Is Zelda in Decline?

Plush Link

Everyone loves Zelda, right? Spirit Tracks was vastly superior to Phantom Hourglass, no? Apparently that opinion may not be as wide spread as we once thought. The Kartel states plainly that Spirit Tracks is boring, so boring in fact that Phantom Hourglass is the superior game. They do have a few of their facts mixed though.

For starters, they mentioned either that Spirit Tracks or Twilight Princess took four years to develop. It’s not clear which game is being discussed due to their shoddy writing. In either case, they would be wrong. Twilight Princess took 3 years if you count the extra year for the Wii port, otherwise that took 2. Spirit Tracks also only took 2, and that’s assuming they started work on it right after Phantom Hourglass, which doesn’t seem likely since it uses the same engine. Either way, the author gets right into it by stating that Zelda is in decline. So the question is… is he right?

I have spent a big portion of my life playing the Zelda series. Some would say I play it to the point of obsession, and to that I simply give a quick smirk and say, “You are correct sir.” It has been one of my passions for 10 or so years, and no it isn’t because of Ocarina of Time. My favorite title, in fact, is the much maligned The Adventure of Link. Surprising, no? What may come as an even bigger shock is that my next favorite is Majora’s Mask. Alright, so maybe that wasn’t too much of a stretch. I surely must have Ocarina of Time at #3 then, right? Wrong. Next is Link’s Awakening, then Spirit Tracks, then… a toss up between The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. Where does Ocarina of Time fit on my list? Somewhere around #10 or so.

Confused yet? Ocarina of Time is a great game and a nice milestone for the gaming industry. It also signified, to this point, the end of innovation in the console Zelda titles. Not to say the game was bad, mostly to me it was, but some claim it to be a 3D A Link to the Past. I am not here though to argue the merits of this game verse that, we are looking at what may be the downfall of the franchise. The reason I went through my personal list here is because it all seems to start and stop with Ocarina of Time.

Screenshot from Ocarina of Time

Let’s look at the complaints about Zelda that have been uttered since Ocarina of Time. Majora’s Mask‘s 3 Day system makes the game inaccessible and “too hard.” Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages were not made by Nintendo, the boss fights are too difficult, and the combined ending was too convoluted to expect anyone to experience it. Four Swords and by extension The Minish Cap is too easy. Twilight Princess is too much like Ocarina of Time. Phantom Hourglass is too cartoony, stylus controls blow, and the game is again… too easy. Finally, we get to Spirit Tracks: Game is too boring, cutscenes are too long, and the train travel is stupid as it turns Zelda into an on rails shooter. All of this is said because Ocarina of Time told everyone that, “this is what Zelda is supposed to be.”

Before Ocarina of Time, we saw Nintendo constantly innovating the series by trying new things. From The Adventure of Link‘s RPG like system, Link’s Awakening epic story, and then the perfect mix of everything in A Link to the Past. Each game felt new, it felt fresh, and each signified a change in the series. Think about it like the Metroid series of today: They went from 2D platforming to 3D First Person, and now they are going to try a hybrid that uses both. They are innovating the Metroid series but no longer seem to do this with Zelda.

They tried a new concept in Spirit Tracks: The on rail shooter. People so far have hated the concept… although, they used the same concept when fighting Cragma and people loved it. Of course, this should tell Nintendo two things: on rail shooting as a permanent game mechanic is bad, and on rail shooting as a small portion of the game, such as a boss fight or a puzzle, is good. In either case, we can all admit that in terms of innovation, Spirit Tracks falls flat on its face. But, so does Twilight Princess and really every game since Ocarina of Time. Therein seems to lie the issue with the series: instead of being the innovative game series we all think Zelda is, it’s becoming like the Call of Duty series or even Final Fantasy. Same game, same basic story, same gameplay, just slap Zelda on the title and it sells millions.

Link and Zelda Killing the PSP

When talking about Zelda possibly being in decline we do have to do a little work. When it comes to pure sales figures, Zelda has basically never been better. The Legend of Zelda, The Adventure of Link, and A Link to the Past combined sales estimates to roughly 15.5 million copies sold. Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and the Oracle series sold 14.92 million copies or so. Twilight Princess, Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks, and Link’s Crossbow Training sold, so far, roughly 18.09 million copies. Zelda is doing better than ever. Twilight Princess has sold in excess of 7 million copies, making it the 2nd best selling game in franchise history next to Ocarina of Time. In short, sales wise, Zelda has peaked yet again.

The decline must be that the games are far worse in quality right? Review scores say otherwise, as the series consistently scores 90/100 or above on almost every release. So, what’s wrong with Zelda then? What needs to be fixed? The issue that appears to be the problem is… us. We need to change. Zelda Wii is promising some big innovations and changing up the formula, great. That’s “what we want,” even though we have been given “what we wanted” before, only to complain about it. We essentially want Zelda to be a grown up game, we want Zelda to, in essence, stop being Zelda.

We need to take a step back and realize what Zelda is. It’s an adventure title with a silent protagonist and a story aimed at teenagers to mid 20’s folk with gameplay that is accessible to 10 year olds. But, that isn’t to say there is no challenge involved. From the Triforce quest in The Wind Waker, to the final puzzles in the Spirit Tower of Spirit Tracks, the games do have their challenges. The issue is that people like me that grew up with A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, etc have grown stale of this method. We have outgrown Zelda. Does that mean we don’t get giddy like school girls when we see a trailer for a new Zelda game? Of course not. Does this mean we don’t “enjoy” Zelda anymore? No, it just means it may not be the pinnacle of our game experience as it once was.

Zelda Wii

This doesn’t mean Zelda can’t ever, as they say,

“do it again.” It can, the question is if Nintendo is even interested in doing that. It’s hard to innovate a series that guarantees millions of sales just by existing. It puts expectations on a game, often times unreal expectations (Twilight Princess hype, anyone?). So is Zelda really declining? Hardly. Zelda is what it always has been and that is the problem for us more veteran gamers. It’s not that Zelda has declined or changed, it’s that we have changed and are upset since the series didn’t change when we did. Zelda Wii will go a long way in telling us what direction Nintendo plans to take the series. While they still want to introduce new gamers, they seem to realize there are a lot of current and former Zelda players that are just waiting for that next big thing, the next Ocarina of Time impact on the gaming industry. But as it stands, most feel that Nintendo wants to make Zelda accessible for kids rather than provide that innovating and epic experience we want.

Zelda is a fantastic franchise and one of the greatest, if not the greatest gaming experiences in the business. It’s in the top 10 in overall sales in the history of games. People still love the series, we still love it, and new fans seem to be showing up daily. Zelda is better than it has ever been, we have just lost our appreciation for it. Maybe to those that feel it’s declining need to take a break. Stop watching the Zelda News like a hawk, and stop debating about this game or that. Go enjoy your other experiences in gaming and life… and when Zelda Wii hits, take it at face value and don’t base it on what others are saying. Run away and see if the new Zelda brings you back home again. If not? Zelda simply isn’t for you anymore. You will be missed, but in the end everyone will be happy.


– Initial Kartel News post spotted at Zelda Dungeon

– Are you stuck in Spirit Tracks? Why not give our Spirit Tracks Walkthrough a try!

– Gaming sales figures were based on VGChartz and VGsales Wiki

– Game reviews are based on MetaCritic

– The thoughts and opinions in this piece are of the author and do not represent the ideology of the Zelda Informer staff as a whole.

– You can discuss Zelda and other things in our Community Forums

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