This is a topic I’ve covered a few times in a lesser capacity, mostly in the mailbag: The subject of Zelda spinoffs. When discussing new ideas for the main Zelda series, a lot of people, myself included, are wary of introducing too many changes into the series, and changing what makes it Zelda. Some argue that this restricts new ideas too much and therefore stagnates the series. While that might be true, effectively every video game series, no matter how much it experiments, needs to have core tenets in place that keep it at least partially the same from game to game. Otherwise it’s not really a series, and more importantly, fans of the series will have no reason to play the newer titles, because they will have nothing in common with the game they liked. So while new ideas are good — if not at all mandatory — a series generally needs to stay the same in certain areas.
However, I don’t think this is true at all with spinoffs. A series is always going to have its main games, which might introduce new features but will always follow the same general idea. But that doesn’t mean it can’t have odder side games that deviate from this more wildly and provide new experiences with some of the same ideas or the same world fitted to another gameplay mold. Zelda already has plenty of spinoffs — the most famous example being the Tingle RPGs, Four Swords, Link’s Crossbow Training, and Battle Quest, though others exist — but I think that Zelda could and probably should have more spinoffs, and more importantly, much more unique ones that differ from the main series in bigger ways.
The key thing here is how and when new ideas are good. New ideas, when simple experimentation, are good. Interference is bad; when a change interferes with what’s established, it creates problems. But if it can’t interfere, it shouldn’t be a problem. This applies to introducing new ideas to the main series, but it’s especially applicable with spinoffs, because if it’s a spinoff or side game of any kind, then it’s impossible for it to interfere with the main series at all, and whether it’s good or not doesn’t matter as far as the big picture goes: It can’t hurt the series.
One of my favorite things about wildly different spinoffs is when you have a creative, interesting world for the series. Because in a situation like that, it’s really fun to see how that world could play out with a completely different gameplay model. I think Zelda falls under this. Think about the world of Hyrule, all its many characters, and just its general style. How do you think it could work out in another genre? I’ll give you three interesting examples I’m fond of:
Zelda as an MMO
This one’s my favorite. MMO means “massively multiplayer online”, and usually corresponds to RPG games with persistent, open worlds where the player can go do anything they want, cooperating with and fighting other players while exploring the game world. MMO games that aren’t RPGs at all aren’t uncommon, though. Just think about the potential this concept would have within the Zelda series: Imagine a Zelda game with a huge, open world that would constantly grow from new patches and expansions, where you could explore alone or with other players.
This would also be an excellent environment to test out the reintroduction of RPG aspects into the series — a hotly debated issue — without interfering with the main series first. Constructing an MMO game without the RPG stat-building and instead just focusing on Zelda’s item-based growth system would be just as fascinating, though. Perhaps a game like this could expand Skyward Sword’s Adventure Pouch, and essentially make it so the player must carefully choose their item and weapon loadout before going adventuring.
Having an action and puzzle-based MMO like this would be really unique, and I imagine if it were well-designed and supported right, it would have quite a following of both Zelda fans and MMO fans. It would have unique opportunities for Zelda fans specifically, too. I already mentioned some, but another great advantage would be being able to play as the other races we see in Zelda all the time, and having co-operative dungeons. Perhaps the player could explore dungeons alone by acquiring the right items, like Power Gloves and Flippers to mimic Goron strength and Zora swimming, for example. But they could clear the dungeons much sooner with a party with the appropriate abilities. An persistent, open-world Zelda game, with multiplayer — both co-operative and possibly competitive — would be really interesting to see.
Zelda as a Strategy Game
A mod is already in production for Medieval 2: Total War that is themed off of Zelda, so this is already something people have been considering. But the idea is interesting. The Zelda series has a wealth of conflicts, many of which are of a scale that we could never really see in the series; how can you depict a full-scale war between two countries within an adventure game without both elements — the large-scale conflict and the solo adventuring — interfering with one another? Real-time Strategy and Turn-based Strategy games would be the perfect environment to tell those stories.
There are many enemies and allies throughout the series that could make for excellent units and factions. A game depicting the Hyrulean Civil War before Ocarina of Time could feature the Hylians, Gorons, Zora, and Gerudo as totally separate factions much like those of games like Starcraft or Warcraft III.
There’s also a lot of experimentation that can be done within this genre, as the modding communities of Warcraft III in particular have showcased. That game’s official modding tools saw the birth of a lot of ridiculously varied game types within the engine, from Tower Defense games to mini-game collections and more original variants, and even helped create an entirely new sub-genre of RTS games called MOBAs. My point is, there’s no shortage of options for how a real-time strategy Zelda could work; perhaps the gameplay would be less about destroying enemies and more about racing to an objective, using units to not only fight off both other players and neutral monsters, but also to remove obstacles and explore the map for resources and a path to the objective.
There’s so many options for something like this, and many of the ways it could be done would already play very much like a Zelda game. Even the ones that would be a lot different would be perfect for depicting conflicts we never get to see in the main Zelda series. A strategy Zelda game would have a great impact on the series.
Zelda as a Fighting Game
With a wealth of interesting warriors and monsters, the Zelda world would also seem ripe for being featured in a fighting game. This could of course function similarly to the weapon-based fighting game series Soul Calibur — a series in which Link has already made a cameo appearance — but another really interesting proposition is that of an arena fighter, which would be a game like Super Smash Brothers or Power Stone. Power Stone being the example I’m thinking of the most.
Power Stone and Ergheiz both featured similar battle systems which, in my opinion, would be good fits for a Zelda fighting game, were it ever made. In these games the player could freely roam the battlefield instead of only moving toward and away from their opponent, and they could generally interact with the environment a lot and use it to their advantage, even grabbing power-ups in some cases. A Zelda fighter could emphasize these elements and allow more players while having bigger stages, more hazards, and more bonuses to be found in the stage itself. Even hostile monsters could work; Ergheiz proved it’s possible, because it actually contained an RPG-like dungeon mode filled with enemies. Similar things could be done with a Zelda fighting game.
With so many Zelda characters and monsters that would make for excellent combatants, and so many locations that would make neat arenas, what’s holding this back from being a great idea?
What Ideas Can You Come Up With?
Obviously, these concepts only scratch the surface. There are many more ways you could introduce Zelda to these genres than just the ones I’ve outlined. And beyond that, there are so many other genres that could work with Zelda, and even new ones yet to be invented.
So I ask you, what do you think about the idea of Zelda spinoffs? What elements in the Zelda series would you like to see experimented with? How about which characters, stories, and conflicts should they focus on? Would you like to see a new spin on the Zelda world in another established genre? Or would you like to see Zelda gameplay concepts brought to other genres in order to craft entirely new types of games? What can you come up with, and would you like to see it happen? Tell me all of your ideas in the comments!