The Legend of Zelda is a very interesting series. I could write a series of essays on its game design alone (and if you would like something like that, check out Boss Keys by Mark Brown.), but I feel that the design philosophy has strayed a little from what it started as. I recently beat the original Legend of Zelda in anticipation for the newest one. However, I used a walkthrough, which I will be avoiding with Breath of the Wild. The game did have this sense of wonder, even in the small world which I navigated. The grandeur of this small world is something I can’t feel in other Zelda games. Even A Link to the Past, which I still profess as my favorite, didn’t have it. A Link to the Past guided you to places, created a huge marker on your map. Breath of the Wild does that too. However, it only marks where your next major story quest is. With such a large world, Breath of the Wild manages to keep that feeling alive as it guides you. Arin Hanson’s video on Zelda and how it changed between the first installment and Ocarina of Time, while crass, made some very good points. The Legend of Zelda didn’t guide you anywhere. A Link to the Past gave you a real map and points of interest to go to. Breath of the Wild, however, lets you roam wherever you please. At one point, I saw a tower off in the distance. I marked its location on my map and headed that way. When I got there, I got killed. The enemies were too powerful for me to defeat and too fast for me to run. After my stubbornness wore out, I marked it on my map with a skull stamp. This is my way of saying: This is dangerous. The game never told me I couldn’t go there. It never blocked that area off and didn’t tell me to come back later. Just like in The Legend of Zelda, you could go almost anywhere. There was a spot in The Legend of Zelda where a difficult enemy, a Lynel if I remember correctly, blocked a cave. Inside this cave was a better sword, but you had to defeat or run past this enemy first. I died multiple times on this one screen, but I kept trying and was rewarded for it. Breath of the Wild rewards exploration more than any other game I’ve played.
Most games that you play involve some sort of mechanic and a good amount of games also integrate a story. I believe that, on average, most games do not integrate their mechanics into the story. While you could argue that a mechanic like shooting is integrated into the story because you play as a character who is shooting. But that’s not quite what I mean by “integrated into the story”. There’s a game called The Stanley Parable, you can pick it up on Steam for pretty cheap. You play as a man named Stanley whose office was suddenly deserted. The only people left are you and this cheeky British narrator. The only thing you do is walk around and choose which path you take. However, the path you choose may not always be the path that was… narrated for you. You can actively choose to defy the narrator, and he begins to comment on it. Without the narrator, your choices would be less interesting. Because you choose to defy or obey you feel like you are in control of your character. However, the game does some interesting things to make you feel like even your character (and sometimes the narrator) isn’t in control. It’s all very odd and thought-provoking. At times you hate the narrator because of his snide comments, but when some force larger than the narrator peeks its head, you start to question things. However, the weirdest thing is how it will just reset you back to the beginning. But something will be off. Something will be different. Not all resets are really resets. There’s no combat, no dialog decisions. In my opinion, boiling it down to the minimum a game could be really helps deconstruct games, and what they are. If it sounds interesting, check it out. I’m not going to talk much because everyone needs to experience it for themselves…
When I play games, I hold gameplay highest. My favorite thing a game developer does is when they make something really clever that makes you wonder why people haven’t used that more often. Nintendo does a really good job with some of this stuff. Look at Earthbound, a basic-looking RPG, with a wonderful world and premise that I could talk about forever.This game doesn’t traditionally use the A button to talk with NPCs and interact with objects, it uses L. Using the L button for interaction is a super cool idea because you can maneuver around most of the game with one hand. The only reason to use the face buttons is in order to open the menu. However, I think that there is another reason they made L the interact button. The game came packaged with the Nintendo Power Player’s Guide for it, and it’s very hard to keep a book open and play a game. Unless, of course, you’re playing the game with one hand. It also makes grinding pretty easy as you can just walk around and fight with one hand. Now, this isn’t the only trick that Earthbound had hidden up its sleeve. It also has a very interesting battle system. Most RPGs of the time used random encounters, but a few didn’t. Earthbound was one of the few that chose to actually show the enemies on the screen. If you sneak behind an enemy, you get a free opening turn and vice versa. If you’re stronger than the enemies then they’ll run from you, exposing their backs for an attack. What’s really cool is that if your stats are high enough then you’ll instantly kill the enemy without getting into battle. This makes grinding even more easy as all you have to do is walk around with one hand on the controller. It’s little things like this that makes games so unique. Another way to make your game interesting is to add branching paths. Star Fox 64 is one of my most favorite games. In it, you can make a different path and visit different levels based on how you play. For example, on the first level, if you fly through a series of arches and make sure someone on your squad stays alive, you get to fight a different boss. Now, probably, on your first playthrough, you’re not going to get that secret route. However, when you go past the part where the path would branch off, you see a huge ship fly overhead. This tells the player that there’s an alternate path without explicitly telling them. Upon return to the level, you may try different things just for fun, like running through a series of arches. the fun part is, most levels have these branching paths. For the longest while, I didn’t even know that there was a submarine level, or that Katt was even a character that existed. I believe that some of that can be blamed on me not being good at Star Fox, but it’s interesting to see that these games have these branching paths. What makes Star Fox work is that all the levels feel great. I could go through Corneria a million times and it wouldn’t get old. That game still manages to feel fresh and timeless every time I play it. Games that are simple on the surface but have a lot of depth to them deep down feel really good to play. A lot of times that depth comes from systems and learning how to do things properly. However, when a game adds these little bits of polish, that’s when I believe it starts to shine. That’s when they stand out from the rest. That’s what makes them classics.
I’ve really enjoyed writing on this blog and have gotten a lot of fun out of it so far. I will still continue to write a new article every week, but I am hoping to do one review every month. So far, the review for November will be The Order: 1886 unless something changes. The monthly review will go up on the last Friday of the month and take the spot of a regular article. For December the review will either be Pokémon Moon or Final Fantasy XV depending on which one I finish first.