There exists a want for the Zelda series to go back to where it all began, to drop players into a world without a guiding hand in sight. Despite this, it’s impossible for the Nintendo we know today to go to these lengths. But before one believes their cries will go forever unheard, know that there was someone listening. And while it may not be as robust an experience as The Legend of Zelda was, Fairune is exactly the game you’ve been begging for.
This 3DS eShop title drops players into a world with nothing but a book. A short book to be exact, one that simply provides a 30 second long tutorial before sending you off into the wilderness. With sword in hand, players fight enemies by walking into them. The book’s role throughout the rest of the game is to illustrate which of the world’s enemies is best to attack. By confronting the depicted foe, the protagonist both takes damage and earns experience points. Once leveled up, that particular enemy no longer deals any damage, nor does it provide any XP. This means it’s time to move on to the next adversary, and the cycle begins anew. It’s an interesting system that puts limitations in play by littering the world with enemies well above your skills. Exploration is a genuine risk, as it’s difficult to know if a bad guy is just above your current level (which results in two lost points of health, as opposed to just one), or well above (which often leads to death). But bravery is necessary in this world, as there’s never a clear sign of just where your next stop is. Perhaps that next item you need is just past that group of walking trees, so should you chance it? Death is handled well, as succumbing to the enemy just sends you back to a respawn point. You merely lose your positioning in the world, nothing more.
The grind of this levelling system isn’t perfect. As I’m sure you’ve already envisioned, there’s plenty of times where you’re farming a screen or two of enemies to level up. It’s silly, but I believe that the rest of the game makes up for it. As I said, it adds a sense of danger to the world, asking you to tread lightly, but at the same time throw caution to the wind. It’s unique, and is certainly better than mashing your attack at brain dead foes.
While there’s some flaws in Fairune‘s approach to combat, the game’s puzzles make up for everything. As you explore the world, you’ll amass a collection of items. Whether they be jewels or logs of wood, every piece is of importance. Fairune forces the player to observe every detail on the screen, as not one stone or shrub is placed without purpose. The game’s progression comes in the form of obtaining and item, and then searching your mind for that one area that could benefit from it, or perhaps presented a clue. I was surprised by how strongly Fairune depended on the player to recall these past moments or survey the land for any oddities. It all works so wonderfully, and I’ve never felt so accomplished. While it’s easy to be discouraged,know that the answer is always right below your nose. It’s important to take everything into account; the map, the shape and colour of the pixels, even the tile set used in a previous area. If you pay close enough attention, that next item you get leads to a flood of solutions.
While the definition of an open world has one particular meaning in today’s gaming landscape, Fairune redefines it. It’s not about going anywhere and doing anything, but instead exploration and discovery. You may not know if where you’re headed is the next proper step in your journey, but it doesn’t matter, as the fun is had in getting there. Fairune‘s puzzles push you to live in its world, to scour the landscape for every drop of information and guidance. It’s an ingenious game.