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Zelda Wiki:Influence of the Gameplay Devices

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The following Wiki Exclusive article, published on March 23, 2011, may be an opinionated and/or theoretical piece. It may not be a factual encyclopedic article, and reflects only the opinions of the writer, K2L. It is not to be taken as a view of Zelda Wiki, its staff, editors, or viewers as a whole.

In the following page, we will discuss a popular topic among fans of the Zelda series. This topic is the Influence of the Gameplay Devices in the franchise; that is, how the implementation of a game's particular mechanics can improve, worsen or simply modify the gaming experience in that title.

In The Legend of Zelda series, several gameplay-based experiments have been put in practice, which shows Nintendo's intention to add an extra layer to the games' uniqueness. Some of these mechanics were well-received, whereas others weren't. The order in which the games will be mentioned will be chronological, but not all of them will be mentioned, one of the reasons being article size.

Mechanics or "Gimmicks"?

It is first necessary to clarify some terms, so that any possible doubts can be solved beforehand. Most of the gameplay devices are vulgarly known as "gimmicks", and often referred to in a contemptuous way; seemingly, when it comes to video game terminology, a "gimmick" is a gameplay mechanic that is deemed unnecessary, artificial and/or, worst case scenario, detrimental for the gaming experience. Problem is, this term (already with a misinterpreted meaning) is used in a wider-than-usual sense, often when a player refers to a game as a rip-off of another "but in space", "with a water pack" or "including a train". What actually separates a straight gameplay device from a "gimmick" is how much it impacts on the game's storyline, the fundamental core mechanics, and even the level design and characters. Just because a mechanic is a one-game feature doesn't mean it's a gimmick (this is a second way to misinterpret its meaning).

For example, Super Mario Galaxy is often described as "Super Mario 64 in space", which is obviously a disservice to it. Here we see an example of how a single device, travel through planets and solar systems, can provide a deep impact on the gaming experience. In the aforementioned Super Mario 64 and the sequel Super Mario Sunshine, worlds are explored within physical bounds, inside which the pertinent objectives are executed. In Galaxy, there are no boundaries except on rare occasions where a non-round planet is visited; and even then, Mario eventually quits that planet to go to another. It's as if multiple mini-levels composed the current level where the red-dressed plumber is, which provides the player a very different way to play the game. An actual, expendable (and, at the scope of the entire game, insignificant) device is the addition of the Bubble Blast, Manta Ray and Rolling Ball stages. These stages are special in that they're fully controlled by the Wii Remote, and indeed provide a creative and unique experience; but their presences are limited nonetheless, and were they removed in favor of traditional levels, the game would change little. If the concept of space travel was removed, however, the game would not be the same by any means, making it a pivotal device for its functionality.

Another trend is that, sometimes, the control interface of the console is said to be a gimmick for the game launched for it. This too is false. In the event the game was released for multiple systems, the way it's played would change drastically according to the console version. This, granted, also depends on how much a version exploits the resources of the system it's launched for, and sometimes the game is exclusive for said system for this very reason. It's known that Twilight Princess is not too different between its two versions when it comes to the control scheme, but this is only because the GameCube version was developed first and for a longer time than the Wii version.

In contrast, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is intimately bounded with the Wii's motion capabilities, which renders it playable in a completely different way to its two GameCube predecessors. This is not only true when it comes to aiming and shooting, but also when there is use of the Grapple-based abilities, scanning, welding, and making use of context-sensitive phases to press switches or buttons. If this was a GameCube game, the game would have to be totally overhauled to fit the more traditional interface of the button-based controls. Corruption is also an example of how in-game mechanics can influence the game overall, despite being referred to as gimmicks as well. Hypermode, the usage of Phazon to fight enemies and bosses, provides a new means of combat, while the concept of travelling through entire planets (a somewhat more realistic variation of Super Mario Galaxy's concept) delivers an easier method of transportation, making backtracking more lenient and smoother, not to mention the fact the gunship itself gains abilities like her owner does, allowing the solution to puzzles that can't be concluded otherwise.

Overall, a gameplay device can only be called a gimmick if it's not essential to the overall experience of the game, and whose removal would impact little the gaming experience. Storyline-wise, gimmicks shouldn't be too valuable either. As for whether or not the game's specific mechanics are desired or not, that's up to each player's opinion, here we'll only describe how far a device can reach to make the game as different to the others as possible.

2D The Legend of Zelda games

The Legend of Zelda

The game is played in top-view perspective. This is likely the reason why the game is not linear.

It is told that the first The Legend of Zelda has no gimmicks, based on the fact that it's the first in the series; the only reason why it indeed has almost no gimmicks (it has a minor one, more on that below) is because each and every mechanic introduced is vital for the game's functionality, and for no other reason. The tropes and conventions featured here are what have defined the franchise ever since, and we'll call them primary or first-generation devices. These include:

  • Top-view perspective. This is the very first thing to take into consideration, as deeming it too obvious is the sole reason why the changes in The Adventure of Link had taken by surprise nearly all fans of the series. With this perspective, Link can explore Hyrule by moving through the X and Y coordinates, providing a more realistic overworld than platform games (as they rely on the vertical Z coordinate instead). This is a reason why the game exhibits lack of linearity.
  • The distinction between the overworld and the dungeon. The former is the field, where Link explores freely the land of Hyrule, and where (from The Adventure of Link onwards) he finds towns to talk with characters, make sidequests, shop and more. The latter, the dungeons, are dark and lonely places with far less degrees of freedom than the overworld, usually divided into rooms that serve as constraints that limit our capacity to freely wander around. Keys are required to proceed further.
  • The use of a sword as the primary means of attack, and the shield as the primary means of defense. This is one of the elements that further separate the franchise from Mario and most of the action-adventure games. Adhered to this is the usage of items and tools that allow Link to solve puzzles, attack enemies at a distance, and gain access to locked roads.
  • The collection of Quest-based items. Back in the 80's decade, most games revolved around simply beating the levels to proceed further. Because The Legend of Zelda has no levels in the traditional sense of the word, but rather dungeons accessible through the overworld, there must be an alternate reason to beat said dungeons. In this case, there's the Triforce fragments, but there are also Heart Containers, which are optional and increase Link's life energy.
  • The ability to save anytime. Though it's a primitive (and not exempt from glitches) feature in both this game and in The Adventure of Link, it has become a necessity for an adventure where the dungeons cannot be overlooked (unlike in the case of the levels and worlds in Super Mario Bros), and whose quest is more complex and time-consuming.

These five devices define the way the game (and the series) is played, they are what we know today. Next is a mechanic that is also important for the 1987 classic, but more particular, and has appeared in less games, though its influence on the gameplay experience is notable for this title in particular. It's the first of the secondary or second-generation devices:

The map on the first dungeon...
...is not quite the same in both Quests.

The Second Quest. When Link defeats Ganon and rescues Princess Zelda, the game concludes and then restarts, but in a different way. The dungeons, the items and the Heart Containers have completely changed their locations; in fact, the dungeons themselves change totally in shape, size and difficulty, which gives a new and creative challenge to the players who wish to continue venturing into the land of Hyrule. Although the Second Quest appears in later games, the first Legend of Zelda game exploits the concept in a way like almost no other video game to date has done.

Finally, there is an actual gimmick in the game, one that does appear in subsequent games to much greater degrees, but never implies a trademark gameplay feature in any game. This is a tertiary or third-generation device, part of the group where the truly expendable additions belong:

  • Item upgrade. In the game, it is possible to increase the capacity of the bombs, and earn more powerful variations of the Boomerang, the Ring and the Candle. This is hardly a reason to play the game, because it's impact is far from being as groundbreaking as the primary and secondary devices.

The Adventure of Link

Heavily criticized for departing too much from the norm, The Adventure of Link still has a finite number of gameplay changes; the catch is that said changes indeed impact on the overall gaming experience. Because almost none of these changes managed to define the series, they're second-generation devices.

Top-view in the overworld,...
  • In this game, Hyrule is explored in two formats: The usual top-view perspective, useful to travel through the open field from one spot to another; and the side-scrolling perspective, from which Link explores the towns, the caverns, certain parts of the field, enemy perimeters, and the dungeons. But even then, notice that this change follows a similar protocol to that of the top-view-only concept, as Link still advances through his quest by finding and beating the dungeons, in turn found by walking through the overworld first, as well as collecting tools and placing the Quest Items (as they're in Link's hands already) to their respective lecterns; the key difference between side-scrolling and top view cameras is the added ability to jump. In this sense, the perspective switch is still faithful to the second, third and fourth core mechanics introduced in the first game. It also brings in advantages: With the aforementioned ability to jump, skills like the Downthrust and the Upthrust are introduced, and thus enemy combat becomes easier. In addition, the platform-based gameplay leaves a basis for the concept of flight in Majora's Mask and The Wind Waker, whereas the perspective switch does for the dichotomy between vehicle-based travel and exploration on foot in Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks.
...side-scrolling inside a cavern,...
  • Magic and experience points. The former mechanic might be considered to be primary because it has appeared in various Zelda games, even though no other entry in the series has used it so extensively as in this installment (see more below). The latter mechanic (level-up) is indeed secondary, since no other game used it again. However, this rarer feature is what defines the game, whose difficulty makes necessary a higher endurance of the capacity of magic, the sword's damage ratio, and the health meter. To put this in retrospective, the strongest Spell (Thunder) needs 128 magic points if Link's experience in the magic department is at level 1, but only 64 if it clocks at level 8 (maximum). Note that, with all Magic Containers collected, the amount of magic points available is exactly 128 (this is the reason why Thunder won't be taught to Link if he doesn't have all Magic Containers yet in the game).
...inside a town,...
  • Life system. In the other The Legend of Zelda games, dying means actually little, even less if fairies are used for revival. The case is different this time. When Link loses his lives, he starts back from the game's starting point, although his progress is still saved. Though this would mean little more than just having to go again to the current place of progression, it also happens that the extra lives collected across Hyrule are saved as well, meaning that the game will become even more difficult than usual without these limited reserves. Difficulty-wise, this device is indeed influential, and some players may thank that it hasn't appeared in another game to date.
...and inside a dungeon.

Because of these mechanics, The Adventure of Link plays differently from the other entries, placing it among the so-called "black sheeps" in comparison. However, the game does offer two earnestly valuable first-generation devices:

  • The presence of towns, thus character interaction. Notice that, in the first The Legend of Zelda game, Link never starts a dialogue with any character, they instead have to talk at will to hook Link's attention, and there aren't any towns whatsoever. In The Adventure of Link, Link is the one who has the initiative to interact with a non-playable character, so that he can help them. Doing this rewards him with new spells, hence why it's always recommended (and sometimes required too) to explore the towns before venturing into the dungeons.
  • As previously mentioned, the introduction of Magic. During the quest, Link learns various Spells that are important for his survival during enemy melees and boss battles, and vital to solve otherwise impossible obstacles. Dungeons like the Three-Eye Rock Palace and the Great Palace are designed so that the young hero has to take advantage of these unique features. Later games from A Link to the Past onwards would implement items that, like the Spells, require magic to work.

Next is an example of a very minor mechanic that would reappear in the future as a more prominent feature:

  • Transformation. One of the Spells in the game allows Link to be transformed into a fairy; in this state, he can fly freely across the side-scrolling zones, easily dodging enemies and crossing otherwise impossible obstacles. One disadvantage is that he cannot perform any other actions, and cannot turn back to Hylian form without going to a new area.

A Link to the Past

Before your eyes, Kakariko Village.

Most of the features seen in A Link to the Past revolve around improvements over the first two games, particularly the first one. Therefore, it's harder to indicate a first-generation device present in the game (there is one, technically, but more on that later). Gameplay revisions include:

  • The dungeons are now multi-leveled. This is a improvement over the second core mechanic of the first The Legend of Zelda game. Big Keys are introduced as well, and they're necessary to open Item chests and Boss gates. Other than adding an extra degree of freedom to the dungeon exploration, these features don't imply a radical change to the concept.
  • Upgrading the item capabilities is more complex in this game, as it's now more progressive (in the case of the Heart Containers, the bombs and the arrows), and now it's extended to the magic meter, the sword, and the shield.
  • Based on the second improvement, character interaction is now far more diverse, originating the availability of sidequests in the franchise. In addition to helping those in trouble, Link is also invited to play minigames, or receives clues on the location of secret areas.
  • The saving process is more sophisticated.

There is only one thing that differentiates A Link to the Past from the other entries in the series:

Before your eyes, Kakariko Village Village of Outcasts.
  • The presence of the Dark World. This is an extremely important second-generation feature that increases the exploration factor, not only because of it being an entire overworld on its own, but because of its close connection to the usual one. For example, there are spots in one World that can only be accessed by reaching to its counterpart from the other World, then warping with either the Magic Mirror, or a warp spot (it depends on the case). The game makes sure to exploit this concept so that the player can use his or her intelligence and discover secret areas that would be unnoticeable (and obviously unreachable) otherwise. Most dungeons can only be accessed this way. In addition, there are items that, once collected in one world, can be used extensively in the other.

The Light/Dark World is a feature that is unique to A Link to the Past, but whose premise of duality has been the basis for several concepts that would appear in future games, such as the time travel in Ocarina of Time and Oracle of Ages, the size change in The Minish Cap, the search for both Servant Spirits and the Pure Metals in Phantom Hourglass, and the removal of Twilight in Twilight Princess, among others. In this "spiritual" sense, A Link to the Past has a mechanic that is both secondary and primary. Usually, when the storyline is about to justify the duality, a plot twist will happen.

3D The Legend of Zelda games

Ocarina of Time

From A Link to the Past onwards, every subsequent The Legend of Zelda games has tried to improve upon the mechanics that existed already at the time, in addition to showing second-generation devices. Ocarina of Time, for example, shows a mechanic that is analogous to the Light/Dark World dichotomy: The time travel. As Link progresses through the quest, he will have to explore Hyrule in two eras: In the first, the present, the sacred land is in a relative state of peace, where the dangers and situations aren't too menacing, and are more like an annoyance to the local races and inhabitants; in the second, the future, the threats are major and on a bigger scale, including most inhabitants being susceptible to death. When it comes to level design, unfortunately, the two eras are nearly identical. It may be attributed to the technical limitations of the Nintendo 64, but it's true that the graphical similarities, with a few exceptions, are so many that the realism of a darker future pales drastically. Save for the placement of characters in different parts, the time travel doesn't seem to make too much of a influence in the game's overall premise.

OoT Kokiri Tunic Model.png
Zora tunic.png

The real differences between the two eras are better appreciated with the introduction of another secondary mechanic: Age difference. Link, in the present and thus a child, is unable to change his equipment, with the only exception of the shield (and even then, the Hylian Shield is too big for him to use properly), since the alternative tunics, boots and swords are adult-sized. Naturally, this means that Adult Link has access to those extra items, allowing him to survive at high temperatures or underwater, to walk heavily or lightly, and even to reflect light. Child Link too has an advantage: He is able to enter small holes in the walls, something his grown-up body won't be able to do due to the enlarged size. The item repertoire is also different in both cases, as there are tools and weapons that one form cannot use and suit for the other and vice versa. Lastly, only Adult Link can ride on Epona (more on that below). These key changes are what determine where each incarnation of Link can go to, and are what truly exploit the concept of time travel in the game.

Ocarina of Time also revamps the concept of music as a tool to solve puzzles, a mechanic that debuted in Link's Awakening. The songs are now more in number, and half of them are composed specifically to warp Link through important locations. In fact, one of the songs (the Song of Time) is closely linked to the concept of time travel, as it's the key to gain access to that ability; another song allows him to travel between day and night, and vice versa, which is useful to perform actions whose effects have limited hours of operation; lastly, the Song of Storms changes time in the meteorological sense, invoking a rain out of nowhere. The versatility of the Ocarina of Time becomes vital for the game's progression, even to a greater degree than it did in Link's Awakening.

The real reason why Ocarina of Time is critically acclaimed, however, is because of the introduction of two new first-generation gameplay devices, both necessary to take full advantage of the addition of a third dimension:

Z-Targeting in Ocarina of Time
  • Z-Targeting. Because Ocarina of Time is a tridimensional title, it would be too difficult to play it with a top-view perspective, which means that there must be a way to wander across Hyrule and its landmarks while always aiming to the destined direction. With the help of targeting, it's always possible to adjust the camera so that the screen doesn't lose any detail of what is surrounding the young hero. It's also designed so that it automatically focuses Link from the top when he is close to a wall, and also allows him to directly target characters, enemies and certain objects; most importantly, with targeting, Link can move without losing sight of his target, and the items he uses will always pinpoint said target. The correct implementation of this primary mechanic makes the game very easy to be played, with a nearly-null learning curve; various games outside the franchise have managed to borrow this mechanic so that they could avert the camera problems that earlier titles in video game history used to have. This also has become a staple for the console 3D games in the Zelda series, and very few gameplay devices (not only from this franchise, but also from the entire gaming repertoire to date) have been as groundbreaking as this one.
  • The introduction of sidekicks. Ocarina of Time features at least three characters able to greatly help Link: The first character is Navi, who provides useful hints in regards of unsolved puzzles, reminders of the game's current objectives, and warnings; she is also the reason why Link can target someone or something in the first place, as he never loses sight of her, and thus always looks at his objective. Saria is the second sidekick to be introduced, and provides hints on where to go next by playing her signature song; it's also worth mentioning that the same song allows Link to talk with Navi as well. Finally, after being called through a certain melody, the horse Epona allows Adult Link to travel more quickly between the regions of Hyrule when warping with a song may not be the best option. Later games in the franchise, from Majora's Mask onwards, would show a sidekick (usually female, as in the case of the three seen in Ocarina of Time) accompanying Link to give advice.

Ocarina of Time is also the first game where time actually flows, meaning that there are instances where it's day in Hyrule, and others where it's night. Some shops are open at day only, and most Gold Skulltulas only appear at night, whereas some characters change their positions depending on the current time, and background music is almost always absent during night. Time doesn't flow in all places, however, and remains static as long as Link is within, for example, a village or dungeon.

Majora's Mask

Released two years after Ocaina of Time, Majora's Mask makes use of it's prequel's devices, lowering even more the learning curve. The game has hooked attention for its unusual secondary gameplay devices, which render the quest very different from the other games in the series. Also, for the second time (the first case being Link's Awakening), the setting is not Hyrule, but Termina, and therefore the storyline is completely unrelated to that of Ocarina of Time.


The first mechanic is the three-day limit. Except during a pause, a conversation or cutscene, and inside the Clock Tower, time flows during every other action performed in the game. All Link does must occur during a period of three days, which are necessarily longer than in Ocarina of Time. This brings various interesting effects to the gameplay experience, making this device the most heavily influential for the game. Because only three days can be played before a major disaster occurs, the overall period of gameplay is much more compact in the game, which allows a more realistic notion of time than in any other The Legend of Zelda game to date. This is noticeable in Clock Town, where nearly every character has a schedule of activities, and during certain instances there is something that can be done with them. An elaborate example of this is Gorman. From 6am to 9am in the First Day, he stands in the lobby of Stock Pot Inn waiting for an important reunion; from 9am to 10am, he makes his way to the mayor's residence and talks with Madame Aroma about the performance of his group of entertainers, only to realize that those activities were cancelled. At 12pm, he goes to the Milk Bar and stays there, emotionally destroyed, waiting until 10pm to start drinking. From this moment to 5am, his sequence of activities can branch off: If Link doesn't help him, Gorman simply returns to the inn after the bar closes, and during twelve hours in the Second Day he is asleep. At 6pm, he wakes up and waits until he can go to the Milk Bar again to keep drinking. Now, if Link does help him during the night of the First Day, Gorman still falls asleep during half of the next day, but at night he won't move to the bar anymore; instead, he will play poker all night with two of his roommates, and feel very happy.

Outside of Clock Town and Romani Ranch, the flow of time is rarely an influence for the characters, whose activities are available 24/7 in the majority of the cases. However, because time keeps flowing nonetheless, Link must keep an eye for it when he is doing the necessary quests to find a dungeon, and especially when a dungeon is being explored. When a boss or mini-boss is fought, a strategy must be thought of quickly, so that the dungeon can be completed in time. And even after it is completed, there are activities that have to be done yet in the overworld (in fact, they're only available after the dungeon's completion, mostly due to the fact that the environment changes for the better).

With Owl Statues, it's possible to shorten the travel to a place.

Given the importance of time, and that the game is nearly impossible to be beaten during a single three-day cycle (and definitely impossible without correctly employing glitches), it is necessary to save so that the young hero can return to the First Day and continue his adventure. A direct consequence of this variation of the time travel concept is that nearly all events are resettable, including the sidequests, the characters' activities, and even the completion of dungeons and the effects of it. With the activation of Owl Statues to warp, the collection of new weapons and tools, and the preservation of the boss Remains, previously done events can be either skipped or done more quickly, and places that should be reached first on foot can now be reached to by warping, or using items that grant access to shortcuts. Also, the fact that most events are resettable in the first place motivates the player to replay his or her favorite parts of the game, a feat that can only be done in platform games or through the availability of a New Game Plus mode.

As long as Link has the Ocarina of Time, he can play the Song of Time to manipulate the flow of time at his will; in addition to going back to the First Day, he can also make time itself flow slower (which makes all characters perform their activities slower as well), or switch from day to night and viceversa. Though there are players who criticize the seemingly restrictive nature of saving in this game, it actually works in the same way it did in the two NES games (that is, to only save when the playthrough session ends). It is also possible to temporarily save the progress with the help of the aforementioned Owl Statues, which makes saving work in the same way it does in the post-NES Zelda games; this helps to interrupt a current progress without having to redo it again from the First Day. However, due to the process being temporary, the Song of Time must be played whenever the playthrough session ends for real, as the temporary save expires when the quest is resumed; otherwise, the adventure will restart from the last time the Song of Time was played.

During the start of the game, Link does not have the Royal Family's instrument, meaning that (for the first time in the entire series) there is an instance where the player can never save his or her progress at all; during this phase, Link shapeshifts as well, and must take advantage of the skills (and limitations) that imply his new form. This is where the game's other signature mechanic plays its role:

MM Fierce Deity Link Artwork.png

Collection and usage of masks. The first mask Link collects is the result of his initial curse being lifted, and is also a transformation mask, thus employing the concept of transformation that started as an minor extra in The Adventure of Link and A Link to the Past, and was indirectly used in Ocarina of Time through the time travel device (and even then, it was age-based only). Five of the masks are of this variety, and allows the young hero to perform abilities that normally only certain races would be able to exhibit. For example, as Deku Link, he can use Deku Flowers to fly through gaps or cliffs, or simply reach a higher place; he can also hop for a limited number of steps on water, shoot bubbles and attack (or even paralyze) enemies with a more rudimentary version of the Spin Attack. With these abilities, Link can beat obstacles that his Hylian form would not, which becomes important in the case of Woodfall Temple. Analogously, the other transformation masks allow Link to explore areas and beat dungeons that are specifically designed for the abilities of said masks. This is true for most boss battles as well.

As for the regular masks, Link can use them to gain minor abilities that give him advantage in certain situations; some characters also provide valuable information (and even rewards) when the proper masks are worn. Most importantly, masks are one of the signature sources of sidequests in the game, both to earn them, and when they are being used. These is a total of 28 masks: Five for transformation, nineteen for either minor abilities or special character interaction, and the four boss Remains. Masks are the quest purpose and the sidequest purpose.

The relevance of sidequests are why this item is essential.

Regarding sidequests, there is a third signature element that separates Majora's Mask from the other entries in the series, albeit it is not necessarily a gameplay device per se: It shows a notorious focus on all things optional. A direct consequence of this is that the game only has four main dungeons, which makes its main quest much shorter than that of Ocarina of Time and the previous entries in the series, and renders the overworld more compact. To illustrate this, Link can collect an item that records the events he participates with the many characters in Clock Town and Romani Ranch, from important conversations to the rewards given. Along with the time limit and the visual similarities to Ocarina of Time, this has become a controversial aspect of the game. Majora's Mask employs every type of sidequest to provide content within an overworld that is as compact as the playable period of time: From helping people, to the increased repertoire of minigames and secret or optional areas (some of which even house optional mini-boss battles). In Clock Town alone, there are at least 15 Pieces of Heart (plus one more if the Keaton quiz minigame is completed there), 10 masks, and even its own Fairy Fountain (which is supposed to be near a dungeon). It would take at least 40 hours to achieve 100% Completion in the game, and without these sidequests done, Link would have too few Heart Containers, adding more difficulty to the main quest than usual. It is only nowadays when a game like this is well-received by fans of the series (critics did praise the game since its original release), who were expecting a more traditional sequel to Ocarina of Time (which only materialized in late 2006 with Twilight Princess).

The game offers two very minor devices that would be the base for major features in The Wind Waker:

The Wind Waker

The Wind Waker is a reminder that looks can be deceiving. Other than the cel-shading style of the graphics, which provide an anime-inspired perspective of the adventure, The Wind Waker is a very faithful entry in the franchise not only storyline-wise, but also when it comes to the pre-existing first-generation devices. Like Majora's Mask, though, it needed time to gain vindication among the longtime fans of the series.

The majority of the game's concepts revolve around one thing: The overworld being a sea.

The first major change to be seen is the nature of the overwold: The Great Sea is, as the name suggests, a watery land; with this change alone, we can appreciate several additions that adhere to the gaming experience. For example:

  • The locations are now islands, to which Link must reach by sailing. This is at first the only way Link progresses through the game, and therefore it's recommended to do as much as possible while on an island before going to the next one. This could be considered an early and more primitive version of the galaxy/planet travel seen in Metroid Prime 3 and Super Mario Galaxy, since the game no longer takes place in an uniform overworld, but on a higher-scale scenario than involves multiple bodies of land.
  • Much of the present treasure is sunken underwater. Link finds chests by using a crane over light rings that shine above the sea's surface; more prominent rewards can only be retrieved when Treasure Charts are found and opened, in which case the goods are pinpointed by shinier spots of light.
  • It is necessary to manipulate the wind with the help of the Wind Waker, not only to change its direction and favor the sea travels, but also to summon cyclones and warp more quickly from one island to another. This makes the instrument as important for this game as the Ocarina of Time were for the two Nintendo 64 titles.
  • The aforementioned islands, being too many in number (49 in total), are usually one-purpose, with the exception of the main locations. As the young hero explores the sea, he finds Fairy Islands to increase his ammunition and money capacities, islands that serve as mini-dungeons housing special rewards or as the hosts for minigames, Eye Reefs to finds Treasure Charts that pinpoint Special Charts drawn to indicate the locations of items like Pieces of Heart, submarine, the aforementioned Fairy Islands, etc.
  • The cartography completion is a bigger necessity than in Majora's Mask, now the young hero has to feed and talk with the fishmen so that he can gradually fill in his Sea Chart, which is important to make the hunt of sunken treasure easier when using a Treasure Chart.

Note that most of the islands are actually optional, as the story only develops within a quarter of the total of islands in the Great Sea, and another quarter is required only due to quest collection purposes. This allows a greater sense of freedom for the player, who is encouraged to discover as much as he or she desires before (and after) completing the main quest.

Tower Servant 2.png

The game also reuses the concept of character command that appeared sporadically in Majora's Mask, and exploits it significantly. With the help of the Command Melody, the young hero can control statues and characters vital for the completion of dungeons. Each character has special abilities and tools as well: Both Medli and Makar can fly, and hold switches that Link cannot press while he is holding another on his own; Medli can also use her harp to reflect light, and Makar can plant seeds that grow up and become trees instantly. It is also possible to summon Tingle with the Tingle Tuner, so that he can assist Link during his quest, not to mention that it allows a second player to join the playthrough; finally, with Hyoi Pears, seagulls can be controlled to pick up hard-to-reach items. This is a type of character interaction seen very few times in the franchise, and for the first time Link is no longer alone in his quest, not to mention that he's accompanied even during the final battle.

The Wind Waker is the example of a game that features the omnipresent gameplay elements of the series in a new fashion, and shows how even the oldest ideas can still work and, in addition, be reinvented and revamped. The new versatility of items shows this as well, with the availability of bags that allows a bigger space in the inventory screen (especially to store enemies' spoils, bait food, and delivery items; furthermore, the aforementioned cartography completion is only possible to even start by storing food within the Bait Bag, and the game's signature trading sequence renders the Delivery Bag required), and the items themselves having more than one purpose (as in the case of the Grappling Hook and the Deku Leaf). When it comes to combat, the game is the first to sport the Parry Attack, which allows Link to intercept enemies when they try to attack him.

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In regards of third-generation mechanics, The Wind Waker makes use of the Pictography concept that debuted very sporadically in Majora's Mask. With the Pictograph Box, Link can participate in various sidequests available in Windfall Island, to the point that one of them is important to give color to Link's snap shots in the first place. The biggest of the pictography sidequests, though, is the Nintendo Gallery, for which the young hero has to take a picture of every single enemy, boss and character in the game. This is obviously a tough task, hence why the Second Quest is available in the game (it helps to take pictures of characters and enemies that may otherwise be overlooked forever). The reason why this is a tertiary mechanic is because it's completely optional, and the Second Quest is tertiary as well because it changes very little the overall adventure. Pictography, nonetheless, does increase the game's lasting appeal when it comes to 100% Completion. As a whole, it may take at least 40 hours to fully beat the game.

Twilight Princess

With Twilight Princess, old mechanics continue evolving and are shown from a different perspective. One of these mechanics is the transformation concept. Although Link can only turn into a wolf this time, the transformation becomes a major shift in gameplay and exploration during the first half of the game. When Link enters a zone covered by Twilight, he's stuck into Wolf Link mode until the zone is purged; on the other hand, Wolf Link has more abilities than any of the alternate forms in Majora's Mask, and they're essential to survive within the reign of darkness. Digging to find secret holes or Tears of Light, howling, using the senses to detect smells and watch spirits and evil insects, talking to animals to gather information, defeating enemies with the vast array of new moves (bitting, using force fields, dashing), leaping major gaps, are only some examples. During the exploration of the three cursed provinces from Hyrule, Wolf Link provides a different-from-usual experience in the game.

Another of Wolf Link's abilities is walking on thin ropes.

Once the Master Sword is collected, the lycanthrope is rarely used, with the exception of some dungeons and certain sidequests. The hunt of Poe Souls, for example, becomes a signature staple when exploring fields and even the later dungeons, and is pretty much the final sidequest to be completed before Link enters Hyrule Castle, where his wolf form helps him solve various puzzles and is also important for the final battle. Other than that, unfortunately, the concept is never exploited to the same extent again after the influence of twilight wanes completely. The mechanic is degraded from secondary to tertiary, in contrast to the mask transformations in the 2000 adventure, which became a staple in every dungeon of Termina and even in the moon.

There are other aspects revamped by Twilight Princess, one example being the item repertoire. Whereas the weaponry has become partially the same in the previous The Legend of Zelda games (one might notice, in fact, that in most cases the only new items in a game are those intimately linked with the major mechanics available, such as the Equipment items in Ocarina of Time, the masks in Majora's Mask, and the sail, the charts and the titular wind baton in The Wind Waker), Twilight Princess seeks to exhibit actual new and exotic items, starting with the Clawshot (a mixture between the Hookshot and the Grappling Hook) in Lakebed Temple. In addition, items that are commonplace for the series reappear with extra functions, as in The Wind Waker.

The Spinner is one of the various new items in the game, and one of the cleverest. It's one of the least used as well.

Within a dungeon, the item found helps the young hero to solve puzzles that, under normal conditions, would never be concluded; this becomes noteworthy in the case of Arbiter's Grounds and City in the Sky, only to name a few. However, as in the case of Wolf Link, the new items are susceptible to outlive their usefulness; the Spinner and the Ball and Chain are the most notorious examples of this, and the Pieces of Heart collected with them are unable to combat this problem. It's as if a totally-new television series was broadcast on a channel and, as soon as it finished its run, it was never seen again (regardless of how many viewers asked for a rerun). On an unrelated note, the situation is inverted to an extent with the majority of the items found outside the dungeons. It's not uncommon to use the Lantern to light torches almost anywhere, as well as the fishing rod when Link is close to a body of water, and obviously use bombs and arrows very often. The game also features the availability of Hidden Skills; the concept of learning new sword techniques, which previously reached a peak in The Minish Cap, gives Link new ways to defeat enemies, be it an one-hit kill with the Ending Blow, a clever assault with the Back Slice or a surprise counterattack with the Mortal Draw.

There's not too much difference...
...between the two versions of the game.

Lastly, Twilight Princess was released in two versions: one for the Nintendo GameCube, another for the Wii. The former version is playable through a control scheme nearly identical to that of The Wind Waker; while the latter sports the Wiimote's motion capabilities. In regards of the Wii version, the setting of Hyrule is also mirrored, this was done so that Link could be controlled right-handed, particularly on the subject of swordplay. This was a pointless decision, since the Wii is the first console in history whose controls are fully ambidextrous. Also, because the game wasn't meant to be developed for the Wii at first, swordplay isn't as realistic as it looks like on paper, though the targeting accuracy is still properly implemented for the items making use of the targeting cursor. This is something Nintendo tries to fix with Skyward Sword.

There isn't much else to examine in regards of Twilight Princess. Outside of the exotic features in regards of transformation, item usage and combat versatility, the game is meant to perfect the gameplay mechanics that have been a trademark of the franchise, especially since Ocarina of Time. This is, in fact, what Shigeru Miyamoto meant when he said that it would be the last "Zelda game as we know it". The next game, Phantom Hourglass, would feature a totally-new way to play and live the legend.

Phantom Hourglass

Originally intended to be part of the Four Swords series, Phantom Hourglass evolved as the first sequel to The Wind Waker, featuring several of its characteristics (including, but not limited to, the animated style, the sea-based overworld, and some gameplay feats). At this point, it's uncertain what gameplay devices are primary, secondary, or tertiary; there is only one current game succeeding it: Spirit Tracks. Therefore, it's uncertain how many elements from them will be borrowed by Skyward Sword, but one thing is for sure: Phantom Hourglass has managed to bring up new mechanics to the table. Below is a brief discussion on each of them:

The first mechanic, and possibly primary as far as handheld games go, is the touch-based control scheme. Every action Link can perform makes use of the Nintendo DS's capabilities. Although there has been some controversy in regards of this scheme replacing the more traditional button-based controls, the execution of the newer interface has been praised. With the use of the Stylus, Link can be moved from one point to another by pointing the new spot, he can talk to a character by touching it, him or her, attack an enemy by touching it (or drawing a circle for a Spin Attack), target an objective for the arrows, trace the trajectory of the Boomerang and Bombchu, and so on. With this, the touch screen replaces at once the attack (B) button, the Pad and Control Sticks, the action (A) button, and the tool (C) stick/buttons; this provides a versatility never seen previously in the series, and the item selection is also more direct, as it doesn't rely on a pause sub-screen. Over the course of the game, Link will encounter puzzles that can only be solved through clever usage of the touch controls, since most items will make use of them. There is also a certain puzzle in the quest that requires closure and then opening of the console. In addition, the Mic is useful to blow up torches or to shout at some key moments.

SS Linebeck offers a more versatile means of travel than the King of Red Lions.

The aforementioned mechanic also affects how the returning devices from The Wind Waker are executed. As mentioned before, Phantom Hourglass has a sea-based overworld; therefore, the bodies of land are islands and Link must move from one to another with the help of the SS Linebeck, and to do so he has to trace the route of navigation in the touch screen. This allows a smoother-paced travel than in The Wind Waker, since there is no longer a necessity to manipulate the wind to change directions. The way to hunt sunken treasure changes as well. Whereas in The Wind Waker Link simply had to retrieve the chest from the watery deeps with the Grappling Hook, now in Phantom Hourglass he has to guide the Salvage Arm underwater so that the treasure can be found and brought to surface; this, by the way, is done with a change in the screen perspective, mirroring side-scrolling, as in The Adventure of Link. Last, but far from least, touching the screen also allows to write important notes on the map; be it tracing a route, pinpointing a spot where a secret hole is, or writing a reminder that a certain place can be revisited later, or even tracing the map or an uncharted island. In dungeons, there are chests that lie hidden across the floors, and some Gossip Stones will only enlighten their whereabouts for a few seconds, so it's important to mark those spots so that Link can later know where they are and thus find a way to make them appear and open them.

The Temple of the Ocean King has become a controversial addition to the game.

There is a (possibly secondary) mechanic that is introduced in the game as well, and it has been the strongest topic of debate among fans of the series: The presence of a master dungeon, the Temple of the Ocean King. As the game progresses, the young hero must visit this temple numerous times (six times in total). And every time it's visited, its puzzles reset and have to be redone, except when new items are collected through the dungeons and new routes can be tried to find shortcuts, or the puzzles themselves can be solved more quickly. Another element present is a time limit; during a visit to the temple, the current objectives must be completed before time expires. This time limit increases as bosses are defeated, but it's still important to plan a way to progress to the end before it's too late, as everything has to be redone when Link dies. This becomes very notorious in the case of floors seven, eight and nine; in those areas, there is a gem-placing puzzle that is carried over the entire exploration and, without a careful administration of time, it can become overwhelming the first time Link ventures on those parts. Only after the acquisition of the Grappling Hook and the Bombchus, the puzzle in question is solved more quickly.

A known fact is that, upon completion of floor nine, it's possible to continue through floors 10 to 13 at once to save up a later visit to the temple. It's discouraged to do so, because the then-remaining time is likely to be too short and, without the aforementioned Grappling Hook and Bombchus (which ease the exploration), it's almost a suicide. With all things said in consideration, the only good news is that a warp portal gives Link a shortcut to the end of floor six; even then, it only works with the time remaining after completing the first six floors, so if it's too short Link will have to venture into the whole dungeon yet again. It's certainly understandable why Spirit Tracks, the sequel to Phantom Hourglass, improved the concept of master dungeon to a significantly large degree. There is no need to explore any old rooms again and, most importantly, there is no time limit.

Spirit Tracks

Two years after Phantom Hourglass, its sequel is released on the Nintendo DS, and retains the control interface. This time, Nintendo focused on improving the mechanics seen first in the 2007 installment, and added some new ones. The first change is the means of transportation: Link explores Hyrule with the help of the Spirit Train, which works partially like the boats did in the prequels. One key difference is that the field travels are railroaded, meaning that the only way to change directions is near a bifurcation. For the same reason, the concept of tracing a route from one place to a new destination is much less relevant than in the case of the boat on the sea, and its only function is to make the direction changes automatic. The trains also has advantages, though: When it takes damage from enemy attacks, it's automatically repaired when Link stops within a station (one of the parts of the SS Linebeck has always to be repaired in Mercay Island when damaged, and not without cost). It's also capable of transporting characters and, eventually, heavy materials as well. Numerous sidequests in the game make use of these features, and allow other factors to come into play, most of the time increasing the overall challenge. These factors include: Respect to the train signals, protection from enemy attacks, item vulnerability to temperature or luminous intensity, etc.

The uses of the Spirit Train are far more than meets the eye

When the train-based sidequests are beaten, new tracks in the land of Hyrule are unlocked, which lead to new content, usually new rabbits to capture or warp portals, as well as stations with all-new places. More than once, the new paths provide shortcuts that make navigation easier, and certain sidequests are even chained to these paths (an example being the kidnapped man from Papuchia Village, who can only be rescued after the pirates' island southwest of the Sand Realm is accessible, which in turn only has its tracks open for traffic when the fish store from Papuchia is cooled with ice). Here we can appreciate the benefits of the train mechanic in the game: More and more tasks can be done as they're done one by one, and Link is constantly interacting with the characters of the land, a trend that was started to a notable degree in Majora's Mask.

One character in particular provides a new gameplay device: Princess Zelda. She, in ethereal form, serves as a sidekick for Link, and both show an interaction that nearly none of their other incarnations had shown. This is helped by the Princess's maturity in the game, rejecting the sarcastic attitudes that were reused to a detrimental degree with Tatl, Tetra, Ezlo, Midna and Linebeck. When both characters enter the Tower of Spirits, the aforementioned mechanic comes into play: Zelda can possess the body of a stunned Phantom. During this moment, she can be controlled in a similar way the Bombchus are in Phantom Hourglass, and this way both characters solve puzzles mutually. This is earnestly vital, given the notorious complexity of the puzzles (particularly in floors 22-30), and further helped by the variety of Phantom types (surpassing in number those introduced in the 2007 adventure). With each new Phantom possessed, the Princess can experiment with different abilities, which in turn can solve different puzzles. This, combined with the storyline-based interaction between the two characters, marks a powerful influence in the gaming experience that, hopefully, will not be seen for last time.


After reviewing most of the games in the franchise, and despite not all of them being covered here, the answers we were looking for in this page are being given already: Over the course of the years, The Legend of Zelda has shown several experiments in regards of the gameplay and, to varying degrees, they have provided an impact upon the installments in the franchise.

The most important thing to learn is that what matters is how a mechanic can be exploited within a game. Some mechanics (of first generation) are decisive for a franchise as a whole, others (of second generation) are unique and influential for one of more games, and others (of third generation) are simply expendable; but one must not forget that each and every device in a game of any franchise should be intended to be a tool at the service of the adventure, not the other way around. Even today, there is a frequent abuse of the term "gimmick", and it seems that anything that is specific for one game or two is unnecessary and artificial, regardless of how well justified it is by the storyline, and how much it separates the game in question from others. In the case of The Legend of Zelda, it's an official fact that primary, secondary and tertiary mechanics will continue debuting in the series, it's a way to show a perpetual renovation over the flow of time; if a player cannot get used to this, he or she will have to reconsider his or her passion towards video games, since the topics discussed in this article are easily compatible with any other gaming franchise. Back to the case of The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo seeks to show new first-generation concepts with the future games so that the essence of Zelda continues surprising its fanbase. Whereas the Nintendo DS Zelda games have provided a possible new first-generation mechanic for future handheld games, Skyward Sword seeks to expand upon what was seen as an extra in the Wii version of Twilight Princess: Motion controls.

For more information about the topic of gameplay, please refer to the following articles: