At its heart, the Zelda series has been about inspiring a feeling of adventure, akin to that which its creator felt as a child. Whether it’s the curiosity felt when dropping through the clouds in Skyward Sword, the wonder incurred when exploring a newly-discovered island in Wind Waker, or the nearly dreadful atmosphere activated when entering a dungeon for the first time, the franchise has always done a rather good job in channeling this base inspiration. However, while this feeling finds its roots in childhood sentiments, that shouldn’t prohibit the use of darker themes, especially as the narrative elements have progressed.
When referring to “darker themes”, I’d like to separate it from the dark atmosphere of games such as Twilight Princess. While that game was darker in palette and appearance, few truly dark or mature themes were present. True, there were notable deaths and some instances of betrayal, but compared to Majora’s Mask and the endless analyses of its deeper implications, it’s rather tame. And while I’m aware that the popularity of the Ocarina of Time sequel is due to more than the dismal narrative, it certainly is part of what makes it so memorable.
A future entry would not necessarily have to be aesthetically gloomy in order to contain darker themes. Rather, these would be best expressed through the story of the game with narrative events such as familial betrayals, death, sickness, heartbreak, and war. Although these have been indicated in some previous games, their explicit and active presence throughout any entry is rare. For example, what of a game in which Ganondorf is not simply an absentee evil overlord, but a truly terrifying villain, striking down villages?
To be clear, I am not arguing for an increase in explicit and traumatizing violence in the Zelda series; this is not in the spirit of the franchise. Instead, I believe future titles could embrace the maturing of its fanbase and make the adventure even more engaging for that demographic. Additionally, this would be an excellent way to truly emphasize the power behind Link: courage. In the face of a danger that threatens the hero and all he holds dear in a very real way, his defining character trait would be tested in a new way, delving more deeply into what makes him the hero of legend.
While I am all for the utilization of darker themes in future titles, perhaps this isn’t in the best interest of the series. It’s possible that the series could mature in different ways that still keep its older fans intrigued, while still drawing in from other demographics. On the other hand, it could be argued that the series’ evolution using new technology alone makes it more appealing with time. What is your take on the matter? Should Zelda employ the use of dark themes? Would this benefit the series? Join the Daily Debate!