I’m not afraid to say it: sometimes the Zelda series seems like quite the mess. Its story is one of the most heavily-disputed in all of gaming, its various stylistic turns have more or less remade its universe with each new shift, and the gameplay has evolved so much from its wide-open world roots that, as I sit here pondering the series over breakfast (yes, you’re not the only one), I can’t help but wonder if the series might be ready to refresh itself.
At this point, of course, the only way to realize such a dream is through that most frightening of prospects, that which has brought countless series to their knees and before which all fans tremble: a series reboot. Would it be a good idea for Nintendo to go back and revisit the legend?
The story is perhaps the most noticeable culprit. Without the creators, would any of us have any clue as to how to piece together the various games into a cohesive storyline? Okay, so it’s not all about the timeline, but I still can’t be the only one who finds it a tad redundant to continue giving Link and Zelda a new origin every game or two, or visiting the same places, battling through the same dungeon sequence and against the same villains time and time again.
As a longtime timeline theorist, my relationship to the Zelda storyline has been especially marked by the bitter drama that comes with love-hate. Sometimes I find genius clues that point to possible explanations for tracks within the timeline, only to have them viciously torn apart by the next sequel. To use a recent example of such an upheaval – traditionally we have thought of the Master Sword as having been forged through the sages’ wisdom in anticipation of threats against Hyrule, but now Skyward Sword seems to rebuild that story by adding in its history as a blade from the heavens.
Stylistically-speaking, the series has gone through more face-lifts than Dolly Parton. What started off as a very storybook style art direction in the classics gradually transitioned through a full-blown popular anime style in Ocarina of Time, the chibi-inspired artwork of Wind Waker, back to a grittier anime look in Twilight Princess, and now to the “impressionism” of Skyward Sword. If it weren’t for Link’s trademark green tunic it might be difficult to tell that some of these games even come from the same series.
While the core gameplay has always stayed somewhat the same, its articulation in the game world has changed with each new installment since Ocarina of Time. Majora’s Mask introduced transformations and interconnected sidequests to the game world while Wind Waker focused on treasure-hunting at sea. Four Swords introduced cooperative play to the field and Minish Cap challenged us to look at the ordinary things of life from a closer perspective. Twilight Princess crafted a long and detailed story trail for us to follow, while the DS entries showed us that touching can be good. All the while, we’ve seen a trend away from the largely-nonlinear roots of the original entry to the story-centric games of today.
So, is it time for Zelda to reboot itself? Looking at the series’ development over the years, it looks like in many ways it has already done so time and time again. Each revisited story element, each stylistic reinterpretation, each gameplay innovation has taken what is at the heart of Zelda and cast it in a new shell. The last big shift in the series came with Ocarina of Time‘s jump to the third dimension, which created countless possibilities for new play experiences that have only been expanded on since, and Skyward Sword intends to add new building blocks in much the same vein.
The series definitely does not need to start over. In fact, I’d say it’s done more for itself by pressing on through the years than it ever could have had it questioned its potential. Miyamoto, Aonuma, and now Fujibayashi still pursue the series with as much passion and vision as ever, and while it’s not all about them, they’ve always delivered top-notch games and we’ve no reason to think that they need to refresh the franchise in order to continue to do so.