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Is Zelda Finally Evolving?

A Link Between Worlds makes significant changes to the Zelda series' formula, but do they matter?

By Jeremy Parish. Published 6 months ago

The biggest complaint gamers have about the Legend of Zelda series these days is that the franchise has become too stagnant, too tame, too predictable, too risk-averse. Basically, every Zelda basically follows the template laid down more than 20 years ago in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

Maybe it's fitting, then, that the long-awaited sequel to A Link to the Past -- the upcoming A Link Between Worlds -- Nintendo is apparently throwing out the Zelda formula altogether. Yeah, there's still an overworld (pretty much the same overworld as in A Link to the Past, it appears) and you'll still fight through dungeons with tools and weapons in hand... but aside from those basics, A Link Between Worlds tosses out the bathwater, the baby, and entire tub for good measure.

Buy something will ya!

A Link Between Worlds sounds almost like it'll be a throwback to the original Legend of Zelda, the one where you could literally go anywhere from the very beginning of the game and enter pretty much any dungeon right away. There were a few dungeons you couldn't advance very far into until you got the ladder, and two you couldn't reach without the raft. But if you wanted to start the game by popping into Level-8 to die horribly in an instant, well, the only thing stopping you was your lack of ability to burn open the dungeon's entrance. And that shortcoming was easily remedied with a trip to any merchant that sold candles.

In A Link Between Worlds, you'll also be able to visit any dungeon you like from the outset. And while you'll still need special weapons and tools in order to complete those stages, you're no longer locked into a sequence of delving into one dungeon to find its special item, using that tool to defeat the boss and access the next stage, then repeating the process. Instead, you can buy any of the game's special items at any time -- and if the price of a boomerang or hookshot or whatever seems too dear, you can elect to rent them instead for a much lower price.

Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma recently told ONM that "collecting rupees... will be very important" in Link Between Worlds. It seems safe to say the central importance of the item shop inspired that particular statement.

Skip to the 25 minute mark if you just want to see the Zelda goods.

Will this newfound freedom improve Zelda, or hurt it? The prospect of grinding for cash in order to make the slightest progress in the game sounds deeply unappealing. Sure, the current Zelda structure has grown tired after 20 years of constant iteration, but how do you otherwise direct the pace of the game? The original Zelda relied on obfuscation and maddeningly vague objectives to impede players (forearmed with the knowledge of the game's secrets, you can breeze through it in a few short hours).

The Wind Waker marked the closest Zelda has come to a properly open world since 1986, and in the end it relied on grinding for cash (for the Triforce map quest) in order to extend play time. The recent Wind Waker HD remake actually went back and greatly changed the structure of that quest to make it considerably less tedious, so it would be strange if the same team went and built an entire game around a flaw that they'd only just removed from their prior project. Surely there must be more A Link Between Worlds' shop mechanic than mundane money-hunting... right?

No word on whether or not you have to shell out cash for the new wall-walking ability.

I'm certainly willing to wait and see how it plays out. As a fan of the original Zelda, the idea of a world whose initial state is wide open really appeals to me. The Mega Man games have always done just fine in offering players a whole lot of options right from the outset, and the "chain of weaknesses" inherent in their structure creates a natural sort of balance. And learning that proper order -- the sense of initial discovery -- is both a big part of those games' appeal and a key element that's long been missing from the Zelda series. So there's real potential here.

Then again, maybe it won't matter. The second biggest complaint gamers have about Zelda right after "It hasn't changed enough" is "It's changed too much." It's not like every single Zelda game has clung to the formula established by A Link to the Past, after all; on the contrary, the past few portable Zelda games have struck out in their own direction. And they've generally been reviled for it. It's not at all unlikely that A Link Between Worlds will prove to be simply another unappreciated portable Zelda. The fact that it's a direct sequel to the most beloved entry in the series could potentially be its own greatest stumbling block by setting up expectations in fans before defying them. For better or for worse, we'll see what happens when the game launches next month.

The best community comments so far 15 comments

  • jeremy.parish 6 months ago

    @Ohoni I'm going to give Nintendo the benefit of a doubt. Their one experiment in F2P/microtransaction game design, Darumeshi Sports, has demonstrated a great deal of creativity and integrity in its monetization. I think they aim to distinguish themselves, so I don't see them stooping to buying rupees. If I'm wrong, well, that's on their heads, because no way are fans going to sit still for that.

  • docexe 6 months ago

    Anouma said before that they were attempting to break the series conventions in terms of how you usually traverse dungeons. It seems this was the solution they found.

    Depending on how they implement it on this game, the mechanic could be great, and could be implemented as well on the next Zelda for Wii U. I understand Jeremy’s concerns about pacing and grinding, but the potential is still exciting for me. Mostly because it could lead to more complex level design for dungeons and puzzles with multiple solutions or methods to tackle them.
    @Pacario I agree with some of your points. I think the series could benefit from some Open World game design, and I also think it’s time to have another player character besides Link (specifically, I think it’s freaking time they finally allow you to play as Zelda). I also think we need more inventive items and enemies rather than the same old, same old.

    I’m not so sure about multiplayer. Honestly the first thing I thought when they unveiled the Zelda attraction on Nintendo Land was “Man! How cool it would be to have a cooperative mode on a Zelda game with one player controlling Link with the Wii Motion + and the other controlling Zelda with the Gamepad”, although I’m not sure how well it would mesh with the rest of the game considering the main entries in the series are always focused on single player. It probably would work as a separate “challenge mode” like Pikmin or a separate “campaign” of sorts like the original Four Swords mode in the GBA version of A Link to the Past.

    That being said, I particularly (and vehemently) disagree with the notion that “giving Link a voice, a personality” and “branching paths that provide real consequences” would make the game more “sophisticated”. Mostly for two reasons: a) Given that Nintendo’s production ethos has always prioritized gameplay over story, I think that if they attempted to do a “Mass Effect” or something along those lines, they would stumble and stumble hard, damaging the series in the process, and b) you honestly don’t need any of those things to tell a great story in a videogame. As I see it, rather than try to follow the Rockstar or Bioware school of storytelling in gaming, it would probably be better for Nintendo to look at games like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Limbo, Journey, the Unfinished Swan, etc. Games that have a very minimalist approach to storytelling yet can be incredibly evocative and thought provoking at the same time. I also think such approach would mesh better with the Zelda series overall.

  • Godots17thCup 6 months ago

    The whole balance between renting and buying items is definitely something I'd like to hear more about. Renting itself looks cheap enough, but is there a time limit on rentals? Can you only rent a limited number of items at a time? How much more expensive is it to buy the items outright? How frequently will Link come across rupees in his adventure?

    As much as I love hearing about how much more open this adventure will be, I would prefer not to break the pacing of the game just to grind for cash.

View 15 comments

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