by Matthew Thompson
Last year’s new 3DS Zelda title, A Link Between Worlds, was the best entry in the series in years. It had all the hallmarks of a great Zelda game, but it was breaks from recent trends in the series that helped make it stand out to me. Nintendo got away from the handholding that has plagued Link’s latest adventures. This along with the ability to generally play the game’s dungeons in any order you chose meant I was finally given the freedom to explore Hyrule the way I (and many other fans) wanted to. This sense of freedom was no doubt facilitated by the game’s item rental system. But along with some of the positives of this new feature came some pitfalls. It is these drawbacks that make me think that the future of the series is better off ditching the renting of items. And it can do so without losing the positive qualities that it helped usher into, or perhaps bring back to, the franchise.
For those unaware, A Link Between Worlds eschewed its typical item discovery system where you’d find them in dungeons and use them throughout in favor of a new experimental formula. You were given access to a store early in your adventure where you could rent and eventually buy any item you wanted. This made it so you could choose which areas of the overworld and which dungeons to tackle first. And with a little rupee saving you could easily have all the items early on giving yourself access to anywhere on the map long before you usually would. Admittedly this is a bit of an oversimplification on my part. Some items still had to be found via traditional methods. And some items were available to rent earlier than others, but it made for a game that allowed players to approach things on their own terms which was a big change from recent series’ conventions.
It came with some drawbacks though. The joy of discovering items is lost a bit here as are the “Aha!” moments of getting a new item and realizing it will help you get past that one obstacle in the overworld you saw earlier. With a less linear approach came a more flat difficulty level across dungeons. Some items became less useful since you could acquire the superior item beforehand. It also took a step back in terms of varied item usage in dungeons. The rental system seemed to make Nintendo afraid to require any more than one item per dungeon (with the exception of the final one). It didn’t have to. They could have gated each with a couple items instead of one. But I am guessing since dying means you’d lose items, they didn’t want to make people have to buy multiple ones over again (even if this was something series’ vets never had to worry about). As a result the dungeons became more singularly focused on one item than even Twilight Princess which was much maligned for this very reason. For all the things Skyward Sword did wrong, it did a great job of mixing up the way you used items which made puzzles and dungeons less predictable. A Link Between Worlds was definitely a step in the wrong direction in this regard.
Having said all that, I wouldn’t change the way it worked in A Link Between Worlds. But I would ditch the rental system going forward. The good thing is we wouldn’t have to lose the freedom it allowed in the process. I think the first step is making items discoverable in the lead up to dungeons. Temples often have linear sections leading into them. You could put the item here. This would still allow for dungeons to be tackled in a non-linear order, but give back the sense of discovery that was lost in the last game.
That won’t solve the issue of difficulty and one-item dungeons though. So I’d make different tiers of dungeons. ALBW already did this sort of. The first three had to be tackled before you could get to Lorule’s collection of temples. I’d do something similar here. Make a group of three that can be tackled in any order. The items are discovered for keeps in their surroundings. Then these items can be used in the next tier of dungeons which will each have an item of their own discovered in a similar fashion. This could be another group of three or four tackled in any order. Followed by a final group where all the items from previous dungeons could be used. The tiers would also allow for the difficulty to be ratcheted up, while still giving some of the freedom A Link Between Worlds granted.
This is just one idea on how to handle things going forward. I’m not sure if it is the right way to do things, but I think it would sort of give players the best of both worlds, giving them the advantages that came with ALBW’s new system while cutting back on some of its drawbacks. We’ll have to see how they handle things when the inevitable Wii U Zelda title appears.
What were your thoughts on the rental system used in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds? Would you like to see it return? What tweaks would you make? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!