Few franchises have such deep and strong roots as The Legend of Zelda. Ever since its first appearance in the NES it has been a standard in quality and interesting gameplay (except, of course, for some exceptions, you know what I mean). As E3 is now fading from our discussions and minds, the series has gotten new attention, accentuated by the long awaited Sequelitis episode that recently was uploaded in Youtube. On one hand we have an avid and quite perceptive gamer arguing the loss of exploration, the sense of awe and wonder as the series has progressed, on the other we have an explicit promise by the developers in Nintendo that the world will turn into an open world experience.
Exploring is usually synonymous to Zelda. The idea of finding a secret was always one of the thing we took for granted when playing the games. But then Egoraptor reminds us that it is not always what it seems. Specially the streamlining of dungeons shows us how using a basic structure we can eliminate the excitement of discovery in a game. I think this was one of the most interesting points made in his comment: instead of letting us wonder what to do with x item, we know it will be there to kill the corresponding boss of the dungeon. I have always been more a 2-D Zelda player, and this problem is part of even the best of those handheld games. The Oracle of Seasons/Ages, for example, are specially faulty in this regard (I still love them, though).
Then came A Link Between Worlds. Apart from this being the game that made me buy a 2DS, I pretty much thought the game had a nifty twist, part of which I already discussed in a previous article. The idea of the already looted items, all taken from their respective dungeons, eliminated the enslavement of the player to the dungeon-specific item. Only the first three dungeons require a specific item, which you can rent for a moment.
So why have all those other items then? Well, they serve to explore the world. If you noticed, a common complaint of some reviewers (one example here) is that the game was short, easy to finish. I feel this was on purpose. The dungeons themselves were short, easy to finish in less than half an hour. This had two functions: first to keep the game handheld friendly, since nobody wants to interrupt a dungeon and restart it later, since handheld’s focus has always been to quickly play and to be able to stop at any moment.
But the second main objective of short dungeons was to make the player explore the world, instead of focusing only on the cave you had to get to. I think that fact was missed by many gamers, who were so used to the usual “Zelda Formula”, that they forgot that there was life under the sun of Hyrule/Lorule. A completionist would see it all, but a regular gamer such as myself could have missed the heightened exploration factor of the game. And it gets even worse when suddenly you are dropped in a new world and you have eight lairs to get to, but you have not the usual numbers or limitations as in A Link to the Past and forward. I personally loved it: I was now free to skip the dungeon with the guards entirely, so I could do, what is to me, the busy work until the last. I loved the freedom, and more Zelda games should strive to this end.
There is still the question on how guided a game should be. I can agree that the latest Zeldas have this issue, in which they block your path until you get x item, and also tell you to do this first and then that, much like a chore. But then there is the issue of conveyance, something Egoraptor himself discusses at one point. My biggest gripe with the two NES Zeldas and why I think they don’t hold up anymore is that they don’t guide you, they are way to cryptic. A little guidance is necessary to know what is happening. Exploration should not be limited by too much hand holding, but at the same time it should not be too free, since this confuses the player more than making the game enjoyable. Again, A Link Between Worlds does this masterfully: yes, here are your eight dungeons, however, you have no order and you are free to explore each section as you like.
That’s where I think A Link to the Past and A Link Between Worlds represent the main theme of Zelda perfectly. Maybe in the first game you have a few numbers of the map, but they are for the most part open, and you can progress at your pace. There is no need to get a letter of play a song to make someone happy to progress. The latter one even omits numbers and almost every limitation, giving you the chance to really look into the “overworld” and sometimes even forget the main quest.
I think this is the kind of exploration most of us would like. Not hand holding, but neither total freedom and a loss of sense of direction. Some guidance is necessary, but not too restrictive as to keep you technically on a straight path with a little fork at the end, as Ocarina of Time did.
These are, at least, my two cents on this rich discussion that has erupted. I think there is much to be expected from the new game that will come up, specially on this new focus of letting the player regain control over his action and let him do what games best let us do: to determine our own actions and to live with the decisions made in game.
What do you think?
Nai ainur raituvar tietyanna!