Friday, December 9, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Petra’s Ghost

Petra’s ghost? I hate when living people talk like that. I am not Petra’s ghost. My parents were never around for weekends. I was a virgin until twenty-seven. I went into Marine Biology because sharks are awesome, and I was on my way to the interview of a lifetime when a semi jumped the divider and plowed into my cab, killing me 'instantly.' That’s what the doctor said to my parents. “She died instantly. She never felt a thing.” He was wrong.

This is all mine. My doctors, my parents, my wrongs. I am not Petra’s ghost. I am Petra.

I’m your ghost, I’m this highway’s ghost, I’m the ghost of curiosity for the ocean. But I will never be Petra’s possession. I will possess concrete and sea breeze. I’ll be their ghosts, and that’ll be fine, because it’s what I decide to do. It’s what Petra Nebrich does. I’m all I ever was, and I am all Petra Nebrich ever will be. And if that’s a tragedy, then it’s my tragedy.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Zelda: King of Limbo Synopsis, Part 6 - The Finale

The end of our game lies in this border realm between Hyrule and Limbo. Many people have spilled out from Limbo, though there’s no sign of Link. The castle-goers are alive again, including the King and Queen. Yet everyone is weak and pale, as though Limbo is drinking life from them. Navi is too afraid to venture inside Limbo itself. Before Navi or the King can say anything, Zelda is off to finish this.

The powerless Ganon accompanies her as the guide, because nobody knows this place as well as he does. The only way to sever the ties to Limbo, he claims, is to bring something as powerful as the Triforce into the heart of this place. He explains that he was infested with Limbo’s energies and it corrupted him, though when Zelda turns her back he still looks like a schemer.

With the Master Sword weakened, we’re back to sneaking and relying on the bow. Instead of real landscapes, we’re roaming in abstract monochrome mountains with bits of color denoting enemies, and even these landscapes seem to be alive. We’re attacked by Zanath, now corrupted by Limbo energy. Ganon gradually absorbs some himself to cast offensive magic in support of Zelda. The further we go, the wilder the versions of Zanath manifest. We get brief glimpses of a ghostly Link, ala the Shadow Link fight. It’s as though he’s guiding us.

We journey to the Final Temple, which lies beneath a pit where, if this were our world, Castle Hyrule would stand. Here the ghostly Link appears more frequently, showing us hints on how to progress. Here, also, an octopus-like Zanath bars every possible way, and Zelda and Ganon must find alternate paths down. This is our big dungeon-long boss battle, until driving the Master Sword into Zanath causes him to wither. Ganon winds up tackling the weakened Zanath, trying to steal all the energy he’s absorbed, to get his power back.

You remember this guy, right?

Zelda takes the opportunity to pass to the end of the dungeon where she can set all this to rest. There is an altar, not unlike the one we found the Master Sword upon, but with three triangular imprints. Link is also here, in the flesh and unconscious, hands reaching to the altar. She lays the Triforce to rest here, using its power to close the gap. The world trembles, and Zelda has to carry Link to safety before the portal to home closes. When the world trembles, she tosses Link through the narrowing portal. It’s as though she’s going to perish when Link’s arm comes through and pulls her to safety. So I guess he always saves the princess, at least a little bit.

The two watch from Castle Hyrule as the portal closes. Ganon and Zanath chase along behind them, though they don’t make it. Ganon glares at Zelda through the vanishing space, swearing he’ll be back.

If Nintendo would let me, I’d have Link get his first speaking role here since he’s not the main character, asking what the heck happened. I’d be almost as happy, though, if Zelda and Link shared a mute exchange. Regardless, Zelda helps him to his feet and we watch them exit the damaged castle. They descend the steps in the gilded light of sunset, a reminder of The Golden Realm. They’ve arrived outside just in time for nightfall. The sky’s black, but there are stars in that blackness. Roll the credits over the stars.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Zelda: King of Limbo Synopsis, Part 5 - Versus Ganon!

Jump back to Part 4.

Ganon’s armies wait in Hyrule for the princess’s return. Zelda appears, now dressed as Sheik, storming the fields before Castle Hyrule. Or, so it looks. She’s clearly overmatched. The fiends rip her to shreds – at which point fairies pop out of her clothes. There’s no flesh. Navi’s family provided a decoy. They tricked Ganon.

Surprisingly, Hyruleans would now call this "the good old days."
 Zelda’s not foolish. She knows more ways into Castle Hyrule than the front door. She sneaks in through the sewers, not having to fight through an army. The castle serves as our final dungeon once she enters it, with puzzles and victims frozen in obsidian forms, including Zelda’s mom and dad. Once she reaches the throne room we get out big showdown with the Limbo-powered Ganon. Her pieces of the Triforce prevent him from squashing her, but he scoffs that he’s invincible. Link was the Chosen One, the only one who could kill him.

But if that’s so, why was he hiding in this castle? Zelda finds the Master Sword can cut him, and his body bother shrinks and lightens when hit by her enchanted arrows, leeching some of his Limbo energies. After a few forms, he’s reduced to an elf-like creature, almost a homely version of Link. By whooping him, she actually drained all his stolen power and reduced him to a normal person. He bristles and refuses to show fear before she kills him. He won’t cry, “like Link did.”

Zelda won’t kill him, though. Not even now. That’s the way the cycle used to go. She’ll spare him, let him live out his natural life and not give him the path of vengeance he’s been pursuing for eons. Maybe in a jail cell.

Taking the Triforce, she opens the way to Limbo to free Link and the other children. Ganon freaks out and tries to stop her. We think it’s because he fears Link. Then nightmares come pouring out from that realm. Hyrule becomes a warped portal into this bleak landscape where even the Master Sword can’t glow. So much for Castle Hyrule being our “final dungeon.”

Onward to the final episode: Part 6!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Zelda: King of Limbo Synopsis, Part 4 - The Golden Realm

Jump back to Part 3.

Yet I want my Graveyard Temple, with its spooky theme of undead warriors and supernatural vapors. Reality ripples down here. It would be great for Zelda to have a showdown with the Shadow Link inside. After dispatching the doppelganger, a ghost resembling Link appears rises from its remains. For a moment he touches hands with Zelda, before dispersing into the mist. Maybe a sign that Link’s not gone entirely?

Shadow Link is a classic Legend of Zelda enemy.
Now that Link's been supplanted as the series's hero,
how symbolic is Zelda fighting against it?

Stranger things wait deeper in the Graveyard Temple. Some tiles aren’t grey stone, but rather gold like the Triforce. Go deeper still, and she finds rifts in reality. The Master Sword allows her to wedge her way through them, and to pass into a shining alternate reality version of the Graveyard Temple. Here it’s a gilded Pyramid Temple. The basement is locked, but if Zelda ascends and exits, she’ll be in The Golden Realm, an appropriately shiny version of Hyrule.

This realm is also at war. Limbo’s familiar dark army is evenly matched with a heroic Golden Army, largely comprised of incredibly idealized versions of the knights from Zelda’s camp. They’re led by someone else, someone who looks a lot like Sheik. Sheik seems to be our guide through this, knowing way more than she should about Zelda and Link.

But in Ocarina of Time, Sheik was...

Our androgynous guide explains about the Legend-cycle. For reasons we don’t understand (but might know about if we played Skyward Sword), from age to age the Kingdom of Hyrule comes into being on the lower plane, always preceding the birth of a great evil that calls itself Ganon. As though connected, a version of Link is also always born into the realms and stops Ganon’s ambitions. Once slain, Ganon’s spirit returns to an infernal prison called “Limbo.” Apparently the wizard Zanath is from here, and helped Ganon escape from Limbo and into The Golden Realm, where he studied the cycles in order to pre-empt them and conquer the realms permanently. He’s already drawn so much power from Limbo that it’s driven him mad. It’s a wonder that realm hasn’t ruptured open. He intends to undo everything, which included getting rid of Link, gathering the Triforce and Golden Power himself, and inhabiting all the places that were traditionally safe.

The Golden Realm’s Castle Hyrule and dungeons should all have retro-feels, and tableaus with reference to the events of all the major Zelda games. Stained glass depictions, mosaics, etc. This is also where Zelda finds the Goddess Bow and silver arrows, the enchanted things that have slain Ganon before, and that feel incredibly familiar to her. We know why.

At the heads of the dark army in the Golden Realm are three of Ganon’s former forms, all raised from the dead as his slaves. So we get a Zombie Pig-Nose Gannon, Zombie Wind Waker Wizard Ganon, and finally Zombie Agahnim. Zelda, Sheik and Navi fend them off at the Temples, and Zelda extracts their darkness into her arrows, until they are nearly powerful enough to harm the real Ganon.
Agahnim, from promotional art for Link to the Past.

Yet Zombie Agahnim reveals he’s only the second to last; Sheik is actually the last. Sheik was going to be Ganon’s next incarnation, before he broke out of Limbo and disturbed the Legend-cycle. She can feel parts of his spirit inside her, but has suppressed him while he was in Hyrule, and disguised herself to keep out of his attention. Now he knows, and tries to take her over. Rather than giving in and attacking Zelda, she sacrifices herself to yield the energy necessary to stop him.

There's nothing else for Zelda in The Golden Realm. The remaining Army of Limbo is scattering. After she mourns, Zelda has to return to Hyrule to stop this.

Jump to Part 5!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Zelda: King of Limbo Synopsis, Part 3 - The Master Sword, Without Link?

Jump back to Part 2.

At camp, Zelda confers with Navi and the captain of her guard. They believe the Master Sword can harm even the King of Limbo. It’s the simplest reason for why he’d pursue it. Since he mentioned it’s somewhere in Link’s home woods, we’re off.

It's been so long since anyone's seen the Master Sword
that Navi can't remember what it looks like.
Now there’s only one major army on the map, which is conveniently in that same woods. Zelda is now strong enough to travel deeper in than before. But as she gets deeper, things get a little greener and brighter. The sword’s magic is repelling the darkness, and preventing Zanath from finding it. The forest becomes a nightmarish version of itself, a sort of mini-dungeon maze you have to fight your way through until you reach the classic grove. Zelda tries to take the sword from the stone but can’t lift it. Navi wonders if only the Chosen One can. God, it’d be annoying if we had to go on a quest to find that singular special person.

Of course, Zanath was following them and now he strikes. He tries to retrieve the sword, and fails. He isn’t too upset; he believes only one person can wield this thing, and his master has already killed that boy. Zelda knocks him away from the block and brushes against the handle. It glows. You guessed it: this time she’s able to release the Master Sword, based on the courage she’s displayed. Zanath serves as a mini-bossfight that shows off the power of the sword, and will hopefully make a suitably awesome debut for Zelda wielding the famous weapon.
"Zant," from Twilight Princess. Zanath's got the same fashion sense.
After falling to Zelda, Zanath begins to fade away into Limbo. He says it doesn’t matter: the Legend-cycle is already broken with the Chosen One’s death, and soon Ganon will control Hyrule, Limbo and the Golden Realm. A whole lot of names we don’t have context for yet, but recognize as bad. Zanath believes his master will simply set him free from Limbo at the end of the war.

Navi doubts Link is really dead, just trapped in Limbo. We don’t get Zelda’s side because, since she’s the protagonist, she can’t talk in this game. The burdens of a Nintendo hero.

In addition to allowing Zelda to kick ass, the Master Sword has a hefty warding range against the Limbo-darkness. If she visits the appropriate key points and uses the sword, she can permanently remove some of the blight in Hyrule, ala Okami. This becomes necessary to find the next set of temples, since the Army of Limbo’s blight has rendered them inaccessible. These armies are only able to locate the relative regions of the temples, not the entrances to their Temples. Zelda has to scour the landscape, like archaeologists messing around Egypt for buried tombs. The Master Sword “healing” specific areas permits you entry into multiple Temples. I’d let the game designers come up with these Temple themes (and/or change the earlier Temple themes) as they pleased, since they clearly know what they’re doing. Nintendo’s shop does fantastic dungeon design.

After passing through a couple of Temples, enough of the land is safe enough that you can access the special Graveyard Temple. This one’s in reference to the original game’s Graveyard that couldn’t be reached by a logical spatial approach. No map can guide you through the mire and fog. Navi is positively baffled. She knows the fairies came to Hyrule from this place, but nothing more.

Jump to Part 4!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Zelda: King of Limbo Synopsis, Part 2 - Now With Fairies

The Fairy Eater’s demise sets free her snacks: the surviving fairies. The eldest fairy is named Navi, and she seems to recognize Zelda, even though the princess has never met fairies before. Navi expresses gratitude and promises to help rescue Link. She promptly swirls around Zelda’s wooden sword, replacing the fire with a magical light that improves its attack power and extends the warding range against the darkness. Navi explains that the darkness engulfing the land is something The King of Limbo brought with him from his home world. It’s somewhat vulnerable to fairy magic, but clearly not vulnerable enough. She thinks the only way to seal it off entirely is to assemble the Triforce, a powerful artifact from a higher plane, from which all modern fairies draw their life force. Unfortunately, the King of Limbo has already found one third of this artifact.

Zelda guides the surviving kids and fairies back to the lighted rampart. With the help of our fairies, we hope this camp will be safe from being swallowed for now. This begins the development of the camp. I figure every time you finish a significant story bit or dungeon, they’ll have built up the camp’s defenses or its living quarters a bit more. I’d like it if a couple of the changes were cute, like you’re expecting them to all have armor when you get back and instead the kids made wreathes of flowers for everybody. But the point would be that this is the safe zone where you keep returning to, though it’s clearly threatened by the encroaching tide of darkness. This is what you’re working for, beyond rescuing Link and her royal family.

The weather gets wilder as you return to the darkened Hyrule. Old mires are completely flooded and require a boat to navigate, letting us play with some Wind Waker mechanics. The northernmost part of the swamp is frozen over as though by magic, leading to the Ice Temple. The shard of Triforce it houses is acting up.

So we have a hidden Water Temple and an Ice Temple. Of course at the northernmost edge of the map is Death Mountain and our Volcano Temple. Rather than having to go to one place first, though, Zelda is forced to explore the darkened world. Wherever there is an army, that’s got to be where The King of Limbo suspects lies a shard of the Triforce. Zelda (or the player) can enter the temples at will: you can do the Water, Ice and Volcano Temples in whatever order you want, or whatever order you find them in. There’d also be a fourth temple, a series of hollow caverns carved to resemble rooms, but this place is swarming with bad guys and there are rumors that whatever is down there is too tough for them. Entry into the Cavern Temple isn’t possible just yet.

Of course, upon clearing the Water, Ice and Volcano Temples, you get to go into the fourth temple. Most of the army has been savaged by what is inside. I’d like it to be a tiered boss battle against a great dragon, and as its stages pass it seems to manifest more and more of the boiling blackness we associate with the Army of Limbo, though this thing is clearly not on their side. The fight gets increasingly unfair. You literally can’t kill this thing’s final form if you survive that far; it seems invincible to your Limbo-powered bow, fairy-powered sword and the tools you’ve found along the way.

Either as you are about to die in game, or after an internal timer elapses for skilled players who manage to stay alive long enough, The King of Limbo arrives and becomes a third party in the battle. Half-physical, half composed of Limbo energies, he resembles the classic villain Ganon. He wears his third of the Triforce, a complete and golden triangle, around his neck. He dispatches the dragon and steals its shard of the Triforce, as well as absorbing the darkness from its carcass.

So Ganon's in this game?

The King of Limbo seems to recognize Zelda as more than just the runaway princess. Before she can fight him he shatters “the Chosen One’s” wooden sword, and alludes to the Master Sword, an artifact that Zanath has almost found in the forest. He might do more if not for the dragon’s death throes, which bring the cavern collapsing down. The King of Limbo bursts through the ceiling, while Zelda has to escape on foot, carrying the injured Navi.

On to Part 3!
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