Hey everybody I love and care about (you know who you are) welcome back to another little rant I’ve been holding back for god knows how long about the choices in game design made for the latest installment in the Legend of Zelda series, A Link Between Worlds. Now I know this game has been out for a little while but shouting my opinion at random cats on the street just isn’t cutting it for me anymore, so I’m gonna furiously type out my keypoints here, and hopefully you’re gonna read em.
Starting off right away I don’t hate this game at all. I just hate the idea that it could have been so much more. Look at me write my death sentence here, my first two posts are ripping on legend of Zelda and Sword Art Online, I’m not making any friends am I. . . REGARDLESS OF THAT, I played through the entirety of A Link Between Worlds and found the whole thing somewhat lacking. How wonderfully specific. But that’s the thing really. It wasn’t the bosses or the dungeons or the items or the stupid little green hat thing. . .it was all of it. Everything that they changed about the Zelda formula swirled together into one giant pile of. . .meh.
We start off the world like how we always wanted too, with dark nightmarish premonition. Our main hero, who if at this point you still think could be someone besides Link you should look for help, awakens in his really bland looking house that shoots us right back into the early 90’s. If you couldn’t tell by the intro or the dozens of people storming the internet at the time, this game is a 2.0 remake of the early Zelda title, A Link to the Past, complete with cheesy title pun intact. This right here is my first complaint with the game, in the fact that not only is it taking elements from earlier Zelda titles, but it’s not even its own world. A Link Between Worlds rips the entire map straight from its predecessor, and even steals an incredibly similar storyline, all except for a few names changed around instead. You still have to slip from the light world to the dark world, in this case cleverly named as Lowrule (the incredibly funny pun here is that it’s a play on words cus Hyrule sounds like High-rule so low rule is the opposite and its JUST. SO. FUCKING. FUNNY) You need to save several important characters who really aren’t important to you at all or developed in anyway shape or form besides having about a 4 second length of dialogue with them. You have to go beat up the evil wizard who’s kidnapping them only to have to fight a big pig creature named Ganon in the end. Go through dungeons, kill monsters, don’t let the depression sink in, it’s pretty much rinse and repeat Zelda. I can forgive it on this account however because it plays itself off as a remake. The game itself describes the setting of a Link Between Worlds a sequel remake, harboring the same style and scenery, even a few of the same bosses too, as its previous title, except of course with a few more cooky antics and abilities like the new painting mechanic (which is fantastic by the way) that tries to make it stand out on its own. This would’ve been perfect if they just left it at that. Yea we got the new stuff, lets leave it here, its tops we’re fine, cut and print, drinks on me. But no. . .They added more.
With this new installment in the lorgend of Zolder, the designers decided to do away with the whole, discovery and exploration mechanic that pushed its games out into popularity for years on end, and instead replace it with an incredibly dull and minimalistic approach. Now instead of going through dungeons and navigating the world itself to find your powerful items and equipment, you have to buy them. Yes, buy them. You are given very early on, an introduction with another lovely character named Ravio, who has taken upon himself to provide for you with every single item in the game that you could ever need to fight the bad guys. Every single item along with a few other unnecessary but fun pieces of equipment, is now purchased through this guy (except for the plot items which are not won, but handed to you by other characters). This idea, changes the entire outlook of the game. And you might not think it at first, you might ask in that really stupid voice you have (yea you know who I’m talking too), “How does this affect the world of the game if it just affects how you get the items.” And I’ll tell you in a very simple explanation. There is no longer any reason to explore. That’s it exactly, every reason for you to roam around the stunning landscapes of the world created specifically for that one purpose is gone. Of course there are caves and sidequests that have treasure and other neat things lying about, but it means generally nothing. What you end up finding is, more heart pieces, these little snail things that eventually have a very minor but flashy purpose. And money. Lots, and lots, of money. More then half of the chests in this game are crammed with rupees, the Zelda world’s cash, which is directly connected to the aspect of buying more items. The game is set up in such a way that it promotes exploration so you can then afford the items you need to buy to progress in the story. This gives the player the ability to actually go and do something instead of grinding for the money like most other rpgs do, except this is dark path the game has set you on and only a few realize it. If you start to think about the fact that all of your items are purchasable, and can be found with that guy who now lives in your house, exploring becomes meaningless. Yes life is about the journey but if you understand that what lies at the end of the journey it becomes pointless to continue. There are countless rooms and caves to explore in this game that lead you on to the chest at the end, the reward for completing a challenging puzzle. However this end result is almost always just more money, which you may or may not need, giving off an incredibly underwhelming feeling, like you were cheated out of a satisfied ending. This repetition of solve puzzle get money continues with the player, beating down on them and after a little while completely crushes any sense of longing to explore again, knowing that all they’ll get out of it in the end is more useless stuff. There’s no surprise anymore. No yearning to find out what treasures lay buried in the woodwork, when the only treasure buried is the same one I get from the numerous mini-games scattered around the world. You can play baseball. Seriously one of the mini-games is just baseball. Baseball, in a Zelda game. Thank god for that.
One of the biggest arguments for this style of item location is to break up the monotonous shallow chain of enter a dungeon, find the token item you need, proceed to slaughter everything in dungeon. This is definitely true, as clearly the only items you find in each dungeon are the obvious map and compass that go with each one, occasional heart pieces and rupees that break up that monotony as well, and very few special pieces of equipment such as new armor or parts of your mastersword. HOWEVER, the main aspect of this argument, that each dungeon is no longer classified, tied down too, and written up for the weapon or item that you find within it, is completely wrong. Like absolutely wrong. Like there is no legitimate good thing about this argument that is correct, except for the fact that you don’t find the thing in the cave it’s designed for. Every dungeon that is based around a specific item is so catered to the item itself that it becomes blindingly obvious which item you’ll need. Oh look an ice dungeon, I’ll need the fire rod to melt stuff. Oh look a fire dungeon, I’ll need the ice rod to freeze stuff. Oh look a windmill, WITH THE PICTURE OF THE ITEM AT THE FRONT GATE, I’ll probably need the tornado rod because who gives a shit. Do you see what I mean? To all the people that played this game, did any of you actual have to question which item you’d need to progress in the dungeon? No, no you didn’t, because it was obvious. You didn’t find it in the dungeon because you brought it with you. In fact for most dungeons you needed it just to get inside, driving the point home that this is the item that will win you the game here. You didn’t earn it, you didn’t find it through a fun puzzle or some fancy challenge. You bought this item, you grinded money until you had enough to buy this item. The only thing you earned is the right to say you put a lot of time into getting all this crap. To make matters worse, the biggest penalty for dying in this game is losing all of your rented items, potentially making the process take even longer if you really aren’t good at it forcing you into a grindfest of asinine proportions. The sad thing is the game isn’t even really hard, or challenging for that matter. I died once, only in the end fight because I was really taking my time enjoying it. The last boss is incredibly well developed and has such a clever way of beating it forcing you to use the new skills you’ve mastered throughout the game. It’s just a shame it took this long for me to actually find a challenge in doing so, and I already had so much money at that point all of my items were permanently purchased and could never be taken away. So death at this point didn’t matter. It never usually matters in any Zelda game when you die but when they attempt to make it something of a concern it becomes laughable when that aspect of the game disappears entirely.
To wrap this all up, Nintendo tried something new to make the Zelda series a bit more fresh, adding on new interesting mechanics to an older title, seems like a safe bet in all honesty, but in the end ruined the gameplay. The change in the way we obtained items changed the way the world operated and it lost something essential to push our interests in the game itself. I’d push further my point about how I thought the game was also way too goddam easy and the characters were forced and tried wayyyyyyyyyyy too hard to seem important when no one cared in the slightest, but that’s a story for another day.
Hope you all enjoyed this minor rant, and maybe it helped you see things in a different, more scornful way. I hope to keep adding more to this blog and want to try and update it every week with a different article on gaming culture, animation, and even creative analysis, hoping to spruce up the place along the way. Leave a comment if you have any questions or practical criticism, I promise I’ll read it. Someday.