I found Tevis Thomson's lengthy critique chronicling the decline and fall of the Legend of Zelda franchise to be very convincing. That doesn't quite diminish my enjoyment of more recent Zelda games, but then, I'm no Zelda super-fan. But it was hard to argue with his points about how the series has changed and in his eyes gone astray.
As much as people give Zelda crap for not changing its fundamental formula, the fact remains that in many ways, the Zeldas of today are unrecognizable when compared to their forebears.
Gamasutra has published a fascinating new piece by Cary Chichester in which he analyses the changes the series has undergone by getting granular. How long, he asks, from when players fire up a Zelda game until they complete the first tutorial dungeon and get to actually play?
As it turns out, the games have steadily increased that amount of time, adding both to the length of the tutorial and to the length of the time leading up to it.
Chichester's data show that in A Link to the Past, it takes 2 minutes to arrive at the castle that serves as the tutorial, and 20 minutes to play through it. Ocarina of Time takes 20 minutes to get to the Deku Tree, and 40 minutes to play through it. Twilight Princess takes a full hour to get you to Twlight Castle, and over an hour to play through it. And Skyward Sword takes 70 minutes just to arrive at Farron Woods, and 100 minutes to play through it.
In addition to reporting those already-interesting numbers, Chichester makes the observation that each game's pre-tutorial time is longer than the full tutorial of the game before it, which demonstrates a trend towards story and away from mechanical gameplay. In his words:
"We see the focus on story increasing and its negative effect on enabling the player to enjoy the game… A player's first moments should be exciting instead of boring, so while we may fret like a worried parent that the player hasn't learned enough before they jump into a game, we should remember that a player should be playing a game instead of asking "When do I get to actually ‘play'?"