The Legend of Zelda: Forgetting the Point

Imagine that The Legend of Zelda had an easy mode… and then shake your head at the way Nintendo decided to do it. You don’t need to be a Nintendo fanboy or diehard Zelda fan to know of the legendary first installment in the series on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It took RPG concepts and cut out the fat of grinding to enhance the focus on exploring. The world was massive with lots of things to see, find, and do. You explored to find the dungeons. You explored to find the secrets. You even explored to find hints in order to progress! The entire game hinged so heavily on this concept of dropping you in and letting you explore that it has become the source of inspiration for the entire adventure game genre. It’s pretty safe to call this game a classic, which is probably why Nintendo has ported it to so many systems pretty much unchanged for years now. It seemed like with the introduction of the Nintendo Switch Online service we’d no doubt be seeing the game pop up yet again. However, despite the game’s reputation of remaining unchanged for so many years, the Nintendo Switch Online service unceremoniously added in an optional bonus mode for you to play on this specific version.

The name of the special version is The Legend of Zelda: Living the Life of Luxury. In this mode, you start the main quest with 6 heart containers instead of 3, the white sword, magic shield, blue ring, blue candle, red medicine, food, silver arrows, power bracelet, 9 keys, 8 bombs, and the maximum 255 rupees. You still need to find the other items and upgrades yourself such as the bow, boomerang, and magical sword. In addition to this start-of-game boost to your inventory, all of the secret caves and stairways normally found by bombing walls or burning trees respectively are automatically opened. This is as far as my research has allowed me to inform you without owning a Switch myself to see if there are any other changes.

Now, I’ll start by giving Nintendo the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure that this looks really nice on paper. You give newcomers a chance at finding the secret places without consulting the internet. You give the less-skilled players a fighting chance to explore and actually get somewhere right out of the gate. You even help frequent players save time on grinding and gathering these items upon replay. And I want to be very clear that I’m not against the mere concept of having options. Not at all. This is an extra thing that’s not being forced on anyone. It was put out so far under the radar that I only heard about it about a month after it surfaced. So please don’t misunderstand this as me just looking for problems to pick a fight.

The reason I’m so baffled at this decision is because of what it does to the overall experience of The Legend of Zelda. See, like I mentioned above, The Legend of Zelda is all about exploration. That’s the heart of the game. It’s the core design function. In order to get through the game, you have to explore. And presumably you enjoy that kind of thing if you like this series, especially this entry. I’ve heard how so many people praise this big open world and the feeling of just exploring for things to see and do. People even drew many parallels between this game and Breath of the Wild, which was highly praised for many of the same reasons. I’m not here to comment on that comparison, but it’s obvious that the thing drawing people to both of these games, and indeed much of the series, is that sense of adventure through exploration. So what does this mode have to do with that?

Well, this mode significantly alters events and motivations in the game. Typically the incentive to explore is born out of not only curiosity but also necessity. You start with nothing. You go into the first cave to find a sword and suddenly you can do more than just walk around. Now you can kill stuff! So you walk around and kill stuff. Stuff drops rupees. You walk into more caves and some of them are shops with items for sale. So you need to walk around and find stuff to kill to get rupees so that you can afford to buy the stuff in the shops you’ve found. Then once you have those items you can use them to do more things. You can find items in dungeons too, which you can then use to get to and get through other dungeons. And the more things you have, or the better they are, the more powerful you become. You can handle more enemies, access more of the world, and keep making progress towards your ultimate goal in the process. It’s a game that has a flow with a system of rewards and punishments based on if you do well or poorly. It’s easy to take that for granted when it comes off as so naturally intuitive.

In this new version you take a lot of that incentive away. You don’t really need to go into the shops because you have all of that stuff. Then again, I guess you could piss away some of those 255 rupees on things you have in excess already if you wanted to. You might as well since playing the money making game and killing enemies are pretty pointless at max rupees. You’ll only ever need to spend them on getting more bombs, food, medicine, or the big shield again later. Finding the blue ring in the shop will be confusing if you don’t realize that’s why your tunic is blue already, which many coming from Breath of the Wild might not understand. Oh yeah, and you won’t really need very many bombs now since all of the caves are permanently open. You only need them in a few of the dungeons. The candle will pretty much only be used for light now too. And the keys? Well, the keys will make it so you don’t have to explore the entire dungeon in order to make it through. Now it’s easier than ever to skip rooms and try to get to the boss faster. That’s okay… unless you miss the dungeon’s key item in your haste. You can’t shoot arrows without the bow, which you still need to find. Just an example. This mode basically implies that you have all the tools from that start so that you can tackle the game in whatever order you’d like, but in reality you’ll still find yourself getting stuck in many places without the proper items. You’re not given as much reason to even assume you should explore, and you’re given fewer rewards for exploring since you started with them. If anything, this version is actually unintentionally guiding you to getting stuck and backtracking out of desperation, which will be more frustrating than just being bad at the early parts of the game.

This also has a few other design oddities as a result. Imagine walking into what is clearly just an open cave or stairway and having some guy say, “It’s a secret to everybody.” Is he just handing out money to anyone that walks into his open door now? What happens if you get charged for the door repair? It’s not YOUR fault that the door is gone! Not to mention how lame it is to just have all of these visible rather than actually hunting down the locations yourself. There’s a real sense of excitement when you bomb a random wall or burn a random tree and that jingle plays to reveal a secret. What could it be!? That’s now taken away in this mode. It also devalues rupees a lot. Usually getting that blue ring is a huge deal. You need to save up for so long to be able to get it. But once you do, you find out it’s so worth it because you take half the damage you used to! Now it’s just an odd, superfluous shop item. As is the candle. And what about getting the white sword? Originally you’d start with nothing and go into the cave to get the wooden sword so that you could kill things. It wasn’t just an arbitrary placement, though. It was there so that you would look for suspicious parts of the terrain in the future. It showed you to look harder when exploring and also taught you the concept of these doorways being important. Plus, once you get the sword then the old man vanishes. In the new version he’s just absent and it’s an empty room with flames. It makes you think maybe some of these caves are just useless so why bother checking them all? Some others are probably empty too because you already have what they had to offer. Even the cave with the white sword will be empty. You went up the waterfall and fought the lynel for nothing, not even realizing that the sword you have is far more powerful than it should be for the very start of the game. There’s only one other sword you can get that’s more hidden and also leaves you with no frame of reference as to how to master using it. At least the white sword in the original game is something you’ll be drawn to in the open and probably come back to later to figure out you can eventually get it. But the magic sword is one you may never see ONCE, let alone twice if you don’t know about it. There’s no shield upgrade, no arrow upgrade, and only one tunic upgrade. It all feeds into the same problem of destroying the rewarding nature of exploring. Why explore when you’re handed everything and how would know you missed something when the game makes it so easy to bypass those important things in the first place? It just doesn’t have the same inherent teaching mechanics and explorer’s appeal as the normal game.

This isn’t to say that an all-new Zelda game with this mechanic would be just as bad. I’m sure they could build on it and make something work really well around the concept. In a way, A Link Between Worlds kind of does this with its shop full of items from the get-go and dungeon-specific finds. The difference is that this game wasn’t designed around that concept. The reason this game is so beloved is the very thing from which this new mode detracts. If they wanted to make the game easier they could’ve made tweaks to damage ratios or offered in-game hints or maybe even added some hand-holding features to what was already there. Instead, they decided to just hand you half the reason to play the game in advance. It’s almost like renting a game and just playing off of the other person’s save file instead of doing it yourself. It’s also similar to… say… something like Dark Souls having a mode where all of the enemies are incredibly easy to fight. You’d still have to go fight them, level up, explore… but the core of the challenging combat would be severely lessened. You have to think about the way these things will impact the experience as a whole, and going against the very thing that people praise about the game was a poor choice.

Then again, maybe that’s just me being an old man. I’m not saying this mode wouldn’t still be fun. I get why it would be helpful and how it sounds good on paper. I just think it goes about making the game easier in the wrong way, to the point of being counter-intuitive. Retroactively doing this is more offensive to me than Navi telling me exactly what to do every five minutes and trying to thinly veil it as a hint. Having options is a good thing, but bad options are a bad thing. Maybe this is why Nintendo has never really remade the game in all these years. It wasn’t broken until they tried to fix it. I’m not mad… I’m just baffled.

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