What’s The Big Deal With Randomizers? How Dedicated Zelda Fans Are Breathing New Life Into Old Games
Posted on June 25 2020 by Doug Kwiecinski
What Is a Randomizer?
Take a moment to log into Twitch and search your favorite Zelda game. Go on, I’ll wait right here for you to come back… Finished? Odds are that within that search, you saw a mix of regular, “vanilla” game playthroughs, as well as several randomizers. Click on one of the randomizers, and if you’re not familiar with how it works, you might find yourself confused. You could happen upon a streamer who has been live for a half hour but may already be exploring Ice Palace in A Link to the Past. Perhaps they’re even flying through the Palace of Winds in The Minish Cap. So, how can their progress in the game within such a short time-span be explained?
Almost every Zelda game, from The Legend of Zelda to Twilight Princess has an available randomizer that opens up the games, shuffles items, and sometimes replaces entire sprites. Each game becomes a true open world experience where your progression is locked behind the items you discover rather than a strict dungeon order.
What is the appeal for these hacks, and why are so many people playing them? For example, in a semi-annual league for A Link to the Past, there are nearly 200 participants vying for the title of Champion. These leagues also extend to The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time, and Minish Cap, among others. I, myself, am in a league for A Link to the Past, playing a new seed each week and comparing my time to my league-mates. It’s here you find the beauty of the randomizers.
What Does A Randomizer Actually Do?
You may be asking, “How does a randomizer work?” This is a fair question, and one I asked myself the first time I seen one in action. Looking specifically at A Link to the Past, I want to examine the base, or “vanilla” game, first. In the base game, you wake up with a telepathic message from Zelda saying she’s being held in Hyrule Dungeon. Your uncle leaves, sword and shield in hand, and you follow him into the castle. From there, you rescue Zelda, and are tasked with obtaining the Master Sword. Once you have the sword, you confront and defeat Agahnim, and are transported to the Dark World. In this second half of the game, you must conquer seven dungeons, obtain seven crystals, and defeat Agahnim once more before confronting Ganon. Each dungeon has a unique item hidden inside that will assist you in completing it. For example, in Palace of Darkness, you will find the Hammer, which is needed to kill some enemies guarding Helmsaur King, the boss of the dungeon. In Skull Woods, you’ll find the Fire Rod, which opens access to the boss room, and will assist you in the later Ice Palace dungeon.
When playing a randomizer, you can throw away a lot of that knowledge. True, it’s still important to remember what items help you in specific dungeons, but what will almost always be different is where you obtain those items. For example, your Hammer might be hidden behind Zora at the cost of 500 Rupees. Perhaps you’ll find the Flippers when you drain the dam in Southern Hyrule. In some cases, entire dungeons and bosses are completely optional, and you may never see Trinex or Turtle Rock at all. Each game is generated on demand and with a new progression or game logic. The coding in the game has been completely rewritten, and each experience is brand new.
There’s a certain beauty in the inner workings of these games. If you’re like me, your first thought will be, “Is it possible for a game that can’t be completed?” Each game, or “seed,” as they are called, is generated using coding that has been tested and run countless times to account for nearly all cases of impossibility. Unless you go in and dictate exactly where certain items are found, it is very rare to impossible to generate a seed that can’t be completed. Furthermore, when a seed is generated, it takes into account certain glitches found in the base game. If you don’t know how to execute a glitch, or don’t want to take the time to learn it, you can eliminate that requirement altogether.
Is a Randomizer Right For Me?
While knowledge of the base game is recommended before you start, each time you start a new seed, you are guaranteed a new experience. Think back to the first time you played your favorite Zelda game. The thrill of exploration and discovery pulls you in, compelling you to finish. Each time you play after that is not quite the same. Memory takes over and the surprise is gone. Playing the game is more about nostalgia than challenge at that point. Starting a randomizer renews that feeling of exploration and surprise.
Video games are a unique art form. Like film, they are made to be purchased and experienced. Where a movie aims to tell a story about characters that may not directly relate to you, the activity of being a character is meant to pull you into a game. With this, their value is tied to both the quality of the game and the nostalgia they produce. After discovering the randomizer for A Link to the Past, I have played through dozens of seeds, if not a couple hundred. This gives me an opportunity to experience one of my favorite video games like it’s the first time every time. This is something you can’t achieve normally with a video game.
Of course, there are far more video game randomizers in existence that focus on non-Zelda games. I have recently discovered a relatively new Final Fantasy VI randomizer that opens up the entire game to you from the very start. You begin with access the the World of Balance, the World of Ruin, the Floating Continent, and have an airship for travel. Your goal is to collect a certain number of characters and espers before confronting and defeating Kefka. Randomizers also exist for games like Soul Blazer, Mega Man, Dark Souls, and nearly every Zelda game. If you’re looking for challenge, or just a reason to revisit a game from your past, a randomizer may be the way to go.
If you have an interest in discovering or trying out a randomizer, you can find a wealth of resources on this website, listing every currently available video game randomizer. To generate a seed for the A Link to the Past randomizer, you can visit this official website, and I suggest joining their Discord. Twitch and YouTube are both wonderful resources if you want to see them in action, and each game has a dedicated Discord and/or Reddit thread. Of course, finding someone with interest and experience in the randomizers is an invaluable resource, so if you are interested in learning, leave a comment with any questions you may have.
Doug is an editor for Zelda Dungeon. When he’s not writing, he’s busy as a professional coffee roaster and a Twitch streamer. He has also lost countless hours in A Link to the Past Randomizer. You can follow him on Twitter.
Featured Image: Speedgaming