Okay, I’m kind of cheating with this entry, since I didn’t bother to record this game, provide screencaps, or prove I’ve beaten it. Why should I? It’s Legend of Zelda. Beating it isn’t a matter of skill, just attention span. Besides, I’ve beaten it multiple times over the course of my life, so doing it once more won’t mean a thing.
And I want to say something upfront.
When I was young, I loved Zelda. I played all of them (minus the CD-i ones of course), with my fandom phase ending with Majora’s Mask and the two “Oracle of Something” games. It was around those that I realized Zelda had lost its ancient magic and had become an empty franchise, trying to keep itself fresh with shallow gimmicks as opposed to good gameplay. This Kotaku article sums it up best: Zelda isn’t really about exploration or the wonder of discovering an untamed world, it’s about coming to an arbitrary roadblock and then ferreting around until you discover the item that lets you get around it. It feels like work.
Even back in the day, I never felt like A Link to the Past (arguably the Zelda franchise’s last hurrah, although I argue Ocarina of Time is better) was the all-time classic everyone hailed it as. By the time I played it (my first 16-bit console was a Genesis), I had already played superior games like Landstalker, Secret of Mana, Crusader of Centy, Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia. It wasn’t like I was intentionally avoiding Zelda–just that for the longest time, I couldn’t find it anywhere.
And it’s not like A Link to the Past is terrible as a game. Hell, seeing Death Mountain brings me back to my grade school years and reminds me of the excellent days when I would rent games from Crossroads… err, anyway, the problem is just I’ve grown to dislike a lot of the concepts that are part-n-parcel to the whole Zelda (and in some ways Action RPGs and RPGs in general) thing.
Case in point, there’s this one well in Kakariko village you can’t jump down until you have both the hammer and the power glove (by Mattel!) Going down there is a shrine you can sprinkle magic powder on to get a magic bonus. But you won’t have the necessary items until after the fourth Dark World dungeon, so the game is already almost over. It feels like such a waste, to be forced to wait until so late in the game to get an upgrade that would’ve come in handy much, much earlier. It’s almost pointless for it to even be in there at all.
Another reason this game tends to annoy and frustrate me is that much of the exploration ends up being purposeless. You bomb a wall and find a hidden thief… who gives you 300 rupees. And it feels like such a waste because I already have 959. Rupees are easy to get and I’m perpetually full of them. Likewise, when you open a chest and it just has arrows or bombs–again, I already have plenty, and a one-time treasure chest should not be filled with items that can be replenished by breaking pots or killing enemies, anyway.
I’d like it if I could just ignore the treasure chests and pots until I was sure I needed them, but no–sometimes they have keys in or under them that you’ll need later, so you’re forced to waste potential resources on the off chance that one of them is that key you’re looking for.
That’s my problem with Zelda: It’s not about “adventure” or “exploration” in any meaningful sense of the word. There is none. It’s just a bunch of ferreting around. A true adventure would allow the player to discover things for themselves. Zelda never does. Except in the NES original, and of course all the weakling modern gamers call that “bad design” now.
It makes me think that “good game design” is a synonym for “dull, tedious and boring,” and I suddenly understand why “badly”-designed games like Blaster Master or the original Zelda somehow seem more engrossing–it was because you literally don’t know what to expect. That makes them mysterious, and wonderful. I actually want to see more of them because they’re strange new worlds with their own rules where something awesome could be anywhere.
Hmmm. Maybe Blaster Master should be next week’s game? No promises though!