Does Zelda need an overhaul?
14th May 2007 | 15:54
Zelda games are amazing. There's no doubt about that. But even Miyamoto is willing to admit that the appeal of Link's epic quests is waning, especially in Japan.
Miyamoto suggested many reasons why Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess isn't doing as well as expected in Japan. But could it be that the 20-year-old series, that now spans 14 games (Phantom Hourglass will be the 15th quest on Nintendo platforms) is dying a slow death?
Twilight Princess demonstrated that Nintendo's talented development teams are still more than capable of putting together a stunning Hyrulean adventure. The problem, some might say, lies in its repetition. Zelda games stick to a very familiar and rigid formula. Anyone who's played Zelda over the years will know that many of the themes, plots, locations, items, music and even puzzles are re-used (albeit in slightly adapted, updated ways) in one game after the next.
How many times have you re-arranged mirrors to bounce around a beam of light, or lit all the lamps in a room to open a door? How many times have you seen Link use bombs, throw a boomerang, or shoot an arrow to progress further into a dungeon? These are just some of the things all of Link's fans will have been doing since the first game of the series. We've come to expect it, now.
It is blatant repetition, but that's what comes with being an established franchise. They all do it - Halo, GTA, Metal Gear - all thrive off of repeating their winning formulas. But how long can repetition in Zelda games keep fans interested?
Much of the regurgitation of content in Zelda, particularly with locations, characters and music, is related to the series' huge nostalgic appeal. Zelda would not be Zelda if it didn't have that main theme tune, right? Or if the master sword went unmentioned, or if the pointy-eared, green tunic-wearing hero never turned up for the event. As a huge fan, would you accept a Zelda game without these things?
The tricky situation facing Nintendo is: completely changing the Zelda series and doing away with the typical things Zelda fans have come to know could upset more people than it pleases - particularly the series' most loyal fans.
That's the risk you face when making any changes to such a hugely established and much-loved series, as Nintendo found out when it suffered widespread criticism upon unveiling the radical cel-shaded graphical style of Wind Waker.
What about when Nintendo gave Mario the F.LU.D.D and fans complained that being able to hover was not traditional Mario - it changed the principles of Mario games.
Nintendo isn't the first to suffer complaints when changing major franchises. Lara left the tombs in sequels proceeding her original tomb raid. Metal Gear Solid 2 caused uproar when it took Snake out of the equation and forced players to play as Raiden. Sega has done all sorts with Sonic's 'Adventure' games, from fishing to gem-hunting, but most fans (if not all) love him most when he does what he does best: run fast through action stages.
People generally don't like to accept change.
But change doesn't always spell disaster. Final Fantasy introduces a totally new cast, setting and theme with each sequel and continues to please fans. Resident Evil 4 completely revolutionised Capcom's horror series and is now viewed as one of the best games ever made.
The issue remains. Nintendo can't continue making repetitive Zelda games. We still totally adore Zelda but eventually the appeal will tire and the series risks bombing. Nintendo needs to take the bold step and inject something totally new into Zelda. We're not talking about a couple of new items, or a new location - that's been done. We mean a significant change that affects the whole structure and gameplay.
And indeed Nintendo knows this. The series' daddy, Shigeru Miyamoto, was quoted as saying: "[Twilight Princess] will be, without a doubt, the last Zelda game [in the series] as you know it in its present form," back in 2005. That could mean Nintendo already has a radical Zelda makeover on the cards.
Rumour has it that the next Zelda game for Wii is already in development, and Zelda director Eiji Aonuma has already expressed his wish to inject a greater focus on motion control into the next Zelda Wii game. Great things could be ahead for Zelda fans.
We think if Nintendo is to strike the right balance between changing Zelda enough to refresh the franchise and keeping enough of its traditions so as to maintain its heritage and please loyal fans, it needs only to look at its chubby mascot: Mario.
With every Mario game that comes along, Nintendo tries to do something inventive, unique and pioneering. Think of the leaps in gameplay from Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Bros. 3., or from Super Mario World to Super Mario 64. And now from Super Mario 64 (and the slightly less hailed Mario Sunshine) to the upcoming SM Galaxy - which looks absolutely stunning.
If Mario can do it, so too can Link. It's just going to take some careful thought and a lot of balls.