Nintendo has a always been a leader in the video game industry, but their inability or unwillingness to follow the lead of others has repeatedly hurt them. Nintendo’s online presence is a common example.
What does this have to do with the Legend of Zelda? While many consider the Legend of Zelda series to be a genre of its own, the series still shares many similarities with other video game genres. In the past ten years, there have been many improvements to those similar genres, but Nintendo has appeared to ignore them so far. Instead, the Legend of Zelda blazes its own path and introduces its own innovations. Full-motion control were perfected by Skyward Sword, but in the process the game missed out on the innovations introduced by other video game developers.
Before the next Legend of Zelda game is released, Nintendo needs to stop for a moment and pay attention to what other developers are doing. Being innovative is great, but not all unoriginal ideas are bad ideas.
There are a handful of specific ideas that I would like to see in the next generation Legend of Zelda game. You have likely read some similar arguments in the past, but that doesn’t make them any less valid.
We have the timeline; now give us a story worth remembering!
The Legend of Zelda timeline is no longer a secret, but the story is still lackluster at best. Nintendo developed an unforgettable world with unforgettable characters, but they aren’t involved in many events that I would call unforgettable. “Uninspired” better describes the events in Hyrule.
Instead, the history of Hyrule seems to repeat itself. We’ve traveled through time, visited alternate worlds, and stopped evil from being resurrected over and over again.
The trouble begins with Nintendo not focusing on the story. Hyrule Historia included comments from Eiji Aonuma specifically stating that Nintendo has always made the gameplay their primary focus and added the story later. I am not arguing that gameplay is not important or less important than the story, but in the future I would like to see more focus on the story than is currently given.
Fortunately, Nintendo seems to have taken notice of this growing problem. I was an advocate of releasing the timeline. I argued that releasing the timeline would only make the story better, and I believe it has.
Furthermore, Skyward Sword focuses more on the story than ever before. The story could have been paced better than it is, but overall I felt Nintendo made great progress with the story in Skyward Sword. Only time will tell if they can improve it even further in the future.
Of course, telling a story usually involves speaking.
It’s past time: The Legend of Zelda needs voice acting.
This argument isn’t anything new, and it is regularly a hot topic in the Legend of Zelda community, but I am a firm believer that voice acting would have only a positive impact on the series. The industry is moving forward and voice acting is part of it. Not including voice acting only serves to make the Legend of Zelda appear outdated and makes the story even less interesting.
I’ve recently been playing through Final Fantasy XIII. While it is true that there are many games with less-than-great voice acting, there are just as many games with fantastic voice acting, and Final Fantasy XIII is one of those games. As is typical of newer video games, Final Fantasy XIII has countless cutscenes and all of them are fully voiced. In fact, I have not encountered any character dialog that is written even outside of cutscenes.
For years, the primary argument against voice acting in Legend of Zelda is that Link is the player–not a original character in the video game–and if you give Link a voice then he may not sound the same way the player would have envisioned. Despite not having the same “link” to the player, similar arguments are cited for Zelda and Ganondorf (or sometimes for all characters).
The simple truth is that the characters in recent Legend of Zelda games, including Link, have had their own personalities and voice-types. A good story requires that the characters have some kind of development. While the stories are still nothing amazing, the events of each game would not be half as interesting as they are if the characters had no personality and showed no emotion. The only major trait the characters lack is a real voice (though Midna and Fi are the exceptions).
The idea that players will become detached from characters who speak is ridiculous. I’m not playing through Final Fantasy XIII wishing that Lightning and Sazh didn’t have voices. On the contrary, the voice acting is what makes the characters interesting!
The Legend of Zelda desperately needs voice acting, and when it is finally added I won’t miss the silent characters for a second.
Player conveniences: saving and traveling
I’m very surprised Nintendo, of all companies, has not taken advantage of two major changes that have made video games more convenient. For the past several years, Nintendo has been working to attract new people to video games, so how did they overlook fast traveling and autosaving?
Granted, Nintendo pioneered fast traveling dating back to the original Legend of Zelda. The Legend of Zelda has always included ways to travel around the world a bit faster than normal, but it has always been hidden behind a gameplay mechanic. In some ways, it’s very neat that Nintendo has been able to justify fast traveling in this way, but it’s also unnecessarily limiting.
In the Fable series, players can open a menu and warp to any area that has already been visited. A certain amount of in-game time passes to justify the traveling time. Other video games include similar fast-traveling systems.
There are no items to find, no songs to memorize, and no statues to locate. All you do is open the menu and select your destination.
Another strangely missing feature is autosaving, or at the very least the ability to save wherever you are in the game (and begin from that point). Skyward Sword actually seems to have moved backwards! Skyward Sword is the only Legend of Zelda game with save points. In the past, players have been able to save almost anywhere, but could only begin playing again from specific locations.
Both of these features are becoming more and more common in video games, and both would give players conveniences that only make the games more accessible to both old and new players.
What did I miss?
Truth be told, I do not actually play a ton of different video games, so it’s likely I’ve missed some trends and features that ought to be added to the Legend of Zelda series. Furthermore, I’m sure more than a handful of readers will have something to say about voice acting in the Legend of Zelda. Let us know in the comments!