Zelda is a very long-running game series. The original Legend of Zelda first came out way back in 1986 in Japan. Video games are still a growing medium. They’ve caught a lot more attention and favor as of late, but they still haven’t matured into being as mainstream as movies, at least in the US. Despite this, Zelda is an incredibly well-known name. With the possible exception of Mario, the Zelda series is probably the single most well-known face in video games, both within the industry and without. It wouldn’t be that well known if it wasn’t so old, so revolutionary for its time. Game Informer named the original Legend of Zelda the #1 game of all time in 2010 for the affect it had and how it changed the face of gaming. Video games just wouldn’t be what they are now without Zelda.
Yes, Zelda has had quite a history. But what about its future? It doesn’t need to be said that we don’t have that written down anywhere. It’s not set in stone and really all we can do about the future is speculate and hope. This is my prospective of the Zelda series; these are my thoughts and feelings about Zelda’s future. Zelda has a significant past, so you have to know its future will be just as significant. But is the future all about new ideas or is it about not changing anything? I don’t think the series is flawless as it stands, so what I want most from the future deals with making it even better.
I’ve written about the future of Zelda before, in a way, in my article Bringing Back the Old, which was actually the first Zelda article I ever wrote. In this article I brought forth a huge list of qualities the Zelda series used to have at different points, but dropped a long time ago either in part or in full. I put forth a lot of arguments about how I don’t think the Zelda series needs to change into something totally new like some fans want, but rather it just needs to skillfully re-implement things its lost. While I still stand by this to a degree, I wrote that article in June 2010, and it’s been almost a year since then. Now it’s February 2011 and some of my thoughts have changed. Yes there are many things in the Zelda series that it started with and then later reduced or dropped entirely, and many of these are things I still desperately want to see again. At the same time, there are plenty of things that have been added to the series in the time since that are just as beneficial, even crucial. The hint system provided by characters like Navi or Midna is a decent example, as are the swordplay of games like Twilight Princess and The Wind Waker, and the general design style of the areas and environments in the 3D games. Even still, there ARE things that could be added or taken away from the series in new games. Everything needs innovation. While I think it should come from renewal at first, at some point we are going to have to add fresh ideas. I could talk a lot about applying the right balance of looking to the past, keeping things the same, and brainstorming new ideas to just about anything in life. Even in relation strictly to Zelda, there are different ways it should be done during different times, and in different aspects of the games. It’s a tricky business, one that doesn’t have a simple answer that can be applied to everything as a whole but that has to be carefully thought about in each and every individual aspect of the game. Even so, this concept is key to both what I want from the series and what I expect we’ll actually see.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say I want to see Zelda continue to lead the industry, but I don’t think I’m alone either when I say I don’t think they are anymore. Nintendo, in continuing to make the Zelda series, has tried new things but I don’t feel like anything they’ve done with the recent Zelda titles has lead the industry. (An immediate change in this seems like it is being presented by Skyward Sword, but we have yet to see for sure.) When it comes down to it, leading the industry is going to take unique ideas and unique combinations of ideas that may or may not be unique on their own. Furthermore, as an established series, Zelda is obligated to avoid changing too much or else it will lose its immense fanbase. It’s all about balance. But so far, all I’ve done is talk about the series and its future broadly.
What I specifically want to see from the series will take a bit to explain. There’s a few things. I think it needs to finally reincorporate its root aspects back into its base, its core formula that you see in every Zelda game no matter how different they are from each other. The single most crucial of these root aspects – and actually most of the qualities I refer to branch off from this one – is exploration. Rather, the sense of adventure. New sights, discovery, wanderlust. While these are likely odd traits to apply to an old 8-bit Nintendo game, I think the original Legend of Zelda carried the spirit of adventure even though it existed on ancient technology. Thinking about this kind of adventure on modern technology is almost mouthwatering for me. Non-linearity can factor into this, but the sense of adventure and discovery can still apply in a fairly linear game, and I don’t really mind the series shifting back and forth between being very open and very concise; as long as the series as a whole does not shift towards becoming a straight line, I’m content with an occasional linear Zelda game. If I had to pick one other thing I wanted to see in the series once again, it would be difficulty, but my mind has changed on that, too, and I will get to that shortly.
In terms of Zelda’s current standard formula, what I want to keep the most is the basic gameplay. The way Zelda controls and plays since A Link to the Past is perfect for the series. Tweaks have been made, and the gameplay has shifted into 3D, but it has stayed the same regardless. This doesn’t mean there can’t be different ways of controlling the game, such as in Skyward Sword, or different moves and techniques like say jumping or the Hidden Skills from Twilight Princess, or even the different perspectives of 2D or 3D Zelda games. None of these need to or should change the standard gameplay.
What new ideas do I want to see from Zelda in the future? I’d like to see Nintendo keep roughly the same core it has, but strengthen the sense of adventure and exploration more to what it was in the beginning. I’d like them to keep this new core intact, and keep Zelda as a roughly family-friendly series. It doesn’t need to be KIDDY, but it should stay family friendly. It should keep to its basic nature and not change just because current trends in video games gravitate toward games being gritty and violent. I don’t mind Zelda games shifting in tone and maturity from game to game; games like Twilight Princess or Majora’s Mask are welcome additions to the series. Darkness and grit are fine on occasion, just not as the standard. I also think Zeda should constantly change from game to game, trying new ideas and new combinations of old ones to come up with unique experiences. It should also come up with a new system of difficulty, one that combines the old and new. With the exception of very specialized games targeted at specific kinds of gamers, video games should find ways to appeal to all gamers, and I believe this is what Zelda should do. There’s no excuse for the series to not be playable and appealing for both hardcore and casual gamers. Whether we’re dealing with difficulty levels, second quests, or in-game super-guides, the series should find a way for people to either have a challenge or just get through the game, depending on their preference.
None of this means that side games or more obscure releases can’t break all of the rules I just proposed. I’ve mainly been speaking of the series’ major releases, not minor titles like those on handhelds or spinoff games. I actually would love wild experimentation in the side games. In addition, I desperately want a return of the 2D format, specifically like that of The Minish Cap which mimicked the gameplay of the 3D Zelda games. And in all honesty, there’s no reason to entirely drop any of Zelda’s gameplay styles entirely, including that of Adventure of Link. Someday, in side games at least, I think Nintendo should re-use all of them.
Art-style is another thing I think the series should constantly experiment with. There’s no reason Zelda should have a static look or aesthetic. Tone, storytelling, and visual style should change constantly. While I think a whimsical, family-friendly fantasy title about a hero saving a princess is what Zelda should be most of the time, changing any or all of that to create unique looks, feels, and tales is entirely welcome. Many Zelda games have already experimented with these styles, and I’d love to see them do it more, especially in the style of games like Majora’s Mask that have a surreal quality, or games like Skyward Sword or The Wind Waker, which take after a specific artistic style.
Now this is what I want from Zelda’s future, not what’s going to happen. I obviously can’t see the future, but I do think I have an idea of what Skyward Sword might be and what the future might bring.
Skyward Sword is a game we’ve all made a lot of rumors and predictions about. Some of them hopeful and some of them skeptical. But what do I think Skyward Sword WILL be? I can’t be sure. I’ll admit I’m hopeful but uncertain. I think we will see a game with a unique Wii Motion Plus control scheme that will make the game unique and fun to play, and I think the art-style will be used to give us breathtaking visuals, characters and scenes. As far as the game design goes, I can’t be sure. It’s definite that Nintendo has been paying attention to the fans, but whether the consensus of fans’ desires are towards Zelda being accessible for casual gamers or harder is not something I can tell you without an in-depth study on the subject. I suspect, though, that Nintendo may make the game harder but implement a workaround for casual gamers like they have been doing with most of their recent titles. I can’t be sure however, as they’ve always treated Zelda differently. As for unique gameplay, I again can’t be sure but I remain hopeful that while the game will remain very similar to what we know, they experiment with new ideas. I am pretty sure that it won’t be wildly different, but it will feel unique.
I think the same can be said for the future of Zelda, though it would depend both on what Skyward Sword turns out to be like, and the reception of whatever it does end up being. Nintendo seems to be listening to the fans more and more. Eiji Aonuma seems particularly interested in Zelda becoming what people want it to be, and I think this is the wisest move he can make. I just think Zelda needs to keep its core and heart the same as its always been, and I indeed predict this will be the case. What the Zelda series will become aside from its core experience entirely depends on what the fans scream for and want. Despite how much Zelda fans disagree, I definitely think there is a compromise somewhere. One base that can be applied to every Zelda game that we will all be happy with, and from there each game can expand off that base in unique ways to draw in more people while keeping its fans… Or even keep the fans MORE interested than they were before.
So do you want the series to become what I do? Or do you have very different ideas about what the future of Zelda should be? Whatever you think, you should say so online. In the comments, on the forums, or somewhere at least. A smart developer is always listening to the fans, and I don’t think Nintendo is stupid.