Here at Zelda Informer, we like to occasionally take a break from playing our favorite video game series and enjoy its cousin: Metroid. Just six years behind the rest of the world, I decided to finally try my hand at Metroid: Zero Mission, and ironically, ideas about Zelda began pouring into my mind.
As a remake of the original Metroid, Zero Mission took everything we loved about the original and made it bigger and better. Zero Mission managed to take the essence of the original Metroid and combine it with modern graphics, sound, and gameplay elements without losing the classic feel. It wasn’t just ported to the Game Boy Advance with a few changes here and there like Zelda’s A Link to the Past or the “Classic Series” re-releases of the NES games. Zero Mission managed to provide both a great nostalgic feel and a truly enjoyable modern gaming experience.
As I progressed through the game one thought kept coming to me: Why not Zelda? If the original Metroid warranted a remake, and a successful one at that, then surely the original The Legend of Zelda does as well. Using a similar formula to that of Zero Mission, and borrowing elements from other successful Zelda titles, The Legend of Zelda would certainly make a great “Zero Mission” remake itself. So how can The Legend of Zelda be improved in a way that pleases both the veteran and modern crowds?
One of the most prominent features of any game is its graphics. People, whether fairly or not, will often judge a game, or even base their decision on whether or not to buy a game, based on its graphics. As such, the way the game is visually presented to a player is of central importance, especially in the case of taking a graphically outdated game and modernizing it.
Zero Mission did a great job of creating a fresh, new look for planet Zebes without losing the feel of its predecessor.
A major graphical issue facing the Zelda series is whether they should use a realistic or “toon” look. Directors Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma seem to have concluded that realistic graphics best suit three dimensional games, while two dimensional games should employ cel-shaded toon graphics. While veteran Zelda players are divided on their opinion of toon graphics, most would agree that a remake should not feature them. Zelda can update its graphics to make them enjoyable to the modern gaming crowd without compromising the original look and feel of The Legend of Zelda.
More pivotal than just the style of graphics is the game’s viewpoint. Zero Mission was released as a two dimensional game on a handheld console. With the immense success of Metroid Prime for the Gamecube, no doubt it was tempting to design Zero Mission as a three dimensional game. While that still would have made a fantastic game, it just wouldn’t have had the same nostalgic feel to it. Keeping it two dimensional was the right choice.
The Zelda series faces a similar choice. Not only is the temptation there to remake the original as a Wii game, but now, even handheld consoles are capable of fully three dimensional games. Zelda‘s two newest releases, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, both employ a combination of classical top view and a three dimensional view. However, Zelda would be wise to learn a lesson from Zero Mission in keeping the view congruent with the original. Both the veteran and newcomer crowds can be pleased by updating the graphics, but keeping the style and viewpoint the same.
Though excellent games, an issue I had with both the original The Legend of Zelda and Metroid was the control restrictions. While The Legend of Zelda allowed you to throw your boomerang diagonally, Link could neither walk nor use any other weapon diagonally. Some enemies, such as Darknuts, were restricted to moving in four directions as well, while others, like Keese, could move freely. Restricted movement for both Link and enemies was just a slight damper on a generally excellent game for its time.
Similarly, Metroid had extremely restricted controls for Samus. Samus was only able to fire up, left, and right. Firing diagonally was not an option, and Samus could neither aim downwards nor crouch to shoot low enemies. Samus’ movement was free, but her attacks limited.
Zero Mission corrected this issue perfectly. Samus was given free reign to fire diagonally or downward, and even the ability to crouch to hit the all of the various, pesky ground-hugging creatures. By allowing Link, and all enemies, to move diagonally, Zelda would be greatly improved.
Link’s limited swordplay could use an upgrade as well. In the original, Link’s sword simply thrusted straight forward in the direction that the player faced. This would be true of the second Zelda title, The Adventure of Link, as well. It was not until A Link to the Past that Link was able to slash in a more realistic way, and even charge up his sword to do a spin attack. This upgraded method of combat was much more smooth than the previous one, and would certainly serve The Legend of Zelda well.
There is also the conflict of whether to use the directional pad or the stylus to control Link’s movements. While many Zelda fans loved the control scheme of Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, others couldn’t stand it. A simple solution to suit the needs of everyone is to incorporate both sets of controls. Metroid Prime Hunters did this very smoothly, offering the players four different control options, based on both their preference and writing hand. A similar system was called for by many fans after Phantom Hourglass, but they were denied. Certainly in a remake of the classic game the more traditional controls should at least be an option.
Both of these excellent franchises are famous for their exploration-based gameplay; a concept most potent in their debuts. Both games featured an overworld that, for their time, was overwhelmingly vast and complex, and largely free to explore. While certain areas of Hyrule required items like the raft to reach, and some of the tunnels of Zebes were only accessible with upgrades like the ice beam, the majority of the overworld was open to investigation.
Because neither game featured an in-game overworld map a player never knew what to expect in each new area. Players truly had to explore, and not just follow plainly laid out instructions. The more ambitious gamers of this early era often charted out maps for themselves on graphing paper, completely capturing the feelings of adventure and exploration.
While this “do it on your own” philosophy excited gamers at the time, it could easily scare away the gamers of today. The gaming industry has adjusted accordingly, and a much more “user friendly” style has been adapted in many games. However, as any veteran gamer will tell you, the exploration factor has been watered down to the point of near non-existence. Exploration has been sacrificed for the sake of convenience, and games today don’t give you the same sense of realism and satisfaction in discovering new things.
Recent Zelda releases Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks are evidence of this. In each game the overworld map is divided into four different sections, or “charts”. With the discovery of a chart, one fourth of the entire overworld map is revealed at once to the player, greatly weakening the sense of exploration. Sure, there are unmarked areas that the player must discover for themselves, but they comprise less than half of the map.
Zero Mission‘s exploration followed the same formula as that of Super Metroid. The map was revealed to the player room by room as they were found. Undiscovered rooms were not on the map, but the player could view all the rooms they had previously been to. In each of the regions of Zebes a player could access a Map Room which revealed most of the undiscovered rooms in its region. Though there were hidden areas, they were outnumbered by those acquired from the Map Room.
While this system is nearly identical to the system employed by dungeons in Zelda, it is less effective when applied to the overworld. The Legend of Zelda‘s remake would be better suited by borrowing an idea from other games in its own series than from Zero Mission in this case. The map system which debuted for Zelda in Link’s Awakening, and proved effective in multiple titles since, makes the most sense for The Legend of Zelda.
As with dungeons, the map is revealed to the player room by room, or screen by screen, as the areas are discovered by the player on their own. However, there are no maps or Map Rooms to unnecessarily reveal undiscovered areas. All the fun and challenge of exploring is maintained with the added convenience of being able to view previously discovered areas.
In the original Metroid, planet Zebes was largely comprised of two main areas, Brinstar and Norfair, with two “hideout” areas, and the smaller territory of Tourian. When Super Metroid came out, Samus again returned to Zebes, and this time, there was much more to explore. Crateria, the surface of planet Zebes, and another region called Maridia were added to the vastness of Zebes. Also explorable was the Wrecked Ship on Zebes surface.
Similarly, much more has been seen of the land of Hyrule since The Legend of Zelda. While some games, such as A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, seem to show most of the same areas, just in greater detail, others like The Adventure of Link depict Hyrule as a much vaster territory than what was originally shown. Zero Mission did the service of including Crateria as an accessible area, as well as allowing the player to explore a Space Pirate Mothership, as a throwback to the fans of the Wrecked Ship area in Super Metroid. There was even a completely new area of Crateria full of the ruins of the Chozo people who raised Samus. Combining elements of the newer games, some brand new ideas, and the map of the classic game, a beautiful fusion was created. Zelda should definitely take a lesson.
Areas like the “Forest of Maze”, a clear prototype for the Lost Woods, could use an update to resemble more closely the territories of other games. Meanwhile, the strangely absent Lake Hylia, seen in every incarnation of Hyrule since the NES games, could replace any one of the various bodies of water in the original Hyrule. The mysterious graveyard could be given much more depth, considering the relation of Kakariko Village to graveyards as displayed in more recent games. All of Hyrule can come to life in a much more detailed way with the application of the old to the new.
Given that Hyrule is supposed to be in a state of destruction during this time period, civilization is bound to be largely lacking. That, however, is by no means a reason to lack detail. In fact, it presents even more opportunities for exploration. Just as Samus explored the abandoned Chozo Ruins, Link could venture into the destroyed Hyrule Castle, a locale absent from the original.
Most importantly would be the addition of cave exploration. Every Zelda fan knows that exploring caves is a big part of the series. Miyamoto has even said that he based the games on his childhood adventures exploring the rivers, forests, and caves of Kyoto. Yet, the original The Legend of Zelda lacks cave exploration. The few caves that are present in the game are mostly just one room containing a hint, store, or item. Death Moutain and other mountainous areas of The Legend of Zelda would benefit greatly from the addition of a vast cave system.
One final area that has unreached potential is the “underground roads”. Hidden under rocks, Link could access an area beneath Hyrule. This area simply consisted of an Old Man offering Link the choice of three roads, each leading to another of the hidden entrances to the area. While this system worked fine for the original, it has much more potential in a remake. Oracle of Seasons presented us with Subrosia, an entire civilization underneath the ground, with its own separate map. This would greatly extend the length of The Legend of Zelda, and if done correctly, the difficulty as well.
Ganon is said to be in control of the “underworld” in The Legend of Zelda, and the inclusion of more detailed underground roads, or an entire underground territory, would be the perfect way to display that. A hybrid between Subrosia of Oracle of Seasons and the various incarnations of the Dark World in several games, the Underworld brings a lot to the table for Zelda.
Dungeon exploration has been a constant staple of Zelda gameplay throughout the series. As with the overworld, the exploration factor has been watered down in recent Zelda titles, with each entire floor of a dungeon being fully revealed on the map as soon as it is entered. While retaining the ability to draw on the map for future reference, the revelation of the map floor by floor must go. The room by room method serves The Legend of Zelda much better.
But what good is being able to explore the dungeon if the dungeon is bland? For their time, the dungeons of Zelda were fantastic, but they are far too bland for modern gaming. With near identical entry rooms and a lack of a dungeon theme, each dungeon lacks the unique feeling a Zelda dungeon should have.
Themed dungeons, based on their location, have been a huge success in Zelda, finding their roots in A Link to the Past, and being fully realized in Ocarina of Time. While not all the dungeons need to have a distinct theme, there are several with obvious potential. Dungeon number three, located just east of the “Forest of Maze” could implement a forest theme. Dungeon number six, just one screen away from the graveyard, screams of a Shadow theme. Dungeons four and five respectively, given their locations of water and Death Mountain, cater to the themes of water and fire perfectly.
Given that Eiji Aonuma himself didn’t find the original Zelda to be enjoyable, and given that he began his Zelda career as the dungeon designer for Ocarina of Time, a dungeon overhaul is just what The Legend of Zelda needs to change the minds of those who disliked it originally, and to attract those who never played it.
Modernizing the Arsenal
The Legend of Zelda and Metroid were some of the first adventure games to implement permanent weapon and item upgrades. Other games, like Mario and Adventure Island offered items and upgrades, but these were temporary. Some were based on a time limit, others stayed until the player took damage, and some were lost at the end of the level. The Legend of Zelda and Metroid revolutionized the gaming experience by allowing players to keep their upgrades throughout the entire game.
The arsenals of the two games were not without their flaws, however. In Metroid, the player was not allowed to possess both the Ice Beam and the Wave Beam at the same time. Given that the Ice Beam is needed to reach certain areas, as well as to defeat the Metroids, this made the Wave Beam near useless. The Legend of Zelda didn’t have any weapon limitations, but some of the weapons weren’t utilized very well. For example, the Red Candle becomes obsolete once the Magic Wand and Book of Magic have been collected, as they allow the player to shoot fire from the Wand, along with the usual beam. The Raft was also under utilized, as it could only be used in two places in the whole game, and in a very limited manner. When the player walked stepped off a Ramp dock into the water, the Raft automatically sent Link along an uncontrollable course to a set destination.
Zero Mission not only corrected the inability to collect both the Wave Beam and Ice Beam, but also updated Samus’ aresnal with weapons, and even suits, from other games in the series. Speed Booster, Super Rockets, and the Space Jump Suit, were just some of the impressive upgrades Samus received, adding to the overall gaming experience.
Zelda could likewise utilize weapons better in order to improve on the gameplay. Link’s Awakening had a raft minigame in which the player had to navigate a series of rapids, while Oracle of Ages allowed the player to freely control the Raft. This allows for much more exploration of Hyrule’s waterways, and would be a definite plus for fans of The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass who enjoyed the sailing aspects of those games. While there’s not much way around the fact that the Red Candle becomes obsolete shortly after obtaining it, instead of keeping both items, the Candle could be replaced once it becomes obsolete, leaving an empty spot in the arsenal for more weapons.
Like Zero Mission, Zelda would also be wise to expand the number of weapons and items in the game. Imagine Link donning the Pegasus Boots, or crossing a chasm with the Hookshot. Even newer items, like the Sand Wand from Spirit Tracks could make an appearance. The Magic Boomerang, which simply goes faster and farther than the Boomerang, could be replaced by the Boomerang of the more modern games, with the player being able to chart its path via stylus, or change its direction midcourse with the touch of a button.
The original Metroid was somewhat lacking when it came to bosses, as there were only three in the whole game: Kraid, Ridley, and Mother Brain. The first two were fairly generic, and could be killed quite easily with rockets, while Mother Brain employed a little more strategy, and was significantly more difficult, though Mother Brain herself did not actually attack. The Legend of Zelda had nine bosses in all, one in each dungeon, but several of them were repeats, while others re-appeared as regular enemies in later dungeons, lessening their status as a boss. The final battle with Ganon, while moderately advanced for its time, simply can’t hold up to the standards of a modern final boss.
Zero Mission added a handful of mini-bosses in between the fights with the three traditional bosses, making the game feel significantly less empty. The main boss battles themselves, however, were not greatly improved. More strategy and depth was added to them, but their difficulty, especially in the case of Ridley, was not improved. Ridley, who at this point in the Metroid series had become a staple as Samus’ primary adversary, was still easily defeated by Missiles. Kraid was a little more difficult, but still generally bland, and Mother Brain, though gaining the ability to attack, lost her ability to regenerate health, making her significantly easier than her previous incarnation. All in all, while Zero Mission succeeded in quantity of bosses, it failed in quality.
Zelda can’t make the same mistake. The addition of mini-bosses on the overworld map in between dungeons would be welcome, so long as the actual bosses increase in quality. Boss battles like Gleeok, the three-headed dragon, could be vastly improved with updates to the attacks of the boss, as well as Link’s arsenal, and utilization of the surroundings. Aquamentos and Gleeok, the two repeated bosses, could also afford to have their second forms removed from the game, and replaced by something new and fresh.
The most important boss battle of all is, of course, the final boss. Zero Mission, though it gave Mother Brain an attack, didn’t live up to the standards of difficulty for a final boss. The Zelda series hasn’t had a Ganon battle on a handheld system since the linked ending of the Oracles games in 2001, not counting the ports of The Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past, which made no changes to their respective battles. With two screens, a complete arsenal, and the superior graphical capabilities of the DS compared to the NES, SNES, and GBC, players could receive a 2D Ganon experience like never before. What better time to re-introduce Ganon to the handheld gaming world than in a remake of his first appearance?
To a new fan, both Metroid and The Legend of Zelda can be quite the intimidating games. Conversely, veteran fans find modern games to be far too easy, particularly in the case of the Zelda series. To compensate, Zero Mission offered the player a difficulty setting at the start of the game. Players can choose whether they want to play the game on Easy or Normal mode, and eventually a Hard mode is unlocked as well.
This is something that many Zelda fans have been begging to have in Zelda since The Wind Waker. Again, what better way to implement a system that pleases both veteran and new fans than to debut it in a remake of the original game? Veteran fans would surely be disgusted if the classic game was made too easy to accommodate new fans, while new fans would be turned off by a game that they feel is too hard. A difficulty setting is the perfect compromise.
Combat and Artificial Intelligence
Another issue with the difficulty is the reason the original Zelda was difficult. The main reason The Legend of Zelda was difficult was not that the artificial intelligence of the enemies was superior, but moreso the quantity of enemies. Many rooms would have eight or more Darknuts at a time. Though they wandered around aimlessly, generally oblivious to Link’s presence, they dealt respectable damage, moved at the same speed as Link, and could not be attacked head on, but had to be hit from behind or from the sides.
With updates to Link’s swordplay comes a need for updates to the computer’s AI. Zelda doesn’t need more enemies, it needs smarter enemies, and more utilization of weapons necessary to defeat enemies. Combat in general needs to be more advanced, and more exciting. Repetitive stabbing simply doesn’t cut it in the modern gaming world.
Due to the fact that both series debuted during the NES era, it wasn’t possible to fit an intricate storyline into the game itself. Instead, the storylines for the games were primarily told in the game manuals, and in a brief bit of text before the game began. Modern storylines, in which the player discovers the plot piece by piece, often with a plot twist along the way, were rare.
Zero Mission built on the plot of Metroid by extending the game’s intro, adding various cutscenes throughout the game, and an additional quest to infiltrate the Space Pirate Mothership. While this was definitely an upgrade, it didn’t reveal a whole lot about Samus’ background, and still left the player with a lot of unanswered questions. While the Metroid Manga, released before the game, revealed many of the details of Samus’ past, and covered some of the events of the game itself, it was never officially released outside of Japan, causing many to doubt its status as canon.
Zelda has become a very storyline-driven series, with more people discussing and debating its intricate storyline and timeline than arguably any other series in existence. It doesn’t help any that the original game itself is lacking severely in plot, and leaves the player with many questions.
All that is known is that Link, who was in the midst of his travels, stumbled upon Impa in the land of Hyrule, saving her from evil monsters by some clever means. Impa reveals to Link that the Great Demon King Ganon has invaded the kingdom of Hyrule, and stolen the Triforce of Power. Princess Zelda divided the Triforce of Wisdom into eight pieces, scattering them throughout the kingdom to keep them from Ganon, but was then captured by the Demon King. 1 As the game progresses, it becomes obvious that Hyrule is largely devastated, with the survivors of Ganon’s invasion either living in caves, or, as shown in the sequel, The Adventure of Link, having fled to the northern parts of the Hyrule Region.
This brief introduction leaves us with far more questions than answers. Where did Link come from? Why was he traveling? Where did Ganon come from? Questions arise from in the game itself as well. Who are the mysterious Old Men who guard the swords Link collects throughout the game? Who are the wise ones living in the various monster-infested dungeons that give Link clues? Is the Magical Sword the Master Sword, some other powerful blade from another game, or a different sword altogether?
Answers to these and other questions, especially the ones pertaining to the backgrounds of Link and Ganon, could not only make the gaming experience better, but better the understanding of where The Legend of Zelda fits into the overall chronology of the series storyline as a whole.
Though we love the classics for what they are, and what they meant to the gaming world when they were released, many of us look at the pioneers of video gaming and wonder what it would be like if classic games were made with the updated graphics, controls, items, and other advancements of the modern gaming era. Can it be done without losing the core values of the original game, and without destroying the nostalgia one gets from playing the original? Metroid: Zero Mission showed us that it can be done, and it can be done well. The Legend of Zelda provides the perfect opportunity to prove that it can be done great.
- Though primarily similar, the storyline summary used here was based on the original Japanese, and not the Nintendo of America translation. Ganon’s title and the means by which Link rescued Impa are the only notable differences.
- Find out more about Metroid at Metroid Wiki