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Is combat in 3D Zelda overly complex? [roundtable]
I was thinking this after a recent discussion here about Zelda's controls, specifically as it pertains to equipping items. Equipping items aside...is 3D Zelda's combat too complicated? Dare I say too dated?

Obviously the things happening in Skyward Sword are very advanced. While the motions themselves seem simple, it would probably be a lot to take in for the average noob. Compare that to say, the 2D Zelda's, and there's really no contest. You hit a button and whatever's in front of you dies. Enemies aren't necessarily puzzles in themselves, while the post Ocarina games tended to favor enemies that HAD to be dispatched a certain way.

What do you think? Is it time for Zelda to abandon Z Targeting and take combat back to its simpler roots? Should it strive for an auto lock system similar to games like Batman or Beyond Good and Evil? Perhaps it could still have both?

Have years of tweaks and additions made combat in Zelda a little bit too much, and possibly iterating on itself to the point where it's lineage pops out like a sore thumb? Or is it not broke and doesn't need to be fixed? Where do you want to see combat on this series go?

I typed this on my phone so sorry if it's written poorly.

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Posted: 03/18/16, 06:23:09  - Edited by 
 on: 03/18/16, 06:24:28
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I don't think complexity is the issue. It really isn't perfect. I really do think the item management is often the largest culprit in the games--it's a pretty big design flaw that takes you right out of the experience, I feel. The actual swordplay, as far as the player is concerned, is just the right level of complexity, I feel. Specifically, Wind Waker, which seems (to me) to have the most fluid battles. It always seems clunky when you start mixing more items into it, though.

I'll be treating Skyward Sword as more tangential instead of a direct progression from the four OoT-type games.

The inputs in the four OoT-type Zeldas are all a pretty logical progression from the original Zelda concept, I feel. One button for swordplay was how the original did it. OoT added one for a 'special' attack and then modifiers to the main one (that weren't all that necessary). Wind Waker made that special button even... specialer with the parry system. I feel Twilight Princess over-complicated this system--particularly since they felt it necessary to remind you on-screen how to do the extra actions every time they were available. The problem with swordplay, I feel, is the results aren't all that satisfying. The enemies don't react well to your sword. I'd love to see the enemies try to dodge, lean away, or occasionally block you (and depict it through animation, not just a shield). This was done just a little bit with Ganondorf, but it really should be more the norm. I think the enemies are the problem, not the controls.

The items really mess up combat, though. They need to simplify the items into as elegant of a system as the swordplay. This sounds blasphemous against Zelda, I guess, but the items are all too specialized. Each one should have more use and there should be less of them. I'd actually enjoy maybe three equip-able items altogether. Period. Any others can be non-combat touchscreen presses.

For instance, I love the boomerang, bow, and hookshot. They're all pretty cool. But if you equip all three, well, you can't float any more. Or bomb stuff. Or grapple. Why should we have to juggle like that? The hookshot and grappling hook could easily be lumped in with the bow. Arrow with a rope attached? Awesome. Retractable mechanical arrow-like thing? Awesome. You wouldn't even need to pull something stupid like Twilight Princess and give you a second clawshot! You could have the retractable thing connect to your belt and let you fire a second one from there. Also, fire and ice arrows are cool--except mostly useless!

The boomerang is more unique, I feel, in that it primarily stuns large enemies and can attack/do stuff laterally. I'm not sure if it could be made redundant, but we could take something that Twilight Princess did right (bomb arrows) and place them here. Instead of shooting bombs-on-arrows, carry bombs out with the boomerang. It's already been done in the games where you can pick up and carry bombs elsewhere from off the ground, why not just make that a native ability? I know everyone likes the idea of setting bombs and running (I guess), but launching bombs laterally at enemies--even behind cover--would be a ton of fun. You could also do more interesting things with bomb-able walls and such. So should the bombs go away as a dedicated item? They could. And, you could tie the grappling hook's stealing ability to the non-lethal usage of the boomerang (with a lower droprate maybe) to encourage something other than blowing them up.

Magic attacks? Bottles? All of that should be down on the touchscreen panel and not even able to be equipped.

So more reactionary gameplay with the swordplay--I think it would feel more natural--and consolidation of items to a few key ones and just add functionality to THOSE to eliminate the item swapping (though you'd have to do a bit of toggling on the actual items, but ah well, it's still a better system than what's in place).
Posted: 03/18/16, 06:50:59
The way I see it, there's two ways of looking at this:

The 'old school' way of just slashing what's in front of you effectively turns combat into a button mashing (or Wiimote swinging) exercise. Simple, easy to grasp, but ultimately perhaps just a wee bit shallow?

So sure, you can get rid of Z-targeting and autolock onto enemies then go to town with your sword. But that's boring and repetitive IMO. The core of the Zelda series has been it's various items. If you restrict yourself simply to sword combat, you lose a lot of the game's appeal.

The other end of the spectrum, is the one where various items have their different uses and advantages. Yes it makes you think a little more, but it keeps things interesting. Ideally though, enemies should be designed such that they can be defeated in a number of different ways, but it's *easier* with one method or item than another. That could tie into both progression and incentive to find optional items.

Say for example the Flame Rod was an optional item. And you go up against those ice enemies.

Option 1: Sword combat. Lets you cause slow chip damage, which will ultimately defeat them, but only after multiple strikes.
Option 2: Megaton hammer. Same as the sword, but less hits required due to greater kinetic damage.
Option 3: If you were lucky/good enough to find it, the Flame Rod which instantly melts them
Option 4: Lets say the Fire Arrows- Which are still locked away for another 3 dungeons . Only the rod offers an early counter.

Now of course the multitude of weapons thus available will naturally impact on the control scheme. So I'll ask the same question that went unanswered in the other thread:

How do you handle all those different weapons at once? It's not feasible to map every item to a separate quick-access button. There still has to be some sort of selection process for those items, whether that be done via subscreens or selection on the tablet.

The other option is to come up with 'combo' commands like holding R trigger and a D-left does something, whilst L shoulder and Right stick click does something else, etc etc. But that's pretty damn complex and just gives you a whole list of various combo commands to memorize. It's not ideal.

I honestly think Zelda's system strikes the right balance between accessibility and flexibility. Some minor enhancements like touchscreen selections help for sure, but we're hardly reinventing the wheel there, just coming up with a harder wearing tyre.

EDIT: @Cubed777 Ha, looks like the number of items in play is what's contributing to our different philosophies here . I guess that's a question in and of itself. Zelda with more items or less?

I rather like seeing the new creative stuff that gets put into (some) of the new games to be honest. Stuff like the Spinner or the magnetic gloves.
Posted: 03/18/16, 06:52:50  - Edited by 
 on: 03/18/16, 06:56:11
You know, I hardly ever used the Z targeting method while in combat, even in Ocarina of Time. I just go in close to whichever baddie I want to fight and viola, I beat the baddie up and kill it. Only time I usually Z target is when using the slingshot or someother likewise weapon, so I hit/kill the baddie on the first try. On the very rare occasion, when surrounded by many enemies and I want to focus on a particular baddie, I might use Z targeting. I would say, typically, throughout any 3d Zelda game, I might use the Z targeting feature maybe 5% of the time while battling foes. Most of the time I actually forget the feature exists.

Just thinking about the main topic of this post, if anything the combat in 3d Zelda games couldn't be any simpler, unless Link automatically would fight and kill a baddie when within a certain distance, without any input from the user, but what fun would that be?

I feel the combat in 3d Zelda games is fine. Its not outdated, nor overly complicated, nor does it need to be changed. If anything the Z targeting is there for those, noobs, little kids or people who just plain suck at combat in a 3d gaming space.
Posted: 03/18/16, 06:53:10
I'm definitely ready to see the end of the OoT Z-targeting battle system. It's not that it's bad, but we're up to five games that utilize it now. I think mixing up the combat is something that the series could really use... I'd really like for enemies to pose a real threat in the series once again and not just have some sort of exploit.

I think the series can undergo many changes without losing that "Zelda essence." I want them to really try and not just play it safe. Of course, asking for the next industry shaking game for the series like OoT... that's a tall order. But I want them to try.
Posted: 03/18/16, 06:56:15

Z-Targeting does open up a couple of other sword combat options though. Like the Jump attack, which is ridiculously powerful.

You might be able to wade into enemies your way, but I guarantee that whilst you're still fighting your first Iron knuckle, I've polished him off and am halfway through the Spirit Temple already
Posted: 03/18/16, 06:58:24

Very true. I forgot about the different special attacks. They do come in handy on the tougher foes. Also, don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining or coming down on Z targeting, I just don't use it that much, especially in close up combat. Since I forgot about the special attacks that use Z targeting, maybe instead of the 5% I mentioned above, I should increase that to maybe 10-15%, cause I probably do use those attacks that require Z targeting's input when fighting the Iron Knuckles and other tough enemies that cannot be defeated easy from normal frontal attacks.

Thanks for pointing those out.
Posted: 03/18/16, 07:41:34
If anything it's too simplistic. Your sub weapons are almost always used as keys for locks, or are used to manipulate the weakness of one enemy. Outside of their dungeon, they tend to be fairly useless as well for the most part.
And when it comes to sword combat, I don't think Z-targeting is the issue. Look at a game like Dark Souls, which has a targeting system as well. The targeting system doesn't stop the combat from being fun and engaging, but it also doesn't rely on it. Actually, Dark Souls is a pretty nice comparison here because I think Zelda could take several things from it. Parrying would be a great addition to sword combat, and would make combat require much more skill. Enemies would have to be changed to not die as easily though.

I also like what Shadowlink said about how your sword should still be able to kill say an ice enemy, but other items will be more effective if you happen to have them. And if you have the parrying I mentioned from earlier, if you were skilled enough with that killing them with the sword might be even easier.

If combat in Zelda is to be changed for the better, it needs to stop staying so far in the past. Combat in 3D Zelda games has barely changed since Ocarina of Time and has gotten easier over time. Bring it up to date with modern 3rd person action adventure games, and add more difficulty back into the games. Then, it will be more fun and engaging.
Posted: 03/19/16, 03:31:21
Nah, if anything I think it can be a bit too simple at times, as just using the jump attack often works. But designing anything in 3D is always a lot tougher than 2D, since there is so much more to think about.
Posted: 03/22/16, 21:56:23
Cumbersome, yes. Complex, no.
Posted: 03/22/16, 23:53:49
Really, I just want Nintendo to balance the combat so that it actually matters. It's not like the Zelda 1 combat system was the most brilliant thing ever, but it was perfectly integrated into the game. Areas like the graveyard were actually tense, because you could actually die. And saving up your money and buying a damage-halving items was really rewarding and empowering.

I really enjoyed the feel of the combat in Twilight Princess. But the stakes were so low. It was fun, smooth, and totally meaningless. To be honest, I still have to play past the first dungeon in Skyward Sword. I've heard that they upped the ante. Hopefully, that's true.

I haven't tried Hero Mode in any of the games, either. So maybe that fixes things?

Oh, and also - The Zelda 2 combat system WAS the most brilliant thing ever.
Posted: 03/23/16, 02:54:18  - Edited by 
 on: 03/23/16, 02:54:42

The XP System, not so much.
Posted: 03/23/16, 03:17:54
The RPG mechanics definitely aren't brilliant, but they are lovably goofy. There's a lot of goofy stuff in that game. Like how you can just turn into a fairy and fly through every locked door. And how you can use magic to totally change the way Link feels. But it's such a magnificent sloppy mess of a game. And, again, the side-scrolling combat mechanics are amazing.

It's sad that Nintendo never really followed up on it. A SNES sequel could've been incredible. (Ditto for Kid Icarus.)

I still maintain that a game with the overworld of Zelda 1 and the side-scrolling combat of Zelda 2 would be the best thing ever. Link's Awakening comes kind of close, but not really.

I feel like I've made the exact same post before.
Posted: 03/23/16, 03:33:40  - Edited by 
 on: 03/23/16, 03:34:05
They're complicated but not in a way that feels rewarding. It's always enemies with super obvious weaknesses and really obvious telegraphed attacks. It's like a combination of you don't have to try and the game is so easy and forgiving that there's no reason to try. Adding more items or options to this basic premise is going to have the same problem in the future.
Posted: 03/23/16, 04:28:24

Hmm, playing Zelda II right now, on the 4th Palace. Didn't know about the fairy thing. Gonna have to try that.
Posted: 03/23/16, 04:42:20
Sorry for the 30-year-old spoiler.
Posted: 03/23/16, 04:43:48
Dark Souls
Posted: 03/23/16, 04:45:05
Well part of me thinks about what Nintendo has done to Mario, and even Metroid with Other M. I wonder if they would ever take out Z Targeting in favor of something that feels more automatic, and possibly more reminiscent of the original Zelda games? I think most of us could maybe agree that Zelda's combat feels most archaic when you're surrounded by many enemies at once, which is something the original games basically emphasized. Is there a way to balance the two aspects of combat?
Posted: 03/24/16, 18:54:33
I think combat should be like in TP, but more difficult. I didn't care for the button prompts in WW, but TP felt right, it was just a bit too easy. Skyward Sword combat was amazing, but I don't see them going down that complex route again without a main input such as the wii remote.
Posted: 03/24/16, 19:19:39
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