Why do people always expect Zelda to have a story? – Reader’s Feature

A reader is surprised at complaints that Zelda games don’t have a more complex story and explains why he’s glad they don’t.

Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is over three years old now, which means that most people who are ever likely to play it probably already have. The honeymoon period of endless 10/10 scores is long gone and most of the discourse nowadays revolves around trolls trying to compete for the worst take possible on the game, now that they know nobody sensible is listening. I find them strangely fascinating though as they almost always lead with one central complaint: that there’s not much of a story.

This has been a long-running complaint throughout the series’ history and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what the appeal of Zelda is intended to be. No Zelda game has much of a story precisely because the story is not important to the experience of playing it. The games are not interested in traditional cinematic, movie style storytelling and have very little in the way of cut scenes and not even much dialogue, considering how long the games tend to be.

Even though it’s still not much, Breath Of The Wild has more cut scenes than any previous game, cut scenes that are used mostly for exposition, which is unusual for Zelda – or any Nintendo game. They’re well-orchestrated too, although let down by some weak voice-acting and, because the plot isn’t important to the experience, they’re ultimately fairly pointless.

What’s much more interesting in Breath Of The Wild is the visual storytelling and the hints and references from other characters as to the state of the world and what’s happened prior to your awakening. Breath Of The Wild has an essentially post-apocalyptic setting, where most of the population have been wiped out thanks to your failure a hundred years ago.

That’s a bit heavy for a Nintendo game so it’s not really spelt as such and so instead the game slowly reveals what’s happened through the world itself: the ruined homes, the rusted swords stuck in the ground, and the destroyed Guardians.

That’s vastly more interesting than the 15 minute long cut scenes and endless lore drops that some people seem to want. Not only that but some seem to want to prioritise plot over the actual gameplay and all the other wonderful things Breath Of The Wild does that make it one of the best video games ever made.

The characters in Zelda are equally thin, their personalities far more important than their back stories. Link in particular isn’t even a character, he’s you. He’s your link to the game. He doesn’t have anything to say because you provide the dialogue for him. Not by choosing from a little list that the developers have made for you but by letting your imagination take over (or even just shouting out at the screen, as I’ve done many a time) and thereby customising your player character in the most detailed way possible.

I’ve enjoyed plenty of story-based games in the past. Games like the first Life Is Strange, What Remains Of Edith Finch, and Gone Home are great, although they’re only able to tell a good story by stripping away most of what makes them a video game – most obviously the interactivity. I’ve also enjoyed The Last Of Us but while the storytelling is good in terms of the writing and acting it’s not a very interesting video game.

You have no choice of what you do or what direction the story takes, to the point where it might as well just be a movie. Especially as the action gameplay is so thoroughly ordinary. It has its place but it’s the opposite of something like Zelda and the only way to make Zelda more like The Last Of Us – or The Witcher or whatever you particular favourite game is that emphasises story over gameplay – is to make it less interactive; to take away control from you to tell your own story, both literally and in terms of the amount of gaps the game leaves to imagine your own plot points and motivations.

Games are not movies and movies are not games. The more movie-like your game gets, like The Last Of Us, the less of a game it becomes. Zelda is the ultimate video game because it allows you so much control over every element of its experience. Everything that happens is because of your interaction with the game world and its inhabitants, not because you walked up to the right spot on the map to trigger a cut scene.

If you want Zelda to have a ‘better’ story then Zelda is not for you. It’s not what it’s about and the fact that there is very little traditional storytelling is one of the reasons why it’s so good. Playing the game is the story and, personally, that’s how I prefer it.

By reader Onibee

The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.

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