The Classic Overhead Perspective is Surprisingly Satisfying on 3DS

Last July, I wrote up an article declaring that Nintendo made a poor choice by investing heavily in stereoscopic 3D on Nintendo 3DS. And I haven’t really budged on that. Heck, since then, even Nintendo’s own executives have said that it didn’t quite have the appeal and reaction they were hoping for!

I’ll admit, there’s an extent to which it’s definitely kind of cool to see the world pop out or pop in, but for the most part, I haven’t found keeping the 3D on all the time to be worth the added eye strain and battery drain.

Then I discovered Fire Emblem: Awakening.

Instead of using fully 3D graphics, Fire Emblem takes on a more classic look: a fixed overhead perspective, with 2D sprites representing characters on the grid-based maps. Meanwhile, the maps themselves consist of 3D models, though they aren’t hugely detailed and it’s not even particularly obvious that they even are in 3D… until you flip on the 3D slider.

fire-emblem-sloping-terrainThen the full contours of the land come alive – you can actually see the unevenness of the terrain, the buildings in scattered villages, and the height of castle walls that tower over your characters. The depth of objects becomes noticeable enough to leave an impression, but the intensity of the 3D effect itself is still soft enough that it actually seems more like the way the game was meant to be viewed, and less like a mere optional add-on.

Zelda, Pok√©mon, Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and most classic RPGs had to make use of plateau-like structures to simulate different kinds of terrain – so, hills and mountains and so on. These features often felt artificial, and compared to the more “realistic”-looking 3D games of today that take away from the immersion of the game world. With stereoscopic 3D, however, it’s more possible to depict subtle, more visually pleasing sloped terrain while still making use of a more old-school tile-based spritely presentation.

This approach retains all the familiar charm of the old-school style, while incorporating more advanced graphical features like voxels to produce a deeper, more “living” presentation.

3D works so well as a means of enhancing this classic perspective that I’m more confident than ever in saying that the real potential of 3DS is not as a way for Nintendo to perpetuate the spread of 3D graphics on its handhelds, but as a path to unlocking depth and detail that previously couldn’t be seen in more “2D”-styled games. Suddenly the 3DS starts to make sense as a machine with a distinct identity: like the DS, 3DS will shine as a place where classic gaming heads into its own new generation.

It’s for this reason that I’m such a strong proponent of Zelda 3DS using the top-down style. Handhelds don’t need to become little miniature consoles. What they do need is to find unique ways to explore the possibilities portability has to offer gaming.

Check out Zelda for Wii U and 3DS Zelda Dungeon:

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