Wrapping Up the Zelda/Okami Comparison

February 14th, 2010

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With most of the analysis pushed to one side we can finally get down to what you really want to see: a fight off, Okami Vs Zelda: Twilight Princess.

I’m afraid that Gordon Freeman has killed my faith in the democratic system, so instead I’m going to state my views and maybe you can leave a comment, if I let you. ^_^ (No seriously, if you’ve played both games then please do weigh in).

Over a month ago, I made the following statement about Zelda: Twilight Princess in my 2009 wrap-up:

“Zelda for the conservatives, the game you were hoping for was made by Capcom and called Okami, you should go play it. Otherwise, engaging in a familiar way, no one does it better than the best.”

And I definitely stand by my assertion. Zelda: Twilight Princess, whilst a standout game, innovates minutely, intentionally adhering to the traditional formula and visual style as requested by fans. By ditching the principles of the Wind Waker, Link and Nintendo ate their souls, their souls!!

And so I still feel crushed.

Okami is therefore something of a spiritual sequel to Wind Waker, while Twilight Princess is unashamedly the sequel to Ocarina of Time. Okami innovates in areas where one would’ve expected Twilight Princess to. Plus, Issun is my favourite video game character ever, a fact which I only last considered when I was 7 years old (and for reference, Wario was my former favourite character).

And yet “no one does it better than the best”.

It’s ironic then that I actually prefer Zelda: Twilight Princess. Ironic on many levels:

As great as Okami is, as I analysed in my prior post, Okami feels so lethargic that it drags the whole experience down. On top of that, Okami cut player morale early on with the confusing fake finale—we’re emotional creatures and Okami‘s “betrayl” soured my interest.

Despite my temperament, Zelda: Twilight Princess has only ever worked in win me over, it’s frankly a giant dose of well-iterated comfort food; 60hrs of the most refined and enjoyable adventuring this industry has come to know. Sure, I felt bothered by the tricky roadblocks, but I never felt discontent. Zelda: Twilight Princess is a meal that was both delicious and filling. Okami was also a great meal, but one that filled me up too quickly and burnt my lip.

The Final Word on Twilight Princess

July 8th, 2009

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In my lengthy editorial on Zelda: Twilight Princess‘ balance between conformity and innovation, I stressed that the game’s overall merit can be judged on the enjoyment of the inspired, new content weighed against the grind of iterated material. I probably exhausted the idea a little too extensively, all the while never sharing my own commentaries on how the game stacks up.

I’m actually a little hesitant to discuss my enjoyment of Twilight Princess, since I’m fearful that this old-stuff-new-stuff idea was just some wayward thought that got caught in my head and eventually evolved into a stigma which has poisoned my enjoyment. My thoughts have been stewing on Twilight Princess for two years now so it’s likely that my distaste for the realistic graphical style – over the cel-shaded look – has spiked the melting pot. Honestly though, I can’t let this go! Despite the occasional bright idea, Twilight Princess is monotony compared to the youthful Wind Waker. Even the abstract elements – while in some cases astoundingly brilliant – pale to the vigor of macabre which made Majora’s Mask all the more riveting. It seems like an amalgamation of Ocarina of Time (general design), Majora’s Mask (Twilight world) and some tidbits from Wind Waker (eyes, characterization) with no distinct personality of its own – let’s assign it generic Lord of the Rings fantasy, eh? It depends on how mean you’re feeling.

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I’m mostly pleased with Twilight Princess and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be – it’s objectively the most refined and endearing Zelda experience ever to come out of Nintendo. Leagues better than Wind Waker‘s slim content. Sure I loved the – awfully titled – toon Link, Ayril and their melon-headed Grandma; those characters wear the largest hearts, but admittedly the game was a slouch when it came to content, unfortunately.

Sure the content was thinly spread, but the relatively little offered in Wind Waker felt completely fresh. Wind Waker introduced an entirely original world filled with water, with accommodating sailing mechanics and original characters, including a new race to the series (the Rito people) as well as the re-jigged Deku tribe. A handful of new items were included such as the Deluxe Picto Box and Deku Leaf. Link’s eyes played a significant part in the game, the combat was layered with some context sensitivity and unique enemy types. Most significant was the change in scenery, similar to Link’s Awakening, Wind Waker has a seaside theme. This was further expanded with locales sporting a real showmanship such as the Forsaken Fortress and Dragon Roost Cavern, the latter, a dungeon which weaves in and out of a giant volcano.

In contrast, Twilight Princess is more or less Ocarina of Time redux with some tweaks. The new features include the Wolf mechanics, Midna, upgrades to horseback riding, combat and some items. The locales are mostly the same and/or similar to those seen in Ocarina of Time or other Zelda titles for that matter, the Palace of Twilight proving to be a surreal exception. Sure, the differences on paper don’t match my claims terribly well, but the overall layer of difference, instilled by Wind Waker‘s graphic design, coupled with copious amounts of sea voyaging makes it the most individual of the pair. Conversely, the samey-ness of Twilight Princess works in the opposite manner, layering the game in a sense of familiarity, you know, OOT just in higher res.

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What this all amounts to is the obvious sense of personal conflict reflected by my writing. Wind Waker takes you by the heart strings and never ceases, until Link drives his miniature blade into the centre of Gannondorf’s forehead. Twilight Princess on the other hand is the better game and by a wide margin. Which one do I favourite? Wind Waker, of course; a preference which itself loomed over my 62hr play time in Twilight Princess. It feels like a missed opportunity which has likely been tossed aside for good except for the low-res DS titles which I wish I could make some sort of jarred, baseless assertion about.

Alas, amidst my confusion I haven’t actually evaluated Twilight Princess yet, have I? Does the new stuff outweigh the old? Well…not enough to overcome my bias that the decision to adopt realistic visuals resulted in the lack of structural innovation to the title. Yes, they’re unrelated (or at least should be treated as such), but the new material and tweaks in Twilight Princess fails to persuade me otherwise. This underlying niggle put a downer on my experience, but didn’t destroy or even pose a huge detriment to the overall game, given that I had to first place myself in the right mindset. I can play Twilight Princess and enjoy it as ‘The state of Ocarina of Time in 2006’ without my detestation getting in the way, which I guess makes Twilight Princess a pretty good game then.

Additional Readings

Behind the Legend [Zelda: Wind Waker]

Zelda: Twilight Princess – Nintendo-fying Stolen Mechanics

July 7th, 2009

Carrying on from my previous comments on the weight of creativity in Zelda: Twilight Princess, another way that Nintendo can continue to foster creativity with the next potential Zelda is to Nintendo-fy the innovations of others – not just steal, but reinvent and adapt. Let’s say that the next Zelda is a sequel to Twilight Princess and adopts a mostly similar framework, innovating through content instead of changing the foundations of the series – which seems to be the case. For this sequel to not be derivative of the previous game (which was itself mostly derivative of prior games) Nintendo would need to inject a stream of constantly innovative ideas. Even for the mighty Nintendo, being wholly innovative in such a way is no easy task, so why not adopt the ideas and mechanics of other games and re-jig it for your own?

Nintendo successfully did so with stealth sections in Zelda: Wind Waker. The whole adaption was one big spoof of Metal Gear and for players in on the joke it was a great joy to see the two styles collide. Besides the referential humour, the actual play mechanics felt similar yet given a whole new interpretation – one of the many fruits of the game.

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Such a technique is used (and often buggered up) by western developers all the time, I think that Nintendo could craft a lot of success but exercising this technique a little more in their next title (if it were to be more-of-the same vein to TP). The trick is to understand the way the borrowed mechanics are ‘fun’ and then draw on that in a manner that is relevant to your own game. Liberally copy and pasting almost always results in a big failure because of the different contexts. Most western developers fail at understanding how the mechanic creates ‘fun’ and hence fail to reapply it properly to their own game, hence we call it stealing rather than a softener word like borrowing. Nintendo usually have have a firm grasp on their properties and what makes them enjoyable so that ought to capitalize on this technique some and see how it works for them.