The plot is, admittedly, the weakest part of the game. A monstrous wind mage (Vaati) breaks free for no apparent reason, kidnaps a princess who conveniently happens to be there, and her friend (also conveniently present) inexplicably turns into four persons through the power of a sword that we really know nothing about. Some fairies help him out and give him his mission objective, and he as four goes through forests, caverns, and even the heavens to hunt down Vaati and save the princess. A pretty standard and cliched plot. However, a “bonus” game such as this doesn’t really need much of a plot, and we can be thankful to both its sequel (Four Swords Adventures) and its prequel (The Minish Cap) for adding much needed depth to this subplot in Hyrule’s history. One other major oddity of this plot, too, are the Great Fairies. Despite the fact that the princess is in mortal danger at the hands of a legendary villain, yet they will not offer their aid to the fourfold hero unless he brings them enough Rupees. That seems at best questionable.
Here is where the game improves markedly. The gameplay is superb, just as A Link to the Past is. The button layout is logical, the game’s response time is in sync, and the game simply plays smoothly. The Chamber of Insights fully succeeds as a marvelous training school, and the randomized layouts of all the other stages make you want to go back again and again, offering a wide variety of puzzles, traps, and enemies. Of course, the fatal flaw in the game, and the reason why so many ardent Zelda vets have not and may never have the opportunity to experience this gem of a game is because it is multiplayer only. Not only that, but it requires at least two separate GBA systems as well as at least two game paks (and link cable) before you and a buddy can even think about playing. Having a multiplayer Zelda game is not a bad idea–but making it inaccessible to solo players is. Thankfully, this problem was remedied in Four Swords Adventures.
It becomes difficult to believe that this is merely a tack-on game when one looks at the amazing and detailed graphics of this game. Capcom did not put a half-hearted effort into it. The entire introductory sequence in the Shrine of the Four Sword doesn’t even seem to have the tileset pattern that has been used in every 2D Zelda game prior to this one. The colors in particular bring this world to life: from the lush greenery of the Sea of Trees, to the frigid blue of Talus Cave, to the harsh browns and reds of fiery Death Mountain. Vaati’s Palace looks like something ancient, heavenly, and penultimate as you navigate its perils and always see the blue world beneath you. The only place where the color design seems displeasing to the eye is the Chamber of Insights. Also, the character sprites are very detailed and extremely well-done. Instead of being of a stock design as one might expect from a game as obscure as this, instead they’re full of life and even anticipate the cel-shaded design of this game’s immediate successor, The Wind Waker (especially the Moblins). In fact, the graphical scheme for this game was so good that it was brought back nearly wholesale for the next GBA Zelda, which would be far less obscure than this one: The Minish Cap.
In a series that loves to rely on old, familiar tunes and remixes, we might be surprised to hear that this one in general shies away from that trend and gives us almost all new music. Granted, the game select, title, and game over screens will sound familiar, but everything else is new. And it’s good too! Sea of Trees and Talus Cave, in particular, give off this simultaneous feel of both exploration but also peril. And just as the visual layout of Vaati’s Palace evokes ancient mystique, so too does the musical theme of that stage, which might be the strongest in this game.
This game, honestly, is not very challenging at all, especially to Zelda veterans. In fact, I daresay it is the easiest Zelda game in the entire series. Of course if a Zelda vet pairs up with someone who’s never played a Zelda game before, that might present some challenges along the way–but even so, this is a game that is easily learned. The randomization factor would seem to increase challenge level, and while many layouts are harder than others, yet in general the difficulty level remains static. Some of the puzzles and tricks in Vaati’s Palace might confound you at first for a while, but even those final levels are easily mastered. The enemies are almost all easy to defeat, and the bosses are grossly predictable and rarely are aggressive in attacking you. Vaati in particular is a disappointment in this area (although the Sea of Trees boss can give you problems). Maybe the hardest part of this game is acquiring enough Rupees for the Hero’s Keys on the third play-through because oftentimes many stage layouts simply won’t have 5000 Rupees available to collect–meaning you must spend as much time in Rupee fever as possible. That’s probably the only true challenge to this game.
Just because it’s easy, however, doesn’t mean this game isn’t fun! This game is a great casual game to destress with if you have a buddy or two around. The hardcore gamer looking for the next greatest challenge will undoubtedly get bored quick with this one, but the average Zelda fan will enjoy it if one can find a playing partner. Adding to the replay value and intangible factor is the randomization of every stage. Because you never know what you’re going to get when you enter an area, it makes it fun to go in again and again to explore new areas and overcome new obstacles. Another positive point is the balance between cooperation and competition built into the game. Do you pick up your teammate and help him across the chasm–or throw him in? You cooperate in order to clear levels, but compete to gain enough Rupees to earn a Medal of Courage for yourself. This was very well done.
Veterans of the Super NES version of A Link to the Past will be pleased to see a couple new additions to the GBA version of the same game, both of which must be unlocked in Four Swords: the Palace of the Four Sword bonus dungeon and the riddle quest. The former is an extremely challenging rite of passage that will far make up for the ease of Four Swords. Familiar terrain and familiar bosses return but in new forms with new and extreme challenges. The riddle quest will also tickle the brain of many Zelda fans who consider themselves expert at A Link to the Past and puzzle-solving in general. It’s a delightful side quest that will keep you on your toes as you really must pay attention to all sorts of details and even do things you normally may not do (such as sprinkling an Octorok with Magic Powder). These extras add to the overall attraction of this dual game package.
Four Swords is a gem of a game that tragically most players will never have the chance to play. The multiplayer requirement that it has is by far its greatest downfall. But if you can find a partner or two, then this is a fun game with interesting puzzles, nifty item usage, fun battles, an endless array of layouts, lush environments, catchy music, and just an excellent overall feel. Yes, the plot is weak, but in games like this, that doesn’t even matter. This game gets even more kudos for opening up to us two new bonus quests in A Link to the Past that immerse us in this game package even further.