Zelda Games Are Taking Longer And Longer To Get To The Point

Zelda Games Are Taking Longer And Longer To Get To The Point
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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’?”

Tutorials of Zelda; When Do Players Get to “Play”? [Gamsutra]


  • I think this is inevitable as controls and gameplay become more complex and we get further and further away from instruction manuals.
    The more complex something becomes, the longer it takes to explain. And with the zero-manual approach most games take, it’s understandable it takes longer to get players accustomed to them.

    • Zelda games are about as complex as generic shooters. You’ve got move, interact, attack, block and use item. Anything deeper can be picked up on the fly. You could easily compress the Ocarina of Time tutorial into a 2 minute level by just powering through them. If you’re willing to set something on fire then you can even continue to write the 2 minute tutorial into the story (oh no, the Deku Tree is on fire, run, jump, slash, block your way to putting him out!).
      The reason Zelda tutorials are so long is because they’re attached to the story and take advantage of the slower system by making sure you have a firm grasp on everything. They give you an area where it’s ok to run face first into walls but still has a point and a plot like the rest of the game.

      Personally I’ve never played a Zelda game where I’ve been sitting there thinking ‘damn, I wish it’d just hurry up and get to the real game’ because I’m playing the real game from the start. They just use the prologue as a sort of warmup phase for the mechanics.

      • The last Zelda game I played was Twilight Princess (oh and Spirit Tracks lol), still waiting for a big price drop for Skyward Sword.

        I got to like the Sky Dungeon, and I seriously just wanted the game to end. I actually thought the gameplay and tonnes of dungeons were just padding, there wasn’t anything particularly clever that I hadn’t seen before, except that cool beyblade weapon. Oh look, hookshots. Yay. Never used that item before. Oh look a boomerang -____-.

        I think the tutorials are probably better for being a bit longer, the story in Zelda is kinda crummy compared to other game worlds out there. It’s all the same basic plot, and I hope Skyward Sword is better, but I doubt it will be.

  • Uncharted is a GREAT example of how to introduce players to the gameplay mechanics, while also having them feel like they aren’t playing through a tutorial. Skyward Sword and Wii Motion is shite. I want to play a game to relax after work each day – i don’t want to go swinging my arms everywhere and getting frustrated at unresponsive motion controls.

    And in regards to the Zelda formula – it still works ok, they just have to actually give us a story we care about. Why care about Link and Zelda if they will be rebooted for the next game in the franchise anyway?

    • BTW, Tevis Thompson’s article lost all credibility as soon as he says the original Legend of Zelda is the best in the franchise.

      • You don’t lose credibility if you say you prefer something and then rationally explained why. I don’t agree its the best, but it makes sense why he thinks its the best – it certainly is the most oriented towards random exploration, which has been missing from the most recent games.

  • I think it just shows the progression of Nintendo’s control system and popularity, they’re obviously just catering to how their audience has changed, or atleast how they think it has changed. What about all the other Zelda games on the DS?

    A Link to the Past – They had no real idea

    Ocarina of Time – it was a launch title, it needs a tutorial

    Wind Waker – the Author hates Wind Waker?

    Twilight Princess – it had Waggle controls (yep not motion), it was a semi-launch title for the Wii, swang song for gamecube.

    Skyward Sword – It had motion “Plus” and a new control system.

    Maybe Nintendo is just babysitting too much and thought their “casual” audience needed some help. A Zelda on Wii U will probably do the same thing, it’s a new control system and hence the cycle repeats.

    • I respect that it has its fans, but I actually hate Wind Waker too. I liked the art style but hated the character models. The back-end of the game was unforgivable tedious. It was probably the easiest Zelda game – I don’t remember being challenged in the combat, mazes or puzzles at all.

      Most of all though – I hated the sailing. Hated it. It was so slow and tedious. Too empty, too many boring mooks. Like exclusively swimming your way around Skyrim or something.

      • Yeah, I share the Wind Waker opinion. The cartoon style as a concept works, and most of the characters weren’t even that bad, but the main cast was atrocious. The idea that you can’t make a character expressive without them looking like Felix the cat is absurd.

        Instead of oversimplifying the fast to eyebrows, eyes, and mouth, they could have gone the opposite route. Then again, the last thing I even want in a Zelda game is expressive characters. I want worlds to explore and battle through at my leisure, and puzzles to unravel, and the less reading of mediocre plot the better.

  • lol I didnt mind Wind Waker, I didn’t hate it but never finished it. It’ll be interesting to see if this trend the numbers have found continue on the next console iteration, since handheld Zelda’s have been disregarded.

  • On a side note I think Zelda and Link should just bone and get it over with, same with Mario and Princess, we need character growth damnit.

  • Its true that SS is bloated…..yet reading this is giving me a sudden urge to fire it up & start up hero mode!
    Its funny though I actually loved the start of SS lol

  • I’d argue that the first “tutorial dungeon” in Twilight Princess is actually the Faron Woods. The player faces a larger variety of enemies and is confronted with simple puzzles. They also get one of their first items (the lantern) which is crucial in solving some of these puzzles.

  • I’m amazed that people feel this way about Zelda.

    As far as I’m concerned there’s no ‘boring tutorial’ at the beginning of any Zelda game. It’s simply the first part of an awesome game, that may just happen to include some tutorials for the uninitiated.

    I think some people have been affected by modern game design concepts like the ‘tutorial level.’ In OOT it’s not the ‘tuturial dungeon’ it’s the DEKU TREE, or even if you’re old enough, THE FIRST LEVEL.

    • I’m assuming you’ve forgotten the opening to Twilight Princess. That was just painful – and largely pointless.

  • If a tutorial level doesn’t feel like a tutorial level, is it still “Not playing”? If the player is interacting with the game (beyond progressing text) before they get complete freedom, are they not playing the game? Especially if they are enjoying the experience? It’s not really about “When do I get to play properly”, it’s about “Am I having fun?”.

  • First Zelda is the best. A link To the Past was pretty good too, as was Ocarina. But the original still reigns surpreme in my book because I grew up with it, and that makes all the difference. In 20 years people will be saying how Twilight Princess was the best of all time, purely because that was their Zelda as a kid.

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