February 21, 2012 concluded the eventful, nostalgic twenty-fifth anniversary of The Legend of Zelda. Numerous Zelda titles were (re)released, which included Skyward Sword, Ocarina of Time 3D, a 3DS port of Link’s Awakening, a special anniversary edition of Four Swords for both the DSi and 3DS, and a visually stunning Wii U Zelda mockup.
Nevertheless, the release of a twenty-fifth anniversary edition 3DS; limited edition Club Nintendo posters; Hyrule Historia, which spilled the beans on the infamous Zelda timeline; and the symphonic opening at E3 followed up with a world tour set a new level of Zelda content ever seen in one year.
It truly was one of, if not, the best year to be a fan of a video game series we all grew up with and cherish. Now as 2012 is upon us and we approach closer to E3, I have a feeling of angst that Nintendo may not rebound greatly after such a wonderful Zelda experience; however, they have yet to disappoint and always have a surprise in store for us. With that being said, let’s dwell on the past shorty as we examine the future of the Zelda series.
As Zelda fans we all share one experience in common, that is, the moment we fell in love with Zelda—whether we watched others play it as a child, heard our friends talk about it, or just recently discovered the series. My journey started long after others’ had already begun. Reaching the age of five, my brother purchased the port of A Link to The Past for Gameboy Advance. Unaware at the time of just how popular Zelda would become, I rarely played A Link to the Past. Eventually I created my own save file, instantaneously developed a deep passion for the game, and started a journey that is still ongoing today.
Today’s battle of competing for the “best graphics” was low, if not completely nonexistent; all the other elements of Zelda—open world exploration, puzzling challenges, a developing story line, and a vast impression of adventure—appealed to me with a sense that I had not played anything like A Link to the Past ever before (I spent most of my time with Pokemon and Mario). Nevertheless, it left an impact on me. It was so simple at the time but now in hindsight it was something that will stay with me forever. Every Zelda fan has the memory of their first experience; I think it’s time for that feeling to be felt once again.
Miyamoto even stated recently that he is keen on the idea of creating a game similar to or continuing from A Link to the Past; not just another port of a Zelda classic but rather a game using some of the same concepts used in A Link to the Past integrated with the vast amounts of new hardware available. A title that may very well invoke those same feelings we felt as Zelda fans many years ago. A game of this nature would not only have to please current Zelda enthusiasts but also be able to draw in new members to the Zelda franchise—a very difficult angle in today’s competitive business.
Having been on the market for just over a year now, we’ve yet to see a brand new Zelda title for the 3DS. Sure the remake of Ocarina of Time was nice, but it was just filler to boost the flat list of launch titles. Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks were released with a two year period in between. If we follow the same “pattern” that means we are past due for the next original handheld Zelda title (Spirit Tracks was released in December of 2009). This leads me to say this: we will see the very first details of the next handheld Zelda title at E3 this year. And with that being said, it will be like nothing we have seen before; that is, not following the same overhead, polygonal and conceptual world or game play style of its handheld predecessors—Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass.
From this point on I will tread cautiously with what I say.
Skyward Sword was a transition game game for Nintendo; it was a daring Zelda formula curve ball that was thrown knowing that there would be some consumers who saw the game as not true to Zelda roots. Limited over world exploration, dungeon type field areas, a lack of challenging puzzles and side quests, and a nearly perfectly linear quest—all aspects that made the game feel less Zelda like for some fans. However, I feel these changes aren’t only apparent in Skyward Sword, but also can be seen in Zelda’s latest handheld title as well.
Spirit Tracks and Skyward Sword, the newest original handheld and console titles, convey some of the same aspects. Both, more apparent in Spirit Tracks, have an over world that is limited in how freely the player can explore. Spirit Tracks has even gone as far as containing set paths of railroads that a player can commute to and from different “islands”. Skyward Sword still had an open world interface but lacked the feel of a sprawling landscape by dividing the world into four different sections, Skyloft , Lanayru, Faron, and Eldin provinces, that still lacked exploration content but rather had dungeon type puzzle solving content. To me, this felt more like a tedious chore rather than exploration—a reason I first fell in love with Zelda.
A Link to the Past contained a plethora of items and weapons, another aspect that drew me in many years ago. Recently Link’s inventory has been diminished to almost a bare minimum and lacks any innovation on Nintendo’s part. The same items reappear time and time again in recent titles; while the newly created items we see lack any real use. The whip, which was present in both Skyward Sword and Spirit Tracks, fell short of its potential. The Wii Motion Plus controls did improve on its Spirit Tracks form, but few opportunities were present in the field areas for me to really enjoy utilizing the whip. The spinner from Twilight Princess has the same story. While exploring the Arbiter’s Ground I had a wonderful time zipping from track to track with the spinner; it was the closet thing to parkour I would ever see in a Zelda game. My excitement soon fizzled as I re-entered the vast overworld and used the spinner a total of two more times.
No one likes to be told what to do,whether it be at work, school, or in a video game. I can remember getting stumped a few dozen times in my play through of A Link to the Past. As a five year old child I had no other solution but to ask my brother for help; today the help I seek has transferred from my brother to the internet. Skyward Sword’s hint system made me cringe. One custom I have when playing a video game is completing my first play through without any guide of any nature, such as an internet or published guide book. Luckily with Skyward Sword I encountered no problems with this due to Fi and her constantly urging me on to my next objective. Nintendo even covered for me if I happened to forget Fi’s words by implementing a Sheikah Stone that will give me every solution to every side quest and puzzle (however, I will admit I did use it once). I believe all of these hints and reminders were overkill and needed not be present for me to enjoy my Zelda experience, but rather watered down my journey to the level of self accomplishment of solving a one word crossword puzzle. Yet another reason I was lured in to A Link to the Past—it provided me with great pride as a five-year-old to strike down Ganon after struggling to complete difficult dungeons and puzzles.
These complaints are common throughout the Zelda community, but I’m not one to dwell on the negative. Skyward Sword may have done some things “wrong”, but it also had many aspects that were “right”. Motion controls changed how we play Zelda games and gave us a whole new window into the game. As one who enjoys the arts, the graphical style, to me, was a nice combination of The Wind Waker’s cel-shading and Twilight Princess’s realism. Throw in the stunning orchestrated soundtrack, Link and Zelda’s relationship, a more defined personality for Link, and different types of enemies and the game feels like a whole new breed of Zelda. A breed that can be easily enjoyed all over again. Its true—Zelda is changing, whether you are a fan of its evolution or not. Spirit Tracks and Skyward Sword, both excellent titles, were the transition games to where it’s headed next; but where exactly is the road going to take us? It will lead to what I will refer to as Code Name: Z.E.L.D.A., or simply the next console Zelda title.
Take the rest of this article with a grain of salt or sand of hours, whichever you prefer.
Wii U’s Zelda title will not be released on launch day. After a year packed to the brim of Zelda content, it is too early to see another large scale console game by November 18, the rumored America launch date; however, there is no doubt in my mind that Nintendo isn’t already busy with the development of Z.E.L.D.A. Last year Nintendo had to climb a hill in order to get back into competition with other companies, but this year they will accelerate down that hill, which will cause them to increase in speed and come out on top.
Perhaps a slight tease of Z.E.L.D.A. will be revealed at E3 in June or rather only just the details on the next handheld Zelda. For now we can only make educated speculations to what we will see in the next console game. Few details are even known about the Wii U so far; when June rolls around we will have definite answers concerning Nintendo’s next console. As for Z.E.L.D.A., there are an infinite amount of questions surrounding the title—the graphics style, Wii U implemented controls, story line, placement on the timeline, the return of a familiar villain, and how it will create that feeling of falling in love with Zelda all over again.
I’m hesitant to make my own predictions, as I could go on four hours and will most likely be proven wrong later on. I don’t have all of the answers and neither does the next Zelda fan; we could speculate, hypothesize, and debate until we drove ourselves mad. Though, I do have some definite feelings: Z.E.L.D.A. will totally revolutionize how we think of Zelda and video games in general (similar to Ocarina of Time), it will have that definite Zelda feeling, and its release date is far in the future, but perhaps Nintendo will throw another curve ball and give details at E3. One way or the other, Z.E.L.D.A. will finalize Zelda’s transition, whether it be to a new style or a return to its roots. Enjoy E3 this year but don’t be disappointed if news of Z.E.L.D.A. is not present. After all, good things come to those who wait; let us Zelda fans speed down this hill together as we cruise into a stunning new land of Hyrule.