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It's rare for the Zelda series to delve into traditional sequels; sure, there are games that use the same assets or engine as a previous title, such as Majora's Mask, but the games generally feel disconnected from each other from a narrative and atmosphere perspective. This is by design; it's supposed to be a legend, after all, so it makes sense that each story would be told a different way. But by the beginning of the 2010s, the Toon Link era was beginning to change that. These were as close as we've gotten to direct Zelda sequels canonically, but their gameplay and setting were still their own. But with the series's first original title on the 3DS, Nintendo decided to take it a step further; A Link Between Worlds is a successor to not a recent title, but A Link To The Past, the game that set the standard for the 2D Zelda title all the way back in 1992 on the SNES. Set many years later, ALBW features a familiar Hyrule layout and a familiar dark world-esque alternate setting, this time titled Lorule. But while the game certainly takes great inspiration from the Zelda title that defined the series, it's still definitively a great game in its own right.
A Link to the Past is still an all time favorite for many Zelda fans, so a spiritual successor to it was always a good idea. Just as with that game, it's impressive how much detail and polish A Link Between Worlds can fit into its condensed world-or, worlds. For fans of traditional 2D Zelda, it's a treat; the dungeons are varied, puzzles are engaging rather than frustrating, and as for any good Zelda title, there's plenty of fun distractions and diversions throughout. Due to the ease of swapping out items, this is one of the smoothest Zelda experiences there is. The dungeons are all relatively small and compact, which allows for players to progress consistently, rarely feeling bogged down by any sudden obscure sections or difficulty spikes. It must be said this is certainly one of the easier titles in the series, so it does lack a degree of memorability; it's hard to say what dungeon or boss fight is supposed to be the definitive one in ALBW. They're all good, and their relative ease does make for a satisfyingly brisk playthrough, but it does lack those knockout punches-in both difficulty and memorability-that are so consistent throughout the series.
That isn't to say that A Link Between Worlds has nothing unique or memorable to offer. Of course, the wall merging mechanic is a brilliant mechanic, and contributes to so much of this game's identity. So many of the best puzzles, so much of the environmental exploration in this game is based around clever uses of this ability to great effect, and finding an obscure secret or a puzzle solution while using it is perhaps the most satisfying element the game has to offer. It also contributes greatly to your exploration of Hyrule and Lorule, and its implementation keeps both regions relevant for the game's duration. Even more revolutionary-and impactful, it turns out-was the game's non-linear structure. Especially at the time of release, when the previous title in the series was Skyward Sword (a game criticized by some for its over-adherence to the Zelda formula), A Link Between Worlds was a breath of fresh air for the series. Freedom in gaming is not always a good thing, but here, it works a treat, greatly improving the exploration aspect of the title and bringing back some of that feeling from the very first Zelda-and, indeed, surely acting as an inspiration for Breath of the Wild. To supplement this, ALBW also introduced the item-lending system, which allowed players to use all the traditional Zelda equips essentially right from the beginning, which allowed for more continuous exploration and led to less backtracking.
Of course, when you take so much inspiration from a beloved title, it's bound to create some feelings of familiarity, and not always in a good way. Putting the maps side by side shows the overworlds to be near-indistinguishable, and while a sequel like TOTK can supplement that with massive gameplay changes and new areas, A Link Between Worlds doesn't have as many options to fit inside its much smaller map. It has enough new that it doesn't feel like a complete retread, but those who have played ALTTP recently or often enough might miss out on a degree of exploration joy here, which is the predominant thing the game does well.
Even with its similarities, though, if A Link Between Worlds is being called similar to one of the most genre-defining games of a generation, then it's clear that it must have done some things right. And for fans of a traditional 2D Zelda with a twist of varied progression, A Link Between Worlds is an excellent choice. It wears its influence proudly on its sleeve, and while it might borrow a tad too much from it, it's never to the point of becoming derivative or dull. And with the hindsight of BOTW, it's clear to see that ALBW had plenty of influence to offer on its own.
Once it was confirmed that the Nintendo 64 would continue to use cartridge-based games instead of the increasingly popular (and significantly cheaper) CDs, it was the turning point that signaled a mass developer exodus from the company that was previously considered the default in video games. One of the most notable splits-and one of the most infamous-was SquareSoft, the company responsible for many NES & SNES renowned series. The team behind Chrono Trigger, the Mana series, and of course, Final Fantasy, was looking for a new home for its next installment in the already iconic franchise. With 3D gaming on the rise, the CD-based Sony Playstation, already a console with a considerable installed base, was the obvious choice. And so, in 1997, less than a year after their final SNES release, Final Fantasy VII released on the PS1. And after that, the floodgates would open; Square would go on to develop over half a dozen for the system in that year alone. And FF7 wasn't the only landmark title; only a few months later, they would release another soon-to-be-iconic game for the system.
Final Fantasy Tactics was one of the first true spinoffs of the legendary series, and it's an impressive first effort to say the least. Produced by Square newcomer Yasumi Matsuno, it was essentially a spiritual successor to the Ogre Battle series. It was stated that the desire for FFT was to create a strategy RPG with an emphasis on class warfare, and by all metrics, it's impossible to call it anything but a tremendous success. The Final Fantasy series is no stranger to convoluted stories and difficult to follow overarching narratives, but while the main series has about as many hits as misses, Tactics is easily one of the best of the franchise. It can't be understated what a feat it is to create a multi-layered, complex, and intricately woven narrative that both keeps the player guessing and also remains easy enough to follow. Deception, double crossing, and secret plots are aplenty here, and it's one of the best games for political intrigue even to this day. Heavily inspired by The War of the Roses, noble families clash while the meager are caught in the crossfire. Class-based struggle is at the heart of FFT, and so much of its dialogue and themes ring truer than ever today, ensuring its status as an eternally relevant game.
And, if you'll pardon the pun, class-based warfare is also what makes this game so fun to play. Each character has 19 potential classes (or jobs) to choose from, including many FF favorites, and they can operate with the skills of a secondary as well. This makes the game incredibly diverse; there's an incredible amount of variety to how you'll plan your squad, what skills you'll give them, and how you might adapt during a potentially difficult battle. This is by no means an easy game, especially for first timers, so you're encouraged to mix and match, try new things, and find a strategy that works for you. It should be said that this game does have a bit of trouble balancing difficulty, as there are quite a few difficulty spikes that seem to have been made with grinding in mind; only playing the story missions will likely leave you quite a bit underleveled at a few times in the story. Grinding is nothing new for the FF series, but it's more palatable in a quick random encounter than it is in a tactics-based game, where each battle can take 5 to 10 minutes. (There might be a few too many battles in the game as it is.)
That being said, the great thing about FFT is that it allows for such a degree of tactical expression that, with the right strategy, every battle feels winnable. Coming up against a difficult battle, losing, and finding an alternative method to win is a truly satisfying feeling, and Tactics is well packed with moments like these. But while it is possible to win any battle with any squad setup, it would be unfair to call them balanced. There are some skills-particularly Math Skills, and the main character's unique skill-which seem purposely made to break the game in your favor. This kind of takes away from the difficulty and thrill of the late game, and leaves the player with an unfortunate choice of intentionally limiting themselves or breezing by most end game battles.
Even still, balancing issues were no stranger to the late 90s, and even with them in mind, Final Fantasy Tactics is a marvelous game, and one of the most interesting tactical RPGs ever made. It's gameplay is enthralling, often encouraging a feeling of "just one more battle, one more try." And it's a testament to its story that despite the mostly excellent strategy, it's the narrative that remains FFT's most compelling and memorable aspect. For fans of medieval intrigue and royal conspiracies, it's an obvious choice. But whether it's the gameplay or narrative that sucks you in, you'll come away with a vast enjoyment of both. And, just like the story of Ramza, Tactics is a reminder that history is always worth revisiting.
When the Nintendo DS released in late 2004, it was indicative of a philosophical overhaul happening at Nintendo. Their last mainline system, the Gamecube, was vastly outsold by the PS2, and even failed to outperform the new console on the block, the Xbox. They were no longer the definitive video game console, and as a result, focused on developing a more innovative and unique approach to gameplay. Of course, this was manifested most prevalently in the Wii, but the DS was surely innovative in its own right; its two screens, touchpad, microphone, and Wi-Fi capabilities were all extremely novel at the time. And when you have a brand new piece of hardware, you want to show it off. And so, only a few months after the DS's release, came Kirby: Canvas Curse, fully designed to take advantage of the dual screen, touch screen technology-for better, or worse.
Something that is likely to have a large influence on your enjoyment of Canvas Curse is its utter commitment to its gimmick. In this game, you don't control Kirby; rather, you control a magic paintbrush which creates paths, deflects attacks, and activates abilities. The entirety of the game takes place-and is controlled by-the touch screen. And this extends beyond gameplay; you can't even navigate the menus without use of the stylus. This is something that would seem novel at the time, but can quickly get frustrating-and is emblematic of CC as a whole. Each level will have Kirby rolling along the path in front of them, relying on the player to draw paths, diverting him away from danger, and defeating enemies. For one thing, it's certainly unique, and it's a creative application of the touch screen which does seem to fit Kirby's vibe perfectly. Levels are generally short, and it's a relatively quick game overall. There's a great amount of diverse level themes here, and while they make for good background art, they sadly don't feel like much more than coats of paint over a singular type of level. You rarely have to adjust your thinking in Canvas Curse; the game plays effectively the same through its brief runtime.
It also keeps up the trend of Kirby games having an easy to beat, difficult to complete selection of gameplay. For what it's worth, there's a lot of added content here, whether it be the boss minigames, timed challenges, or modified clear conditions. It's one of the game's biggest strengths; there's truly a challenge for all skill levels here. The problem is that, with Kirby: Canvas Curse, it's rarely a challenge worth undertaking. Because of the player's role in the game, Kirby moves on his own, idly rolling around, bouncing off walls, only using an attack or ability when tapped on. Since Kirby is always on the move, constant attention is required. Like the stylus only gimmick, it's bound to get old pretty quickly. In fact, it doesn't really seem like the DS was designed to be played with a stylus constantly; as a result, playing this game for more than a few levels at a time is bound to feel awkward and uncomfortable.
Kirby is a series that's also known for its epic feeling boss fights, and while the final boss is probably the best part of the game, the other bosses are severely lacking, and feel more like non-sequitur minigames rather than a complementary inclusion. As a result, Canvas Curse doesn't feel like a game that was well put together; it's a loose (and small) collection of ideas gathered around a central theme of only using the touch screen. The novel technology must have been impressive at the time-this game is astonishingly the joint-highest rated Kirby game ever on Metacritic, for example-but it doesn't offer anything beyond that, save for a few interesting challenge modes and a charming aesthetic. Its devotion to a gimmick is laser-focused to its detriment, especially when the controls can feel as inconsistent and clumsy as they do here; in truth, it's not particularly fun to play even in the occasions when they work great.
Kirby (in 2005 and today) is an incredibly recognizable character whose base design caters to a large demographic of players. That makes the series a great choice for a flagship title in which the benefits of a new system can be conveyed to a large audience. But in spite of its critical acclaim at the time, Kirby: Canvas Curse wouldn't be the game to do so. And that's probably for the best. It's not a totally irredeemable game by any measure-more dull than anything-but it's also proof that new isn't always better, and that everything is best in moderation, and that novel ideas can quickly become irrelevant. And not many series know that better than Kirby.