Sidequests are elements of a game (such as minigames, scavenger hunts, secret mazes, etc) that don't depend on the outcome of the game itself for it to be beaten.
Sidequests are included within games to:
- Create extra interest in the game after it has been completed.
- Prolong the "life" of the game.
- Give the player something to do when stuck.
- Improve the player's status, experience or life.
Within The Legend of Zelda series, there are sidequests that are prevalent for 100% Completion. There are several types of sidequests, the only requirement for one to be called as such is that it's not mandatory to be completed if the player is interested to merely beat the game; it can even be partially required to progress in a game and still be considered to be a sidequest, since it's still up for the player to complete it. But if the quest is fully required, then it's just an important objective adhered to the main adventure, even if it's not directly linked to the main plot. For example, in Twilight Princess, there's no option regarding whether collecting the Sky Characters to access a certain dungeon or not, since they're key for access to a major dungeon.
Therefore, sidequests do not relate to the game's path, but can enhance or strengthen the player's status while on such a path. In every Zelda game, it is possible to beat the entire story without the aid of extra Pieces of Heart, more Arrows in one's Quiver, and more Rupees, but the game is better fulfilled when it is beaten with these elements included.
Essentially, most sidequests exist so that the prizes earned can increase the player's possibilities to progress without failing against enemies, as these usually become stronger or more in number; other sidequests are simply for amusement, though. The following rewards are among the most common in a Zelda game:
- Pieces of Heart: A trademark sidequest present in almost every Zelda game is to increase Link's life meter. In the NES Zelda games, a Heart Container is either held by boss possession, hidden in a secret spot, or given for free by an old man (unless the wrong choice is made).
- Stock Limit Upgrades: Since A Link to the Past, the possibility of increasing the capacity of the weaponry has been available, as well as (since the first Zelda game) the physical defense of the character. Among the upgrades are;
- Extra Weaponry: Items that aren't required to progress, but offer more efficient or more powerful means of attack. Among them are:
- Optional Arrow Attributes (Ice Arrow)
- Optional Swords (Biggoron's Sword)
- New Attack Abilities: Since The Adventure of Link, some games in the series included the option to get new ways of attacking enemies with the sword. Among them are:
- Hidden Skills.
- Hurricane Spin.
- Collection Quest Prizes: Quest items that not only lead to secret rewards, but also gives the player a sense of achievement after fully completing them. Items involved are:
- Golden Skulltulas.
- Poe Souls.
The sidequests, while barely present since the NES games, officially became important in A Link to the Past, mainly thanks to the introduction of the Piece of Heart system; because the game featured multiple dungeons (twelve), there were too many Heart Containers possessed by the bosses, meaning that a mere two (supposing that the 16-heart meter seen in the original NES game would be present again) would be available in the overworld. To solve this, the game featured an extended 20-heart life meter and, additionally, split the then six Containers left into four pieces each (for a total of 24 pieces), giving the player the need to guide Link across extra stages housing them, as well as winning minigames. The possibility of enhancing the weaponry (Bombs, Arrows, Sword, etc.), as well as the introduction of optional weapons and artifacts, improved this aspect of the game.
The first 3D game Ocarina of Time not only included the types of sidequest seen in the 2D games that preceded it, but also made the player focus on helping people to receive different prizes; the game is also notorious for featuring a more complex hunt-based sidequest, in the form of the Golden Skulltula spiders. The fact that most of these spiders only appear at night or from some secret spots, increased significantly the challenge of the 100% completion. Other notable sidequests were that to rescue Epona from her captivity in Lon Lon Ranch (which made traveling in Hyrule Field much easier), and the inclusion of an optional dungeon.
Majora's Mask focuses significantly on its sidequest catalogue through the game's time-based system, as well as through the low number of dungeons with Heart Containers. The minigames are more in number and more complex to master, there are more people in need of help (in fact, the game gives Link the possibility to find the Bombers' Notebook so that he can plan the solution of the characters' problems), there are more secret areas and spots with optional prizes, and the hunts are now restricted to dungeons (Stray Fairies) and houses (Golden Skulltulas). To make this aspect more fitting, the game's working title was Zelda Gaiden, or Zelda Side Story.
In later games, such as The Wind Waker, the sidequests have become longer and more challenging to the player, making it harder to achieve the reward one is after. For example, in the aforementioned The Wind Waker, there is involvement into the notably long Nintendo Gallery completion and the search for treasures and special maps by the Treasure Chart hunt; also, because of the high number of optional islands available, it takes more time to find every single Piece of Heart. There is also a special sidequest available during use of the Tingle Tuner (and, by extension, during connectivity between the GameCube and a Game Boy Advance).
Twilight Princess also features various sidequests, although not to the same extent as some of the previously mentioned games. Among the available sidequests are various hunts (Poe Souls and Golden Bugs), fishing, all-new minigames, and learning Hidden Skills, among others. Twilight Princess also contributes on revamping the Heart Piece system by rewarding the player with a new Heart Container for every five Pieces of Heart, which solves the problem brought by the relationship of inverse proportionality between Pieces of Heart and Heart Containers. Strangely, unlike the other console 3D games, Twilight Princess has no trading sequence.
Link's Awakening, in addition to following the footsteps of A Link to the Past, also introduced various types of sidequests, such as fishing, the first Trading Sequence sidequest in the series, and the first hunt-based quest.
The subsequent handheld Zelda games would follow the footsteps of Link's Awakening in regards of sidequests. In the case of both Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, they include and make full use of the password linking to give complexity to the Magic Ring collection. The Minish Cap, in addition to sporting the Kinstone fusion and showing overall a very high amount of extra content (including the collection of items like Light Arrows, a Heart Container, and scrolls for new sword abilities), includes the figurine sidequest that debuted in The Wind Waker. The Minish Cap is also the first Zelda game that exploits the concept of hiding Pieces of Heart within dungeons (a concept Twilight Princess would take even further), as well as the first Zelda game to emphasize the location of major item upgrades (a Bomb Bag, a Wallet, and a Quiver) within shops (eventually a staple for games from Phantom Hourglass onwards).
Phantom Hourglass, in addition to adding a collection of Ship Parts and Treasure (either for sale or, in the former's case, to customize the SS Linebeck), retained the retrieval of sunken treasure and the exploration of optional islands (also common sidequests in The Wind Waker).
In Spirit Tracks, sidequests come from various different sources, but nearly none of them are available until a relatively late point (when integrating the Freight Car to the Spirit Train, which only happens when visiting the fourth realm). One of them revolves using the train to transport characters from one Train Station to another, as well as transporting delivery items for sale in Hyrule to a destinations where certain inhabitants request them to Link. The reward for completing these objectives result in receiving Force Gems, which unlock extra tracks for the train to navigate. These tracks allow the young hero to hunt hidden rabbits (which themselves lead to various rewards according to the quantity captured), unlock secret Warp Gates, or even find optional stations; in the latter, he can play inedit mini-dungeons or mini-games, often resulting in rewards like Heart Containers or even Treasure worth 2500 Rupees. Finally, Link can also find treasures to either sell them to Linebeck III, or trade them (also with him) for extra Train Cars.
Skyward Sword offers several different types of sidequests, one of them being the upgrade system. As Link collects spoils, insects and jewels, he can take them to the Skyloft Bazaar so he can upgrade his inventory items to improved variations, as well as his potions to increase their effectiveness. The core concept of this system has the same basis as the customization of the ship and the train in the two Nintendo DS games, only this time it involves Link's gear, rather than a vehicle (since his companion of travel is a Loftwing, a bird). Gratitude Crystals can also be obtained by helping characters (and, rarely, scattered through the way) to help Batreaux gain a human form and, in exchange, receive various different prizes. Goddess Cubes can be found in different parts of the underworld and activated so Link can open the otherwise locked (and thus stone-like) chests found in the floating islands of The Sky (this is not unlike collecting Treasure Charts from The Wind Waker to unveil sunken treasures).
In Breath of the Wild, a game highly inspired by modern non-linear open worlds, the number of sidequests is significantly higher than in previous games, totaling 118 listed in the Adventure Log between Shrine Quests and Side Quests. Unlisted sidequests include finding all 900 Korok Seeds, all four Fairy Fountains, all 15 Sheikah Towers, all named locations on the map, finding and fully upgrading all pieces of Armor, completing the Hyrule Compendium and obtaining all of Kilton's Medals.
A sidequest may take virtually any form, but the following types are the most common in the series:
Having appeared for the first time in Link's Awakening, these sidequests rely on items that are part of a long string of exchanges that ultimately lead to a powerful item, usually one of the ultimate weapons. Expectantly, a trading sequence involves the visit of numerous places in the game, which sometimes imply that they cannot be complete until a relatively late point (all of the required locations are discovered). The items are notable for having one-time uses, and therefore one-time appearances; however, this isn't always the case, as some of those items can be retrieved again due to the possibility of having a second means of utility (the masks in Ocarina of Time or the souvenirs in The Wind Waker, for example).
These are events or attractions characterized by having their own gameplay mechanics or interface. Be it shooting targets, choosing or finding a chest with the best prize, or a race, they not only lead to new items, but also provide extra fun and value to the games. A Link to the Past featured various minigames that were simple both in concept and execution, but were the start of a standard type of sidequest in the series. It's worth mentioning that similar types of minigames may vary from game to game, either in complexity or in length.
Interaction with characters
After the somewhat limited presence of NPCs in the original game, they played a relatively deeper role in The Adventure of Link, although most of them actually led to a required learning of Magic. Thus, A Link the to Past takes the credit for featuring this type of sidequest. The non-playable characters have vital information to offer, they need Link's assistance to solve a problem, or to fulfill a task; this interaction is optional and leads to unique prizes (an empty bottle, tempering the sword). Later games expanded the concept of character interaction, to the point that Majora's Mask offered various character-driven sidequests, including protecting two ranch girls from unnatural threats, bringing joy to a depressed circus leader, and helping a couple of engaged characters to reunite.
Secret areas and optional dungeons
Since the original The Legend of Zelda, there have been secret areas, spots and caves with unusual prizes within; this gives a reason to explore every single part of an open field. In A Link to the Past, the Light/Dark World gameplay interface increased the possibilities, as some secret caves in either world are only accessible by warping from the other while standing on a suspiciously empty dead end. Subsequent games like Ocarina of Time (which featured an optional dungeon), The Wind Waker (with the fact that the exploration of most islands was not required), and Twilight Princess (with the optional caves that have their own puzzles or maze-like structures), followed a similar trend.
There are also instances where defeating enemies or even minibosses lead to special prizes. In The Wind Waker, where the majority of submarines, Secret Grottos, watchtowers and coral reefs house enemies guarding treasure content, there is also the Savage Labyrinth, which is entirely based on this concept. Games like Twilight Princess and Spirit Tracks featured similar places for the same purpose.
This type of sidequest debuted in the 1993 installment Link's Awakening, where the player guides Link in the search of seashells that would result in the collection of the powerful L-2 Sword; in several games, Link can hunt creatures or items that not only lead to secret rewards, but also give the player a sense of achievement and satisfaction after fully completing them. At best, these collections give replay value to the games, whereas some players criticize them for the awards given, arguing that not all of them are worth the effort made (this may be the case of the Golden Skulltula hunt in Ocarina of Time).
Occasionally, upgrades (and even Pieces of Heart and Containers) aren't found on minigames or other quests, but simply available through shops located through important spots and towns in the games, often at prohibitively high prices. Games as early as Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask made first use of this, but it wasn't until The Minish Cap when it became a mainstream element. This is often an incentive to make major spends of Rupees.
Skyward Sword also implements the upgrade system this way. In the Skyloft Bazaar, he can use the spoils he collected from enemies or certain spots to order an upgrade of his items, improving thir usefulness. In the same place, he can use the insects he collected with the Bug Catching Net to transform his potions into more powerful and effective variations.
This relatively rare type of sidequest refers to the exploration of every part of a game, usually acknowledged by marking that location as visited (in Majora's Mask, this is done by purchasing the maps sold by Tingle; in The Wind Waker, it is by feeding the Fishman each time a new island is explored; and so on). In dungeons, it's easier to explore every room by collecting the Map and Compass; the former to locate the hidden rooms, and the latter to locate the treasure chests.