Anyone who reads my articles probably knows the things I consider most important in a Zelda game. They will have heard me discussing how exploration of a beautiful land and the atmosphere created by it is the most important factor in creating a Zelda experience. They will have read my long-winded explanations of why this is so, how to replicate it in future games, and why Zelda rules. You’ll have read about how great of an influence a game like Link’s Awakening can have on a young mind. You’ll have witnessed me waxing lyrical about weather, and clouds, and how they symbolize… whatever. You’ll probably think I’m either insane or a genius, depending on your own grasp of reality. Either way, there’s one important aspect of the series that I have never really touched upon, but which had a deep impact on me nontheless.

But first, I invite you to remember back to older experiences, those of your first Zelda game, or perhaps your second or third, if you’ve been a long-time fan. A Link to the Past would be preferable – or maybe that’s just my bias talking? – but any will do. My own memory is rather vivid. I remember battling my way through the vast expanses of a swampy, grassy field of the beautiful land of Hyrule, with little patches of standing water around me. Enemy soldiers would ambush me from within the thick grass, shooting their arrows, but they were quickly dispatched. A rabbit or two could be seen as well, and old, mossy statues, with strange carvings of faces or symbols, dotted the area. I explored deeper into this unfamiliar territory, eventually finding my way out of the grass onto the rocky shores of a lake. I explored the coastline, noting the tell-tale cracks in the rock around me. I blasted my way in, and found myself in a very strange cavern. Pristine ice shone all around me, and on a raised area in the center of the room, there was a chest. Inside, I found an Ice Rod, a magical wand that could shoot out puffs of cold.

Yes, the Zelda games have always had cool items, though they were more alluring when I was younger, and less jaded. I always looked forward to finding them, and doing so was a big, and important, event. My favorite part of every dungeon was it’s special item or tool, and the possibility of finding something like an Ice Rod lent spice to my adventuring.

You might even say I was captivated by the items of the series. I remember I’d sit for hours, carefully drawing pictures of the items from the Zelda games, which I’d copy from the instruction booklets or strategy guide. I even made up new swords or weapons or tools for my drawings, and occasionally I’d even make up backstory for them. I’d draw a sword and name it Zora’s Blade, things of that nature. In fact, I’ve scanned a particularly telling collection of this stuff just for your viewing pleasure. I drew all this when I was seven or eight. Notice how in one part I name a bunch of stuff from the Warcraft series, my other obsession. I was such a cute kid. The sad thing is, I was a better artist then than I am now.

It’s amazing, really, the lengths that Zelda fans will go in appreciation of the series. There are thousands of fanartists out there, people who write fanfiction. Heck, somebody had to make this site. But this dedication is a topic for another article, I suppose.

For now, I want you to look at that picture of mine, and think about it for a moment. Look at all the stuff I’ve put in there, weapons, mostly. Would you really want all those in a Zelda game? Would they fit the series, add something worthwhile to the game? What is it about the items in Zelda that make them so wonderful, anyways?

Personally, I would say that no, most of those weapons would be terrible in a Zelda game, and I would be most unhappy to find them there.

It is my belief that the most important aspect of the weapons in Zelda games, their defining quality, is that they are all unique, and all serve at least two purposes. Look at the items in, say, Final Fantasy 7. You go through hundreds, if not thousands, of items in that game. None of them leave any sort of impression on you; how could they, when they’re nothing more then a stat or a piece of generic equipment, in a long list of generic items just like them?

But in Zelda, these items are unique, and they have character. They all have names, most of them are fun to use, most of them have multiple uses as both a tool and a weapon. They’re versatile, and, to top it all off, instead of being in a boring list, your item screen shows pictures, show-casing their design, which is usually good. A lot of care and thought goes into the items in the Zelda games, I would guess.

Look at your sword, for example. It can be used as a weapon, obviously. Indeed, ever since OoT, it can be used as a weapon in many different ways. But it is also a tool – you can use it to cut grass. You can swing your sword to grab a heart. You can do tons of stuff with it.

Or look at the boomerang. It is very useful as a weapon, being long-range, usually stuns enemies, and it has the whole thing where it comes back to you. But it is an extremely useful tool, with a variety of uses. You can pick up long range items with it, or hit switches that seem impossible to get to.

Bombs. Bombs’ primary use is as a tool, really, a way to remove obstructions and discover all your secret passageways. It has a secondary use as a weapon, but a weapon very different from all your others.

Do you begin to see my point? Your items all have many uses, and, though most of them can be used as weapons, they are all used in very different ways. That is what sets them apart from the items in most other games. They’re fun and versatile.

But I have noticed that, of late, Nintendo seems to have lost sight of this. Look at more recent games, like the Wind Waker and the Minish Cap, and notice how all the new items are… less then the old ones. The grappling hook and telescope in the Wind Waker, for instance, were lauded as a great new items by many, but I never really cared for them, and the reason for this is their lack of versatility. The grappling hook has one use. Sure, you could use it in a fight, but it’s pathetically weak and ineffective. The scope has one use, though that’s understandable, and you certainly can’t use them it in a fight. This wouldn’t matter much if their were many other new items that were versatile to offset them, but there are not. In fact, if you ask someone to name items introduced in the Wind Waker, I am willing to bet that those will be the first ones they name. The Minish Cap was the same way – those mole mitts were particularly bad. They had one very obvious use, and the programmers rarely even saw fit to change the aesthetics of it’s targets.

There is another a important aspect of the items that I feel has been neglected for the past seven years. Remember way back when, at the beginning of this article, when I described my experience of finding the Ice Rod in a Link to the Past? I said that I always looked forward to finding them, and then I described them as extra spice for my adventuring. Extra incentive to adventure, if you will. In LttP and LoZ, that adventuring aspect was much more prominent and integral to the series. By the time of OoT, it had become less important. Indeed, I don’t get the same adventuresome vibe from OoT or any of the games afterwards that I did from the ones before. This is partially due to me growing older, I’m sure, but I also blame it on the distribution of items, which are an important incentive to explore.

In LoZ, a huge number of items could only be found by exploring the landscape. In LttP, it was the same, minus the flaws that made LoZ a hellish world to explore. In LttP, you might find the Ice Rod in a cave in the corner of the map, on the shores of beautiful lake Hylia. You might find the Ether or Bombos Medallions by locating small stone monoliths hidden throughout the world, or you might find the Quake Medallion by throwing something in a suspicous looking ring of stones. You could find the magic cape, or the staff of Bryna, or maybe even a magical fountain where you can throw your items and get them upgraded.

In a Link to the Past, wonderful items were scattered throughout the world, and that is one of the reasons I wanted to and enjoyed exploring.

But around the time of OoT – and even earlier, with LA and it’s secret seashells – they gradually started moving away from that method. Nowadays, items and tools are always found in dungeons, or storyline events. The thrill of discovery is gone, wiped out, and along with it goes the incentive to explore, one of the hallmarks of the Zelda series.

Instead, you will find Gold Skulltulas, or Kinstones, or treasure maps that lead to worthless things like rupees. I have a deep loathing of Skulltulas and Kinstones. They are a very poor substitute for real items, for they lack any value in of themselves. Things like the Ice Rod and Magic Cape, you can actually use. They have intrinsic value, and are unique and varied. There is a real incentive to explore and find these things.

Gold Skulltulas and Kinstones, though… they replace real items as your rewards for exploration, but you get nothing out of it. They are pointless. There is no reason for them to exist, and they do a very poor job of convincing me to leave the main quest behind and explore for a second.

So. There are two things that Nintendo should do, to restore items to their former glory as an important aspect of the series and it’s character. First, they must make the items themselves interesting, and second, they need to be distributing better, rather then just part of storyline events, dungeons, and collectathon sidequests.

Of course, I doubt I’ll ever be able to sit down and enjoy drawing pictures of these items for hours on end, not again… Alas.

______________________________________________________

If you liked this article, we will be releasing such articles consistently over the next few months, so if you would like to be kept up-to-date, we will be updating our Facebook and Twitter pages to let our followers know of each new Zelda article. You can also just subscribe directly to our RSS Feed.

This retro article was originally posted September 3rd, 2005.
  • Askorak

    FIRST

    • peter

      do you really care?

      • QueenxLink

        Apparently, he does. Let him yell out "FIRST" if he wants. Do YOU really care?

  • John Duffy

    @Askorak: LOSER

    @lord-of-shadow:
    You have a very good point. I never considered that concept. OoT being my first Zelda game, I have never had the pleasure of being stunned by the earlier 2d games, and thus never had the thrill of exploring like you have said. It would be great for Nintendo to implement these ideas in games again. Especially in the new Skyward Sword game, which would be a great way to start using items like that again, or even implement this into OoT 3D, to do what we all want, make it different! If items were acquired not only by storyline, but also by random exploration, it would give a new, exciting challenge to the old classic.

    • Hey-Listen!!!

      Ya OoT was my 1st one too and I agree. When I went back to the older 2-d games, I was amazed by the huge overworld and it gave me a different feeling than other 3-d zelda games. I cant really explain it but when I found an item it was like….harder and it made me feel more accomplished when actually finding something.

  • OoTfanatic

    I agree completely and I always love reading your articles. The fact that Nintendo are becoming less adventurous with their items are starting to make my love of the Zelda series weaken and I hope that they bring back versatile items from the 2D 16 bit era in Skyward Sword.

  • "Your items all have many uses, and, though most of them can be used as weapons, they are all used in very different ways. But I have noticed that, of late, Nintendo seems to have lost sight of this."

    -> You obviously haven't played the Nintendo DS Zeldas games or taken a look at Skyward Sword… there are less items but with many different uses in those games. And the Grappling Hook in The Wind Waker definitely has more than one use. For example you can steal items from your enemies with this tool, which is very useful in the Savage Labyrinth. Or it's used for salvaging. Plus, the classic Zelda games also do have their share of useless or only-one-use items, to be fair.

    • He couldn't have played the DS titles when this was written, because he posted this September 3rd, 2005. ZU has been reposting articles written years ago so that they can get current opinions, I guess.

    • FilipeJMonteiro

      You can't seriously be considering the DS games as fitting the category of worthy exploration. There's virtually anything you can get as an extra item that aids you in your quest attainable from exploring – which is his main point in this article.

  • BroomKing

    I agree with TourianTourist – the grappling hook is really useful for stealing crystals and keys from the phantoms in PH as well as its primary function of getting you around the map. However, I only came to the series with Minish Cap so I'm used to the new items and the methods of obtaining them as opposed to the old ones…

  • I'd love to see the 2D era items brought back into a 3D Zelda title…with a few of the 3D "veteran" items still in it. Trust me, a game without the Hookshot or Hero's Bow for example wouldn't feel the same at all.

    Yes, the items are more versatile and fun to use in this series more than any other I've played (with the possible exception of the SSB games). Watching Link open the chest each time and seeing him pull out a new too/weapon each time charges my adrenaline with anxiety. I always can't wait to try it out. And the new Wii Motion+ addition of Skyward Sword will take item utilization to a whole new level.

    • Subrosian

      OoT didn't have the Hero's Bow.

    • starwebs1

      Hookshot and Bow were in A Link to the Past…

  • Banooru

    I remember being really excited to find all of the great fairies and complete the gerudo's training ground in OoT since it was my first zelda game. I was disappointed to find din's fire was only useful in like 3 puzzles, and the ice arrows didn't really freeze anything (until Majora's Mask…yippee). I think discovering the hookshot made up for some of the let down from the other items.

  • FilipeJMonteiro

    I can't recall exactly, but wasn't the Hookshot only attainable in Ocarina of Time if you found Dampé's grave after reading his diary? As I think of it, I come to the conclusion that it couldn't have been possible to progress through the rest of the game without it, so it can't have been an off-quest item…

    Anyway, you raise an amazing point, and you are completely right. There is no fun in exploring anymore. The world from aLttP can be compared to the one in the WW, in the sense that it has a very intense grandeur in its size. The only problem is that, exploring the WW's world is, essentially, useless (and, face it, easy) unlike the exploring of aLttP's.

    It's a shame that they're going for games that are more appealing to *everybody* instead of the fan-core, that's very saddening and I do hope that that comes to an end soon.

    • Yep, you got the Hookshot as you described it, but it didn't have as great a length as the Longshot, an updated item you could pick up later in the Water Temple, after fighting Dark Link.

      • FilipeJMonteiro

        Yes, I am aware of that, yep. But both items can't be avoided.

    • Banooru

      Yeah, you couldn't progress through the game w/ out the hookshot, but I still felt the thrill of discovery when I first played it. Of course that was like the only item and its hard to relive that feeling when you play through it again. aLttp I can play a hundred times and still get that feeling.

  • bobbby

    Man the worst was Spirit tracks and Phantom hourglass. You literally couldn't get any sidequest items. They all came from the dungeons and were all forced upon you to complete the game. however, I disagree with what you said about Oot. It had lots of items that you got from sidequests. Same goes for MM. TP was ok, it had the extra bomb bags and stuff after all. But yah, your right about alttp. That was the pinnacle of sidequesting/exploring.

  • Subrosian

    Weapons and items in RPG's are just numbers. Don't compare that to a game like Zelda.

  • DragonChi26

    I always wished that Nintendo would put back in a lot of the items that were in LTTP in the newer games. especially the medallions. I very much agree that most obtained items in the later games are borderline useless tools. Not enough cool weapons, whether they be found through sidequests or forced on to you through storyline.

  • DarkLink

    You bro, are are genius.. : )

  • Zelda777

    You are over exaggerating. I partly agree with you But you still do find important items/upgrades in newer Zelda games. And grappling hook did have many uses as said by above comments.

  • Phantom7

    Excellently written article! I would have to say the versatility of items in future Zelda games (primarily SS, of course, since that is currently all we know of besides OoT3D) looks pretty promising, considering the innovation and apparent usefulness of SS's new Beetle item and the fact that some of the classic items have been somewhat revolutionized – you can now throw or roll bombs using the Wii Remote, and aiming has become more precise with the Bow and Slingshot. It appears that in SS (I believe it has also been stated in an interview of some kind) that the items featured will be much more useful, but there will be fewer items to collect during the game.

  • Ta-da!

    The weapons in Zelda are crap. What loot? There's no gold, diamond, pearl, and sapphire Pokemon reference in any game, except Twilight Princess, which is Beast, because it has gold in it. Jovani must have been a pirate. That's how he got so rich, plus the gal.

    Enough Hyrule travels. They should have an all-out pirate theme, with Link as the Captain. Captain Link the Bootlegger. Has a much better theme than Link, the Hero of Time.

    • Your comments are crap. Of course there are no "Pokemon" references in Zelda, unless it has cameo appearances I don't know about. And Jovani got rich because he sold his soul to whoever the Dark Master is in Hyrule theology.

      Link captain to a gang of pirates? Once again, no. Everybody knows Tetra is captain of a pirate ship already. Then again you might not have played Wind Waker and/or Phantom Hourglass. So your idea wouldn't work out as well as you think.

  • ???

    Not to be disrespectful or anything but what happened to the ZU poll and mailbag?!

  • falconfetus8

    What a shallow gamer you must be, if all you care about are the rewards. Playing a game should be fun in itself, whether you're rewarded for it or not.

  • Shrub

    Someone hasn't gotten the Sand Wand in Spirit Tracks! Sure, it's part of a dungeon, but it's one of the most unique and fully fleshed-out items in the series. And I don't like how, when talking about WW's items, you mention the boring ones and conveniently forget the amazing and eternally useful Deku Leaf.

    Anyhow, very well written article, and I agree about non-necessary items being thrilling to find and use. So I hope there's more of that in the future too! :]

  • nje

    HAAHAHA, Nintendo will NEVER do something like this, EVER again!!!
    (bastards)
    Treasure hunting is one of the bread-and-butters of a truly good zelda, but nintendo couldn't give TWO CRAPS about it.
    -make your own fan zelda, or FORGET IT, because I can ASSURE you that Nintendo won't bother ever again to include this. It's shown it's true colors as a purely profit-driven company that only a FOOL would stay loyal to at this point.