What I'm Playing - No. 54
Welcome back to another weekly wrap-up of the games I’ve been playing over the past week!
Be warned, minor spoilers may be contained within. Generally, I do try to keep things spoiler-free but this isn’t always possible/practical! If you want to totally avoid all potential spoilers so you can play these games yourself in a blind run, you shouldn’t continue reading! Click a title to skip to that section. Games contained within this post:
Golden Sun: The Lost Age (GBA)
I started Golden Sun: The Lost Age this week! It picks up directly where the first game left off, but instead of controlling Isaac and his companions this time, you’re actually in control of a group whose goal is the very opposite of Isaac’s!
When starting the game, you’re prompted to transfer your save data from the first game. Doing so changes a few events, and adds more references to the adventures of the first game, so of course I took advantage of this! You can either get a password from the first game to enter into The Lost Age, or transfer the data directly via a Link Cable. I did the latter method via 2 emulator instances, and it worked without too much hassle.
Right from the start, this game seems bigger and more ambitious. There’s a really cool almost cinematic opening showing the area the first game ended, Venus Lighthouse. It also starts with a surprisingly in-depth synopsis of the first game’s events. It would be a lot to take in if you hadn’t played the first game though, but I suppose it’s nice to include it anyway, especially if you’d forgotten some of the details before starting the sequel.
There are a lot of new overworld Psynergy powers in The Lost Age. There’s Lash, which is used to stretch ropes across gaps which you can then climb or walk on, Pound, which is used to smash columns into the ground, and Scoop, which is used to dig up buried secrets and passages. It’s cool to see new powers like this, and keeps the puzzles and gameplay from getting stale.
Also added in The Lost Age are new Summons. In addition to the Summons from the previous game that require 1 or more Standby Djinn of the same element, you can unlock Summons that require Standby Djinn from different elements. You unlock these when you find ancient tablets in various dungeons. One example of this is Flora, who requires 2 Jupiter and 1 Venus Djinn to summon. Flora unleashes a pretty strong attack against all enemies that has a chance to cause sleep, so it’s a pretty useful Summon to have!
One of my notable achievements in The Lost Age this week is making it through Air’s Rock. It’s a relatively early game dungeon, and I reached it after only a few hours of playtime. I didn’t know then that I was beginning what is reportedly the longest dungeon in the entire game. This is because it has three parts: you first have to reach Air’s Rock, then you have to climb it, and then you have to navigate the puzzle-filled hallways inside it to reach the center. It was quite an ordeal, and I did lean heavily on a guide to get all the treasures inside and make it to the end. Looking back, it is a well designed dungeon, but it the length of it is intense for such an early dungeon in the game!
You pretty much start the game with a party of 3, though you do have control of Jenna alone for a while before this. Before the end of the week, I made it far enough to recruit Piers, an Adept from the forgotten civilization Lemuria. With Piers added to the party, we finally have a full party of 4. I’m pretty sure I’ll soon have access to a ship that I can sail around in too, so things are really shaping up for the group!
I’m enjoying The Lost Age so far. I feel like the puzzles and dungeons are designed to be more complex and difficult than in the first game, which I suppose makes sense since it’s basically “part two” of the story. I have found myself using a guide more often though. I really don’t want to miss any incredibly helpful Djinn or other upgrades this time around!
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)
I didn’t make a ton of main quest progress this week, but I did really enjoy exploring more of Hyrule. Finding and completing Shrines is addicting!
During my travels as Link this week, I ran into my first Yiga Clan member. What I thought was just an innocent traveller turned out to be a ninja-like warrior intent on murdering me. It was very unexpected! Then, I ran into a 2nd one a few days later! I’ve learned my lesson: never trust anyone you meet on the road in Hyrule.
One of the main quests I advanced this week was Impa’s Captured Memories quest, where she tells Link to visit the places in the Zelda’s photographs to help his memories return. Sure enough, on reaching one of the memory spots, Link experiences a flashback. In this flashback, I saw the Champions from 100 years ago for the first time. This was cool, but also bittersweet because of the grim fate they all meet. As a reward for unlocking this first memory, I got the Champion’s Tunic from Impa.
I also met Prince Sidon of the Zoras this week. He’d been looking for a Hylian, and on running into Link, asked him to travel to Zora’s Domain. I got sidetracked exploring and completing a few Shrines, but eventually I began the long trek to Zora’s Domain.
Along the way, there were several encampments of Lizalfos waiting to murder me. The green ones I could defeat relatively easily, but there were also dark blue ones that would kill me in one hit. I didn’t really get a good look at them, because my solution was to just sprint past them, running through their camps as fast as I could. This worked really well actually! They also kept firing Shock Arrows at me, but between an Electro Elixer Sidon had given me and the fact I was sprinting away as fast as I could, I avoided most of those too. Along the way, I also learned that you can get struck by lightning, and realized (too late) what the electricity crackling on my weapon meant.
Eventually, I reached Zora’s Domain, and I really love the design of the Zoras and Zora’s Domain in this game! The baby Zoras are so cute! Basically all of the Zora NPCs have fun or interesting things to say too. That’s where I stopped playing this week, but next time I should be able to make some progress toward defeating the Divine Beast that’s plaguing Zora’s Domain in endless rainfall.
Hollow Knight (PC)
I also started Hollow Knight this week. Immediately, the beautiful, hand drawn animated sequence in the intro really impressed me, and set my expectations high!
It had a sort of slow start for me, but after the first hour I had all the map upgrades and the Compass. Around then I fought my first boss too, the False Knight, and I really started to get into it! The way the map works is still a little strange to me. The way you’re basically blind when entering a new area until you are able to purchase a map, and have to rely on your own memory of the layout as you explore prior to that, is definitely unique. The way the map only updates when you rest on a bench is also quite unique. I’ve gotten used to it by now, but I definitely still prefer the classic metroidvania mapping of Metroid and Castlevania, where the map is always revealed automatically as you explore.
Visually, this game is a work of art. The areas and characters are beautiful, and the art direction is so consistent. I just love the hand drawn, cartoon insect aesthetic.
The way the story is told is really cool too. I don’t understand much of it yet, but how the characters you meet speak about the Hallownest, and the cryptic relics and signposts you find along the way really give it an ancient and mysterious feeling.
At a certain point, I realized I didn’t even know who or what the character I was playing as was. Hornet refers to him as a ghost, and is hostile at first. But on their second meeting, she seems to have realized both what the main character really is, and what he’s come to the Hallownest to do. And knowing that, her hostility has vanished. It’s a really cool method of storytelling, and even if I finish the game without really understanding the whole thing, I’ve still enjoyed every bit of story I’ve gathered so far.
The combat is quite a bit more difficult than other metroidvanias I’ve played, but it is still enjoyable and fulfilling when finally beating a difficult boss. When I fought Hornet, I died several times in a row. I was really appreciative of the bench nearby that I kept respawning at! Despite dying several times, this fight always seemed fair. Once I learned Hornet’s attacks better, I defeated her without taking too much damage, and she was forced to flee. That’s when I gained the first major movement upgrade: the dash. Getting the dash allowed me to reach new areas I wasn’t able to before, and this is every bit as satisfying as in the other metroidvanias I’ve played! The next big movement upgrade, the Mantis Claw is just as cool and useful. The movement upgrades make a huge difference in this game, they’re done extremely well.
At one point, I hit a frustratingly difficult segment. I was stuck between a difficult (but extremely cool) boss, The Mantis Lords, and annoyingly difficult enemies in a new area. This was made worse by the fact that I lost a lot of Geo when I died several times during this period, over 1,000 Geo just lost forever when I died trying to reach my Shade! Eventually I got back on track, beating the Mantis Lords, and afterward learned the patterns of the annoying fireball summoning enemies of Soul Sanctum to make it to the Soul Master boss. Surprisingly, I beat him my first try! The game can definitely be a challenge, but you can always try again, and if nothing else there always seems to be more to explore elsewhere if you’d rather try your luck at a different area for a while. The non-linear exploration is designed and implemented so well!
The Charm and Notch system provides a lot of flexibility. For instance, hitting an enemy with the nail knocks you back a bit by default, and I didn’t really care for that. Before too long, I found the Charm vendor and was able to buy a Charm that eliminates this knockback. I love that you have this kind of flexibility! Even though I’d gotten more used to the knockback of the default attacks, I prefer not having it. Makes it feel more like Castlevania, which is what I’m currently used to since the last 2 metroidvanias I’ve played are Castlevania games.
If it wasn’t obvious, I love Hollow Knight so far. The gameplay is extremely rewarding, and the visuals are stunning. The backgrounds sometimes contain what look like enormous insect shells or husks, and that sort of reminds me of an area in the Hayao Miyazaki film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The descent into the dangerous Hallownest also strongly reminds me of the anime Made in Abyss. Anyway, I’m really enjoying Hollow Knight so far and can’t wait to explore more of the Hallownest!