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The Legend of Dying A Whole Lot of Times

I recently completed the Legend of Zelda. Suck it Ganon! Although I have played most of the Zelda games, many for a significant amount of time I don't think I've ever finished one. Typically because, for me at least, they tend to outstay their welcome. Running on a few dungeons longer than I have the patience for. However with the talk of the game's 25th anniversary I decided to give the very first game a proper attempt.

A harsh world

What struck me first, and I guess most obviously to anyone who's played it, is how unforgivingly hard the game is. It throws you into the world with no weapons, no instructions, you start the game and it just says go. Even once you've picked up your sword and have figured out the basics of combat there's still no real pointers as to where you should be going. You have no choice but to explore and find your own way in the world.

Obviously in this day and age I could have looked up an FAQ or found some maps but I didn't want to cheat my way through it. I wanted the experience as it was intended a quarter of a century ago. So I began to explore, dying many many times but starting to get a sense of the layout of the landscape around me. Eventually I found my first dungeon and the sense of satisfaction at just finding it was immense. When I finally beat it after 3-4 attempts I was incredibly pleased with myself.

From there the game became trickier, it took me longer and longer to find new dungeons and I would find them out of sequence making progression even harder. I had to start mapping the game myself in Photoshop so I wouldn't waste time running around in circles. Eventually I became totally stuck. I felt like I'd failed at game that a whole generation of children mastered and I'd fallen to it after only 4 dungeons. I resorted to an FAQ. I was a cheat.

A different kind of social gaming

I progressed through the rest of the game under my own steam as much as possible, but every now again I would hit yet another wall and rely on the internet to find my way past it. However I also spent some time reading up on the history of the game and realised my cheating was not as underhanded as I'd thought. The design of Zelda was intentionally opaque in places. This wasn't meant to be a game you'd work through from start to finish following a trail of bread crumbs. You were meant to struggle along with fellow players and then share your victories, the secrets you've discovered and the tactics that have worked for you. Miyamoto wanted this to be a social experience, so while it may seem an incredibly hard quest on your own, shared with other people the challenges become less overwhelming.

What interests me most about this design philosophy is that the most obvious modern comparison I can think of is not the newer Zelda games but surprisingly Demon's Souls. I can't fault Nintendo's decision to make Zelda a more guided and accessible experience for everyone because that's what they do and they do it better than most. However I do love a real challenge, not just a tricky fight, but a game that opens up and asks me to figure out what to do myself. Sure there are hard games, there are tons of bullet hell shooters, but for me there's not enough games that dump me in a world to explore knowing full well that only through the lessons learned from many deaths will I have gained an understanding of this world and how to survive in it.

I'll fully admit these aren't the kind of games I'm drawn towards making myself. However killing Ganon was the end of a very satisfying journey and the kind of thing I'd like to experience more often. Next up for me: A Link to The Past.

Welcome to the home of Locked Door Puzzle, the independent game development studio of Richard Perrin located in Bristol.

My primary focus is on creating expressive games that explore different forms of interactive storytelling.

For contact details check the about page.