First off, the thought of this had never really occurred to me until just the other day. The Flying Fisch posted 30 ideas and concepts that he feels Zelda Wii would benefit from. #21 on the list was less dungeons, and I’ll admit my initial reaction to it was shock. I mean, Zelda is known for dungeon crawling, so why would you want less of it? To go even further, the dungeons in Spirit Tracks were really the big saving grace for an otherwise “boring” game. Don’t get me wrong, I love Spirit Tracks, but really what I love about it is 100% dungeon related. They are masterful, especially as the game progresses, and the new items use in them is both fun, and highly unique. Still, could he be onto something? Would a better Zelda experience involve fewer dungeons?
First, we can’t really get into this without people first understanding what the original idealist for this concept said:
Woohoo, now I said it. Don´t kill me, but I hated TP´s focus on running from dungeon to dungeon. If you read everything up to this point you´ll have noticed that to me the most important part of a Zelda-game is it´s overworld. I´ve got nothing against well presented dungeons, but don´t make them feel so puzzle-like. I don´t want the Zelda-series to feel like a Dr. Kawashima with a different coat of paint. And I dare say that all the typical block pushing-puzzles are of no use anymore. The heck, even TP had only few ones of them already, so it´s not like Nintendo does not know about these puzzles becoming boring. Instead of eight or more dungeons, give me like three typical dungeons. Have one being a forsaken ancient ruin, one a legendary, rumored cave and a third one being a big, creepy castle high in the mountains. And that´s it. No forest-fire-water-and so on-dungeon.
Keep the number of these low and include all the typical challenge into the overworld. By creating a complex forest, a big mountain-area or other hard-to-see through-area types. And scrap the whole “find small key, find big key”-stuff. It´s tedious and unfun. Also, and that´s what I hate most about dungeons in Zelda-games, give them a meaning beyond “get the dungeon item”. Afaik the OoT-manga is not canon material, but if it was, the Fire temple would be the greatest dungeon of all. Why? Because the dungeon itself is a place of the Gorons, Volvagia was sent there by Ganondorf to take care of the Gorons, and last but not least: Volvagia was once freed by young Link, but got under Ganondorf´s control somehow. And NOW Link has to fight his once beloved little friend. That is what I call meaningful. Instead of having me go through the temple of time and beat a random spider-boss at its end.
Now, without really reading the rest of the article, it can still be hard to understand what the author means here. Essentially he is asking for a lot of things outside the dungeons to change, and become much more in-depth… and he is actually asking for a much bigger, more detailed, world (or overworld, as it was). In doing this, he feels fewer dungeons are needed. The tradition these days is 3 dungeons, maybe 4, plot twist, 3 or 4 more, you win. It is an old formula that works, but is gathering dust. Now, think back to Twilight Princess; after the big plot twist it did feel as if going through the dungeons after that was simply filler content. There wasn’t really a whole lot of reason to go through them, and the excuse of the shattered Mirror was silly. It worked, yes, and I still feel Twilight Princess is one of the better stories in Zelda… but it could be so much better. I’ll admit Fire, Water, and Forest temples are growing stale. A lot of the puzzles in them are… shall we say… old. We’ve done them all before… many times. Spirit Tracks did add a few new twists such as pushing ice blocks that had bells on them. Still, essentially, the puzzles were rehashes of puzzles from previous titles.
However, the dungeons are still the best part of Zelda, even with old elements and a “been there done that” feeling. The better question is: Should it be? I know we here at Zelda Informer keep going back to this example, but Majora’s Mask is simply that good. You guys generally agree: Anytime we write about Majora’s Mask our viewership goes through the roof… so it must have done a lot right, no? One thing Majora’s Mask did was focus on the world, the people, and less on dungeon crawling. There were 4 total dungeons, and all of them were masterfully done. The Goron Village felt like a real living village, and to this day the story and world of Termina is one of the most unique places to exist in gaming.
You will not find one person who will say Majora’s Mask did not feel like every bit of a Zelda game. It maintained all the elements we know and love about Zelda at its core (yes, even without Zelda herself, Ganondorf, or the triforce), and delivered to us something completely unexpected. An actual living, breathing, world. Not to mention the fact the difficulty may have finally found a happy medium as well. There were a lot of challenging aspects to the game, many of which were optional. While the Stone Tower to this day is still considered possibly the greatest Zelda dungeon ever made… and that is with it also being one of the most difficult. That difficulty only made things more fun, as for one of the few times in a dungeon we had to think, and think hard, about what we are doing, where we are going, and how to defeat the enemies around us. I would take 3 Stone Tower dungeons over 8 Twilight Princess dungeons any day of the week.
This entire mess brings everything full circle: Would future Zelda titles be better with fewer Dungeons, and more focus on the world? I think as Majora’s Mask showed, the answer is yes. You could create a bigger, vaster world, and make things between dungeons not only matter… but be insanely epic and fun all over again. You could expand into real side story questing that makes a difference on the people, and on Hyrule itself. It would take attention off epic dungeons, and expand it to an epic world full of wonder, mystery, and several more hours of game play and replay value. You could take the fewer dungeon concept, say 4, and make those 4 dungeons even more epic. Uses of several different weapons in the dungeon, harder enemies, more intense puzzles, and really make 4 of the best dungeons to ever exist in any game, not just a in a Zelda game. You could really make the build up to the bosses be insanely epic, and have the fights match that attitude. You could then take other bosses and spread them around the world. Who says a dungeon is needed to have boss encounters? Who says I can’t just be randomly exploring a vast forest and then get jumped by a giant animal?
In the end, I can see the benefits of fewer dungeons in terms of a games focus. Spirit Tracks could have been “that much” better if it had fewer dungeons, as you could focus more attention on everything else. The counter to this is obviously the game could be shorter, and Nintendo would then get lazy and not focus on the other aspects like one may assume would happen (based off Majora’s Mask). All I know is, the idea of another game that takes the Majora’s Mask’s concept of a living world with fewer dungeons could be exactly what the doctor ordered.