Four Swords Adventures: Three Swords Too Many

 

Score: 5

Personal Score: 4.5

Four Swords Adventures, and its predecessor Four Sword, are often considered low points in an otherwise stellar franchise.  Four Swords Adventures released on the Gamecube in June of 2004, following the The Wind Waker as the second Zelda installment on Nintendo’s purple box.  While The Wind Waker was met with controversy regarding its graphical style, the art style had started to grow on fans, and FSA took advantage of the ‘Toon Link’ style first introduced in Four Swords for the Gameboy Advance.  To this day, much of the art style used in Four Swords, The Wind Waker, and Four Swords Adventures is commonplace among fan art and Nintendo’s own promotional art.  However, it’s relatively safe to say that beyond the endearing art style, Four Sword and Four Swords Adventures are two of the most forgettable experiences in The Legend of Zelda.  For this writer, Four Swords Adventures earns the the dubious distinction of being the WORST Zelda game to date.  Four Swords Adventures was marketed around the concept of ‘a multiplayer Zelda game,’ building off the concepts introduced in Four Swords.  As such, the majority of Four Swords Adventures is catered towards a multiplayer experience.    The Four Sword mechanic of splitting Link into four people is the basis for almost every single puzzle present in FSA.  Not only is the element cumbersome, it makes dungeons feel repetitive, boring, and a chore rather than a challenge.  Mechanics and dungeons that might have been somewhat enjoyable with three other people becomes boring and uninspired when approached by oneself.  The repetitive nature of the dungeons and the Four Sword mechanic also bleed into other aspects of FSA; characters are boring, the world appears drab, and the story is another tired Zelda cliche.  Putting everything together, FSA a major disappointment and is one of the few non-essential titles in the franchise.

The Pros:

It’s not all bad, of course.  Four Swords Adventures doesn’t do much to alter the the Zelda Formula in terms of storytelling, but it does manage to offer some interesting tweaks to a one flagship character.  Ganondorf is once again given a bit more depth this time around, a la Ocarina of Time or The Wind Waker.  FSA follows Twilight Princess in the Zelda canon, and is the final entry in the Child Link Timeline.  Taking place several generations after Link impaled Ganondorf and left him standing in a field (…Link, you cold), the Gerudo tribe has made amends with the Hyrule Kingdom and is currently living in peace with the rest of Hyrule.  That is, of course, until Ganondorf is once again reborn as the only male in the tribe.  While not the same Ganondorf we saw in Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, the curse of Demise afflicts the young Gerudo all the same, and he’s eager to take up the mantle of ‘The King of Evil.’  Throughout the game, we learn that Ganondorf defied the laws of his tribe and struck out on his own, seeking power and destructions without the help of his kin.  He obtains a Trident of great evil (which is speculated to be the antithesis of the Master Sword), which affords him the power to spread darkness and bend others to his will.  Ganondorf proceeds to poison the minds of the Knights of Hyrule and capture the Seven Maidens that guard the seal over Vaati, the sorcerer first introduced in Four Swords.  Using Vaati and the Knights of Hyrule, Ganondorf is able to construct a dark reign that resembles the one Ocarina of Time’s Ganondorf assumed, but not quite.  In the end, following his defeat, Ganondorf reflects on how he had not quite obtained enough power to replicate the designs of previous Ganondorf incarnations.  From an outside perspective, we can assume that this was due to the absence of the Triforce in FSA, which had always allowed Ganondorf to triumph in the past.

What’s interesting about Ganondorf in FSA is that he’s depicted as a villain with independent determination and cunning, rising from relative obscurity rather than being a mighty usurper.  Instead of a proud leader of the Gerudo with good (albeit misguided) intentions, FSA Ganondorf is a slave to his curse, pursuing power with selfish abandon in hopes of rising to the level of distinction his ancestors had so many generations ago.  It’s fascinating to learn that a character with the opportunity to live a peaceful life, free from the hardship that plagued Ganondorf and his tribe in Ocarina of Time, would instead choose a more sinister path (which we know is tied to the curse that Demise placed on the descendents of Hylia).  One of my oldest pipe dreams is to be able to play as Ganondorf from FSA, through his upbringing in the tribe to his eventual defeat at the hands of Link.  A psychological examination of Ganondorf’s character during these events would be enthralling to experience first hand.

Rawr! *stab*

FSA once again uses the ‘Toon Link’ art style to great effect.  FSA combines the graphical style of A Link to the Past/Four Swords with elements of The Wind Waker, creating an interesting hybrid of 2D and 3D visuals.  Things like dungeons, towns items and characters are done using mostly 2D elements, while special effects (sword swings, explosions, light flashes, etc) appear to have more of a 3D component.  All in all, it can’t be said that FSA is hard on the eyes, and is occasionally a wonder to behold.  The sprites used for each character throughout the game are very well animated and a bright spot amongst otherwise ugly visuals.  Reminiscent of A Link to The Past, Link and Zelda are adorable little sprites that beg to be fan-drawn.  Enemies themselves are also wonderfully animated, especially boss encounters.  Phantom Ganon (who first appeared with this graphical style in The Wind Waker) may not be an overly difficult or memorable boss, but the animation used in his movements is particularly striking.  In fact, most of the bosses offer a nice visual feast for players, despite being largely uninteresting or memorable in their design.  As a precursor to The Minish Cap, we can see how Nintendo and Capcom used the animation in FSA to inspire the gorgeous visuals present in The Minish Cap.

And also, there’s…um…erm…

…ok, that’s really all I can think of for the pros.  Sorry guys.

The Cons:

Gotta start somewhere, so here we go…

The big marketing tactic used by Nintendo for FSA was the addition of a multiplayer aspect, taken from Four Swords.  Players could join three of their friends for a romping Force Gem-collecting good time while completing the main quest, working together to complete puzzles and competing for the most Force Gems.  Great! I’ve got four Gamecube controllers, so I should be good to go!

Right?

Nope, sorry kid.  Nintendo made it unnecessarily complicated for players to engage in multiplayer, requiring gamers to own a GBA for each player (which was a massive failure for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles in 2003, but what the heck?).  While many Nintendo fans already owned a GBA advance at this time, it’s still ridiculous to expect that gamers have on in order to use a game’s multiplayer function, when you’ve been given the ability to use a controller for the single player aspect.  Why couldn’t Nintendo allow players to use the GC controllers for four players?  Most likely to increase the sales of the GBA system and inspire an interest in cross-platform compatibility, but it ultimately was a poor choice.  I unfortunately had lame friends that didn’t own Gameboy Advances, so the multiplayer aspect of FSA was never used in my house.  I truly believe that having more people in the room with me would have enhanced my enjoyment of FSA, but I was unable to partake in such an endeavor thanks to silly hardware requirements…and cheap-ass friends.

Green Link is the only one accurately representing how fun this game is.

As for the game itself, there’s a lot to dislike.  The design of the Hyrule and it’s denizens is well-animated, but unfortunately very drab.  The towns and dungeons of FSA are so sparsely decorated and drained of color that one has to wonder if the design team wasn’t quite finished.  The defining characteristics of each world are the token environmental factors (example, Desert of Doubt: it’s got lots of sand).  On top of that, FSA abandons the use of a singular plane of travel and divides each section of Hyrule into ‘stages’ that must be accessed through a central hub.  This eliminates any sense of exploration from FSA, and makes progression feel very linear and limiting.  This is all very disheartening for a Zelda fan.  In previous Zelda, players encountered towns and dungeons that were brimming with character and interesting denizens.  FSA features only two towns, The Village of the Blue Maiden and Kakariko village.  Both of these places are devoid of character, only separating themselves from each other with sprite and palate-swaps (oh, and Kakariko Village is on fire, so there’s that).

The dungeons of FSA are woefully uninspired, and apart from the Temple of Darkness, do nothing to create a memorable experience.  While writing this review, I have a difficult time remembering anything particularly interesting about ANY of the dungeons, in truth.  Enemies, traps, and puzzles are all forgettable.  I mentioned in the introduction how most of the puzzles in FSA revolve around splitting Link into four separate beings.  While this is certainly a cool concept and forces players to think spatially, it becomes unbelievably tiresome.  Puzzle after puzzle requires Link to either split up to push a heavy object or stand on four specific pressure pads.  Unlike games in the series that use their respective mechanic to fun effect (ALBW being the most contemporary example, with it’s excellent Wall Merging mechanic), FSA beats players to death with it’s mechanic.  Mechanics in games are successful when you look forward to the segments that involve their usage.  FSA makes you dread those segments.

The story is predictable and, once again, does nothing to separate itself from A Link to The Past.  Zelda and Link doing something relatively innocuous? Check.  Bad guy shows up and captures Zelda? Check.  Link confronts bad guy and unwittingly unleashes more evil? Check? Link’s asked to rescue Zelda and some Sages? Check.  Ganondorf shows up? Check.  Link runs around the landscape collecting treasure that will allow him access to each Sage and eventually Zelda who helps him defeat the bad guys once and for all? *insert Beastie Boys’ track ‘Ch-check it Out*

Hand in hand with the story, the characters of FSA are also very uninspired and boring.  Despite an interesting backstory, Ganondorf is once again the unfailingly evil bad guy, complete with cliched villainous laughter and one-liners.  Zelda is a lovely mannequin, unflinchingly hopeful about the goodness in the hearts of her people (barf) and the ability of Link to save Hyrule from darknesses evil clutches.  Link is…Link.  You remember what Link was like in A Link to The Past? That’s what Link is like in FSA.  The sages/maidens/whatever are all shocked and frightened to learn that they’re being captured and grateful that Link is rescuing them.  The denizens of Hyrule are all adept at standing around and offering Link mundane assessments of what’s happening around them. Yawn and yawn.  Sadly, the potential for great character interaction is there, but entirely ignored.  Fans have created countless drawings and flash animations depicting the differently-colored Links with unique personalities, resulting in some humorous situations and banter.  While I strongly disagree with fans creating their own stories/character portrayals of established characters, in this case I have to give credit to the fans for coming up with something more interesting than Nintendo.

Link: The face of bravery.

That was rough…almost as rough as having to play the game.  In the interest of fairness, I completed FSA twice before I put it to bed forever.  FSA almost feels like a spiritual companion to the rest of the franchise, instead of a full-fledged entry.  There are many that are unwilling to acknowledge FSA as canon, which (while unfortunately impossible, considering Nintendo has the final say) is completely understandable.  In terms of Zelda-quality gaming, FSA does not rise to standard in almost any way.  Nintendo decided to focus on the multiplayer aspects of FSA, hoping that gamers would get a kick out of cooperating for puzzle-solving and setting each other on fire for Force Gems.  Because of that, Nintendo let interesting design/creative elements and compelling gameplay fall to the wayside.  Something got lost during the development of FSA, and it lacks the special qualities that have made Zelda games so great.

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