Secrets of great games: The 'Zelda' pattern
A simple pattern of game play and plot is all that separates the good Zelda games from the great ones. Warning: Contains spoilers.
(WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the Legend of Zelda games.)
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The Zelda pattern is this: collect three things in three dungeons, go through a big plot twist (the "Zelda twist"), then collect twice as many things in twice as many dungeons. With one exception, every great Zelda game has followed this pattern.
The game begins with Link rescuing Princess Zelda from Hyrule Castle and then hunting for three mystical symbols in three dungeons so he can wield the Master Sword and defeat the evil sorcerer Aghanim. Once you do all of that, however, the game really gets interesting. In the Zelda twist, Link gets sent to the Dark World where he must explore seven more dungeons and rescue seven princesses trapped in crystals so he can fight Ganon, the true evil of the land. This "But wait, there's much more!" element gave Link to the Past its endearing appeal.
Ocarina of Time was another truly great Zelda game. It starts with Link searching for three mystical pendants in three dungeons that grant him access to the Temple of Time and the Master Sword. Once he gets all three and takes the Master Sword, he's sent to the future where he must then collect six medallions of the Sages of Light, so he can finally face Ganon in his true form. Once again, a small adventure becomes a much greater one, with the initial three-dungeon taste only whetting the appetite for the rest of the game.
Twilight Princess follows that pattern once again. Since this game is very new, I won't spoil anything, but suffice it to say Link must explore three dungeons to get three somethings, something happens, and suddenly he has almost twice as many more dungeons to explore. The Zelda pattern is complete, and players are happy.
There are, however, one and a half exceptions to the Zelda pattern that I will freely acknowledge. The only full exception is Link's Awakening for the Game Boy. That was a truly great Zelda game, even through it didn't follow the Zelda pattern at all. Collect eight musical instruments and awaken the Wind Fish in order to go home. All I can really say is that it's an exception to "the pattern."
The half-exception is the original
Except for the disastrous Phillips CD-i titles, there hasn't really been a bad Zelda game. They've all been fun, well-made, enjoyable experiences with solid game play and clever puzzles. However, while everyone remembers Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, few really think of Zelda games like