Friday, March 22, 2013

A Link to the Past and Non-Linear Progression

I read something that made me die a little on the inside. I'm paraphrasing here: "A Link to the Past is the source of modern linear Zelda. How you can like that and not like the equally linear Twilight Princess? They're the same thing."

This is a common perception about my favorite Zelda game, one that is completely wrong. A Link to the Past creates the appearance of a linear game -- insofar as it numbers the dungeons via the map -- but the order is completely up for grabs after the Palace of Darkness. After completing that first dungeon of the Dark World, it's possible to complete Skull Woods, Thieves' Hideout, and... that water one (Level-2) in any order. I never could remember its name. And if I'm not mistaken, the order of the Ice Prison and Misery Mire can be swapped up.

Ok, so it's a common habit to play a game through once and never touch it again these days. I can understand how younger gamers might think that if they just beat ALttP once. However, it baffles me to see that some players of the original Legend of Zelda really regard ALttP as a linear game. I'll grant that it muffles the absolute freedom given in LoZ, but its Dark World portion is still a pretty great continuation of LoZ's non-linear scheme.

Anyway, I think it's sad to see ALttP regarded as such by anyone, because I believe that its formula achieved the best of both worlds. Its Light World portion was quite segmented to allow for the storyline to develop. After Zelda's capture, the game switches to non-linear traditional LoZ-esque gameplay. ALttP has a Storyline AND Exploration, which to hear Zelda fans tell it, are two things which cannot exist within the same game.

Ocarina of Time continued ALttP's tradition of allowing alternate dungeon orders in the "second half" of the game. But alas, OoT had fewer dungeons, so it wasn't quite as apparent. After OoT, it was abandoned entirely in favor of the type of segmented gameplay found in Link's Awakening. That's the real prototype for linear Zelda.

The alternate orders are what makes a good Zelda game great to me. Good Zelda games like Skyward Sword would be better if I could come back to them a second time and do something differently. ;) Series director Eiji Aonuma recently spoke about returning non-linear progression to the Zelda series. I'm hopeful that this is the case.

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