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Review – The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Feeling fine at the end of the world.

by Randy Marr

 

Few games are able to invoke a true feeling of dread and foreboding. Most games try to give you a sense of urgency in the story, but the gameplay mechanics are either artificially constructed or just ignore the problem entirely. That evil army looming just on the cusp of the country will never quite get here until you reach points X, Y, and Z in the storyline. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D forgoes all of that, and gives you one of the most dreadful and foreboding Zelda games in the franchise’s history.

Granted, it was able to do that back in 2000 when the game originally came out, but now it does so while cleaning up a few odds and ends to make for a better, slicker experience.

If you missed it the first time around, Majora’s Mask is a departure from what would be considered the standard Zelda experience. The moon is falling and threatens to kill everyone in the strange land of Termina unless Link can find a way to stop the Skull Kid and an evil mask. Rather than focusing on a grandiose tale of good versus evil, Majora’s Mask is about people dealing with the hardships that have come to their lives, and the inevitable end right around the corner. It’s a rich set of personal stories with the apocalypse serving more as a backdrop than the primary focus.

That being said, you never lose the sense that “No really, this is going to end.” There is a persistent doomsday clock counting down the remaining 3 days you have until the moon ends all life in Termina, and potentially the world. This countdown clock isn’t just your typical gameplay level countdown, found in games like Mario and Sonic, but serves a grim reminder that the end is coming. The most you can hope to do is reset time for 3 days in order to take another stab at saving the world. With the rise of the genre in recent years, it’s not unfair to favorably compare this system to “rogue-likes” and their need for the “perfect run.” You’re never really going to have one perfect run for the whole game: you’ll need a number of them for clearing dungeons and gaining the equipment you need to take back with you to the start of the cycle to move further in your overall goal.

This system is going to be the thing that makes or breaks most people’s enjoyment of the game. Some people are going to run into an instance where they have to redo the majority of a dungeon because they didn’t make it in time, or they’re going to just get bored with having to relive the same 3 days in Groundhog’s Day fashion. That’s okay, it’s not going to appeal to everyone, and you should know going in whether or not you think it sounds like fun. If it does, though, let me assure you that it is done superbly well. The world runs like clockwork, and you’re given just enough tools to keep track of it while still allowing you to discover all the minutia of detail hidden around Termina.

Just like in the Ocarina of Time remake on 3DS, the bottom touch screen adds a lot to fix the issues with going into menus and dealing with the busted interface of the Nintendo 64 games. Now, you can assign items with a quick drag of your thumb, and even have an extra slot you can assign masks and items too. It’s an improvement over the old system, but I’d honestly prefer it if Masks could just be equipped directly from the mask screen without having to assign them to a button. it’d be a bit more annoying for the rare puzzles that require you to transform between forms, but for 95% of the time, it would make mask equipping snappier.

The game also looks markedly better than it did in 2000, though that should be a given with any remake. Colors are more vivid, but don’t sacrifice the game’s overall dark style. If anything, they enhance it with a better contrast to the doom and gloom hanging overhead. Character models all look more like your foggy memory wants them too when you look back on Majora’s Mask, so it may not look immediately better. But trust me, I’ve done the side by side comparisons, and the difference is night and day.

Majora’s Mask has always held a special place in my heart for it’s pathos. It holds a real sadness in it’s story, and doesn’t always give you the happiest of endings. But the endings are always cathartic. They end exactly as they should, even if it’s not necessarily how you would want them too. Sometimes, people aren’t coming back, even when you save the world. It’s a harsh, but beautiful reminder of loss and sorrow.

What Majora’s Mask did back in 2000 was reinvent a series before it became too stale. Like Link’s Adventure before it, it decided to try something new and different. Even in the areas where you think it might fail, I believe the game should be rewarded with your time and your efforts to see it through. It truly is a remarkable game that I would not hesitate to recommend to anybody looking for a change in what has become the traditional Zelda story beats. It will be a trip into a strange, new world, that you may find utterly enchanting.

***Reviewer Pro-Tip*** If you plan on playing this game, just remember one thing: You can play the Song of Time backwards, at any point after getting your musical instruments, to slow the speed of time. Why this isn’t just the default speed of the game, or made more apparent is beyond me. But it’s there, and it will likely help you further enjoy the game. You can also play the notes to the Song of Time twice in a row to skip time forward. I hope this helps!

Breakdown: Persona 5 Trailer

We’re not in Inaba anymore.


Atlus recently launched a full trailer for Persona 5, and it looks grand. You can watch it above and then join me below as I discuss some elements of the trailer that caught my interest.

The most interesting thing is that the protagonist and his friends appear to be ne’er-do-wells in this game. That’s a stark contrast to the goody-goody detective squad we’re used to in Persona 4. They appear fancy free and happy about their nefarious deeds. Another stark contrast to Persona 3’s ultra grim cast. The evidence is all over the place in this video that the main character is a Lupin the 3rd style thief, perhaps with some good intentions, but a thief never the less.

For starters, we see him breaking into a ritzy joint and then have to escape, only to be caught by what I assume are the police. It also appears that he isn’t welcome into The Velvet Room, as we see him behind bars and guarded by his eye-patch sporting Velvet Room attendants. The goal of The Velvet Room is to lead guests to their destiny, it’s never said that they have to like their guests. I think this is a great new dynamic, if this is truly the direction they’re going.

Something else that caught my attention was the way the menus move. Storekeepers don’t just remain idle while you flip through different menus, they reposition themselves with swift, dynamic actions every time you select a new option. It’s not much in the way of changing gameplay, but visually, it’s absolutely stunning. Elements like this are what separate the Persona series above their contemporaries, and even still, Persona 5 is smashing it’s predecessors into the ground.

There are elements of Personas 1 and 2 that are reappearing in this game, judging from the trailer. You can equip a melee weapon and a gun, which I believe was also in Shin Megami Tensei IV and/or Strange Journey, so you could start to see applications if you’ve played either of those. Also, in an attack sequence, you see that the party isn’t fighting Shadows but is in fact fighting Personas/Demons. This was how things were done in the original two Persona games, so there’s a good chance that we’ll be seeing demon communications return as well. It also might mean that the Persona you start with is your Persona throughout the game, rather than trading him off for a Pixie in the first 15 minutes of your first dungeon crawl. I’m very excited to see how this all will work in the coming months as more is revealed about the game.

As a side note, that new All-Out Attack animation is simply breathtaking.

I think it’s important to talk about the cat character, whose name I do not yet know. We see this character in the trailer transform from a regular black cat into a super cartoonish cat burglar character. It looks like Atlus learned the importance of an easily recognizable mascot character with Teddie, and they seem to be retreading those grounds. I’m curious to see what this character’s story is about, but I can’t help but be a little cynical as to the design and need for such a character to begin that.

Finally there’s that little transformation sequence at the end. It’s kind of sinister looking, and the main character’s eyes even turn yellow. We’ve seen characters with yellow eyes before, but I can’t help but notice that’s the same color as a Shadow self. However, Shadows can’t summon Personas (long story short: they’re the same thing), and there’s clearly a Persona Summoning sound at the end. This is more than likely just how the main character summons his Persona, rather than swallowing the business end of an evoker or flip kicking a card.

Those are some of the things I noticed in the trailer. Did you catch anything I might have missed? What did you think of the trailer? Have you acquired maximum excitement for Persona 5 as I have?

As a bonus for sticking with me through this article, here’s the trailer to Persona 4: Dancing All Night for the PSVita. It’s a rhythm game featuring remixes of Persona 4 songs and looks fantastic.

 

NaNoWriMo Update

The first draft of Book 1 has been completed, and I am now moving over to Book 2 of my story. The site will continue to remain quiet while I work on my novels for NaNoWriMo. But feel free to stick around, because when I get back, we’re going to be talking a lot about Video Games!

-Randy Marr

NaNoWriMo Break.

The Midnight Roost will be on hiatus for the month of November as I participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). My apologies for not regularly updating the site during this time.

To learn more about NaNoWriMo click here!

To watch my progress, click here!

To read the rough draft of my current novel, click here! Please keep in mind that it is super rough draft. We’re talking pre-alpha. I’m just stream-of-conscious putting stuff down into a halfway competent narrative to meet my 1600 words-a-day goal. So be kind!

Thanks!

-Randy

Review: Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

The P-1 Grand Prix comes to a very worthy climax.

I want to clarify one thing before we get into this review: I’m terrible at fighting games, but I’m great at Persona. Ergo, I’m coming at this beast as a person who isn’t capable of getting too heavy into the technical side of the fighting game. If that’s what you’re looking for in a review, I’m afraid I cannot help you. However, if you want to know how this package is for what I imagine is the average Persona fan, then I’m the guy you want to talk to.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is the sequel to Persona 4 Arena, where the concept was to bring together cast members of Persona 4 and Persona 3 and bring them into a fighting game scenario. Like it’s predecessor, Ultimax manages to deliver in every way on that concept, and does so by running down a checklist of improvements and nailing every single one.

The core gameplay, developed by Arc System Works (BlazBlue, Guilty Gear) is as typical a fighting game as you can get. Each character has unique movesets, there are super bars that you build up by beating on your opponent, and the first person to lose all their stamina loses the match. It’s all fairly cut and dry, and anybody who’s picked up any fighting game should be able to get the basics. What makes the Persona 4 Arena series unique is that there’s a low barrier of entry. Moves are relatively easy to pull off without any super complex button and joystick maneuvering, and even the most novice of player can feel special just by hitting X a bunch of times and watching the auto-combo’s fly. This may seem cheap, and on a certain level, it kind of is, but any advanced player that really digs into the meat and potatoes of this game can easily overcome those auto-combos and lay down the law. I know this because I’ve played online and the X button did nothing to save me.

The big draw to this series for me is the story mode. If you haven’t played the original Persona 4 Arena, you’re going to feel quite lost as this is a direct sequel in every way. (Fortunately, you can buy the story mode to the original game as DLC to this game and play it first! It’s cheaper than buying the whole first game if you don’t need to.) Without getting into a whole lot of detail, it’s better in both presentation and quality. A strange red fog rolls into the real world, causing all technology to shut down like a mixture of the Midnight Channel and the Dark Hour, leaving our Persona-summoning protagonists befuddled. Their confusion doesn’t last long, however, as General Teddie shows up to inform them that they have one hour to reach the mysterious tower that has appeared over Yasogami High to save their captured comrades before the world ends.

Rather than picking every character from a select screen and replaying essentially the same scenarios again and again, you’re given a set of story threads that you can bounce between. It’s a large cast, so it makes sense that people are split up, but not having to see the same cutscenes and stories play themselves out like they did in the first Arena is a welcome change. There’s still the gratuitous amount of event recapping to keep you up-to-date on the scenarios, but even that isn’t as egregious a problem as it was in the first game. The events hanging over the giant “To Be Continued!” of the first Arena are neatly tied up in this one, but that isn’t to say there aren’t a bunch of new mysteries drummed up first. Overall it’s as engaging a plot as ever, and more well presented.

There are a few new modes this time around, and most of them are kind of throw-away fighting game modes like Score Attack and training challenges. However, one new feature might be interesting to some; it’s called Golden Arena Mode. In this, players pick a character and start going through “dungeons,” fighting CPU opponents and actually gaining experience. Experience grants levels, which in turn grant special abilities and stat boosts. Anybody who has played Persona 3 or 4 will immediately recognize the layout and concepts behind this, and it’s a pretty interesting way to spend some time playing the game. Ultimately, though, there’s no real hooks other than just maxing out your character’s stats, so I found that while this mode was interesting, it didn’t add a whole lot to the experience. It may have been better tied into the story mode, which itself lacked a great deal of fighting, but then that would have been dragged on for perhaps too long. It’s difficult to say, but it is a neat experiment regardless.

The DLC in this game is a bit harsh, especially considering how much of it was day one. On one good hand, anything you bought from the previous game carries over, so if you have the voice packs, alternate color packs, or glasses packs, those all carry over for the existing characters. However, you’ll still need to buy new packs to add colors and eyewear for all the new characters. You can also buy the story to the original Persona 4 Arena, as I mentioned earlier, which is kinda handy. But from there there’s also a ton of new voiceover DLC, music DLC, and character DLC. The characters are, in my opinion, the most terrible DLC in terms of game content for a number of reasons, namely setting up tournament play potential behind a secondary “paywall.” That said, the characters they offer are really good, so I’d have to advise getting them. Just know that’s going to be extra money you’re going to spend on an already full-priced game. It’s a bit much, and I can’t help feel like a lot of it is unnecessarily held out to make a few extra bucks. If DLC like this is something that turns you off, I have to think that you’ll be soured by the smattering of offers they have in this game. However, if you like DLC to extend your content, then perhaps you’ll be bellying up to this all-you-can-download buffet.

In the end, Arc System Works took a checklist of everything that makes a better sequel to a game, and made sure to hit every box. They cleaned up the visuals, they added more music, they added more stages, they added more characters, and they improved on their previous modes while adding new ones. In short, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is everything I loved about the original, and then some. The gratuitous amount of DLC for a full priced game can be a bit off-putting, especially when characters are involved, but everything else about this game is exactly what it needed to be to make a better sequel.

Unplugged: Pandánte

 Pandas plus poker equals party.

If you’re anything like me, you like the ideas of good ol’ fashioned Texas Hold’em, but wish it had more of a twist. Well, friend, have I got a game that puts more than a few twists on it: Pandánte.

In this game, the players each have a board with one of 10 possible hand combinations on it. They’re given a stack of chips, and then everybody is dealt two cards. Everybody ante’s one “gold” into the pot, then three more cards are dealt into what is normally known as the flop, but what Pandánte calls The Splash. After that comes a betting round, where players place two gold on their board corresponding to the hand they are claiming to have based on their cards and the splash. This is the crux of the game: you don’t actually have to have anything! You just have to convince other people you do. Of course they’ll be able to call you out later after more cards have been dealt, but at great financial risk to themselves if you happen to be telling the truth.

One of the other big differences between this and Texas Hold’em is that you can exchange cards during parts of the game known as “Snacks.” Here, you can pay a certain amount of gold to trade one of your cards for something in the hopes of getting a better hand, or at least telling a better lie. Mix in the Ability Round into each hand and you can create some really great chaos. One ability lets you add a sixth card to the community cards, while another allows you to fold and take back your last bet if things are getting too heated for you.

An aspect of this game that I really love is that it’s innately built to keep players playing the game and less about elimination. One way Sirlin Games does this is by adding a Magic Gold Fairy that will refill you back to 20 gold at the end of a hand where you’re below that amount. Not only does that keep players playing the game, but it helps feed more gold into the game to help other players reach the gold cap for victory. Of course, you can play more like classic poker and go for elimination, or even play for real money. It’s that kind of flexibility in a game that I really respect.

From a presentation standpoint, I’m absolutely in love with this game. I purchased the deluxe set, so I received the elegantly designed poker chips, the minimalist card set, and the sturdy player boards, all wrapped up in a very posh case. It’s a sturdy investment, retailing at $99, but if you have the cash I highly recommend it. Otherwise, Sirlin Games’ website offers cheaper versions of the games if you already have your own favorite poker chip set, and even a printer-friendly version of the game, if you really want to play on the cheap.

Pandánte is a game that should appeal to a wide audience. Most folks will appreciate the Texas Hold’em trappings, geeks will love the addition of powers and tricks, and everybody loves pandas.

Nintendo Treehouse Live 9/12 Breakdown

Nintendo shows off Smash Bros. and more.

The Nintendo Treehouse team has been doing a stellar job showing off games this year. They started at E3 with presentations that lasted all day showing off all sorts of new games for fans of Nintendo products. They also showed up at New York Comic-Con to run challenges using these new games and to host a Smash Bros. for 3DS tournament. Today they returned to show off a bunch of updates to those E3 titles, and to show off the final build of Super Smash Bros. for 3DS.

The first thing they showed this morning was Captain Toad. The adorable little title stars the titular Captain Toad and his adventures to find stars and diamonds in these miniature levels. Folks who played Super Mario 3D World on Wii U Will remember the occasional level featuring a similar premise. This game is those levels blown up into a full fledged title. Captain Toad is set to release later this year.

Next, they showed off NES Remix on the 3DS. NES Remix was a great title on the Wii U, and it looks just as fun on the 3DS. This time, the game features much needed online leaderboards. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I recommend looking forward to the 3DS release.

Mega Man 7 was played for a little while, showing off some of the Virtual Console service. It’s Mega Man 7 so there’s not much to say, other than it’s a good game and it’s available now on the Wii U Virtual Console.

After spending too much time on that, the Treehouse gang showed off some Hyrule Warriors. That game still looks bonkers. Watching Ghirahim cut through entire chunks of armies with that cool looking magic is awesome. It’s that ability to play as my favorite Zelda villains that really is selling me on the game.

The game appears to be an enormous power fantasy, but I worry it gets more repetitive than power happy. I’ve never played one of these newfangled Dynasty Warriors titles, so I really have no idea what I’m in for. I will say that the couch co-op will allow me to play with my husband, which will help me get through any game. *cue sappy music*

There are a lot of modes, including Adventure Mode, and a new Challenge Mode, which will come to the US version of the game care of a day one patch. Adventure Mode has players using the original NES Zelda map to select various challenges that they must then complete in Hyrule Warriors. Challenge Mode is like that, but with the challenges amped up and without the NES Map.

Bayonetta 2 was next, and oh what a delight that game is going to be. It’s all the action of Bayonetta with a brand new adventure and set of weapons. I’m currently in love with the Nintendo costumes adding more variety to the gameplay and weapons. I’m not going to go into too much detail because we just had a Bayonetta Direct, so go watch that if you want to know more.

They showed off the Multi-player mode as well. The online-only feature has two players playing to defeat challenges and competing to get a better score than your other player. It’s all about co-op with a versus twist, and allows players to show off for each other and bet halos against each other.

Next, the Treehouse gang showed off Fantasy Life, which was made by Level 5 (the fine team behind Professor LaytonNi No Kuni, and more). This game looks to have that typical charm you would expect from them. It’s bright, cheerful, and looks to be simplistic while hiding a certain depth. I don’t know that I”ll have time to pick it up, but it looks cute enough to check it out for a co-op experience.

Then came the Smash Bros.

It looks like they’re not going to reveal anything here so I’m going to call this article here. It’s Smash Bros. footage that you’re welcome to watch on their stream for the rest of the day.

What do you think of the games Nintendo showed? Excited for anything in particular?