Posted on November 23 2008 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
Ten years ago Zelda fans saw the release of the first 3D installment in the franchise—Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64. The so-called “greatest game of all time” was in those days met with much in the way of skepticism and controversy. Most of the hubbub on the latest legend of Hyrule’s most beloved princess centered on the leap from the 2D perspective to a 3D environment. At the time the only experiment with any kind of presentation beyond the traditional top-down view the series fans were so used to at that time had been Zelda II, and it had ended in disaster, with an outcry for a return to the series’ roots.
Since the failure of Zelda II it has been typical for the developers to utilize elements in common with every other game in the franchise in order to stay true to the “Zelda feel.” A Link to the Past was first—it used the same gameplay formula as the original, but with updates based on improvements in hardware such as the use of a sword slash and the inclusion of bomb ammunition. Link’s Awakening took this philosophy to an almost absurd level, taking place in a dream world based on Link’s adventures in its SNES predecessor.
Ocarina of Time followed the same route, using mostly items from previous Zeldas like the bow and the hammer, but giving them new uses to fit the new 3D framework. The transition to 3D itself was designed to carry over this same Zelda feel into the 64-bit generation. This is the same philosophy applied to Nintendo’s other franchises such as Mario or Metroid, each of which stuck to their 2D predecessors’ styles when they made the jump.
Despite its appeals to the nostalgia of hardcore fans, Ocarina of Time did bring some major changes to the way the console series was played—a large portion of them admittedly related directly to the addition of spatial depth, but they are important changes nonetheless. In a sort of irony the more recent titles, especially Twilight Princess, have been criticized for adhering too strictly to Zelda tradition—a drastic downturn from the evaluations on Zelda II. It seems clear that Zelda needs some bold changes along the lines of those we saw in Ocarina.
With a new Zelda title slated for an eventual Wii release and talks of “big new unique ideas” and a possible new direction for the series as it ascends to a place on the new console, we as fans can only guess at the evolution for this generation. The Wii Remote and Wii-Motion Plus add-on offer a wide variety of opportunities for ultra-immersive motion controls, while the Wii’s more powerful hardware gives room for the game to expand in depth and in sheer size. But it’s not only the controls and the scale of the series that will change: like with Ocarina of Time, the series is certainly in for some major transformations in terms of creative development as well.
The use of the Wii Remote as a pointer when aiming projectile weapons
was one of the popular features of the Twilight Princess port.
Ocarina of Time introduced a jump to the third spatial dimension in the world of Zelda. The Wii promises to extend Zelda to the “fourth dimension”—the dimension of player interactivity. We’ve seen a taste of what the Wii has to offer Zelda with the Wii iteration of Twilight Princess and most of these changes have been positive ones. What else might the future hold for the franchise?
the jump to 3D came a number of similar leaps in the gameplay of the
franchise. With the new perspective and the new capacity for true 360
degree character pivoting came new possibilities for aiming projectile
weapons, more realistic movement mechanics, and new ways in which
players could interact with their environments.
The most lasting element introduced in Ocarina
was the Z-targeting system. This technique took the bland
sword-fighting system in place from the top-down games and gave it room
for growth. Being able to sidle in circles around the enemy rather than
facing one direction with a sword held out was a vast improvement that
most fans these days couldn’t live without. Since its appearance, each
3D console game has adapted the targeting mechanic, from Majora’s Mask all the way to Twilight Princess.
auto-targeting comes a sufficient volume of drawbacks, however. Since
targeting automatically eliminates most of the need for aiming, both
with projectiles and with melee weapons, the use of weapons becomes
much less immersive and much more scripted. Creative approaches to
swordplay are limited effectively to determining how much the player
can mess with an enemy before it goes down. Zelda needs to add more room for creativity in swordplay to the targeting system if it is to remain viable for the Wii.
Targeting should however remain, but it should not define the moveset as it has in previous games. While Twilight Princess limits players to a few sword techniques based on certain input sequences, a Wii Zelda
should limit players only as far as their imagination. I would describe
this approach as comparable to what Retro Studios did with the lock-on
in Metroid Prime 3. Corruption allowed for simultaneous
lock-on and free aiming to take advantage of enemies’ weaknesses and to
maintain the immersion of the Wii Remote’s pointer as Samus’s beam
cannon. The task of controlling the cannon belonged to the player, not
to the game’s internal CPU.
Plus promises to allow for true 1:1 control schemes, and we can only
expect this to be utilized for sword-swinging and other goodies in the
new Zelda Wii. This should allow for arc slashes, pin-point
stabs, and other player-sculpted techniques rather than restricting
Link’s moveset to those he routinely performs after a certain input
sequence. Instead of simply having to break an enemy’s guard, we could
instead have to find weak points in their armor to exploit. Weapons
aimed at enemies’ legs could knock them off their feet or potentially
cripple the affected limb.
While some might be skeptical,
introducing new elements to the sword controls might just be the
solution that allows the franchise to branch from its traditional
gameplay in a way that grabs us as Ocarina‘s gameplay did in 1998.
of the new additions was the on-screen icon that indicated what action
would be taken when Link pressed that button—appropriately named the
“action icon.” While it only scarcely affected the gameplay because
such functions had already been assigned to the A button in the 2D
titles that preceded Ocarina, freeing up a button to serve as
the “action button” introduced a greater potential for interactivity
with the world. In the field, players could use the action button to
roll and increase their traveling speed, in towns they could speak to
villagers, and in combat they could perform special sword techniques.
Interaction with objects and the environment became easier for players
because on-screen cues pointed them towards things that could be
With direct interaction now a more integral part of
the game, why not give players more to interface with? This is yet
another area in which Zelda could take a leaf out of the books
of RPG developers. RPGs have commonly featured a number of
usually-inane objects that can be examined, from bookshelves to
individual books. In the 2D games, especially A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening,
these sorts of objects appeared all over the place. In the 3D console
games, however, they have been strangely absent, or at least very
limited, mostly to signposts.
Myst, perhaps one of the
most popular computer titles in the history of gaming, centers entirely
on such interaction with the player’s environment. To progress through
the game requires experimentation with and exploration of the general
surroundings in search of secrets. Even its story is driven by player
observation. In each of its worlds, called “ages,” there are a number
of rooms relating to the two main characters in the game that, while
dictating nothing in specific, reveal details as to their
personalities. One brother, for example, seems to have a fetish for
poisons and syringes, while the other hordes treasures and other
trinkets. It is up to the player to find these details and to interpret
One of the rooms found in Myst, which holds hints as to the true nature of one of the two feuding brothers.
The original Legend of Zelda
operated on a similar principle, giving you little direction and hiding
what few hints there were carefully so that curiosity was the key to
progression. While Zelda traditionally has a more accessible story than Myst,
coloring the game with this sort of gameplay and voluntary observation
might prove fruitful. This approach might seem too daunting for the
casual gamer in the minds of Nintendo. Miyamoto has stated that he
doesn’t like the story to be something that is confusing or unclear to
A softer method of observation-driven storytelling might be a system like that of the Metroid Prime
series, which utilized the “scanning” of objects and landmarks to
uncover hints and story details. Sometimes these scans were superfluous
and yielded only environmental cues in order to deepen the setting.
Other scans activated mechanisms that would allow players to proceed or
revealed information that helped direct them to their next objective.
If Zelda used this kind of interaction on the scale seen in other titles, it could deepen the player experience. One secret from Twilight Princess
comes to mind. In Hyrule Castle there is a small graveyard full of
inscriptions that sound cryptic, but when interpreted in the context of
the immediate surroundings, actually supply clues as to how to unlock a
secret hidden there. Unfortunately it is the only puzzle in the game of
this type, but if others like it were incorporated in greater volume
and on a greater scale in future titles, it might break the mold and
set the new standard for future Zelda riddles.
Another possibility for player immersion is the use of Wii Speak. Phantom Hourglass
already put the DS’s microphone to use, having players call out to
characters or blow out candles. Wii Speak promises to be much more
responsive, and so the potential applications are much greater. Players
could literally speak “yes” and “no” as responses to NPC questions
rather than selecting a preset response from a drop-down list. When
talking to townspeople, speaking key words into the microphone, such as
a character’s name, could prompt certain responses. While some players
might find this idea silly, it could really prove to put the player
more in Link’s shoes, a concept the developers have stressed since the
Special items have been the kingpin of the Zelda series since time immemorial. The original Legend of Zelda
featured a number of gadgets and gizmos for Link to use on his quest.
Many of them, such as the infamous ladder were ignored and never saw
the light of day again, while others such as the bow, bombs, and
boomerang have become series mainstays. Ocarina of Time, for
all its innovations, featured very few items that were new to the
series—most of them were recycled from prior games, with some getting a
face-lift. What Ocarina did do in terms of items was changed the ways in which they could be used.
of the most interesting additions was that firing arrows across torches
caused them to catch fire, allowing Link to burn through such things as
ice and spiderwebs as well as light other torches. Boomerangs now
traveled in an arc pattern instead of flying straight forward, allowing
for intricate puzzles that required that players toss the weapon just
right in order to hit that switch or collect that item. Among the new
items the Iron Boots are among the most memorable, as they were used to
their full extent in the Water Temple to sink and float in deep water
at the player’s whim. Being able to finally use the bow and Hookshot,
among other aiming weapons, in three dimensions was satisfying as well.
Ocarina also gave depth to some of the older items. The Megaton Hammer, seen above, was not the first hammer in the series, but was the first to have a backstory.
gave us a taste of item-usage with the Wii’s motion controls.
Projectile weapons used the remote’s pointer to aim and shoot, a worthy
addition which most players relished. The Wii Remote also controlled
Link’s sword-swings, which, even though clunky and sometimes
inaccurate, was very satisfying compared to simple button presses. It
is clear that Twilight Princess left much of the Wii’s latent
potential untapped, however, and so one can only wonder what a future
Wii installment could do with its items.
Looking back again on the accomplishments of Metroid Prime 3 we see several uses for the motion controls that could be easily adapted for Zelda.
Among these include the new features for the Grapple Beam—by pulling
back on the Nunchuk, players can rip away enemies’ shields or pull
doors out of their frames. Applying a similar mechanic to Zelda’s
Hookshot, we can picture Link ripping away enemies’ shields and armor
or pulling a small treasure chest to him. The current Hookshot controls
have the chain automatically retracting when the hook strikes
something. Adding a motion element that puts the Hookshot’s behavior
under the complete discretion of the player would increase the
immersion level and make the Hookshot much more dynamic. Nintendo could
even take it one step further—if Link grapples an enemy that he is
capable of lifting, he could swing the enemy by the chain, knocking it
into other surrounding enemies. The possibilities go as far as the
Another potential application could be aiming weapons while running. Twilight Princess already experimented with this, but the result was hardly as satisfactory as Corruption‘s pointer mechanics. Link’s Crossbow Training improved
on this somewhat, but Corruption remains to most the smoothest use of
the Wii Remote in a run-and-shoot capacity yet seen.
Magical spells have featured in most Zelda games, starting with the Magic Rod in the NES original and most recently seen in Phantom Hourglass‘s
Spirit Gem abilities. Very few games in the series have had a
well-developed combat magic system, however. Most of them have only
used magic as a puzzle-solving tool, with one or two “kill all enemies”
moves such as Bombos or Quake in A Link to the Past or Din’s Fire in Ocarina of Time. The closest we have seen in recent years has been the magical Fire, Ice, and Light arrows. Prior to that, however, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link had a long list of magical spells with a myriad of uses, many of them focused directly on combat.
The Wii’s motion controls could be used to develop and better exploit an intricate magic system on par with that of Zelda II.
Rather than relying on magic with a large damage radius, such as the
aforementioned Din’s Fire, we could use the pointer to focus damage
around a pinpoint area. Centering the pointer on an enemy or object
could allow for fire or ice magic, already seen in A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time,
to be controlled on a more direct level. This could even go for the
Din’s Fire type spells—rather than having them arc from Link’s
position, they could be aimed at specific locations across the map.
does not have to be limited only to combat, however. Imagine Link
learning a spell that allows him to levitate certain objects. These
objects could be manipulated with the Wii Remote’s pointer and moved to
the desired position and then released. And not all of the items and
spells have to involve the motion controls, either. Again, the mind is
the only limit!
It has been Zelda tradition since A Link to the Past
for each new game to feature one or two themes which are central to
both gameplay and storyline. In the SNES giant, the theme was the two
worlds, Light and Dark. World-warping helped players solve obstacles
and find secrets. The view of the Dark World also gave Link a taste of
what would befall Hyrule should he fail in his mission to retrieve the
Ocarina of Time‘s theme was time travel, and it operated in a similar way to A Link to the Past.
Travel between past and future helped solve obstacles and view of the
bleak future gave motivation for Link’s quest. Its other theme as the
title betrayed was music and many songs were used in the capacity of
magical spells. Some songs opened doors, such as Zelda’s Lullaby
parting the raging waterfall outside Zora’s Domain or the Song of Time
which serves the express purpose of opening the Door of Time. Others
controlled time, such as the Sun’s Song which cycled between night and
day. Still others allowed Link to manipulate the environment, warp
across landscapes, and summon allies.
Since then, unfortunately, time travel has been constantly rehashed to the point of meaningless. Majora’s Mask featured it in even more prominent a role than in Ocarina with its 3-day time limit system. Oracle of Ages repeated the past-present concept but in such a way that it felt more like the Light and Dark worlds of A Link to the Past. What’s more, both Majora’s Mask and Ages again used music as the mode. As if time travel had not grown annoying enough already, in Four Swords Adventures,
when you reach the end of a stage without the required number of Force
Gems, you “return to the past” to collect those you had left behind.
That is not to say that no fresh ideas have come to the table. Majora’s Mask
also offered us the mask system and the Bomber’s Notebook, which gave
us not only a myriad of secrets to uncover but a long series of
well-developed sideplots that we could manipulate to our whim. The
transformation masks especially gave us more freedom in choosing how we
would place the game. Players could use most masks against most bosses
and enemies with some effectiveness, and puzzles and minigames
throughout offered different challenges depending on the form Link
took. These elements combined to give Zelda players perhaps the deepest and richest environment for exploration and experimentation since the original NES game.
Similarly, The Wind Waker
drove innovation in a bold and different direction, offering a new art
style and an unprecedented world map environment: the Great Sea.
Treasure-hunting took center stage—treasure maps instead of masks
filled the world and rewarded the careful explorer, but the work was
not finished until the treasure was brought up from the ocean depths.
The titular Wind Waker also appeared, again using music to invoke
magic, but in a new capacity. It controlled the winds and was central
to the sailing mechanic, and in some cases even controlled other
characters’ behavior, serving as a puzzle-solving tool.
What sort of theme should the new Zelda
bring to the table? That highly depends upon the creative style of the
game—its artistic and conceptual design, which we have already
discussed. An ocean environment worked well with such a child-like
artistic style as The Wind Waker for many reasons, among the
most obvious being that toon-shaded seawater was certainly easier to
program than a realistic ocean. From that general ocean concept the
idea of wind-based abilities surfaced as well, and thus The Wind Waker
was born. The type of artistic design the next game embraces will have
to work hand-in-hand with the game’s thematic focus as well.
Wind Waker’s bold new art style brought Zelda into a bold new world—the deep blue sea.
fans can probably agree, however, that no matter what the creative
direction, the series needs more innovation. After the poor reception
of Twilight Princess (compared to the other three 3D installments, of course), it seems obvious that Zelda
games do not succeed by playing off of the strengths established in
prior titles. They need to branch out in bold new directions, establish
new paradigms, and give us a gaming experience unlike any we have seen.
Ocarina of Time gave us Epona, the trusty steed, for quick land travel and Twilight Princess attached a fun combat scheme. The Wind Waker
gave us a game focused largely on extensive sea travel. What if the
next Zelda featured not only land and sea exploration and combat, but
gameplay in the air as well? Twilight Princess already
experimented with this with the Zora’s River flight minigame, but
imagine a fully fleshed-out system of flight. In this world, Link can
fly from cliff-top to cliff-top, striking through airborne enemies and
reaching previously inaccessible areas. Finally the series will see a
realistic alternative to warp travel. Sky continents, which have been
seen in other games but only briefly, could be included to add another
dimension to the mythical realm of Hyrule.
How could this flight
be achieved? Nintendo could choose from a number of means. One would
give the classic Pegasus Boots an upgrade that allows its wearers to
not only run with the speed of the winds, but to run along the winds
themselves. Perhaps Epona could magically receive Pegasus wings that
allow her to take to the skies. Or Link could tame a beast of the air,
be it a dragon or even the legendary Kaepora Gaebora, to be his ride up
into the clouds. It may be difficult to develop this idea into a
fully-fledged game theme, but it would add a new dimension to
exploration and gameplay regardless.
Majora’s Mask was based largely on a minor side-quest from Ocarina of Time
in which Link sells masks to various denizens of Hyrule to make some
extra cash. The game added considerably more significance to the masks,
which in Ocarina were purely decorative—now they offered him
special abilities and prompted meaningful quest-sensitive reactions
from certain characters. Ocarina also similarly expanded the fishing pond from Link’s Awakening, and it was again touched up in Twilight Princess. A Wii Zelda could take a similar minor element from another game, such as the Oracle series’ Gasha Seeds or The Wind Waker‘s merchant side-quest, and flesh them out.
One possibility in a Twilight Princess
sequel would be to play Link’s role as a ranch hand to a fuller extent.
Animals were already supposed to take a large role in the GameCube
giant as Link’s helpers while in his wolf form—why not bring an
animal-centered theme to fruition? Link could raise livestock and crops
on his farm in Ordon village for money and wares in a system evocative
of the highly-popular Harvest Moon series.
crops, land, seeds, and farming implements could be found or purchased
at marketplaces over the course of the game and used to plant and tend
to a variety of harvest goods. In terms of animal-raising, cattle,
sheep, and other animals could be bought or sold from other ranchers
and items for animal care, such as grooming brushes, animal feed, and
so on could be sold in shops throughout Hyrule. The better you care for
crops and animals, the better their yields—the fruits and vegetables,
eggs, milk, and so on that they produce.
be sold or traded and the animals’ quality increased the better you cared for them.
Could a similar system work for Zelda?
farming structure could have more significance than as a source of
income—it could also serve as a gateway to a network of trading
sequences that gain Link powerful items. Think of it—giving a poor
young mother quality milk from your ranch for her baby could earn you a
small trinket, which you then trade for a more powerful sword or shield
or even an empty bottle.
This aspect of the gameplay doesn’t
have to fill up the entire game—it could be about as prominent as the
Bomber’s Notebook sidequests. It would however offer a new way to raise
Rupees for various things or develop NPC-based side-plots, something
that the series desperately needs to freshen up and deepen the
Regardless of what the developers come up with,
however, innovation has been the series’ selling point so far and
innovation will save it from staleness. As long as the developers stay
true to this notion the possibilities are endless. We know they are
capable of churning out quality ideas, as Mario Galaxy showed us last Christmas. They may very well give us an encore performance with the next Zelda.