With Zelda fans around the globe eagerly anticipating a glimpse of the upcoming Wii U Zelda title, series producer/director Eiji Aonuma’s recent comments regarding the next instalment set to undergo some major changes and be less traditional than previous entries have got many of us wondering what we can expect to see in the upcoming release. In a video game series that has undergone many more changes in it’s twenty seven year history than it is often credited for, this article will look at what alterations have been made previously and how we can expect what lies in the franchise’s future to link to its past.
Until only recently, fans were left to ponder where each respective game lay in the Zelda chronology, and just how they were actually connected to one another. Now, following the release of the official timeline in the Hyrule Historia book, one can see when and where each event occurred throughout Zelda’s lengthy and eventful history. Readers were amazed to discover that not only did events take place hundreds of years apart, some were alternate scenarios, dependant on whether Link faltered or was victorious in his quests.
The timeline does show us just how varied the series actually is in terms of its setting. The Zelda series isn’t simply grounded in Hyrule. Link has traveled to far and distant lands such as Termina, Koholint Island, Holodrum and Labrynna to name just a few. In the Wind Waker, Link even took to the oceans following the flooding of Hyrule. Zelda’s latest, or rather earliest, instalment, Skyward Sword also placed the game’s setting in one of the more radically different locations, Skyloft, the land floating high in the clouds above Hyrule.
Regarding the eras of the series, as previously mentioned, the games are often set centuries apart from one another. However, reflecting upon the technology, fashions, architecture etc. we often see in the games, the setting always seems to be a historical one. There are, however, a number of fans eager to see a Legend of Zelda title occur later. Much later in fact. The most up to date we’ve seen any Hyrule world would have to be in Spirit Tracks, where Steam Engines chugged their way across the fields of Hyrule. But is the futuristic take on the series that some hope to see just a pipe dream? There seems to be no obvious issue with having one of the titles occur in a more modern era. After all, the hero of time is reborn over and over again, and faces perils that reemerge regardless of the time or location. But would making such a drastic change really keep Zelda Wii U a Zelda game, or would Nintendo be wiser to create a new IP entirely?
Likeliness: The timeline doesn’t reveal much about where or when we can expect Zelda Wii U to take place. We can assume that the game will be set after Skyward Sword, which is about as early as Link can get in the timeline without treading on the toes of the Golden Goddesses as they create the land on which he stands. The next Zelda game will of course occur on a unique point of the overall timeline, but the futuristic setting some pockets of fans have been hoping for still seems very unlikely. Expect Zelda Wii U to be set in a more familiar era (expect Link to wield a regular sword as opposed to a laser sword and don’t expect ancient castle fortresses and dungeons to be replaced by looming state of the art towers). In terms of location, it is very likely we’ll see a new land, or an unexplored corner of the world, just don’t envisage the next instalment taking place in a futuristic metropolis.
Change in Art Style?
Visual uniqueness from its predecessors isn’t exactly new to the Zelda series, which has consistently undergone aesthetic changes in its history due to both technological advancements, and in order to stay fresh. A Link to the Past on the SNES saw Hyrule suddenly saturated in colour thanks to the 16 bit system’s 32,000 colour palette. Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64 gave gamers the experience of playing with fully rendered 3D models. Most notably, and controversially at the time, was Link’s transition to his Cel Shaded, cat eyed “Toon” appearance, which has since grown upon fans and is now one of his most iconic and beloved appearances. More recently, we saw Twilight Princess use the Gamecube’s tech to undergo a dark melanoid revamp, and Skyward Sword on the Wii U would have impressed the likes of Renoir with its water-colour appearance.
The closest we’ve gotten to seeing Zelda Wii U’s potential visuals came during the E3 2011 presentation, where a short but breathtaking clip of what fans could expect from a HD Wii U Zelda was shown. The realism of the video left audiences in a frenzy of excitement. However, the short has since been confirmed to only be a tech demo, and not footage from any upcoming instalment. Gamers dreaming of seeing that lifelike rendition of Hyrule becoming a reality for the next release are bound to be disappointed, as Aonuma recently reiterated that:
“We wouldn’t want it to be ultra-realistic because you can see that elsewhere”.
And the sentiment has been echoed by the development team of Wind Waker HD in a recent interview. Programmer Takuhiro Dohta explained;
“I think Aonuma-san has said this before, about how it’s ‘reality over realism.’ With The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, I think we were able to express a good feeling that doesn’t come across by simply portraying a photorealistic sea or sky.”
Diversity in art style is just one of the key features that helps Zelda to evolve as a series. Overall, expect a new visual look to the game, especially with the Wii U’s HD capabilities. A change in art style is all but a given, and has practically been confirmed by Aonuma;
“The thing about Zelda is we want everything to be unique, whether it’s the graphical presentation or the gameplay…It will be something new.”
However, those holding onto faith of that Skyrim-esque Zelda title they’ve been dreaming of are sure to have their hopes dashed come reveal day for the title. Nintendo knows that it can use high definition to present its more cartoony art styles successfully and has already demonstrated this with the likes of Mario, and of course, The Wind Waker HD. The development team will try and carry that notion into the upcoming Zelda title. They will want to set the game apart from the countless realistically styled titles on the market, and give the game a timeless quality. How they achieve such a feat is still yet to be seen.
Don’t gasp in horror, Link isn’t packing up his green tunic and hanging the Master Sword above his mantle, but since the segments in Spirit Tracks on the Nintendo DS when gamers got the chance to briefly play as Princess Zelda, the possibility of playing as a secondary character in the series has been a topic hotter than the fires of Death Mountain itself. After all, surely Princess Zelda deserves a larger role in the series of games bearing her name. Could we possibly see the Princess coming to the aid of Link? Or perhaps gamers could get the opportunity to control an entirely separate character. We’ve traversed the overworld by horse, boat and train, how about floating around Hyrule on a balloon as Tingle?… Ok, perhaps ignore that suggestion. Joking aside, gamers did get the chance to control Tingle on the Nintendo DS in the spin-off Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland, but it was just that, a spin off.
There have been a few short instances in the history of the franchise when players have taken control of a character besides Link. However, the closest gamers have gotten to substantially controlling characters from the franchise other than Link would be in the Smash Bros. series, which have repeatedly shown us just how much ass-kicking Zelda or Shiek could be capable of. That and a certain Phillips CD-i game that I wish I hadn’t thought about. You’re thinking of it now? I’m truly sorry for bringing it up.
Changing the character we play as has been previously touched upon in the likes of Twilight Princess, following the segments of Link’s transition into his wolf-state. By going back even further, the likes of Majora’s Mask or a Link to the Past gave gamers segments to control various incarnations of Link, but we’re yet to see an entire section devoted to a character besides Link. Could Zelda Wii U finally give its players the chance to walk in someone else’s boots?
Likeliness: Playing as a different character in Zelda Wii U seems extremely plausible, although in what capacity that could be is still yet to be seen. Aonuma has hinted at the prospect of playing as characters besides Link already, however, whether this would be an integral part of the story mode, or just a multiplayer feature is still up in the air. The latter seems more likely, so don’t be expecting to play through a Zelda game entirely as Zelda just yet. Aonuma has also vocalised his dislike of the multiple versions of Link featured in the Four Swords games, having said;
“Actually, multi-play has been a high hurdle for me, something that’s plagued me for a long time. We did come out with Four Swords but I don’t think that offered a whole lot of surprises for the user. I still believe there’s one Link; the one-Link philosophy works for Zelda.”
So if Multiplayer elements are included in Zelda Wii U, it seems gamers will get the chance to play as characters besides Link. But that’s a big if. Perhaps that Tingle side quest doesn’t sound so farfetched after all.
Change in the Narrative?
Like the Super Mario Series, the Legend of Zelda has somewhat of an ongoing story pattern. One that reoccurs time and time again. Sure, we may be seeing a different Link and Zelda each time, but Link’s numerous efforts to save the Princess are only outdone by Mario’s own valiant attempts to rescue his beloved Princess Peach. The Legend of Zelda, however, features a far more complex narrative than can be found from the portly plumber’s series of games. The Legend of Zelda games feature a rich history, branching numerous tales over multiple time lines, but at the end of the day, there’s always Link, and always Zelda. Well, almost always.
The series certainly hasn’t shied from changing the usual story in the past and has often veered away from it’s underlying ‘hero saves damsel’ plot altogether. In fact, it is usually one of the most unique aspects to each title. Take Link’s Awakening for example, where Link washed ashore on a strange and unfamiliar island, was tasked with awakening the island’s legendary Wind Fish from its slumber and escaping the mysterious island altogether. With no Princess Zelda to be rescued or Ganon to be defeated the game certainly didn’t carry the usual story elements of a Zelda game, but still felt fully faithful to the franchise and is one of the freshest and most unique games in the series. Similarly, the next handheld games in the series, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons also followed suit and went for a less traditional approach to the game’s story.
Another example of one of the most obscure yet beloved entries into the series is Majora’s Mask, which takes place in the parallel land of Termina. Fans of the game cite the darker tone as one of their favourite aspects of the game. Bearing such radically different story-lines in mind, could Zelda Wii U make just as drastic a departure from the usual tried and tested Zelda tale to bring Link and the audience into an adventure we haven’t seen the likes of before?
Likeliness: Could we see Link travel to a far off land, carrying out a quest that doesn’t involve saving the princess. It’s happened before, so why not again? When thinking of the Legend of Zelda, one thinks of Princess Zelda in danger, the land in peril, and evil forces rampant across the land. So would flipping that tradition on its head give fans the unique Zelda game we’ve been waiting for? Aonuma certainly seems to have no qualms with shocking the audience with a departure from the usual series of events;
Something that wouldn’t make it matter whether Link or Princess Zelda appear in it or not. Something where it wouldn’t even matter if Zelda is actually a princess, or not.
But would Aonuma really back such a profound deviation? Perhaps, but saving the Princess, donning the legendary green outfit and saving the land is what sets Zelda apart from Metroid, or Mario or any other video game series. A change in the storyline would have to be a re-imagining as opposed to a re-creation. Nintendo have done this remarkably well in the past with the likes of The Wind Waker. Zelda’s usual land based epic was transformed into a pirate adventure on the open seas. The usual story was not thrown out or replaced, but reworked into a unique world that blended perfectly with the art style. The development team would be wise to do the same with Zelda Wii U’s story. Taking what we know and love from the series and applying a new and unique twist on it seems like the best and most realistic outcome.
Change in Gameplay?
Gameplay throughout the Zelda series has remained very consistent over the twenty seven year history. Generally, Link explores one dungeon, acquires an item which plays a key role in defeating said dungeon, and will progress on to the next, finding a stone, shard, instrument or other trinket that will fuse together at the story’s end in order to complete the game. This perhaps is oversimplifying the process, and one cannot argue with a structure that has kept the franchise immensely popular for over a quarter of a century. However, recently there has been a growing demand from fans to change things up and bring some originality to the series and Aonuma couldn’t agree more;
“It’s not that anyone is telling me we have to change the formula. I want to change it. I’m kind of getting tired of it.”
But what could that spell out for the next installment? Could we expect an open world adventure, not merely limited to one linear route throughout the game?
It would be ignorant to claim gameplay hasn’t changed at all over the years. Fans became used to overhead dungeon crawlers until Ocarina of Time wowed us all with the ability to explore the world from a completely new perspective. The handheld DS games gave us touch screen input as a way of controlling Link, and the Wii’s motion controls allowed us to somewhat immerse ourselves into feeling like we had become the hero of time ourselves, slashing at Moblins with our imaginary Master Sword in hand. With the Wii U Gamepad being the unique feature on the current system, anyone looking forward to Zelda Wii U will certainly expect to control the gameplay using the tablet like controller in some capacity. Shigeru Miyamoto even stated last year that the game controls would be “evolved” following rather lukewarm feedback from Skyward Swords motion controls.
“With the last game, Skyward Sword, that was a game where you had motion control to use your weapons and a lot of different items…but there were some people who weren’t able to do that or didn’t like it as much and stopped playing partway through it.”
Likeliness: With the Wii U gamepad being a unique feature for the system, and the Wii U still having to cement its place in the next-gen console war, expect Zelda Wii U to offer another inventive and never before seen method of gameplay.
My guess is as good as yours as to how Nintendo will use the Wii U’s new abilities, but implementation of it’s Wii U pad in a way that dictates how Zelda is played is certain. The development team were limited to how they could fully make use of the Wii U Gamepad in Wind Waker due to it being a remake, however, Aonuma reiterates that will not be the case with Zelda Wii U;
“for the new title we’ll have various ways of using [the device].”
More importantly, it seems that not only the way the game is played, but the structure itself will receive somewhat of an overhaul in Zelda Wii U too after Aonuma has gone on record stating his fatigue with the current formula. A more open-world, less linear Zelda seems extremely likely, and why not? The Legend of Zelda on the NES showed us just how well a Zelda game can work without being kept on the rails. Perhaps Zelda Wii U is the right time to revisit the franchise’s 8-bit roots. Well, it looks promising. Nintendo have just announced that the upcoming a Link Between Worlds for the 3DS not only allows players to rent and buy items for Link’s inventory as they see fit, but gives them the freedom to tackle dungeons in whichever order they choose. Surely the shift to a less linear style of gameplay suggests we can expect the same from any upcoming Zelda titles? Aonuma believes that this is the case;
“If we don’t change that, we can’t make something new. We’re slightly approaching The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds with that mindset, and also the next Zelda title, which we intend to continue changing.”
In summary, it’s tough to say exactly what we can expect from Zelda Wii U come release day. The next few months following the releases of Wind Waker HD and a Link Between Worlds will be extremely intriguing as Nintendo gradually peels away the shroud that is covering the details of Zelda Wii U. The team behind Zelda have already stated that Wind Waker HD has been a testing ground and an influence for Zelda Wii U, and with a Link Between Worlds making changes to its gameplay style, we can surely expect new traits of both games to appear in the upcoming title, especially with all three being developed almost simultaneously. Where the development team’s major challenge lies is in making the next installment one that seems fresh and innovative, all whilst keeping true to the beloved Zelda formula. Aonuma certainly isn’t afraid of breaking the traditions related to the series though;
“Why does it have to be traditional?’ That’s the question I’ve been asking myself… Rather, the more we change it, the more I get fired up. Having someone think ‘Huh? Is this Zelda?!’ at first, then ‘Oh, it is Zelda,’ is what we’re going for.”
Getting the perfect balance for future titles is a delicate and tricky situation. Altering the core framework of the series too much could alienate the faithful fan base, whereas making no drastic changes at all could see the Zelda series becoming stale and losing its appeal altogether. Aonuma is very aware of this, but he summed up the situation perfectly with his stark conclusion; “if we don’t change, we might die”. Let’s just hope such a bleak outcome for the series never comes to pass.