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Rainbow Linking Ahead
By: Anna Marie Whitehead
When Nintendo announced the idea of connectivity, it was met with mixed results - though the results of four players with Game Boy Advances teamed up together to play sounded like it had a lot of potential, the cost of five game systems plus link cables plus the game itself turned many away. However, if it is possible to get together two to four Game Boy-toting, RPG-loving players in the same room as a 'Cube and a handful of connection cables, then it is time to begin playing The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure. With various qualities that appeal to both veterans of the genre and new players alike, Four Swords is an enjoyable romp through Hyrule in a new way. Though dragged down a bit by its short length and the aforementioned hardware requirements, Four Swords delivers frantically amusing, fast-paced action driven by, of course, teamwork, along with a mildly surprising, solid plot and nicely done music and visuals.
What would the Zelda series be without its action-oriented battle system? The basic always-on battle system prevails in this title, but the enemies seem to be a little smarter in this new chapter. This time there is an additional twist to the weapon of choice: At the start of each stage, the power of the Swords is diminished. To restore the power, 2000 force gems must be collected by the adventurers. The replacement to rupees, force gems are collectable by the usual means of grass/bushes, pots/breakables, in chests or by digging, etc, and come in various denominations including the whopping 1000 force gem. Thankfully, this is a combined total as the race to collect Force Gems can be a very cut-throat task. The game is broken down into action-oriented stages in multiple levels, each with its own theme. At the end of each stage, there is a tally. Each player gets to vote on the most annoying player; the player who "wins" this vote becomes the Hero of Darkness. There is also a vote for the most helpful player; they become the Hero of Light. Points are awarded for most enemies defeated and most hearts remaining, deducted for dying, and finally a score for the accumulated Force Gems on a level. While who wins a level doesn't seem to have any real bearing on the game itself, it certain makes for a fistful of bragging rights. There's more to defeating a level - and enemies - than just the swords, of course. Tools that were found in different games are now brought together, from the well-known Boomerang and Bombs to the more unusual Roc Feather and Shovel. In some levels it is even possible to upgrade these tools to enhance their uses. Upgraded Pegasus Boots can run over even the largest pits, while an upgraded Bow can fire trios of arrows at a much faster pace. With a large variety of enemies that range from a number of Zelda titles, a sword alone does not always defeat them, and the tools become more than just a way to solve the various puzzles that abound.
While the game does bear a striking resemblance to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, do not be fooled: these are no antiquated graphics or double dunked musical scores. While the music has been inspired by the other entries in the series, including LttP, there's enough originality in the music to make it a delightful addition to the game. It also does a very good job at setting the mood for different areas - the music can foreshadow a tough fight ahead or even simply the type of scenery that will come next. Additionally, the visuals are among the best found on the GameCube; the transition to GBA doesn't lose much quality, either, considering that the two systems are different in several key components. The only major complaints about the graphics are pretty obvious: first, nothing feels especially new. All these elements have been seen in other games and often put together in the same way. Second, with the addition of "panic battles", where dozens of enemies flood onto the screen at once, the Cube will actually begin to bog down and lag slightly, leading to the desperate button mashing of the RPGamer to be in vain as fewer and fewer sword strikes attack the enemy, while they all crowd around the poor Links and smash them to pieces. These battles can lead to a great amount of frustration...and death.
Zelda games, especially more recent ones, are infamous for their puzzles. The surprise when it comes to Four Sword Adventure is how hard some of the puzzles can really be to solve. It takes more than one brain to unravel the mystery of each level of the game, where the solution can be as simple as talking to the same person repeatedly to more complex solutions involving all four players often using multiple types of abilities. For example, a puzzle may involve a player to have Bombs, but a gap too large to throw over. A second player could have a Roc's Feather (which allows jumping over decent distances), lift up the Bomb-toting player, and jump over the pit with them. The puzzles do not change much depending upon how many human players there are, so there isn't much of a challenge in replaying the game, unless an RPGamer wants to wow their friends with how fast they can think up the answers to each area. Somewhat short in length, the most ingenious players may be able to defeat the game in a solid 10 hours; yet with some of the puzzles being quite easy to get stuck on, a party may find themselves unsurprised to be creeping over the 20-hour mark. With friends around to help out the game time, whether it is short or long, seems to literally fly.
One of the nicest things about having the GBA as a controller is the limited number of buttons available; thus, each must do their specific part well. One button (B) for the sword, a second (A) for your current tool, R to do the ever-useful lift and L for formations, if there are fewer than four players. Formations are used to 'lock' the Links into place in certain patters - horizontal line, vertical line, diamond, or loosely following. Only one tool can be used at a time. If another one is picked up, the previous one is left behind. This very clean-cut system means that leaping right into the game is easy and painless. No flashy button combinations to learn here, thankfully. Also done painlessly was the localization. No obvious errors could be found, and there was a plump amount of text involved for each level, including many signs, the majority left by the faerie-obsessed Tingle. It was nice to see with the number of cameos from previous games' characters that their natures matched those that were found in other games as well and were all relevant to the plot.
It is easy to say that Four Swords Adventure is both somehow original and yet not at the same time. While many aspects and characters have been used before, they are generally displayed in new or unique ways. Dampe, the graveyard keeper from Ocarina of Time, will show up in a graveyard, but he won't be challenging you to a shovel game. Torches will need to be lit, but in new patterns with different requirements on how to get to each one - Arrows and Torch alone won't necessarily do the job as in previous installations. Also an improvement over some of the earlier Zelda titles is a surprisingly solid storyline. While the ultimate aim is, as usual, to defeat the baddie and rescue the seven maidens, they have a significantly larger role (and speaking parts). There's also four medals to collect and eight mini-games, sponsored by the ever-loved Tingle. While the mix isn't always the most original, there's definitely a few pleasant surprises to even the most veteran Zelda enthusiast.
While many have groused about the sheer cost of the hardware involved, Four Swords Adventure managers to use the idea of connectivity in a way that not even Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was able to. The GBA is both a useful and intrinsic part of the game, and without it, the game would have been very, very different - and perhaps not as enjoyable. With a full story to explore and bosses both remembered and new, it is nice to see a game that is not necessarily aimed at only tried-and-true Zelda fans. It is also a great way to get together friends; though the game loses a good portion of the appeal when played alone, it nevertheless is a very well done game. Especially considering how desperate the GameCube is for RPGs, this one posseses that certain quality feel that may lure many RPGamers to give the game a shot.
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