Part one, 2003-05-05 5:05pm
It's classic Zelda. I really don't need to say any more.
But I will... it's Zelda just like in the old days with Ocarina. It's a near-perfect game. Flawless game mechanics, delightful new surprises, same old control system, couple of new moves, lots of nifty hardware, joyous dungeons, and forget ANY and ALL qualms you had about the graphics - the game is flat-out STUNNING. Just jump in the water. Sail your boat across the ocean, dodging octopi. Watch Link's facial expressions as he makes the decision to leave his grandmother and sails across the ocean.
I've heard complaints about it being far too easy or short. I find the difficulty curve seems to be judged about right. If this isn't your first Zelda game, then you will breeze through many of the puzzles (which are nevertheless brilliantly concocted - the solutions to some of them are so elegant that they really make me smile), but combat can occasionally be extremely dangerous, and I HAVE died on more than one occasion. As for length, I've been taking my time over this game in order to savour it, so we'll see when I finish it.
Part two, 2003-06
Well, I finished it last night, beating the last boss at something like five in the morning. I have to say the ending was VERY satisfactory. The last boss was not like the earlier bosses (which were either easy-when-you-know-how or plain fiddly), but depended on major playing skill. You really felt like you were going one-on-one with this guy, dodging, ducking, parrying, like a proper fight such as you might see in a movie.
In terms of difficulty: I think this game was either going to be too easy or too hard. If you've played Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask all the way through, then the vast majority of puzzles are along the same lines, and take no time at all to figure out. The only times I got stuck, I REALLY got stuck. I came literally seconds from consulting an FAQ on more than one occasion, but then inspiration struck, and everything clicked. So I did, in fact, beat the whole game myself.
Dungeons were on the whole very slick operations. Plenty of very clever solutions. Makar, by the way, OWNS. He is THE MAN. Korok. Whatever. Makar fan art is coming up at some point.
I should drop a quick note about characterisation. In OoT and MM, Link did not talk. In this game, he still doesn't, but his facial expressions really do say everything. It's awesome. He expresses joy, unhappiness, indecision, anything. The end sequence was actually pretty emotional. I also have to commend the translators. They did an amazing job, because every character communicates in a subtly different way, and you can really see their personality coming through. Everyone from Makar (w00t), to the Ritos, to the postboxes.
There are a few minus points though. Before you can get to the final dungeon you have to traipse around all over the map finding a whole load of different stuff and dragging it up from the bottom of the sea by crane. This takes ages, and is kinda dull. Also, you need to find a HUGE quantity of cash to beat the game. And to get the entire ocean mapped, you have to toss bait to a map-making fish in each square. So that's FORTY-NINE TIMES. Also, I lost all my data due to a badly worded prompt at the end of the game. *sigh* And there is just TOO MUCH to do if you want to finish the game completely. The side quests - watering about eight trees scattered around the map, collecting heart pieces, finding ALL the treasure, and a million other things - could easily take up more time than the main quest.
Overall: 904/1000. Flawless gameplay, categorically worth playing. Quintessential GameCube gaming. Only a very few niggles.