The Legend of Zelda Wii U and the Trend of Patronizing Gameplay
pa·tron·ize – to talk to (someone) in a way that shows that you believe you are more intelligent or better than other people
LaughingMan springs a Salon-style trap interview on B-Mask about his abandoned “Skyward Sword: A Legend of Zelda Documentary” project. B-Mask’s reasoning is that, to put it bluntly, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was a piece of shit, and it was a horrible way to celebrate 25 years of the remarkable -but not flawless- franchise. To further elaborate, LaughingMan and B-Mask go down the rabbit hole in regards to a disturbing trend in video game development where, in order to avoid the frustrations and backlash of ‘hard gameplay’, many game developers and studios are opting to abandon genuine challenge and hand-hold gamers through nearly every aspect of the game via tutorials, painfully linear gameplay, and annoying prompts that spell out your objectives. All in an attempt to be more like Hollywood blockbusters than to be genuine video games.
A prime example that we cite is in a QA conference following a screening of Indie Game The Movie at GDC, video game developer, Phil Fish (Fez), was asked his opinion about the current state of Japanese video games. Phil Fish’s indie game, Fez, is seen by some as a loving tribute to classic Japanese games of the early 1990s, but Phil Fish made a bold statement that he felt modern Japanese games “suck”. Fellow indie game developer Jonathan Blow (Braid) further elaborated on the patronizing state of gaming that he felt was a current trend in Japanese video games. Games like Final Fantasy XIII come to mind, as you are lead by the nose from point A to point B in linear fashion, in comparison to past 8 and 16 bit RPGs where you are a bit more free to explore the world. However, what Johnathan Blow and Phil Fish neglect to mention is that this very same patronizing gameplay can easily be seen in western (US and European) game development, most notably in first-person shooters.
And most disappointingly of all, it’s a trend that has visibly blighted The Legend of Zelda series in recent years.
The Legend of Zelda began as an exploratory adventure game which, regardless if you learned to bomb a window or received a new item, felt genuinely rewarding. It didn’t hand-hold you, and you were free to explore just about any area of the map with a few exceptions in which items or abilities were required to proceed. Even on into the Super Nintendo era and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the gameplay was largely centered around exploration and secret items. With the shift into 3D with the Nintendo 64’s The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, Nintendo started down a dangerous(ly linear) path where objectives were practically fed to you via text boxes and annoying fairies, hindering the theme of past games. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was a bit more of a return to form, but The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess went back to a more Ocarina of Time look and feel. Skyward Sword was carried on Nintendo’s promise that it would be an experience closer to the exploration and adventure of classic Legend of Zelda titles, even including free-roaming boss enemies. However, what greeted fans was likely the most patronizing The Legend of Zelda experience in recent memory. Nintendo even redacted the free-roaming boss that they had promised earlier. But after the 2014 E3 conference, hopes are high that a new ‘open world’ Legend of Zelda game would bring back the thrill of discovery… Just as long as Nintendo can keep their promises this time. Meanwhile, Nintendo gets The Legend of Zelda RIGHT on the 3DS with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.
“Hey! Listen!” as we dive into the history of not only the notable decline of the Legend of Zelda franchise, but in this debate about game developers sacrificing exploration and challenge for ‘accessibility’ and cinematics.