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A Trip Through the SNES Classic: A Link to the Past

From what I’ve seen in fandom circles, A Link to the Past is one of the most beloved games in the Legend of Zelda series, right up there with the all-time classic, Ocarina of Time.  By weird chance, I actually own three copies of the game: one for the GBA Advance, one for the SNES, and the one that came included with the SNES Classic. Yet I’m only just playing it now.

No, I don’t know why either.

A Link to the Past starts off with a bang, in a way that its fellow Zelda games typically haven’t.  Other entries, like Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, and Skyward Sword, ease you into the adventure, as Link interacts with the people in his home village just before the Inciting Incident happens.  A Link to the Past begins with Link receiving a telepathic message from Princess Zelda, begging for help.  So your first job is to break into Hyrule Castle, just in time for Link to find his dying uncle, who also tried to help the princess.  You get his sword, infiltrate the dungeon, and rescue Zelda before she can be used as a human sacrifice for an evil wizard’s scheme.

Once Zelda is safe, Link receives his next objective: find the three pendants that will allow him to gain access to the hidden Master Sword.  Only then will he be able to defeat the evil wizard Agahnim and restore peace to the kingdom of Hyrule.

But, of course, it isn’t that easy.

A Link to the Past fascinates me as a newer Zelda fan because it’s clear from the get-go how much it influenced the rest of the series, particularly Ocarina of Time. The story beats feel familiar: Inciting Incident, Find the Three Sacred Plot Devices, Big Twist Where the Villain Gains the Upper Hand, and Find More Sacred Plot Devices to Defeat Him for Real This Time.  Other elements that feel familiar include certain locations throughout the kingdom of Hyrule and musical cues.  It felt weird visiting Death Mountain without running into any Gorons, but they didn’t show up until Ocarina.

Link also suffers the death of his uncle early in the game, so he has a more personal reason to be involved in the conflict than before.  (Well, in theory.  His little pixelated self didn’t seem too broken up by it.)  Likewise, future Zelda games gave Link more of a backstory, with family members, friends, and neighbors that care about him.

I started playing A Link to the Past earlier this year, right after Kingdom Hearts III, and I’ve been playing it on and off ever since.  It’s not the first time that I’ve played a Zelda game right after a Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy playthrough, and there’s always a learning curve that comes with it.  You can’t really level grind with Zelda the way that you would with a JRPG.  When playing any video game, I have a kneejerk tendency to hunt down every last enemy in a given area so that I can gain more experience points, which translates to better health, stats, etc.  But that doesn’t work with a non-JRPG.

Instead, A Link to the Past forced me to experiment and try new strategies when I died over and over again.  I’d experiment with using different weapons, or figure out ways to avoid enemies altogether.  In a way, I was still “gaining experience,” except that I was the one gaining it, not Link.  That’s not to say that either Zelda or Final Fantasy is superior to the other in terms of gameplay.  They’re just different.

One thing that I do find frustrating- and this is something that applies more to the Zelda series as a whole and not Link to the Past specifically- is saving the game and starting over after dying.  Every time you die during a boss fight, you have to start over at the beginning of the dungeon and navigate through some of the minor enemies just to get back to the fight.  I’d rather just jump right back into the fight and try again.

But, all in all, I’ve found A Link to the Past to be a game that lives up to the hype.  The story is exciting and the world is fun to explore.  And now it’s available on the Switch for Nintendo’s online service subscribers.  So if you haven’t played it yet, now’s your chance!

A Trip Through the SNES Classic: F-Zero

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It’s shameful, I know, but up until I got the SNES Classic, I’d never played a game in the F-Zero series.  I didn’t even know what type of game that it was, though the title sounded familiar.

For those in the same boat, F-Zero is a racing game set in the future.  It’s the series that introduced everyone to Captain Falcon, though he doesn’t have a clear presence in the first game.  If you’re a longtime fan or a newcomer like me, I recommend reading this interview with Kazunobu Shimizu, Yasunari Nishida, and Takaya Imamura, three of the original developers of F-Zero.  They share some great stories about the history behind the game and the reasoning behind some of the decisions they made.  Some highlights include: Captain Falcon was initially designed to be a mascot for the Super Nintendo system, not F-Zero, and that the game was set in the future to work around different programming issues.  They didn’t have the technology yet to create effective tires that turned, so they just took out the tires and designed hover cars for the racers.

The original game allowed you to pick between four different cars and race through three different sets of tracks: Knight, Queen, and King.  In a manner similar to Mario Kart, once you pick a set, you have to play through all of the tracks. I wish these games would just let me select a racetrack that I really enjoy and let me play it without going through hoops to get there.  That’s something that I appreciate more and more about Diddy Kong Racing.  (And yes, F-Zero has a Practice Mode that lets you do this, but only for seven tracks.)

Regardless, I fell in love with the original F-Zero. I couldn’t get over just how fast and smooth it feels, even when using a control pad.  It doesn’t have all the extra bells and whistles that you get with racing games like Mario Kart or Diddy-Kong.  You can’t pick up items that give you colorful shields or the infamous Blue Shell missiles.  But that’s not a bad thing at all.  It’s just straight, pure racing and I appreciated the change.

When you start a race, your hovercar has a Power gauge that functions similar to health.  If you hit the edge of the track, or your fellow racecars, your power diminishes.  If it drops down to zero, your hovercar will explode and it’s game over.  You can also fail if your hovercar goes completely off-track or if you fail to complete laps after a certain period of time.  It didn’t take long for me to get the hang of things, and it helps having Practice Mode available if one ever needs a quick refresher.

If there’s one thing that holds F-Zero back from being a perfect experience, it’s the lack of a multiplayer mode. While it is fun and challenging, playing against an AI can get boring after a while.  Having the option to play with friends would have made it even better and increased the replay value.

Still, I’m so glad that I had the chance to discover the original F-Zero on the Super Nintendo Classic.  I’ve had a blast playing it, and if the other games in the series are just as good, I’ll have to check them out too.  If you’re a fan of F-Zero and have any recommendations, please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments!

I’m rating this game 9 out of 10 hovercars.

A Trip Through the SNES Classic: Final Fantasy VI

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Hey, everyone!

This year, I’d like to try something different with my monthly video game reviews.  I was fortunate enough to get a Super Nintendo Classic as a present, and most of the titles are games that I’ve never played before.  So each month, I’m going to play a different game on the list and give my thoughts on it.  If there’s any titles that you would especially like me to cover, please let me know in the comments below.

Without further ado, I’m going to cheat and review the one game on the SNES Classic that I’ve already played and beaten: Final Fantasy VI.

(Note: This game was originally released in the United States as Final Fantasy III and it is listed as such in the Super Nintendo Classic’s library.  It is actually the sixth installment of the Final Fantasy series.  However, Square opted not to internationally release FFII, FFIII, and FFV until much later, hence the mix-up in titles.  I’ve decided to go ahead and refer to the game as Final Fantasy VI throughout this review.)

So yeah. Wow. I can see why this game has such a devoted fanbase!

In Final Fantasy VI, an evil emperor wants to gain power by hunting down magical creatures called Espers and absorbing their powers. As the game starts, a human/Esper hybrid named Terra escapes from his control and finds herself among a resistance group called the Returners. She befriends a dozen interesting characters (because there’s actually twelve characters in the party, not including the two secret characters you can find) all with their own reasons for fighting Emperor Gestahl and bringing peace to the world.

It’s hard to pick a favorite character when there’s so many of them and they’re all interesting or entertaining in some way.   They are the strongest aspect of the game. You’re required to have each one in your party at least once at some point in the story (not including the secret characters), which I found impressive. The previous installment that I’d played, Final Fantasy VII, had a couple of moments like that when you had someone different leading the party. But VI does it constantly. You start out as Terra, and then she falls unconscious at the beginning of the story and the perspective switches to Locke, the treasure hunter who rescues her. Later on, the party splits up, and you are required to play through each group’s scenario: Terra and Edgar, Locke and Celes, and Sabin, Cyan, and Gau. And then even further along, you have to play as Celes alone. So it’s in your best interest to keep everybody leveled up.

I also like how this game includes side-quests and cutscenes that flesh out different characters, just because they can. In the second half of the game, you can travel to Cyan’s abandoned home and help him battle his inner demons. You get an Esper out of it and unlock the full power of his special attack, but otherwise, you don’t really earn anything except a deeper appreciation of his character. Or you can have the party attempt to reunite Gau with his long-lost father. You don’t get any special items or Espers out of it; the cutscene is just there if you want to see it.

Now, I probably shouldn’t do this, because I’ve heard that there’s a strong rivalry between fans of Final Fantasy VI and VII. But I’m going to say it anyway: I think Kefka’s a better-written villain than Sephiroth.  Fight me.

Kefka starts out as a wacky henchman to Emperor Gestahl and then evolves into a bigger threat. He’s out to destroy everyone and everything, and if they manage to pick up the pieces of their lives after he does so, he’ll destroy it all again. I like how he constantly appears throughout the first half of the game, causing trouble for everybody. Kefka has more of a presence than Sephiroth ever did. Although he does look and act similar to the Joker, that’s not a bad thing. It makes him stand out from other Final Fantasy villains that tend to lean towards serious and intimidating.

Final Fantasy VI uses the turn-based battle system, as most of the main installments do. Many of the characters have a unique ability: Locke can steal items, Edgar has tools that wreak havoc, Sabin uses blitzes, Relm can sketch monsters and mimic their abilities, etc. Some characters start out with the ability to cast magic, while others have to learn how to use it over time. They do so by acquiring the powers of Espers, which you can collect throughout the course of the game. When you assign an Esper to a character, the character begins to learn a set of spells.

I had fun with this customization because it allowed me to make weaker characters more useful in battle. For example, Cyan’s got a special sword attack that would come in handy if it didn’t take him eons to charge it. So towards the end of the game, I gave him the powerful Ultima spell to learn, and suddenly he became an MVP.

Nobuo Uematsu created another amazing soundtrack with this game. I love “Terra’s Theme.” Most of the musical themes that I’ve heard for a female character fall into two categories: light and sweet or sad and melancholy. Sometimes they’re in both categories. In comparison, Terra’s theme sounds full of determination. It creates the impression of a woman who’s encountered lots of hardships in her life and she just keeps on moving.

There’s also an opera in the game. Yes, that’s right: the party gets involved in an opera and it’s wonderful. Sure, why not?

I’ve had a blast playing Final Fantasy VI. It’s a wonderful RPG with an interesting story and characters. If you haven’t been able to get your hands on a Super Nintendo Classic, you can play it on iOS and Android devices now. Or if you still have a GameBoy Advance, PS1, or Super Nintendo, you can play it on any of those systems.