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henrymidfields

Review: Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

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A bit of context: In recent years, I have been playing a lot of Zelda games. While I first played Link's Awakening in 1996-7, and the Oracle Games in 2002-2003, it wasn't until recently that I started to appreciate the story and gameplay of the franchise. Last year, I completed Ocarina of Time 3DS; earlier this year, I played and experienced the various stories within Majora's Mask, and saw myself wage war in an epic series of battles from Hyrule Warriors. For the future, I am looking forward to play the classics from GC and Wii, that are Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword.

Right now, I am playing Spirit Tracks, and sadly, this has been disappointing. In particular both the story and the gameplay seemed quite mediocre/underwhelming at best compared to other titles I have played. While I am at a point just before the final battle, I am considering ditching the adventure altogether.

For gameplay, while there were some good bits, including the very fact that I get to be a train driver, I had a lot of trouble with the controls. It was awkward having to use the touch screen to run, slash, and dodge, as sometimes if the stylus touches the screen wrong, Link would do a different action to what I want him to do, for example, Link accidentally bumping into an enemy when I wanted him to slash the enemy instead. What made this worse was the lack of an option for some basic button controls that was the standard in the other two 2D games I played. Having played the other games, I saw myself fumbling with the controls due to said reason, and such design in controlling link felt very unintuitive, not to mention unreliable. And I found this a huge problem against bosses, when I needed Link to both dodge and attack. While I am not sure about Skyward Sword's alleged gameplay problems, I am really glad that the touch-screen exclusivity has remained a DS-specific gimmick.

At least if the story was good and memorable, then it would be easier for me to overlook the bad gameplay. Unfortunately, the story in Spirit Tracks wasn't compelling enough. The main story seemed to be just a variation of Link saving the damsel in distress from a maniacally evil villain (that is also nowhere near as epic as Ganondorf) - though to its credit, Zelda did have her moments to shine. There also seemed to be a lack of backstory and interesting lore explaining how the Zeldaverse transitioned from Wind Waker to Spirit Tracks, which was another minus, especially considering that the sequel-prequel connection was, I think, more explicit here. I admit, I cheated myself and saw the boss fight in Youtube, but I'm starting to think that the story and its conclusion isn't worth what I see as an even worse version of yet another frustrating gameplay shitfight.

Other games I played had something substantial to contribute to my experience:

  • Link's Awakening had a surprisingly compelling story, which seemingly featured a standard "Link's quest to defeat an evil villain", but also showed the warning of the consequences in which defeating the Nightmare would also make Koholint Island disappear, including those Link befriended. While I found the difficulty was generally higher than the later games, everything seemed intuitive once I got used to them.
  • While I can't comment on the N64 version, the 3DS remakes of Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask had gameplay controls that I got used to easily, and both had memorable stories. Ocarina of Time was essentially an simple, yet effective analogy of having to face the fears of growing up, while Majora's Mask really focused on the backstories of the various characters, and how the lunar doomsday psychologically affected them. Both also had genuinely scary moments; something that I found missing in Spirit Tracks.
  • Hyrule Warriors may not have a compelling story as those mentioned above, but even it had its good moments, such as Zelda, Impa, and others being just as badass as Link is, an actual evil campaign arc featuring Ganondorf as the arc's protagonist, and even him outright winning against Link and Zelda in an open fight for the first time in the franchise's real-life history - and one that you can witness directly yourself. (And this happened despite Link and Zelda having parts of the Triforce!) The sheer scale of the battles and the bombastic orchestral music gives a great epic feeling. And the gameplay is, again, easy to learn, yet still a challenge to master, and is a lot of actual fun trying to go all-out Rambo-style.

Compared to the above-mentioned, Spirit Tracks just does not give me the patience to engage the final boss anymore.

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Never played Phantom Hourglass I take it? The Spirit is on the whole superior to PH, so don't play it if you don't like ST. The plot is even weaker, not that you should be playing a Zelda for one.

The controls work for the most part if you ask me, Nintendo proved to me style only controls could work. The only major issue is that combat is less nuanced when the stylus both controls attacking and movement.

ST did have good dungeon design I thought, and the Ocean/Sand Realm looked nice.

 

Try A Link to the Past and A Link Between Worlds if you haven't already. ALBW has no touch controls, and is amazing if you ask me. And no, it is not a remake of ALttP! The two games share an overworld design, but the plots are very different, and the gameplay is much more modern in ALBW. ALttP is still very good though, just remember it's from the SNES era.

Edited by Interdimensional Observer

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3 hours ago, henrymidfields said:

There also seemed to be a lack of backstory and interesting lore explaining how the Zeldaverse transitioned from Wind Waker to Spirit Tracks, which was another minus, especially considering that the sequel-prequel connection was, I think, more explicit here.

As much as I like Spirit Tracks (It's like, my seventh favorite Zelda), I am gonna state that since it seems like you haven't played Phantom Hourglass, you're missing a piece here.  Before it's a sequel to The Wind Waker, Spirit Tracks is a sequel to Phantom Hourglass.  PH picks up where TWW left off, Tetra, The Hero of Winds, and the Pirates are off looking for new land.  ST is set in the land they found after the events of PH.  The Hyrule in ST is a "New Hyrule" named after the old one, it's not the same place.

Anyway, on the controls: It was ages ago that I first played Phantom Hourglass, it was weird for me at first, but it really was just something I got used to after a while.  My only gripe with the controls of the DS games these days is the Spirit Flute being very finnicky at times (and that's one of the biggest reasons I actually prefer PH to ST, the other big reason is Linebeck is the best).

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When I first played the DS games I thought they were disappointing, but honestly they both have moments of creativity- I feel that PH had better bosses, and ST has better puzzles. 

Also I have to echo others and say that storywise it's light because it does lean on the fact that it is a sequel to phantom hourglass which itself is a sequel of wind waker.

Back to Spirit Tracks- It is pretty basic, but ghost zelda is probably at least the third best as  far as partner charathers go in zelda, but that might not be important for someone who started with the GBC zelda as they didn't become a tradition until Ocarina anyway. I'd say that the gameplay of the final boss isn't too bad a thing to miss, but the pre, mid, post scenes with zelda there help her already engaging character traits.

I think the fact that all of the items were more or less "ranged" helps the DS games get away with their touch screen controls. I think onlly the sword itself and getting sucked into the roll animation accidentally were big problems for me. I never felt the need to have the items set to buttons, because you don't use any of them up close like the gauntlet/torch/boots, etc in other games. 

I do have to agree that skipping a full three generations ahead of when they first settle the continent that they go looking for at the end of WindWaker might have been a bit much... Outside of 2 charathers and the cel-shading aesthetic, you can easily forget that the ocean is out there or why Hyrule is so geographically different from the "canonized" Ocarina of Time/Twilight Princess/Wind Waker. 

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the GCN / Wii games... I played them a lot- they'll probably satisfy on the story front, although they can be annoyingly selective with which characters get screen time.  '

Also you could argue that Twilight Princess is just as shaky as a sequel to Ocarina of Time as  Spirit Tracks is to Windwaker, since the events of OOT only really come up in the cutscene at the end of the 4th dungeon and the hinted identity of one of tutorial characters.

 

 

 

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4 minutes ago, Reality said:

Back to Spirit Tracks- It is pretty basic, but ghost zelda is probably at least the third best as  far as partner charathers go in zelda, but that might not be important for someone who started with the GBC zelda as they didn't become a tradition until Ocarina anyway. I'd say that the gameplay of the final boss isn't too bad a thing to miss, but the pre, mid, post scenes with zelda there help her already engaging character traits.

I agree; ghost Zelda is definitely one of the better partner characters in Zelda; ghost Zelda, Midna, and the King of Red Lions are the best in my opinion (not in any particular order!), which ties into the next thing I am about to say:

4 hours ago, henrymidfields said:

At least if the story was good and memorable, then it would be easier for me to overlook the bad gameplay. Unfortunately, the story in Spirit Tracks wasn't compelling enough. The main story seemed to be just a variation of Link saving the damsel in distress from a maniacally evil villain (that is also nowhere near as epic as Ganondorf) - though to its credit, Zelda did have her moments to shine. 

How was Spirit Tracks in any way Link saving the Damsel in Distress? Said 'damsel' is Link's partner character throughout the whole game, and, later on, even takes part in some of the boss fights. She's less of a damsel in distress than even Tetra from Wind Waker. I suppose there's the fact that you have to get her body back from the bad guys, but does that make it a damsel in distress story? I personally thought this nice subversion combined with the character development more than made up for the thin plot, but that's just my opinion.

I myself skipped Phantom Hourglass, but I still enjoyed Spirit Tracks. The controls are awkward at first, but one can get used to them. I recommend you keep playing it; it gets better later on, and your patience will be rewarded.

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I thought Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks had wonderful touch controls, that were both fluid and responsive. In fact, I almost missed them in Link Between Worlds.

It's been a long time since I 100%ed Spirit Tracks, but I must say the game only had one serious issue - padding.

The
Train
Is
So
Effing
Slow

Seriously, if I could make the train go 10x faster, the 25-hour adventure would turn into a 15-hour one, and it would be in my top-two top-down Zelda games.

Anyways, you should play Link to the Past next. Or Okami. Okami is good.

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1 hour ago, Zera said:

Or Okami. Okami is good.

Agreed, Okami is good. The combat is a bit eh (it's definitely an immersion breaker from the wonderful world when you're roaming Shinshu and other places), but the soundtrack and aesthetics are magnIficent. The plot works, and the adventuring is fun. The Celestial Brush can be a bit tricky to learn with few of the more advanced techniques, but is otherwise responsive and well integrated.

Okamiden? Don't play until after Okami, and it isn't as good even then. Where is Okami 2 Capcom?! The same place as Mega Man Legends 3?

By the way, do skip Triforce Heroes if you have no good friends, the game is difficult and not so fun Solo.

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