As Skyward Sword draws ever closer, this highly-anticipated game has got me thinking about the Zelda series as a whole and just how much more Nintendo can squeeze out of the formula that has worked so well over the years. Are we due a complete overhaul and reanalysis of the series altogether? Or, with Skyward Sword have Nintendo hit a stride that they most definitely should not be shaken from?
Link has always been a familiar friend to us, both on consoles and handhelds. The distinctive tone and feel of the games have played through the life spans of Nintendo hardware time and again. Each iteration offering a new slant on a tested formula. Whether it’s classic top down style or an immersive 3D environment, Links adventures through the lands he explores have always had an element of familiarity with recognisable traits from past games making their way into new titles. An example of this would be the Light/Dark world system from the venerable SNES classic A Link to the Past. This idea of duality (also seen in the time hopping of Ocarina) is a mechanic which is still being played out in today’s Zelda, with the introduction of Skyloft, and the dangerous world which lies below, giving us two lands to explore once more.
Nintendo has always managed to redefine these rules of a Zelda game for each new title, and more often than not, create a finely crafted epic experience that feels both new and familiar at the same time. But is it time to depart from these ideals altogether? Is it time to say goodbye to Zelda games as we know them today, in order for the series to advance into the next generation? Or are we happy enough to be trundling down the tried and tested (Spirit) tracks that the series has carved into the video gaming landscape over the years?
Could this be the best Zelda yet?
Personally I would really like to see Nintendo try some new methods of play to mix up the series a little bit. Now, I am writing this without the luxury of playing Skyward Sword but from what I have read about the game’s structure, Nintendo has already been hard at work altering the way in which we plough through monsters and dungeons. One of the design choices that sticks out to me in Skyward Sword is the pacing of the game in regards to the dungeon and overworld layout. Typically, Zelda games have been known to offer huge expanses of Hyrule for Link to wander, whilst keeping the dungeons separate, giving the gamer a central “hub” of sorts that we can return to and explore, before setting off to fight our way through whatever deadly wonders the Zelda team have lying in wait for us. This is apparently no longer the case as in Skyward Sword the overworld map and dungeons merge into each other offering the gamer a seamless transition between exploring and battling, and for me at least, this something I’m really excited about.
Those who have played the recently released Dark Souls should see the similarity in design choices here and how well this mechanic works. Exploring huge areas which merge into deep, dark dungeons gives a fantastic sense of scale and achievement when you come out of the other side into the light. This bold design choice, is (in my opinion) exactly the kind of direction that Zelda should be headed in order to stay relevant going forward. Some may see it as small change for the series, but the implications for what Nintendo can do with this structure may only become apparent in the years to come, when Wii U shows us what it can really do. This merging of dungeons and overworld also reveals Nintendo themselves were aware a change was needed in the very structure of the series. For years Link has been constrained by the same basic set of rules which govern the many kingdoms he explores, and whilst Mario has been taken out of his comfort zone (into space no less) with floating planetary land masses and gravitational, platforming fun, Link has had to contend with a rigid set of rules which have played out through many of the quests we have undertaken. Hopefully the transition to seamless exploring/dungeon crawling, is a step in the right direction for Link that may open the door to many new play styles in this perennial series.
One of the major shifts that may or may not be undertaken would be to have a more Western slant on exploring and its RPG esque elements. Zelda, like the utterly JRPG style of Dark Souls and pretty much any other Japanese-developed RPG, adheres to the tried and tested third person school of gaming where we see the elfin hero from behind as he jumps slashes and rolls his way into the history books of Hyrule. Western RPGs on the other hand, tend to be much more fixated on the first person style of play. Now this inherently is due to the Western reliance on FPSs as the go to game for this generation, so incorporating a first person viewpoint into an RPG, gives us something we are instantly familiar with as we wonder the vast realms of Skyrim, Fallout, Borderlands et al.
Oblivion style first and third person viewpoints could be an option.
Of course, for one reason or another Japanese gamers are nowhere near as interested in FPS games as we are and it seems developers from the Land of the Rising Sun have shunned the genre altogether (for this generation at least) to focus on the more familiar third person action games. But is a shift from an Eastern philosophy to a more Western-centric ideal something that should be considered as we look beyond the latest iteration of Zelda? A first person Zelda has long been something which the community has pondered. Indeed Nintendo themselves have offered a first person viewpoint in Link’s 3D adventures, but it has been for nothing more than looking and aiming, rather than an integral part of the gameplay. From what I have read about Skyward Sword however, Nintendo seem to have refined the FPS elements of the game, offering a move set and general feel to the first person camera, that is more akin to its Western counterparts. Now by no means is the game an all-out first person experience but Nintendo’s alleged experimentation with the gameplay maybe the groundwork for something more radical in the future. Maybe an Oblivion style viewpoint, as we wonder through the catacombs of Hyrule, awaits us in Link’s next adventure? We can only guess.
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