Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Gaming Corner: Why Twilight Princess is My Favorite Zelda Game

When someone in a crowd of gamers presents an opinion on their favorite in a long running series of games, debates tend to run into the early wee hours of the morning.  It never fails.  This due to the fact that you can almost guarantee the series has affected everyone in some way over the years.  Either that, or they aren’t the gamer you thought they were and you don’t want to debate with them anyway.  Also, if that is the case, you may want to reevaluate your friendship with the person.  It’s built on lies.

Whether your friends love or hate the series, they have an opinion on it.  It may be that they experienced a certain entry in the series as a child as one of their first games, and it was responsible for making them a gamer in the first place.  Maybe one of the series games holds a special place because it helped them through a hard time.  Or it could just be that one in particular had a story and gameplay that they loved.  On the other side of the coin they could hate it on the principle that it refuses to reinvent itself, or just isn’t their cup of tea.  No matter what the case, the joy of long running series is that everyone has been given the opportunity to form an opinion.

That being said, I will present my case on my favorite game in one of my favorite series, and expect that it would rile up a fun fight in any gaming circle.  The subject in question is of course The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.  To me, this game is just about perfect and I come prepared to defend myself.

As time became more constricting entering my adult life and you have to pick and choose your hobbies a bit more, I found myself deciding that there were a few things I wasn’t ready to give up.  This game came in a transition period of my life as I entered my mid-twenties.  It provided a renaissance, if you will, of my passions.  I had plenty of opportunity to hang my controllers up and let my consoles collect dust, but it didn’t happen.  Twilight Princess is at least partially to thank for that.

Now we get to the game itself.  First off, the world.  One point that cannot be argued is, to this day, this is the biggest Zelda world we’ve been able to run around in so far.  Hands down.  There is so much to this place that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or simply in awe of the scope.  The size of the open field areas alone put the other games to shame, and we haven’t even begun to talk about the dungeons or cities and exterior zones like Lake Hylia and Gerudo Desert.  The best part is that this feels like a cohesive world.  Each area blends seamlessly into the next and the landscapes go for realism to line up with the graphic styling choices.  This is still the most mature looking Link and adventure that I’ve seen.  I have love for the more cartoony entries like Windwaker and Skyward Sword, but I think Zelda is at its best when it goes for the epic in both tone and look.

Even the best Zelda game, though, is nothing without its bread and butter.  The genius work of the dungeon design never ceases to be some most fun I ever have in a game.  Twilight Princess sometimes gets knocked as a mere Ocarina of Time upgrade, but it’s so much more.  The dungeons may share some names with their Ocarina counterparts but that’s where the similarities end.  There were several times where I would simply blind at the screen in wonder when I discovered how a particular puzzle came together in the end.  (True story)  Not only are there plenty in this time around, unlike the short jip we got in Windwaker, each one puts its reoccurring theme and item to endlessly creative use.  The Water Temple is actually fun, not frustrating.   The dungeon variety stays fresh as it sends you from a treefort-like Forest Temple to Snow Mansion in the mountains.  And if you weren’t smiling after riding the rails in the Aribiter’s Grounds with the Spinner, you probably don’t have a soul.

To be honest, as much as people praise the added dynamic of becoming the wolf, I found that it was one of my least favorite times.  While I did enjoy search out the parasites and using Midna’s power to fight twilight creatures, and loved the way it played into the story, I actively longed for being human again.  Thankfully, the times when I was Link fully made up for it.  Even the simple waggle of the Wii-remote added a different flavor, made items easier to access, and was frankly much less effort than the workout Skyward Sword required out of me.

In this day and age, it’s fairly common to want a good story out of a game.  They are becoming cinematic experiences of their own.  The icing on the cake for me was that this story grabbed me more than any other Zelda game.  Call it my love for a more mature, darker, and epic tale, but sue me, I love it that way.  There were genuine moments of unsettling and heavier theming than we’ve seen in Zelda, like when we see the potential for Link doing evil using the Fused Shadows, even implying murdering younglings.  It’s a place that Zelda games hadn’t gone before and have yet to since.  The story unfolds slowly but it never bothered me because it’s such a large game.  The main baddy Zandt makes a nice change from Ganon for most of the game, but we all know it’s headed.  Still, the journey to get there is filled with a lot more cinematic story-telling and even a couple of nuanced character beats for people other than Link.  It actually made me care for the children and that weird witch doctor-bartender love story.  However, none of it compares to the final sequence of battles between Link and all the forms of Ganon, leading to an awesome horse-back fight with Zelda by your side, and the duel we’ve always wanted.  Link and Ganon finally go sword to sword in a one on one fight for the ages.  This had to be one of the coolest moments in gaming history, at least if you at any point considered yourself a Zelda fan.  It had my blood pumping and my mouth cheering.

These reasons and certainly many more are why this game in my book is the greatest Zelda.  It may not have needed defending, but it certainly deserves it at least once more.


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The Reader’s Corner: Book Review


In Mistborn, the first book in a trilogy of epic fantasy, Brandon Sanderson’s creative ability truly shines through.  He has a certain knack for intricate systems of magic that manage to be complicated without being completely so, and grounding them in some sort of reality that we as non-super powered beings can grasp onto.  Also, the medieval setting in which he places his characters and themes becomes merely the back drop for characterizations that feel real in a type of world where there are usually pretty standard fantasy tropes.  The themes seem to resonate on a deeper level than one might expect at first glance.

When the story begins we learn that this is a world where the bad guy has already won.  A thousand years before, the land was taken over by a man with evil intentions and is still under the constant shade of tyranny of the Lord Ruler.  We mainly follow a teenage girl named Vin who, despite her fragile exterior, has a harder edge that comes from a life among criminals and thieves on the streets.  A man named Kelsier discovers her, reveals he is a Mistborn, and seems to think Vin is one as well.  They quickly fall into the standard roles of mentor and student as he shows her the nuances of the Mistborn’s abilities.

If this all sounds pretty straight forward in terms of fantasy story telling so far it is important to note that all of this is established right in the beginning.  It’s what happens when the story truly gets going that sets this one apart.

The magic system itself, called Allomancy, seems built to play right into the unique plot.   In the simplest explanation possible, there are eight different metals that one can ingest to receive a certain ability tied to that metal.  Mistings have the ability to use only one of the eight metals’ allotted powers, but they are fairly common in the world.  Mistborn are extremely rare and are able to use all eight.  There are physical metals like Steel or Iron that allow one to push or pull on metal objects, thus making that user able to perform great physical feats.  Then there are mental metals like Zinc or Brass that can suppress or inflame the emotions of those they are directed at.  This can be especially useful in swaying opinions one way or another in conversation.  There yet still other metals that detect the use of Allomancy, while there are others that hide it from detection.  Each power seems to have an exact opposite.

One might be able to see how this could set up a sort of Oceans Eleven style heist that would require the use of a dozen people all doing very specific jobs to complete their mission.  The mission in this story just happens to be overthrowing the Lord Ruler’s thousand -year reign.  There are scenes that you can truly see the intricacies of doling out responsibilities and laying out what must be accomplished before they can succeed.  It is no less spectacular here than it was in that movie.  You can tell Sanderson really put some time and thought into this.

In this world, the noble houses have all the power and wealth and the rest of the people are either slaves or criminals. One of the requirements of this grand heist is for one of Kelsier’s group to infiltrate the most important noble houses to see what they are up to and try to ignite a house war that will make the capital city easier to take.  Vin is thrust into this position unwillingly, requiring her to muster a form of regality she’s never had.  She soon finds that the man she has been sent to investigate for information about the noble houses is her age, and is as fed up with the way their society works as the group planning the heist.  The moments of the story that take place in these formal settings almost play out like some sort of like some sort of star-crossed love story.  It really is a treat to see how Vin goes from absolute loathing for Elend and his noble upbringing, to respect for him not being like the others, and then love after she realizes how great a man and natural leader he really is.

Still, the main issue at stake here is the fate of the land and the climax doesn’t disappoint.  There is the obligatory big battle in the streets of the city between the rebellion force and the Lord Ruler’s standing army, but it has a certain weight so many fantasy tales don’t have because it is only one piece of the grander master plan of the rebels at work here.  It would seriously take several more pages to be able divulge the true intricacies of the plot, which again speaks to Sanderson’s ability to fit his puzzle together expertly.  Oh, and when the little seen Lord Ruler does finally appear on screen near the end it is certainly ominous, even in book form.  I found my eyes glued to the page.

If these other elements weren’t enough we are left with a lingering sort of awe involving a certain element of theme from the mentor character Kelsier.  His actions at the end provide an idea that it is more a symbol of hope than a specific good individual that ultimately motivate an oppressed people to action.  The fact that it was his plan all along and the final piece of the grand heist makes it even more special.

This is truly a great tale for readers of any type and genre preference.  There seems to be a trend lately to break out of the traditional fantasy elements and move the entire genre onto a platform more closely resembling the importance and relevance of traditional fiction.  The fantasy genre isn’t going away.  It’s merely evolving and Brandon Sanderson seems poised on the cutting edge of this movement.

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In Defense of the New Star Wars Trailer

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, by now you’ve surely experienced – or at least heard about from that guy to your left – the new trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  It’s been the talk of water coolers, internet boards, and nerds of all generations since its release over a month ago.  Also, if you are still offended by the term “nerds” these days then you haven’t been paying attention.  Nerd culture is mainstream and here to stay, but I digress.  Even if you are one of the few who have your doubts about the new movie – either from being disillusioned by the more recent prequel efforts, or maybe not believing the Force is with J.J. Abrams and Disney – you’ve watched the trailer purely out of morbid curiosity.

This discussion has of course had its impact on myself and my circle of friends, most of whom consider themselves fans in general of the series.  My initial reaction to the actual content of the trailer was irrelevant, and so I assumed this would be the case with most fans.  For me at least, it was the realization that we were seeing real footage from a brand new Star Wars movie.  That was all I needed to have my nerd moment, but not everyone.

I discovered over the subsequent weeks to my surprise that many were disappointed.  The trailer did not give them what they wanted.  It wasn’t enough to show a few quick shots of familiar pieces of the Star Wars universe.  The general fan base felt they deserved more.  I sat baffled as I spoke to many friends about my excitement only to find they did not share it.  Yes, it is a common thing for fans with passion for something to be the most critical of it.  And yes this is Star Wars we are talking about, so I understand that even a teaser is worth gold, but there needs to be an understanding.  Just consider the long road has taken to get to this point.  At least in the case of Star Wars, take a step back from fandom and just be happy it’s actually happening.  The trailer is great because it exists.  Period.  And it did its job well; it teased you, just like it said it would.

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