It is an undeniable fact that Zelda, as a franchise, has influenced gaming for years to come. It has inspired countless games, the newest notable one being the ever-quirky and popular 3D Dot Game Heroes. However, things do not usually work that way since Nintendo isn’t the only players in town with new tricks up their sleeve. While Nintendo is the pioneer, after the gaming industry exploded hundreds of new developers sprouted about, every one of them sporting different ideas. Looking at the whole picture as it is now stands begs the question just how much these other developers have in fact influenced, or failed to influence Big N, and their star franchise that we all love and cherish so much.
One could argue that Zelda has been sticking to the same formula since its conception, but that would be stupid. Zelda had several major upgrades to their system, each of which was remembered as an iconic game in the franchise. A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time were major steps in terms of gameplay innovation, setting the standards for 2D and 3D adventure games respectively. Majora’s Mask on the other hand, was a major stepping stone in terms of story, a path Nintendo unfortunately refuses to expand on as of yet (I’m looking at you, Zelda Wii).
Lesser “ground breaking” titles like Spirit Tracks copy over the already existing formula, add a flavor or two, and call it a day. In those games, certain aspects are notable that are arguably a result of cultural influence. Specifically speaking, in Spirit Tracks, there is a comical scene when Anjean tells Zelda about her body, after which Zelda goes into a hysterical rage, a reaction common to most main-stream anime, down to the sound effects.
But even with that, if a game is “zelda-like” it is due to the fact that it took elements from Zelda, rather than the other way around. The only games that new Zelda games borrowed heavily from… are older Zelda games, for better or worse. As I mentioned previously, there have been very notable games with incredible gameplay elements, some of which would end up as neat additions to Zelda. In a recent interview, Miyamoto said that whenever he asks fans what they want, they always mention things that others have, but what they REALLY want is new stuff. This is of course, very true, to some extent. What gamers also want is for Nintendo’s franchises (In this case, Zelda) to adapt some of the universally praised qualities of other games.
In order to find those qualities, Nintendo just has to look at Metroid. As many people will love to tell you countless of times, Super Metroid was awesome. So was the free-world exploration in it, something that’s been lost in modern Zelda games in favor of more linear gameplay – one of the bad influences of mainstream gaming. How many times have you heard the phrase that Twilight Princess bosses were too easy? Only a million? You’re one of the lucky ones then. But imagine if Nintendo would turn to team ICO and make a boss that plays like one of the Colossi fights – would it improve the game? Ever since Majora’s Mask Nintendo seems to have the problem of improving their boss fights, each of them being a variation of something already seen in their own games.
However, probably the most significant, and most heated debate is the one related to voice acting. Would the inclusion of voice acting have improved Twilight Princess? Probably not. Can voice acting improve Zelda Wii? Heck yes! However, it is important to look at both sides of the coin, because if you take a great Zelda game, Ocarina of Time for example, and slap voice acting on it, it would not fit with the rest of the game. One moment you’d have Link discussing the fate of the world in a serious tone with Zelda, and two minutes later you have him roll his way out of the castle, because we all know you love to spam that roll button when you are traveling. Giving Link a character means we get to humiliate him, but it’ll also make for a hard time taking him seriously.
One major thing that Zelda games have adopted from the rest of the industry is the reduced failure penalty (The naming department sucks). In the early years, you die, it’s over. You have to load your save file and hope that you didn’t forget to save for the past 17 hours. Now, if you die, chances are you’ll end up in the exact same room, with the exact same progress. This usually pisses off hardcore gamers, who argue that Nintendo games have become too easy. Sane people will then point them to Mario Galaxy and Spirit Tracks to prove them otherwise. They will not listen. Truth be told, there really are very few games out there that can still measure up to old-school arcade-like difficulty levels of the SNES & co. But that never applied to Zelda, as it indeed was never that hard to begin with.
Is Nintendo’s stubborn refusal to make the game, dare I use that terminology, more mainstream the golden core that keeps its games unique and awesome, or just a move motivated by fear that the audience will not accept any sudden changes? Chances are that it’s both. No one can deny that Zelda is a truly unique gaming experience, yet there are few who can deny that it is becoming somewhat stale. And those few have single digit number ages, so their opinion is irrelevant.