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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

One of the best video games ever, period! The Legend of Zelda

I'm known for strong opinions, but I challenge anyone to say that The Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past is not hands down awesome.

If its not the best video game of all time its one of the best. For the time frame the Legend of Zelda was heads and shoulders above most other games in the genre. Set the scene: the 16-bit Super NS was a huge hit and represented a big step forward from the previous 8-bit system which was a monster hit. Zelda's I and II  where good and very involved for the time.

Some people pan Zelda as its a flagship game for the Wii and we all know that anything Wii related is bad right (insert sarcasm here).  Those people are fools. Zelda is a very successful franchise and specfically A Link to the Past is rated as one of the greatest video games of all time. (This is but one platitude, there are many, many more out on the web).

 The think that was most striking the first time we played it, it was a night fairly dark and my buddies and I fired up the game and we here this muted sound of rain? Was it raining outside, was the TV burning out? As an aside I did burn out one TV playing my Atari 2600 back in the day). We check the TV. Nothing. So we keep playing and low and behold, ITS RAINING!!!!!!

I can't understate just how cool this was. There was thunder and lightning; when Link tramped through puddles it splashed. I think that was one of the big advances was the sound. You can tell the designers of the game put a lot of thought into this. 

Questing for hearts and pieces of hearts was also fun to try and get all 20. This was before the advent of the internet so you couldn't just go on line or grab a game book that detailed everything in it to figure out where everything was. And if I recall correctly A Link to the Past was the first time that it introduced pieces of hearts to collect. You had to explore on your own.  Which leads to another awesome idea that was finding the bottles. I remember distinctly after grabbing the Zora's flippers swimming through the rivers and heading up to the castle. A certain friend of mine was getting rather annoyed about me "wasting time". Low and behold I swim to the bridge and what do I find? The third bottle! Needless to say I had a smug, "ship" eating grin on my face, much to his consternation.

A great thing that the game introduced was the upgrade path for the main  weapon, the master sword and if you had full hearts the fact that you could zap enemies from afar. Likewise the gloves, shields, boomerang, bows and armor could be improved. This would set the standard for it upgrades. What else was there? A hammer, bug, nets, shovel, flippers, flying duck to zip you around the board, the boomerang, etc! Bombing walls, hacking bushes, the heights of Death Mountain, the shadowy grove of the forests. Fighting troopers and poes, tektites and zoras, moblins and keese. Multiple palaces to explorer, multiple towers?

In short, pure awesomeness!

For those not in the know, (and I'm not worrying about spilling the beans on a game from the early 90s) the cool thing about the game is the interplay between the Light World and the Dark World. link has a ton to explore before even getting to the dark world. By carefully placing certain barriers that require certain items to unlock the area Link is largely confined to certain areas. The cool part is the player has to use both the Light and Dark worlds to get to certain areas. Some might feel that in hindsight its rail roading" of the highest order but in terms of game-play its actually fairly open, certainly for the time.

A Link to the Past had another great touch that made it  memorable. the ending video scene after defeating Gannon:

Everything is put back where it should be, from Link's uncle recovering to the thief in the forest looking very putt off by Link's triumph.

Like an idiot I sold my Super NES a long time ago and got a replacement combo 8 bit/16 bit system for it some years back. One of the first games I reacquired was this. And playing through it again roughly twenty years after the fact, it was still a good game, it still played well and brought a smile to my face.

In my estimation this game is a 10 out of 10. Its pitch perfect. Now I know many will say that Ocarina of Time is better in the Zelda franchise, I won't argue I think the Ocarina is rightly on that list as well. In my mind you could say Ocarina of Time and Link to the Past are 1A and 1B and a  case can be made for switching that. In a random note for Super NES the only other game that came close to me liking it as much as Zelda was Final Fantasy I (Or III in Japan) with Illusion of Gaia a far distant third.

And another game that is creeping up my list? Skyrim ;)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

1st Edition AD&D- the Finale- Part VI

--> This is the last in the series regarding THE CAMPAIGN, and I mean for me, the campaign from those halcyon days gone by of high school AD&D gaming in 1st edition. In wrapping it up I’m going to talk about the finale with the BBEG named Dagotha, (No, not that one).

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m pulling all of this from memory, as I didn’t keep campaign notes of my characters back then.  I did sketch a map on this one (it was revealed to us as we adventured) but it’s since lost. We were starting to get to higher levels (for 1st edition AD&D that is) and the campaign was getting late into its second year; plus there were other games on our radar (I think we played Twilight 2000 and WFRP right after this). WFRP was big for us as we played through the Enemy Within campaign with horrific results on our characters.

We had been on the trail of Dragotha for the better part of the year and I seem to recall us “just missing” him time and again. I vaguely remember that Jim’s dwarf was on a mission of revenge for slaying some of his kin and something may have happened where we investigated some additional deaths for his clan. Hence he was highly motivated. The rest of us had various reasons and as I mentioned I was recovering the shield of Arion for the dark elf city my PC was from.

Eventually we tracked Dragotha down to a dungeon he was lairing in and started hacking our way towards him. I remember it being bloody and populated with a number of clerical spell casters that were blocking our way. I don’t recall it being more then one level. To side track for second, I do recall I patterned the clerics of Orion, an evil sect in one of my second edition campaign worlds after them in terms of using clerical power as a thwarting method of the PCs; i.e. evil clerical magic can’t usually be utilized by the PCs. In much the same way I believe Gary created the Drow: a high level challenge with magical items the PCs couldn’t use.

In any event we arrived in a section of the dungeon that had a long hallway. From a wooden reinforced door emerged our quarry, the BBEG Dragotha! Now looking back on this, a doorway in a simple 10x10 wide hallway? In fact it was smart, rather then some wide-open area where we could gang up on him and lob spells.  Also it gave us no room to maneuver, the fighters could not all get at him at the same time. The two main spell casters in the party were Daryl’s pyromancer and my fighter/magic user. Even still, at around 8th/9th level we could do some respectable damage with the heavy damage spells (fireball, lightning bolt, etc). By making thing up close and personal we couldn’t “call in the artillery” as it were as we would be striking our companions (later on in 2nd edition games with other groups I’ve actually had a 2e mage drop a fireball in the party’s midst on purpose).  

So as it was we had to resort to melee and it quick order Dragotha leaped to the attack and killed the half ogre fighter and the dwarf (with the dwarven axe he was questing after no less) and the shield. He was at least attacking 3/1 and shield did 2d10 per hit (plus presumably strength). From there, Dave’s fighter/thief and my fighter/magic user were next up as the groups backup warriors. Dave engaged in melee and somehow managed to avoid the buzz saw of the spinning blades on the shield and the dwarven axe just long enough. As I recall believe that it was my character that got the killing blow in, not with my spetum, which I was specialized in, but of all things a lightning bolt spell. The half ogre and the dwarf had weakened him enough for it to work. I don’t recall Chris’ illusionist being there at he end nor do I recall the actions of Mike’s ranger/cleric. But I do recall getting the spell off. The clear memory is that I have is the area drawn out on the battle map and the front line fighters down when I cast. And like that, after a short, but intense fight the BBEG went down. From there the campaign wrapped up and we moved onto other adventures.

Looking back on the overall arc of the game what made it memorable is that each PC had a reason to go after Dragotha, but it was more. Looking back at it, using personal “mcguffins” for some of the PCs was brilliant. How does the BBEG use weapons that aren’t ones that the DM custom makes for just him? “Such and such bad-ass evil sword crated by X evil deity, the axe of doom, etc”, in effect it was sort of like the movie Conan where Thulsa Doom takes Connan’s father’s sword. Great, under served idea IMHO. How often does the BBEG use a dwarven axe of a good clan, turn it around and use it against one of the heroes? Not very often I’d say.

Since that time I’ve played in some great games, some not so great. Still others were somewhat in the middle. But since then, THE CAMPAIGN sits in a special place because of a confluence of many events: of it being the right place and right time.  The fact that it was an awesome experience pales in comparison to the fact that I made life long friends from the group, we’ve been in each others weddings, seen our kids grow, argued, bickered and generally been pains in each others collective asses. In spite of it all I wouldn’t have traded the experience or my friends for anything.