Before I get started here, I just want to ask everyone who comments a favor. We’re looking for a name to call my weekly segment here, and so far the two best choices seem to be “Xizor’s Desk” or “Hey! Listen!” Whichever is picked would be sort of like a prefix to whatever I bring up that week. So, let me know in the comments which one you like! Anyway, on to the real stuff.
After reading that recent article on Kotaku (and by reading, I mean skimming, and by that I mean I read the ZU summary and then read a small smattering of excerpts from the real thing and then jumped to the comments) I have been wondering: What is the actual appeal of Zelda? Why, if so many on that article were commenting in agreement of Zelda not being what it could be, do so many people flock to buy these games? Why do tens of thousands of people visit just this one site every day for information about Zelda? I mean, honestly, overall I think probably hundreds of thousands of people every day access some sort of information about Zelda by choice. So if the series were in such a decline, don’t you think that someone else would have noticed, or at least the masses would have gotten bored?
And that’s why I think I’ve figured out the appeal of Zelda.
I mean, yes, let’s be honest: at times these games are terribly formulaic. They can fall into silly patterns of repetition, each challenge simply being an amped up version of the last without any real change between the two except you now go left instead of right and now the theming of the dungeon is ice instead of fire. The games are more focused on lock-and-key and sequence so that it tells a story more than it offers open world gameplay. Although… wait a second!
That’s what I like about Zelda!
What does that mean, though? That I like repetition? No, it doesn’t. I think it has its place and whether its overused or not isn’t really the point, because I don’t feel beaten over the head yet. What I’m saying is that the appeal seems to be in the fact that the games are reliable for certain things, and that they tell a story.
I mean, I love the story to Zelda. I’ve played open world games that do tell a story (World of Warcraft) and it was a different experience. But that game tells many stories and qualifies more as a “choose-your-own-adventure” type of thing than Zelda really does. Zelda games are like gaming novels. They tell one story with one ending with their own themes. And I think that’s what makes it so attractive as a franchise. What other series really does this?
The intro to Skyward Sword was so much fun. I have watched it a couple of times actually. It tells a good story. Plus, it’s not just any story–it’s a good story. A story with compelling characters and believable plot. There is nothing overly unbelievable about the story (I mean other than it being totally not real) to the point that I find myself rolling my eyes or wishing it were otherwise not there. I like it. It’s a big reason of why I play these games at all.
Not to mention, the game focuses on this epic clash of good and evil. Whether or not the villain is easily defeated isn’t the point: the point is, he’s a terrifying guy who has the gall to want to destroy the world and laugh while doing it. It’s all about the greatness of the story.
In fact, the villain is typically central to the theme of the game. There is nothing to a Zelda game if there is not a good villain. Ganon, while entirely repetitious, is still a great villain. He’s even dynamic. In some games, he’s just evil, while in others he has some sympathetic elements to him. He is entirely unpredictable on the one hand, while you can rely on what his ultimate goal is on the other. It’s wonderful, because it’s a story that you can be invested in while still knowing you’ll win in the end.
Further, Zelda doesn’t need this “open world” idea to be a delightful series, to have wonderful design, to be completely interesting when you immerse yourself in it. Sure it might be one giant puzzle, but how can anyone really say it’s boring to be inside the universe of a Zelda game?
If we look at A Link to the Past, the game has a pretty open world, despite some obstacles that keep you out of the higher areas until you get the items required to get there, which would also mean you’re prepped for the enemies therein. But it’s a game you died in, too, while telling a good story. I mean, I’ve died in Skyward Sword, but I died often in A Link to the Past, but not a frustrating amount of times. I think I’m a weird minority where I like to win at games, not by being handed victory, but because it wasn’t some obscene challenge to beat it. I’d rather just go do something else than run into a wall in a game.
A Link to the Past was also wonderfully designed for its time. I feel like all Zelda games focus on this design beauty, and it’s one of the greatest appeals of the series.
I mean, look at Skyward Sword and tell me it’s not a beautifully designed game. It’s just fun to look at. It’s like the Avatar of Wii games. Beautifully crafted, and it feels so expansive. There was a bit in the Kotaku article about the games taking forever and that being a problem. But what I feel like people are missing is that this is an appeal to so many gamers. They wouldn’t play this game if all they were looking for was the open-world aspect that the former games offered.
So I guess what I’m saying is that people shouldn’t really be upset about the Kotaku article. It doesn’t really say anything except that Zelda doesn’t appeal to a particular swathe of people. It doesn’t need to. It can’t. It can’t appeal to everybody. To alienate those people includes the people it includes. If it went in the other direction, it would then alienate the people who don’t want that. It would not necessarily expand its audience so much as it would merely shift it one way or the other.
The fact that Zelda tells a good story is why I like it. It keeps me intrigued. I don’t care to just slash baddies and run around an open world. I play World Of Warcraft when I want that. And to be fair, I play World of Warcraft pretty often. Somehow, though, there are those times where I need to feel special, like I’m the one who completes the epic story, and that’s when I find myself playing Skyward Sword.