Editorial: Fixing The Legend of Zelda

It might not be broken, but this classic franchise is overdue for an update...

Erik Norrisby Erik Norris

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Over the course of the extended Thanksgiving weekend I played a lot of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword… 17 hours to be exact. Yet, I still can’t decide if I actually like the game or not. For everything I do love (1-to-1 MotionPlus swordplay), there’s something else I loathe (all other motion control, for example). It’s putting it mildly to say that Skyward Sword and I have a very abusive, love/hate relationship.

This latest entry in the Zelda franchise has also proven to me without a shadow of a doubt that this series is in dire need of an updating. There are certain aspects of the game that, while true to the classic formula and structure of previous Zelda titles, now feel archaic when stacked next to other contemporary titles currently hitting the market. It’s of my personal opinion that if Nintendo were to iron out the issues I cover below for future installments, The Legend of Zelda franchise would be in a much better position moving forward, able to stand toe to toe with other juggernaut franchises while managing to avoid feeling like a relic of a bygone era coasting by on fumes of nostalgia alone.  

But before we press forward, I want to mention that this opinion piece is by no means meant to undermine my collaborator Joey Davidson’s review of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. His write-up still stands as CraveOnline’s official verdict on the title. This opinion article merely represents my personal musings on the Zelda franchise as a whole.

Start off with a bang…

zelda_start_with_a_bangThe Legend of Zelda games have never featured introductions that take off like a rocket into space; they typically crawl by the beat of their own drum. And in my older, wiser age, that just doesn’t cut it anymore… tradition be damned! It’s about time The Legend of Zelda made a great first impression.

I believe it would be wise for Nintendo to kick off the next Zelda game with an intro that immediately shows off the true scope of their latest adventure (maybe a flashforward to one of the game’s climactic showdowns before zipping back to tell the story of how we got to that point, perhaps?). What I don’t want is another introduction that has me performing a bunch of menial tasks like snagging kittens off rooftops and knocking bugs out of trees for my fellow villagers for two hours. Talk about yawn inducing.

Speak, damn you. Speak!

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Zelda purists, it’s time to accept a harsh truth: characters speaking in nonsensical blips and bloops doesn’t effectively convey the epic nature of The Legend of Zelda’s story anymore. It’s high time Nintendo gave the inhabitants of Hyrule some voices to speak with.

It’s a scary proposition, I know. Tradition dictates that these characters don’t speak, and Nintendo would never be able to please every type of Zelda fan who has their own distinct impression in their head of what these characters sound like. But it’s time to take the risk and dive into the deep end for the sake of this franchise’s future.

And for the record, I’m perfectly fine with Link remaining the strong, silent type. It works for Half-Life’s Gordon Freeman, and it would continue to work for Zelda’s hero just so long as everyone else in the universe opens their damn mouth and speaks something other than gibberish.

I ain’t your errand boy…

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For being the Hero of Time, Link gets duped into a lot of obnoxious fetch quests that get in the way of him actually saving the world. Now, I understand the moral compass of the character dictates that Link helps everyone, whether it’s something as small as a finding a lost child for your neighbor or something as grand as rescuing the Princess. But fetch quests equate to nothing more than padding that gets in the way of the actual adventure.

This couldn’t be any more obvious than in Skyward Sword.

After Skyward Sword’s first three temples, the second half of the game becomes nothing but an inception-like pyramid scheme of fetch quests to tack hours onto the experience. Skyward Sword might be a 30+ hour game, but a large portion of that time is spent running back and forth collecting crap for other people so they’ll scratch your back with a useful items. It’s a dull process that makes the Triforce shard search at the end of Wind Waker feel like just a minor detour.

For future Zelda installments it would be nice if Nintendo could find a way to better mask the multitude of fetch quests you’re required to do in order to see your quest through to completion. Or, just cut most of them out entirely. It might shorten the experience considerably, but the campaign will feel like a tighter, more-focused adventure because of it. Personally, I’d rather play a 15-hour Zelda game with no filler than a 30+ hour game overcrowded with lame fetch quests that reek of padding.

Switch up the formula…

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To Skyward Sword’s credit, the game does try its best to mix up the tried-and-true progression formula that the Zelda franchise has been tied to since its first game in 1986. Instead of the over-world and its temples being two completely separate entities, with the former feeling like filler compared to the latter, Skyward Sword melds everything together a bit more seamlessly, making it harder to distinguish where the game’s over-world ends and its temples begin, thus giving both their own unique sense of importance.

However, this new structure to world design represents baby steps for a franchise that needs a more significant overhaul to how its games are laid out. As things stand, the process has become overly formulaic and predictable to a fault. For example, before even loading up a new Zelda game, diehard fans already known they’re going to visit forest, volcano and desert temples in the game. In addition, the process of finding new equipment and gadgets to help you through a temple is just as predictable. If you find a Hookshot in a treasure chest, odds are you’re going to need to call on it for help a lot to overcome the specific obstacles found in the current temple you reside in.  

Nintendo needs to throw a curveball at its fans, playing off the expectations we’ve grown accustomed to over the last 25 years of Zelda titles.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyrule…

zelda_skyruleImagine, if you can, a Legend of Zelda game with an open world as lively and bustling as the one found in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Try to control your nerdgasm.

The Legend of Zelda series has always offered an open world to explore, but rarely does the world feel substantial and offer anything other than terrain to travel across on your way from one temple to the next. Sidequests are few and far between, usually boiling down to the lame aforementioned fetch quests and locating more heart containers. What if the worlds of future Zelda titles actually offered sidequests as robust as the main storyline, allowing you to happily lose yourself in Nintendo’s latest fantasy opus for not just 30 hours, but 100 plus. I can only dream.

That about does it for my short list of things I’d like to see in future Legend of Zelda games. These additions/fixes, in my opinion, would future proof the franchise, ensuring it stays relevant for my eventual grandchildren. What doesn’t need to change, however, is the inclusion of an orchestral sountrack CD with all future releases; that was a brilliant idea on Nintendo’s part. But enough of what I want to see, what do you want from Nintendo for future iterations of the Zelda franchise?

[Skyrule image courtesy of MetalHanzo at DeviantArt]