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Deciding a Future For: The Legend of Zelda

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There are some things in this world that never really seemed like they were made by mortal man, rather they were thing that always existed, just waiting for us to discover them. Peanut Butter Cups for example, and Women’s Tennis and The Legend of Zelda. I’m going to dash your hopes and talk about the third of that particular trilogy, the one that wasn’t supposed to be funny (writer’s note, I was actually deadly fucking serious).

So what’s the problem?

People love Zelda, it’s one of the biggest gaming franchises ever, but at the same time people bitch about it, thus is the love/hate relationship with everything that internet culture has given us I suppose. Games like Link to the Past or/and Ocarina of Time are listed in many gamers’ books as one of their favourite games, any old school gamer world worth their salt has a Zelda game in their top ten list. (Or top 15 at the very least.)

After 15 or so games, those same fans that once loved the games have found themselves increasingly tired of seeing the same old tricks over and over, the changes that have been brought to the table have managed to do nothing but compound those frustrations (Spoiler: I’m talking about myself, but you can pretend I’m talking about you too if you like). The last two original Zelda games to be released on console and on handheld device were Skyward Sword and Spirit Tracks, two games that managed to lose me before I was even half way through them.

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It’s not that they were bad games or anything, I mean hell, quality wise they might have been some of the best games to come out all year. I tried to love Skyward Sword, oh how I did, but feeling like I was fighting with the controls as much as I was the Deku Baba, made me want something similar  So I ultimately gave up, after what I would call a valiant effort, and went back to playing Sonic Generations or something. Yes, it appears I’m a hypocrite, so sue me. You still with me? Ok let’s continue.

Focusing on the wrong things

The problem the Zelda series is suffering from is pretty much the same problem any long running series: people want to see something new, but how much can you really change before the game becoming something completely different. Looking back at the most recent games, they’re main difference was what some would call an over reliance on their platform’s current gimmick, but was otherwise a very cut and paste Zelda game experience.

Taking away the touch screen controls from Phantom Hourglass/Spirit Tracks and the Wii remote controls away from Skyward Sword may not have made them great games (although I’d be willing to bet they’d still be pretty good games), but the emphasis on these things was what was keeping the series from progressing in any way. Looking at this list of games for example:

  • The Legend of Zelda
  • The Legend of Zelda: a Link to the Past
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
  • The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker

Each of these games has a steady increase in not only quality, but also their gameplay and vision. Each one feels bigger and grander than the last, and while that might not be physically true when you poke around a bit, it manages to convey that sense of a bigger adventure and escalate it every time. The increase in graphical capabilities, the jump to 3D and the exploration aspect introduced in each of these games gave the sense of escapism and adventure that we(I) play games for. This isn’t a dated opinion either, the huge success of a game like Skyrim shows that.

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Twilight Princess did almost continue this trend, (I played it on Gamecube, so I avoided the control based gripes) but this is the point where things really started to look familiar. I feel like the developers hit a wall and thought “Hey, people still like Ocarina of Time, let’s do it again, but dirt it up a bit and put some sexualised little elf thing. Oh and throw in that light and dark world thing from Link to the Past too. Also Link’s a dog.” And then Nintendo decided to make a rushed port of the game on the Wii for release, and that’s how most people played the game, with its broken ass controls.

Since then Zelda has continued to scramble down that slippery slope, and focused their developed on the wrong things, on the forms of input rather than the player got from it. Although, I’m not pinning all of the recent game’s faults on the controls. Let’s say for a minute that Skyward Sword could be played with a Gamecube controller and all those starjumps you did were unnecessary, it still would have hit under the expected number of whelms. I’m sure it would have been a better game, but in comparison to its legendary brethren, it would have came across as a very ‘paint by numbers’ style Zelda game, something that ticked off a check list rather a crafted an experience.

So what do we do?

The question I now post to myself and to you is, what can Nintendo do from here to get me, the cynical 20-something know-it-all, reinvested into the series? Going back to its roots is a solution I don’t think would have any traction here, as excited as I am to see another topdown Zelda game being released on the 3DS, those days are long gone for the series on the home console, and while it certainly would get some attention, I don’t think it would draw the numbers from the non true believers.

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Personally, I would like to see a very drastic change to the tone and setting of the game. Windwaker was an incredibly sharp turn away from the norm of the series, being set mostly at sea with the largest land mass generally being less than a mile across with very piratey undercurrents, it was something so different that I really didn’t know what to expect from it, and it eventually became my favourite game in the series.

This leads me to believe that another startlingly unique design choice would be a welcome addition, do away with generic fantasy. Skyward Sword did indeed have islands floating in the sky (without the aid of particle physics, or balloons , but I’d remind you that the majority of the game portion of the game were set below the clouds in standard Zelda environments number one, two and four.

I’m not the only person who feels like this, there is a ton of fan art out there that portray the iconic three characters of the series in a number of different outfits and settings. I’ve seen dark and gritty depictions of the characters, something that might not go amiss considering most of the fans of the original game are now in their 30s. I’ve seen both utopian and dystopian sci-fi depictions of the characters from the distant future. Depictions of them in a more current day setting have been made, and some of the most striking images are of a post apocalyptic Zelda game set in the nuclear wastes. There is a lot of potential for those with the ideas to do something that will get fans like me excited for the series again.

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When you boil it down, what makes something a ‘Legend of Zelda’ game is two things: the dungeons, and the three bearers of the Triforce, Link, Zelda and Gannon. Everything else is up for grabs in my opinion, and developers really need to take advantage and let their creative juices flow out all over the floor, and seep through the floorboards and drizzle all over the team working on the next Metroid game.

In a nutshell, I’d like to see a very different kind of Zelda game, that still manages to capture the sense of grand adventure that made the series as iconic as it is, and deserves to still be. I’d welcome additional thoughts on the topic and would love to hear any more ideas or thoughts people have about where the series could go, there are plenty of other things that the series could do. I’ve really grown into a Nintendo fan as an adult, I’d hate to it fade away while I still have some child-like wonder to give as a result of lazy design and a fear to be different, after all that’s not generally something Nintendo are known for.

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"Head of content at Rival Tide ~richard@mytide.net~ Also on Twitter: @Wooderon "
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