Finally a sequel to Legend of Zelda (my import impressions)
Well, I've gotten my import copy of 3D Dot Game Heroes and I've put a good number of hours into it so here's my impressions. I say it's a sequel to Legend of Zelda because it is most similar to the original Zelda on NES, as opposed to Link to the Past, and has relatively little in common with more recent Zelda games.
The game is not at all shy in directly copying concepts and presentation from the Zelda series; most every aspect of the gameplay is very much a Zelda game. The main attack is a sword stab and you always have some manner of shield. Your hero ventures through an overworld and dungeons to find artifacts of power. Life & magic containers and life container pieces (represented by apples) can be found hidden throughout the game world. There is an inventory of items, selectable through a menu or quick select, that include Zelda classics such as a boomerang, hookshot, bombs that can be used to open cracks in walls, and a bow & arrow. There are enemies that look suspiciously like Moblins, Tektites, and Octorocks; many of these enemies even behave like their genuine counterparts. The game has shops that sell items in a typical Zelda fashion. There are bottles (but I don't believe you can catch anything in them), the hero has a Navi-like fairy counterpart, he even spins around when he dies! I could go on and on.
The gameplay does branch off in some ways. When starting the game it gives you a selection of classes and the option to be male or female, but you can change this whenever you load the game and it only seems to affect how many life & magic containers you start with. When attacking with a sword it can be swung around after thrusting forth, allowing you to attack enemies in an arc (not all swords have this power when you first get them). Swords can be upgraded with coins at a blacksmith, creating a wider, longer, more powerful, more penetrating weapon. A good sword upgraded to full power can attack enemies covering multiple screens and behind cover. However, your sword is only at full power when at full health, take a hit and you'll be stuck with a fractionally smaller weapon. Some classic Zelda items branch off a bit, such as the candles & lamps, which are now expendable and only light your way. The dungeons feel more like those from Zelda 1, but feature complex switch systems and multi-floor design complete with pitfalls like LTTP. There are more villagers to talk to in towns than what is typical for a Zelda game, but it's still a minor component of the game. Factoring in true 3D gameplay means you can safely run below enemy attacks, and have to be mindful of the curve of your arrows.
The graphics style is original and clean looking. Environments are blocky, akin to the original Zelda in style as opposed to the more smooth and detailed Link to the Past. Modern graphics techniques such as HDR, shadow mapping, depth of field, and physics are used to great effect. The end result is a game that looks retro, but not primitive graphically. There is some rare slowdown present which occurs inexplicably, but it doesn't detract from the gameplay. The music is delightfully old school, expect to hear songs that remind you of Zelda or Dragon Quest and other 8-bit classics. All the music sounds like it could have been played in the background of an episode of Captain N. One nitpick I have about the presentation is the all too common load screens. The load screens parody Japanese game box art and never last more than a few seconds. However, in a game world that reminds me so much of the original Zelda it can be a bit jarring to move a few screens then have a pause before loading the next area.
The game features a character creation system where you can make your character dot by dot. Animation and colors are limited, but there are good options. Designs can be traded with anyone via USB stick or memory card simply by copying the files from the PS3 save utility (I got my Link from a Japanese file storage site). Neither the enemies nor the game world can be edited, however.
Perhaps most importantly, the game works very well as a Zelda clone. Overworld & dungeon design are interesting and fun to experience. Enemies are exciting to fight, from bosses to weaklings and the controls are perfectly responsive. Perhaps the secrets are not as cleverly hidden as in most Zelda games, comparing most to the original Zelda, once again. The core design is definitely more reminiscent of 8-bit titles, don't expect elaborate storytelling or wild variations in gameplay. The interest of exploration is not as rich as many modern games. It is clearly and powerfully retro in every aspect. If you're interested in reviving that old school feeling while playing an unoriginal yet delightful Zelda clone, I can thoroughly recommend picking 3D Dot Game Heroes up whenever it is released in the West.
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