TGR Roundtable: What’s Next for the Zelda Franchise?

Just to look at the original cartridge for the Legend of Zelda was to know immediately there was something special about the game. Rather than following the model of other games and sticking with the dull, charcoal gray of the basic NES cartridge, Zelda was contained in shimmering gold that to young eyes still enamored with shiny objects practically begged you to play it.

Not much has changed since those early days. Cartridges have become discs, but in general, the golden quality of the Zelda series remains. The games still glitter in quality, and do so in a manner that is soundly based in tried-and-true traditions that have persisted since the first game came out so many years ago. Today, however, it’s hard to look at the franchise without wondering if the repeated use of the same old concepts has, to some extent, left them worn out. With a new Zelda game already in development, one has to wonder if we’re in for more of the same, or if change is even necessary. Many gamers are happy with the traditions of the series, while others are quickly becoming more jaded with time. The TGR staff is here to give some insight into the future of the franchise, and offer a some possibilities for the games to come.

Stew’s take on the franchise

The Legend of Zelda

Twilight Princess was, in the eyes of many, little more than a visual revamping of Ocarina of Time. More than a few die-hard fans can attest to the fact that there were more than a few uncomfortable cases of deja vu during their time with the game. Nintendo shouldn’t need to be told there’s something wrong when the biggest difference between two games in the same franchise, with a whopping ten years between them, are the graphics. The biggest problem with the Zelda games is quickly becoming the “been there, done that” feeling. The easiest solution for this would be to simply introduce some change to the series. It’s not unprecedented, in fact some of the best games in the franchise–Majora’s Mask–didn’t have anything to do with the “Link and Zelda take down Ganondorf” plot line that has been the basis for the majority of the titles in the series. Simply exploring those avenues a little more, while at the same time doing a little more to vary the gameplay from what came out in 1998 might be more than enough to give the franchise a little more life.

That being said, there are other paths that could be pursued. The recent release of Mega Man 9 and the excitement its mere announcement generated demonstrates that there is still a market, especially amongst gamers who were around to play 8-bit games in their prime, for retro styled games. Who wouldn’t think it cool if Nintendo were to release a retro-styled Zelda for the Wii or DS?

Or more to my taste, Nintendo could introduce a little more complexity and maturity to the series. Not blood and gore maturity, mind you. I think it would be nice to see a little more depth to the story. What if Zelda wasn’t a flawless beacon of goodness? What if Ganondorf wasn’t an embodiment of pure evil? What if on the scale of good/evil, things in Hyrule were a bit more gray? Political intrigue, ambiguous morals, and characters that are more than cardboard cutouts are all mature things that don’t have to earn an M rating. One can only save the princess so many times before it becomes old, and it might be nice to see plot points a bit more complex than “go to this elemental temple.”

Jared’s response

Phantom Hourglass

Why not revert the series to retro style while incorporating more mature themes? If you play Cave Story, you’ll get a sense of how successful that can be.

In any case, I agree that Zelda needs to see some sort of fundamental change. Honestly, I didn’t make it a quarter of the way through Twilight Princess before losing interest, and when I popped Phantom Hourglass into the DS, there was an immediate feeling of being stuck in the same old Zelda rut. I sent the game back to Gamefly the next day.

Short of some monumental game-changer, we might just have to concede that the Legend of Zelda is dead. Not that it’ll matter, as we’ll continue to see new games if there’s money to be made.

Lucas’ take on the franchise

The Legend of Zelda has always been my favorite gaming series. Ocarina of Time is the title that really brought me into the gaming world and is my personal favorite game of all time, so a Zelda game that follows along the lines of Ocarina of Time would be great. With a few tweaks and changes, though, I feel that the Zelda series could take a turn for the better; after all, Miyamoto has already stated that he wants “big, new ideas” in the next Zelda game. Let’s just hope that doesn’t signify a release of ’Zelda’s Mini-game Fun Fest!’

I’m more of a movie-watching man then a book-reading guy, which does mean that I would love for there to be some voice acting in the next Zelda game, except of course for Link, who would stay the ‘mute’ hero. Voice acting gives characters more life, unlike the lifeless text-reading and slightly creepy moans and squeals coming from the characters of Hyrule. Also, reading text does get tedious at times, though I will admit it is pretty fun to pretend that Navi’s voice actually sounds like a 52-year-old, male pedophile. In addition to the voice acting, the cut scenes could use a little more of a cinematic element, such as the ones in Mass Effect.

 

Twilight Princess. Cinematic?

I think the Zelda series could use a bit of a story tweak. Of course, we have to keep Princess Zelda in there somewhere or it wouldn’t be a Zelda game anymore. But not being set in Hyrule is a possibility, as is excluding Ganondorf from the game, though changing the story is not a huge wish of mine.

What I would really like to see is larger-scale battles. Remember that first Twilight Princess trailer when you see an army of those monsters appearing over the horizon and Link goes out to meet them? Well, I want large-scale battles like that. The two or three goblins you fight at a time is not at all fulfilling, especially when you have 20 hearts in your health meter. Making the monsters harder and greater in quantity could improve on the game’s lack of challenge, especially if you could select different difficulty settings for different skill levels.

The last thing I would like to see in the next Zelda game is a surprise. Yes, surprise from Nintendo. I would like them to change the series in a way that is so awesome and works so well, but still retains the same Zelda feel. Maybe add more of an RPG leveling element or use the Wii-motion plus. I know it’s a big and vague thing to ask, but if somebody could pull it off, it would have to be Miyamoto and his Zelda team.

Eddie’s take on the franchise

When I think of the Zelda franchise, I think of the good old days of The Legend of Zelda, a game that defined a genre and showed gamers a way of playing video games that they’d never seen before. I think of A Link to the Past, when the game exploded into an expansive dual-world adventure with a myriad of weapons, items, and upgrades, many new gameplay features, and more individual dungeon areas than gamers could have hoped for. Finally, I think of Ocarina of Time, a 3D video game experience that, at the time, was unprecedented and nearly unimaginable, but still a faithful rendition of Hyrule, seen in a completely new way.

Since Ocarina of Time, however, Zelda games have been great, but have never achieved that same blow-me-away factor of that "triforce" of masterpieces. Now that we’ve reached into the third dimension of gaming, what can be done besides changing the artistic direction of the series? Wind Waker and Twilight Princess essentially just took the Ocarina formula and tweaked it to make something "new." Don’t get me wrong, I loved the island-hopping exploration of Wind Waker, but it didn’t change the foundation of the series’ game design. Twilight Princess, while incredibly enjoyable, was basically Ocarina of Time for the new millennium.

 

Zelda

To really excite me, I want to see something new. I want to see a story that goes further than the respectable attempt at novelty made by Twilight Princess. The idea of other worlds, realms, or dimensions has always been a part of Zelda lore, so why not place the Hero of Time in a story where he must venture to different worlds to complete his journey? Why not make these worlds all run on unique sets of rules that make the experience within each one completely fresh and memorable? Why not make the gameplay change depending on where Link finds himself, but still maintain that overall "Zelda" feel?

Taking that idea further, why not give the player more choices? Let there be a branching story, let the game change with each play-through, and let the player decide in which direction (s)he wants to guide our hero. Will he go here or there, will he help him or her, and will he do this or that? Then, what are the consequences of those decisions? What opportunities will open up as a result of those choices and what roads will forever be blocked? Let’s give Link some free will.

Finally, let’s not rescue Zelda. Maybe we can make her the protagonist, even, and give Link a rest…

…okay, she can have a supporting role.

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