Why Zelda in 2021?
During the development of Breath of the Wild, it was reported that Nintendo had built a top-down 2D prototype of Breath of the Wild similar to the original Zelda so that they could replicate that same sense of scale and exploration that brought joy to so many players in 1986. Having played it now, I can see what they were trying to emulate and did so successfully with Breath of the Wild.
Recently I went back and played the original Zelda for the first time. I had stumbled around the first dungeon a little as a kid, but never made much progress. I made two modifications to my play this time around that made it not only possible, but I think, even playable at all. I played the game with a guide and I frequently used the save state and rewind features available on the Nintendo Switch Online service.
Some people may argue that playing the game this way takes away from the intended experience, but whether it’s because I’m too lazy or lack too much skill, I am most certainly incapable of defeating Ganon in the original Zelda without either of the two mentioned modes of play assisting me. For what it’s worth, I think the important things that Zelda does are still present in the context of modern game criticism.
The experience of playing with a guide is not all that dissimilar from much derided in-game companions that were added to later Zelda titles. The dungeons mostly speak for themselves, but there are frustrating enemy encounters that feel cheap now and figuring out how to find the next dungeon feels impossible.
I should add that I did (briefly) try to play the game without a guide after the first dungeon, but the game doesn’t seem to give you any indication of where you are supposed to go next. Even when you find the second dungeon via the use of a guide, it feels like if one were to somehow stumble upon the entrance of the second dungeon, it would be merely luck.
I know. I’m 300 words in and I haven’t really begun to talk about what makes this game so good and that’s my fault. I just feel it’s necessary to contextualize the way I played this game, so as not to come off as an expert or give a potential future player the idea that this game is easy or the world is easy to explore.
Breath of The Wild Is Essentially A Remake
The following paragraph is a list of things I like about both Breath of the Wild and the original Zelda.
You are dropped into a world you know nothing about with only the slightest hint of context prefacing your journey. The world is bigger than you and the enemies are stronger than you and if you are not careful, you will die quickly even to the lightest stab from a moblin. Talk to people, cut bushes, burn trees and look for details in the world that give you a hint as to where you’re supposed to go. As you come back to this world over and over after hours of play, you will start to recognize shortcuts you didn’t see before and parts of the world that you never would have noticed had you not approached them from a different direction. Some enemies feel unfair to the point of rage, but then once you find their specific weakness, you dispatch them with immense ease. The world around you feels so vast because it is unknown and threatening. You are never safe from death even when you have many hearts, a better sword and potions to drink from. Enemies do lots and lots of damage and you must always be on your toes, ready to defend or strike at any moment.
The few elements of modernization that Breath of the Wild adds are things I think the game would have been better off without. I miss dungeons, collecting bombs, and getting new items to explore the world with. The only interesting mechanic Breath of the Wild adds is weapon durability which I think is necessary to replicate that same sense of danger players feel in the original Zelda because the sword is so limited in its’ range and can only attack straight forward up, left, right and down.
Playing Almost Every Zelda
I played the original Zelda as part of a longer project to play every Zelda game in the series. I’ve played all of them in their entirety except for Zelda 2 and the handheld titles. Link to the Past is often regarded as the favorite, but I think it’s boring and too easy, and loses all the good things that define the series. Ocarina of Time still holds up, but I think Majora’s Mask outshines it by a vast margin. Twilight Princess is one of the best Zelda games, second only to Majora’s Mask; Wind Waker doesn’t hold up without the faster sail in the Wii U port; Skyward Sword is much better than people gave it credit for and that’s a hill I will die on.
If you’ve never done it, you should play the original Zelda. Use save states or you won’t be able to beat it. Use guides or you’ll struggle for hours wandering the map. It is such a magnificent game that it’s clear why the series went on to contain some of the greatest games ever made (except for Link to the Past).