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.

LaughingMan

The loveable lunatic with the foul mouth and the iconic laugh, Laughingman is the founder of CCS. With more coffee than copper in his bloodstream, he's a full-time website developer by day, and a gamer, editor, and fiction writer by night.

B-mask

B-Mask was not always a purveyor of animation. Having credentials ranging from frog slinger to hash seller, he has experienced life to its fullest extreme from under his tiny rock. He hosts the series known as Beyond Pictures which aims to look beneath the surface of works- understandably difficult in this day and age.

5 Comments on “The Legend of Zelda Wii U and the Trend of Patronizing Gameplay

  1. I think part of the reason the original Legend of Zelda didn’t “hand-hold” per se, were the technical limitations of the NES. It’s also important to bear in mind that a large part of Nintendo’s business model is actually mass appeal. As it was pointed out in your discussion, Nintendo doesn’t want backlash from consumers, they want to ship games to their target audience, which is children (and not long-time fans of the series).

    Nintendo wants to inaugurate the next generation of gamers so that they’ll look back, just as you do and recall those summers spent glued to the television, utterly invested in the game. They want you to look back and associate Nintendo with the good times; they’re trying to ingrain that brand loyalty so that you’re rooted as a lifelong consumer of Nintendo flavored whole milk. Mmm, oh so yummy!

    In that regard, Nintendo is actually quite underhanded in their business practices, they already know that you, as a long-time fan of the series, will buy their next game. Even if one or many of the games they release in the Zelda franchise are utter sh*t, you’ll still keep coming back and you’ll still keep trying to re-live your childhood. That’s the nature of capitalism.

    I hate to say it, but this is a classic case of looking back on your time-spent with rose tinted glasses. You two also seem to have come to the conclusion that having all your objectives laid out and made crystal clear is patronizing—if that’s your interpretation that’s reasonable, but think about being a kid growing up today, it could actually be quite daunting having to remember all of the controller inputs, keeping track of the storyline and how this doohickey interacts with this part of the 3D environment whereas your first experience with Zelda was fundamentally much simpler, we’re talking bare minimum controller input, a 2d landscape and next to no explanation for what’s going on.

    Kids needs help and that’s exactly Nintendo is catering to here. Perhaps what I’m hearing is that more adept gamers, in particular fans of the Zelda series want the option to toggle said help? That’s the missing link (excuse the pun), consumers now need to communicate that to Nintendo.

    Just remember it’s a paradigm shift; you’re comparing apples to oranges here. They’re both fruit and they both sure as hell taste delicious to those underdeveloped taste-buds in little Timmy’s mouth, but they don’t look the same and they don’t feel the same either.

    Any chance we might see more of these discussions coming soon?

    • “Any chance we might see more of these discussions coming soon?”

      We’re currently planning on releasing more CCS After Hours Podcast discussions on a more frequent basis in the future. Furthermore, we’re also planning on reshaping the format of the show a bit to make it a little more appealing to the listeners in a radio show kind of way. Same content but with better presentation, basically. 🙂

  2. It’s sad to see Zelda become so patronising, especially seeing as it’s independence was what made it great.

    What I felt was the main appeal of Zelda was the fact that you were this adventurer and YOU fought the bosses and got the items and YOU figured out what they did. You were given an idea, but when one would be required or how it could be used was down to you. And the pay-off was that you figured it out and your adventure would progress, and I remember that feeling of wonder as a new path and a new area opened up.

    Which made it all the sadder to see Skyward Sword basically take that and shoot it in the face. With “key and keyhole” puzzles, where I’d see a fan and use the gust thing and I’d see an eye and use the bow and arrow (an apparently necessary crime for all LoZ games now).

    I feel like a kid who’s on an Easter Egg hunt but the adults keep putting them in obvious places so the kid that kids dribbling and wiping his nose on others can find some eggs. All the while feigning surprise that I found every single one in a few minutes. And the chocolate isn’t sweet and rewarding anymore, I just feel like a fat pig who’s being lazy.

    And that’s just no fun.

    ((Sorry for making this all about how Zelda is now patronising rather than discussing it in general, but the decline of LoZ is sorta a poster child for that, I guess))

    ((Not really I just have a lot of feelings))

    • You’ve probably summed it up quite a bit more elegantly that we did. Well done! And, yes, The Legend of Zelda is absolutely a poster child for what’s wrong in modern gaming. 😀

      • Speaking of modern gaming, do you think you’ll be talking about EA Access any time? If you haven’t heard about it, here’s a link to their site:

        http://www.ea.com/uk/news/ea-announces-ea-access-coming-to-xbox-one

        Basically you can pay 3.99 a month to play trials of EA’s games for free (Why you’d limit the audience on a trial, idk) and you can save 10% on new EA games. Unless EA intends to release a game a month, you’re not exactly getting your moneys worth considering you already pay 10% of a game a month. And even if they did, who has £36 to burn every month. EA seems to be making cash-grabs like the XBOne was but unlike Microsoft, they shoot themselves in one foot and instead of medicating the injury, try to shoot themselves in the other so it looks like they meant to do it all along.

        Be cool to see you guys mention this, and even cooler to hear you rage about it, LaughingMan. 😀

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