History of Zelda: Part 09 – Four Swords

History of Zelda – Part 9

The Legend of Zelda. Indeed, this name is as recognisable in Video Game fame as Mario, and even Final Fantasy. Close to thirty years ago, Nintendo hired a man who would, of all things, design concepts for toys. Little did anybody know that this man would write history, influence hundreds of games, oversee the development of even more and define an entirely new genre. Shigeru Miyamoto devised the first iteration of The Legend of Zelda in the mid 1980s, and since then, The Legend of Zelda has become one of Nintendo’s very best properties.

This series of articles will look at each Zelda title in chronological order of release, describe the groundbreaking achievements and show the essence of the Action Adventure RPG.

Chapter IX – Four Swords (GBA)

How can you make use of four people in a Zelda adventure? Well, Nintendo had the solution. Give Capcom some time to work on a Game Boy Advance port for A Link to the Past and in the process, develop an excuse to have four Links working co-operatively and competitively to advance through randomly designed stages to save Princess Zelda from a quickly thrown together wind mage, Vaati. The end result is, without doubt, the single greatest multiplayer adventure on Game Boy Advance and the best reason to link up your GBAs. Four Swords is a pack in with the SNES classic, but a very enjoyable and many times frustrating Zelda experience.

There is a legend that once upon a time, long, long ago, a legendary hero used the power of a sacred blade, a blade that, when used, shattered its user into four. That hero used this power to overthrow the evil wind mage, Vaati, who was entranced with the kidnapping of beautiful young maidens in Hyrule. The maidens spoke of the hero to all they could. Such a story was met with disbelief; nonetheless, that sword was given the name of the Four Sword and was protected within a shrine. And so, the chaotic multiplayer adventure that is Four Swords begins.

Capcom had made this challenge with some very hypocritical elements. The entire cause of the game is to co-operate with one another to progress to each new level. However, at the same time, each gamer is in competition with the other to pick up the most rupees, items and heart container pieces. It’s a well balanced mix of adventure, competition, puzzles and aggression. The tension really builds as you get thrown off a cliff by a fellow Link while in an attempt to open a chest.

Hyrule was actually divided up into four areas, the Lost Woods, the Ice Cavern, Death Mountain Caves and Vaati’s Palace, each area having a specific boss at the end. However, seemingly randomly designed stages greeted you each time you returned to the same place. For example, the first time you visited the Lost Woods, there may have been no water in the level whatsoever. The second time around, the level could have included torrential rivers. This extended the replay value of the adventure, because even after you completed the game once, going back again and again would yield a new experience, and with up to four players, there was never a dull moment.

The interface was a little different to traditional Zelda adventures; with a sword controlled by the B button, and a selectable item for the A button. Selectable meaning that if you found a pedestal with a different item, you could exchange it for the item already in your possession. This was very simple, but in the sometimes chaotic boss battles, lessened the confusion of changing items in a start menu. Not only this, but pressing select would bring up a mini status screen, with a map, your keys and rupee shards and the number of seeds you had. Collecting 4 rupee shards would present Link with 500 rupees. The seeds also offered a different dimension to The Legend of Zelda. Razor seeds would increase attack, Armour seeds would increase defence and Pegasus seeds, naturally, increased speed. Link could carry a total of three of each.

All through the adventure were familiarities such as Link’s bombs, boomerang, bow and arrows and shock!; a Minish Cap. It was essential to use each and every one of these items in the combat of enemies, ranging from Keese, Like Likes disguised as rupees, Tektites and Stalfos. New to this quest was the Rupee Wraith, a shadow of despair that ate at your wallet of rupees. Other nice additions included Rupee Fever, a state that multiplied the number of rupees collected by two, and a disturbing Black Rupee that scattered your own across the ground.

There were tons of puzzles and challenges to overcome, which was the heart and soul of this quest. Whether it was to move a block, pull a leaver or smash down a rock barrier, the element of thinking was ever present, and it was up to you to outdo your buddies. If you saw a group of chests to be opened, you didn’t tell your friends, they were there all for you. Collaboration is only necessary when you can’t advance any further without a puzzle being solved. At all other times, it was a free for all.

Graphically, the game was a modern day A Link to the Past, while the sprites used were based on The Wind Waker’s Link model. Colours were vibrant and show how a full fledged Zelda adventure could appear on the Game Boy Advance (and as we have since found out, it actually does!). Building up on that were impressive pixel effects, cloud, smoke, steam, wind and watery currents. The game’s graphical presentation isn’t just an example of how a handheld Zelda title could look like, but how it should look like.

Sound wise, the Link’s had grunts and cries, much the same as the young Link voice acting in Ocarina of Time, which is an update to the nothingness of 2D Zelda quests beforehand. The background music was an unfamiliar, Zelda inspired theme that seems not to grow old. There were great sound effects, such as the clashing of swords and the hitting of stone. Everything was used well within its potential, really giving the feel and touch of Zelda, even with 4x the Links.

Overall, Four Swords is a game that really must be played in order to have its enjoyment realised. The quest is short, but because of the number of players involved, there is never the same experience. There is plenty of backstabbing, spitefulness and interaction. You really did love to hate your friends (or opponents) but because of its intuitive design, it was an enjoyable experience to be had. Four Swords has shown that the Hyrulean legend can work with a multiplayer twist, and with that, a whole new legend awaits.