There are three kinds of people that enjoy Zelda games.
The first group is those who experience The Legend of Zelda games for the story. At first glance, this might seem completely insane, as many, many Zelda games have the exact same story, but that is drastically limiting the impact the individual characters and circumstances have on each Zelda game. Yes, there are people that have taken this to extremes (have you seen the Zelda timeline? Do you remember the dark, violent days before the canon version?), but I can’t fault anyone that looks at Midna, Malon, or Marin and says “there’s my favorite character.” It might seem strange, but a lot of effort goes into each “Zelda universe” and there will always people that excitedly witness a new Zelda trailer and ask, “Oh, that’s cool, but why is Link doing that?”
The next and seemingly more socially acceptable reason to play a Zelda game is for the dungeons. In a way, the dungeons of Zelda have always been the beating heart of the series, and, when delving into those dank caverns, Zelda’s gameplay always shines. While Zelda dungeons have stuck to pretty much the same rhythm since A Link to the Past (find map/compass, find big key, find item, use item, beat boss [with item]), each one has the potential to be unique and memorable and maybe there’s a monkey fight involved. The Zelda Franchise knows that its dungeons are the draw for a lot of people, and you could probably make the argument that the whole “helper” system that started with Ocarina of Time’s Navi got its start from a simple need to help folks out with the more convoluted puzzles and monsters (and monster-puzzles). In that way, practically everything involved in your typical Zelda is in the service of its dungeons, and that hookshot is cool an’ all, but you know you only have that to defeat octopus monsters, right? The dungeon is where Zelda lives and breathes… wait that might have come out wrong.
And then there is the third pillar of Zelda fans: those that can’t stand the murky dungeons (or at least merely tolerate them), and want nothing more than a fun overworld. Screw those limited holes in the ground, the daylight dwellers desire rivers and grass and the occasional cucco to whack. Here is where we will explore nooks and crannies for every last heart piece, and here is where we’ll find something that is a secret to everybody. My Zelda don’t want none unless it’s got sun, son.
As you can probably guess, I’m an overworld worshipper; though it may surprise you to learn that The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past contains my favorite overworld.
Loving the A Link to the Past overworld over all others may seem antithetical to the Zelda experience. ALTTP’s overworld Is certainly more robust than its Legend of Zelda ancestor, but once you get the proto-Zelda out of the way, practically every other overworld in the series feels dramatically more robust. Twilight Princess and Wind Waker are a clear case of no contest, and Ocarina of Time might have a big, featureless field, but it contains cow caves that archeologists have been unearthing for decades. Gameboy adventures like Link’s Awakening and Oracle of Ages/Seasons feel larger, even if they don’t contain as many pixels. The only Zelda that might contain less “walking around” area than LTTP is likely Spirit Tracks, a game where the overworld is literally and figuratively on rails. And, hey, at least that game contains a choo-choo.
But size isn’t everything. A Link to the Past doesn’t contain the most bigly overworld, but it does have something every other Zelda overworld seems to lack: It’s not a pain in the ass to traverse.
This has always been an inherent problem with 3-D gaming: the more space you can allow, the more that space can seem boring. I know there are people that love a big, open field and all the magic and wonder that could be contained therein, but I’m a…. you know what? I’m exactly like this in real life. I don’t like driving. I don’t like “getting there”. The minute teleportation is invented, the only reason I’m going outside ever again is for Pokémon Go. I pretty much live my life with destinations in mind, and everything else is useless cruft.
So why do I like overworlds at all, then? Well, because I like finding stuff! Dungeons are cool, but 90% of your spelunking is spent finding plot mandated, absolutely compulsory “treasure”. I have never in my life wanted a small key for any reason other than opening its matching lock. Finding a rupee or fairy or two might be fun, but almost every dungeon is a sequence of escalating items that eventually lead to the boss. The average dungeon, to me, seems no different than the typical Zelda trading quest, just instead of giving the banana to the monkey, you’re giving the Wand of Dominion to the statue. Mind you, there is certainly fun in all aspects of this, it’s just not the fun I crave.
But the overworld contains those secrets that make me salivate. There’s a heart container over there! How do I get it? Do I need a new item, or do I have to utilize what I have in a new and different way? This cliff face seems a little off… I better bomb every square inch of this place. And, hm, that treasure chest seems completely inaccessible, is this a situation where I have to switch between dimensions just to get a better vantage point? By the goddesses, I adore that kind of thinking, and I could explore an overworld that makes me ask those questions all day.
But, as fun as exploration may be, eventually, it all ends. In time, you’ve found all the heart containers, maxed out your rupees, and maybe even changed color for some reason. Eventually, the overworld becomes barren, because you’ve explored every island, emptied every cave, and bottled every fairy. Eventually, the overworld is just that, the world above the dungeons you must complete, and… who cares anymore? Now it’s just a useless pile of grass that’s between you and your next real goal. Hope you brought your horse, because there’s gonna be a lot of tedious walking ahead.
And when that happens in A Link to the Past, it only takes Link 45 seconds to dash from one end of the map to the other. If that’s too much for you, there’s a bird that will carry you along. And if it’s too much to toot on your
ocarina flute, then, congratulations, you’re more lazy than I am, which is a feat I previously thought impossible.
In short, the overworld of A Link to the Past is full of exploration and fun, but when I want it to step aside, it gets the hell out of the way. It is the perfect Zelda overworld.
So I guess it’s a good thing that A Link Between Worlds copied it wholesale, because I could wander around this overworld another two times, easily. Way to recognize the best thing you got, Nintendo!
FGC #208 The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
- System: Just Nintendo 3DS, though I’m sure future generations will find it on whatever system they’d like.
- Number of players: Link, who comes to a town, and comes to save the Princess Zelda, is alone.
- Wait, did you just spend two posts not talking about A Link to the Past, but then when you’re covering another, different game, then you decide to talk about it? Yep.
- Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Oh, I love A Link Between Worlds, too, and predominantly because it so deftly weaves together old and new (and “new” is an astonishing feat in a thirty year old franchise). The overworld and general plot may be recycled, but the item rental system is largely interesting for normal play, and amazing on repeated playthroughs. It’s a simple thing to power-up the fire rod and BBQ everything between here and Ganon, but how about we… not do that on the next replay? Want to see how far you can get with just the boomerang? Go for it, and try not to die, in this, a Zelda game with actual death consequences. Seriously, if this game wasn’t already good to begin with, its many little perversions of the Zelda formula would push it into the “phenomenal” category.
- Say something mean: The opening of the game is a little too talky for my liking. That is absolutely my only complaint about this game, and I should just have a save file fifteen minutes in on standby for future playthroughs.
- Favorite item: Fire Rod will leave Hyrule a burnt out husk, but at least it won’t be a burnt out husk ruled by a terrible pig monster.
- Favorite Boss: The Gemesaur King is the natural evolution of Helmasaur King, and it ties perfectly into the greedy, rupee collecting theme of the adventure. What more could you ask for?
- Sacred Trinity: I love the subtle bit that Yuga is magically strong but not politically powerful, Hilda is saving her kingdom through intelligence but lacks the wisdom to see there’s an easier way, and Link’s Lorule counterpart is doing the right thing but lacks the courage to do it completely himself. Maybe I’m just impressed the story lets the player discover this reverse triangle, and doesn’t highlight it with a big, flashing sign.
- Did you know? Link doesn’t have a tiny, chatty companion this game because Ravio stole the creature to help with his collection agency. And we’re all better for it.
- Would I play again: This is one of those games I have to play at least once a year. Sometimes immediately after playing A Link to the Past. Man, I love these games.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 13: Lightning Returns! Well, technically this incoming post was more or less chosen by the Talking Time forums and appeared there before worming its way into the FGC… but I need an excuse to take Turkey Weekend off. If you didn’t already read it, it’s new to you! Please look forward to it!