The New ‘Zelda’ Is Too Big

Recently, an international group of games magazine journalists was sent off to Japan to play the new ‘Zelda’. I wasn’t one of them. So if my comments seem a little harsh, you now know why.

This time, I don’t want to talk about ‘realistic’ graphics — which really aren’t that realistic if you think about it. I mean, they’ve got skeletons walking around. Instead, I want to talk about size.

One by one, these lucky reporters’ magazines are being released to news stands worldwide, and slowly but surely, information is trickling out on the bits and pieces that Nintendo had playable — the exact same portions that will probably be on show at E3, later this month.

The tidbit that caught my attention is that the world of the new Zelda game is apparently two to three times larger than the world in ‘The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’ on Nintendo 64.

This news is making a lot of fans happy. But I beg to differ. If anything, I was hoping for a smaller world. Not a smaller game, mind you, but a more compact world, crammed with detail and with puzzles on every corner. If anything, I felt the Ocarina of Time world was already too big.

The dense world design of ‘The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past’ on Super Nintendo still epitomizes Zelda for me. I’d much rather have the “So this dungeon is located on the same spot I’ve done my potion shopping all game!”-feeling than the wide-open space of Hyrule Field. Or worse, the sinking feeling of endlessly sailing around on the ocean of ‘The Wind Waker’.

Mr. Aonuma must have his reasons, and it’s not hard to guess which. People loved riding Epona in Ocarina of Time. People love the open game structure and feeling of freedom of ‘Grand Theft Auto’. They love the horseback battles in Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movie trilogy. Or, for that matter, roaming ‘World of Warcraft’. So why shouldn’t Aonuma work with that?

There’s a technical angle to this topic as well. With in-game 3D-models as complex as the ones in the new Zelda, and the game engine running on the same four year old hardware, other elements will have to be compromised. You can’t have a super detailed Link and six enemies on horseback and a dense game world where at least three intriguing landmarks are in sight at all times.

What proves my point is that, even with the scarcely detailed landscapes in place in recent screenshots and movie footage, the texture quality for sand, grass and other ground types is generally quite low.

So maybe building a huge, wide-open game world, capitalized upon with horseback riding and grand battles, was really the only way to pull off this ‘realistic’ Zelda.

That this might be as much a technical decision as a design decision doesn’t automatically make me happier, though. I still hope this won’t be one of these games where you spend hours and hours wandering around, wondering what the game wants you to do next.

Which I guess really doesn’t sound too harsh at all. And did you notice I ended up talking about those darned graphics anyway?