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Zelda Spirit Track Day#1 and 2: Story Like a Freight Train

Needing something to do on my multi-part trip to Copenhagen, I fired up my DSi and started the latest Zelda. Here are the first two “days” (i.e. play sessions) of that game. I mean, it’s Zelda — you kind of know what to expect here. The story at the beginning is WAY too long given that I’ve played like 8 of these by now. They resuscitate a lot of mechanics from Phantom Hourglass but with a few twists, and there is a total pain-in-the-ass new mechanic that uses the microphone. But overall it’s Zelda, this time with trains, and thus it’s reliably fun. Spoilers (I guess?) within.

The opening animation is shows Link on a train with a ghost Zelda flying around him. That seems like a plot hint to me. The menu art continues the wood carving style that Wind Waker (that was a great game) started.  It has me input a name and asks me which hand I hold the stylus in, which I don’t remember from other DS games. We’ll see what they do with that.  The Wind Waker style narrative intro tells me that there used to be first settlers and spirits of good. A demon king rose up, the spirits fought, and good won but couldn’t kill the demon, just subdue him. Raise your hand if you have never seen this Zelda plot before. Anyway, the spirits imprisoned the demon in the earth, using the tower as a lock and metal bands across the earth (could they be … railroad tracks?) to keep him down.  We zoom out to see it’s my roommate telling me this story, and the panels of the intro are paintings he made. Cute move there. I dressed in this dorky engineer’s outfit. The roommate asks me if I’m paying attention, and I have the typical meaningless Zelda conversation choices of “Yes” and “I’m tired.” I pick “I’m tired” and nothing important happens.

At this point, my mentor Alfonzo shows up and tells me I have to get to the castle to meet the princess. I have a stupid meaningless choice of two replies it’s not worth describing. Seems Zelda is hosting the ceremony where I get my engineering certificate. I walk out of the house and encounter a girl who reminds me how to talk to NPCs (tap them) and a boy who teaches me how to roll (double-tap). Specifically, he has me roll into a tree, which causes bees to chase me. I’m told I can avoid them by entering water, but when I go into the ocean to lose the bees, I die. Huh? Well, when I restart, I just don’t activate the tree again.  I finally get to the train platform and I’m told I’m late. We take the train to the graduation, and the ride serves as my tutorial to trains. It’s pretty straightforward — the train goes fast, slow, stop, and reverse. It has a bit of momentum though, so you have to time stops with a little care. There’s also a whistle you can use to scare things off the track if they block you, and there are switches you through to tell the train which way to go at an intersection. It’s a short ride to the castle and I make it without issue.

I get into the castle by talking to first guards and then the chancellor. The chancellor tells me that the spirit tracks have been disappearing as he lets me through. We enter a room with the princess, and Link is entranced by her, raising his head to her and thus breaching protocol. Zelda gives me my engineering certificate (with classic Zelda “I got something!” pose) and then gives me a letter secretly, telling me to not trust the chancellor. Hey, didn’t I just play a game from like 10 years ago that featured an evil chancellor? Anyway, the letter is a map to Zelda’s room and smelling plot, I head over there right away.

When I get there, Zelda is playing a set of panpipes. She asks if the guards saw me enter, and when I saw no, she tells me that the tracks are disappearing, and she needs to go to the spirit tower to find out why. However, the chancellor refuses to let her leave, so she asks me to help sneak her out. To do this, she gives me a recruit’s uniform — the familiar Link green. This leads to a very Phantom Hourglass scene where I have to sneak past a bunch of guards. I also have to move the princess, which I do my clicking on her with the stylus and drawing where she goes. There are a couple of places where Link has to talk to the guards to get them to look in a particular direction so Zelda can sneak around them, and one guard where you have to throw something to get him to look away. It’s overall pretty fun, although the drawing the path mechanic is a little finicky since Zelda stops if you even graze an obstacle of some kind. I lose once when Zelda gets caught stopped by mistake in the open, but then I get through.

We find Alfonzo and the three of us take the train to the Tower of Spirits. As we train there, there’s a CS of the tracks disappearing in front of us and a black vortex appearing over the tower. The tower breaks into five pieces that hang in the sky, and an evil train descends from the vortex. When it lands, the chancellor and a goon jump out and start talking about how they are going to bring the demon back. Ugh. Stop with all of the narrative. I know, I know — I’ve seen this plot a hundred times. Why do they have to waste all this time on this? Just let me get to the Zelda fun stuff.  Princess is threaten, Alfonzo (who it turns out was a great swordsman) leaps in to defend. Goon smashes Alfonzo. Link CS gets in the way and is knocked aside.  The Chancellor shoots Zelda with black energy and she collapses with a tiny sphere of light escaping her body. (Man, is this ripping off Chrono Trigger.)  Link CS comes to briefly as the Chancellor and goon walk away with Zelda.

We cut to Link reawakening in the castle.  I start looking around and this NPC yells at me to talk to him. I do and he tells me the guards took us back to the castle. I tell him the story of the chancellor’s evil, and he asks me incredulously if he’s supposed to believe me. I have a choice to stick to the story or say it’s a joke. I say it’s a joke to get out of the conversation, and walk away. He yells for me to come back, and I HAVE to tell him it’s the truth before I can leave the room. Nintendo, what was the point of that? Why did you give me that choice in the conversation? Did you think it was fun to waste a minute of my time?  I finally leave, and as I’m walking the castle hallways, I see a ghost Zelda roaming the building, failing to communicate with the guards.  I follow her to her room and establish that I can hear her. She proceeds to retell the plot up to this point and then gives me her panpipes.  She is awfully calm about not having a body right now. We really need to get to the tower now, and ghost Zelda tells me she knows a path in the back of the castle.

I go to the exit that leads to the path, but the guard there tells me I’ll need a sword to get through it. So I head back into the castle, find the sword guy, get my sword, and do the thirty-second Zelda sword training. Then it’s back through the exit. Outside, I fight a few of the standard red Zelda blobs and then have to use bomb plants to find a entrance in a wall. Credit to this game for finally realizing I have played a Zelda game before and know what a bomb plant is.  I enter the tunnel and it’s my first basic dungeon.  I fight bats and rats (apparently rats scare Zelda and she freezes in place when they appear), there’s a block I have to slide to hold down a button that opens a door, and there’s a simple hit-the-triggers-in-order puzzle along the way through the caves.  There’s also a rather long and seemingly unnecessary CS when the rats first appear given that I kill them with literally one hit.  We finally arrive at the tower and get a CS of the floating pieces before we enter.

Inside, we meet Anjean, who is kind of like a train centaur, standing next to a spirit train. He explains that this tower and four others are what’s locking in Malledus (the demon) and the tracks carry the energy between them. Without the tracks, etc., etc.  Anjean is using all his energy to keep the demon trapped, so he can’t help us himself. Zelda’s body is needed as the vessel for Malledus to inhabit which freaks Zelda out. We have to recover the rail maps from the towers to restore the tracks. The first one is upstairs. Zelda wishes me well on her trip, assuming she’ll stay behind with a joke about how she feels that’s what her ancestors did, but Anjean tells her to come with me.  We go up the stairs and enter a long spiraling staircase room that feels a lot like Ico. When we get to the top, a giant swordsman right out of Phantom Hourglass appears and we run. Anjean tells us we have to collect the Tears of Light in the level to attack the swordsman (in the back, of course) and sends us back up. This is a standard Phantom level: run to glowing safe areas and avoid the guard’s gaze. It’s pretty easy and I get the four tears without being spotted. Now that my sword is glowing, I hit the guard from behind. There’s a CS of the guard turning to attack Link, but then Zelda leaps into the guard and possesses him.

The rest of this dungeon is a teamwork section where I control Zelda again, but now in huge armor.  There’s some nice role reversal where now Zelda talks to the guards so I can sneak by, and the rat thing makes sense since rats now stop powerful Zelda until I defeat them. (There’s a moment where I have to slide a box in front of a rat hole to stop them from coming out.) A couple of fights later, and I have the forest rail map. We teleport down to the bottom of the tower, and Anjean tells us to take the Spirit Train to find his fellow spirit, the forest dweller Lokomos, who will help us get to the forest tower. Zelda offers him the pipes, but he says we should hold on to them.

I can now draw train routes on the map with the stylus, and I do. We’re off to the forest on a previously locked section of map. Along the way, we have to scare off flying monsters with the whistle. I also discover what happens if you don’t whistle animals off of the train — they become enraged and ram the train for damage. We drive into the forest proper, but once inside, it’s some kind of maze and we keep ending up back at the beginning of the forest. Realizing this is not going to work, I train over to a nearby town of Whittleton to get some info. In the town, I buy my shield. The town’s people also tell me that the trees tell you which way to go in the forest maze, except that the fourth tree lies.  I head back to the forest and notice that there’s a dead tree before each turn which points a branch in a direction. Following the first three and contradicting the fourth, I get out of the forest maze.

I arrive at the forest sanctuary. The main thing here is a timing puzzle with bombs and retracting bridges. It’s a tricky thing to get right, and it takes me 6 or so times, but I get it. There I meet the forest spirit Gage and have a couple of dumb Zelda conversation choices I’m not going to write down. He tells me to go to the tower and teaches me the Song of Awakening. To use the song of awakening, you use the panpipes. The way you do this is you click on the panpipes which causes the screen to change to the panpipes, and then you use the stylus to slide to different specific pipes while periodically blowing into the microphone. This mechanic SUCKS. The reason why is the pipes always start in the center, and you slide the stylus in the opposite direction you want to go. The stylus sliding is thus confusing and on top of that sloppy, since the microphone is VERY sensitive to wind and thinks there is always wind blowing on the airplane, so you always play the center note first when you summon the pipes, even if it’s not part of the song you’re doing, and anyway the sliding controls are imprecise. I can’t tell you how badly I fuck up the song when Gage teaches it to me. Luckily, the game cheats for me and tells me I got it.  I take it and head back to the train.

We ride down to the spirit tower and enter it. Cue dungeon two. Inside I learn a second song I can barely play and I fight some new monster that generate purple smoke when they die. Purple smoke (which also appears on its own as a barrier) cannot be entered and damages Link when he touches it. However, I get a whirlwind tool that makes gusts of wind to blow them away. This tool also suck because a) you have to blow into the mic which is JUST NOT FUN EVER and b) when you use the tool, you can’t move until you put it way, and you will constantly forget that. Anyway, this dungeon is all about the tool in classic Zelda style so you use it to fight enemies, unlock simple puzzles, get keys, and eventually in the fight against the boss, in this case an owl-like thing. I get into the room with it and experiment, but nothing seems to be working, so I save and call it a night.

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