(Cody’s Note: figured this one would be relevant again after the recent discussion so I brought it back from 2004. Enjoy!)

Welcome to the first roundtable of Behind the Rupees. In this feature we will be discussing a set topic back and forth, and this way we hope to give everyone a look into the different views on these topics.

The Team of Writers is put together by three very different persons, and thus we believe that it will be simple to get the different opinions on the topics forward. All users are more than welcome to present their own personal views on the topic discussed over at the Forums, infact we would encourage you to do so, as it will help us broaden our own horizons. If you do this well, you might also be invited to participate in a Roundtable discussion in the future!

In this first Roundtable, there will be no guest speakers, as we want to get the ball rolling before we bring in any “outsiders”, but we are confident that in the next edition we will invite someone to participate. The topic chosen by the Team of Writers for this is, as suggested by the title, 2D Zelda vs. 3D Zelda: How do these games differ, and which makes better games?

To get started, I will present my own initial opinions. Being a somewhat experienced gamer I have a quite clear opinion on the topic. The very first console I got was a Sega Master System, but I quickly discovered that Nintendo had the system for me, so I got me a NES. Since this, I have owned all Nintendo consoles, minus the original GameBoy. To me there is a distinct difference between 2D and 3D games, and it putting it on the paper, or should I say on the screen.

2D games are above anything else, in my humble opinion, about fun. If you disregard multiplayer titles, I have never once had as much fun with a 3D game as I did with for instance the Super Mario Bros. on the NES and SNES. They were all about enjoying yourself, and having a good time.

With the introduction of the 3D era, the games changed. Now it wasn’t just about having fun anymore. Creators could now create amazing environments that would let the gamers indulge themselves into the games like enver before. This is the main difference between the two styles as I see it, 2D is mostly about the fun, while 3D is about becoming one with the game, thinking that you ARE the character you’re controlling.

So where does this leave the Zelda series? Well with the nature of a Zelda game, I think my own opinion is quite obvious. While some old-skool A Link to the Past fans will most definitely disagree, I feel that 3D makes for better Zelda games than 2D ever did, because of the added realism, it becomes easier to live yourself into the game.

I have two set opinons on 2D versus 3D.

The first opinion is that the 2D Zelda games are definitely more challenging and more fun. A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening are still fairly challenging games to me, and I’ve been replaying these games for years. On the other hand, Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker haven’t challenged me much at all during replays. During those games, once I get through a good chunk of the quest, I rarely lose a full heart due to damage. With that kind of low challenge, I wonder to myself why I even replay 3D Zelda games. Ocarina of Time is very much about exploring the dungeon and completing many puzzles, so I suppose the challenge is supposed to be in those aspects. Personally, I didn’t find those aspects incredibly challenging, and the complete lack of enemies in the later dungeons disappointed me. Wind Waker is about smaller amounts of puzzles combined with more combat and relatively linear dungeon designs (similar to the dungeons designs of A Link to the Past). The ease of the game was not in the enemy designs but in the damage received from attacks; it’s almost insulting to my skill to think most attacks deal 1/4 heart worth of damage, and a real hard hit might remove 1/2 heart. The 2D games, meanwhile, actually challenged us with combat. How I loved the days when an overworld monster could take two hearts from you if you weren’t careful. At least then Hyrule felt like danger was growing.

My other opinion is that the third dimension really isn’t the problem with 3D games and their challenge, and in fact 3D adds much more to the experience. If The Wind Waker had higher enemy damage, the game could have had the same feel of danger that A Link to the Past had. The combat itself in Wind Waker was incredibly polished and fit perfectly for the adventure. The 3D dungeons added another depth to puzzles. For example, being able to aim your bow in 3D allowed for many more puzzles involving complete analysis of the room. Floating with the Deku Leaf and aiming your Hookshot at a distant target just can’t be done as well in 2D.

Overall, I think that the 2D Zelda games are much more fun because of higher challenge, but in 3D the game designers didn’t opt for as much challenge and instead attempted to put in more puzzles and exploration, all the while avoiding the placement of challenge. The third dimension itself holds more possibilities than 2D, but minor issues such as enemy damage get in the way of enjoying the experience in 3D. These minor issues have nothing to do with the third dimension at all.

It should be known by all who read this that I am a staunch supporter of plot in video games. Therefore, I want to squeeze fun from my game in a way that invites me deeper into the fiction that we play. One that provides its own continuum of characters and plot. One that provides insight upon its own setting. One whose ultimate goal is not to simply “get the high score”.

I don’t mean to imply that any of this is incorporated into 3D more than it is in 2D. For example, A Link to the Past had a much stronger backstory than Ocarina. Yet 3D holds potential for character development and story exploration.If you asked yourself about the qualities of the characters in A Link to the Past, you’d get extremely generic answers. “The Hero”, “The Princess”, “The Bad Guy”…This may not have anything to do with 2D/3D, but as times have changed, game developers have produced such things as facial expressions on characters, surreal environments, and personalized townsfolk.

Of course, it is more interesting to watch a flawless display of character emotion that is 3D than to watch a motionless, pixellated figure stand at attention while short bits of text scroll across the screen. The biggest source of story in most SNES game is the instruction manual. However, perhaps the reason 2D wasn’t story oriented was because people just didn’t mind back in the day. Perhaps they gamed just for fun, living and learning of off their “high scores”.

The rise of 3D gaming could be responsible for increased importance of story – Miyamoto himself said that video games are becoming ‘interactive movies.’ 2D games feel much more like… games. With 3D you have (in some cases) free-roaming access to a different world, the chance to really see yourself ‘in the game.’

Even The Wind Waker with it’s cartoony graphics is an immersive experience – though you might not find it the best of the lot, there’s no denying that the world created for it is complete and contained, as real as it needs to be based on its own physics and physicality. My favourite part of TWW is the sea. Sure, before making friends with tornadoes the time-consuming prospect of getting from one corner of the map to another is occasionally frustrating and tedious, but often I found myself marvelling at how… true it seemed. Never have I played a game that had me travelling towards some building in the distance without a pause for loading the new environment before I reached my destination. In TWW, there is actual, palpable distance – you see an island, you sail up to it, you get off your boat and wander around without a break in the action.

TWW represents the logical evolution of the franchise – a sophistication of the tangible environment for you to explore. And that’s the main draw of the games, right? It’s not just puzzle-solving, monster mashing fun. It’s this world that we are fascinated by, this world that we want to save from whatever evil threatens. Since 3D is all about rendering the world more accessible, and Zelda is all about discovery and adventuring, then it seems 3D is the way Zelda was meant to be.

Sadly, it seems we all agree.

But I disagree partially. While the 3D games offer immersion as a major draw, I thought that something was missing from the 3D games, which was challenge. Engaging yourself into an entire world is nice, but what about those who get more engaged by challenging gameplay? The Legend of Zelda and Adventure of Link engaged players by offering some of the most sword-slashing challenge and world/dungeon searching challenge ever. Those who played the second quest of Legend of Zelda really had to be into the game in order to surpass the challenges ahead of them. I think engaging the player works best when the player is challenged, not when cinematics are thrown in to advance the story. The 3D games failed to challenge me, but did provide another dimension for puzzles and fighting.

I also happen to be more of a “practical” gamer. I don’t look at aesthetics as much as how fun something is. The Great Sea is the largest and perhaps most immersive overworld ever in a Zelda game, but I find it impractical to merely sit for minutes on end staring at the water and sky. While I feel like a great explorer, I also feel like a bored explorer. Same thing with Ocarina of Time: to this day I still wonder why we’re expected to walk across a huge empty field. And getting Epona is slightly disappointing since her main purpose is to cut down on the boredom of trekking across the empty field. One or two peahats and the occasional Stalchild at night didn’t help the field. For me, the best 3D overworld was Termina Field, because I could walk around the field, roll around as a goron to jump over hills, fly around as a Deku Scrub, fight hoardes of monsters, and access any place I wanted without a boring five minute wait. So while 3D overworlds offer great immersion, 3D overworlds can also try to immerse the player too much by making long, tedious trips necessary.

You see, and I thought the Great Sea was beautiful. Simple, but beautiful in it’s own way. So I didn’t find it boring, so much as fascinating. To see the fluid animation of the simple waves, the indistinct shapes beneath the smooth blue surface – sure it would have been nice to have more to do. But I always found myself thinking, Lookit me, sailing the Great Sea with my talking boat. I thought the act of sailing, especially since the game contained actual, palpable distance and your destination would grow in size until you were able to step off onto it, so totally brought me into the world, made it seem more complete than ever before.

And this, itself, is part of the fun. I don’t like a game to throw something at me every second I’m on the screen. Like Metroid Prime, for instance – that game worked because is moments (and there were many) of action were accentuated by the long, tense exploration. And since Zelda has always been about adventuring, the travel time adds to the experience.

2D games just don’t connect in the same way – it’s a failing of visuals. And specific to the Zelda franchise, Hyrule (and beyond) is much more convincing in 3D. If the world in more convincing the quest becomes more compelling. It’s more fun to storm a castle when it looks like a real castle, then bump your pixels into the background pixels and run around a maze.

Perhaps, Pip, if one were to travel for 30 seconds from place to place – a la Tales of Phantasia/Symphonia -but a seven minute journey is out of the question entirely. You, right now, count to 30. Takes longer than it sounds, doesn’t it? Multiply that by fourteen. There’s Wind Waker in all its glory.

Ocarina of Time, however, was about a minute’s journey from here to there. I’d say it was rather convienient in perspective. If you really were tired of the “long” walk of Ocarina’s field (not even counting the time-saver, Epona), you truly are impatient.

I think having the player doing nothing for so long is unacceptable. In 3D, it seems we’re expected to “experience” the long, uneventful journeys between places. I don’t play games to “experience;” I play games to have fun. Sure, I take in all I can when I travel at first, but the initial awe wears off sooner or later, and after that I look more at the tasks to be done in the game. If the bulk of my task consists of travelling from Point A to Point B while doing nothing, then something isn’t right. Ocarina of Time’s field wasn’t too big, but it was too empty. That field could have used some ponds, some hills, heck even some monsters; anything to prevent boredom. In 2D, we can’t have a deep feel of being the traveller, so we don’t see large amounts of empty space in those games.

My big beef with the 3D over-worlds (sans Majora’s Mask) is that there’s simply nothing to do while travelling large distances. Lots of open space but nothing else. The world should feel more alive, like in A Link to the Past or on Koholint Island. I love large worlds that can be explored, but I hate it when there’s a lot of empty space.

I think we have enough on over-world experiences in 2D versus 3D. I take it that the 3D over-worlds provide a superior feel when it comes to experiencing the traveler’s journeys, but the tradeoff is that sometimes there just isn’t enough to do besides watch the time tick away. I’d like to discuss how the dungeons play through in 2D versus 3D.

Personally, I love how the 3D dungeons have allowed for some awesome dungeon designs. Nothing in particular jumps out at me, but overall I really love traversing the 3D dungeons. I also love the 3D combat system, since the lock-on system favours two-to-three enemy battles versus the million-sprites-on-screen battles we saw in the 8-bit days of Legend of Zelda. Emphasizing combat against fewer foes allows the fights to be more tactical. Wind Waker had a few parts with large amounts of tough foes, like Hyrule Castle, but even then battles usually involved no more than three enemies simultaneously.

However, I’m really disappointed in the lack of challenge in the 3D dungeons, particularly the combat, but that’s something unrelated to dimension. I felt that Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask put too many puzzle elements in the dungeons, which then made combat more of an afterthought. With low amounts of combat, subsequent playthroughs were more about going through the motions of the puzzles. When I want a challenge, I go for A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening since the later dungeons actually make death a possibility. Even the Oracle series provided a good challenge, especially Seasons with the final Onox battle.

The puzzle element is my favourite bit about the dungeons – combat is nice, gets the blood pumping and all, but I’d hate for it to be the dominating feature. Dungeons should be something you must explore and unlock, not merely a series of rooms in which you pull out the ol’ hack ‘n slash.

Leaning on my tangibility arguement, I’m gonna have to go with 3D again on this one. The combat system is great, but not particularly noteworthy in my eyes – the developers needed to find some way to translate the easy-aiming of a pixel-playingfield into three dimensions, and they’ve done so admirably. Targeting is quite clever – when faced with an enemy, all a player need do is lock on, and work out the best weapon. It’s fun, but I wouldn’t say it’s much of a challenge – at least, not the way the 3D puzzles are.

In 2D, the dungeons were a series of mostly boxy rooms with globby little enemies roaming about, and puzzles that, while they often did present quite a challenge, worked outside Real Space Logic. Again, I draw the comparison to board games – specifically I’m thinking of spacially sophisticated games like Fireball Island or Mousetrap. Your game piece is on a flat surface trying to maneuvre around traps that extend into a space where you can’t go.

In 3D, however, there are fewer limits applied to what you can do in your environment, which leads to more interesting and engaging puzzles. Take The Wind Waker (since it’s the most recent 3D Zelda game I think it’s fair to keep referencing it in terms of technological prowess, so bear with me); some of the earliest puzzles are spacial in nature – like rope-swinging in the belly of the pirate ship. This is not something that would translate particularly well in 2D. Or in Dragon’s Roost, when you must slice the ropes from which a platform is hanging to drop and get to your next door – 3D Zelda gives the dungeons real space, and a lot of the puzzles need to be solved using RSL. It gives players the chance to intuit what needs to be done based on the unique laws of physics inherent in the game world, whereas the 2D playing field is limited and so are its challenges.

Well I beg to differ. While the puzzle element is definately crucial to the Zelda series, I have to say that I put even more emphasize on the combat element. Of course that is all a matter of personal preference, but it lies in my nature take action over thinking (at least when it comes to video games), and that is why I am agreeing with Mystic on this one, partly at least.

The battles in the 3D Zelda’s have generally been way too easy, compared to what they could, and in my opinion also should have been. I don’t think the Z/L targeting system necessarily makes for only easy battles, as I think that was proved by Ocarina of Time in a very few cases, such as when fighting IronKnuckles. These were perhaps the most challenging enemies in the entire game, and I had a blast fighting them, even though they should have been even harder to defeat. I think they also did it very well in The Wind Waker, with the Darknuts, which were obviously very amusing to fight. However, again came the difficulty issue in. The Darknuts in TWW simply posed too little of a threat to your life gauge, when they only took half a heart, or one or two at the most, when they hit you.

In my opinion, 3D is ideal both for puzzles and combat, only they need to fix the issues stated above to make it what it could have been, and then keep the current combat system, perhaps with a few upgrades/modifications, because then it would become both challenging and fun/entertaining.

Pip, you stated some perfect examples of what three dimensions can do for dungeons. The deku leaf and grappling hook would have been very limited in use with two dimensions, but three dimensions makes these items more natural to use.

I agree that dungeons should have a good amount of puzzle elements to keep the player thinking. But when it comes to challenge, I need monsters and traps to pose a threat, especially if I’m replaying the dungeon. Puzzles are fun, but they just don’t give the same feeling of challenge and threat that strong enemies pose. Puzzles that involve traps are really fun too; like in the Oracle of Ages Hero’s Cave. That dungeon had two really challenging puzzles that posed a threat to the hero; the one where you must push the block over three tiles while the lava is temporarily receded, and the one where you have to jump over a series of pits using Roc’s Feather and Pegasus Seeds. You could actually die while doing those puzzles.

While the 3D games generally don’t pose much of a challenge outside of puzzles, the possibilities are endless. There are so many types of enemies and traps that could be placed in dungeons to give the player a sense of danger. I love the challenge of the classic games, but I’m a huge fan of what 3D technology can do for the Zelda experience. I actually play through Wind Waker quite a bit because I love the 3D combat in it and the 3D puzzle elements mixed in. I felt that Ocarina of Time had too many puzzle elements and not nearly enough foes and emphasis on combat in the later dungeons. In Wind Waker, I thought this balance was shifted a bit more towards action. The next step which could lead to perfection is to keep this balance and make it harder.

Well with that I think our first edition of the Roundtable here at Behind the Rupees is over. I feel that we got off to a very good start, and we discussed several important sides of the chosen topic. I am already looking forward to the next discussion, wherein we will hopefully bring a prominent guest speaker in addition to myself and the Team of Writers.

And just for the record, in the poll recently hosted here at Zelda Universe, where more than seven thousand persons voted when we asked about whether Zelda was best in 2D or 3D, the results were that 60 percent preferred 3D while 8 percent liked 2D the best, and the rest were undecided.

Be sure to join up in our forums and post your own opinions about this topic. There is a direct link below this article to the thread which is reserved for discussion about this edition of Behind the Rupees!


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This retro article was originally posted August 22nd, 2004.
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