There has been quite a bit of buzz regarding Nintendo’s next Legend of Zelda game, coming to the WiiU in 2015, since this year’s E3 trailer gave us a first look at the title.
After the trailer debuted, Eiji Aonuma made it a point to refer to the size and scope of the game, referring to it as an open world game, in which you could “gallop over to the mountains in the distance if you so desired.” That’s a quite a bit of promise, and something never before seen in a Legend of Zelda title. Oh, make no mistake, there have been very sizable adventures, but natural boundaries have always prevented something such as that which Aonuma was speaking of.
Earlier this month, however, Shigeru Myamoto seemed to contradict those remarks a bit, stating that he would “prefer not to use the generally used term “open world” when developing software, but [they] used this term [at E3] in order to make it easier for consumers to understand. This term means that there is a large world in which players can do numerous things daily.” It’s not a true contradiction, but it does make you wonder exactly what we’ll get with the next title in what is easily Nintendo’s biggest announced 2015 title for the WiiU.
While virtually all entries in the Zelda franchise have been widely praised and sold well (no, we don’t count the CDi “games”), it’s also true that by and large, there has been a formula that each entry follows. It’s similar in many ways to the Metroid mechanic. You begin the game virtually powerless, amass stronger items via exploration, thereby unlocking more areas to explore. With Zelda, this is done via dungeon exploration. In some way, your actions in one dungeon will then allow you to advance to the next dungeon, so on and so forth. Now, understand that I’m breaking this down to the very bare bones of a formula. The layers that are painted over that bare formula offer many unique aspects that differentiate each title. I just want to point out that, for the most part, there is still a formula to how these titles work.
Or, at least that was the case until this past year when Nintendo released A Link Between Worlds, the sequel to the masterful Link to the Past. For the first time that I can recall, Nintendo turned expectations on their head. Yes, there were still dungeons to explore along with items to collect and an overworld with numerous secrets. This time, however, it was almost like Nintendo took a page from the Mega Man template and allowed you to tackle the dungeons in any order you wished. The items needed could be rented for a price (and eventually purchased outright), instead of having to be found in dungeons. While there were a few negatives to this, such as the game seeming a bit easier than usual, which I attribute to the designers not knowing how much health and such you would have from one dungeon to the next, overall the game felt very much like a breath of fresh air to me (you can read all about my thoughts on it here).
The question now is, was that game a one and done, or was it an indication of where Nintendo may take the series on the WiiU. I’m firmly convinced that it is the latter, and I believe that statements made in the stories above back that up. I give Nintendo credit here, they’re aware that, despite the Legend of Zelda’s popularity, there is a growing sentiment that it is becoming a new layer of paint in a room we’ve all seen before, hence the changes seen in A Link Between Worlds.
Revisiting the quote from Miyamoto above, it seems that the idea may be to combine Zelda with some elements of a game like Animal Crossing. They seem to be hinting of a game where life carries on whether or not you are in the game, much in the way that Skyrim operates. There is a main narrative and plot that you will need to take certain actions to advance, but at some points, you can step away from that and take on side-quests from NPC’s or just explore the land for a while. I also wonder if they’ll revisit the “Choose Your Own Adventure” style of exploration they used in A Link Between Worlds. While they may very well go that route, there is another dynamic I, personally, would rather see in the next entry.
Two of my favorite moments from the more recent Zelda titles both occurred in Twilight Princess. Both were dungeons, Arbiter’s Grounds and Snowpeak Ruins. I’m assuming that many people just took these as regular dungeons, interesting, fun and such, but still just dungeons. What impressed me the most though, is that in both cases, I didn’t even realize I was completing a dungeon until I was already about 50% each of them. The game pointed me in the right direction, but I never realized that I was actually in a dungeon, hunting for items and getting closer to a boss. It was a very organic experience, and when I realized that, it gave me a bit of joy at having been fooled by the seamless nature of those dungeons. It’s that dynamic that I’m curious about in the next title. While I did love what A Link Between Worlds did with the dungeons, I prefer what Twilight Princess managed to accomplish and would like to see that further implemented in some way in the WiiU entry. What better way to shake up the formula than to fool the player into entering a dungeon without ever realizing they’re in the dungeon.
Following the quote above, Miyamoto further stated: “In the traditional “The Legend of Zelda” series, the player would play one dungeon at a time. For example, if there are eight dungeons, at the fourth dungeon, some players may think, “I’m already halfway through the game,” while other players may think, “I still have half of the game to play.” We are trying to gradually break down such mechanism and develop a game style in which you can enjoy “The Legend of Zelda” freely in a vast world, whenever you find the time to do so.” That’s sort of what I’m speaking of above. Traditionally in this game, and most others, the world only exists when you’re present in it. What I suspect Nintendo is going for with this entry is to create a world that exists whether or not you’re present to see it exist. Hence my Skyrim and Animal Crossing comparisons. It sounds like an MMORPG, only without the MMO portion of it (as far as we know, anyway…). I suppose I could even add in a Fable comparison here. At least Nintendo is taking ideas from some great games, assuming this is what they’re attempting to create.
All of this said, I do still expect this to be a Legend of Zelda title. You will have a horse (as seen in the trailer), you will have a bow and arrow, you will fight enemies with a sword, and, at some point, you will be overjoyed to lay a bomb and blow a wall up. These are the elements of Zelda that we know and love. I don’t think anyone wants Nintendo to blow the franchise up, I just think that fans of the series would like to see a few more changes than what we’ve been given in recent entries. That doesn’t mean that those of are that are fans didn’t enjoy those games, it’s just that we want Nintendo to step outside of the box and surprise us again. Make us feel the way we did the first time we warped to the Dark World in A Link to the Past, or emerged from the Temple of Time as an adult in a ruined world in Ocarina of Time. Again, to their credit, I think Nintendo is listening to the fans. Nintendo has realized that their premier franchise has grown a bit dusty over time, and they’re in the process of blowing that dust off and putting on a new coat of paint. I’m excited to see what colors they pick out.
Brandon Nicholson is a blogger for TMRzoo.com and the founder of Just Another Video Game Blog and covers all gaming consoles and platforms including Sony Playstation 3 and PS4, Microsoft XBOX One and XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and computer games designed for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Brandon provides his readers with reviews, previews, release dates and up to date gaming industry news, trailers and rumors.