This was something I wanted to touch upon in my last post but that was running long already. So bear with me as I'll be talking a little bit more about Zelda. Next musing will be 100% Zelda free, I promise!
For now I'd like to talk about how two of my favorite games utilize the 'quiet/loud' dynamic to great effect, and how a 'quiet' overworld might be detrimental to the dungeon design in Zelda on Wii-U.
So last musing I discussed how the design and presentation of the overworld in Zelda Wii-U was going to have a big impact on the player's experience (who knew?). One of the biggest issues I raised was that with a large, contiguous overworld it would be harder to present the player with challenges all of the time (like the first Zelda did). Essentially, I explained that I was worried that the overworld was going to be sort of boring. Not a lot to do.
Ay, there's the rub!
The thing is that Large, quiet overworlds are pretty interesting, actually. One of my favorite games features such an overworld and it's honestly one of the best parts of the game. So how come I praise it in Shadow of the Colossus but seem a little skeptical about its place in Zelda? Well, let me explain.
The quiet/loud dynamic is something you see (or hear, rather) in songs all of the time. You'll have a song in which the verse is noticeably quieter than the chorus. The reason for doing this sort of thing is that through the nature of juxtaposition the quiet parts seem so much quieter and the louder parts seem so much louder. Shadow of the Colossus is a game that features that same dynamic but translates it to the structure of a video game. The overworld in Shadow of the Colossus is vast, empty and quiet. There's no real joy to be found in exploring your surroundings, and there isn't meant to be. The quiet world you find yourself in serves as padding of sorts between the big, exciting and very loud Colossus fights. Here the empty overworld works by building anticipation for the player as they head towards their destination. And this works pretty darn well since the player knows exactly where they're headed and what waits for them at the end: an intense, action packed boss fight.
What's interesting is that The Legend of Zelda on the Famicom/NES also utilizes the quiet/loud dynamic but inverts it. Instead the overworld is full of adversity and challenges; you never get a break, it's sort of loud. Make your way into a cave or secret grotto, however, and you will often find yourself safe from the enemies outside. It's quiet....literally! The wonderful theme that plays in the overworld, that powerful, rolling melody that drives your adventure forward, it stops when you enter these places. And whilst dungeons remain pretty action packed the first room in each dungeon is empty, giving the player a much needed chance to catch their breath before they venture further.
So what about Zelda on Wii-U? Well, with the focus being more on spotting places in the distance, and heading towards way-points on a map, the player will actually have a destination in mind. If the player has a destination then a quieter overworld might just work; building anticipation, and making the burst of action that a dungeon or secret cave may provide seem all the more exciting.
I see a couple of issues with this though (don't I always?).
See, in Shadow of the Colossus the game flat-out tells you were to go. It's not really a game about exploration, there's no second guessing, the player knows exactly what's waiting for them. Zelda on Wii-U is looking to be a lot less direct in an attempt to encourage exploration, but now there's no guarantee that the curious landmark the player is headed to will actually be anything. I'd hate to travel such a long way through a quiet overworld, the anticipation building, only to be met with nothing.
But maybe I'll get there and I'll find a dungeon. You might remember that I mentioned in my previous musing that dungeons in Zelda haven't changed all that much in how they're designed. It's true! Most even keep that first quiet room from the first game. Only now (and this has certainly been true in most 3D Zelda games) it isn't there to offer relief to a player weary from their journey through the ruthless world of Hyrule, it's there to set the tone and theme of the dungeon. Look! You're in the Fire Temple now: it's hot in here!. Hey! Welcome to Arbiter's Grounds: we're sandy!
Now there's nothing inherently wrong with this but I can't help but feel that now, with Zelda Wii-U, more than ever it might be worth actually thinking about how the dungeons are designed and structured. And more importantly, how they work alongside the overworld. Because maybe if I've just wandered the land for an hour, having met disappointment in all of my other expeditions, entering an empty room is the last thing I want to do when I finally reach a dungeon.
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