We’ve talked an awful lot about what we want to see in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword when it debuts…eventually. Whether it’s a particular new feature we’ve been dying to try out with Wii Motion Plus, a new (or old) dungeon, enemy, or Hyrulean race, or a plot that’ll set the timeline straight once and for all, the ideas have been constantly flowing from fansites everywhere. What we haven’t seen a lot of, however, are ideas for things Nintendo should stay away from when building the next Zelda. Of course with the game in the “final completion stage,” any outcries will probably fall on deaf or unable ears at this point, but since when has that stopped us from sharing?
What amazed me as I came up with this list is that I had a much easier time thinking of things I don’t want than I ever have collecting things that I would like to see happen. But I’d attribute that to the fact that most of my complaints here are about recent directions the series has taken that I at least found undesirable, and that by and large the things I’d like to see have been pretty strong across all of the games. Enough about me, though – let’s talk Zelda.
No “Field Hub” Between Areas
Before I get myself crucified, I should probably explain what this doesn’t mean. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be an overworld – the core Zelda experience has always been deeply integrated with exploring the world of Hyrule. All I mean by “field hub” is a large “Hyrule Field” area composed of 90% non-utilized space that we have to cut across to get from place to place. Mr. Aonuma’s already commented that Skyward Sword is going for a denser world design than Twilight Princess, so I’m reasonably sure we won’t see anything like this, but it’s still a major flaw with most of the 3D Zelda games, bar Majora’s Mask.
One of the things that made the original video game success stories interesting is that they weren’t “realistic” worlds full of open, relatively empty field country. They were complicated, maze-like, and treacherous – one only has to play the original Legend of Zelda or A Link to the Past to understand that we can have a large, spectacular overworld while still encountering obstacles and enemies at every turn.
Yes, this means no horse this time. Sure, it’s cool to have Link ride like a champion, but this feature has never been implemented particularly well, and besides, how are we supposed to guide a swift stallion through a world full of obstacles and tough terrain anyway?
No Overuse of “Motion Puzzles”
Again, let me clarify what I’m not suggesting here. I want Skyward Sword to make strong use of Wii Motion Plus. As I’ve written before, I think it’s essential that Motion Plus is so integrated into Skyward Sword that after we’ve played it we can’t imagine the Zelda series without it. Some may disagree, but think the Wii controls for Metroid Prime – trying to go back to the GameCube controller feels like two giant steps back when it comes to aiming. But if I see too many “puzzles” that turn out to be a glorified Motion Plus tech demo, I’ll be pretty put off.
The eye door puzzle from the demo is pushing it. Fortunately it was the only gimmicky moment in the entire area, so there’s hope that these kinds of events won’t dominate the game. I still worry, though, that the designers might forgo classic Zelda challenge and structure in favor of this “look what you can do with your controller” nonsense. I’d rather shoot at something that’s trying to kill me or perform some other true test of skill than make a door dizzy by spinning my sword all fancy-like, thanks.
No “Story Events” as a Substitute for “Player-Driven Events”
I’m all for well-delivered stories in video games – I am a writer, after all – but that doesn’t mean the plot has to be shoved down our throats. For example, we don’t need some Mandatory Obligatory Cutscene to tell us we need to go help the Gorons on Death Mountain. Let us investigate the nearby village and pick up the rumors for ourselves, or heck, maybe we could even try poking around the mountain ourselves, unprompted by the plot progression.
Majora’s Mask was great at delivering this kind of subtlety. When we got to a new area, we usually had no idea of what we were supposed to do. It was only once we found a new item, figured out the secret route through the forest, or talked to the right people that we started to get some sense of context and direction. And I can’t think of anyone who’d dare suggest that Majora’s Mask‘s story suffered because of this – no, it’s for precisely this reason that many people find it to be one of the best-crafted tales in any video game ever.
No Overbearing Interruptions from the Skyward Sword’s Spirit
Since it’s already been confirmed that the spirit of the Skyward Sword will guide Link during his adventure, asking for no sidekick this time would be wishful thinking, so I’ll ask for the next best thing. One of my biggest complaints about Twilight Princess was that Midna had something to say every five minutes. A lot of the time she gave unsolicited puzzle hints that I could have done without. A lot of your players didn’t need them in 1988; we certainly don’t want them now. Save ‘em for the Super Guide feature you’re sure to be including with this game, Nintendo. That way everyone can get what they want.
As if that wasn’t annoying enough, Midna also chimed in during what might otherwise have been great emotional moments. Finding the Ordon Pumpkin instead of the Bedroom Key in Snowpeak Ruins comes to mind. It should have had an amusing “wtf” sort of touch, but they just had to superimpose a gameplay directive from Midna right on top of it. Way to kill the mood.
No Unbalanced Health System
This is a pretty predictable one coming from me, but I’m kind of over the low damage rates and plentiful recovery hearts scattered throughout climactic boss battles in Zelda. For one, by the time we get to the harder stages in the game we’ve usually already expanded our health to a reasonably high capacity, so we can afford to take a few hits or lose out on extra chances to restore hearts. Also, since every single Zelda game features a potion or fairy we can pocket and carry with us to restore life when we need it, what’s the point of health pickups anyway?
Fortunately, the Skyward Sword E3 demo looked like it featured reasonable damage rates – none of this “quarter-heart” garbage from the GameCube games – and somewhat aggressive enemy AI. From what I’ve heard, however, the demo was actually designed to be harder than the actual game, and some have reported that the enemies were in fact less threatening in other versions of the demo that debuted after E3. Hopefully by release time they’ll have found the perfect sweet spot in terms of difficulty.
No Forest, Fire, & Water Dungeon Triumvirate
This has happened, what, in every 3D Zelda game so far? You’re really pushing our patience with this one, Nintendo. Luckily all reports suggest the dungeon formula’s getting an overhaul for this game – to the point that sometimes we won’t even be sure if we’re in a dungeon at all – so it sounds like the Zelda team’s finally getting the hint. But if I see this early game structure one more time, I think I might divorce the series. Or at least enter into a lengthy and dramatic separation.
Now, if they can stick to that tradition while still creating something that’s visually and conceptually unique besides the elemental theme, I might be able to forgive them this one cardinal sin. But by now we’ve seen so many forest, fire, and water temples that I honestly can’t imagine them coming up with any more unique ideas to make them seem new again.
I’m not going to be unreasonable and ask that bosses not be weak against the most-recently obtained dungeon item. Not to say that that’s a particularly novel idea – just that the way boss design works in Zelda is flawed for other reasons besides this. The real problem, I think, is that in the recent games, beating a boss is usually a matter of figuring out its weak point, using the dungeon item to hit its weak point, and then simply hacking away at the boss with your sword while it’s vulnerable. As a result, bosses play more like puzzles than really big enemies.
Remember Armogohma from Twilight Princess? To beat it, we just had to hit its eye once with an arrow and then pound it with a statue’s fist, then repeat the process a few times. Had the boss instead been programmed like 2D incarnations of Gohma, where we didn’t hit it with our sword at all but instead shot as many arrows into its eye as we could, it might have been trickier. Not to mention that whenever we don’t have an opening to get a shot in, Gohma was launching fireballs our way.
The solution to making bosses harder is not getting rid of the classic “weak spot” formula – it’s putting more emphasis on using the items rather than for simple stunning so we can go in for the kill with our sword. After all, even the bosses of the classic games had obvious weak points. So far, if the scorpion boss is any indication, it looks like they’re going for the more “classic” approach, where hitting the boss doesn’t break up the action. Pray this carries over to the other boss fights as well.
No Gimmicky Mini-Games
Things like archery ranges, bomb bowling, and obstacle courses – fine ideas for mini-games in an action adventure title. Constructing an entire set of gameplay mechanics specifically for a mini-game or two (Zora’s River from Twilight Princess comes to mind) – not so much. I’m on the fence about things like fishing since they’ve actually been a recurring feature in the series but at the same time I recognize that its existence hasn’t really moved the series in a healthier direction.
No Main Villain Who Hides Behind a Puppet Villain Until Halfway Through the Game
Okay, this time your hunches that I’m saying no more Ganondorf might actually hold some merit. But in reality I just don’t want a cool new villain who gets shoved aside during the “dramatic reveal” of the Big Bad after the third or fourth dungeon. It was cool the first time – in A Link to the Past in 1991 – but it hasn’t had quite the same effect in the three games that have tried this approach since. (You’re not a true Zelda fan if you can’t name them all!)
What I’d prefer: a villain that has such a strong presence throughout the game that he doesn’t need a puppet – much less backup. I’d say “think Majora’s Mask” but I suppose that’s the exception that proves the rule. The evil of Majora’s Mask was always at the forefront, but turned out to be much more than we ever expected.
No Rushed Release
We may want Skyward Sword badly, and we may want it now, but honestly since when have we known what’s good for us? Those of us without rosy-tinted glasses remember the gaping holes in Wind Waker‘s dungeon flow and the subpar final stretch of Twilight Princess and are determined to sit on our hands and wait as long as it takes for the game to truly be “perfect” as the creators hope for it to be. As a wise man once said, “A delayed game is eventually good. A bad game is bad forever.” The Zelda series deserves the time and care it takes to make it the best it can possibly be.
The Skyward Sword Speculation Series is a new regular column that will focus on speculated possibilities for Skyward Sword’s gameplay and storyline. The idea came from a general speculation article we published in the wake of E3. While we try to make our guesses based on confirmed or suggested facts, bear in mind that they are still just that – guesses – and may or may not prove to be true, or even at all accurate.