I have started another playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask recently, and it has made me think about the success of the 3D entries (the ones with which I am most familiar) through a specific lens: location.
Not in the broad sense of the general setting, but rather the areas within each game. What makes them memorable? How much does a location contribute to the overall success of a title?
I find that it is a very fine line. Especially in an adventure game like those in the Zelda series, a player wants to feel like she is always discovering new areas and that the world is almost endless. Yet at the same time, a location should never feel trivial or pointless; like it is there just to fill space.
Skyward Sword is successful in that challenge in one sense. Retreading old ground rarely feels arduous. The locations are given new life and seen in new perspectives. But a major factor in many of these areas is that they are revisited out of necessity, not desire.
Twilight Princess is almost fully unsuccessful in this. The world is huge, but the trade-off is that it feels vapid. So many events take place in so many different areas that it becomes difficult for the player to emotionally attach herself to any one of them.
In fact, comparing Twilight Princess to an earlier title like Ocarina of Time brings about some interesting observations. While indisputably having a smaller landmass, Ocarina of Time‘s world feels larger. I believe it is because the locations in Ocarina of Time are given such life, that it makes it easier for the player to believe that the world will always have more secrets and stories to tell.
While needing to return to Kakariko Village in Twilight Princess might induce groans, the same task in Ocarina of Time is a pleasure often taken even outside of when the game dictates.
Wind Waker is somewhere in between Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess to bring a middling level of success. The major locations are a joy to revisit, but the game is otherwise stuffed with islands that have little reason to exist except to beef up the size of the game world.
Majora’s Mask takes a pretty huge risk in that the meatiest part of the game is actually found within its sidequests. A player who just tears through the dungeons and gets to the credits will likely find very little solace in the game. However, the intricate sidequests based on the characters’ interacting 3-day schedules breathes massive life into Clock Town.
Clock Town itself is not designed in a particularly alluring way. Indeed, I think there are many locations in Twilight Princess that are more alluring from a pure design point. But it is the characters and events that inform the memorability of a location, not just eye candy.
I was using the Zelda series to frame my observations, readers, but I certainly do not feel like the trend is contained to those games. What games have areas that make you want to return to them? More importantly, why are those areas so enticing?