Zelda, as a franchise, has one of the richest collections of races and cultures to be seen in the industry… if you go by the numbers, at least. Hylian, Shiekah, Gerudo, Goron, Zora, Rito, the list goes on and on. You’re all Zelda fans, and I hardly need to tell you this. Fans love these different groups, even ones that are physically similar, such as the Shiekah and the Hylians. I know someone who is obsessed with Gorons, for instance. His screen name is based off of that race, his favorite themes, items, and characters are related to that race, and he’s even talked of getting a Goron tattoo. There are similar fanatics for each tribe, whether you’re talking Subrosians, or Shiekah, or Deku. I’ve even seen people with lots of interest in the Zuna, a tribe that nobody knows anything about.

As they say, variety is the spice of life, and that applies here. So many distinct groups are excellent fodder for a variety of things. Fan fiction writers take advantage of it all the time, especially the shadowy Shiekah or the fierce Gerudo. Fan artists love these things as well, since it gives them a large variety of potential themes and colors at the tips of their fingers… and even more opportunities to put their own spin on things. Role players benefit greatly from this as well. Ask anyone who plays video games or dungeons and dragons, and they’ll tell you that a variety of options for your characters is one of the most important aspects of Rping. As a writer, roleplayer and wannabe artist myself, I can understand this perfectly.

And we, the rest of the fans, have our own interest in the races, and provide a more than willing audience for these writers and artists. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that ever since Ocarina of Time, a variety of tribes has become a mainstay of the series, and a very important aspect of its appeal. It was not always this way, of course. The first four games made due with just Hylians and Hyrulians. Ah, I always love realizing another way in which the series has grown and expanded over the years. That list is growing pretty long.

But recently I have seen that these races could use so much more, and could be expanded upon in so many ways. Nintendo has given most of them some bare basics for a culture, but never expanded. It has never bothered me much before, but recent experiences have made this potential area of growth more apparent to me.

I have been playing Jade Empire, one of Bioware’s masterpieces, for a few weeks now. I love that game, and mostly for one reason: The developers went all out in developing the culture of the Empire. History, background information, different groups, philosophies, clothing, and aesthetics – they left no area untouched. Even after all that, I have heard that the actual game only featured about 40% of the material they had created for it, and that they had pages and pages of writing and art that hasn’t been made public. And I love it.

I was on a cruise through the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico this past week, and I stopped at some Mayan ruins. I’ve always loved South American cultures – specifically, the Aztecs, Mayans, and Inca. Perhaps that is why I’ve always loved the Rito so much. The Rito have a very obvious South American influence, especially from the Inca. It’s mostly aesthetics and character design, of course – their clothes and coloring, in other words. Even the music of Dragon Roost, with those airy flutes, reminds me of an old CD I have called Inca Sun.

The Mayan ruins themselves were sweltering and hot as hell, so I didn’t have much time to think, but once I got back on the cruise liner, my rusty mind started rolling. One thought led to another, and eventually visions of an Inca-style Rito culture with the depth of the Jade Empire were floating around. It was a most… delicious idea. The Rito have the bare beginnings of a little in-game culture, but nothing to compare to the potential there.

Imagine walking into a back room of a Rito home, walking up to a bookshelf, and pulling out some book on Rito history or information. No more then a page or so, but little touches like that could add so much more depth to an already cool race. Or imagine finding some Rito art – painting, or carving, or totem poles, or whatever – in some great hall. Or imagine witnessing some cool coming of age ceremony for Komali in tWW, after getting the scale, rather then just giving him the scale and sailing off.

Rito instruments, or homes, or food, or architecture, all the little details of design and writing. Things which could be part of the background and scenery, completely unnecessary and voluntary things could add so much more with little to no drawbacks. It could add whole new dimensions to our already fantastic collection of Zelda races.

Of course, a Bioware style culture fest like Jade Empire, as much as I love it, wouldn’t quite fit into the Zelda series. It’d need to be toned down a bit, made to fit the Zelda franchise without influencing the essence of the series. But it could be done, and easily so.

Here’s to hoping that we’ll see some more of this sort of thing in the upcoming Gamecube Zelda – and I wouldn’t be surprised. We already know about some traditions in Tauro village, and the game hasn’t even been released yet.

I can’t wait.

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