Zelda Universe: Gameplay is not more important than story

ChristinaJanuary 26th, 2012 by Christina

What is more important, gameplay or story? Eiji Aonuma, producer of many Zelda games, thinks the answer is gameplay. He was quoted in Hyrule Historia saying that while developing the games, he was more focused on pleasant controls in a 3D world, comfortable stylus controls, and an easy way to swing your sword using the Wii Motion Plus, while story elements came second to that. The Missing Link over at Zelda Universe recently wrote an article on why Aonuma is wrong and that gameplay is not more important than story.

He reflects back on his time in Hyrule, which he calls his home away from home and how he has enjoyed every Zelda experience. He also discusses how recent Zelda games have not been doing it for him as much as others because of lack of story. With his focus being on Skyward Sword, he feels that Zelda is falling behind its competitors in terms of story and as a result it is affecting the players experience with the games and their emotional connection to characters and plot. Of course, many are quick to disagree saying things like it shouldn’t have a deep story because it is a game designed for everyone and adding a lot could alienate people, or Nintendo knows we will buy the game anyway, while others say that the series and its most recent games do have a good story. In the end, he hopes that story is made a primary focus and that it will help make a truly, artistic masterpiece. After the jump you can preview the article, but make sure to head over to Zelda Universe to read it all.

Yet my hope isn’t simply that Zelda isn’t meeting my personal needs; my dream is to see Zelda become something so much more! The world of Hyrule with its Triforces and its goddesses and its crazy alien-like races have so much untapped potential when it comes to building a solid foundation for a story and a history that, when it’s not used to its full potential, I cry just a little bit inside. I’ve been living the legend and the land of Hyrule for so long that my imagination is at odds with Nintendo’s unwillingness to realize that world. All this leaves me with only fanfiction and fanart to fill the gap between what I’ve wanted and what I’ve received.

Yet my cry is more than just me not being fulfilled. The long list of game series that have tickled my interests over the past decade have proven to me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that games are truly artistic experiences—that the best of games are artistic masterpieces. As a musician growing up, I felt the power of music swell through my band and my instrument as we created harmony together. I’ve seen films and read literature that have brought me to tears. And I have seen sculpture and paintings that have taken my breath away. And I’ve played video games that have kept me up until 4am because I was so mesmerized by them that I’d forgotten I was just a player. I’ve fallen in love with video game characters so much that I’ve written stories to flesh out the universes that I was presented. I’ve seen such rich artistry and creativity in games, not just visually but also literarily!

And I can’t help but want to see that in Zelda too. I want Zelda to be a true masterpiece that every gamer can appreciate.

Yet without story being a primary focus of the Zelda experience, all we are bound to receive is a paper-thin shell that will never tackle deeper issues or produce true, heartfelt feelings. Without story as a primary focus, there won’t be any incentive to push the limits of human emotion and force players into difficult situations that tear at their hearts. Take the delicious ending of Link’s Awakening; that game is a tale of tragic loss and bittersweet endings. I’d argue that Link’s Awakening’s ending was just as deep and emotional as the games it was indirectly competing with in those days: Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV, and so forth. It pushed through and surpassed the limitations of four-color gaming to deliver a solid experience.

Did you enjoy the article? Do you agree with Aonuma and say that gameplay is more important, or do you agree with The Missing Link and say that story is more important? Maybe they are both equally important? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Source: Zelda Universe

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  • Dragmire

    If this guy thinks Zelda has bad storylines, he hasn’t played SS. Or TP. Or WW. Or OoT. Or MM. Or…. 

    • besson3c

      In relation to what? Other video games, maybe… Story telling in general, I’ve yet to see a video game with a compelling story, including the Zelda games. The quality of these stories is sort of B-movie at best, as much as I love the games.

  • Twilight Sage

    Mario proves that you can have a GREAT game without a story line. But, as far as truly sucking the gamers into your game, emotional stories, creative/intuitive controls, AND a great, epic, recignizeable soundtrack are all important (the preceeding two being more important, as the soundtrack really just plays into the first.) Zelda has, for the most part, mastered all 3 (some games succeed more than others, but they all have certain elements of all three, as their tech. allowed.)

  • MW7

    Umm so at first I thought I completely disagreed with The Missing Link, but then I read his article. In the fifth to last paragraph he states “I don’t think story should be more important than gameplay.” I think the title of this article is misleading. He just wants story to be given real attention.
    Also The Missing Link wrote an article in June of 2010 about how a game called 3D Dot Game Heroes was more Zelda than Zelda. He completely trashed Twilight Princess and Spirit Tracks for being linear due to reliance on story. I think he doesn’t know what he wants. 

  • Guest02

    The skyward sword story did not do it for me. For an origin story and a 25th anniversary game, I was expecting something grander and even more memorable than windwaker. A new link that began on outset island, a family he cared for, a sister he was trying to save, ganondorf’s fleshing of backstory and of course the revelation of hyrule’s fate. I totally agree that that they create all these wacky and fun characters but they could do so much more in fleshing out characters.

    Skyward sword’s story pretty much reinforced what I already knew. I already knew there was a connection between these reincarnations of zelda, link, and ganondorf in these multiple zelda games. Im not exactly sure they needed to spell it out for me when it was always implied and never needed to be stated. They could have done so much more with demise and this cursed connection they are bound to.

  • bob

    If story is more important than gameplay, Skyward sword wasn’t a good game. The story was not high quality. It was an improvement for the Zelda series, but honestly, I didn’t play Skyward Sword for its story. The story could have had much more depth. Skyward sword was an amazing game, but it definitely didn’t have an amazing story.

    • Rick620

      I respect your opinion but alot of people can strongly disagree with you. I personally think its story was far more entertaining and heartwarming than twilight princess and any other previous zelda games simply because this is an origin story and Origin stories are always amazing. this game was the first zelda game that actually tempered with my emotions in the cut scenes and i can honestly say that has never happened when i played the older zelda titles. So in my opinion this game did have an Amazing Story.

      • bob

        I have to agree that the cutsenes were magnificent, but i didn’t like the whole Mario-peach consept I got from the beggining of the story. Don’t get me wrong, I still liked the game, just not as much as others(still in my top ten)

      • Louis

        The game’s story was a huge improvement on the story of past zelda games, but its not like it set a new standard.

  • Anonymous

    “All this leaves me with only fanfiction and fanart to fill the gap between what I’ve wanted and what I’ve received.”  Well there’s your problem, you’re reading all this stuff that Nintendo had nothing to do with.  I may think it’d be cool if Mario was in a game that took place in Italy rather than the Mushroom Kingdom but I’m not going to complain that it’s not happening because Nintendo never planned it to begin with.

    As for the story vs. gameplay debate, I’d choose gameplay.  A Link to the Past is one of my favorite games in the series and it’s fairly minimal when it comes to story.  What story is there is told through simple one-on-one dialog boxes rather than lengthy cinematics.  Maybe it’s not as emotionally charged as some other games, but I don’t care about that because it’s fun to play, and that’s why I play games – to have fun.

    Tetris Attack has a story mode, and the story’s completely forgettable, but that’s fine because the game is so fun to play.  Gitaroo Man’s story is ridiculous, but the gameplay is so fun that it makes up for it.  Tetris has no story at all, and it’s so popular that it’s been remade for just about every single game platform ever made.

    Now it’s true that a good story can enhance a game and help make up for what it lacks in other areas by making it more interesting and emotionally engaging, but I’d rather have a game that’s fun to play regardless of (or in spite of) its story than to have a killer story try to make up for subpar gameplay.

    • Dreiko

      exactly, i’m not against a great story, but if it’s gonna mess up the gameplay then i rather have a basic or decent story but fun and creative gameplay

  • Higaki Rinne

    The thing about this argument is that the question “What is more important in video games – gameplay or story?” is a trick question. There is no answer to that, because you cannot separate one from the other in a video game. And when you do, it results in something like Final Fantasy where cutscenes might as well be a separate thing. In good video games story is :told through the gameplay:. Like Portal. Or Zelda. So yeah.

  • Dreiko

    both are important and it’s really hard to have a good story that doesn’t interfere with gameplay and viceversa, finding a good balance is not easy task, i totally agree that a very deep story and characters helps alot to inmerse yourself in a videogame, but if i have to choose one as my first priority, it would be gameplay as many games a remembered because of it’s gameplay, however that doesn’t mean that the story would be bad

  • Dreiko

    for example, i personally didn’t liked red dead redemption story, i hated most of the characters and it had to much “thanks but i still need you to do this or i won’t help you” and i never felt attached to any character except jhon marston but it’s becaue is the main character, but the gameplay was so much fun that i didn’t care for the story at all, another example is uncharted 3, in one of the developer’s videos they say the chasing part of the game in yemen wasn’t in the original story but the developer team did a great job with it that they had to include it in the story, i think gameplay have more weight than story, but that also depends on what type of experience the developers want to give to the player, some focuse more on story and other on gameplays, although many modern games have a good balance

  • Zelda Rockses

    If you play a game for it’s story, you might as well stop gaming and watch movies or read books instead.

    • Zelda Rockses

      Don’t get me wrong, a good story can make a great game even better but without gameplay, a game isn’t a game.

  • someone

    In my opinion Zelda`s gameplay is perfect and shouldn`t change(at least to much from it`s current form)About the story Nintendo should become more creative because the most of the games has the same storyline about Ganon stealing princess Zelda and wants taking Triforce and Link trying to save the world.Link should experience new adventures and new villains like he did in Majora`s Mask,Link`s Awakening and the Oracles games.In my opinion even if the gameplay is perfect but the 8 of the 10 games games has the same storyline with some different details between them no matter how good is the gameplay its may become boring.

    • shellegg

      Um, most of the games are about Ganon stealing 
      princess Zelda and wants taking Triforce and Link trying to save the world? That’s not true t all actually.

      • someone

        Do you think i`m wrong?Most of the Zelda games has that storyline.If you don’t agree express me your opinion

        • Anonymous

          Adventure of Link – Ganon’s dead.
          Link’s Awakening – No Ganon.
          Majora’s Mask – No Ganon.
          Minish Cap – No Ganon.
          Four Swords – No Ganon.
          Phantom Hourglass – No Ganon.
          Spirit Tracks – No Ganon.
          Skyward Sword – No Ganon. 
          Oracle games – Ganon’s dead until the end.

          Out of 16 games, that’s 10 that barely include Ganon, if at all.  “Most” implies a majority, which 6 out of 16 is not.

          • someone

            Xxaxaxa you’re right but enough Zelda games has the same storyline with Ganon

  • Jollyroger919

    The charming thing about Zelda’s storyline has always been its vagueness, though. The stories are fine and to the point enough as-is, and if there were any more complexities added to Zelda’s storytelling the franchise could reach Kingdom Hearts levels of crappy fanfic-like plots. Do not want.

    And besides, it’s only common sense that story should take a backseat to gameplay in a video game. Like movies, they serve their purpose.

  • Anonymous

    If you want story, go read a book or watch a film. Gameplay is meant to be the star of games.

  • http://www.fanfiction.net/u/3243227/ Lady Legend-Maker


  • Pearlsrock

    I think without the gameplay, it would be very hard to play, but without the story, I would get bored really fast… I think both are very important, but in my opinion, I would buy a game more for it’s story. :)

  • TheMaverickk

    Gameplay hands down is more important then story.

    Look at the convoluted mess of Twilight Princess. The one time Nintendo waffled (in interviews Aonuma states that in Twilight Princess story came first) on the “Gameplay/Story” importance and look how it turned out. You have a game with weak gameplay, trying to do too much that it doesn’t even know it’s own identity.

    The gameplay of a Zelda game shapes the story that is told, and it all reflects each other.

    Anyone who claims that Story is more IMPORTANT then Gameplay in a VIDEO GAME (an interactive medium where the gameplay dictates how the player experiences THAT story) seriously needs to rethink what they are saying.

    Video games aren’t Films or Books. The defining feature, the feature that separates it from other forms of media, of a Video Game is that there is an external force pushing the game forward and interacting with the the environments.

    If you say story is more important go watch a movie or a film simple as that, stop playing video games and go enjoy a form of media that is centered around the story. I’m not saying that story isn’t important in a video game, it’s very important, just not as important as Gameplay.

  • aforce

    You need a balence of storyline and gameplay!

  • Walter Bomba

    Well it could be the crappiest playing game in the entire world where the controls suck and the gameplay isn’t fun at all but could have an amazing story and that just isn’t acceptable, but then look at the old Mario series throughout the NES era, practically no story whatsoever but the game play was so amazing that it didn’t even matter, I have to agree with Aonuma that game play is the better thing to go for, even though a balance would be the best, I also strongly disagree that ”amazing graphics” make the game too, it’s just an absurd and shallow way to think of video games.

  • Cococrash11

    Its story and gameplay together that should be important.

  • Cococrash11

    The Gameplay and Stories are both equally important.

  • besson3c

    To be blunt while possibly sounding like a jerk, I don’t think that you guys are really thinking this through all that carefully.

    In Zelda games you are rewarded by accomplishing something with cutscenes and advancing the storyline. One must not conflate this feeling of accomplish and the positive feelings that go along with this with actually finding the story compelling. Few people watching you play Zelda who know nothing about these games and have never played them will really be all that interested in the cutscene dialog, because frankly, in relation to storytelling in general the stories and dialog aren’t very good in relation to the standards set for good storytelling in general. I understand the desire for video games to have more compelling stories so that your experience feels more immersive, and that while these stories may hold up well against other video games this gives the player a skewed sense as to how good these stories are in relation to storytelling in general.

    Finally, the positive feelings that go along with triggering these cutscenes is due to the gameplay being compelling enough for the player to get there in the first place. There is absolutely no logical rationale for saying that the stories are more important than the gameplay, because you wouldn’t be interested in the stories if the gameplay wasn’t compelling enough for you to trigger the cutscenes that advance the storyline in the first place. Moreover, as has been pointed out, it is possible to have a compelling game with no story at all. One of the fan favorite Zelda games seems to be Majora’s Mask, and it doesn’t really have much of a story at all. 

    With all due respect, saying the stories are as important is just kind of dumb. 

    • Komali100

      You are just kind of dumb. Just because you feel that way doesn’t make it law. After I’m done playing Skyward Sword a second time, I would LOVE to find JUST the cutscenes and watch the whole story again. I play Portal 2 repeatedly just to hear the dialogue because after one or two runs through the game, the tests are really easy. For me, story is my main drive to play Zelda games because their storys are great. And by the way Majora’s Mask DID have a story. Zelda and Zelda II had probably the least amount of story of all the Zelda games.

      • besson3c

        The personal attack is not necessary, and it doesn’t further your point.

        You are a Zelda fan, and your attachment to the cutscenes is in part due to your attachment to the game itself. Could you honestly say that if you despised the game and for some reason somebody forced you to play the whole thing that you’d be interested in watching the cutscenes again?

        Again, your enjoyment of the game is due to gameplay.

        • Komali100

          That doesn’t make any sense. You are just trying to twist words around to make my opinion invalid. Which is impossible, by the way, since opinions can’t be invalid. There could be multiple reasons why I despise a game. It could be the story is bad, or it COULD be that the controls and the gameplay sucks. I am just stating my opinion, you are one portraying your opinion as fact. I love the story for the story, deal with it.

  • Sir Me

    If you want story, read a book. 

    • Komali100

      Why read when I can play a Zelda game?

  • Guest

    I think that story and gameplay are both important.  Yes, a game with good gameplay and bad story is more acceptable then a game with good story and bad gameplay, but both are necessary for a true masterpiece.  Story is part of the overall experience of a game, (which is what I consider gameplay to be).  A good plot helps keep players interested in the game, and enhances the experience.  The Missing Link never said gameplay wasn’t important, rather that there needs to be more focus on the story too.  If you haven’t read the full article go read it

    The people saying “go read a book” sound ignorant.  Something is not allowed to have a good plot/story if it’s not a book?

  • Hero of Time009

    A truely perfect game dosen’t focus on just gameplay or the story. It needs both to be enjoyable.