What I Want From Zelda 3DS
Posted on April 04 2013 by Benjamin Lamoreux
(This article is part of classics month, and is a revival of Ben’s original work back in 2011. The nice thing about this piece is that it’s all 100% relevant to today, since we still have no news on Zelda 3DS… and this was written two years ago! A few areas, such as when he brings up Skyward Sword, have been edited appropriately but may no longer represent his original train of thought, since this predates the game’s release. Other than that, enjoy!)
If you’re like me, from the first announcement of the 3DS, you’ve been waiting to see what can be done with Zelda on this new hardware. All that power in a handheld system, stereoscopic 3D technology, a gyroscope, and of course, the awesome slider pad, all contribute to a supply of potential that has the fan boy in me drooling. From the moment I picked up Ocarina of Time 3D, I was hooked. It was everything I had hoped for from start to finish, but the truth is, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What I’m most excited about is the future of Zelda on the 3DS. There are a number of different things Nintendo could choose to do with this franchise, but I definitely have my own ideas. So what do I want from Zelda 3DS?
There are two things Nintendo has to keep in mind whenever launching a Zelda game on a new system. The first is that while fans expect to have the classic feel of a Zelda game, they also want something fresh. It’s always a delicate balance, and there’s few games out there with pickier fans than Zelda. If the game is too similar to past games, fans will cry out for change, saying that the established formula has grown stagnant. Yet, if the game deviates too much from past iterations in the series, there’s also a negative backlash. There has to be the right combination of nostalgia and innovation.
An obvious issue for any game is the graphics. One of the first things you find out about a new game in production is how it’s going to look, and that alone can be a deal breaker for some. The DS was a huge step up from the GBA graphically, but it still wasn’t powerful enough that the Zelda team felt comfortable doing an over-the-shoulder type 3D perspective for Phantom Hourglass or Spirit Tracks. Both games employed 3D models and environments, but in a top-view display, giving it the feel of a 2D game. Ocarina of Time 3D showed us that the 3DS can give us a fully 3D Zelda experience, and that it can do it well. Zelda 3DS should follow suit. No matter how much I love the classic 2D Zelda games, going with a fully 3D game experience is definitely the right choice.
Top view style 3D isn’t going to cut it this time around.
Then there’s the issue of the graphical style. We’ve seen the realistic style of Twilight Princess, the “toon” cell-shade look of Wind Waker, and now the “impressionist painting” style of Skyward Sword, which sort of combines the two looks. So which style shold Nintendo employ, or should they take a different direction completely? To me, the answer really depends on the mood of the game. While there are some very opinionated people out there, regarding the game graphics, I think all three styles have their place. Nintendo doesn’t just choose a graphical style out of the blue. They build the look of the game around the atmosphere that the game is supposed to draw the player into. I think the important thing here isn’t what style Nintendo chooses, but how they incorporate it.
The look and mood of the game often go hand in hand. Negative feedback from many fans aside, I can’t imagine Wind Waker looking any different than it does. It just feels right. Conversely, I can’t imagine Twilight Princess employing a cell-shaded look. It’s important that Nintendo chooses a visual style that maches the nature of the game, but finds a way to keep it fresh. “Realistic” doesn’t mean it has to look like Twilight Princess. “Cell-shade” doesn’t mean the game has to look like Wind Waker. Nintendo needs to find a style that suits the game, and then push the limits of the 3DS with that style. It’s no mistake that when showing off the Wii U’s power, Nintendo chose to use a Zelda tech demo. Fans expect a lot from Zelda, and the 3DS needs to deliver on that. Whatever style Nintendo chooses, it needs to be impressive. Upcoming games like Beyond the Labyrinth give us a taste of what the 3DS has to offer, and Zelda needs to be not only on par with that, but to raise the bar even higher.
And of course, when discussing the 3DS, the topic of glasses-free stereoscopic 3D is bound to come up. It’s one of the major selling points of the new system, and how it’s utilized is very important to a game’s success. Zelda 3DS needs to bulid on the success of Ocarina of Time 3DS, which did a good job of incorporating the stereoscopic 3D without overusing it. The 3D has to feel like it’s adding something to the game, and not like it’s just there for the sake of slapping “3D” on the title. Cutscenes are an area where Zelda 3DS can really take advantage of this. As always, Nintendo has to keep the wants and needs of all their fans in mind though. There are many who don’t like the 3D, and will keep it turned off, so the game has to look good with or without the 3D on.
One area where I believe the two DS Zelda titles both failed was in providing a control scheme that would appease all their fans. Eager to show off what the DS could do, Phantom Hourglass made extensive use of the touch controls, using the stylus exclusively to move through the game. Many fans liked this, but many wanted a return to classic controls. When Spirit Tracks came along a few years later, many fans, myself included, were disappointed that Nintendo didn’t learn from their mistake and give an option for what style of controls you wanted to use. Nintendo didn’t balance new technology with the older style that many of its fans were far more comfortable with, and they can’t make that mistake again. Using the slider pad for Ocarina of Time 3D just felt right. It was an improvement over the joystick of the N64, and far more comfortable that a stylus-only control setup. The use of classic controls for gameplay, and the player’s choice of classic controls or touch controls for navigating the subscreens, was the perfect blend of old and new, and it’s the direciton Zelda 3DS should take.
Touching is good? Well…yeah. But not always.
The new gyroscope function also gives Nintendo some control options. Ocarina of Time 3D made use it as an optional way to aim weapons like the Bow and the Slingshot. I personally loved it, and from what I’ve heard of other peoples’ reviews, that’s a pretty common feeling. Still there’s those who don’t like it, so Nintendo made the right call by making it optional. So how can Zelda 3DS improve on this? There are plenty of more items that could incorporate this. The Bombchu, for example, is an underused item that could really be incorporated into puzzles and bosses with a little creativity. The gyroscope could be used to “pilot” the Bombchu, while those who aren’t a fan could use the slider pad instead. New items could be created with the gyroscope in mind, much like the Beetle in Skyward Sword was designed with the Wii Motion Plus in mind. With various forms of travel, like boat, train, and bird, the gyroscope could be incorporated into steering whatever Link’s ride is in Zelda 3DS. Flight, for example, could use the gyroscope much in the same way that Starfox 3D will.
Always a controversial subject, if Nintendo doesn’t get the story just right, there’s always an angry mob of Zelda fans with something to gripe about. This is an area where finding the right balance between new and old is especially important. In an earlier article, I explored how how the Hero of Men story would be ideal to base a game off of, but Nintendo certainly isn’t confined to this one idea to make a good game. There are plenty of places chronologically where we could see a new game pop up.
My main concern is that the story needs to feel fresh, it needs to be something that drives the player on, and it needs to be well developed. Phantom Hourglass on the DS just didn’t compel me, and there really wasn’t enough of backstory to Bellum to make me care. He was only introduced about halfway through the story, and very little was said of him. Spirit Tracks did a little better job of this, with the story being spread out at a more even pace, and Malladus being a little more fleshed out. It still just didn’t quite draw me in as much as I’d like from a Zelda game.
As an interesting antagonist, Malladus was close, but no cigar.
If Zelda 3DS wants to be successful, I need a villain that I can get interested in, and a danger that really makes me want to press on and save Hyrule. If they decide to use Ganondorf as a villain, he needs to be presented in a new way. Wind Waker showed us a softer side of Ganondorf, and it was a nice twist. Twilight Princess had a chance to really give us a new look at Ganondorf, with his “god complex” attitude, but it fell short. He seemed wedged into the game at the last second, and he had to share the spotlight with Zant. If Ganondorf is going to make a return, he has to do so in a way that doesn’t feel like another rehash. If they choose to give us a new villain instead, then it needs to be someone the fans can really get into. Make the antagonist an integral part of the plot, and give him a backstory we can get interested in. The plot needs to keep the player hooked from start to finish, and the villain needs to be someone we can’t hardly wait to find out more about, and in the end, battle for the fate of the world.
One final area of the storyline that the more tenured and dedicated Zelda fans will be interested in is the game’s spot on the overall chronology. Since Eiji Aonuma joined the Zelda team for Ocarina of Time, the “classic” era of Zelda ended, and things started to take a different direction chronologically. Aonuma has done a good job, in directing and producing the more modern titles, of showing how Ocarina of Time created a split, and where each game falls in relation to the split, with the exception of the Four Swords Saga, which is still a pretty big question mark. However, Aonuma only seems to put “strong” connections between games that he worked on. We know how Ocarina of Time relates to Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, but where does the original Legend of Zelda fall?
How will Zelda 3DS affect the timeline?
This is probably done on purpose. The Zelda team likes to leave some connections loose and ambiguous, so that they aren’t confined creatively. So timeline fans, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a game that connects a new game to one of the classic games. I’d expect a game that has strong connections to Spirit Tracks, Twilight Princess, or some other Aonuma title, but has only vague hints of possible connections to a classic Miyamoto-developed game. And frankly, that’s fine with me. I’d even take it a step further and suggest that the next Zelda game shouldn’t be immediately seen by fans as connected to any game. With all of the newest titles, we’ve known where they fall chronologically months before they are released, and where’s the fun in that? It’s the thrill of the chase that drives many, so why not make the next game have a storyline that the fans aren’t quite sure of, in terms of overall chronology? Of course, it could all come together at the end, with its connections becoming clear, but a little bit of mystery throughout the game makes the experience all the more interesting.Gameplay
Gameplay is another perpetually touchy subject among long-time Zelda fans. If it varies too much from the established formula, then you’ve “ruined” Zelda, but if it’s too similar to past games, then there’s cries of “not another Ocarina of Time knockoff!” For Zelda’s first new entry on the 3DS it’s imperative that they find the perfect middle ground between familiarity and innovation.
Phantom Hourglass chose to emulate Wind Waker’s style of gameplay, especially in terms of having the game be heavily based on sea travel. They did a good job of freshening it up by using the stylus to chart your path, rather than sailing the same way as in Wind Waker. Still, I personally found that the sea and island overworld, as opposed to a more traditional one, limited exploration. Spirit Tracks limited exploration even more by forcing players to follow pre-set train tracks. I know I’m not the only one who wanted to hop off the train and run around Hyrule field, slashing stuff.
The train was fun, but I want to explore Hyrule.
So where do you draw the line then? Many people liked the boat and train, so adding in these innovations clearly wasn’t all bad. Whatever new ideas they come up with Zelda 3DS, I think moderation is the key. Skyward Sword is the perfect example. Many have compared flying on the Loftbirds to boat travel in Wind Waker. The sky acts like the ocean, a vast area with various islands, which serve as docking areas, and new places to explore. The difference is, while this defined the entirety of Wind Waker’s overworld map, Skyward Sword has a second overworld, the land of Hyrule below the clouds.
Skyward Sword innovates with flight, but still provides a more traditional overworld.
Miyamoto has said in the past that Zelda was based off of his adventures as child, exploring in the caves and forests near his home. He wants Zelda to be an extension of that experience, with Hyrule being a world that you want to immerse yourself in. The boat and train of the DS titles limit that exploration, and to me, if I can’t get off whatever I’m riding whenever I please, and explore every little nook and cranny of Hyrule, I feel cheated. Skyward Sword has found what may be the perfect solution to combining innovation with exploration, and Zelda 3DS should follow suit.
Likewise, Skyward Sword shook up the normal overworld formula by making the line between dungeon and field less noticeable. Less linear dungeons and more intricate overworld created a better experience than what we’ve seen in 3D Zelda titles thus far. Whether its Hyrule or another region, Zelda 3DS needs to give us this style of overworld as well. No more big, emtpy areas just there to fill up space. In general, Zelda has struggled with this on all of the 3D titles. The density of Hyrule hasn’t been transferred well from 2D to 3D, and it’s time for that to change.
Can a 3D Zelda have a map that’s as intricate as classic 2D Zelda games like A Link to the Past?
Another gameplay area that I had an issue with when I played Spirit Tracks was the balance of gameplay elements. Spirit Tracks had a heavy focus on puzzles, and used two-person puzzles as a way to innovate. This was all well and good in the Tower of Spirits, but it seemed like even the regular dungeons were far more puzzle-based than previous titles. I like puzzles quite a bit, but when they distract from combat, it becomes an issue. Spirit Tracks spent too much time making us think, and not enough time letting us slash bad guys. There’s a balance to be had, and the scales were tipped a little too far towards puzzles in my opinion. I want Zelda 3DS to find the perfect balance of puzzles and combat that makes the game both fun and challenging.
When it comes to Zelda on the 3DS, I want a fully 3D adventure. Regardless of what graphical style they choose to use, I really don’t care which one, the style needs to fit the mood of the game, and I want it to push the limits of the 3DS, and really show what the sytem can do. Stereoscopic 3D should play a major role in the cutscenes of the game, but it needs to be done in a way that the game still looks good without it, for those who wish to turn it off.
Touch controls should not be required for the game, and the slider pad should play a major role. Zelda 3DS can take a lesson from Ocarina of Time 3D in how to incorporate both touch controls and traditional controls. The gyroscope function should see more use than it did in Ocarina of Time, but the majority of its uses should be optional, with the slider pad being a substitute, for those who aren’t a fan of the new technology.
Find ways to innovate with the gameplay that don’t detract from things we love, like exploring the overworld map. Make use of the new technology, combined with all the things we’ve come to expect from Zelda, to provide new and fun ways to experience Zelda that attract all kinds of fans. Maybe most importantly, there needs to be a balance between all the elements so that Zelda doesn’t feel like just an action game, or just a puzzle game, or any other single genre, but a perfect blend of all the things that make Zelda great.
Ocarina of Time was just the beginning of what I hope becomes a great new chapter in my favorite franchise. The 3DS has the capability to give us an amazing Zelda experience. I know what I want from Zelda on the 3DS, and I hope Nintendo delivers. What do you want from Zelda on the 3DS?