The Replay Value of Zelda Games

Hero ModeWe’ve all probably beaten a Zelda game and wondered why our fantastic adventure had to come to an end. After spending so much time building Link to his fullest potential, it’s such a shame that his journey has to be over. For most of us though, it’s hardly the end. Some people would be hesitant to call another person a true Zelda fan if they haven’t played multiple games in the series at least twice.

But why is it that we replay our favorite Zelda games so many times? It’s not like anyone really gets anything new out of (most of) the games by replaying them, other than perhaps discovering some new secrets or completing side quests that were missed the first time. The point is, the amount of content in the Zelda games is typically finite, so after a certain amount of playthroughs, it’s entirely possible for one to memorize the game. I personally have played Ocarina of Time over 20 times, and while the awe of the experience and my sense of nostalgia never falter, I barely have to pay attention to the game to get by in a breeze.

Essentially, while the presentation of many of the Zelda games never ceases to amaze, there becomes a significant decrease in challenge on successive playthroughs. It is important that a game provides incentive to continue playing it, otherwise it will lose its luster over time. A game is not only a medium of escapism, but a system designed to test our skills. While, of course, games like Ocarina of Time have stood the test of time, this should be for more reasons than that it was amazing years ago when people first played it.

When you boil it down to the basics, the gameplay of titles in the Legend of Zelda series are all about exploration, combat, and puzzle-solving. Challenging combat has plenty of room for replayability, but, for the most part, exploration and puzzle-solving have minimal amounts of replay value. Exploration is limited by the size of a game’s world, unless you bring randomization to the table (more on that later). Puzzles, by nature, are designed to be completed once, since they are about discovering their solutions. With the fact in mind that two-thirds of the essence of Zelda games are inherently designed to be novel experiences once, how can Nintendo design a truly replayable Zelda game?

Cave of OrdealsTo begin with the easiest factor to squeeze replay value out of, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Spirit Tracks can be observed for a source of combat inspiration. The Savage Labyrinth, Cave of Ordeals, and Take ‘Em All On challenges from their respective games are all primarily enemy gauntlets. In Twilight Princess specifically, this was personally the most fun and challenging part of the game. Based on this, I suggest including something like this again, only endless. It would be a game mode that you could continue to come back to even after you’ve beaten the game to see how many floors you can complete. It would also provide incentive to collect all of the items and pieces of heart in the game so that you could perform better in this mode. There could be Miiverse integration so you could boast about how many floors you’ve completed and how you’re the best Zelda player ever. All in all, this mode would be a true test of people’s talent in Zelda combat.

Shigeru Miyamoto recently stated in an interview that the Oracle games were initially meant to be released episodically. This is an interesting approach that Alex Plant of GenGame wrote about in detail. There are definitely advantages to a constant flow of new material, as opposed to years of waiting between new installments. In a similar vein is the possibility of downloadable content. Even after future games are released, Nintendo can continue to expand their worlds and develop new dungeons that players can obtain for a further challenge. While I am personally against the idea of paid DLC, I do not deny that it will increase the longevity of a Zelda game. The addition of more puzzles and new areas to explore would keep the newest Zelda world fresh for longer, rather than becoming stale quickly due to a lack of new content. This would work wonders so long as new content continued to come. It is inevitable that it would cease eventually, and incentive to play would disappear along with it. It is much more beneficial for the game itself to provide new experiences as a result of its design, rather than having to rely on new content.

Map of Hyrule

There are other ways to keep a Zelda world fresh, however. While many people have memorized the world map of the original Legend of Zelda, it still feels new each time. Since the game is so decidedly nonlinear, you can complete the adventure in numerous orders. From one playthrough to the next, you may have different items and a different amount of hearts upon reaching a certain dungeon compared to the last time you played the game. While each time it is the same world being explored, the freedom to explore it in a variety of ways keeps it interesting.

Randomization, to an extent, could also be used to keep environments unpredictable. I’m not too familiar with the game, but I know that this approach was taken with Four Swords. By changing up the way that dungeons are presented each time you start a new game, exploration will remain interesting since you will not be able to memorize the correct path. Not to suggest that it should be implemented exactly like this, but the Dark Cloud series took this approach with its dungeons. Each floor of every dungeon was randomly-generated in regards to level design, enemy placement, and item locations. Something like this could be interesting for Zelda, but it does come with a fair share of problems. The most glaring issue is, of course, that randomization does not necessarily allow for the intricate design that the developers employ when creating dungeons and the puzzles within them. Used sparingly and in the right places, however, randomization could help replayability in future Zelda titles.

Some Zelda games have tried to include replayability in the forms of a Master Quest or Hero Mode. While I am onboard for the inclusion of different difficulty settings to accommodate for the varying skill levels of Zelda fans, I am not fond of the current implementation. In its current state, the second quest is usually nothing more than the same game with minor alterations. This really is not replayability, but a half-baked extension of the initial playthrough. Not to mention that Skyward Sword’s Hero Mode was hardly a difficulty increase since the AI was identical. It was simply a change in the game’s balance (and if you ask me, Hero Mode is closer to what the game’s default heart balancing should have been). Ocarina of Time’s Master Quest and The Legend of Zelda’s second quest were at least better since they completely changed the dungeons, which provided new puzzles and further exploration. This shares the same issue though, that while more is better, it is still not enough to pull people back for more indefinitely.

To summarize, if a Zelda game wants to remain relevant over time, it either needs to employ elements that create varying experiences each time or a constant flow of new content. Whether it be randomization, downloadable content, additional game modes, or nonlinearity, I think something should be done to assure that future Zelda games do not become stale.

Do you think that Zelda games should be more replayable in the future, or do you feel that they’re great just the way they are? Let me know in the comments!

  • Erik I

    Twice? I’m hesitant to call anyone a fan if they haven’t played multiple games at least ten times.

    • Nevan Lowe

      I think its about 4 or so.

    • Hero of Time

      Ten? More like a thousand.

    • BeGe1

      I’m a fan and I do not allow myself to repeat a Zelda game more than once in 3 years. I find 3 years makes the game practically fresh. If I go too early then I spoil it. Since most have not been around anywhere near 30 years, then that means I haven’t played them all 10 times yet :)

      • erikingvoldsen

        Spoil it? You’re ruining your experience by waiting! Why not play the game when it’s fresh in your mind and you know it well?

        • BeGe1

          Because the whole idea is waiting until it’s not fresh in my head and I don’t know it well any more :) That way it’s like it’s new again!

          • erikingvoldsen

            …But then you ruin your experience by not memorizing where everything is and not building off your last experience.

          • BeGe1

            I guess that’s where we disagree. To me playing through it having memorized where everything is is not quite as much fun as the first fresh run through the game. Zelda is fantastic because of the progression of figuring everything out and the surprise of what’s about to happen next in my opinion.

    • Linkfan99

      Minish Cap. 17 1/2 times. Bam.

  • The Fierce Diety

    For me, the Zelda adventure never really ends, even when I beat the game.

  • Nikki

    For myself, personally, I think they’re great just the way they are! I haven’t played all of them, but the ones I have played and am replaying, I enjoy it no matter how many times I’ve already played it, for I have still yet to do all the side quests in OOT and find all the hearts. Same with Skyward Sword. I’m playing some of them for the first time and taking my time on them. What I would like to see in a future Zelda game if possible(is the percentage of the game that has been completed- it kind of irks me that I don’t know how much of the game I’ve completed-and that includes side quests and upgrades on items).

  • npatoray24

    i would hate to see any downloadable content in a zelda game. Honestly this is one reason that ik love Nintendo is the fact that you are given the complete game when you purchase it. I feel that Nintendo should stick to what its been doing with tons of sidequests to complete. SS was a bit lacking in this department, with only the heart pieces and gratitude crystals to keep you playing. I feel one reason OoT has such high replay value is because of all the hidden areas that you may run into accidentally. I spent hours as a kid outside the dungeons running around hyrule field looking for the secrets. The same holds true for MM, while looking for the people that you were supposed to help with the bomber notebook. I remember finding the dancing guy on the rock in the middle of the night or the hand in the bathroom? there was so much “extra” content built in the games, that i think Nintendo could not go down this road and still keep all of us happy and playing for hours and hours and hours….

    • IgosDuIkana

      Yea I see that the newer games seem to be lacking in this department, especially Skyward Sword. I am hoping that they bring back the wealth of optional content rather than inflating the main quest with monotonous tasks.

    • BeGe1

      I agree that downloadable content can be annoying…but its potential is also enormous. Imagine a zelda where you beat it and then every day completely new side quests are downloaded for you to play…forever! One could argue to include all those side quests in the game, but that would mean they aren’t thinking on the same scope that I am…I’m talking the potential for tens of thousands of side quests and a single zelda game that you can play continuously for years with constantly new content. Logistically difficult, yes, but if done properly it could be pretty amazing.

      • PRDX4

        The amount of space that would take up… Yikes. And usually downloadable content can be accessed more than once, so with tens of thousands of new sidequests, where would they fit them all?

        • BeGe1

          It would be no different than running an app store like many companies do. Many small companies accomplish similar things, nevertheless giant international ones like Nintendo. You’ve bought addition A and can download it to your console, delete it to make room for others, and re-download it any time needed, etc.

          I am a programmer, the technical logistics of accomplishing it are nothing: compared to the complexity of programming a 3D game they are child’s play. The only part with any real challenges (though definitely ones that are not by any means insurmountable) is the business side of it. Getting proper pricing and sales on the additions so that they create the revenue stream to support the extra teams making the additions. Of course that may mean that 1 a day, 1 a week, or 1 a month, or any frequency therein is the most profitable/sustainable frequency…so my talk about the pure scale may not be quite that grandiosely true, but the general concept is absolutely doable.

        • MaoShan

          If there was a level design editor like with Portal 2, it would be phenomenal. It is completely free because it is player-created, and there are literally thousands of awesome levels to choose from.

          • PRDX4

            That would be interesting.

      • npatoray24

        i think it sounds good on paper, but logistically speaking i dont think this is possible. I think if Nintendo was to use downloadable content, there would be no more than maybe 2-5 additions. (with multiple things included with each update). But honestly what would you want Nintendo sucking a game dry like all the current fps games out there or working on a new zelda title, while we are left to explore the completed secret riddled overworld of the previous title.

        • BeGe1

          I am a computer programmer and I am telling you unequivocally that it is absolutely possible, both from a technical and logistical standpoint.

          And no, I’d have no problem with it. Each addition would cost money, the process would sustain its own teams. There’s absolutely no reason for it to take any time away from the team creating the next title. The key for that team would only be to program into the game a modular nature that would allow other teams to create future content additions.

      • Linkfan99

        Imagine how much that would cost. If there was a new sidequest each day, even if it was just 1 dollar, that would amount pretty quickly. Like 30 dollars a month. If that were to go on for a year or two, and you’re a hardcore fan like me so you want all of them, that can easily get up to 600 + dollars.

        • BeGe1

          And that makes it a bad plan for Nintendo how? :P

          But in all seriousness, the “new one every day” was really just a frequency I pulled from nowhere and more exaggeration of my point than actual expectation. Likely at best if they had multiple teams working on it they’d do no better than 1 a week, tops.

          • Linkfan99

            It would be bad for Nintendo because no one would buy it. XD

            Yeah, I guess it wouldn’t be too bad with that idea, I just don’t like the idea of having to pay for more stuff… :(

  • Hero of Time

    Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity also implemented some replayability. The dungeons were randomly generated each time, and don’t forget the Magnagates. Zelda should implement things like the randomly-generated dungeons and randomly-generated Magnagate dungeons. If they implemented the Magnagate system into Zelda, people would be playing long, long, long after the game’s release because of how it would be fresh every time, because it’s randomly generated.

  • JuicieJ

    If future Zelda games became even more replayable than they already are, my mind would be utterly blown by the awesomeness.

  • Vitamin E

    I think that the games which allow you to play them a little differently the second time through are significantly more replayable (LoZ, ALttP, OoT). Alternate dungeon orders make good Zelda games great.

    Having said that, modern linear Zelda games be replayable too. I think Twilight Princess is pretty replayable since it lets you skip cutscenes from the word go. Skyward Sword would be heck of a lot more replayable if you could skip that intro on a brand new file. I’m actually replaying it right now. I’m almost to the bird race. Just another thirty minutes or so of dialog… :(

    • IgosDuIkana

      I actually found Twilight Princess to be difficult to replay after the second (100%) play thru, I have played it four times one of which was the game cube version which I much favor. I played alttp and oot more times than I can even count though.

  • HyruleHistory10

    Pesonally I do not think it is the content that keeps people coming but but the story. OOT is just a perfect story and so arent the others.

  • Guy

    What if a Zelda game allowed you to play a different side of the story, like if you got to play as impa or Zelda in skyward sword, or play as the dark side and have an alternate ending that doesn’t exist in the timeline?

    • nello

      i like that idea alot

    • BeGe1

      Sounds fun, but not really the topic on hand. That would be much closer akin to simply making another game than to increasing replayability of the original one.

    • Guy

      He stole my identity…

  • Cheese

    I have played Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword so many times I can quote everybody’s lines (even the minors).
    The first time I played Twilight Princess I didn’t get all the poes souls, peices of heart, ect.
    The next time I played it I got all the heart pieces.
    The next time I played it I got all the poe souls.
    I like to play it through really fast first then delete it and play it again and get all of one thing, then delete it and get all of the first thing then get another thing, ect.
    I like to do that because I can have something to do on my next run-throughs, and even when I get all of them I still replay the games because the Zelda games are worth repeating.

  • Westar

    I never do 100% playthroughs the first time I play a new game. At first, I simply beat it. Then I’m usually going for a 3-heart challenge. And MAYBE after that I will do a 100%, speedruns and such things. There are actiually many ways you can step up the game’s level just by doing something personal. You may have played Oot over 20 times but I bet you haven’t beat the game under 30 mins? (I know, it’s a huge glitch, but it’s fun to tell people you have beaten the game in that period of time, and it’s probably new to many so it’s a very challenging and fun task the first time you beat it!)

    • IgosDuIkana

      I played with a lot of the glitches in oot like the dot skip and the bomb chu hovering I Once completed almost all of the adult dungeons and had a good bit of the adult items without pulling the master sword with simple glitches. Great albeit unintentional replay value

      • Westar

        I think it’s quite fun to see how much of a game you can break down when you have played it so many times that you almost beat it while switching channel and wach a movie instead…

    • Zakabajak

      I actually did do that glitch a couple weeks ago :P

      But mainly what I was trying to get across is that the games in their intended nature are, for the most part, not very replayable. There are ways you can impose challenges by creating your own set of house rules, but the actual game itself does not vary from playthrough to playthrough. I would love for a game where the overall game experience is constant each time, but where the challenges are different and unexpected each time to keep me on my toes, rather than going through the motions. Because even three/six-heart challenges in any game after A Link to the Past aren’t that difficult because I know how and when everything is coming. That, and at this point, I’ve discovered most of, if not all of the secrets in the games. I would love, even if just a little, variety between playthroughs in some way so I can’t memorize everything and powerhouse my way through with little effort.

      • Westar

        Oh, haha, I stand corrected I guess…
        I see your point, and that’s a very good point. An example would be something simliar to sky keep, where the monsters spawn and treasure puzzles/chests are different depending on where you put the pieces. That would be a cool and easy way to extend the replayabe part I think!

        • Zakabajak

          Yeah! The Sky Keep is probably my absolute favorite dungeon!

  • SuperSonik360

    Usually I play a Zelda game and then don’t touch for about a year then I forget a lot about it (except the main storyline). Then when I replay it it’s like a new game and as I go through the game I start to remember more and sometimes I forget some entire parts, so it’s fun to remember it once I get to it.

  • TheMaverickk

    There are different aspects of replay value.

    One reason is that the game was made extremely well and is worth replaying over and over again. Even more linear Zelda games are fun to replay through and experience the adventure again when they are that finely tuned.

    The other reason, which arguably I’d say is more important, is by giving the player freedom and choice. Being able to replay the game and have a completely different experience is special and something many modern games have forgotten about.

    Whether it’s Star Fox 64, or the original Legend of Zelda…. having players carve out their own adventure, their own path is what makes for some of the most rewarding experiences. Even now I’m playing through Fire Emblem Awakening and there is no way you can experience all the game has to offer… all the dialogue and character development… in a single play through. You feel involved making the choice to marry certain characters, and crafting these characters lives in a way.

    Zelda could benefit by giving players more freedom to explore and experience the adventure. Crafting an adventure you can play 10 times over and still be surprised and still curious of the world.

  • Mike Sauer

    I continue to play ocarina of time over and over. I’m 21 this may. I’ve been playing that game since I was 6 years old. I’ll never forget the feelings I had when I first played the game. It was so amazing. That nostalgia is there every time I play it. And I love having the 3DS One because now it’s with me wherever I go. I have it on every platform available too lol. Majoras mask as well…just waiting on that 3DS remake…

    I play them both together like they’re one game. I miss those younger days. The magic is still there, but now being in this line of work (which oot and mm inspired me to do) I know how things work. Still, as I run through Hyrule and Termina I recall the memories as my friend and I played when we were just 6 and 7. It’ll stick with me forever. I love this game.

  • PRDX4

    The only Zelda games I didn’t replay when I finished them were Zelda 1 and SS. Zelda 1 because I am too lazy, SS because I found it boring. It’s a great game for sure, but I feel it was of lower quality than the others. It felt too confined, too linear, sometimes too difficult, and too difficult to get around, I mean, you couldn’t have made a warping system? Or connect all of the regions?

  • Darunia

    It would have been great if you could keep playing ALttP by exploring the golden world that had been the dark world.

  • theheroofdimes

    what i do is after I have completed ALL of the games i start the series again, IN ORDER OF THE TIMELINE. and i do it 100%. so that usually takes me awhile to complete all of them. AND I PLAY ONE AT A TIME. theni take a break play Donkey Kong 64, Banjo Kazzoie, Super Mario Sunshine, Galxy, etc.

    • Guy

      I love doing that!

    • npatoray24

      i love super mario sunshine, very underated title

      • Linkfan99

        Yeah, I love that game too. I played it a lot when I was young, then I lost it when I got my Wii (still had the case), and then 4 years later I found out the disc was still in my GameCube. XD

  • Omega

    Because of large amounts of content, it was hard for me to really memorize it as the young child I was (8, 9 or 10 when I finished TP and PH) not being a native speaker also took quite a lot of the experience in the initial playthrough. The thing about Zelda games is that even if you clear all the challenges, doing it again after 2/3 years or even straight away is- quite honestly- a challenge.

  • Disciple

    A great idea could be for Nintendo to make 2 games on a console, similar to what they did with the NES and N64. However, they could first make a linear game that starts out easy then ends hard, then make a nonlinear game that is very difficult all the way through.

  • Jack Lepien

    I would really appreciate it if they took some of the collect them all aspects (golden skultula, golden bugs, etc.) and put in more detailed, complex sidequests, with a 100% prize. My favorite game as far a sidequests go is Majora’s Mask, as I feel I woild like to see more like that in future games.

  • Fahim Khondoker

    I hated Hero Mode in SS, it was a stupid concept. I replayed it anyway but it was the same difficulty

    • npatoray24

      id have to agree, the enemies really just dealt double damage…. a hero mode should include harder puzzles or something.

  • Mow123

    The thing about OoT is you can play it over and over and still not know everything little thing about it. If you watch other people play it, you will be like, oh wow I didn’t know you could do that! even if you have played it countless amount of times. Even speed runners who play the game 1-3 times a week still see things or learn things they didn’t know. It isn’t just glitches either its things like hookshooting ganondorf’s windows, paying the guard to let you in, there are just so many of those little things you don’t see in the first twenty or so plays unless you look for them. even if you do You’ll miss a lot I mean who is going to talk to the guard when you know to climb over? I didn’t even know about the scarecrow song until like play 3 or 4… its not on your menu so its easy to miss. Even when you do learn it you don’t really know where they will be… if you look at guides tho it will ruin a lot of the hidden things… tho not the “not very useful secrets”.

    • npatoray24

      you can pay the guard to let you in? O__o

      *point proven

  • FierceDeityLazaro

    The Oracle Series was made to be played twice, to complete 100% you need to play one, then the other, then this last, and the first again…
    I also like to play every zelda 3 or more times, i simple can’t remember anything that i’ve made in the game, so i play again and again!

  • Truth

    Heres my view: They should put DLC, but NOT to complete the main storyline. There should be a fine line between the complete story mode of the game and the DLC part. DLC should just be sidequests and such, things that don’t affect the story, but can give new items that enhance gameplay (maybe a new sword, you know?) or give lots of rupees for doing the sidequests. Hey, maybe even a DLC that adds a new area to Hyrule, as long as it doesn’t affect the main story of the game.

    • Truth

      Just to make this clear- I do think they should add a whole bunch of sidequests in the main-story free section of the game too, just like every other zelda- and definitely not be required to buy DLC to fill your heart containers.

  • Moon Rain

    I just began Phantom Hourglass for the sixth time! I just love Linebeck and Ciela’s ‘discussions’ :D

  • The Sign Writer

    i never change my course in playing unless it was something i missed on the previous playthrough like missing a heart piece or sidequest. But i always play through the way it’s meant to be played because…. that’s the way it’s meant to be played. for example, i never change which dungeon i go to in the legend of Zelda, it’s always level 1, level 2, level 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. it feels better that way. The reason I play through games again and again and again is not for the nostalgia of it, but for the atmosphere and sometimes the gameplay mechanics. i play majora’s mask, my favorite game, over and over again because of the rich atmospheric areas. the caves in the holes, the bottom of the well, the spider houses, the deku butler’s racetrack, and many more areas that drip with great atmosphere. these areas are what make it much more replayable to me.

  • qwerty32

    For me, Ocarina of Time is the #1 game in my mind. Every time I play any other game, my mind always compares it to OoT. I remember playing it with my brother and sister bringing childhood memories. Even now, when I play OoT whether be on my old falling apart N64 or my 3DS XL, I feel like OoT is my first ever girlfriend in my life. There is a source of magic and romance. Yeah, call me weird. I still play OoT on my 3DS because it just washes away everything from stress to negative energy.

    That’s why, I’m hopping and begging that Nintendo would do a remake of Majora’s Mask on the 3DS. Double the fun with OoT and MM. Even if I were to play them a infinite times, I never get tired.

  • bongobongo

    I would rather help my little sister or cousins playing through a Zelda game than play it over again myself. After getting everything in the game, I kind of get bored.

  • lallz

    “I personally have played Ocarina of Time over 20 times, and while the awe of the experience and my sense of nostalgia never falter, I barely have to pay attention to the game to get by in a breeze.


    “To summarize, if a Zelda game wants to remain relevant over time, it either needs to employ elements that create varying experiences each time or a constant flow of new content.”


  • Skulrog

    The first time I played through Majora’s Mask it felt very small. All I had done was rush through the dungeons. Then I decided to play it slower and found all these different sidequests.I was astounded. There was the equivalent of about 10 dungeons in all those sidequests! The replay value was emmense.

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