I wrote this earlier, and the browser ate my post, so now I will try to reconstruct it. Let's hope I don't screw it up:
First of all, I'm thoroughly annoyed by everyone who decided to nit-pick a ridiculously small detail in the major argument here. When TVT said the boss was a pig, he was generalizing. Trying to pin down the specifics of the final boss form is woefully inane. Please stop.
Okay, yes, it's not necessarily a pig, but really, he does kind of look like a combo of LttP Ganon and TP Beast Ganon, plus spiky hair and that thing on his back. I'm just saying his design isn't very original, not that he's necessarily a pig or what have you.
Now, I don't have a problem with the basis of the argument: that the Zelda games are increasingly unimaginative (not that I necessarily agree, but I see the point). The problem I have here is that the argument seems to focus solely on Spirit Tracks, and that seems inaccurate. The argument posed lists the following as massive flaws in this game, and, as it may be inferred, this game particularly: unoriginal and redundant content, lack of plot, and a disinvolved world. The point I wish to bring to contest this opinion is that these are all flaws commonly found in many games, notably almost all of the Zelda sequels.
Well, for one, thing, I'd like to point out that yes, these are minor flaws in the game- I acknowledge that from a design standpoint, Spirit Tracks is a fantastic video game that serves its purpose as a handheld admirably. This doesn't mean that the minor flaws aren't annoying, though, and yes, I blew them out of proportion for the sake of comedy. (If you didn't guess from the Nostalgia Critic pic that the thread was meant to be primarily humorous... well, it says something, but I'm not sure what.)
Let's face it, almost every Zelda game has MacGuffins. Be they Triforces, Sages, Amulets, Force Gems, Maps, etc. These all have no importance whatsoever other than to drag us to the next dungeon/temple/labyrinth and beat up another boss.
Well, yes, there are always macguffins and they do serve similar purposes frequently. However, I would contend that it's not true that they're always unimportant to the story. Again, the answer is world-building: if the Spiritual Stones in OoT, for example, were, say, identical magic keys, then yes, they'd be stunningly unimportant to anything but the immediate plot. However, the Spiritual Stones were not just keys, but crystalline artifacts that allowed Link to gain access to the Master Sword, held by races that were intended to embody/represent the three virtues of the Triforce- much like LttP's Pendants of Virtue. This brings up a number of questions regarding their nature and connection to previously seen Macguffins. And this goes for other things, such as the Seven Maidens/Seven Sages/Ancient Sages, and the Triforce, its position during the games, and its relation to the recurring Sacred Realm/Dark World, which has become crucial to determining timeline placement.
The reason I'm peeved at Force Gems, however, is that they're not tied to anything- for the Toon Link games, Miyamoto has as good as confirmed that the old Hyrule is gone and buried, so now they're giving us these new thingies. Except, what are they? In FSA they counted as currency, in PH they unlocked doors, and in ST they created train tracks, opened warp gates, and even served as like candy or something in the multiplayer (which probably isn't canon, but still...). And they do all this without any point of reference, no explicit purpose or origin or bearing on the world in any relevant way. They're never important to anything but gameplay, because they could so easily be substituted for anything else and lose none of their relevance.
Speaking of dungeons, I don't know how many times I've been in discussions about the difficulty of the Water temple in Ocarina (which I will refer to as TOOT, because I find it amusing) versus the Water Temple in Majora versus the Water temple in Twilight Princess. The elemental dungeons are part and parcel of any Zelda game, much like the MacGuffins. These are staples, and this is what usually occurs in sequels of an established franchise.
Yes, okay. I'm not complaining about elemental dungeons, I'm just complaining that that's pretty much all
we have. An empty field covered in tracks and elemental dungeons. There's some races living in the mountains and such, but they pretty much don't do anything but open gate X, and you never see them in any sort of relation to anything else in the world.
Now I could use other Nintendo games as examples, but that would be too easy. Take Megaman for instance. Inheriting weapons from bosses, death traps, shooting lots of things, and jumping puzzles. How about Halo? Shooting aliens with guns, reoccurring hero, vehicles, and big battles. When you boil these games down to their absolute basics, they're essentially all the same as their original games. While this is an annoyance, as this can be seen, at best, as repetition, and, at worst, as utter unoriginality, it's unfair to single out Spirit Tracks as the sole culprit.
What I'm saying about Spirit Tracks isn't that it's essentially the same, but that it's essentially the same, except that there are explicitly no ties to Hyrule, there's absolutely nothing new to care about and what is new gets killed off at the end of the game. While, for example, the Wind Waker was "Get three elemental Macguffins to go to a dungeon and then get the master sword and do more dungeons to kill Ganon", it was more
than that, giving us interesting locales, beautifully placed connections to other Zeldas (the sage windows, the Tower of the Gods/Hyrule Castle, the scattered ToC from the HoT's departure, etc.), while ST had the same kind of design elements, but devoid of any context and shoved into an empty world for absolutely no reason.
Let's look at the statement made earlier that the previous Zelda games were more plot driven. Did the plot seriously have that much of an impact in any Zelda game? What was the plot for the first game? Defeat evil, save kingdom, free princess. What was the plot for the second game? Defeat evil, save kingdom, uncurse princess. Repeat adnauseum. Saying that the plot was a serious driving force for any Zelda game is a fairly weak point as they're all very basic and very linear.
Again, as I told NorthApple and a link 2 the past, I never said Zelda games were very story driven, but rather were driven by their world and their blend of exploration and progression. In other Zeldas, there was a genuinely interesting world (even in handheld games like LA, OoX, and MC, as I'll address later) that you, the player, actively discovered through exploration. However, in the DS games, you're essentially put on rails (and I want to make a train joke here), and the places you "discover" are just places the game took you next, rather than any exploration of your part. Even Twilight Princess had shades of this, but at the very least there WERE optional places to go and actual reasons to do any backtracking. While, yes, the plot is usually basic and linear, that doesn't mean the actual game has to be.
The so called rich history and background of the Zelda universe is, let's be honest, totally unimportant to the game unless it directly influences Link's ability to reach whatever MacGuffin he is currently running after. Do any of the Zelda games offer ways to manipulate the plot? No. Do the games ever make you face societal issues? No. Do they ever challenge your ethical and moral standings? No. Link fights the evil and saves whomever simply for the sake of defeating evil. He's not doing it for money or fame. Some may say that he's doing it to get a shot at Zelda, but I'll not address that issue, and save it mostly for the cartoon from the Super Mario Brothers Super Show. (Some people may think this makes Link an extremely flat character. I actually really appreciate that characteristic, interpreting his actions as stoic and indicative of his unswerving moral compass.)
Again, you're just blowing off a crucial element of the series as "totally unimportant". While, yes, it's unimportant to the gameplay and what you actually do, it is nonetheless an enjoyable part of playing a Zelda game, and when it's totally removed, it has a detrimental effect on the game. I admit this is less important to new players, but the more Zelda you play, the more noticeable it is when it's gone.
As for not having an explorable and immersive world, there are two things that must be addressed. Firstly, never have the Zelda games had a world which was truly fleshed out. So many aspects of Hyrule are ignored. There are a race of rock people and fish people, both of which have extremely different cultures, from each other, and the Hylians. Because of their extremely different cultures, there would be massive amounts of racism between the three. Why is there always only one, maybe two, representatives of the royal families? They're families. Wouldn't there be cousins, aunts, uncles, multiple generations? There would be huge quantities of political intrigue, both in the families and between the different kingdoms. Their economies could be amazingly complicated, and terrifying fragile. What about the less abundant races, like the Kokiri? These could all be plot enhancers, or even plots themselves, but the best we ever get are creation myths and legends, and an overbearing evil that will destroy everything as we know it. That's not deep, that's the basis for a better story. Instead, we get a world just substantial enough to run around and stab octoroks in.
Again, you're assuming it can only be relevant to either the gameplay or the specific plot. Yes, there are issues with certain elements, (although TP tells us in no uncertain terms that yes, Hylians are racist against Zora, and Gorons don't care much for humans they don't know personally or aren't selling anything to, and the Royal Family could easily just be a very small family by tradition, and Zelda games typically don't put things like the Kokiri into the specific story simply because the specific story is intentionally minimal), but on the whole there are still plenty of discoveries to be made about the different races. Hyrule is by no means a realistic place, but it is an interesting place, and quite honestly the developers usually care more about the land itself than its politics.
Secondly, the limitation to have a non-immersive world is a matter of hardware. Spirit Tracks was directly compared to TOOT, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Link to the Past. Do you see a common denominator amongst those games? They're all for console. Now a DS can handle anything an N64 can dish out, but that's not the point. Those five games were all designed with your living room (or something similar) in mind. They're meant to be played on big TVs (for their time), preferably with a good sound system, and with you on a comfortable couch.
Spirit Tracks is a portable game. Sure, I play the game at home, but I also play it while on the subway, during my lunch break, waiting for the elevator, etc. I can't get absorbed into the Hylian world when I'm standing in line for a sandwich. Especially not when I always have a stylus interrupting my vision in some way or form. These are all details that will pull you out of the gaming experience, some more than others. With that in mind, you cannot honestly create a game that you can lose yourself in, and Nintendo understands this, and avoids it completely.
See: Link's Awakening, Oracle of Seasons/Ages, The Minish Cap. Even without much happening in these worlds (which I contend would not have hurt the games), they still present a place that you can actually explore, which is more than I can say for Spirit Tracks. Except for a few optional areas that shout "HEY! HERE'S A PLACE! COME EXPLORE THIS PLACE! FOR ALL OF FIVE MINUTES!", there's not much in ST you don't see as a consequence of the plot. The problem with ST is that, even with practically nothing in it, they don't even let you explore whatever it is freely! Zelda games, in my opinion, are about exploring a world while saving it. ST, quite simply, didn't have exploring. Like, at all. Handheld games, yes, do need to focus on gameplay, but Spirit Tracks didn't have Zelda gameplay, it had Toon Link gameplay- it brings you to a puzzle and you solve it.
Finally, there is one more detail in Nintendo's marketing strategy that rarely is discussed.
Some background information before I continue: Who here knows about the Gamer Drift phenomenon? A few years ago, there was a period of time where people in Japan weren't buying games. Not just your average person, we're talking about specific people who fall into the demographic of gamers, on whom the game industry depend on to make money. For reasons that are still unclear, they were just not buying games like they used to. This period of time shortly followed the release of Wind Waker, which did not do as well as Nintendo would have hoped, largely do to the game being unfinished and rushed (think about it: only two dungeons, and then dredging for treasure for the next few hours? As much as I loved WW, I couldn't argue against that.).
Nintendo, then, was worried, and understandably so. They did not want to invest into a new game which may not be bought by their regular customers. So they thought, "Well, the Japanese aren't buying, but the American market is still going strong. Weren't they upset with the new cel-shaded direction? Didn't they want that more realistic look we hinted at years ago?" Thus, they began work, and subsequently put out, Twilight Princess. A game made specifically for America.
However, during TP's production, the Gamer Drift ended (many attribute this uptrend to the DS, which was released shortly before the end of the Drift). Every Zelda game since (not counting TP, which was already under production), has harkened back to the Wind Waker visual style. Why? Because the Japanese market wants it as such.
And that's the whole point of that long tangent. The ugly truth is that Nintendo (and any major Japanese game developer) doesn't care about the American market even remotely as much as they do their home market. Take a look at Spirit Tracks. For those who don't know, the Japanese love trains, and it runs deep in their cultural consciousness. During a trip to Japan, I played an arcade game in which you drive a train. That's _all_ you do. The better you are, the more time you get. It's like a really boring version of Crazy Taxi. So when I saw Spirit Tracks, I laughed, thinking, "Wow, they really made this one Japanese, didn't they?" Then when I played the game, and saw the speed controls, I laughed harder, thinking back to that arcade game, flying past the first stop and finally coming to a halt between the second and third stops, losing miserably.
Take a look at Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks. What are the main modes of transportation? Sailing and trains, both of which are strongly part of Japanese culture. Did Japan want a more realistic looking Hyrule? No. Even the mailboxes look like Japanese mailboxes. What this means is that Japan wants their Zelda games to be as they are: mildly repetitive and light on plot. They want little creative puzzles to solve and a light, happy universe.
They want more Toon Zelda. I totally support them on this decision.
...okay, so Japan likes Toon Zelda. And? To be honest, Zelda had never been about little, creative puzzles and a light, happy universe. It's about exploring a world full of puzzles and a compelling, interesting universe. From what I gather, you're saying Japan likes this new direction, and so they're going to keep doing it. Does that make me have to like it?
(The answer is actually no.)
Personally, I love this game. I have already beaten it, and am going for total completion by acquiring everything in the game. That is something I haven't done in a long time. I like the non-immersion: it helps me not miss my subway stop or the end of my lunch break. Heck, I use it as a mild learning tool for my nephew, who loves trains. ("Who do you have to talk to to ride the train?" "PRINCESS!") I also believe this is one of the most challenging Zelda games I've played, rather than being more obnoxious than hard (oh, Majora and your time reverting crap), or not so much hard as unplayably bad (...I'm sorry. To all of the hardcore nerds reading this: I really tried to not bring in Wand of Gamelon, because that's cheating, but I couldn't resist. Yes, I have played it. My friend owns a CDI just for that game.).
Okay, yes, Spirit Tracks is a fun game. It's a good video game and does what it does well. The problem is that what it does isn't what Zelda does, it's it's own new little thing. And when you want to try a new little thing, you don't convert a respected and immersive series known for exploring amazing settings into the new little thing- you create a new IP. I mean, yeah, that's hard and expensive, but isn't Nintendo rolling in dough these days? And don't they have a new market on which to push an IP with little creative puzzles? I don't know, but I don't like turning Zelda into this little thing.
A few more things- I have a hard time understanding liking
non-immersion, but maybe it's why Japan is so fond of the new Toon direction. Also, I fully sympathize with your frustration towards MM- the fact that everything you do to help anyone is totally reset whenever you save, and the only thing that survives is anything in your inventory that you can't buy back, is one of the deal breakers for me (I still haven't beaten the darn thing.)
And really? Wand of Gamelon? Ouch.
Hopefully this sheds some light on the situation, and maybe quells a bit of the nerd rage that is consuming you.
[Finished proof reading. Whew! How is that for my second post?]
Well, yes, it has shed light, and again, the NERD RAGE was me blowing things comically out of proportion. It was really more like Nerd Severe Irritation, which has now become Nerd Depressing Bitter Disappointment. Anyway, thanks for the post- welcome to the forums.