Building Ultimate Zelda {{STAND BY FOR ASSIMILATION UPDATE}}

Here is some Zelda Skyward Sword music while you read!!!

“What’s your favourite Zelda?” It’s a question I’ve heard time and time again, yet the truth is I don’t have a favourite Zelda. I feel almost every one does something unique and different that distinguishes it from the rest of the series in my mind. Majora’s Mask had its anxious time system and melancholy tone, Wind Waker its gorgeous cel-shaded open world; Twilight Princess was a more mechanically refined version of Ocarina of Time, Phantom Hourglass pioneered how to make a Zelda game on the touch screen before Spirit Tracks perfected it, and Skyward Sword made motion controls work.

Yet even a dyed-in-the-wool Zelda fanboy like me has to admit that after a quarter century, the series is in danger of going stale. Each Zelda has a wondrous world to explore, brain-busting dungeons, quirky characters and moments of serene beauty, but they can feel like they’re drawing from the same well too often. The franchise could use some shaking up.

Rather than see Zelda go the way of Mega-Man, I figured it was high time to look back at some of the most inspired choices the series has made. Which of them could be combined to make the (drumroll please)… Ultimate Zelda?

A Speedier, More Exciting Tutorial

I like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword as much as the next person, but the first few hours of these games are painfully dull. Chatting with townsfolk, herding cattle, and fishing are hardly the sort of errands befitting of a noble warrior.

A Link to the Past was a stellar example of how to set a scene without boring the player to tears. That game opens with Link having a nightmare where Zelda telepathically beckons him to rescue her. He awakens to his frazzled uncle being summoned on urgent business. Following him on a stormy night we’re taken into the castle sewers where we must battle malevolent guards. This all happens in the first two minutes. Future Zeldas could learn from this efficiency.

Stop “Metroiding” Link

We all know Link will get bombs, a boomerang, and a bow and arrow, so why drag this process out? Majora’s Mask, one of the only direct sequels in the franchise, was smart enough to know these items were expected, so you were granted access to most of them right from the beginning, saving the more inventive tools for later (unfortunately the more recent Phantom Hourglass didn’t get that memo). This would be another way to expedite the series’ typically by-the-books opening hours.

Hide Tools OUTSIDE of Dungeons

Important tools used to be found in the most unlikely places, like the hookshot found under a grave in Ocarina of Time, or the magical canes hidden in dark, hard-to-find caverns in Link to the Past. Majora’s Mask pushed this concept further, rewarding players with masks that serve mysterious functions. Figuring out where to use them became a sidequest in itself. These days hidden booty is usually just pieces of heart or – worse – chests filled with red rupees. Such trifling treasures feel hollow by comparison, and the ideal Zelda would recapture this sense of unpredictability and discovery, restoring mystique to the overworld with more significant and cleverly hidden rewards.

A Dynamic Overworld

Wind Waker’s ocean gets a lot of flak for the languid pace of its sailing, but the weather effects in that game are phenomenal. Getting lost in a storm or listening to seagulls chirp over the misty pink dew of a sunrise is as awe-inspiring as anything I’ve ever seen in a video game. Many of the best Zeldas used time to alter the environment both cosmetically and practically, changing the climate, sidequests, and treasures available – see Oracle of Ages/Seasons for the best example of that. It’s an extra layer of intrigue that demands to be reinstated after Skyward Sword refused to let Link ride his loftwing or explore the overworld at night.

Optional Hand-Holding

One of the things that made early Zeldas special was that they gave you no idea where to go, so you had to deduce what new places you could access based on your knowledge of the map alone. In the first Zelda, you have to combine the recorder found in the fifth dungeon with the Wise Old Man’s cryptic hint, “There are secrets where fairies don’t live,” to figure out that the abandoned fairy pond in the lost woods unearths the seventh dungeon if you play a song in front of it. Obscure, right? But that made the revelation more satisfying when you eventually uncovered it.

In recent games like Skyward Sword, your AI companion often tells you exactly where to go after completing each dungeon. I understand that developers don’t want people to get properly lost or lose their sense of purpose, but making the hint system optional would be a happy medium that would keep the thrill of discovery intact for more patient players while nudging those at their wit’s end in the right direction. The 3DS version of Ocarina of Time’s Sheikah Stones are a good example.

Player Choice

Part of the Zelda series’ appeal is that you can’t make any decision that locks you out from anything in the games. (Any long-lasting moral choices that affect the narrative down the line are best suited for games like Mass Effect, Fallout, and Dark Souls, perhaps). That said, though, it’s nice to give the player some control on how things turn out. Skyward Sword handled this well in a side mission where you can deliver a bully’s love letter to his crush, or give it to a ghost who will misinterpret the letter and haunt her “beloved” ostensibly forever. I had Link ruin a guy’s life over a gag, but it was worth it just see that despite being the chosen one whose noble heart enables him to save Hyrule, Link can still be a jerk.

Deeper Pockets

I can’t stress enough how frustrating it was for Ocarina of Time’s Link to be unable to hold more money because his dinky wallet was too small. If you have 99 rupees, shouldn’t you be able to afford a bigger wallet? The DS Zeldas, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, fixed this by allowing players to hold a whopping 9,999 rupees from the get go. Skyward Sword regrettably went back to the old way of doing things by initially limiting your rupee count to 300. Let’s hope that was a one off.

Enough Music Lessons!

While Link’s ocarina and wind baton had interesting gameplay ramifications, changing the time of day or altering the trajectory of the wind, if you ask me they were a pain to play. Aside from taking up one of your three valuable equipped item slots, playing a song would always end in an unskippable cutscene. This is especially egregious in Wind Waker, where you have to go through this laborious process every time you want to change the direction of your boat more than 90 degrees.

Twilight Princess wisely dropped this convention altogether – it had no instrument at all. You could summon your horse from the beginning of the game by whistling on blades of grass liberally sprinkled throughout the environment. This made getting around much faster, as you never had to muck about playing a ditty. Conceptually, instruments are fine, and they do tap into the series’ child-like sense of creativity, but the ultimate Zelda would at least give you the option to automate the process.

A Customisable Map

Perhaps the best thing about DS Zelda games is that you can scribble your own notes on the map. At first it was used for childish puzzles that nearly solved themselves, but the system later gave way to more complex brain-teasers, such as drawing your own path across the pitch black floor of a Spirit Tracks dungeon. This adds to the Indiana Jones feeling of having to keep a notebook of your discoveries to delve further into the labyrinthine world. Even the passive train travel in Spirit Tracks feels daring as you chart your course through a series of warp points after marking them on your atlas. It’s a shame this feature was removed in Skyward Sword — possibly because writing by pointing at the screen would be more cumbersome than on a touch-screen — but between the Wii U’s tablet-like controller and the 3DS, we’ll hopefully see this elegant system again.

A Larger Role for Zelda

This is 2012 and it’s about time for Zelda to be more than just a damsel in distress. Spirit Tracks went the furthest in this direction by having her accompany Link on his adventure, and she was a welcome addition. Her part was downplayed in Skyward Sword, but she was at least portrayed as a strong-willed, independent character who was often one step ahead of Link. Her alter ego, Tetra, in Wind Waker was a brash pirate – it’s a shame her role was cut down significantly in the sequel, Phantom Hourglass. The series is moving in the right direction here, but it needs to move further. Maybe next time we can actually play as her, eh?

No More Redundant Explanations

This is something only the NES Zeldas have gotten right. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your 1st or 378th red rupee: if it’s in a chest you’ll be told “that’s worth 20 rupees!” This is great if you’re that guy from Memento. For everyone else, not so much.

Things I Haven’t Thought of Yet

While there are plenty of outmoded Zelda traditions that could use retooling, I don’t think the answer to making an ultimate Zelda is as simple as cherry picking the best parts of other Zeldas. The series is about wonder and invention. The ultimate Zelda wouldn’t merely rehash old ideas, but come up with new ones we’ve never seen before – and that, thankfully, is something that the series has already been pretty good at. What will those be? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out.

The next {{STAND BY FOR ASSIMILATION}} Continuation: Batman Arkham City Vs Uncharted 3 Blog 4 will be posted tomorrow check back regularly!!!

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Gavin Jedionston

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About jedionston

Gavin "Dirk" Jedionston the "N" in "In N Out"

Posted on February 8, 2012, in LATEST ARTICLES and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I understand some points but its like the whole Skyrim Senioro I told you about yesterday. Won’t work some of them will, and would be cool to see. SS story-wise did a great job,Zelda played an interested role but the last time you played as Zelda, well…. CD-i are never mentioned for good reason, but the anime,will, is different fourm of Zelda and some items a small hint that Link will get before some doungons.

  2. lol I am glad you mentioned the CD-i 😉

    Yeah I don’t 100% agree with everything in this article, but there are some key gameplay and design issues I think could fit in and make a more engaging game. I don’t doubt the powers of Nintendo though, I have been buying the products for along time. As long as shiggy still does his thing, and has people learning from him. I don’t think we will be seeing the DEMISE *wink wink* of the Zelda franchise anytime soon.

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