On Zelda-likes

Gonna take a moment to sort of freewrite/brainstorm here.

I like Zelda-style games. I prefer the top-down ones like Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening (best of franchise imo), and the more recent DS releases to the 3d ones like Twilight Princess and Ocarina, but those are good too. I quite liked Darksiders, though I was pretty tired of the God of War-style combat by the end. I guess that’s unavoidable. You shoot a lot of beams at octoroks in Link to the Past.

Digression: “Darksiders” was a terrible choice of name. It takes me like a minute to remember it every time I want to refer to that game. What’s the justification for calling it that? The word is never used during the game; nobody is referred to as being a “darksider”. What does it even mean? Nothing, as far as I can tell.

“Time to name this game we’re making. What do we call it?”
“Well uh, it’s dark, you know, in tone? A bit grimdark. We could call it Dark Something.”
“Dark Pact, Dark Warrior, Dark Seals, Dark Storm, Dark Siders…”
“I’m bored. Let’s just use whatever the last one you wrote down was and go to the bar.”

It’s a great game, though. Underappreciated. People ragged on it for basically being a grimdark godpocalyptic* Zelda clone. Hellooooo? Zelda games are awesome, grimdark stuff is awesome, angels vs. demons is awesome, what the hell are you complaining about? What the hell is wrong with you?Anyway.

One of the guys involved in Asymmetric’s new game has a concept for a top-down Zelda clone on deck, for us to do as a side-project once we’re not quite so freakishly busy. I’m pretty enthused. Thought of a great idea for a dungeon, and was warned to wait a couple weeks before I tell S. about it, lest he get too excited to get any work done.

(I’m moving back up the page a bit and dropping this parenthetical paragraph in, because it occurred to me I should probably define what I mean by “Zelda-like”, “Zelda-style”, “Zelda clone”, etc. A Zelda-style game is one in which you move your character around on-screen, either in a top-down or 3d over-the-shoulder perspective. You fight enemies directly in this view, rather than going to a different fight screen (as a Final Fantasy game would). Areas of the game world are blocked off, requiring the acquisition of certain tools — for example, a grappling-hook that lets you cross gaps by launching it at certain kinds of targets, or a bomb that lets you blow holes in specially-marked walls. Most of these tools are found within self-contained dungeons. Each dungeon provides you with a tool, gives you some puzzles concerning that tool as training, then has a Boss fight that (generally) requires the use of that tool (though not necessarily exclusively). You never need to go back to a solved dungeon, unless maybe you’re doing a collection sidequest, and you missed some collectibles in there. Dungeons occur in a specified order: you will need the tools from previous dunegons to get to the next dungeon, and probably to solve that dungeon as well. A Zelda-like is quite similar to a Metroidvania game, though a Metroidvania is side-scrolling instead of top-down or over-the-shoulder (though Metroid Prime was first-person, and Other M was over-the-shoulder a crock of shit), and does not have self-contained dungeons (though Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin basically did.) Okay, end digression.)

And a few minutes ago, it occurred to me, and caused me to start writing all this: why are all the Zelda-style games fantasy? Darksiders, Okami/Okamiden… what else… Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain… Star Tropics? Not strictly “fantasy” since it’s meant to be a modern-day setting, but still, its genre is basically fantasy, just with a yo-yo instead of a sword…

…Okay, I’ve just read the Wikipedia article on Star Tropics II, and my argument is getting weaker. And that game sounds awesome. Zelda with time travel? Sherlock Holmes and Leonardo da Vinci? Sign me the fuck up. I’m gonna go hunt that down as soon as I’m done here.

Where was I…

Beyond Good and Evil — yeah, totally a Zelda game. Sci-Fi. One could make the argument that sci-fi and fantasy are basically the same genre with a find-and-replace turning elves into robots. But…

Man, I don’t want to start thinking about what makes one genre more or less like another. Surely better and more knowledgable writers than I have already thoroughly covered that. So I’m going to just go ahead and say that my original premise, that all Zeldalikes are fantasy, is basically a no-go.

But that wasn’t really my point anyway.

This is what I came here to think about before I got all distracted with preamble: What about a Zelda-style game in the pulp detective / film noir genre?

The overworld is The City. Maybe L.A., maybe unspecified sprawl. Urban streets, dark alleys, rain splashing in the gutters, old tenement buildings, shopping districts.
The dungeons are more specific places: the underground casino. The mob boss’s mansion. The sewers (obligatory).
The tools are, on the one hand, things like lockpicks (for doors), pry-bar (manhole covers), a meathook (jump up and pull down fire-escape ladders). On the other hand, you have tools that are evidence. “Have you seen this girl? She’s the Senator’s missing daughter.” “Hmm, you better speak to the Boss about that. Go on through.”

Maybe the first stage of a boss fight isn’t combat per se, but conversation. Instead of shooting his giant red eye with your magic arrows, you have to recognize when to bring up which topic, or something like that.

It’s possible that the game I’m describing here is basically L.A. Noire. Man, when does that come out, again? Although from what I’ve heard, L.A. Noire would be basically just the dungeons in the game I’m describing, where ‘dungeon’ = ‘crime scene investigation’ and ‘fight’ = ‘interrogation’. I don’t think L.A. Noire has the overworld transversal with tool-based gating of a Zelda game. Also, I really want this game to be top-down pixel art.

Somebody make this game I’m describing.


* Godpocalypse: an apocalypse involving a war between angels and demons. I just made that up. You’re welcome.

2 thoughts on “On Zelda-likes

  1. Zeldalikes are my favorite games. I eagerly await the Asym zeldalike 10 years from now.Also, google already has 170 results for "godpocalypse". I don’t know if any are your definition.

  2. This is a really interesting post, and it says a lot about what draws people to games, in my opinion. My one question is how you would integrate the new items received throughout the noir world in places other than simple checkpoints. For instance, every new item in Zelda was necessary to pass into new areas and access new content, but this was much less important than the fact that every item could be used in the battle sequences. Throughout the game you received new options that could be employed during battles, making for a more strategic game as it went on; some items would have a limited but replenishing supply of usage, others would have a weak attack but a large range, and so on. To me, lockpicks are literally an item used exclusively to go past checkpoints, the checkpoints being locked doors of course. At the point when items are just checkpoint-openers, they no longer are necessary, as the environment itself can expand over time to let you access new areas (The mob boss’s mansion revealed a series of underground smuggling tunnels, the train station’s kidnapped staff was recovered and the train is in working order again).I mean no offense to your thoughts. Rather, I would really, really like to see something like this succeed!

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