All right, I'll come clean: I've never finished a Zelda game. The early ones passed me by. I didn't own an N64 so I never played much of Ocarina of Time, the game everyone loves to remind me is the 'greatest game ever' (it's not, it's Half-Life 2). The ones I have played failed to hold my interest for more than a few hours.
But thanks to the plethora of articles available I've been able to learn a great deal about the design of the Zelda games and, because I have no personal attachment to any of them, I think I've actually managed to retain a somewhat objective view of the series. The latest essay I read was an opinion piece by Tevis Thompson about where the games went wrong over the years, notably how their stubborn commitment to convention hampers the very essence of exploration: a voyage into the unknown.
In many ways this statement (and indeed the whole essay) could apply to games as a whole when we examine how they have changed over the years. There is an ever-growing tendency fill in all the gaps, to tighten the designer's grip on the experience, to ensure that every secret gets discovered at just the right time and no one gets too far ahead of themselves lest they feel lost or confused. My goodness, what a terrible experience that might be in a game about exploration! There are certain kinds of games in which 'hand-holding' is appropriate, but there are other kinds in which it utterly undermines the central idea the game attempts to convey.
Anyway, this whole post was made to highlight one particular part of the essay which has little to do with any of the stuff I just said. But it is about story, which I find interesting. Enjoy.
The game mechanics of early Zeldas provided plot enough, the kind that is boring to tell (then this, then this) but thrilling to play. They required no narrative scaffolding to be justified; they justified themselves. And strangely, the iconic simplicity of early Hyrules fired the imagination the way a good map does, opening up story possibilities rather than narrowing them down to just one. Story flowed from world instead of world from story.
Source: Tevis Thompson: Saving Zelda
UPDATE! I'm now playing Ocarina of Time on the 3DS. Check me out.