My Criticism of The Legend of Zelda Series

Posted on Apr 6 2013 - 12:04pm by Michael

My Criticism of the Legend of Zelda Series

The legend of Zelda is without a doubt, one of the most iconic gaming franchises in the history of the video game industry. With a decorated history expanding over 25 years, an honourable induction to Spike’s TV Hall of Fame and countless awards, it is very hard to argue against the series legendary status. However, in recent years many have claimed the series have stagnated in quality, that after years of climbing incredible heights, the Legend of Zelda has finally plateaued. While I do agree that the series has plateaued a long time ago but that doesn’t stop many like me from enjoying the latest games. Even though I am one of the biggest Zelda fans in the world, I do have a couple of criticism for the series.

ocarina of time

Unshackle itself from the Zelda Legacy.

My first criticism is that the Zelda series is held back by its own legacy. I feel that Nintendo is afraid to let go of their past. Although the series has significantly evolved from its humble beginnings on the NES, the legend of Zelda have often relied on the same old tricks, which now feel predictable and quite frankly out-dated.  The recent entries in the series are based on the same game design template set by the outstanding Ocarina of Time. Since Ocarina of Time, Nintendo have been in an uphill struggle to create a Legend of Zelda game that surpasses this timeless classic. It does appear Nintendo have been so caught up producing another Ocarina of time, that they have forgot that the Zelda series was the epitome of revolutions and innovations in the game industry. The legend of Zelda was the franchise that creates new standards and not one that seems to be contempt following old ones.

I am not implying the legend of Zelda should change significantly. Like the old saying “if it aint broke don’t fix it.” The adventuring, the dungeon conquering and the evil banishing still remain incredibly fun and addictive as it was the first time. Nintendo definitely has a winning formula and very few companies can match the quality and polish of a Zelda game. I want Nintendo to take the Zelda Series into uncharted territories. Push the boundaries of creativity and game design. Move the series into new bald directions. Be again the game that sets industry standards.

alttp

Forget them Formula’s

However, my gripes with the legend of Zelda are not with the core gameplay elements, but with that damn Zelda formula. The Legend of Zelda is so formulaic a basic template can be made.  Below is a simplistic template of the structure of a Zelda game.

  1. 1st Major Event- Story begins
  2. Link is tasked to collect 3 items
  3. 2nd Major Event – A major revelation, Story turns.
  4. Link is tasked to complete a number of set challenges, as a result of step 3.
  5. Once conditions in step 4 are met, climax of the story is achieved and finale occurs.

Now use this template and apply them to the recent home console games. Besides Majora’s Mask most of the Zelda games follow the same template. Observe, Ocarina of time has the player to collect the 3 Jewels to open the Temple of Time. After the revelation that time has moved 7 years forward, you are to collect the 6 medallions to finally reach the finale. Skyward Sword has a strikingly similar story structure. Chasing after Zelda in the land below the clouds, link collects the 3 tablets in order access new areas. After the first 3 dungeons, the plot thickens and has the player to traverse the remaining dungeons to forge the master sword to finally beat the game. It honestly feels like the game is just made up of glorified fetch quests to create the bulk of the story and just mainly there to serve as fillers to accommodate the core gameplay.

There are many problems with this structure. After a certain point it can make a player feel like they are going through the same motions. It does become quite predictable – when an individual finishes a dungeon, usually the next destination is the next dungeon with very little interesting happening it between. The story has already set the next goals for the player; it may become very repetitious at times and does create that feeling that the players are going through the same motions.

It seems Nintendo is going to shake things up with the next Zelda. Eiji Aounuma stated the will look at the first two Zelda titles for inspire. Complete dungeons in any order? More RPG elements? Hopefully it will give the series new life.

xenoblade

Better Story Telling

The formula also affects the story as well. Superficially, majority of the legend of Zelda game will have Link go out to an adventure to save Princess Zelda. It is the same story Nintendo has relied on for over 25 years. The story feels single paced and often one directional; it isn’t dynamic as it should be, it should have that unexpected twist and turn of events at the unexpected time. It should involve more of the lovable Zelda characters and have a stronger emotional impact on the player. The story should break free from past formulas, be unpredictable and have those incredible “Wow” moments, when all the events and actions of the player finally fit.

Nintendo’s very own Xenoblade, is a perfect example of video gaming story telling. I will not spoil the story for those who have not purchased it yet (I do recommend you buy it now). Personally, Xenoblade has one of the freshes stories in video games in recent memory. The setting was unique, the characters were lovable and the story constantly evolved, twists were unexpected and honestly I could not predict the outcome of the story until the later stages of the game. The story panned out like a well written anime, it is addicting and exciting. Having an engaging and unpredictable story in a Zelda game can bring a great deal of freshness to the franchise.

wind waker hd

More exploration please

Particularly, with the release of Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword the series has lost sight on the joys of exploration. Although still outstanding games on their own right, personally Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword were somewhat disappointing entries into the franchise. What was quite obvious was the admission of a strong emphasis on exploration in these games. Twilight Princess possessed a larger iteration of Hyrule (not counting the Great Ocean) of any Zelda game. Besides the obvious importance on male’s ego, bigger does not necessary mean better. Twilight Princess proves this, despite being larger in scale, the over world for the most part was empty space. Hyrule only possessed a small amount of secret caves, a hand of collectibles and with very little things to see from point A to B.

Skyward Sword lacked a textbook over world, opting to use a hub world to contain Skyloft and the portals to the 3 land masses below the sky. In similar fashion to Twilight princess, the sky was very much filled with empty spaces. Besides Skyloft, the lumpy pumpkin and a few notable floating islands, there were very little thing to do see or discover.

Ironically, it may be very hypocritical for me to say Zelda needs to draw inspiration from past games in the series, when I previously mentioned that the Zelda series seems to be stuck in the past. However the Wind Waker and Majora’s Mask nailed exploration so well, I just feel that the next Zelda should take note. The great sea has always been a love-hate affair for most Zelda fans, including myself. What irked many players, was that traversing through the sea was slow; furthermore changing wind direction was annoying and a bit of an inconvenience. However there were many things to discover and explore in the great sea. At every grid point of the map there was an island to chart, treasure to pick up and hidden secrets to unlock. I must confess I’ve read many walkthrough guides, in order to collect every sea chart, anchor up every sunken treasure, in an attempt to finish the game completely. It was a glorious feeling sailing through the great sea, seeing the outline of an undiscovered island satisfied the cravings of my adventure side.

What made exploration in the great sea even more enjoyable, is how alive this over world felt. Like any other Zelda game the overworld substituted between night and day – however there were smaller details that gave the great sea life. For example – seagulls tailing the boat as you sail, the sight of a menacing storm brewing ahead and even the direction of the wind all add to the immersion level. The Hyrule in twilight princess does not have that level of immersion as the great sea did. The overworld does not feel dynamic; it does not make the player believe that hyrule is blistering with life. The smaller details that made the great sea enjoyable, are somewhat lacking in twilight princess’ Hyrule. A player can be forgiven for saying that Hyrule was for the most part a baron wasteland.

majora's mask

Get rid of them fetch quests

An important facet of exploration in any game, is that there is has to be a sufficient amount of content to encourage exploration. Exploring becomes redundant, when there isn’t anything compelling to do or to discover. This is where sidequests serve to supplement exploration. Sidequest have always been present in Zelda and add incredible value to the overall experience. However the sidequests in skyward sword was a huge step back for the series. Predominately the sidequests in skyward sword have the players retrieve a certain item for a npc. The games just often relied too heavily on fetch quests. That’s not to say there were no gems. The love triangle quest line was hilarious and even gave the player the opportunity of choice. Zelda needs more of these charming quests. Look at Majoras Mask – it had the least amount of dungeons. However it had the best quality and quantity of side quests of any Zelda game. Side quests in Majora’s mask were not merely fetch quests, they had interesting back stories and unique conditions. It encouraged exploration and really brought Terminal to life.

Bottom Line

I have full faith that Nintendo can once again deliver an amazing Zelda game. The series has a couple of issues to sort out before reaching absolute perfection. Let’s see if the Wii U Zelda will blow us away.