Here we go, folks... this is the post I've been reluctant to publish.
It is Round 3 of this week's "Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass" Vs. Mode, a series that has filled my inbox with letters from people who say I'm rejecting a beauty of a game.
In Round 1 Newsweek's N'Gai Croal praised the game's controls and described his experience as a "Zelda" neophytye. I then explained why "Phantom Hourglass," my 12th "Zelda," wasn't doing it for me.
In Round 2 N'Gai took me up on an offer to get a crash course in the two wonderful Nintendo 64 "Zelda" games, "The Ocarina of Time" and "Majora's Mask." I explained why "Phantom Hourglass," my 12th "Zelda," wasn't doing it for me.
Today, Round 3 continues the previous round's experimental approach (a transcript of a chat N'Gai and I had after the N64) crash course. I explain why "Phantom Hourglass," my 12th "Zelda," wasn't doing it for me.
I'm being hard on myself. I'm not that much of a broken record, but I really felt stuck in this Vs. Mode. As I say in this round:
It’s kind of weird for me to proselytizing about "Zelda" for so long and then when we finally have a "Zelda" conversation to be the big "Zelda" doubter. Maybe it’s because I’m always going to be contrary about everything, but I think it really is that I got surprised by this crossroads that I found myself walking into.
The more I read what we talked about, the more conscious I am of just how anguished I sound in all of this. I've been a big "Zelda" fan for years, and the prospect that the series is either going south or that I have played too many "Zelda"s to appreciate them has unsettled me. I don't want to be over "Zelda."
Well, read on and see what you think. N'Gai talks about his issues with the "Zelda" gameplay formula, and how they relate to his feelings on "The Sims," "GTA," "Little Big Planet," "Metal Gear" and "Halo 3"'s Forge.
I play my same sad tune. Here's one comment from me -- slightly rambling -- that I wanted to highlight, because it speaks to my developing thoughts about the value of video game remakes as well as my long-time concerns about how hard it is for great game experiences I had in the past to be appreciated by gamers that come after me:
Totilo: ... with "Madden" what I view EA as having done and the other football game developers, is they’ve essentially been able to work off of an ideal, which is real football and year after year after year try to come close to that. And really once they’ve reached that ideal and they’ve got football as realistically rendered or as successfully rendered as it needs to be for a video game that at that point there’s no need to make, to remake the engine, remake the graphics or remake anything other than to keep the rosters up to date, keep the uniforms up to date and so on. And you can see a lot of people saying that that’s all they’re seeing from some of the football company game developers anyway.
"Zelda" — it peaked. It’s been great already. It’s like the ideal "Zelda"s exist. They’re already out there. And in other forms of entertainment, once the ideal exists and companies have found a way to make money off of just re-releasing that ideal, finding a way to make that ideal relevant even if it means transferring it from VHS to DVD to downloadable or whatnot. And so, you know, clearly where I’m at is at a spot where I’m just saying, "Look, I’ve played the ideal 'Zelda.'" I was able to play it in 1998 when, at the time, it was running on technology that blew my mind so my memory of that "Zelda" will always be a bit as an ultimate experience. Your memory of "Ocarina" will probably always be that, "hey this was a really good game." That was an interesting artifact of history that you played in the year 2007 right after seeing "Ratchet and Clank [Future]," you know, HD quality graphics on my standard definition set. And so you probably actually haven’t experienced the ideal "Zelda" experience.
Read on. And check in later this week for Round 4, which will return to the original format and in which I will finally say some nice things about "Phantom Hourglass." Hopefully I'll have beaten the game by then. I'm at the final dungeon.
(These exchanges are mirrored on N’Gai’s “Level Up” bog.)