Skeptic’s Corner: The Future of Zelda

Welcome to the Skeptic’s Corner, the monthly column in which I share my reservations about various books, movies, TV shows, video games and more! 

Oh, The Legend of Zelda: where would I be without you? Not writing this blog post, that’s for sure. While I’d still be gaming whether I’d ventured into Hyrule or not, I can’t say that I would be a gamer. Without this franchise, I just don’t think that gaming would have become a part of my identity like it has. It’s for this reason that The Legend of Zelda series, despite its flaws (and there are many) is my favorite video game series of all time. These games hold a place in my heart like none other (heck, the sound of Midna’s arrival is my text message alert!), and part of the joy when playing a new game is seeing how they mesh the new mechanics and story with the familiar (and nostalgic) layout and style we’re accustomed to. At least, that’s what makes a Zelda game special to me. Perhaps I’m holding onto the past too desperately, but when I heard about all the changes that went into the newest in The Legend of Zelda series, A Link Between WorldsI got worried.

between worlds

One of the biggest changes to the game’s formula is that you won’t be forced to follow a linear dungeon progression. In previous iterations, you adventured in the overworld, which led you to a dungeon where you found a super spiffy item which was crucial for the final boss fight. Simple and straightforward, right? Right. A Link Between Worlds throws that whole concept out the window. For this game, they’re almost reverting back to the original Legend of Zelda which (I must admit) I quite hate. I’ve tried so many times to get into that game, but its lack of direction and clear story in the beginning ultimately leaves me bored. I’m all for an open-world adventure, but I don’t believe that Zelda should be one. 

To make it easier (or perhaps harder) to figure out which dungeons you want to try your hand at first, the shop has all the items you need already available to you. If you have enough rupees to be able to afford Item X, which is necessary to complete Dungeon C, then go for it! Don’t quite have enough to purchase it outright? That’s fine! You can rent it for less! (Rupee grind, anyone?)

Shop

My boyfriend and I often discuss what level of change warrants calling something a sequel. It’s a hard balance to strike. On the one hand, if you make too many changes, you run the risk of alienating your audience. If you took out the familiar characters and locations, would you still know that the game belonged to its respective franchise? If your answer is no, chances are it might have been better to make it an entirely new IP. I mean, let’s say they decided to turn Zelda into an FPS and I hadn’t heard about it (because apparently I’d been living under a rock). The whole reason I would purchase the new Zelda is because, in the past, I’ve really enjoyed my experience. But when I pop in this new (made-up) game, I come to find that it’s nothing at all like the series I’ve come to love. Whether the game is good or not becomes irrelevant, because I’m not even going to give it a go.

Something similar actually happened with the Harry Potter games. Over the years, their style changed to the point that sometimes they were completely unrecognizable (Goblet of Fire*). And what happened? I stopped playing. But it wasn’t just Goblet that I didn’t finish: no, so alienated and annoyed was I that I never picked up another Harry Potter game, despite having loved the first three.

Change is good, but only when change is needed.

I’ve seen a lot of complaints over the years that Zelda has become too formulaic, too predictable. Maybe it is. But does that have to be a bad thing? Don’t most games follow a formula of some kind?

Given that each Zelda game plays host to “reincarnated”** versions of Zelda, Link and Ganon (Demise), I don’t see why it’s too much for the game itself to have a similar concept. Each Zelda is different from the one who came before, and the same is true for each Link. They have a common name (and, in Zelda’s case, a common bloodline) and they have the same gifts and proficiencies, but there’s always one aspect about them that makes them just a little bit different.

This similar-but-not-quite-the-same method of character design can be applied to the game in general as well. There’s (almost) always an overworld with dungeons and awesome items. While the specifics of the dungeons and items obtained may differ, at heart, they still bear much resemblance (like the Water Temple, which always makes you cry). What truly makes each game unique is the core mechanic that’s used. For Ocarina of Time, it’s music. For Twilight Princess, it’s a companion who’s actually useful and the sweet ability to become a wolf. For A Link Between Worlds, it’s the wall walking ability.

wolf link

The Legend of Zelda has never really been about gameplay for me; the Zelda franchise is about story, character, and the unique way in which the same cast, the same world, and the same core abilities can be combined in new ways to create something familiar, yet decidedly different.

Perhaps the Zelda series feels a bit too stale for you, too predictable. But for me, that’s a major part of the draw. It’s what makes it Zelda.

So what do you think? Am I just being a grumpy old lady who’s trying too hard to hold on to what “used” to be? Should the game change the core way in which you play? I’m interested to hear your thoughts!

* Seriously, IGN? A 7? That game “was a T if ever I saw one…”

** There is some disagreement as to whether the three bearers of the TriForce are indeed reincarnations of Zelda, Link, and Demise from Skyward SwordI believe they are, but there doesn’t appear to be an official answer.

5 thoughts on “Skeptic’s Corner: The Future of Zelda

  1. Sorry for my late response!

    I agree completely about the conflicting back-stories. We’re given the idea that all of these versions of the characters are supposed to be tied together in some way (and even that sometimes we’re seeing direct continuations of a character) and yet we see these histories that just don’t make sense. It feels like they want to do something really cool, but then they realize they can’t quite get it to work with Plot Point X. Rather than continue tweaking it in order to make it work, they just hope we won’t notice and let it slide (HA! But we notice evvvverything!!!) 🙂

  2. I also wanted to say this while thinking about it!

    One thing that does bug me story-wise about A Link Between Worlds is what they say about Ganon’s origins. They mention that he was a thief who went to the Sacred Realm to seek out the Triforce, which was sealed away there by the Seven Sages after a great war was fought in Hyrule. So far, so good. However, then it mentions that Ganon returns and wreaks havoc on Hyrule and so a hero rises to defeat him. This specific story seems to be hinting at the events of ALTTP (which given the original back story would have been okay), but the problem here is that Ocarina of Time implies the origins of Ganon and seems to hint at there having been wars before the events of that game. Maybe this is legend getting obscured by the great passage of time, but that is hard to believe in a way since even in our world we know about events a thousand or more years ago. So, I guess I wish they were more specific and less problematic with their explanation, LOL.

  3. Here is one thing to consider:

    Nothing in terms of renting or buying items in the series is particularly new. There is an often-overlooked title that was a direct sequel to “A Link to the Past” in Japan, which goes by the name “Zelda: Ancient Stone Tablets.” In this game, you could also rent items for a certain period of time, and they were helpful things like a shovel or a bow and arrow, and also in some cases you could purchase a sword upgrade (if you had the basic one, you’d get a Level 2 one, etc.). This was unique though to that one game (a rare oddity released in 1997-98 and playable only via a broadcast internet add-on to the SNES), but it worked well enough.

    Here’s my bluntly honest opinion: Nintendo does a good job with this franchise, but I think it has fallen into a rut kind of like Mario has. There are only so many times I can collect 3 star coins in a stage or go after 120 stars/sprites/etc before I get tired of it. I liked the days when each game added something new. Here, they are more like gimmicks.

    But, as a whole, this particular game is pretty good. But is it GREAT? That’s the question.

    • I think that’s what makes this so interesting to me. Your points (and the points of so many other Zelda fans) are completely valid. I can understand why after so many years people would feel like the same old mechanics over and over are tiresome.

      But that’s what I love. Maybe I’m just weird, but there’s something about that–the familiarity–that I really enjoy. 🙂 I like that the new ability, whether it be music, flight, wolf form, or wall-walking, is closely tied to the story while the general formula stays the same.

      It will be interesting to see where the franchise goes and how gamers react to the change or lack thereof! 🙂

      • I think one thing people need to do is separate the idea that the shop feature in this new game is “new,” because it really is not. It was done back in that game from 1997, and back then I wasn’t really sure about it. Though, in a lot of ways, “Ancient Stone Tablets” is more of a true direct sequel than this game is. But this game’s wall-walking and all that make it unique, not to mention that it is on the 3DS, so you get different visuals than you would on other platforms.

        I think with Zelda, the tried and true formula works. But, I’d like to see a few more experiments, like how they wrestled with the XP system way back in “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link” or how Majora’s Mask tried the whole experiment with having just 4 dungeons and putting most of the “exploration” out in the over-world and in mini-dungeons. I always thought that was cool, plus its darker storyline.

        Personally, I like this new game. The main thing I like is that it is in the same world as A Link to the Past, which was one of my favorite games back when the SNES came out and still remains high on my list.

        Mario, on the other hand, I think needs some work. I’ll be curious to see where Mario goes now that Mayamoto has walked away from it.

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