I am somewhat ashamed to admit this but I have never finished a single Zelda game. I’ve played and own many of the titles and journeyed far, heck I even own the widely unknown/seen animated series, yet I have never fully completed one game. Why is that?
For those of you familiar with Zelda (probably most people reading this or else why would you be reading this? Unless my title is that intriguing ; ) you’ll know that Zelda is one of Nintendo’s oldest and most cherished properties only rivaled by Mario. Unlike Mario, Zelda is a puzzle solving game. Yes the two properties are both adventure games, share similar story elements, and Mario has slipped into puzzle solving territory with a few of its titles such a Super Mario Galaxy and even bits in Super Mario 64, but Mario has and never will be a true puzzle solving game. Mario is far too mainstream to alienate audiences with difficult puzzles and campaigns that could last up to 50 hours.
If I’m being honest my cup of tea is an average length game-not too short but not too long. I define that by one that clocks in between 10 to 15 hours. Campaigns that go past the 15 hour mark–unless the story is really engaging me–start to lose my interest and in fact I’ll just stop playing them all together. Why?
Because for me a 15+ hour campaign means months of my time invested in sitting in front of a screen and clicking buttons. I’m a busy college student and even in the summer I don’t have time to sit in front of the TV for hours (nor would I spend my time that way on a game).
I am a writer but moreso a storyteller. The campaigns I play must have a solid, intriguing story to pull me in and cause me to invest a significant amount of my time. The best example I can give is Bioshock: Infinite. The game has the greatest novelesque storytelling I’ve seen in a video game combined with a cinematic experience. No Zelda game I have encountered so far has that.
This past summer (2016) I attempted to play and complete The Ocarina of Time which is regarded by some as not just the greatest Zelda game but the greatest video game ever created. Needless to say, I have not completed the game and I’m not sure I will. I spent roughly three months with that game and it took me over 10 hours just to get up to the point past the first temple as adult Link. From what I hear, I still have quite a ways to go which means it will most likely take me at least another 10 hours or more to complete the game. 10 hours (for me) translates to months.
According to How Long to Beat.com the average time it takes a person to beat Ocarina of Time is 27 hours. And that’s without taking time to find extras (which I have not been doing except only when needed). The recorded “leisure” time to beat the game is roughly 51 hours…let that sink in…51 hours to complete an essentially silent video game with a monotonous soundtrack, where all you do is run around a mystical land and solve increasingly hard puzzles. If it’s not already apparent, I am a leisurely player meaning I only play for 30-45 minutes at a time and just a couple days at that and that’s pretty much only during summer. Otherwise, during the school year gaming in my life is basically non-existent. At the pace I play it could take me anywhere from 6 months to a whole year with my hit and miss schedule of gaming to complete Ocarina of Time. Even if I had nothing else to do (no school, no job, no obligations) I would still take a very long time to beat that game just with the time it takes to run around, read words on a screen, back track, and spend a couple hours on boss battles alone.
Contrast that with Bioshock: Infinite’s completion time of roughly 11 hours (which I have beaten on Hard by the way which is no easy or quick feat). That time is completely doable and I come out partaking in a true marvel in video game storytelling.
I love to read. Honestly, if the novel is great enough then the lengthier the better. I love immersing myself in the world the author creates and I can finish the novel at a consistent pace. Yes, the creators of Zelda have created a magnificent world called Hyrule, but the setting, characters, and story are all shallow and depending on my skill level (or even day) it could take days to get past one part.
I’m not trying to knock Zelda by any means, but in all honesty what I say is true. Zelda is a pioneer in video game history, but that does not constitute it as essential video game completion. I can still admire the Zelda franchise without completing or playing the games ever again (although, I most likely will return to Zelda’s universe someday). Majora’s Mask, A Link to the Past, Twilight Princess, and of course Ocarina of Time work best for me as nostalgic memories of playing them as a kid (back when I actually had time for them).
But even back then I never completed one. Majora’s Mask I never got far and Twilight Princess I got close to 3/4ths of the way done while using the guide and finding every little treasure. I never finished Spirit Tracks or Phantom Hourglass for the DS and I have guides for both of those. Twilight Princess takes anywhere from over 40 to 70 hours to complete. I’m no stranger to video games and I consider myself quite good at them. But I cannot justify spending that much time basically solving glamorous puzzles and running around and reading mediocre monologues.
When I sit down to play a video game, I want a cinematic storytelling experience that sucks me in and leaves me after each play session wanting more. Currently I’m playing L.A. Noire and I’m happy to say that it is not just fantastic storytelling, but a gripping game overall. It will probably take me 20 hours to beat but that’s okay because the story is just that engaging.
Don’t read this article thinking I’ve never completed a game. I’ve completed many games, but honestly, I’ve never gone back and fully replayed any (at least not that I can remember) since there are far too many games out there that I would like to play. The only game I will replay (as of this writing) is Bioshock: Infinite.
I own and have enjoyed Skyrim and The Godfather: The Game, both of which are massive campaigns. I’ve invested over 20 hours in both but I’ve never completed either…and I don’t feel I need to. I got my enjoyment out of them, just like I got my enjoyment out of Ocarina of Time, but there is nothing with those games that compel me to complete them and honestly they may not be designed to compel the gamer to finish, considering there is no substantial story arc.
What I want the reader to think about with this article is how you invest your time. The Zelda games (at least the ones I’ve played) are simply not compelling enough and don’t have enough gravity for me to finish them. Honestly, most all of Nintendo’s games are that way. I have completed the exhaustive Super Mario 64 and Metroid Zero Mission; I could never finish Metroid Prime (which way too confusing) or Super Mario Galaxy. Nintendo has created extremely intriguing expansive universes with these titles but none of them really contain a focused story arc. They consist of location hopping and completing self-contained missions. If Ocarina of Time were to be released today it would have a bare-bones quick campaign and many of the temples would be released as DLC that would be parceled out over the year. Maybe this would be better? I can’t say.
What I can say is that I cherish Link, Zelda, Kokiri Forest, and the plains of Hyrule, along with all the whacky characters Link meets along the way. Alas, I do not need to be an active participant in the world of Zelda to cherish these characters and places. I don’t cherish them just because they’re nostalgic to me. Yes I do have fond memories of Ocarina of Time as a child, and I plan on passing down my Zelda collection to my children, but as I grow older I realize and appreciate how the game inspired my imagination and the fantastical leaps Nintendo took to create this game.
Attempting to complete Ocarina of Time made me realize what I have been saying in this article. I have played the opening “moon sequence” of Majora’s Mask probably three times, got quite far in Link to the Past, got bored, started over, got bored, rinse and repeat. This has probably been my sixth endevour to start and finish Ocarina which has caused me to realize Nintendo had me locked into this formula by pulling me in to seek more, yet once I waded deeper I realized the end of the pool is simply too long for me to enjoy the swim. Without having to play or complete games from the series, Zelda still can hold a special place in my heart.
*On a closing note I would like to say that I would like to sit down and play Wind Waker someday. The cell-shaded graphics and unique approach to the storytelling have their hooks in me. Though who knows if I’ll play it and if I’ll actually complete it. Nintendo may be using their alluring formula to pull me in only for me to find out, like all Zelda’s games I’ve played…the swim is just too long to hold my interest. If I ever complete a Zelda game or change my stance on a certain title, you’ll be the first to know.