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Published on June 3rd, 2014 | by Ben Rueter


Why The Zelda Series Says Hyrule Needs A Cartographer

The first Legend of Zelda game I ever played was Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Weird, I know, but it did what Zelda games should do; offer a mix of adventure and tomb raiding.

Creating a grand adventure comes down to—in many ways—the map. Adventure sagas from Indiana Jones to the pirate booty quests start with a map and a destination.

Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto said his inspiration for the Zelda series spawned from exploring the woods, lakes, caves beyond the hillside in his childhood home in Sonobe, Japan. He has been quoted in saying that, when developing the first Zelda title, he tried to capture the sense of exploration in a quest.

I recently started playing Skyward Sword.

I don’t feel like the green tunic adventurer I used to remember. I don’t feel like I am exploring. I feel like I’m being served adventures without doing to the work to find them. The adventure to save Zelda is given to me, I didn’t find it.

I have many gripes with Zelda and they all come back to the world and the map.

The world map is essential to Zelda. I can clearly remember being let loose to explore The Great Sea in Wind Waker. Looking at the ocean map and plotting courses to a distant island was the first step in a single adventure that I would repeat over and over again. The vastness made my mind swim with all of the potential secrets I could discover.

It’s only after I came down from that salt-water-high, I realized, Zelda is less of a world and more akin to zones stitches together.

The overworlds have become so bare, lacking any believable history and culture. The time spent traveling from one zone to the next is worthless and it only serves to make the world feel large.

It’s easy to make an a game world large, but if it’s only purpose is to give the world scale, why would I want to transverse it?

It has become a trope to draw comparisons to Elders Scroll V: Skyrim, but traveling on foot from city-to-city early in the game felt like this territory had been lived upon. Collapsing structures that once were someone’s home, now shelter bandits. It gave Skyrim grandeur and scale for the adventure.

Skyrim’s tundras are bare, but it is the constant “little moments” like a note found on a dead warrior about a mountain cave full of treasure. These distractions from the main quest added to the adventure, because I felt like I was writing this chapter in my main conquest.

Hyrule never tempts me to leave the main quest and when I do, it feels like Nintendo planned for this to happen.

Walking off the beaten path in Skyrim to explore a cave felt dangerous and exciting. I can’t think of a moment in recent memory were I accidently discovered a dungeon in Hyrule.

Zelda offers no freedom from the quest bestowed upon you. While that may be fine for other games’ designs, Zelda teases with the expectation to explore and discover.

The original Zelda was an open world game that just begun with little to no introduction. Zelda today is a shell of that concept. It usually takes about two hours to get a sword a shield and that’s more than enough time for Ganon to swoop in and snatch up Zelda.

Tevis Thompson wrote in a Kotaku post about some of the same gripes I was having—titled Zelda Just Keeps Getting Worse. But It Isn’t Beyond Saving—saying “Skyward Sword, with its segregated, recycled areas and puzzly overworld dungeons, is not an outlier; it is the culmination of years of reducing the world to a series of bottlenecks, to a kiddie theme park.”

It’s a great summary of how each dungeon feels. The lay of the land is on the nose from the puzzles design to the ascetic. I’m being guided through an adventure and to the next.

Nintendo has backed itself into a corner by offering repeatedly the same series of events with a different coat of paint.

I have come to expect a Forest Temple and a Water Temple. There is no sense of adventure without the sense of mystery. It’s not new, nor is it unique anymore.

I’ve thought maybe I am wanting something out of Zelda that just isn’t true anymore. Am I chasing a nostalgic dream?

When I first played Zelda II, it was one of the first video games I played and the minimalist approach towards introducing me to Hyrule and the quest felt exciting. As an adult, Zelda lacks the depth and grandeur of the fantasy experience I remember as a child.

Zelda hasn’t changed with me, which is fine, but I can’t help but feel it is coming up short. I don’t want Nintendo to create a Dark Souls meets Hyrule. I want the world to feel built to accommodate my own curiosity. The quest should be sought after not spoon-fed to players.

Despite all of my complaints, I’m still a Zelda fan. I haven’t decided if this is a bad thing to continue to feel let down by I series I used to love. I would like to think the next Zelda game would offer that unknown again. Map or no map, I’ll just have to wait and see if Nintendo brings the adventure back to me.

About the Author

Ben Rueter has been writing for a number of years ranging from video game pieces online to traditional journalism articles as well. Every since he got his hands on an Atari 2600 and learned his way around DOS, he’s been keeping up with all kinds of video games. Ben is also an avid movie fan from classic Sergio Leone to Charlie Kaufman movies.

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