Innovation in Zelda: Past and Future

Zelda Sequel imageOne of the problems with popular video game franchises lately has been the tendency to repeat old successes without taking any risks. Major franchises have churned out a similar product year after year, without any major advances to the form. Has Zelda fallen into the same trap? Hit the jump to hear more!

Since the very beginning, the Zelda series has followed a few major guidelines. You play as Link, a hero who wields a blade to fight monsters and traverse many dungeons to save the princess Zelda. While this has almost always been a constant in the series, a few major changes occur within each title with the intention of offering something new for the players. But have they changed enough to avoid falling into a rut?

There are many ways that Zelda stands out from other games in the modern video game market. Dungeons in the series, for instance, seem to use reoccurring themes throughout the series, but when presented in a new art style with new items to solve puzzles they hardly seem stale. Each dungeon takes enough time to clear and is designed so beautifully (in almost every Zelda game) that they stand out when compared to some more generic level design that you could find in other modern games. The muddy, grassy, or industrial landscapes that first person shooters and other adventure games recycle with each new title seem lacking when you look at the stylized designs that most games in the Zelda franchise offer. Even when you look at every water temple in the series, you can see obvious differences whereas similar theming in other franchises isn’t nearly as successful.

One thing that the series has been really successful at when it comes to innovation in the series has been title exclusive mechanics. Almost every Zelda game has included at least one major change that helps it stand out in the series. For instance, Majora’s Mask innovated on the design of Ocarina of Time by including a three-day mechanic and masks, something that the series had never seen before. The Wind Waker introduced a new combat system as well as making the world that you explore massive in comparison to other games in the series. Skyward Sword, obviously, changed the game by including 1:1 motion controls to control Link’s sword and gave the game a whole new layer of immersion that wouldn’t have been possible until recently. That’s a major reason that Zelda games have felt new and refreshing time after time. The inclusion of these brand new, easily advertised features have kept consumers curious and eager to play.

While the series has done many things right, I’m not entirely sure that the formula of a Zelda game shouldn’t be more flexible. Playing as Link is amazing and I can’t imagine a Zelda game without him, but I don’t think I would be opposed to a drastic character change. A change in perspective would be really interesting. For instance, with all the races that the Zelda series inhabits, maybe a hero that’s a Zora, a Goron, a Gerudo, or anything else would be a welcome change of pace. I’m not saying that it should necessarily be the new norm for the series, but it would be interesting to see the storyline unfold from a different perspective (I don’t just mean controlling other characters like you can do in Majora’s Mask).

The way Link seems to be asleep at the beginning of every Zelda game has also started to get on my nerves. While this might seem like a real nitpicky thing, the thought of a game that starts off with the main character right in the middle of a situation to introduce how the game’s played is starting to seem appealing to me. While there is a charm and traditional feel to the way each game in the series opens, I wouldn’t be disappointed if they tried something new with the tutorial portion of future installments.

zelda wii uThe next game has a real shot at making a brand new experience because the Wii U has a new peripheral, the GamePad. The Wind Waker HD used the second screen as a faster way to access items and the map, it used the gyroscope for certain items, and it gave you the option to play the entire game from the GamePad alone. While all of these features will certainly be utilized in the next game, there’s also potential for something entirely new for the next installment. Whether it be a new item that can be controlled on the GamePad screen or a new way to interact with the map, it’s almost certainly going to be a major tool for Zelda WiiU.

Zelda has definitely improved and evolved throughout the years, with plenty of changes still to come. Hopefully the series continues to evolve in ways that impress fans while continuing to take risks that could potentially disappoint fans that cling to some of the traditions that each game has that it could do without. What do you think? Do you have any ideas for ways that the Zelda series could evolve, any new mechanics that would work well in the series, or any comments about the suggestions I made? Leave your comments below!

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