My husband played all the Zelda games growing up, and when I bought him Skyward Sword I thought he’d love it. But he didn’t get very far, noting that “I feel like I’ve played this before.” For him, the pleasure of a Zelda game was not just figuring out what the game wanted, but exploring a world full of secrets.
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Tevis Thompson agrees that Zelda games have become too linear. His essay on the subject shows how Zelda games have become a nest of locks and keys whose construction is too obvious to the player. Gone are the times when the landscape appeared to be a world living on its own, impartial to the deeds of young Link. He remembers the first Zelda fondly:
The rules of Hyrule were not at all clear to its first visitors, and one of the greatest pleasures came in intuiting the underlying logic (one secret per overworld screen, but almost one on every screen). The very existence of a second quest that remixed all the dungeons and all the secrets spoke of a world that was open and supple. The magic of the first Zelda was not locked down, given to a single iteration. It was its own sequel. It seemed like it could go on forever.
It did not. If Zelda is to reclaim any of the spirit that Miyamoto first invested in its world, it needs to do a few things. It needs to make most of the map accessible from the beginning. No artificial barriers to clumsily guide Link along a set course. Players know that game; they know when they’re being played. Link must be allowed to enter areas he’s not ready for. He must be allowed to be defeated, not blocked, by the world and its inhabitants.
This world, dangerous, demanding exploration, must also be mysterious. This means: illegible, at least at first. Zelda needs new unstated rules, ones that must be relearned, even by Zelda veterans like myself. How can you truly explore if you know how everything works already?
Is this just the whining of 30-somethings, or is the Zelda franchise really ruined?