Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Seriously, What Next for The Legend of Zelda!?

When the original Legend of Zelda was released for the Famicom/NES in 1986, it broke the mold for adventure games. It had an innovative bird's eye view perspective, as well as a completely open and massive (for the time) game world to explore at your own wont or whim. You amassed yourself weaponry instead having it all from the start, and you upgraded how much damage you could take by adding to your health bar. It was an incredibly important game for industry as a whole and the Zelda franchise itself, as every Zelda game since has re-used most of the features from that original 22 year-old game.

But has the Zelda formula lost its lustre? Is it time for Nintendo to go back to the drawing board with its next game, set to be released on the Wii, a console with ground-breaking video game technology? Probably. At least that's what I think. As I said in the first part of this article, it might just have been what Twilight Princess got wrong that makes me feel this way, but I thought it'd be interesting to see what I could come up with if this was indeed the case. Imagine, if you will, that I was tasked with creating the next Zelda game. This is what I'd do…

There are things I'd want to remain constant for the next Zelda, because there's no need to get rid of everything, as I might just as well create an entirely new game. For this game to be a re-imagining of the Zelda series as a whole, the main characters (Link, Zelda and Ganondorf) need to be integral to the plot, otherwise it's not really a Zelda game. Like Ocarina of Time before it, which was a plot reboot (of sorts) for the series, these characters need to appear in all their glory. There's nothing wrong at all with keeping the characters the same, but the gameplay mechanics haven't really changed in 4 games and 10 years and the formula of the actual game. hasn't changed in an even longer period of time. A Link to the Past, Link's Awakening, Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker and Twilight Princess are each the defining Zelda game for their respective consoles, and all have pretty much the same layout. Three dungeons act as a prologue of sorts to the game, before you're then given another 5 or so more dungeons to complete the game totalling 8 dungeons altogether. Each dungeon is a labyrinth of back-and-forth gameplay revolving around solving puzzles and using the dungeon's new item to get to the boss, who, upon its death, coughs up that sacred piece of something or other as well as an upgrade to your heart metre. Same old same old.

The first ever Zelda title screen. Woo!

So what could possibly change? Well, straight away I'm going to go out on a limb here and turn the game upside down by changing the setting. I'd be lying if I wasn't intrigued by this video from Wii.tv. Although it was quite a blatant April Fools, the prospect of playing a futuristic Zelda game had me positively drooling. So, I'm going to steal that idea! In the video, it says that Link doesn't have a horse, but instead rides a bike named Epona. I'm not too sure if that'd work. I think I'd keep Epona as a horse, as Link riding around a futuristic, metallic, industrial Hyrule on horseback would be an intriguing prospect. Not only that, but I'd keep the bow and arrows and definitely his sword. Not a lightsaber style Master Sword, but the original blue-hilted Master Sword. This, I think, would create quite a cool concept, of this humble and courageous young boy who uses ancient weaponry to fight an industrial evil.

Look at how cool that mask is. It's awesome, isn't it?

But even if the setting wasn't changed, I'd change a few more things for the next Zelda game. Namely, the structure of the game and how it unfolds, a much less generic structure, for a start. Twilight Princess did its part to remedy this somewhat, but in the end, the game was pretty much the same as each Zelda before it; find dungeon, complete dungeon, find next dungeon, complete dungeon, repeat till fade. A simplified version of events from any Zelda game you care to mention. Majora's Mask, however, did have the dungeons to find and complete, but what set it apart was the game's world and the people in it. The game had you helping out almost every occupant in Termina in one way or another. Doing this unlocked things for you to use, such as Link's horse, Epona, or a new mask to wear, which gave you special abilities such as a faster running speed or the ability to talk to animals. Without going into too much detail, certain events happened at certain times on certain days, and you could shape how these events transpired. It wouldn't be a complete tragedy if this reappeared in one way or another. Majora's Mask was also quite mature. It still kept a lot of the Zelda humour and whimsy, but some parts of the game were incredibly hard-hitting, especially if you failed your mission to prevent the moon from crashing into Termina, and the music that accompanied the game's main antagonist, the Skull Kid, was genuinely unnerving.

We need some more of the Fierce Deity. I mean, every thing about it is cool. Even the name. Say it. Go on. Fierce Deity. Awsm.

Majora's Mask also gave Link an incredibly cool super-hero type mask if you collected every other mask on offer. The dark power of the Fierce Deity's mask transformed Link into a powerful adult-like version of himself. He could take more damage, deal out more damage and just looked plain awesome. However, the Fierce Deity's mask was incredibly restrictive to use. It could only be used against bosses. I don't think it'd be far from the truth that everyone who managed to play as Fierce Deity Link would love him to reappear in a future Zelda game, in any way, shape or form. For these reasons, Majora's Mask is certainly the Zelda game I'd take the most inspiration from. I'd leave Tingle out, though.

So what have we got at the moment? A new futuristic setting, that, if done properly, could mean a revolution for the series. Square did it with Final Fantasy VII, why can't Nintendo do it with Zelda? Not only would this reinvigorate the series and make it feel fresh again, like Ocarina of Time, but it might also give the game a wider appeal and therefore a bigger audience, something the Zelda games richly deserve. A less formulaic approach to the plot would also refresh the series, and giving the bit-part players from the games stories of their own, à la Majora's Mask, would expand upon one of the series' high-points (as like I said, there's no need to get rid of everything and there's no harm in taking inspiration from the franchise itself). This would also give the game depth and allow the player to become emotionally involved with the game, something Zelda is famous for, especially since Ocarina of Time. Lastly, the Fierce Deity's mask to be expanded upon, with it's origin's explored and a greater use for it, as it has been criminally under-used (read: not used at all) since it made its debut in Majora's Mask.

More soon? Probably.

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