30 Days Coda: Favorite Game

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
Follow the link for the full list.

It will come as no surprise, as I’ve probably mentioned it about 36,834 times already on this site; my favorite game of all time is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.  Hardly a controversial choice, as Ocarina is often listed highly or at the top of a number of ‘greatest of’ lists, and remains the all-time highest-reviewed game on Metacritic.  We’re not just going for the popular route here, though – Ocarina remains a top of list of great games for me as the pinnacle of what a good role-playing game can be.

Wait, did I just say “role-playing game?”  But, Josh, you might say, silly boy, Zelda isn’t an RPG?  Okay maybe so.  But in its defined genre of “action-adventure”, Ocarina (as many of the other Zelda games) tells a story with far more panache than any Final Fantasy could ever.  More importantly, Ocarina did it with a sparing amount of cut-scenes and almost no high-end graphics effects (saving the best effects for the final battles) but with amazing ‘camera’ work – lingering, haunting shots of the protagonist and his allies, framing shots of Zelda, Link & Ganon with a mastery more suited for cinema than video games.   Nowhere in the game was this better illustrated when Link leaves his home for the first time;

In that receding 8-second shot of Saria, you see everything Link is sacrificing to become the Hero of Time – a life others have lived before him and the life-long friendship of Saria.  You know that Saria will play a more important part of the story, but just like Link, the player has no idea what his sacrifice will truly cost.   Other decisions are equally amazing in their execution – no music plays during that entire scene (outside of the chimes that accompany Link’s acquisition of another item) – just the background noise of the forest, a tranquil chorus of bird calls.  The silence is heavy, eerie, even, as Link takes two hesitant backward steps into his destiny.  It’s made even more stark by the inanely cheerful background music for Hyrule Fields and when Kaepora is on-screen.

The story-telling elements are just one piece of the masterpiece wrought by Miyamoto and his team, but they are ever-present.  Link’s first confrontation with Ganon is another excellent use of camera work and lighting, as is the slow-pan reverence paid to the first time the player (and Link) sets eyes on the Master Sword;

Or the beautifully framed image of our three principals, beginning what would become a generations-long battle for the soul of Hyrule;

(look at the :49 mark.)

Also, I never knew that you could hang off the ledge like that – huh, learn something every day.  Which is a great segue into the other outstanding element of OOT – the gameplay.  Ocarina is, after all, an action-adventure and is really not an RPG.  While the acquisition of loot has always been a hallmark of the Zelda games, each piece of new gear Link gets is just another means to unlock his next objective.  In that sense, Zelda games are more puzzle games than RPG, and Ocarina, again, leads its siblings in that regard; the 3D environment was fully utilized, beautifully so in the dungeons (except for the Water Temple, assholes.)  Solving a dungeon no longer required knowing exactly where to drop a bomb (though there was plenty of that – especially in the Goron temple,) but figuring out how to get back to the same room but in a different location, and most often, a different height.

The 3D environment added amazing elements to the combat as well – consider the Queen Gohma fight (a truly creepy use of camera effects, by the way) or the Forest Temple boss fight, where the subtle difference in height between the mounted shade of Ganon and Link made a simple concept of whack-a-mole a bit more tricky in execution.

Lastly, the story itself of OOT is as endearing to me as any.  There’s really not a lot to it that’s original, really, it’s a coming-of-age story, but with a really cunning twist; the protagonist AND the damsel are both having to come into their own powers.  The setup is flawless – the young-Link part of the game has a child-like innocence about it and a simple quest, but during the course of this quest, Link unwittingly damages his home severely; not only by allowing Ganon access to the Triforce, but in his interactions, Link (and through him, Zelda) create a lot of disorder in the lives of their countrymen.  Mari… I mean Talon & Walug… I mean Ingo’s toss up leaves Talon’s business in disarray and Malon’s heart as collateral damage.  Ruto too gets her heart broken, not to mention her entire species almost gets wiped out.  While “Bad Things Happening to Good People” is a time-honored tradition in story-telling of vilifying the antagonist, OOT does a great job of laying a lot of the blame at the real root cause – young Princess Zelda, who acts out of impulse in her early career, instead of the Wisdom that she later earns.  Link too is shown as having to own up to his childhood mistakes, earning over (and then some) the Triforce of Courage.

Ocarina was a watershed moment in video gaming, there’s little doubt of that.  Nintendo has often scored big victories with its two flagship franchises, but they truly hit everything right when it came to Ocarina.  From beginning to end, the story of the first Link will always hold a special place in my memories, and in my heart;

I think someone just started cutting an onion around me…


30 Days: Favorite Game Designer

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
Follow the link for the full list.

There really is only one answer here; Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo.  His contributions to gaming are legion, including some of the most critically acclaimed and universally beloved games.  Super Mario BrosThe Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong 3…  along with those respective franchises, the Star Fox franchise, hell, even Wii Fit1goddamned animated fit board aside.  He simply is the Greatest of All Time.

That being said, there are plenty of great designers that belong in the pantheon alongside Miyamoto: Sid Meier, Will Wright and Richard Garriott are among many others.  But leading that pantheon is by far, Miyamoto.

30 Days: Favorite Couple

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
Follow the link for the full list.

Here’s where I diverge from the script.

You’ll no doubt be expecting Link & Zelda here.  I would be expecting Link & Zelda here.  There’s hardly a more timeless, classic video game couple than Link & Zelda.   While the two non-Power facets of the Triforce started as a rote, damsel-in-distress story with Link playing the part of the Knight-Errant, the Zelda series has done a wonderful job highlighting Zelda as an appropriate and equally capable adventurer as her long-time legendary beau.  Zelda has been a master of disguise, a sage, a pirate (and a ninja!) and most importantly, the personification & holder of the Triforce of Wisdom.

In short, the girl’s moved up in the world.

I love the evolution of Princess Zelda, and what that’s meant to the series named after her.  Zelda was such a minor character in the first several entries in the series, which always was odd to me considering that she’s the title character.

But they’re not a couple.  They’re a threesome.  Link & Zelda would simply not be Link & Zelda without Ganon.

I know, it’s trite.  Every tired old adventure story is a triangle – the knight-errant, the damsel and the villain.  But the concept of triangles are so prevalent within the Legend of Zelda, it’s impossible to ignore – the Triforce needs all three parts, not just Courage & Wisdom.  In fact, you could argue that Link & Ganon are more of a couple than Link & Zelda, but if you really want to get into it, the real couple is Ganon & Zelda, who represent the two extremes of the power of Triforce.  Anyway, the point being is that Ganon has the Triforce of Power, Zelda Wisdom, and Link eventually gets his tiny little hands on Courage, and the three of them are trapped together forever.

No, my favorite couple comes from Bioware’s excellent Mass Effect series – Commander Sheppard & Garrus Vakarian.  Renegade buddy cops, bounty hunter bros, soldiers of virtue and honor, or just bumping uglies (or incredibly supple wrists), Shep & Garrus are my favorite couple.  Male or Femshep, it doesn’t really matter, though I prefer to bring the scruffy battleworn Turian into Jenna Sheppard’s renegade bed.  To me, Garrus fits the renegade FemShep the best – two incredibly tough badasses that have hearts of gold buried under three feet of steel plating, ready to save the universe, no matter what it takes.

Just… beware of chafing.

30 Days: Favorite Game Franchise

This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
Follow the link for the full list.


Yeah there’s really not a lot of doubt here, is there?  I have professed my love for the Zelda series time and time again on this site so we don’t really need to go too in depth here, do we?  Instead, with that out of the way, I can spend a bit of time on other franchises that I’ve loved throughout the years.

The first that comes to mind, and really, has made a strong running to displace Zelda is Civilization in all its glorious incarnations.  Civ games always have a high replay value and some of my best memories in gaming are finally pulling off that grind of domination game, or the abject terror of a Zulu army hell bent on my destruction.  It’s hardly surprising that given my love of history and geography that Civ would rank so high, and the latest few releases’ habit of hiring great voice actors to deliver the quotes attached to each technology (and, in Brave New World, to read the Great Works of Writing) have really brought an incredible touch to the series, a real connection to the history that the series is built upon.

There are many other franchises that have come and gone over the years, Mass Effect was an amazing drop into world building, Dragon Age to a lesser degree as well.  Mario of course is perhaps the best loved and longest tenured franchise out there, but its appeal has waned for me for a while now.  Prince of Persia was a series that drew me in early but lost me with the more recent releases.  Knights of the Old Republic and its various spin offs were enjoyable, but nothing ever grabbed me as much as the first did.  Warcraft was almost the opposite path – it took me a while to get into the series but by Warcraft III, and of course, World of Warcraft, I was hooked for a long time.

It does dawn on me, that while the Zelda series will always hold that special place in my heart, that maybe, just maybe, Sid Meier stole it out from under me.


30 More Days: Favorite Weapon

This is part of a series in which I try to write a post every day on silly video game topics.  For the list of topics, click here.

Was there any doubt?

The Master Sword
“Master using it and you can have this.”

There’s really no other choice for me.  The sword of evil’s bane is by far my favorite weapon in any game.  The Arthurian homages, the powers of the sword to reflect evil (Tennis, anyone?) and the various means of acquiring the sword make it one of the most epic pieces of loot.  It was the Master Sword, after all, that really opened my eyes to just how satisfying getting “phat loot”, as it is called in parlance of our times, really is.  Fire flowers come and go.   A new power is dandy, but it’s just a way to beat the next boss.  The Master Sword is a game changer.