Will the Real Zelda Please Stand Up?

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Posted by MajorMitch (511 posts) -

When Darksiders came out in January 2010, the general consensus was that it was the gritty, mature Zelda game everyone had been wanting Nintendo to make for years. Nintendo themselves was never going to abide, so it was left to someone else (like Vigil Games) to carry the torch. Darksiders II comes out next week, and while I’m sure there will be some changes from the first game, I’d be willing to bet that people will still talk about it referentially in regards to The Legend of Zelda. The Darksiders series is carving out its own space alongside one of gaming’s most revered franchises, and is finding its own fan base defined by those who want Zelda games not called Zelda.

It takes more than boomerangs to make a Zelda game.

Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I never bought the Darksiders-Zelda comparison. Yes, you got a boomerang, a hookshot and a horse. Yes, there were dungeons where you solved puzzles and fought bosses. Yes, the game played a jingle when you solved a puzzle. And yes, there were what amounted to heart pieces. But in many ways those are surface level comparisons. It’s like saying any 2D game where you run and jump is like Super Mario Bros., or that any game where you shoot a gun from the first person perspective is like Doom. It may be true to some extent, but it also kind of misses the point. You can run down the checklist and tick all the boxes, but Darksiders never really felt like Zelda to me when I played it. The dungeons and puzzles never felt as devious or as intricate, and the overworld never felt as grand or as majestic. There was a certain soul or spirit missing to everything the game did, something that made it feel like a rudimentary collection of mechanics that are often associated with The Legend of Zelda, but have long since become fairly standard in the bigger picture of video game design. Don’t get me wrong; I liked Darksiders just fine for what it was. I simply didn’t see grounds to draw such a strong, direct comparison to Zelda.

Then something funny happened. Almost two years after Darksiders came out the first full blown console Zelda title since 2006 landed on the Wii, and in many ways was a wake up call. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword kind of felt like, well, Darksiders. It had the hookshot and the heart pieces, and played the fancy jingle. What’s more, and what really sparked the comparison, is that Skyward Sword felt like the same straight shooting implementation of those mechanics that Darksiders was. That same defining Zelda spirit that Darksiders missed was also conspicuously absent from Skyward Sword. It was among the least Zelda of all the Zeldas, and while it was a fine game in its own way it left me questioning what it really meant to be a Zelda game.

Little game, big adventure.

In my mind The Legend of Zelda is not defined by boomerangs and heart pieces and jingles. It’s defined by something less tangible, a vision at once more abstract and more grand. The first Zelda game I ever played was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and my strongest memory of that game is how big it felt; how epic the adventure was, how exciting it felt to be a young, everyday boy going on this enormous quest to save the princess and the kingdom. As cliche as that idea has always been, A Link to the Past imparted a certain gravitas to the journey that made it feel like something more. This is all the more poignant because A Link to the Past wasn’t even that long of a game; certainly not as long as Skyward Sword. And yet it felt bigger somehow. The scope and variety of the world, the freeform way in which you could navigate its intricacies, the way you were invited and sometimes forced to explore and find your own way, the ability to tackle some dungeons in any order you chose. You were thrust into a wild and wondrous world full of seemingly endless possibilities, left to your own wit and resourcefulness to conquer its challenges. This was an adventure in the purest sense of the word, and in some ways video games have never done it better.

That sense of adventure has always been Zelda’s defining trait to me. A Link to the Past had it. Ocarina of Time had it. The Wind Waker had it. I recently played Link’s Awakening for the first time, and almost 20 years after its initial release it still has it. I have yet to play the original The Legend of Zelda, but from talking to those who have, it might have it more than any of them. That very sense of adventure is exactly what I felt both Darksiders and Skyward Sword lacked. There was an adventure of sorts happening on the screen in those games, but I never truly felt a part of it. I never felt like I was in the thick of things in quite the same way, getting my hands dirty trying to survive and save the world at the same time. They were a more passive, guided tour of gameplay mechanics that tend to be associated with Zelda games, rather than exploring what it means to be a Zelda game at heart. Again, that’s not altogether a bad thing. It’s just different.

The adventure of a lifetime awaits in Dark Souls.

Then, in an irony of ironies, mere weeks before Skyward Sword hit shelves another game was released that had seemingly nothing to do with The Legend of Zelda. From Software’s Dark Souls took the world by storm, but there was no immediate comparison to Zelda. After all, Dark Souls had no boomerang, no hookshot, no horse, no jingle and no heart pieces. You didn’t go from one dungeon to the next collecting items that you used to solve puzzles and beat bosses, all for the sake of collecting some odd number of ancient trinkets that will save the world. And yet, Dark Souls still managed to feel like a mature, modern day incarnation of the Zelda spirit. This was the big, epic journey that you could easily lose yourself to. This was the intricate and fantastical world that contained countless mysteries and surprises. This was the quest that demanded you be on your toes every step of the way, making use of every resource available. That same feeling I got when I first played A Link to the Past so many years ago was very much present and accounted for in Dark Souls. It represented the notion of a grand adventure as well as any game could hope to do, and I think it’s the best Zelda game to come out in quite some time.

There was a time when The Legend of Zelda name commanded respect as one of the leading forces in gaming, and as one of the leading adventures of our medium. I’m not convinced that’s the case anymore. Zelda has been going through an identity crisis of sorts, and there’s no shortage of pretenders out there. Darksiders and Skyward Sword may lay claim to the Zelda name, but the real Zelda has finally stood up. It’s called Dark Souls.

#1 Posted by MajorMitch (511 posts) -

When Darksiders came out in January 2010, the general consensus was that it was the gritty, mature Zelda game everyone had been wanting Nintendo to make for years. Nintendo themselves was never going to abide, so it was left to someone else (like Vigil Games) to carry the torch. Darksiders II comes out next week, and while I’m sure there will be some changes from the first game, I’d be willing to bet that people will still talk about it referentially in regards to The Legend of Zelda. The Darksiders series is carving out its own space alongside one of gaming’s most revered franchises, and is finding its own fan base defined by those who want Zelda games not called Zelda.

It takes more than boomerangs to make a Zelda game.

Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I never bought the Darksiders-Zelda comparison. Yes, you got a boomerang, a hookshot and a horse. Yes, there were dungeons where you solved puzzles and fought bosses. Yes, the game played a jingle when you solved a puzzle. And yes, there were what amounted to heart pieces. But in many ways those are surface level comparisons. It’s like saying any 2D game where you run and jump is like Super Mario Bros., or that any game where you shoot a gun from the first person perspective is like Doom. It may be true to some extent, but it also kind of misses the point. You can run down the checklist and tick all the boxes, but Darksiders never really felt like Zelda to me when I played it. The dungeons and puzzles never felt as devious or as intricate, and the overworld never felt as grand or as majestic. There was a certain soul or spirit missing to everything the game did, something that made it feel like a rudimentary collection of mechanics that are often associated with The Legend of Zelda, but have long since become fairly standard in the bigger picture of video game design. Don’t get me wrong; I liked Darksiders just fine for what it was. I simply didn’t see grounds to draw such a strong, direct comparison to Zelda.

Then something funny happened. Almost two years after Darksiders came out the first full blown console Zelda title since 2006 landed on the Wii, and in many ways was a wake up call. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword kind of felt like, well, Darksiders. It had the hookshot and the heart pieces, and played the fancy jingle. What’s more, and what really sparked the comparison, is that Skyward Sword felt like the same straight shooting implementation of those mechanics that Darksiders was. That same defining Zelda spirit that Darksiders missed was also conspicuously absent from Skyward Sword. It was among the least Zelda of all the Zeldas, and while it was a fine game in its own way it left me questioning what it really meant to be a Zelda game.

Little game, big adventure.

In my mind The Legend of Zelda is not defined by boomerangs and heart pieces and jingles. It’s defined by something less tangible, a vision at once more abstract and more grand. The first Zelda game I ever played was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and my strongest memory of that game is how big it felt; how epic the adventure was, how exciting it felt to be a young, everyday boy going on this enormous quest to save the princess and the kingdom. As cliche as that idea has always been, A Link to the Past imparted a certain gravitas to the journey that made it feel like something more. This is all the more poignant because A Link to the Past wasn’t even that long of a game; certainly not as long as Skyward Sword. And yet it felt bigger somehow. The scope and variety of the world, the freeform way in which you could navigate its intricacies, the way you were invited and sometimes forced to explore and find your own way, the ability to tackle some dungeons in any order you chose. You were thrust into a wild and wondrous world full of seemingly endless possibilities, left to your own wit and resourcefulness to conquer its challenges. This was an adventure in the purest sense of the word, and in some ways video games have never done it better.

That sense of adventure has always been Zelda’s defining trait to me. A Link to the Past had it. Ocarina of Time had it. The Wind Waker had it. I recently played Link’s Awakening for the first time, and almost 20 years after its initial release it still has it. I have yet to play the original The Legend of Zelda, but from talking to those who have, it might have it more than any of them. That very sense of adventure is exactly what I felt both Darksiders and Skyward Sword lacked. There was an adventure of sorts happening on the screen in those games, but I never truly felt a part of it. I never felt like I was in the thick of things in quite the same way, getting my hands dirty trying to survive and save the world at the same time. They were a more passive, guided tour of gameplay mechanics that tend to be associated with Zelda games, rather than exploring what it means to be a Zelda game at heart. Again, that’s not altogether a bad thing. It’s just different.

The adventure of a lifetime awaits in Dark Souls.

Then, in an irony of ironies, mere weeks before Skyward Sword hit shelves another game was released that had seemingly nothing to do with The Legend of Zelda. From Software’s Dark Souls took the world by storm, but there was no immediate comparison to Zelda. After all, Dark Souls had no boomerang, no hookshot, no horse, no jingle and no heart pieces. You didn’t go from one dungeon to the next collecting items that you used to solve puzzles and beat bosses, all for the sake of collecting some odd number of ancient trinkets that will save the world. And yet, Dark Souls still managed to feel like a mature, modern day incarnation of the Zelda spirit. This was the big, epic journey that you could easily lose yourself to. This was the intricate and fantastical world that contained countless mysteries and surprises. This was the quest that demanded you be on your toes every step of the way, making use of every resource available. That same feeling I got when I first played A Link to the Past so many years ago was very much present and accounted for in Dark Souls. It represented the notion of a grand adventure as well as any game could hope to do, and I think it’s the best Zelda game to come out in quite some time.

There was a time when The Legend of Zelda name commanded respect as one of the leading forces in gaming, and as one of the leading adventures of our medium. I’m not convinced that’s the case anymore. Zelda has been going through an identity crisis of sorts, and there’s no shortage of pretenders out there. Darksiders and Skyward Sword may lay claim to the Zelda name, but the real Zelda has finally stood up. It’s called Dark Souls.

#2 Posted by IAmNotBatman (630 posts) -

I enjoy Zelda games. I don't enjoy Souls games. But I agree with alot of what you say.

#3 Edited by MajorMitch (511 posts) -

@IAmNotBatman: I am in no way trying to belittle Zelda (or Darksiders), but I do find it interesting how the franchise has changed over the years, and see a connection between the older Zelda games and Dark Souls.

#4 Posted by ImmortalSaiyan (4676 posts) -

I agree that Darksiders never felt like a Zelda game. For it it was more then just the exploration and journey. It was the way the Zelda elements were implemented and designed. In Zelda walking into a new Dungeon is a event, In Darksiders I never got that. There were times in fact that I was not even aware I was in a dungeon until I looked at the map. Darksiders feels like a bunch of elements lifted from other game that lacked a cohesive design to them.

That element of Zelda, something I don't know how to probably explain was still in Skyward Sword. It still felt like a Zelda game to me, even though it lacked some of the series defining characteristics.

#5 Posted by MajorMitch (511 posts) -

@ImmortalSaiyan: That happened to me in Darksiders too, sometimes I couldn't even tell if I was in a dungeon or not :P

With Skyward Sword it was just little things for me. Such as how you had to travel between the three zones, having to warp out, get on your bird, and fly to another zone. It made the world feel a bit disconnected. Spirit Tracks was a similar thing with the train. Nit picky in a way, but somehow made the adventure feel less cohesive to me.

#6 Posted by ImmortalSaiyan (4676 posts) -

@MajorMitch said:

@ImmortalSaiyan: That happened to me in Darksiders too, sometimes I couldn't even tell if I was in a dungeon or not :P

With Skyward Sword it was just little things for me. Such as how you had to travel between the three zones, having to warp out, get on your bird, and fly to another zone. It made the world feel a bit disconnected. Spirit Tracks was a similar thing with the train. Nit picky in a way, but somehow made the adventure feel less cohesive to me.

I feel you. My big complaint about Skyward Sword is the world design. In past Zelda games you have this huge over world that bridged and housed all the games Locations. In skyward Sword the world lacks cohesion because you only ever see certain parts of the world below. The Sky World was what served as your over world and it was poor. With a bunch of rocks, little of which has anything on them other then a chest, if that.

I felt as if i was going to the forest level instead of Kokiri Forest. If that makes sense. I never got a feel for the world in that game. Many people harp on the sailed in WindWaker, but I love that aspect of it.

I am just rambling now. I'll stop.

#7 Posted by MajorMitch (511 posts) -

@ImmortalSaiyan said:

I felt as if i was going to the forest level instead of Kokiri Forest. If that makes sense. I never got a feel for the world in that game. Many people harp on the sailed in WindWaker, but I love that aspect of it.

That makes perfect sense to me, and I think is a fairly big part of what made Skyward Sword feel different to me. Unlike most Zeldas, its world never really felt like a fully realized place, but rather these chopped up smaller areas that served a more mechanical purpose. I also loved the sailing in Wind Waker. Not necessarily because I loved the act of sailing, but because of the unique way it let me get absorbed in the world (a gorgeous world at that). And unlike Skyward Sword's pretty worthless sky overworld, Wind Waker's ocean had a lot of neat secrets and surprises. That made it easier for me to get invested and want to explore. I rarely felt that with Skyward Sword, and I think that's a big part of what makes that particular game not feel quite like what I traditionally think of as "Zelda".

#8 Posted by Slag (4244 posts) -

That was a fantastic blog! You nailed what makes Zelda and the Souls games great to me!

@MajorMitch said:

That sense of adventure has always been Zelda’s defining trait to me. A Link to the Past had it. Ocarina of Time had it. The Wind Waker had it. I recently played Link’s Awakening for the first time, and almost 20 years after its initial release it still has it. I have yet to play the original The Legend of Zelda, but from talking to those who have, it might have it more than any of them.

Whoever you talked to is 100% right. The original LoZ has very little hand holding or explanation at all. You justkind have to figure stuff out ( or cheat and use a guide). Health is much more scarce than in later titles as well. And given that there is very few NPCs, and the ones there are largely uncommunicative, it feels like Link is really all on his own in a hostile Wilderness. That's one reason I think modern gamers seem to find it to be a "tough" game.

#9 Posted by villainy (556 posts) -

@MajorMitch: is absolutely correct and I think that's why your Dark Souls comparison is so apt. For me much of the "adventure" from older Zelda games comes from the lack of hand holding forcing you to actually explore. The worlds were always just big enough to almost lose yourself but not quite completely get lost. Along the way you're stumbling across things like cracked walls and f-ing crazy fairies living in caves. Once you do find the next dungeon the action side of action-adventure kicks in as you slog through enemies developing attack strategies, and finally a boss that's usually quite a bit larger than Link and ready to do some real damage. Sounds a hell of a lot like Souls to me!

#10 Posted by MajorMitch (511 posts) -

@Slag: Thanks! I'm actually planning on playing through the original Zelda soonish; as a summer project I've been slowly working through the Zeldas I haven't played (why I've had Zelda on the brain :P), and that's next on the list. I'm looking forward to it!

@villainy said:

The worlds were always just big enough to almost lose yourself but not quite completely get lost. Along the way you're stumbling across things like cracked walls and f-ing crazy fairies living in caves.

Looking back the older Zelda games could be pretty nuts, and I really liked stumbling across those crazy surprises. The Souls games have that too, which I think makes them really exciting; you never know quite what to expect!

#11 Posted by leebmx (2238 posts) -

If it is exploration that means Zelda to you then aren't games like Skyrim or Fallout the 'new' Zelda as well? I think part of the problem with Zelda and what has lead to some of its staleness is that, the mechanics, the dungeons, and the rule of three has come to mean the game in some ways, which is why Darksiders was compared to Zelda. It stole the mechanics but it did not steal the spirit I suppose you could say. That's not to belttle Darksiders because I really liked it, but more explains the problem with Zelda if it can be whittled down to boomerangs etc.

I think freedom and exploration are at the heart of all games which aim to produce something magical rather than just a fun experience, and Zelda has had this in spades but it this can be a scarily vague feature to claim is at the heart of a series, demonstrated by the fact you can compare Zelda and Dark Souls, two very different games at first glance. I think the point you make serves to illustrate how stuck Zelda has become, and how great works of art can become trapped by their success and stymied trying to reproduce what made them great.

#12 Posted by Hizang (8532 posts) -

Really nice read, followed.

I am not a fan of the dark soul/demon soul games, too hard for me. But I'm also not a huge fan of the Zelda games, sure I enjoyed Win Waker, but Twilight Princess was kinda meh and I still haven't played much of Skyward Sword.

#13 Posted by pyromagnestir (4297 posts) -

Haven't played a Souls game, yet. I want to. I have so many other games I need to get to first, though.

Darksiders might not fit your idea of Zelda, but it certainly fit my trend of getting to a point in a Zelda game where I needed to step away for a while. Unlike actual Zelda games though, I've yet to get to the point where I want, no need to pick it up again and see it through. The "dungeons" being somewhat lacking certainly played a part in that.

I agree Skyward Sword is too segmented for it's own benefit. Also it has too much backtracking, which to me seems out of place in a Zelda game. Sure in Zelda games you revisit the same areas once or twice or more if you want all the secrets, but I can't recall a time where they've ever made you revisit a whole dungeon, before. Or fight 3 variations of the same boss fight. That feels very un-Zelda like. Still, my biggest gripes are the dumb things like not being able to skip dialogue you've already seen 50 times, and stuff like that.

Online
#14 Posted by MajorMitch (511 posts) -

@leebmx said:

If it is exploration that means Zelda to you then aren't games like Skyrim or Fallout the 'new' Zelda as well? I think part of the problem with Zelda and what has lead to some of its staleness is that, the mechanics, the dungeons, and the rule of three has come to mean the game in some ways, which is why Darksiders was compared to Zelda. It stole the mechanics but it did not steal the spirit I suppose you could say. That's not to belttle Darksiders because I really liked it, but more explains the problem with Zelda if it can be whittled down to boomerangs etc.

I think freedom and exploration are at the heart of all games which aim to produce something magical rather than just a fun experience, and Zelda has had this in spades but it this can be a scarily vague feature to claim is at the heart of a series, demonstrated by the fact you can compare Zelda and Dark Souls, two very different games at first glance. I think the point you make serves to illustrate how stuck Zelda has become, and how great works of art can become trapped by their success and stymied trying to reproduce what made them great.

I think exploration is certainly a part of it, but I think there's more to it than that for me. You're right that it can be very vague, so bear with me, but there's something about the older Zeldas and Dark Souls that make it feel like I'm really up against it, in the thick of things in a way that, say, Elder Scrolls and Fallout for example don't quite do. The Bethesda style feels more like a playground to me, a big fun environment to mess around in and see a lot of crazy/goofy stuff, and otherwise just have a ball in (I really like those games and what they do a lot too). Older Zelda/Dark Souls feel more consequential to me, if that's the right word. I feel more thrust into this perilous situation where both the world and my own life are in danger, and I have to summon all my courage and resources to succeed. This is opposed to the power fantasy "do whatever you want!" style of Bethesda games, if that makes any sense.

I also really agree with your statement about works of art getting trapped by their own success, and while I still like the current Zelda overall, it can sometimes bum me out a little that it does feel trapped. I'm just glad there are other games out there like Dark Souls and Darksiders that can offer alternatives.

#15 Posted by MajorMitch (511 posts) -

@Hizang: Thanks! Dark Souls' difficulty can be a barrier at times, but I also think it's critical to what makes the game special. Wind Waker also never gets enough credit I don't think :P

@pyromagnestir: I agree. There are some things I really like about Skyward Sword, but the segmented world design was easily my biggest gripe, and felt lazy. Like they could only come up with three areas and said "We'll just use each one twice!" And that text was super annoying... if I ever have to read the descriptions for a Jelly Blob or a Woodland Rhino Beetle again it'll be too soon :P

#16 Posted by Slag (4244 posts) -

@MajorMitch said:

I think exploration is certainly a part of it, but I think there's more to it than that for me. You're right that it can be very vague, so bear with me, but there's something about the older Zeldas and Dark Souls that make it feel like I'm really up against it, in the thick of things in a way that, say, Elder Scrolls and Fallout for example don't quite do. The Bethesda style feels more like a playground to me, a big fun environment to mess around in and see a lot of crazy/goofy stuff, and otherwise just have a ball in (I really like those games and what they do a lot too). Older Zelda/Dark Souls feel more consequential to me, if that's the right word. I feel more thrust into this perilous situation where both the world and my own life are in danger, and I have to summon all my courage and resources to succeed. This is opposed to the power fantasy "do whatever you want!" style of Bethesda games, if that makes any sense.

I also really agree with your statement about works of art getting trapped by their own success, and while I still like the current Zelda overall, it can sometimes bum me out a little that it does feel trapped. I'm just glad there are other games out there like Dark Souls and Darksiders that can offer alternatives.

precisely, the older Zeldas really just Zelda I and II imho as even a Link to the Past and Awakening were a bit friendlier, there was a palpable sense of danger tied the exploration. I was always scared I would lose all my progress by getting myself into a situation I couldn't get out of. Link to the Past is arguably the greatest 2d Zelda ever made but one thing it didn't do was replicate quite that same degree of danger/survival anxiety. Probably commercially though it struck a better gameplay balance for what people actually want.

Skyard Sword is the first Zelda I haven't played, and I find myself not really wanting to. The Zelda games while still great have lost a lot of their appeal to me given the tutorial-ness and guided-ness of their latest incarnations have increasingly become. Wind Waker was the last one that really did it for me. I probably ought to give Twilight Princess another chance, but the look of it just seemed so drab for a Zelda game.

good points both of you.

#17 Posted by MarkWahlberg (4601 posts) -

I haven't played either Darksiders or Dark Souls (or Skyward Sword, for that matter), but I get where you're coming from. When you have franchises that run this long, the problem of sticking to what's expected while avoiding staleness or self-parody often makes it easier for another franchise entirely to pick up and move things forward. Which can then lead to an issue of who is copying whom (see: James Bond, Jason Bourne), but whatever.

#18 Posted by c_rakestraw (844 posts) -

And once again I am reminded that I really, really, really need to buy Dark Souls. Damn my lack of employment!

Interesting point about Skyward Sword following Darksiders' footsteps. I didn't play Darksiders until recently, so, with Skyward Sword being my current point of reference, I probably was completely blind to the similarities. Looking back, they were pretty obvious.

Still need to play A Link to the Past. That first one, too. Hear great things.

#19 Posted by NathHaw (2760 posts) -

I don't suppose Dark Souls ever felt like Zelda for me. I do like both series though. I guess Zelda II did have elements of nervous tension a lot like the Souls games. Dying in Zelda II could be terrible. That was the also the hardest of the series for me.

#20 Posted by leebmx (2238 posts) -

@MajorMitch said:

I think exploration is certainly a part of it, but I think there's more to it than that for me. You're right that it can be very vague, so bear with me, but there's something about the older Zeldas and Dark Souls that make it feel like I'm really up against it, in the thick of things in a way that, say, Elder Scrolls and Fallout for example don't quite do. The Bethesda style feels more like a playground to me, a big fun environment to mess around in and see a lot of crazy/goofy stuff, and otherwise just have a ball in (I really like those games and what they do a lot too). Older Zelda/Dark Souls feel more consequential to me, if that's the right word. I feel more thrust into this perilous situation where both the world and my own life are in danger, and I have to summon all my courage and resources to succeed. This is opposed to the power fantasy "do whatever you want!" style of Bethesda games, if that makes any sense.

That explains it really clearly, thanks. It is definitely that Zelda has a structured freedom, whereas Bethesda games are just like a crazy adventure playground.

I do think part of it has to do with growing up as well. The feelings Zelda games are trying to conjure up are those of children fairytales where the hero stands dwarfed outside the huge castle of the Dark King. The exploration and fun of a Zelda game are in a very different, more childish category than the macho power trip of Elder Scrolls etc. Link has always felt like a child in an adults world, leaving the comfort and safety of home to explore a new more confusing and dangerous world and I think that idea resonates very much with kids as they play their first games. I think as we grow old its hard to recapture that magic in the same way.

Because I don't think the danger in Zelda is really there. If you are a reasonable player you will always have enough hearts and potions to get you through any dungeon. Its just that the game conjoures that feeling of being a child in a big dark world so well that for younger players this really resonates. Children are great at filling in the gaps in the fantasy that the game cannot really provide and while we don't lose this ability we are less keen to use it as we grow older. Zelda's greatness is a magic which is almost impossible to recreate for a audience who are now in a different stage of life which is why it is easier for the game to be defined by hookshots, dungeons, rules of three etc. Darksiders could almost be a satire on the situation Zelda finds itself in today.

You've tempted me to try Dark Souls. It never really appealed because the thought of doing the same thing over and again just sounded maddening but if that can be used to add a sense of danger and peril to the world rather than just frustration it might be worth it.

#21 Posted by Brodehouse (9871 posts) -

Darksiders is Ocarina of Time. Straight up, if you can't see it then you're blind. I'm not even trying to be an asshole, that game is _Ocarina-ass Ocarina_. That game is like Ocarina like no game has been since.

It makes sense that Dark Souls is like the original Zelda, because 25 years later I can't stand that game. Now Link to the Past, now we're talking.

Also, I really wish I could put all these 'gritty, mature' Zelda fans into the slingshot to the sun. Zelda has never been gritty or mature, and it never will be because it's designed for 10 year olds, just like you when you first played it. And there's nothing 'gritty' about Darksiders, it's a Goddamn comic book. It's as gritty as Infamous.

#22 Edited by Wrighteous86 (3782 posts) -

@Brodehouse said:

Darksiders is Ocarina of Time. Straight up, if you can't see it then you're blind. I'm not even trying to be an asshole, that game is _Ocarina-ass Ocarina_. That game is like Ocarina like no game has been since. It makes sense that Dark Souls is like the original Zelda, because 25 years later I can't stand that game. Now Link to the Past, now we're talking. Also, I really wish I could put all these 'gritty, mature' Zelda fans into the slingshot to the sun. Zelda has never been gritty or mature, and it never will be because it's designed for 10 year olds, just like you when you first played it. And there's nothing 'gritty' about Darksiders, it's a Goddamn comic book. It's as gritty as Infamous.

Yeah, all the people that praised Darksiders as a Zelda for adults confused the hell out of me. I would be much more embarrassed to be seen playing Darksiders than Twilight Princess. Blood and a buff violent protagonist does not a mature game make. It's cheesy and "badass" in the same way that a high school heavy metal fan's notebook is.

It's a decent game, but the style and tone were the things I liked least about it.

#23 Posted by Brodehouse (9871 posts) -

Also sorry if I came off like an asshole. I reread my post and it's far more dickish than maybe I intended. So I apologize.

#24 Posted by MarkWahlberg (4601 posts) -

@Wrighteous86 said:

@Brodehouse said:

I really wish I could put all these 'gritty, mature' Zelda fans into the slingshot to the sun. Zelda has never been gritty or mature, and it never will be because it's designed for 10 year olds, just like you when you first played it. And there's nothing 'gritty' about Darksiders, it's a Goddamn comic book. It's as gritty as Infamous.

Yeah, all the people that praised Darksiders as a Zelda for adults confused the hell out of me. I would be much more embarrassed to be seen playing Darksiders than Twilight Princess. Blood and a buff violent protagonist does not a mature game make. It's cheesy and "badass" in the same way that a high school heavy metal fan's notebook is.

It's a decent game, but the style and tone were the things I liked least about it.

I don't think they meant real adults. I think they just meant 'adults who remain in our target demographic, despite the fact that the majority of 'mature' material in this industry is adolescent gore-fest schlock.'

#25 Posted by DeF (4859 posts) -

@leebmx said:

If it is exploration that means Zelda to you then aren't games like Skyrim or Fallout the 'new' Zelda as well?

Yea, the more recent Elder Scrolls titles are a modern evolution of what the original Legend of Zelda brought: Go wherever you want, do something, maybe find a secret - have an adventure!

#26 Posted by gamefreak9 (2358 posts) -

In dark souls I was reminded alot about that zelda boss fight where you had to reflect his attacks. I don't know why but I definetly have made the comparison.

#27 Posted by OneManX (1686 posts) -

I dunno, I like Dark Souls for being different and trying new things, but the one thing I dont like about it, is you get no real grip on the rules of the world. You can walk into a land and get one shot killed, and walk to another land a few miles away and mow down everything in your path. It just seems inconsistent at times, to where you can't really explore becuase you are eventually gonna get fucked. In the original Zelda, I never had that feeling. That pretty much anywhere I went, I had a shot at surviving until I reached a point to where I didn't have the right tool.

#28 Edited by MrKlorox (11209 posts) -

So imagine the universe split after Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link came out. In universe A, Zelda continued to progress in the direction that it has in this universe (LOZ1 and LTTP style became the main style as it went 3D and it focused more on ability gating). In universe B, they continued in the direction of Zelda 2 (kill things for experience-like points which you spend on character upgrades, that return to zero after dying, with combat that feels more like dueling and mistakes are not tolerated). 
 
Darksiders would be the product of universe A's Zelda style, and Dark Souls would be the product of universe B's Zelda style.

#29 Posted by MajorMitch (511 posts) -

@leebmx said:

I do think part of it has to do with growing up as well. The feelings Zelda games are trying to conjure up are those of children fairytales where the hero stands dwarfed outside the huge castle of the Dark King. The exploration and fun of a Zelda game are in a very different, more childish category than the macho power trip of Elder Scrolls etc. Link has always felt like a child in an adults world, leaving the comfort and safety of home to explore a new more confusing and dangerous world and I think that idea resonates very much with kids as they play their first games. I think as we grow old its hard to recapture that magic in the same way.

Because I don't think the danger in Zelda is really there. If you are a reasonable player you will always have enough hearts and potions to get you through any dungeon. Its just that the game conjoures that feeling of being a child in a big dark world so well that for younger players this really resonates. Children are great at filling in the gaps in the fantasy that the game cannot really provide and while we don't lose this ability we are less keen to use it as we grow older. Zelda's greatness is a magic which is almost impossible to recreate for a audience who are now in a different stage of life which is why it is easier for the game to be defined by hookshots, dungeons, rules of three etc. Darksiders could almost be a satire on the situation Zelda finds itself in today.

You've tempted me to try Dark Souls. It never really appealed because the thought of doing the same thing over and again just sounded maddening but if that can be used to add a sense of danger and peril to the world rather than just frustration it might be worth it.

I think that's a great point about it being hard to recapture the "magic" as you get older, and I'm sure some of Zelda's lost magic for me is due to me not being as young as I once was. At the same time, I think that makes Dark Souls even more impressive in a way, because it does hold a magic of sorts for me now, as an adult. Not the same childlike fantasy version Zelda had, but a more grown-up version of it. I got lost in Dark Souls much the same way I did the older Zeldas, which is a big reason why I see a comparison. It's almost like if Zelda had grown up with me, it would have turned into Dark Souls.

If you're thinking about trying Dark Souls, the amount of frustration varies from person to person :P I found the difficulty great for raising the stakes, and increasing the tension and immersion. But I also know plenty who can't stand it. Never know until you try though!

#30 Edited by MajorMitch (511 posts) -

@Brodehouse: Haha, no problem duder :P I do agree that "gritty" and "mature" get way too overused, including with regards to Zelda and Darksiders.

@MarkWahlberg said:

I don't think they meant real adults. I think they just meant 'adults who remain in our target demographic, despite the fact that the majority of 'mature' material in this industry is adolescent gore-fest schlock.'

What!? Those aren't real adults!?

@OneManX said:

I dunno, I like Dark Souls for being different and trying new things, but the one thing I dont like about it, is you get no real grip on the rules of the world. You can walk into a land and get one shot killed, and walk to another land a few miles away and mow down everything in your path. It just seems inconsistent at times, to where you can't really explore becuase you are eventually gonna get fucked. In the original Zelda, I never had that feeling. That pretty much anywhere I went, I had a shot at surviving until I reached a point to where I didn't have the right tool.

That's an interesting comparison, though I never quite felt that hopeless in Dark Souls (the speed runs might convince you that it's never as hard as it first seems :P).

The way Dark Souls' world is open and each area contains enemies of varying difficulties is one of the things I really like about it actually. It makes it feel less like the world is adapting to me (think about how games like Mass Effect or Elder Scrolls level enemies alongside you, for example) and more like I'm being forced to adapt to the world in all its craziness. Every time I enter a new area I have to determine if I can find a way through on my own, of decide that I'd be better off coming back later when I'm more prepared/experienced. Makes it feel like I'm connecting with the world on a more intimate, organic level. Zelda at its worst can feel like a thinly veiled series of locked doors, though at its best can feel just as organic as Dark Souls.

@MrKlorox said:

So imagine the universe split after Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link came out. In universe A, Zelda continued to progress in the direction that it has in this universe (LOZ1 and LTTP style became the main style as it went 3D and it focused more on ability gating). In universe B, they continued in the direction of Zelda 2 (kill things for experience-like points which you spend on character upgrades, that return to zero after dying, with combat that feels more like dueling and mistakes are not tolerated). Darksiders would be the product of universe A's Zelda style, and Dark Souls would be the product of universe B's Zelda style.

That's an interesting thought! Zelda can't seem to get away from split timeline theories can it? :P

#31 Posted by corganmurray (33 posts) -

Whoa man, I felt the same way about Skyward Sword and Darksiders, and you've done a good job articulating what I enjoyed about Dark Souls. Good post!

#32 Posted by Phatmac (5725 posts) -

While I loathe the Souls games and will continue to do so I still enjoyed reading this. Darksiders is still the best modern Zelda game out there so I can't wait to play the second one. Great read.

#33 Posted by Lysergica33 (523 posts) -

Cool article. I see the point you're making, but if anything I feel that Dark Souls is more of a great metroidvania game than a Zelda game. While I agree about the sense of adventure, I think Zelda games are also very much defined by their mechanics and tropes. The heart pieces, the gadgets, the dungeons and puzzles all help to make Zelda what it is, and Dark Souls doesn't really have any of that. Sure you can get pieces of equipment that will HELP, you eventually get things like the ability to warp between certain fires (which may be in a sense comparable to the gadgets and items you acquire in Zelda,) but fundamentally the only thing that will get you through the game is your own ingenuity, skill and your will to continue onwards despite the world's best attempts to whittle down your resolve steadily over time until you're a mere shell of your once courageous self.

So while I see what you're saying from a philosophical point of view, without Dark Souls having some of the fundamental tropes of what makes a Zelda game what it is mechanically, the comparison is flawed, and why I feel a metroidvania comparison is more apt. Infact I would say Dark Souls is one of the purest examples of a metroidvania game in a long time considering you end up constantly trekking back and forth across the world as you find certain areas block you from continuing due to not having certain items, or more commonly, not having a certain amount of skill.

Great article though!

#34 Posted by Turambar (6738 posts) -
@OneManX said:

I dunno, I like Dark Souls for being different and trying new things, but the one thing I dont like about it, is you get no real grip on the rules of the world. You can walk into a land and get one shot killed, and walk to another land a few miles away and mow down everything in your path. It just seems inconsistent at times, to where you can't really explore becuase you are eventually gonna get fucked. In the original Zelda, I never had that feeling. That pretty much anywhere I went, I had a shot at surviving until I reached a point to where I didn't have the right tool.

Well, to be fair, in Dark Souls, you always have a shot at surviving.  Outside of being horribly undergeared (not underleveled), which is akin to not having the right tools in a Zelda game, you can always make it through the general direction the game vaguely points you towards.
#35 Posted by Xeiphyer (5602 posts) -

I've never thought about the Souls games in this way, but I definitely agree completely. Maybe that's part of the reason the Souls games resonate with me so much.

#36 Posted by Deusx (1903 posts) -

Well, any adventure game now a days is inspired by Zelda and I agree there a re some similarities. That said, I think DaS is better than Zelda. Fuck yeah I said it. It´s my favorite game ever for a reason. I could writte books about that game...

#37 Posted by Slag (4244 posts) -

@Lysergica33 said:

So while I see what you're saying from a philosophical point of view, without Dark Souls having some of the fundamental tropes of what makes a Zelda game what it is mechanically, the comparison is flawed, and why I feel a metroidvania comparison is more apt. Infact I would say Dark Souls is one of the purest examples of a metroidvania game in a long time considering you end up constantly trekking back and forth across the world as you find certain areas block you from continuing due to not having certain items, or more commonly, not having a certain amount of skill.

That's a very good counterpoint.

#38 Edited by Vegetable_Side_Dish (1726 posts) -

My Ultimate Final Super Fantastic Game of the Forever would be a Zelda game with a Dark Souls world structure and game mechanics and a Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind aesthetic/narrative. Just throwing that out there. 

#39 Edited by MrKlorox (11209 posts) -
@Lysergica33: I'd go so far as to say that Zelda (starting with Ocarina of Time) is in fact how metroidvania works in 3d. It's as deep into ability/equipment gating as it gets. And since Dark Souls does not have much gating aside from doing a task or retrieving a story item you can't use (unlike say a hookshot or a double jump), it's not a metroidvania. Like you yourself said, it's the pure skill, or leveled up character, that allows you to brute force your way through. Sure, ability gating is not the only facet of a metroidvania, but it's absolutely a requirement, if not the most important one.
#40 Edited by YummyTreeSap (308 posts) -

@leebmx said:

This reminds me quite a bit of this article. At least regarding the comparison of the -Souls franchise to the original Zelda game(s). While I certainly don't agree with it on every aspect, it definitely reflects a lot of what I believe as well.

It's worth noting that I'm an immense -Souls fanboy. Demon's Souls is easily my favorite disc-based game of the generation. The sense of loneliness, helplessness, and directionlessness (it's a word now, dammit!) the game conveys is unlike any other. That you're not given much help and have to figure things out (even the story!) on your own is exceptionally courageous in today's gaming climate (true—you can resort to the wiki if you must). I actually haven't beaten Dark Souls yet because I stopped for a bit and now I'm stuck at that point where I'm not sure if I should start from where I left off and not totally understand what the hell I'm doing or start again and lose all the progress I made.

But I'm really digressing now.

Also:

@MajorMitch said:

You've tempted me to try Dark Souls. It never really appealed because the thought of doing the same thing over and again just sounded maddening but if that can be used to add a sense of danger and peril to the world rather than just frustration it might be worth it.

Well, it must be said that Demon's/Dark Souls both can be extremely frustrating games. This much I cannot deny. However, what I think sets them apart from your more typically frustrating game is that in most cases it is your own self you're getting frustrated at. You'll be taking things slowly (as you should), but then you'll have a lapse of judgment where you get overconfident in your ability to slay a particular enemy or you'll try to take on more than you should and you'll find yourself dead in no time (both very common habits I get into after dying a few times). It's part of what I love about these games. Almost every enemy is dangerous if you aren't being smart about how you fight them.

I could go on for-ever, but I will spare you.

#41 Edited by RandomInternetUser (6789 posts) -

I was telling my brother that for some reason Demon's Souls reminded me of Zelda way back when I first played it and he said I was crazy. I said Dark Souls reminded me even more of Zelda and he told me I was crazy. I'm glad to see I'm not crazy. (Or at least others share my crazy.)

#42 Posted by MajorMitch (511 posts) -

@Lysergica33 said:

Cool article. I see the point you're making, but if anything I feel that Dark Souls is more of a great metroidvania game than a Zelda game. While I agree about the sense of adventure, I think Zelda games are also very much defined by their mechanics and tropes. The heart pieces, the gadgets, the dungeons and puzzles all help to make Zelda what it is, and Dark Souls doesn't really have any of that. Sure you can get pieces of equipment that will HELP, you eventually get things like the ability to warp between certain fires (which may be in a sense comparable to the gadgets and items you acquire in Zelda,) but fundamentally the only thing that will get you through the game is your own ingenuity, skill and your will to continue onwards despite the world's best attempts to whittle down your resolve steadily over time until you're a mere shell of your once courageous self.

So while I see what you're saying from a philosophical point of view, without Dark Souls having some of the fundamental tropes of what makes a Zelda game what it is mechanically, the comparison is flawed, and why I feel a metroidvania comparison is more apt. Infact I would say Dark Souls is one of the purest examples of a metroidvania game in a long time considering you end up constantly trekking back and forth across the world as you find certain areas block you from continuing due to not having certain items, or more commonly, not having a certain amount of skill.

Great article though!

Thanks! You're absolutely right that Dark Souls doesn't have those tropes that define Zelda mechanically, and that's more or less the point. It doesn't have those things, and yet it felt like it captured the Zelda spirit more than any game has for me in a while. It definitely comes down to what Zelda means to you, and for me it's not defined by those tropes, the gadgets and heart pieces and whatnot. So many games have that kind of stuff now. But the size and scope of the pure adventure within Dark Souls feels like the older Zelda games did to me back in the day. I said it somewhere else in all these comments, but Dark Souls kind of feels like what Zelda would have been if it grew up alongside me, keeping its spirit in tact. I'll admit, it's a bit abstract and touchy-feely :P

You also mention that in Dark Souls you have to primarily rely on your ingenuity, skill and will to continue more than items and gear, and I believe the original Zelda is much in the same boat. I haven't played it yet (will soon, promise!), so maybe someone else can confirm or deny, but it's my understanding that it wasn't so reliant on items. Your Metroidvania comparison is interesting too. Dark Souls doesn't rely very much on item/ability gating (your abilities are fairly similar the entire game), but I can see some similarities in terms of the exploration, and the way you're forced to become really familiar with the world. Good stuff to ponder on at least!

@Phatmac said:

While I loathe the Souls games and will continue to do so I still enjoyed reading this. Darksiders is still the best modern Zelda game out there so I can't wait to play the second one. Great read.

Haha, thanks! I enjoy those as well, if for different reasons than I enjoy Dark Souls, and plan to pick up Darksiders II soon myself :P

@Vegetable_Side_Dish said:

My Ultimate Final Super Fantastic Game of the Forever would be a Zelda game with a Dark Souls world structure and game mechanics and a Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind aesthetic/narrative. Just throwing that out there.

I would play this game. But only if it was officially called "My Ultimate Final Super Fantastic Game of the Forever" :P

@YummyTreeSap said:

@leebmx said:

This reminds me quite a bit of this article. At least regarding the comparison of the -Souls franchise to the original Zelda game(s). While I certainly don't agree with it on every aspect, it definitely reflects a lot of what I believe as well.

I actually read that article a few months ago, and in some small way it might have manifested itself in the back of my brain while I was writing this. I think it's a very interesting read, and a lot of my points and his are fairly similar, even if he's a lot more extreme with the idea than I am. I still like modern Zeldas like Skyward Sword and Darksiders perfectly fine; those are going in a different direction than stuff like Dark Souls, and I respect and appreciate that. They have their place. This guy is very idealistic about what games can and almost should be, and I definitely admire his passion for the topic, but he's almost too hardcore in a way. I absolutely love the demanding nature of Dark Souls, but imagine if every game was like that? It would be a crazy world if nothing else. That said, it is a great read, I definitely recommend people check it out.

#43 Posted by MajorMitch (511 posts) -

@xobballox said:

I was telling my brother that for some reason Demon's Souls reminded me of Zelda way back when I first played it and he said I was crazy. I said Dark Souls reminded me even more of Zelda and he told me I was crazy. I'm glad to see I'm not crazy. (Or at least others share my crazy.)

That kind of vindication is what we really live for isn't it? :P Glad I could help!

#44 Edited by DelroyLindo (387 posts) -

Dark Souls consistently reminded me of the way I felt playing Ocarina of Time for the first time many many years ago. I agree with what you said.

I also think the reviews to Dark Souls were a detriment. Many people (myself included) were likely put off by the reported difficulty. The game is challenging, sure, but it is no where near as difficult as it is made out to be, not even slightly.

#45 Posted by NathHaw (2760 posts) -

@YummyTreeSap: I am your taskmaster for now, and I command you to restart Dark Souls and play it through. You will thank me. ;P

#46 Posted by SonicFire (821 posts) -

I actually think of Dark Souls as the new Super Metroid. You get better, and stronger (and maybe better geared) and you can survive through tougher areas, which are all named and have unique looks and characteristics.

#47 Posted by PillClinton (3291 posts) -

Goddamnit, I really need to play Dark Souls. Nice write-up btw, but I still think Darksiders is the closest thing to a modern 3D Zelda game we've had in years, even more so than Skyward Sword. Admittedly, though, I've yet to play any Souls, save for a few hours with Demon's.

#48 Posted by Tophat666 (229 posts) -

I don't have much to say because what you wrote gets my point, I've been saying this for months.

I love Dark Souls (& Demon's Souls as well, but Dark more), it's one of the most amazing things to happen to games in a long time, I love Zelda (OoT is my all time favorite game(I know cliché, but fuck you)) & Im 100% behind the fact that it's adult Zelda.

The sense of discovery, finding out just what is behind that next conner, the "Water Cooler" aspect where you can find out new things by talking with people, a vast world that has dungeons on top of it being it's own dungeon, all types of weapons at your beck & call, & AWESOME REAL TIME COMBAT that has a deep RPG backing to it & fucking works to boot. IT'S ZELDA!!!!!

#49 Posted by Slag (4244 posts) -

You know if the question has become whether Dark Souls is more like oldschool Zelda or oldschool Metroid/Castlevania, the real answer is that Dark Souls is awesome.

I really need to get a copy of that game.

#50 Posted by King9999 (613 posts) -

Interesting that you would make a comparison between Dark Souls and Zelda. Most people view Dark Souls as what a 3D Castlevania should have been.

I don't think I agree with your argument completely, though. There are things that make Zelda what it is. The sense of adventure is a big part of it, but exploring dungeons and solving puzzles define Zelda as well. Dark Souls has neither of these. By the way, you should definitely play the original Zelda. There are numerous ways to do it, but I recommend playing the Zelda Classic version (google it). In addition to the original quests, you have access to user-created quests.

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