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The Legend of Zelda: Non-linear Or Not?
The Legend of Zelda: Non-linear Or Not? by Robert Lauer - Distant Web
Robert Lauer
Robert Lauer
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8/23/2017

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(The above image is taken from the book The Legend of Zelda: Art & Artifacts)

Disclaimer: the following write-up is focusing specifically on the First Quest of the original Legend of Zelda video game, released on the NES. I am not considering the games 'Second Quest', because not everyone who plays this game will play, or possibly even know about this optional Second Quest.

I recently decided to sit down and try writing up my thoughts and opinions on the no-longer-so-recent entry in the 'Zelda' series, The Legend Of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. My rough draft, which is still not even finished, was so long and all over the place I decided to chop out aspects that were not actually directly relevant to that specific title.

One section was dealing with how many (and I mean many) other people, critics and fans alike, compared the latest entry to its original release in how 'open' and 'non-linear' both games are. In fact, many have said something along the lines of (in referring to Breath of the Wild) 'this is the most open ended, non-linear game in the series since its original debut'.

As a long time and massive fan of the original title, when hearing this comparison, I can't help but ask; how well do you really remember the first game?

Don't misunderstand me; I do realize that the first title in the Zelda series was fairly open, with a lot of freedom, especially compared to the average Zelda title that would follow, but those choices are actually fairly limited when you really look at what needs to be done to complete the game. Also, I feel like most Zelda fans need to be reminded that the 2014 3DS title, A Link Between Worlds, was a thing and was way more open and non-linear than the original release.

For those that need a generic recap, the original game started the player out in a mostly open world with nothing but a not-so-helpful small shield. On the same screen that you start in is a cave that contains a sword for you to use, and you have to find your way around a pretty large for its time map. Around this map are various enemies, shops, items and secrets, as well as 9 dungeons to find.

Dungeon 9, which contains the final boss, cannot be access (even if found) until you have collected all 8 pieces of an item call the 'Triforce'. Each piece is hidden in each of the previous 8 dungeons, behind a boss that is at the end of a maze to be navigated. Each dungeon also contains at least 1 item that you, the player, can use along your way.

Now, right from the start, you CAN access most of the outer map if you know your way, and are good enough to handle some of the harder enemies. And there is SOME choice to which dungeons you do first, and the order in which you do them is moderately open, to an extent. However, your freedom in dungeon order is not even close to absolute.

There is one dungeon in the game that can actually be found, explored, and fully completed in literally any order, and that is the 2nd dungeon. This dungeon would actually be relatively useless if it weren't for that piece of the Triforce which is required to gain entry to the final dungeon.

The second most flexible dungeon is probably dungeon 8, which can be navigated enough to get one of the two items it holds, beat the boss and retrieve its Triforce piece regardless of when you tackle it. However, if you mess up and unlock the wrong door, you will need to go buy a key from an over-world store unless you have the step ladder from dungeon 4. The second item in this dungeon can only be found if you have already gone through dungeon 1 and found the bow, as the second item in this dungeon is guarded by a Gohma, a crab-like creature that requires an arrow to the eye in order to defeat it.

Tackling dungeon 8 in the beginning of the game would be extremely tough as it holds highly difficult enemies, but it could be done by an expert player.

After that however, the 'non-linear' nature is, well, fairly linear in reality.

Without going through every dungeon and what it requires, let's just look at dungeon 7. In order to even enter the dungeon, you must first have the whistle/recorder, found in dungeon 5. This means you need to do 5 before even finding 7. To get through 5, however, you MUST already have the ladder, as already noted, found in dungeon 4. Of course, to get to dungeon 4, you must first get the raft from dungeon 3.

So in order to do dungeon 7, you must first do dungeons 3 through 5. Also, dungeon 6 contains a previously mentioned Gohma, and requires the use of a ladder, so it too has prerequisites; dungeons 1, 3 and 4.

As I said before, the original Zelda game IS pretty open in its over-world, and there IS some choice in the order you can complete the dungeons, but that choice is very limited. Again, only dungeons 2 and most of 8 can be done quite literally in any order. All other dungeons either have prerequisite dungeons, or ARE a prerequisite itself (dungeon 1 is a prerequisite to 6, and part of 8).

If a dungeon is part of a prerequisite, it cannot be saved for last; you would have had to already do it for some other dungeon.

Honestly, a better Zelda game to compare with Breath of the Wild in terms of openness and a 'non-linear' nature, would be the already mentioned A Link Between Worlds, as not too far into that game, you gain access to almost all of the games environment transversing items. But sadly, not many others have caught that similarity.

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