That’s a mighty fine Link’s Awakening remake you’ve got there, Nintendo. Yes, I’m glad you noticed my billfold has lost weight. It’s on a strict Nintendo Switch diet. It’s doing wonders for not just my bank account, but for my social life, various Animal Crossing towns, my secret Gex 4 Kickstarter, and literally every other console I own. If your goal was to eat the rest of the fun size Twix that is my free time, I have a suggestion: Remake the original Zelda. Doesn’t have to be a giant project. Just rip the majority of the assets from the Link’s Awakening remake, slap a budget price, and bam-o, I’m hooked up to an IV drip and legally declared deceased. That’s not to say the original Legend Of Zelda is necessarily an extremely long game. Just completing it without a guide is what’s going to keep me away from people for an unhealthy amount of time. Of course, a remake of Zelda the first would undoubtedly bring plenty of tutorials and added hints. Even the Switch Online app has a special version that does most of the work for you as to not alienate newcomers. I think it would be safe to assume that a remake would be similarly user friendly, it in and of itself not necessarily a bad thing. But this illustrates what I mean in the title: There won’t be another game like the original Zelda because the way we play games has changed.
We live in an era where we are rarely far away from all the information in the world. It’s a fact I’m sure you’ve heard before, but it’s more true with each passing day. You don’t have to wait for Nintendo Power to show up for a full map of the game you are playing any more than you have to wait for a telegraph. Give it a day or two after launch, or in some cases, weeks before. You can find out an exact pixel height for Link and at least one theory on how many pixels his abs have, if you really need the info. With this, it’s hard to say it’s impossible for you to beat Zelda in a reasonable time frame. With a walkthrough, it becomes an entirely different experience. People will call out that many puzzles are impossible without some kind of guide, but you weren’t meant to solve those puzzles in a couple of minutes or even an hour. You were supposed to lament for days, consulting gaming magazines, friends, and Nintendo’s own tip hotline. It was part completing the tasks in game, and part detective work. I’m not saying it’s always better to take the long road, especially when time is as valuable as it is, but the long road tends to be more scenic.
I played the Famicom Disk System version (and again on the Famicom Switch App for footage), and I found that it’s incredibly easy to learn how to play. Everything is laid out in a way that teaches you the game and its mechanics without telling you. Right when you start the game, your eye is drawn to only particularly unique thing on screen, which is the cave where you get the sword. The items are labeled “A” and “B” at the top, so you can assume those correspond to the buttons on your controller, and the sword you picked up (exact same sprite and all) fills into the “A” slot. This would all be shown on a simple explanation splash screen in most games. I could do an entire separate article on how Zelda teaches you as you play, but the point is that you are given all the help you need in game. It’s up to you to experiment with the mechanics at your disposal until you see what sticks.
The latest mainline Zelda, Breath of The Wild, claims to be inspired by the open-endedness of The Legend Of Zelda, and while that influence is apparent, I don’t think that’s entirely what sold the original Zelda. Simon’s Quest was large an open ended game, but the reception on that game remains lukewarm because of misleading NPC’s and crazy threads of logic. Zelda’s appeal lies in the fact that you could, in theory, beat the game without a guide because of its consistent logic alone. You can do that today just as you could in 1986. But it’s hard to say anyone would be willing to make a game like that today. Perhaps a crazy indie game, sure, but I don’t think that’s the same as a huge company publishing a critical game that refuses to help the player in a direct way (Please sit back down, Dark Souls commenter, that’s not exactly what I mean). Even if there was, the buzz of people providing guides and the general ease of finding one kind of brings down any reason to play it without one. It’s like seeing someone jump from a skyscraper in a movie versus seeing it while the scene was being filmed. Seeing it in movie provides a sense of danger and excitement, whereas seeing it while being filmed means there will be safety nets and stunt doubles that ensures you there is no real threat to the actor. A game can never really outsmart you the way they did in the 80’s. If you fail, come back with a walkthrough and all that’s left is technical skill. In the end, something is lost in translation, and that’s why Zelda will remain utterly unique.
Is it better to have that safety net, or do you think it ruins the experience of some games? Let us know in the comments, and of course, in the forums! Thank you for reading!
HautDeForme is a collector, a self proclaimed historian, and most of all, a player of video games. When he’s not writing about that, you can find him writing music for no particular reason and advocating for the localization of Mother 3, whether people listen or not.