Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce [Post Game Reaction]

On May 5th, our team played The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce by Real Escape Games (aka SCRAP) in New York City.

We previously published a review of this game from its time in Los Angeles, California. Our friend and regular teammate Sarah Willson did such an amazing job of guest reviewing it that most of our readers didn’t realize that someone else wrote it.

Looking back at her review, we completely agree with her assessment and will not write an additional review. I’ll add that of the various mass escape events that we’ve played by SCRAP, The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce was the most fun and cohesive.

Mainstream reception

Unlike most escape games, The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce received a lot of media attention. This came in the form of pre-game hype, followed by a lot of mixed and disappointed post game reports:

Kotaku: The Zelda Escape Room Is A Little Disappointing (And Not Really An Escape Room)

The Verge: We played a real-life Zelda adventure and Ganondorf won

Engadget: Playing Zelda in real life is a lot like doing grade-school homework

Zelda has withstood the test of time, sticking around for 30 years. It has transcended generations. A number of its installments are some of the finest video games ever created. Since Zelda is one of the most beloved video game franchises in history, this disappointment was inevitable for a number of reasons that I’m going to explore.

Misconceptions

SCRAP doesn’t highlight the fact that their mass escape events bear little resemblance to modern escape rooms in North America (especially the high end). Upon further probing, however, they are quick to point out that their mass events are not “escape rooms.” They call them “escape games.” Ironically, this is the same sort of hair-splitting that makes their mass escape events so frustrating.

Image from Zelda II of Link speaking with another character who has stated,

Painting by Squarepainter

As an escape room player and reviewer who simply wants more people to become aware of all of the magnificent escape rooms out there, this drives me up the wall.

Given Zelda’s popularity, this event was an incredible opportunity to introduce more mainstream players to modern escape rooms… but this event didn’t do that.

My very first escape room review was of a SCRAP mass event, Escape From the Werewolf Village, in mid-2014. I left that game legitimately worried that first-time escape game players would think that a SCRAP escape event was indicative of the larger industry (which at the time was admittedly tiny and underdeveloped). I feel the exact same way about Defenders of the Triforce.

It was a fun mass escape event, more fun than any of the other SCRAP events that we’ve played. It was fun when considered as a short puzzle hunt. However, it was neither a good representation of modern North American escape rooms nor an exceptional Zelda game.

Culture gap

SCRAP was founded in Japan in 2007. They were also the first escape room company in the United States when they opened in San Francisco in 2012.

At Up The Game 2017, Yu-lin Chiu, writer of ASIA.EscapeGames, spoke about the escape room markets in East Asia. She explained how escape room design in Japan differs profoundly from other countries in Asia, as well as from Europe and the United States.

Japanese escape rooms are primarily paper-based events with minimal set design or story. They are more similar to short puzzle hunts than what we in the United States commonly think of as escape rooms.

This has confirmed for us what we have long believed to be a fundamental expectations gap between the games that SCRAP brings to the United States and the general market trends within the American escape room scene.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Possibly the biggest difference between Sarah’s playthrough of Defenders of the Triforce and mine was the release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch… the game that Defenders of the Triforce was essentially advertising on its North American tour.

In February, Sarah played SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce in anticipation of the release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. 

By the time we played Defenders of the Triforce in May, I had been playing Breath of the Wild for 6 weeks or so, sneaking it in between work and running Room Escape Artist. I am loving this game and taking my time to milk it for everything that it is worth. Going into Defenders of the Triforce I had been immersed in one of the Zelda franchise’s most magnificent specimens. This greatly elevated my expectations and set Defenders of the Triforce up for failure.

I’m glad that Sarah wrote the review without having just played Breath of the Wild. She could more easily separate SCRAP’s escape event from the video game expectations.

Actual Zelda room escape

I wish that Defenders of the Triforce were not a mass escape event, but a full blown, large-budget escape room. The material lends itself to an incredible escape room and I can think of a number of escape room companies that could build mind-blowing experiences with the concept.

SCRAP put on a fun mini-puzzle hunt. They leveled up their storytelling and set design. They made the puzzling generally more accessible. They navigated logistics well. Defenders of the Triforce was a huge step forward in meshing Japanese-style escape room events with North American preferences. 

That said, SCRAP is simply not equipped to fully realize the potential of this franchise for a North American audience, especially in the mass escape format.

Defenders of the Triforce paled in comparison to the best permanent escape rooms in the cities that it visited; most of them cost less than the $40-50 per ticket price of this game.

For now, Zelda escape rooms will go dormant for some time. I hope that one day the concept is resurrected and able to become the immersive real-life puzzle adventure through Hyrule that escape room lovers know that it can be. That it should be.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale).

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – Defenders of the Triforce – Los Angeles [Review]

It’s dangerous to go alone…but awfully crowded in groups of six.

Location: Los Angeles, CA*

Date played: February 12, 2017

Team size: 6; we recommend 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket early bird, $35 regular price, $40 at the door; might vary by city

Story & setting

The story was reworked from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: As the titular Defenders of the Triforce, our job was to work as a team to find the legendary Master Sword in order to free Princess Zelda and defeat the evil Ganondorf.

SCRAP Zelda Defenders of the Triforce poster featuring silhouettes of Ganondorf and Link.

The gamespace was a hotel ballroom with a couple dozen tables seating teams of six. Stations around the room represented locations in Hyrule, but most of the gameplay took place at the tables.

The decor was minimal—it felt precisely like being in a hotel ballroom—but staff members were dressed for the occasion and interacted with us in character.

Like SCRAP’s other large-scale events, the game was introduced by an emcee and the story was delivered through an intro video, with the gameplay loosely following the story.

Puzzles

In typical SCRAP mass event fashion, we spent most of the hour at the table solving paper puzzles. These were a bit more inventive than past SCRAP pencil puzzles, but familiar to those of us who had played their games before. Some were moderately challenging, but others would not be out of place in a children’s puzzle book.

The more dynamic moments involved basic items reminiscent of the Zelda series, as well as certain tasks that required us to interact with staff members.

At first glance the puzzle flow appeared linear, but it turned out to be more complex. We were given a way to organize our progress, but we still struggled to keep things straight at times.

Solving the puzzles and reaching the ending demanded close attention to the clues we had available. We never had to guess or make logical leaps.

Standouts

The puzzle flow was elegant. Defenders of the Triforce kept our interest and provided an increasing challenge. The first task was simple enough to be almost like a videogame tutorial, and the hardest tasks were last, which made the ending feel like an accomplishment.

We enjoyed the physicality of wearing Link hats and manipulating various props. The final sequence was fun, especially for Zelda fans. We were all delighted by one particular prop interaction that felt unexpected and exciting even though it was low-tech.

In-game: A ballroom full of seated players all wearing green Link elf hats.

Our success in the game depended on teamwork and attention to detail, rather than an insight that could make or break the ending. This was a welcome departure from past SCRAP games, which have notoriously relied on unintuitive leaps of logic in the final puzzle.

Shortcomings

Having approximately 150 people in the same space was a challenge. It was hard to concentrate in a room full of adventurers; waiting in lines to access certain clues created significant bottlenecks.

Because some elements of the game were accessible out of order, we ended up doubling back and uncovering clues we no longer needed. We also spent several minutes fiddling with a (probably) unintentional red herring that could have been prevented with a small design tweak.

We would have appreciated a hint when we got stuck, but there was no discernible hint system.

Due to the venue and the focus on pencil puzzles, we never truly felt like we were adventuring through Hyrule, despite all the references to the Zelda series.

We didn’t get to keep the hats, which was a letdown for some of us (and also made us wonder if they’d been laundered between games).

Should I play SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce?

Defenders of the Triforce was lighthearted and not terribly difficult—unlike most of SCRAP’s large-scale games, the majority of the teams made it all the way to the end.

The more physical elements of the game were especially cool for those of us who were Legend of Zelda fans, but non-fans could enjoy Defenders of the Triforce without a knowledge gap.

Because of the theme and difficulty level, Defenders of the Triforce would be a safe bet for younger players, families, and less experienced puzzlers—with the understanding that this game format is missing the sense of mystery and exploration of a typical escape room.

Defenders of the Triforce is a fun game with lots of references for Zelda fans, but the videogame series has so many story and gameplay elements that could be great fun in an escape room, and this implementation only scratched the surface.

If you’re looking for an immersive adventure or a puzzling challenge, Defenders of the Triforce is probably not going to be your thing, even if you are a Zelda superfan. At its heart, it was a low-tech opportunity to put ourselves in Link’s shoes (…or hat) and be the heroes of a real-life Zelda legend.

If you’re looking for an hour of Zelda-themed fun (and there are still tickets available in your area), Defenders of the Triforce is worth your time.

Book your hour with SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

*Defenders of the Triforce is coming to Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, New York, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. The event dates and ticket sale dates vary by city.

Lisa & David will be playing in New York on May 4 at 9PM. Look for them there!

 

SCRAP – PuzzBox [Review]

Difficult to acquire. Difficult to win.

Location: at home

Date played: October 8, 2016

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 2-4

Price: $45 (only available for pickup at SCRAP’s San Francisco facility)

Story & setting

Welcome to the PuzzKingdom. We were intrepid puzzlers undergoing a test from the PuzzKing in an attempt to earn the prestigious rank of PuzzKnight. No PuzzJoke.

A cardboard box with a yellow label that reads,

The PuzzBox was an at-home escape game in the same vein as The Werewolf Experiment or the ThinkFun Games. However, this was a SCRAP game and it stuck to the SCRAP script.

The game was paper-based and the materials, printing, and paper quality were solid.

The game, however, was limited to a run of 100 (although they may do another), and it was distributed exclusively through SCRAP’s San Francisco facility. Dan Egnor of the Escape Room Directory was kind enough to acquire one and ship it to us.

Puzzles

This was a SCRAP game. If you’ve played one, you’ll know exactly what that entails:

It was a challenging paper-based game in a rigid and predictable structure with a brutal final puzzle.

The entire game's contents. A lockbox, three envelopes, a yellow sheet of paper, and a replay set.

The PuzzBox, like every other SCRAP game I’ve played, was puzzles upon puzzles. They were detail-oriented and at times felt a little trite. However, SCRAP did manage to create some brilliant puzzles, which is also their modus operandi.

Standouts

As far as paper-based puzzles go, this was a solid batch; they were generally satisfying to solve.

The story was incredibly cute and delivered with a light touch. This was an improvement over all of the other stories we’ve seen from SCRAP because it didn’t try to be epic while delivering a paper-based puzzling experience.

The PuzzBox felt like one of SCRAP’s better mass events. However, playing at home was vastly superior to playing in a giant room with a ton of other people and a 60-minute countdown clock. We could take our time and enjoy ourselves without having to scavenge a huge space for additional paper-based clues.

Shortcomings

If you absolutely hate SCRAP mass events, then you’re not going to love the PuzzBox.

Playing the PuzzBox destroys the materials in the PuzzBox. It came with a single refill kit, but after two playthroughs, it’s dead. This thwarted my desire to share the game with a handful of East Coast puzzle lovers who couldn’t get their hands on a PuzzBox.

The

The lockbox was basically irrelevant. It didn’t have to be there at all, but I think it was included because that’s been their signature object in their mass events. Opening it revealed nothing special.

Bottom and side view of a red metal lockbox with a gold 4 digit padlock. The box's bottom reads

It was challenging to acquire the PuzzBox and it was expensive to have it shipped. This was frustrating in retrospect because if SCRAP had dropped the lockbox, the game would have been entirely paper-based and thereby far easier to produce and ship. The kicker is that the game would not have suffered from lack of that anti-climactic lockbox.

PuzzBox open. There is a lot of free space in the box.
There was a lot of air in that box.

We solved the final puzzle through a clever (not my idea, but I wish I came up with it) reverse engineering of the components.

Should I play SCRAP’s PuzzBox?

We spent a little under an hour twenty solving the PuzzBox and we had a lot of fun throughout. There were interesting puzzles and boring puzzles. We felt let down when we opened the lockbox, but overall, we truly enjoyed ourselves.

A small yellow pin with a puzzle coat of arms. The pin reads,

If you love more challenging escape room puzzles and can get your hands on a PuzzBox, it’s worth playing. If you prefer the experiential side of escape rooms, run the other direction.

The PuzzBox has convinced me that SCRAP’s games are best played at a lower price-point and in the comfort of my own home.

Order your copy of SCRAP’s PuzzBox, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

SCRAP – The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad [Review]

The reading of Dr. Mad’s will was a tragic event.

Location: New York City, New York (Traveling Game)

Date played: January 26, 2016

Team size: 6; we recommend 6

Price: $29.50 per ticket

Theme & story

Things started out well enough.

A charismatic and energetic man emerged on stage and explained to us:

“50 years have passed since the death of Dr. Mad, a physicist known as the greatest genius of the last century. Rumor has it that he uncovered the secret to human prosperity, but passed away before revealing it to the world. In accordance with his last wishes, his will was sealed for 50 years following his death. And now the time has come for it to be opened. Many mysterious clues lie hidden within, along with the following challenge —
‘Can you unravel the mystery of my life’s work?'”

The setup was clever, fun, and certainly had enough meat on it to sustain an hour long puzzle adventure.

With a quick look around the room I could tell that the game was set up in the same manner as other SCRAP mass events. I wasn’t titillated by the setup, but SCRAP’s last mass event, Escape From the Walled City, was a step in the right direction, so I had hope.

The clock started, we opened our packet of materials, and my hope died a swift death over the course of the following 15 minutes.

Red, white, blue, and black poster announcing The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad.

Homework

Wordy and tedious, the puzzles mostly felt like homework.

SCRAP always works in a few puzzles that are genuinely cool. That was true in Dr. Mad, but they were few and not everyone experienced them.

The rest was a grind.

Staging

The game had two rooms that we had to earn access to. Our gamemaster went out of his way to stress how observant we needed to be in those rooms and that there was an experiential component to them.

While we did need to be mildly observant to find a few things in each room, they were storage closets. When we actually attempted to search the room, we found an assortment of items belonging to the restaurant/club that was hosting the event.

There were puzzles; there was no environment.

Solution

When time ran out, we had about three puzzles remaining. However, we had actually guessed the final answer to the game about 20 minutes in.

And we wrote it on our answer sheet.

It was an actual cliché.

Later in the game we became confused and modified it by adding an additional word. We never would have counted it as a victory, but if Escape from the Werewolf Village had a deeply obtuse solution, The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad had the most painfully obvious one.

Déjà vu

Back in June 2014, I wrote my very first escape game review on my personal blog. Having played quite a few games, I fell in love with them. Then I played one that I absolutely hated. That game was SCRAP’s mass escape game: Escape from the Werewolf Village.

To pull a quote from myself:

“My big concern is that there were people in that room who were doing a room escape for the first time and think that Escape from the Werewolf Village is representative of all room escapes. If this were my first, I am not sure I’d have gone to a second one.”

It’s now 2016 and pretty much everything I wrote about Escape from the Werewolf Village applies to The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad. However Dr. Mad was a worse experience because the escape game industry has evolved dramatically since those early days.

Culture gap

By playing escape games in six countries, I’ve learned that expectations shift from culture to culture.

I wonder if something is getting lost in translation from Japanese culture to American culture.

Should I play SCRAP’s The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad?

I have a deep reverence for what SCRAP has done for escape games in the United States. They produced the first escape game in the US. They have also created a few of the most memorable and incredible puzzle experiences I have ever experienced.

At the same time, their games are tedious to a fault and comically difficult (no one won). Their mass escape events are a poor ambassador for their permanent room escapes and the industry at large.

The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad was supposed to be a two night event, but they had to conglomerate the games due to poor ticket sales. Perhaps it is time for SCRAP to rethink their approach to the US market.

Full disclosure: SCRAP comped our tickets for this game.

Real Escape Game by SCRAP – Escape From the Mysterious Room [Review]

The Western Hemisphere’s first room escape.

Location: Brooklyn, New York

Date played: November 21, 2015

Team size: up to 11; we recommend 9-11

Price: $29 per ticket

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Theme & story

Escape From the Mysterious Room was, to the best of my knowledge, the first escape room in the Americas. It predated the concept that an escape room should have a cohesive theme, let alone a story.

It was a strange room filled with an assortment of items and puzzles. We had to find everything of significance and suss out the solutions.

Historical significance

Real Escape Game by SCRAP brought room escape games to the United States, starting with this game.

Playing it late, and knowing escape games the way I do, I felt like I had stepped into a time machine: two years ago, this was how most escape rooms played.

Faint theme, no story, weak aesthetics… Just scavenging and puzzles that ranged from hard to brutal.

Scavenging

They told us up front to make a mess… And we really needed to.

RER_specialvenue
Image via SCRAP – A approximation of the mess we made.

Scavenging was the beating heart of Escape From the Mysterious Room. It was tough to find the puzzles, and once we did, we occasionally missed the nuance in the items that we had found. We have never played a room with a more difficult scavenging component than Escape From the Mysterious Room. There was one puzzle that we didn’t find at all. Thankfully we were able to work around it.

Interestingly, in Escape From the Mysterious Room there were elements that we absolutely had to find to escape, and there were elements that we could work around, without which we could still escape.

Puzzles

SCRAP games are notoriously challenging. Escape From the Mysterious Room was no exception.

Like the scavenging component, the puzzles were hard.

At times it was difficult to tell if we had the correct answers. Not all of the puzzles provided feedback. This made the game especially difficult because it wasn’t always possible to tell if we had the correct answers. There were guardrails to make sure we weren’t too wrong, but the lack of feedback added enough uncertainty that solving a puzzle didn’t really feel like a win… Because we weren’t sure if we were right.

The myriad puzzles all culminated into a pair of final puzzles.

In typical SCRAP fashion, the last puzzle was brutally challenging, and required both attention to detail and a monumental leap in logic.

Outside knowledge

Our gamemaster made a big deal about how we didn’t need any outside knowledge to solve the game. Phones and Google were prohibited. However, there was a puzzle or two that required limited outside knowledge.

My guess is that most teams include people who hold this knowledge, but these instances seemed unnecessary and wrong.

The spirit

The game was overseen by a mostly silent “spirit” who walked around the room, observing us, and occasionally whispering hints and rule clarifications.

At one point he stopped our team from searching something, which led us to believe we were finished with it. We weren’t.

If it weren’t for my father’s persistence (my parents joined us for this one), we would not have returned to this puzzle because we thought we had completed it.

Our spirit was especially helpful, but he threw us way off on this one.

Team size

Escape From the Mysterious Room had a lot to do.

It’s listed as an 11 person room. We brought nine people and we needed them all. I wouldn’t attempt this one with fewer than nine people.

For most of the game, everyone stayed busy.

When the final puzzle came around, things got tedious, but we needed everyone looking at it because it was so damn esoteric.

SCRAP’s style

SCRAP has a distinctive style. This was our fourth SCRAP game and our first victory; we had 60 seconds remaining.

In one attempt, we reached the final puzzle with a ton of time remaining, and didn’t know that there was another puzzle to solve.

In our other two attempts we reached the final puzzle with 20-30 minutes remaining, and spun our wheels until time expired (Escape From the Time Travel Lab predates us writing reviews).

SCRAP games follow the same structure: emphasis on scavenging, large volume of smaller puzzles, and then an esoteric final puzzle that requires a major logic leap.

I appreciate what they do, but it will never be my style of game.

Should I play Real Escape Game by SCRAP’s Escape From the Mysterious Room?

Escape From the Mysterious Room is now closed in Brooklyn, but we truly appreciate that the folks from SCRAP Brooklyn kept the game running so that we could play it before they shut it down. While we were the last team to play it in Brooklyn, the game is still running at a few different SCRAP locations.

Escape From the Mysterious Room is not a game for rookies.

Escape From the Mysterious Room is not a game for people who feel entitled to a victory.

Escape From the Mysterious Room is not for players who expect detailed theming or story.

Escape From the Mysterious Room is for experienced players. It’s for people who want to test themselves against a mighty opponent.

At its best, this is a game that offers an old-school escape room challenge and a lot of cleverness.

At its worst, it’s tedious, frustrating, and confounding.

Regardless of escape room design preferences, Escape From the Mysterious Room is a critical piece of escape room history. As such, it is a must play for connoisseurs of these games.

Book your hour with Real Escape Game by SCRAP’s Escape From the Mysterious Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.