This Week in Games - Breath of the Wild: The Master Trials

by Dustin Bailey,
Fun personal fact about me, the guy who runs a column about Japanese games: last week's coverage of Tokyo Xanadu was my very first experience with a Nihon Falcom game. Given its regard as one of the weaker games in their catalog and how much I enjoyed it despite that, I've found myself wondering just how good the great parts of the Falcom library are. And lo! A perfectly-timed Steam sale gave me the chance to pick up a whole selection of Ys and Legend of Heroes games. I will definitely have time to play them and won't be crushed under the weight of my continued attempts to make it through Persona 5 and the impending release of a massive Final Fantasy remaster. Definitely.

Breath of the Wild DLC Pack 1 - The Master Trials

One of the highlights of the already-wonderful Breath of the Wild was a single sidequest set on Eventide Island. This little story—entirely optional, just a single objective amid dozens of others—drew a life of its own in the early weeks after the game's release, with with players who'd made it there enthusiastically advising others to take the voyage themselves. Eventide saw you shipwrecked on a remote island, stripped of your equipment, and forced to scrounge up a fresh set of supplies while you carefully scouted out the bad guys and challenges that stood between you and escape. It was basically the entire game in microcosm, taking you from the early moments of being naked and alone through mastering the the world around you, arming yourself to the teeth, and taking down everything that stands in the way through careful planning and quick improvisation.

The first part of Breath of the Wild dual DLC package—The Master Trials—is entirely about the feeling of those first few steps into an uncertain world full of dangerous foes and incredible possibilities. The vague influences the base game drew from the survival genre are brought fully to the forefront, challenging you to scrape by every encounter, and make use of every tool and every creative approach to survive in raids against formerly innocuous enemy camps. It's those first few hours over again, when you didn't have stores of powerful weapons and a stockpile of hearty food to let you coast through any encounter.

It's literally the first few hours over again in the centerpiece of the add-on, dubbed Master Mode. At last, you're afforded the option of starting a new game without erasing previous progress, but the new world you're dumped into is a much angrier one than you've previously seen, with enemies having already progressed a level along their upgrade paths, and even a single encounter against a basic bokgoblin becoming a drawn out duel that can wipe out all of your weapons early on. There are other differences with enemy placement, and the best shorthand I can offer for the types of changes you'll see is this: there's now a Silver Lynel on the Great Plateau, just hanging out a short walk away from the cave Link awakens in.

Every treasure you come across is incredibly precious, and there are some new ways to come across them, too—Octo Balloons hold floating platforms up all around the world hoisting enemies and treasure alike, and those chests typically contain items far beyond what you'll find in normal exploration. Finding a Knight's Bow is old hat if you've put any time into the main game, but digging one up early into Master Mode feels like a revelation that completely swings the balance of power. After completely unveiling the map and defeating Ganon, it's a fantastic feeling to return to a Hyrule that feels vast and unconquerable, with something unknown in every glade and glen.

The remainder of the content is for when you're deep into a playthrough, and the biggest part only becomes available once you've acquired 13 heart containers and the Master Sword. The Trial of the Sword you can then embark on is a series of combat trials coming in three waves of about 15 rooms each, with each set starting Link off carrying nothing but his improbably stylish underwear.

With no armor, with minimal opportunities to cook up healing items, and with each of the three challenges being a checkpoint-free endurance run that can take over an hour to complete, the stakes feel very high, and every little mistake feels crushing when it adds up to a huge loss of progress. Conversely, succeeding at those challenges feels so satisfying. Rooms come in themed sets that force you to endure pretty much every environmental mechanic in the game, from thunderstorms to pitch darkness to freezing temperatures. Conquering all that feels like a real final test of skill and master that the base game lacked, since you could so easily stockpile items to power past the last few challenges.

What's really astounding is how engaging those mostly context-free challenges are. The Trial of the Sword forces you to actually be good at Breath of the Wild, which is a concept I hadn't really come to terms with before, and it highlights how well considered and interconnected the game's systems really are as you're forced to directly engage with all of them over and over.

The reward for completing the Trials is a powered-up Master Sword, and that's good and all but it seems pretty inconsequential once you've already conquered the toughest challenge in the game. If you've got the patience for it, anyway—after dying two-thirds of the way through the final challenge I looked up what was still to come, and the armies of Guardians and Lynels yet to be faced may prove too much for me to ever conquer.

Masks, costumes, and quality of life improvements make up the smaller additions, and while additions like the Korok mask—which makes rings out when there's a hidden seed nearby—and the Travel Medallion—which lets you make a custom fast travel point—make sense as optional bits of paid content, at least one bit feels like an essential update that should have been in the game from the start. Hero's Path lets you look at a line overlay of everywhere you've been since starting the game, and it practical terms that allows you to see what areas remain unexplored as you track down the last few shrines you're missing. That's an essential piece of information if you're not following a guide, and it's the one sketchy-feeling part of that package.

But that's a minor concern amid how surprisingly exciting everything else is. Like everyone else, I'd written off the first bit of DLC as a bit of filler until the “real” story add-on would come later in the year, but these Trials served as a reminder that the story was the least interesting part of Breath of the Wild and actually playing it is the fun thing. This package is a tremendous excuse to keep playing, and one that reaffirms how darn good this game really is.

NEWS

GUNDAM VERSUS IS FINALLY RETURNING TO THE WEST

I embarked on my own Gundam vision quest last year, finally diving deep into mecha's most iconic series—mostly boring my wife to death with my obsessive viewing of the pretty glacial original series. One thing became clear early on though, and that's the fact that not nearly enough Gundam games have been released in the West.

Thankfully, one of the biggest subseries is at last returning to English-speaking shores—we knew that already, but now there's a release date so it seems real and stuff. Gundam Versus will be out for PlayStation 4 on September 29th, hopefully marking the dawn of a new age where Western Gundam games can be more than the Musou spin-offs. Now if only we could get Gundam Breaker out over here.

Unlike most of the Versus games, this one was built for a home console from the start rather than being adapted from the arcade, and so far it looks to be a good edition of a pretty beloved series. The Japanese version is out, like, today, so we'll soon see how players there react to it.

I WANT TO PLAY THE CAPITALIST PRINCESS GAME

Anime Expo brought no shortage of localization announcements for games both big and small, and trying to break it all down in one little subheading is a fool's errand. So instead, I want to talk about one little game that caught my attention, and has—among other things—got that Parappa line about money stuck in my head for days now.

That game is Penny Punching Princess, a retro-style brawler in the vein of every third tiny Steam release, but this one's got a unique hook: money. You can bribe enemies to fight on your behalf, buy the services of flunkies to get superior equipment, and generally buy your way out of every problem you come across. You know, the American way—so this localization is long overdue, really.

It's not the biggest announcement, but there is a limited edition physical version coming to Switch, which lends credence to my pet theory that the platform will be the Vita successor the world so desperately needs. A wildly overpriced boxed version of a wacky niche game is the perfect way to get that tradition going.

ANIME DARK SOULS MIGHT ACTUALLY BE OKAY?

When Bandai unveiled Code Vein, it looked bad—or more accurately, it looked so completely forgettable that it was quickly forgotten about. That's after some early teasers invoking the Souls games, and you know hyping up those fans for something and then failing to deliver can only end in tears. Code Vein debuted in screenshots depicting only the most generic looking of anime protagonists, and though the more extensive trailers that followed made clear it was definitely a Souls-liked, there still wasn't a lot to latch onto.

But now there's some more restrained video of what the game looks like in action, and I kinda like it. It is 100% the Souls game it appears to be, and there's sadly something a little ineffectual about the way those sword strikes land and monsters don't really seem to be reacting much. Yet the movement looks good, and getting into a game of this type that isn't hued in the browns and greys of dark fantasy—instead the deep purples of anime apocalypse—could be a fun change of pace. The setting bears some resemblance to Bandai's own Monster Hunter-like, God Eater, so there's at least a track record of making solid spins on beloved action RPGs.

UPCOMING RELEASES

ACCEL WORLD VS. SWORD ART ONLINE: MILLENNIUM TWILIGHT
Developer: Artdink
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita
Release Date: July 7
MSRP: ???

The worlds of Reki Kawahara collide in an action-RPG crossover between two light novel series turned media empires—literal collision, in fact, as the Accelerated World and Alfheim have begun to merge. You can put together a party out of thirty playable characters ranging from both series through a big solo adventure, or do battle with other players online.

FINAL FANTASY XII: THE ZODIAC AGE
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: July 11
MSRP: $49.99

Released to general positivity back in 2006, it seems like the tide of public opinion on Final Fantasy XII has slowly been shifting from “pretty good, I guess” to full-on “neglected classic of the FF legacy.” What better time for a remaster to put that to the test? This is the first time the changes from the International Zodiac Job System version have been seen in the West, which replaces the universal License Board with a series of unique boards tied to each of 12 job classes, and a host of other alterations promises to make this definitive version of the game.

UNHOLY NIGHT: THE DARKNESS HUNTER
Developer: NU-GAIA / FOXBAT
Publisher: BLAZEPRO / Retroism
Platform: Super NES
Release Date: July 10
MSRP: $49.99

Let's be real—Unholy Night: The Darkness Hunter isn't nearly significant enough to actually rate a spot in the week's release list. But I get to write up a Super NES release in the year 2017, and I'm just going to absorb the novelty of that. Developed by ex-SNK staffers, this is an all-original fighting game, though even with that pedigree the early footage out there looks rough to say the least. But hey, it's a brand-new retail SNES release, and that's still neat.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
Nintendo's putting out another of Kirby: Planet Robobot's minigames as a standalone, free-to-play experiment on 3DS, this time with Kirby 3D Rumble becoming Kirby's Blowout Blast. Ninja Usagimaru in turn leaves the eShop for a new digital compilation, Two Tails of Adventure on Vita.


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