Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Linearity Check: Dungeon Orders

Exploration and freedom are usually two important factors for a good Zelda game and simply one of the reasons that made the classic Zelda games so exciting and enjoyable. And linearity is often considered to be the poison that rods the modern Zelda games, because it takes away from the freedom and even sometimes from the exploration. A Zelda game that proves to be less linear, often also adds a lot to the replay value, because you might want to try to play things out of order. The more ways you can play a game, the more often you most likely will play it.

So, I want to start a series of post, which ranks all the Zelda games in linearity. This has the goal to show, which Zelda games offer the most freedom and have the richest replay value. This also will clear up some myths. For example many people consider Ocarina of Time to be a very linear game, while in reality it isn't.

Of course there are many criterias for non-linearity. The order of dungeons, the dungeon structure, quest design, the world layout... The most obvious one is the order, in which all the dungeons can be played or completed. If you can play the dungeons out of order, the game is clearly non-linear.

The following list will rank all Zelda games by counting the number of possible orders, in which the main dungeons can be played. (This is the order in what the dungeons must be visited. Some games allow that you simply take an item from a dungeon and save the rest for later, so the orders in what the dungeons can be completed is an entirely different beast.)

  1. The Legend of Zelda: 872
  2. A Link to the Past: 66
  3. Ocarina of Time: 7 (55)
  4. Four Swords, Phantom Hourglass: 6
  5. Oracle of Seasons: 2
  6. Majora's Mask: 2
  7. the other 10 games: 1

I tried to count all possibly orders in The Legend of Zelda, but it's just so much that I had to use this program. There are very few restrictions here. Levels 2 and 8 can basically played at any given time. Yes, you can play and beat the eight dungeons first, which sounds crazy, but you can try. You need the Bow from the first dungeon to beat Level 6. You need the Raft from Level 3 to access Level 4. And you need the Stepladder from Level 4 to beat Level 5, 6 and 7. And the Flute from Level 5 to enter and beat Level 7. That's pretty much it and results in many, many different orders.

A Link to the Past is somewhat more linear, but the restrictions here are very simple. You need the Hammer from the Dark Palace to get to any other part of the Dark World. And you need the Titan's Mitts to enter Ice Palace, Misery Mire and Turtle Rock. Turtle Rock additionally needs the Fire Rod and the Cane of Somaria. That's it, which results in 66 different orders (source).

Ocarina of Time is usually considered to be very linear, because of Navi, which guides you from dungeon to dungeon. But in reality there are many possible options, you can visit the temples in 7 different orders. You need the Fairy Bow in the Water Temple and you need the Longshot (or Hover Boots) to enter the Spirit Temple. To enter the Shadow Temple you must complete the first three temples (the Kakariko well sequence gets triggered by collecting the first four Medaillons). So, this is how it looks (source):

Forest - Fire - Water - Spirit - Shadow
Forest - Fire - Water - Shadow - Spirit
Forest - Water - Fire - Spirit - Shadow
Forest - Water - Fire - Shadow - Spirit
Forest - Water - Spirit - Fire - Shadow
Fire - Forest - Water - Spirit - Shadow
Fire - Forest - Water - Shadow - Spirit

This only counts the temples, if you take the mandatory minidungeon Ice Cavern and Bottom of the Well into equation, you will end up with 55 possible orders, so Ocarina of Time scores a good 3rd place here. The Ice Cavern can be played at any point before the Water Temple and the Bottom of the Well at any point between the Forest and Shadow Temples.

And Master Quest might be somewhat different as well. Here you need the Fairy Bow in the Fire Temple, but not in the Water Temple, so you can beat the Water Temple first here. But it should be somewhat similar.

Phantom Hourglass is simple, you can play the Goron Temple, the Ice Temple and Mutoh's Temple in any order. This is achieved by collecting the 3rd and 4th Seachart in one run, which I have done before two times. It's even more obvious in Four Swords, where you have a level select of three dungeons.

Oracle of Seasons allows you to play Level 4 and 5 out of order. It's not much, but still better than it's blue brother Oracle of Ages. I also listed Majora's Mask here, where it's possible to proceed in Ikana with the Hookshot alone thanks to a well placed tree, though this probably wasn't intended by the developers. The idea was to get the Ice Arrows first.

But it's kind of saddening that the majority of the series does have a strict order. Of course this doesn't mean that the entire games are linear, just because the main order of the dungeons is linear. No one would dare to call Majora's Mask a linear game and even Zelda II - The Adventure of Link can be an open experience. Also, both games allow their dungeons to be completed in any possible order. You only need the items from the dungeons to proceed to the next territories, you don't have to beat the dungeon right on. In Zelda II this is even a common strategy to save all bosses for the end, because it helps with leveling up.

So, if we take into consideration in what order the dungeons can be completed (meaning in what order the main collectibles like the Medaillons or Triforce Shards can be obtained), we get suddenly get a different picture:

  1. The Legend of Zelda: 40320 (8!)
  2. A Link to the Past: 10080 (7! x2)
  3. Zelda II: 720 (6!)
  4. Link's Awakening: 120 (5!)
  5. Ocarina of Time: 36
  6. Majora's Mask: 24 (4!)
  7. Four Swords, Phantom Hourglass: 6
  8. Oracle of Seasons: 2
  9. the other games: 1

(The exclamation marks stand for faculty meaning 5! = 5x4x3x2x1)

Games like The Minish Cap or Skyward Sword heavily restrict the dungeon order by adding special events or items that don't get unlocked until the current dungeon gets finished. You have no choice but to complete these games in the given order. For example in The Minish Cap you can't get the Pegasus Boots until after the Cave of Flames. And usually you upgrade your sword, where the upgrade is required to get to the next dungeon. Similar in Skyward Sword. This can sometimes be very artificial, for example in The Wind Waker Makar doesn't appear playing his violin until after you've beaten the Earth Temple. Before that you simply cannot find him.

Some games do have these restrictions only partially, mainly Link's Awakening and Ocarina of Time. In Link's Awakening you have to beat the first three dungeons in order because of certain special events. For example the Chain Chomp BowWow doesn't get abducted until after you've beaten Level 1. Or Tarin doesn't ask for the Stick until after Level 3. But the last five bosses can be skipped until the end of the game and then be slain in any order.

Ocarina of Time adds certain possibilities, if you take the Fairy Bow from the Forest Temple and the Longshot from the Water Temple and simply continue without beating Phantom Ganon or Morpha. That way you can beat the temples in 18 different orders now. But you can also beat Jabu Jabu's Belly as a kid before beating Dodongo's Cavern. You only need the Bombs and there's even accurate dialogue in case you get the Zora Sapphire before the Goron Ruby.

A Link to the Past doesn't restrict you much. You have to beat the Eastern Palace first, because you don't get the Pegasus Boots otherwise. But you can take the Power Glove from the Desert Palace and then go beat Hera's Tower. And the 7 Dark World dungeons can be beaten in any order now. That's 5040 times two possibly orders.

Of course the king is still The Legend of Zelda, which allows for 40320 different orders to collect the Triforce Shards. However, there's one game that can keep up with that, namely The Wind Waker. While it's main dungeons can only be played and finished in a strict order, the Triforce Shards can be obtained in any possible order, much like in The Legend of Zelda. Some can be even gotten very early in the game, right after getting the three pearls. But of course that's a different criteria and has nothing to do with the main dungeons.


The order of the dungeons is only one of many factors to evaluate the linearity of a Zelda game. While the dungeons might be playable out of order, it can be that the dungeons theirselves are highly linear in level design (which is the case in Phantom Hourglass and might become a problem in A Link Between Worlds). Another question is how much freedom the game gives you early on. At what point can you explore the majority of the world and do sidequests? I will talk about these points in later posts.

3 comments:

K2L said...

For me personally, the most ideal degree of nonlinearity in regards of dungeons is that a dungeon can be skipped entirely to go first towards a later one. I'm not the kind of player who leaves something unfinished. XD

That means only LOZ, ALTTP, PH and OOT (among the ones I played), give me that desired degree. I know AOL has it with the first dungeon as well, but the difficulty level makes navigation through the caves extremely difficult without the candle, while the gloves, raft, boots and flute are required for further progress. Same goes with the MM dungeons.

For a long time I've imagined a Zelda game where you're presented four completely unrelated dungeons, which you can complete in any order without problems.

Andreas Schmidbauer said...

You can Start with the Water Temple in oot , you need to skip the key door in the middle room and once do a double jump to raise the water to the top , but thats all

Jeffrey Krieger said...

in oot you can get as far as getting the longshot. I always get the longshot first in the water temple because it makes the forest temple easier.