After four years of anticipation and hype, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has finally been released and I wasted no time before wasting all my time on it. All things must change or die out, and Zelda is no different, so before I definitively say whether or not this game is worth the price tag, let’s take a look at what’s new in this iteration. Continue reading “Breath of the Wild – It’s finally here!”
Hipsters have a history of doing some pretty nutty stuff, like opening restaurants that only serve milk and cereal (google it). But when I told my girlfriend their latest trend was buying cassette tapes, she straight up told me: “I don’t believe you”. I don’t blame her either. No one seems to remember cassettes fondly. A clerk at Waterloo Records told me it was the new trend among hipsters and teenagers to save money. I didn’t think about it at the time. If you told me hipsters were skipping around all day as a fast way to get high, I’d probably believe it. Maybe I shouldn’t just write someone off as crazy. After all, I’ve made the non-obvious choice before: I drive a manual instead of an automatic, I drink craft beer instead of bud-whatever, I listen to Fall Out Boy instead of moving on from high school. Each time I did it for a reason. Maybe the hipsters had a point? There was only one way to find out. I busted out the last audio cassette I bought.
Ugh, it’s not even the good one. At least it has NSync and Baby Spice. I wonder if I can get better one…
Not happening! Still, I oughta give this a real shot with a tape that didn’t spend a full decade melting in my parents’ attic. I ran off to Half Price Books and looked for something I would know from my post-cassette days. I ended up finding George Strait’s Greatest Hits and “Southern Accents” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Two albums for two bucks isn’t a bad price. I won’t get into economics but I will say something inferior and outdated is usually pretty cheap. So far the clerk’s story was holding up. I went to check out.
Clerk: “George Strait! Nice choice.”
Me: “Thanks. Hey, do a lot of people buy cassettes here?”
Clerk: “No. I’ve been here two years and you’re the first.”
Hm. Still, the woman at Waterloo Records was right about the cost. I headed off to Waterloo to see what they had. The first thing I noticed is that Waterloo had NEW tapes, not just used ones. I checked the back of a Blink-182 case and it was marked 2015; it was a reprint. Also, unlike the tapes at Half Price, this one ran 15 dollars. Is that really the cheaper option? I checked the same album on CD: $7.50. It literally cost twice as much! That’s the opposite of cheaper!
Okay, this is a hipster thing, right? I should pick up a hipster album. Luckily, Waterloo Records is the filthy layer of rookie hipsters in Austin. Their competitors Breakaway Records and Piranha Records are fine places to find wide selections and knowledgeable staff but Waterloo is where you can go to find a table full of local Austin hipster band cassette tapes. And that table is where I found this gem:
Don’t let the number of tacks fool you. The songs are so short, this tape actually has two albums on it. Don’t let the price fool you. The band is so bad, this tape is actually worthless. I went to check out.
Me: “Do y’all sell cassette players?”
Clerk: “Nah, they don’t really make them anymore.”
You don’t say.
Clerk: “You’ll have to go to a Goodwill or something. But if you’re interested, you can have this. It’s a new band from around here. Oh, and this one too. They’re pretty good. These cassettes are great for local bands just getting off the ground.”
He handed me two tapes, one of which was actually a promotional cassingle. For those of you who don’t know: a cassingle is a tape with only one song on each side.
My cassette deck was long dead and no one I knew had one, so I checked out three separate Goodwill stores before I finally found one. (Well, the second one had a Hello Kitty alarm clock but that wasn’t gonna happen.) I took it home and opened my mind to something new. And apparently, something broken. I took it back and found another one. The rewind didn’t work but I knew just what to do!
I popped George Strait in first. The first most glaring problem with cassettes came out immediately: the quality is terrible. Later on I did some research into cassettes online and found a weirdly large number of people rallying for cassettes. A common argument supporting cassettes is that there actually are high quality tapes out there. This is technically true but very misleading. Anything you buy with music already put on it is low quality because the high quality ones run 15 to 30 dollars EACH. Even then, you need a high quality cassette player that will run you into the hundreds of dollars. Most cassettes you can buy are poor quality and chances are any cassette deck you find will be poor quality too. The Tom Petty album did sound a little better. The first one was probably damaged by the previous owner; a common problem with cassettes.
Next, I turned to the hipster bands. They were all terrible Austin Punk bands. Terrible. Punk is bad by itself but under-produced hipster punk is just garbage. The man at Waterloo said that local bands use tapes to record and distribute. A quick check online shows that you cassettes cost about 5 times the price of CDs so that idea is DOA, not to mention the longer write time per unit.
It’s downright asinine to use cassette tapes for recording. You can buy specialized equipment that lets you simultaneously write to the left and right stereo tracks of both the A and B sides but you limit yourself to four tracks for mono or two tracks for stereo and you get next to no mastering options. Digital recording software is far cheaper and much higher quality. Just look at Grimes. She does pretty much all of her writing, recording and production with just Apple Garageband.
The last thing I could think of is the timbre, the unique sound. Cassette music sounds muddled, like all the instruments are playing over each other. One reason I prefer high quality digital and vinyl records is that the high quality lets me clearly hear all of the instruments and even the tiny imperfections, like Dave Grohl’s fingers sliding against the strings when he shifts along the fretboard. Maybe hipsters don’t want that. Maybe they want a medium that hides minor things like their bands’ lack of talent.
No, this also didn’t make sense, either. If a band was going for that effect, they would alter the production. The Black Keys* couldn’t afford quality recording equipment so they steered into the skid by cranking up their fuzz pedal and creating a style out of lo-fi. They sound great on any medium and are the greatest band to premiere after 2000.
That was it. I was stuck. Every reason seemed legit from a distance but failed after a moment of scrutiny. Cassettes seemed to lose every round to CDs, vinyl and most of all: digital. They only really beat out 8-Tracks. Except cassingles, which are worse than 8-Tracks.
I was ready to let go when a miracle happened. A friend of mine invited me to hang out with him and a friend of his in downtown Austin. This guy was from out of town and wanted to be a tourist for the evening, so we were going to meet at Waterloo Records, which I learned at that moment is a tourist spot. We browsed the store for a while and when it was time to go, the tourist actually bought a cassette tape. Some band I’d never heard of. This was my chance to learn first hand!
Me: “So, why by this on cassette instead of CD or vinyl?”
Tourist: “Oh, I’m not going to listen to this. I already have it on CD and vinyl.”
It wasn’t so much what he said as it was how he said it. Of course he wasn’t going to listen to it! At first, I was shocked but then the answer struck me. You see, I had made the assumption that music was for listening. This man bought the album more as a decoration, like a poster. It all came together. There was no inherent quality to cassettes that hipsters are after, it’s just that the cassettes are not the same. That’s why there is so little nostalgic music but so much niche music on new cassettes. Once you buy it, you’re in, you’re cool. But whether you buy cassettes to be part of the hipster club or buy them to just not be in the mainstream, you’re buying cassettes for other people.
People can debate the merits of CDs or vinyl or wav files but at least the reasons are all for the music. Cassettes only carry the justifications not relating to music. As an alternative to cassettes, I suggest this: Buy your music for yourself. You wouldn’t buy a steak to show off that you eat steak then not eat it. Get the cut you want, then eat your steak. ∎
Oh, and to the hipsters: Next time you want to use an outdated technology to distinguish yourself, I recommend film cameras. They’re a huge pain and no one’s gonna follow you. Not even me.
*Special thank-you to Geek Gone Rogue contributor Amy for introducing me to this band.
No one wants to see their work go stale and the good folks over at Nintendo are no exception to that. The team working on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has publicly stated that the newest entry into the franchise will rethink the conventions of Zelda. As a lifelong fan of Zelda, this has me a little worried. Every major release of the series since Ocarina of Time has tried to play with the traditional formula to varying degrees of success. They add wolves or a three day timeline but the strong entries of the franchise keep the spirit of Zelda alive. Obviously there is a limit. New entries should be distinguished but fans would probably not care for a first person shooter.
Link’s Crossbow Training may be largely forgotten but at least you could shoot a Goron in the nards.
Not all of the little experiments are positive. We never went back to a 2D side scroller or to the ocean. So, beyond the familiar aesthetics of fairies and swords, what should be preserved as sacred in Hyrule? What makes the games stand out? What makes Zelda, Zelda? With a new Zelda game on the horizon, here’s what I’ve come to expect in order to keep the Zelda mystique alive:
Rich Game Worlds
When I first heard about Majora’s Mask, I was disappointed. The hype had been building for years when my friend informed me that the game would only have four dungeons. Really? That’s it? The series had just enjoyed two of its best games: A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time both with a whopping 12 dungeons but Majora’s Mask would only have 4. Even the Gameboy game had 8! But Majora’s Mask is still one of the best entries because there was so much in the world of Termina. Taking a cue from Link’s Awakening, just getting to the next dungeon took a dungeon’s level of effort and time. Beyond that, there was about a dungeon’s worth of content after you finished the dungeon in each region. This is a classic storytelling technique: to have all characters, events and environments working towards painting the overall picture. All of the strongest entries in the Zelda series do this with rich environments, unique settings and quirky characters, some of whom we really came to care about.
My first crush. Pro tip: Don’t do a Goggle Image search for Malon at a Starbucks. It’s Overwatch-level inappropriate but with less rendering power.
This is how Zelda games leave the player with a sense of wonder at Hyrule. The player needs a whole lot more than just pointing Link on autopilot to get around (Lookin’ at you, Wind Waker!) Sure, it always takes a while to get across Hyrule Field or the Ukuku Prairie but when you got there, the game is filled to its very limits with life. Sorry Stone Temple Pilots, this isn’t the Big Empty!
If you came up with that boating crap, your head should be conscious laden.
The Legend of Zelda is a legend, a story. The characters in any good story are faced with a conflict and are forced to grow. Think about any RPG you have played. Your hero gains points and levels up in a calculated, measured way. Yes, the hero grows, but this growth is told-not-shown. The sense of growth in a Zelda game is a little less Final Fantasy and a little more Megaman. While RPGs generally tell are more detailed story, the growth Link experiences is more nuanced and frankly more powerful. Link does gain health in a measured way but the real growth comes with collecting new items, often as a token for a feat of strength. In Twilight Princess, the first major item Link acquires is the boomerang. It’s nice, I guess. He can stun enemies and grab things at a distance. But later, Link gets the clawshot, which I’m told is different than the hookshot which is what it’s called in literally every other game. C’mon Nintendo! Get it together! Uh, anyway, the clawshot is a vast improvement on the boomerang. It’s more direct, faster to use and you can even hang from the walls. And to top that, your last dungeon item is a second claw so Link can swing around the walls like Spiderman. This item progression shows a steady growth of Link as a hero as we grow as players.
Dual wielding crossbows would come later. Much to the joy of a 12-year-old-me, there’s at least a hope of a Zelda-Matrix crossover.
Side note to anyone who thinks I’m picking on Wind Waker: WW does a great job in this area. There is a steady growth path from the grappling hook to the boomerang to the hookshot.
A Link Between Worlds failed in this area, to be honest. If Link can buy items, two things happen. 1: Link does not gain items through his challenges, his growth comes through cash. If I wanted to play Top 1%er, the Game I would play Sim City. 2: If you’re a power gamer like me, Link’s growth comes all at once at the start of the game and not at a steady pace.
Playing more directly off of traditional storytelling, Link’s growth also comes in the plot. Our hero often suffers a scripted loss to the final boss long before a real fight can take place. At the beginning of Oracle of Seasons, General Onyx tosses Link to the side like a rag doll but eight Essences of Nature later, Link returns to shit in Onyx’s punch bowl.
Bridging the gap between story and game mechanics, Link’s growth can come in the form of new techniques as he is taught by other characters. These teacher characters usually hold special significance in the plot and will only teach Link once he is ready. This simultaneously shows plot-driven growth and mechanic-driven growth.
Side note again to anyone who thinks I’m picking on Wind Waker: WW does a crap job in this area. Link suffers a scripted loss to Ganondorf who then takes mercy on Link out of kindness. So nothing will happen if Link loses. He and Zelda can just go home. Speaking of…
All video games have escapist appeal. For a few minutes per day, I’m not a software engineer, I’m an ace pilot or a mage or, in the case of Zelda, a hero.
For a few minutes a day, I’m Samus or Beast from X-men or Lord Humongus
In the first few Zelda games, players knew the princess/Hyrule was in danger and needed to be saved but from Ocarina of Time on, the players felt it. The urgency comes straight out of classic storytelling techniques, again. When we see Link lose to the villain early in the adventure, we understand that he can fail in his mission. Because Nintendo lets the bad guys actually be bad, we get to find out what will happen if our hero does indeed fail. We watch helplessly Majora’s Mask sending the moon crashing into Termina, we see the denizens of Hyrule fading into Twilight, we see people frozen in time in Lybranna. These are not looming threats in the shadows, these threats are directly in our face.
I’m not saying every Zelda game needs to be a dark or that we need to keep away from Toon Link. The darkness and gravity need to be balanced for the story. After all, part of the charm of Zelda is the quirky humor. Who doesn’t love Tingle? But any comedic relief should be used to let the audience relax after a tense moment so they are not desensitized to it during the next moment.
Remember this goofy bastard losing his mind even after the Millennium Falcon was safe?
Compare the humor of Ocarina of Time to the Humor of Wind Waker. In order to get the second Spiritual Stone, Link makes a deal with the Gorons who are literally being starved to death, so he enters a dark cavern to defeat a monstrous dinosaur by throwing bombs at it until it commits suicide in a pit of lava. Pretty dark stuff, really. Just a minute later when the Gorons know they are safe, we see Link run away screaming from a being hugged by his Goron pals. The humor defuses the tension and lets the player know that the Gorons are going to be alright. In Wind Waker humor is just used poorly. When the Tower of the Gods rises from the sea, we should be in awe of the magnificent structure and be mentally preparing for the ancient trial. Instead, Link is sent flying into the side of the tower. The humor here defuses the tension of a situation before it can be built.
The Zelda games are also stand out in gaming because the player can actually see the world getting better, bit by bit. This gives each act of the story a fall-and-rise arc where you can see the destruction and that you can right the wrong there.
Oracle of Ages embodies all these elements of urgency the most. You see Link tossed aside by Veran early in the game because he is not really a threat. Throughout the adventure you see people frozen in time and you see their loved ones suffering. You fail again half way through the game and your enemy comes closer to her dark goal. But, little by little, you gain small victories, like cleaning the polluted ocean or saving the Oracle. Once your enemy’s looming threat is complete, you, the hero, are ready to save Lybranna and undo the damage.
Cartoony? A little. Tense? You betcha!
I’m not trying to distill Zelda down into a formula. I’m really not. Some changes to the Zelda games have been fantastic. Look at Twilight Princess, which was bold enough to change the hero into a pawn and mount for an untrustworthy manipulator. Nintendo colored outside of the lines and painted something more beautiful. There are a lot of changes coming in Breath of the Wild and they all seem like reasons to be excited. The hunting and weapon durability systems are brand new to the series and may add to the Zelda experience. But that’s what they should do: add. I hope Nintendo keeps a link to their past open and learns from the masters: themselves.