pad, providing you with a platform to activate a previously unreachable switch using that same gear. It closes a sluice, stopping the artificial waterfall; now you can dive down to enter –

 

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The maw of this stone fish. Although innocuous by itself, it also instantiates one of SS’s more macabre leitmotifs: the gulping down of prey by beasts, Jonah style.8 An early prophetic nightmare codifies it quite forcefully:

 

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Tread warily – if you can avoid distractions, that is. At the other end of the conduit, you exit from the mouth of an even larger fish. A scuttling spider you dispatch in a moment and then a barred doorway. Anything else in the room? Save for a small rupee chest behind the fish’s head, no. The ceiling? Nada. Maybe you weren’t meant to come this way yet, better consult the map… argh, no, this is the only path forward. Let’s have a closer look at those bars, perhaps one of them is loose (really hoping against hope here). Wait, there’s a switch on the other side! You just have to go round – shit, you can’t! OK, there must be a means to flip it… Oh! Will it work?

 

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It does! Against all expectations, you can yank that sucker down from where you stand, raising the gate. Quaint now in an age of systems-driven games boasting refined, subtle physics engines, this transgression of norms struck me at the time as a significant departure, if only in the context of the series. (Projectiles making their way past a barrier, maybe, but a held item? I don’t recall that happening in a Zelda before, though I’m open to correction.) In any event, it’s unprecedented in SS, and very satisfying to effect. Found close to the Buddha, the whip might be taken (albeit with a measure of fancy) as a gift from him, and its role here in crossing boundaries and freeing up space is congruous with the themes explored by the cosmogrammatic puzzle that is tied to the figure. Taking it all into consideration, this appears to be another occasion that subconsciously encourages you to treat the Ancient Cistern as your own: you needn’t feel constrained by such things as bars and locks, for you can make them disappear like so. Going by the cheeky impunity with which you’ve violated age-old dungeon etiquette here, laws of all stripes likely don’t apply to you. If the Buddha’s influence pervades the tranquil ambience, yours is a presence that only falls a hair’s breadth short of ubiquity, being the chosen hero and next best thing to a divinity. An additional factor buttressing that fatheaded, smug sense of self is that – aside from the minor perils of drowning and the skeleton warrior – this has been a remarkably easygoing dungeon thus far, more stroll than struggle. Such is life in Paradise, where the lotuses flower radiantly and all things are as one…

 

The next space is seemingly a dead-end, containing only a pool, a bottomless pit, and some raised platforms. After making your way past the obstacles around the sides of the room (which include a prayer wheel-like roller), you reach another valve. Pulling it opens a drainage hole at the bottom of the pond, creating a sucking vortex.

 

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It can scarcely be considered inviting, and the context doesn’t allay any fears (that premonitory fish; the neighbouring abyss; drowning as a recurrent fright). Sensing that you’re venturing into a threatening unknown, you step from the ledge, dive, and are tugged down, down, down…

 

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Transitioning between areas, the music slows – infarcted, torpidly warped. A copper pipe spits you out into a purplish half-light. It’s your imagination but this water seems brackish, or even poisonous. It must be the bruised colour it has. Bars array the near horizon again, but now there’s the stench of the sewer and misery of the jail cell hanging about them. Paddling towards a lotus pad, a great spider descends to assert jealous ownership. The trappings of the dungeon above are present, their warmth and welcome absent. Such is life… where, exactly?

 

A small landing permits access to dry land. Using your flying beetle to sever its thread, you can have the spider emulate you earlier, crashing down on to the lotus pad and flipping it over. That there is a continuity of puzzle logic above and below is strongly reassuring. This might actually prove tolerable. The lotus roots now out of the way, you can swim through a small opening and follow the waterway. More bars, but also a locked door. A goblin patrols the other side, with something on its belt catching the light.

 

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One instant, from inspiration to culmination:

 

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Reach out –

 

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– and pull back! Yes, this is more like it: another smart extension of what you learned above and a casual display of your limitless, superlative crushing, shining hero-of-the-game prowess. An offkey couple of minutes there but now you’re back in sync with the Geist of the Ancient Cistern. The goblin squeals in frustration at having been whip-pocketed by a master. Open the door and deliver your apologies in short, sharp order.

 

Hold on a moment though, some things are amiss. Why is the dungeon giving you the cold shoulder, near enough imprisoning you in fact, and then letting you completely shrug that off in ecstatic freedom? It’s all too convenient, too calculated to please. When it does knock you down, it lifts you up afterwards to an even greater height than before, with the cycle then repeating itself. True, it didn’t feel that strange upstairs, but down here in the murk it sits differently.

 

Also, why do you have this whip? It doesn’t so much aid in solving the puzzles as it mockingly dispenses with them altogether. Come down from the dopamine rush, look at things in the cold light of day, and realise that you’ve had a cheat code pressed into your eager, addled hands. It seems wrong to so blithely violate established dungeon procedures – sure, new items always turn the tide in your favour when advancing through these catacombs and mazes, but this is, well, facile. Come to think of it, didn’t this whip turn up far earlier than is normal? Before the dungeon map, even. In this dungeon, mastery precedes understanding.

 

Consider this latest incident, where you eschew confronting the monster, instead just reaching into the depth of the space and extracting what you need. Really, that doesn’t seem in character for a noble adventurer, cowardly stealing a key and – no, no, no, not that thought, not those memories stepping into focus, not that place in this one. The past is over, gone, dead, and it never really applied to you anyway. Go through the door, now. Now.

 

Notes

 

7 It would be remiss of me not to insert a caveat here, namely that the third eye is rather difficult to make out as a result of SS being an SD game, and a visually diffuse one at that. (It will be interesting to see whether it’s more prominent in the HD release, and how that colours interpretations.) Similarly, the timing of the helmet coming off may be looser than my account implies. Nonetheless, I feel my characterisation of the dynamics involved is substantially correct.

 

8 Incidentally, this conceit is combined with the leaping/skydiving action for their shared ‘conclusion’ in the Fire Sanctuary, the sixth dungeon, where you fall from a high gantry on to the invisible tongue of a yawning giant.

 

This post will be continued in a separate entry below.


I think I just cummed! 

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About 16 hours in. I loved this on the Wii… but the improvements and just how utterly amazing it looks has pushed this right up into second place on my Zelda list. 
 

yes. I’m constantly doing stuff. There’s very little ‘space’ - but it’s just such a rewarding and enjoyable place to spend time in. It’s a game and I t knows it’s a game.

 

the perfect Zelda is a combo of this and BotW

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What a great post @Hulot

 

I teach Buddhism as part of the OCR GCSE RS spec, and it's always surprising the number of kids (the geeky ones, though there seems to be some strong weird correlation between choosing RS for GCSE and being a Nintendo fan) who will draw links between Buddhist concepts they learn about and Zelda - the Three Jewels, Mara personified as a giant blue pig, the spider's thread and the Ancient Cistern, the BotW shrine arhats with their mudra hand gestures... If nothing else it helps with revision. 

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I never really got Zelda games in the way many others have. I started with Link to the Past, and thought it amazing. I also liked Link's Awakening, and even Monish Cap. But Ocarina didn't grab me anywhere near the same. I did enjoy Majora's Mask, but not enough to finish it before something else on the 64 took over.

 

Wind Waker? Halfway. Twilight Princess? Next to nowhere. Skyward Sword? Not sure I did anything beyond reach the surface. It wasn't until Link Between Worlds that I once more made it to the end of any of the games, so I just figured that the 3D ones weren't for me.

 

Breath of the Wild, then, actually changed me. It consumed me, if I'm honest, and I don't think that what it bought to the table can be overstated. It's an astonishing achievement, which gave me insight into what everyone else was always raving about. At least, that's what I thought at the time. I now know just how special it is, being the best game of all time that just happens to wear a Zelda skin.

 

I bought this because I had a spare voucher, and some time to kill over the weekend. My assumption was that I'd give it a few hours, then stop caring, and leave it for my son to play next time he comes round. 

 

That's not what happened. I'm now 3 key parts out of 5 towards getting into what I assume is the 2nd temple. That I have had to actually work out for myself so much of how I've gotten even this far is eye-opening. I'm sure I've gotten to where I am by doing a couple of things unlike what the actual programmed way was, but BotW taught me that the end justifies any means.

 

I'm loving it, frankly. And I wish I'd given it longer back on the Wii, because it would have been my favourite game of all time if I had. I can't know for sure that I'm not just wish-fulfilling, but for the first time I actually feel like I'm really doing a Zelda game, and understand the adulation the series gets.

 

Nintendo truly are bloody good!

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I’ve certainly clicked with this a lot more once I went into handheld mode and used buttons. Not sure if my joycon gyros aren’t that good (I don’t see why they wouldn’t be) or more likely I’m just crack handed and don’t like the waggle.

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I skimmed the thread - I'm waiting until after 17:00 to start a piece of work, a poor excuse for such a questionable act perhaps, but there it is - 3 people said they hated it, and 1 of those now says he likes it.  2 people said it's just nostalgia and you'll snap out of it once you see it again.

 

There are people who said it's not as good as some of its predecessors, and there are some people who had bad memories of the motion controls - but then that's a well documented complaint about the Wii generation in general, and I agree with you when you said such concerns can be discounted for those of us who take no issue with it.

 

What there definitely is not, is a large cohort of people who said the game is/was shit.  It might have felt like that, and you've certainly sprung to the defense of the game on several occasions in this thread, but most people posted with supportive comments (even if sometimes those came with caveats about the premium price or the motion controls).

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45 minutes ago, Popo said:

I skimmed the thread - I'm waiting until after 17:00 to start a piece of work, a poor excuse for such a questionable act perhaps, but there it is - 3 people said they hated it, and 1 of those now says he likes it.  2 people said it's just nostalgia and you'll snap out of it once you see it again.

 

There are people who said it's not as good as some of its predecessors, and there are some people who had bad memories of the motion controls - but then that's a well documented complaint about the Wii generation in general, and I agree with you when you said such concerns can be discounted for those of us who take no issue with it.

 

What there definitely is not, is a large cohort of people who said the game is/was shit.  It might have felt like that, and you've certainly sprung to the defense of the game on several occasions in this thread, but most people posted with supportive comments (even if sometimes those came with caveats about the premium price or the motion controls).

Up until the remake it was a pretty maligned Zelda game, not just here but other places too, so I’ve got no qualms defending it as I think it’s great.  Especially as some people seemed genuinely pissed off by this game for some reason. 
 

Not really sure what the numbers have to do with anything though. Can’t my post just be in reference to one or two posts on here? Where did the threshold come from suddenly?

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Yeah, it's definitely been widely derided and the reaction surely goes some way to explain why Breath of the Wild is so drastically different. 

 

Of course, those of us who loved it on the Wii are painfully aware anyway because we've spent the last decade being told how wrong we are and how tired the format was and how motion controls don't work and how the text is a bit slow and how it repeats itself and how the text is a bit slow. 

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7 minutes ago, Sarlaccfood said:

Up until the remake it was a pretty maligned Zelda game, not just here but other places too, so I’ve got no qualms defending it as I think it’s great.  Especially as some people seemed genuinely pissed off by this game for some reason. 
 

Not really sure what the numbers have to do with anything though. Can’t my post just be in reference to one or two posts on here? Where did the threshold come from suddenly?


When I asked if people had really said the game was shit (they hadn’t - not in this thread), you said “just a bit”, insinuating that  a lo to of people had, which is why I referenced the numbers of comments that veered towards harsh. 
 

If a cavalcade of people had made repeated attempts to dump on the game, banging on about how it’s all just nostalgia and Nintendo have got one round you at £50 yet again, then I could see your point, but thats not what happened. 
 

I said I had no intention of playing it again back in February, and in the end I bought it. And I’m playing it. So, you know, fuck me and fuck my opinions. 

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Man these controls are funky, started playing but using the right stick to fight is making my head go???. Also is this the most wubby dubby I seen Zelda and Link?. I kind of want my boy Groose to win.

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I’d forgotten how good the music in this is, especially the way the Bazaar theme changes depending on which vendor you are near.

 

I’ve given up on the motion controls I’m afraid.  All it took was one very frustrating session with the Beetle where it always started off miscalibrated causing Link to turn away from where I wanted to send it & the damn thing would just not fly straight.  Flying the Loftwing using the stick & tapping A to flap the wings was also just so much more relaxing, & now that I’m more settled into the controls I can enjoy the actual game.

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I’m absolutely loving this, about 9 hours in and I’ve just ‘unlocked’ the second dungeon, taking a very leisurely pace. It’s so much better without the motion controls, which were always too imprecise and take too much effort to use. Like, I just want to lounge there and play some Zelda y’know? Not get a full body workout.

 

The ‘hold L’ camera movement was a pain at first, but I’m strangely ok with it now. Kind of do it without thinking, and it’s quite similar to the slightly odd camera controls in Metroid Prime. You adjust to it, and actually having any control of the camera is a huge improvement.

 

And I just love the overworld, the puzzles, the flying around (again, made better by button control). Such a lovely, relaxing game to play.

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So refreshing to see a positive reappraisal of the game all these years later, and yeah I realise the new version has many quality of life improvements which have no doubt improved it immeasurably for many. 
 

I’m yet to start it but the original game is one of my favourites, so it will be interesting to see how I feel post BoTW. 

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