Stuck in Lorule: A Link Between Worlds and Zelda’s Stifled Universe

Nintendo’s messaging for A Link Between Worlds is starting to come together pretty nicely. At first, they seemed hesitant to show off anything new from the game, insisting instead that it’s “a new adventure with a new story, set in the world of A Link to the Past.” Combine that description and a few shots of areas that looked eerily familiar, and it sounded more like a glorified remake than a full-blown sequel.

Even early on, though, the seeds for something much bigger had been planted. We heard that the game would feature the Dark World, but that this time we’d discover a whole kingdom, parallel to Hyrule. Given that the original Dark World was pretty barren, largely setting the stage for a string of dangerous dungeons, the prospect of revisiting it in greater detail seemed exciting from the get go.

Now that the Dark World has been revealed as Lorule, it seems as though Nintendo’s really taken the idea of a parallel kingdom seriously. Yet I can’t help but shake the feeling that it’s still mostly “been there, done that.” Why is it that something as significant as an alternate Hyrule civilization – which is, as Princess Hilda said, brimming with potential – comes off as so flat?

It all starts with the name: Lorule. It’s not that I don’t get it. Hyrule is the upper world, Lorule is the lower world. That makes perfect sense. It’s not that I can’t appreciate that Nintendo games are always chock-full of puns, particularly when it comes to naming things. But unlike, say, Termina, whose name not only described the land and captured the central gameplay theme but also sounded really cool, “Lorule” sounds pretty typical – like something that came out of a fanfic, not like an actually-serious title for the newest realm in the Zelda universe.

Why is it that Majora’s Mask – which took less than a year to complete – can feature a world whose name actually sounds well thought-out, exotic, and new, but A Link Between Worlds – inspired by and the sequel to one of the most beloved games of all time – features a world whose name seems like a cop-out?

lorule-hildaThe more perplexing part is that the driving ideas behind Lorule sound great: it’s a kingdom based on the Dark World, complete with its own lore that further explores its relationship to Hyrule. I can imagine all kinds of interesting legends about how its denizens got there, about the world’s connection to the Triforce – perhaps they are the people who wandered into the Sacred Realm, only to remain there during Ganon’s reign and be left with only a shadow of a world to live in. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing that play out.

When I actually see Lorule in action, however, it just looks like more of the same Dark World. More moving back and forth between worlds to solve puzzles. More dreary colors symbolizing a twisted version of Hyrule. More purple bushes and talking trees and unusual rehashes of old enemies and that classic Dark World theme song. (Okay, there are some other songs too that sound pretty nice.) It’s the same tropes from 20 years ago, but with a new splash of flavor.

That’s not a wholly bad thing. A Link to the Past is well-loved, and for good reason. More of a good thing is never particularly bad. Besides, Mr. Aonuma has hinted that he hopes this is just the beginning for this reborn classic style for the series. I’m sure A Link Between Worlds is going to be great, judging from what we’ve seen so far, and I like to think the best is yet to come. But a big part of me can’t help but be disappointed with Lorule, and with A Link Between Worlds as a whole by extension.

In its early days, the Zelda series was all about broadening horizons and exploring new worlds. The original game introduced the magical kingdom of Hyrule, with sweeping forests, plains, and mountains and dark dungeons. Its sequel took us to the continents beyond the borders of the realm. A Link to the Past revisited Hyrule, but fleshed out the world with a number of iconic places that are still mainstays today and included a brand-new world on top of that. Link’s Awakening featured a dream-like world with its own unique lore.

From there, Ocarina of Time brought us back to Hyrule. Many correctly identify the world of Ocarina of Time as largely a recreation of the world of A Link to the Past, but Ocarina expressed that world in a completely new way – in 3D – as well as introducing an entire cast of races and characters to add to Hyrulian lore. Majora’s Mask borrowed many of those characters, but had its own unique world, a deep storyline, and a complex villain. Oracle of Seasons & Ages also went to new lands; The Wind Waker brought us to the Great Sea; Twilight Princess enveloped the Hyrule of Ocarina of Time in Twilight.

Discovering new worlds is part of the DNA of The Legend of Zelda. For many of the most beloved games in the series, it’s easy to see how the gameplay and world go hand-in-hand – how they were developed together, and are each indispensable to the success of the other. In A Link to the Past, it’s clear the Dark World is parallel to Hyrule, and that informed a number of the gameplay scenarios. The same is true for time travel in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. And in each of these cases, the “gimmick” of each game was widely accepted as part of an expanding Legend of Zelda universe.

lorule-drawingA Link Between Worlds exemplifies one of the newer trends of the series, which is to create a world that revolves around a set of “new gameplay ideas,” instead of developing the world organically and making the gameplay fit within that world. We’ve seen this approach in games such as Four Swords, Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks, and Skyward Sword, where the world could be summed up as “Hyrule broken up into four-player dungeons,” “the Great Sea with touch controls,” “Hyrule with trains,” or “segmented regions set beneath an empty sky.” In these cases, players’ experience of the game world is defined by the gameplay rather than by the world itself.

Eiji Aonuma even admitted that this was a problem for Skyward Sword in a recent interview:

I think the most open-world Zelda we’ve had so far has been Wind Waker, just because you were able to sail the ocean and go all over the islands. When creating a game, we look at what is the core, kernel gameplay. You try to construct the game around that, and making that core mechanic the easiest to access.

For Skyward Sword, that kind of narrowed, focused world helped us with that, but at the same time it meant you didn’t have that wide-open world to explore. We’ve heard the complaint about lack of openness from a lot of fans. As we’re deciding what the core gameplay mechanic was, we have that open-world desire at the forefront of our minds, and we’re trying to figure out how to incorporate that as well.

With Skyward Sword, they narrowed the scope of the game world in order to emphasize that “core, kernel gameplay” – which in that game’s case was the motion controls and flying between the various regions. Similarly, the worlds of the DS games were limited by their touch controls and their vehicle-based exploration. The way in which players experienced the world of Four Swords was limited by the fact that the game had to accommodate four players at once.

While early Zelda games were praised for their game worlds, none of these recent entries have earned that kind of acclaim. Let’s be honest – they were largely retreads of old world ideas, with “new gameplay” tropes sprinkled on top. The stories were the same way, with the games’ core items each revolving around some kind of outlandish gameplay concept – the Four Sword, the Phantom Hourglass, the Spirit Train, and even the Goddess Sword.

lorule-paintingI think that’s what’s bothering me about A Link Between Worlds – its world is basically the world of A Link to the Past, but with that gimmicky painting mechanic present everywhere. Not only is it Link’s new ticket to the Dark World, it’s also present in a lot of the “exploration,” a number of the game’s puzzles, and even in the story – which sounds a lot like the story of A Link to the Past, but with the seven maidens getting turned into paintings instead of banished to the realm of darkness. It’s as if instead of channeling all of their energies into developing a unique world for A Link Between Worlds, the developers have instead focused on finding ways to justify the drawing mechanic by shoehorning equally-gimmicky story ideas into a familiar game world.

And let’s be honest: these gimmicky mechanics never quite feel like they “belong” in Zelda. No wonder Aonuma keeps forgetting about the wall-merging ability in A Link Between Worlds!

Because the top view was done so well, and it has that great, classic Zelda feel, when I’m playing it I will sometimes forget about the mergability. So I’ll be sitting there playing, and I’ll say “I can’t get through this part!” Someone on my staff will then say “Mr. Aonuma. You can merge into walls.” I think a lot of other people playing will have the experience of getting locked into the 2D and forgetting that.

You know something’s up when the producer of the series admits that he himself distinguishes between “that great classic Zelda feel” and the “new experience” his team has created. Why not make games that forget the gimmicks and focus instead on building worlds and crafting appropriate experiences within those worlds that adhere to “that great classic Zelda feel”? That’s what the older games did, and that’s why the series became the all-time legend that many remember it as today. Today’s Zelda worlds, Hyrule and Lorule in A Link Between Worlds included, feel stifled by comparison, held back by their gameplay.

Fortunately, when you take the wall-walking mechanic out of the picture and just focus on what A Link Between Worlds does to adapt classic Zelda for a modern audience – things like giving access to items early in the game, creating a cinematic plot that allows players freedom to explore dungeons in any order, and eliminating many of the limitations of old-school conventions – it’s already taken great strides. If only the team could have come up with a setting that’s at least a bit more exciting than “Lorule”…then perhaps those efforts to tap into the great, classic Zelda feel” could have really and truly extended to the development of the Hyrule universe.

I guess I’ll just have to wait for Zelda Wii U.

  • Jordan DeBono

    Give the game chance, for Din’s sake ! You’ve based this whole article on one trailer and a few interviews with Aonuma. Give it some time, for crying out loud. The problem with Zelda is that’s it too good for its own sake, people expect too much.

    • Patrick Starman

      Fans of Zelda have such stupidly high standard that if a game isn’t exactly what they had in mind, it sucks.

      • Jack Veras Lara

        That’s why I don’t expect nothing. I’ll just wait, experience it and then Formulate my last thoughts about the game.

        Then I may Bash , love or just ignore it completely.

        Still though as someone that didn’t play Zelda since ALTP , seeing them so excited and dedicated makes me have a good feeling about this.

        Zelda’s Franchise may finally be entering a new stage, a new era .

        • CChaplin

          You’ve got a very refreshing point of view, I couldn’t have put it better myself. I’ve learned over the years that the best way to enjoy any game (but especially Zelda games) is to go into it without any preconceived notions of what the game “should” be. It makes it much easier to see what the creators were going for. For example sure, exploration has been weaker in newer Zelda titles, but maybe the dev team wanted to put emphasis on something else instead?

      • Charlene Buffington

        This seems to be truer then I would like. Though I look at each Zelda game with hope and excitement, knowing they’re going to give us something new and interesting.

  • CChaplin

    Maybe reserve your judgement until the game is out…? This might come as a shock to you but game developers don’t like to give away everything that is cool and unique about a game before it releases. Well, except for Skyward Sword, they showed off almost the entire game in trailers before that released. But seriously, take a chill pill, to write a 20-paragraph article complaining about a game that hasn’t even come out yet is absolutely silly.

    • Meatball27

      Wow, that number is oddly accurate. Did you count, or are you just Goddess Hylia, or…?

      • CChaplin

        Haha did I actually get it right? I was just ball-parking it.

        • Meatball27

          Somewhere around there, yep. :P

        • EyeOfSheikah

          It was indeed 20 paragraphs. Congratulations.

  • Matthew Wesley

    Dude, play the game first before you bash it… shit. The game’s not out yet and someone’s bitchin’.

    • zdog

      Does nobody on here recognize that this wasn’t a game review, but just a first impression. Sheesh, I have my opinion of the game so far and I think the internet is a fine place to share it.

      • Matthew Wesley

        And that’s okay, but I have the right to state that bitching about a game that’s not even out yet is in extremely poor taste… kind of like panning a movie because you didn’t like the extended trailer. Which is something done in bad taste.

      • CChaplin

        It’s the fact that he’s going as far as completely writing off the game by saying things like “I guess I’ll just have to wait for Zelda Wii U” that are making people think he’s being a little premature with the intensity of his opinions.

        • zdog

          I wouldn’t call it a complete write-off. There was this important caveat, ” I’m sure A Link Between Worlds is going to be great, judging from what we’ve seen so far, and I like to think the best is yet to come.”

  • CChaplin

    It’s a little silly to say that newer Zelda games suffer from using to many gimmicks… you DO realize that the Dark World WAS aLttP’s “gimmick” at the time, right? Virtually every Zelda game has had “gimmicks”, or as some people call them, “new ideas”. The painting idea is really not as far-fetched as you seem to think it is.

    • Igos Du Ikana

      You do realize that, usually, the difference between considering something a gimmick and considering something as being innovative, or as otherwise being a feature is the execution. In Skyward Sword, for instance, what made the motion controls and flying feel like gimmikery was the fact that they were executed very poorly. The motion controls and flying were wonderful ideas, and they worked wonderfully, but if you can name one instance where the game actually uses the sword mechanic to its full potential then I would love to hear it. The combat was completely static. There was a lack of enemy variants and every single enemy in the game could be taken out in a matter of seconds once you applied basic logic that any person with half a brain could figure out. After the first 2 hours or so of the game, any surprise or difficulty is completely gone. If you have fought one, you have fought them all. The same thing is true with the flying mechanic. ALTTP introduced something that was fairly new as far as gameplay was concerned, and it felt organic. It felt like it belonged and worked seamlessly with an already amazingly constructed world. It felt natural, not like something that was tacked on at the end, or worse, a feature that had the entire rest of the game tacked on at the end. ALTTP was created as a complete experience, while Skyward Sword was basically a motion controlled sword fighting game with Zelda elements tacked on at the end to wrap around the mechanic. This is the point that he is making. I know I am bumping an old article, but now that I have seen the game in action, it plays really good, but it is also kinda silly and ridiculous in how it treats the lore. I am really tired of Nintendo making an amazing and expansive mythos only to stop taking it seriously.

  • Shawn Shah

    While I do agree with your sentiments Alex, I just want to point that the setting is in ALttP’s world because the game was originally intended to be a remake of ALttP.

    • Erimgard

      No it was not.
      Aonuma and company have stated that it started off with the whole 2D/3D wall merging mechanic, and they THEN decided to use the aLttP world because it gave them a starting point and the ability to take a popular 2D world and give it some 3D flair.

      • Shawn Shah

        Nope. Miyamoto was going to make ALttP remake. Aonuma convinced him to turn it into a sequel because he didn’t want too many remakes going around a la OOT3D and Wind Waker HD.

        • Erimgard

          Taken from his interview with Polygon three days ago:

          Aonuma told the crowd that although A Link Between Worlds is a follow-up to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, it didn’t start out that way. Only when the developers were thinking about the wall merge ability they had come up with did they land on the idea of doing a sequel to A Link to the Past, with that title’s world as a base for the new game. Aonuma elaborated on that in our interview.

          Wind Waker HD, as a remake, couldn’t have existed without the GameCube original, and A Link Between Worlds ended up as a sequel, Aonuma noted.

          “But we could’ve made this game, or a game, without having Link to the Past as a base,” he said. “Because we have the ability to go into the walls, and then contrasting that with the top-down view, that was basically the kernel of the game — that mechanic, and then those two contrasting camera views.”

  • Freez0

    I am loving the art work for this game. :D

  • Tensei

    Hmm… the minute Nintendo realises that people love Zelda because of exploration and the best way to increase this sensation is through meaningful content, (not interface and mechanics)…the better they will be for it.

    That was a major problem with the Wii’s first party output. Lack of content where there should be(SS) and lack of refined mechanics where they should be (Brawl). Only time they got everything right was Mario Galaxy.

    • Patrick Starman

      And Mario Kart Wii.
      And Donkey Kong Country Returns
      And New Super Mario Bros Wii
      What was your point about the Wii having a problem with its first-party titles?

      • Tensei

        Yeah you’re right about all those titles being fantastic.. but nevertheless a pedantic point that shows a complete misunderstanding of my post.

        • CChaplin

          Ok, (1) you made two points in your original post, the second of which was that the Wii’s first party output was lacking, and that’s what Patrick was responding to. And (2) I’m not sure if you understand what the word “pedantic” means but from an outside observer’s perspective it describes you perfectly and Patrick not at all.

          • Tensei

            He is listing games holistically, where as I am breaking them down on three individual levels and saying that for certain games and franchises, certain areas of the game design should be emphasised on more than others. And I use the word problem in the context of a challenge to be overcome as Nintendo have been doing feature creep since the GC era.

            Can you see that we are talking about things on two different dimensions and any reply to my comments not addressing my points on that level will come across as being narrow minded aka being pedantic.

            And feel free to downvote this comment as the neutral outside observer you are.

            • CChaplin

              He still wasn’t being pedantic, the games he listed highlighted the fact that many of the Wii’s first party software did not suffer from a lack of attention to the correct areas of their game design, so it had everything to do with your point. “Pedantic” isn’t a direct synonym to “narrow-minded”, though that’s fairly accurate. It’s more like when someone is being too wordy about their argument and coming across with an obnoxiously superior tone, so if you’re about to point out that I’M being pedantic… yes. Yes I am. :P

              And I only down-vote comments that strike me as butt-headed. That one was not.

              • Tensei

                So yes pedantic can be used in the context of being small minded. Thank you. Words are flexible. Awesome.

                I mentioned the games I felt exemplified my point. If I felt Mario Kart or w/e was exceptional or subpar in any way I would have mentioned it. If I didnt list examples…feel free to conflate it with a condemnation of Nintendo’s Wii first party content…. but I didnt.

            • Beezer Seamans

              I just want you to know that you look like a total douche bag when you throw out a couple “big words” in place of simpler words that would have ran smoother in conjunction with your sentence, in an obvious attempt to make yourself look intelligent.

              • Igos Du Ikana

                I find it insulting that people get offended when someone uses diction that lends validity to their argument. Using a broader vocabulary is not a means of insulting anyone, and most people do not use it as such. There are a lot of times, this being one of them, where simple language or phrases would not have sufficed to properly explain his point. Also, there are a lot of people who are accustomed to using their full capacity in everyday conversation. Again, bumping an old article, but I felt it necessary to comment. I don’t mean to be an ass or anything, but I hate it when people think that I am being arrogant, just because I am used to talking in a certain way. I would imagine that this person would feel similarly. It is possible that there was intent involved, but I doubt it. Besides, I point out logical fallacies in Internet comments all of the time. I am not being douche. Why should I ignore the fact that their argument fails on the most basic level just to avoid offending them. I do not intend to insult them, but there is no way that I am going to let someone try and validate a point above mine by using failed logic or by avoiding the topic altogether.

  • Michael Philliber

    i usually like your articles too, how are you this judgmental on a game we know so little about.

    • zdog

      I think it is fair to write an article about first impressions. Based off what we’ve seen this is the impression, and I completely agree. I think the best is yet to come, and certainly it will be a fun game. But there are some things that come off not quite right given what we’ve seen so far.

  • Eltanin

    I can see your point and I agree. However, I will admit that the latest footage and info about the game has got my hopes up. I think the game is looking very promising and that Aonuma’s team might have got their formula right this time around.

    Looking back at the world of Alttp, I can see that there is still a great deal of improvements about what you can do and tell in the story – fletching out the lore and characters of that Hyrule – and they might do just that with this game, I can definitely see the intention to do so.

    Overall I’m optimistic that this game will be a step in the right direction. We’ll just have to wait to play it to see if the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And by the way, glad to see you back Alex.

  • Patrick Starman

    You’re already dissing a game you haven’t even fully played yet?

    • Matthew Wesley

      He’s bitching about a f’ing demo… a demo: as in an incomplete demonstration of a game. Seriously, he’s losing serious gaming cred right now.

  • http://6starwrestling.net/ Cybrus

    This does seem like an, at least this point, unjustifiably negative look on a game that we know very little about. But perhaps GenGame is big enough that they got an advanced copy of the game and he knows more about the game than he can actually say now? Maybe this review could make more sense after we’ve played it? I don’t know. I’m not defending the negativity here, just trying to rationalize it.

    Personally, I’m very excited for this game and have loved all the news I’ve seen about it thus far. Well, except for the Majora’s Mask stuff, but as long as it is just minor mask placements and has no impact on the actual game, then I won’t care.

  • firecow

    where did alex plant went to after all this time?

  • Shadao

    Well Dark World isn’t a creative name itself when you think about it. Not that it didn’t made the game any less good.

  • Charlene Buffington

    They’ve hardly shown the Lorule Kingdom so what is all this based off of and how can you dislike a game you’ve never played?

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      This is based off the “reveal trailer” for Lorule. You know, the trailer that was supposed to get us excited about it?

      • Charlene Buffington

        Despite, they didnt show the ENTIRE Lorule, so we still wouldnt know if it truly is stifling. He’s judging a game too much before it’s released and saying he’d rather wait for Zelda Wii U. Most Zelda games get crap before release then people love them.

  • Chris Lunsford

    Seriously? Don’t condemn a game before it’s here. The game looks promising, and honestly, I would love to revisit A Link To The Past’s Hyrule. It went back to Zelda’s roots, isn’t that enough? Isn’t that what fans have been screaming for? Personally, I don’t care. I haven’t played a “bad” Zelda game yet. The only one I don’t particularly care for is Four Swords, and that’s because I’m a single-player kind of gamer, not because the game sucked. Drop any expectation you have, and just wait for this new game to come out. Also, you haven’t seen Lorule yet. Just thought I would throw that out there. The trailer simply revealed it’s existence, and touched on it’s premise.
    Calm down and drink some water or something before writing crazy articles.

  • EnaZeibekiko

    I didn’t miss exploring in Skyward Sword (I did a lot of it) because I was so drawn into the fast-paced game play. And I thought the worlds were very well-designed, and I felt nice just being in them, not even needing to find anything new…. But if there had been much, much more, than I would have liked it much, much better.

  • MusubiKazesaru

    Wasn’t this exact article on Zeldainformer earlier?

  • MinishDude

    Um…. I would’ve used the term “kingdom” loosely to describe Hyrule in LttP or the original NES game, and given that they’re mostly seeming to keep the worlds intact (with their one village, each….), I wouldn’t hold it to high standards for some giant fleshed out kingdom.
    And OoT’s Hyrule a recreation of LttP? The geography is incredibly different, and the areas themselves bear no real resemblance to LttP.

  • Rabbi Bongstien

    Sounds like you are a hater dude. The game isn’t out yet. Judge it when you play the thing. And yes, you spent the whole article judging it just in case you wanna say that’s not what I meant.

  • Cybersix

    I swear, the guy second from left is wearing Majora’s Mask

  • zdog

    Alex! I honestly thought you moved on. There’s nothing like a good Plant Opinion Piece, and for the record I agree.

  • K2L

    Now we’re complaining about a NAME?

    Of all the pretexts to say a game will be bad before it comes out, this one ought to be the cheapest: I’m sorry, Alex, but it’s true.

    “I guess I’ll just have to wait for Zelda Wii U.”

    Fine, your loss. Nobody’s going to force you to play ALBW. As if you’re not going to write more ranting articles about Zelda U…..

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      When the “exciting” moment of the trailer was the reveal of the name of the “other world,” and I thought the name of the other world was lame… then yeah, I have every reason and right to judge.

      • K2L

        I suppose you didn’t like the equally generic names of the “Dark World” (ALTTP), and “Dark Aether” (Metroid Prime 2), then.

        Just don’t play the game if you think it’ll be bad and you’ll save some money. I never waste my time on a game I have bad expectatives on, and neither does any person for that matter. You didn’t post any articles on the (very well-received, FYI) confirmation of non-linearity, or Aonuma hinting a connection between this game and Majora’s Mask, but you surely didn’t want to miss a chance to write a ranting article. Classy…..

  • Ty Trego

    How can you be so negative about the wall merging mechanic? It’s just a new and interesting way to implement puzzles, just as the dark world was in A link to the past. (meaning that “classic feel” wasn’t always classic) and I think the fact that aounuma got stumped on it only shows that this game’s puzzles may actually be something to write home about, and not because they’re hard, but because it forces you to think outside of what we’re used to in a Zelda game. But all you see is negativity negativity negativity, you complain that the game seems “been there done that” but then with any single new mechanic in the game you complain that they’ve done something different. And for god’s sake shut up about the name. You act like it’s game breaking. And you say “I guess I’ll just have to wait for Zelda Wii U” But you’re gonna buy this game anyway, you’ll probably like it, then you’ll bitch similarly when we finally see a Zelda Wii U trailer.

  • Ryan

    Most of this article is based on what you have seen from the trailers. Have you played the game? Do you know the finer parts of the story? No. Give the game a chance and if it sucks, feel free to tear it a new one. If it doesn’t suck, you just come off as a guy that always bashes Zelda games. Pretty much every negative report on this site, when it talks about Zelda, is written by you.

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      I’ve followed every piece of marketing for the game, and lots of the stuff they put in that marketing TURNS ME OFF. It’s the stuff that they say OUTSIDE the marketing in interviews and such that gets me excited.

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  • Takhilin

    Do you even like Zelda? It’s hard to tell.