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There’s a new Legend of Zelda game in the works, and although it was conspicuously missing from E3—the biggest video game convention of the year—I’m very much looking forward to it. Details about the game are scarce, though, and I have some recommendations.
Though not often considered an “open world” franchise in the same vein as Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda series has always embodied the spirit of freedom. That was never more true than in the 1986 original, but with the upcoming Zelda for Nintendo’s Wii U console, the developers intend to take the series back to those roots.
A massive, wide-open map and a promise of multiple entrances into the series’ signature dungeons is certainly a good starting point. But what other lessons can be learned from Link’s past?
6. THE TIMING OF ‘MAJORA’S MASK’
One thing the new Zelda game could take from 2000’s The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is the game’s crucial passage of time. Instead of a hackneyed 24-hour cycle—a single day playing out over and over again —the population of Majora’s Mask follow a fragile three-day schedule. These citizens are a far cry from the paralyzed populations of modern game worlds—people and places and conflicts stuck in a stasis until the player decides to inject themselves into their affairs. The characters seemingly set itineraries for themselves, and their actions bleed over into a distinct second and third day.
The malleable schedule brings much-needed realism to the series’ fantasy setting; and a similar weekly calendar system would certainly fit in The new Zelda game. Maybe a special swordsman only appears at the local milk bar on Friday nights. Maybe a secret passageway in the side of a mountain only opens on nights with a full moon. Maybe a notorious thief follows a puzzling yet calculated agenda you must decipher. A more ambitious schedule set on a weekly basis would enliven the optional, non-essential “sidequests” to a similar stature of the archetypal dungeons. Speaking of which…
5. THE SIDEQUESTS OF ‘MAJORA’S MASK’
Most Zelda games feature optional sidequests, but none are as good as the ones in Majora’s Mask. While modern games overstuff their worlds with these throwaway distractions, seemingly for no other reason than to extend the overall play time, Majora’s Mask made its side stories feel almost as important as the main one. Players can help the world’s citizens tackle their fears and relationship troubles, and these deeply personal crises further contextualize Link’s quest beyond mere burdened responsibility while also rewarding a unique set of items that tie back into the main quest.
In the new Zelda game for Wii U, completion of sidequests could result in information about alternative pathways into dungeons or hints to finding and deciphering obscure environmental puzzles. Upgrades to Link’s sword and armor could come exclusively from outside dungeons. Or maybe the finale hinges on the trust you’ve established with the population through sidequests.
4. THE WORLD OF ‘OCARINA OF TIME’
Revisiting previously traversed areas—known in games as “backtracking”—has become a staple of the Zelda series, the most memorable being the seven-year jump into the future from 1998’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Our preconceptions of the idyllic world shatter before our eyes as we suddenly change from a child to an adult and take our first steps into a deteriorated, apocalyptic land.
Though most modern games feature characters changing into heroes or villains, seeing the world grow along with the characters would add another layer of authenticity to the new Zelda game. Maybe sidequests affect the evolution of the main towns or the foreign structures strewn across the land. Or perhaps a safe haven inexplicably dissolves into chaos, betraying any sense of comfort we felt in the world.
3. THE TRAVEL OF ‘THE WIND WAKER’
In 2002’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, when you aren’t spelunking dungeons, you’re in a small boat sailing between the islands scattered across the game’s massive Great Sea. With the lack of shortcuts, travel sometimes feels laborious, but it also incentivizes exploration. One moment you’re departing an islet carrying away its unique treasures, the next dark clouds shut out moonlight as an ethereal ghost ship reveals itself for a moment.
Though the new Zelda game will probably feature a landlocked Link, its peaks and valleys can still recapture the Great Sea’s sense of surreal wonder by making its plains more dangerous and mysterious and its hidden bounties more unique. The game could perhaps borrow an element from Ocarina of Time: the nightmarish monsters who climb out of the ground after sunset. Poorly planning your day could leave you stranded out in the wilderness at night as prey for the night’s terrors. Watchtowers could represent your last vestige of safety: a spot to save your progress and rest, or at the very least, restock on supplies before heading back out.
2. THE PUZZLES OF ‘SKYWARD SWORD’
The airborne town of Skyloft from 2011’s The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword may be emptier than Link’s bottles, but the lands below feel just as complex as the actual dungeons they precede. Instead of serving as simple roadblocks, these sections require not only a heap of puzzle-solving through new twists in the gameplay, but also the use of multiple items from prior dungeons; another praise-worthy element of Skyward Sword.
The same philosophy could fit with the new Zelda’s intention of including multiple entrances into dungeons. Traditional, labyrinthian pathways towards the dungeon entrances could force the player to learn new ways of interacting with the world and subsequent levels could add layers of complexity to their toolbox of skills. All the while, certain items or clues could lead to alternate mazes into backdoors.
1. THE FREEDOM OF ‘THE LEGEND OF ZELDA’
Unlike the majority of the series, the original Legend of Zelda allows players to discover and complete dungeons in any order; you can even enter the final one a minute or two into the game. Despite its revolutionary bent, the concept never found its way to the 3D installments. The closest recreation would be From Software’s 2011 masterpiece, Dark Souls. Players are told to find and ring two bells. That’s it. Newbies are free to explore the wide-open world—where nary a key is required to access its sepulchers and caverns—yet will likely follow a predictable path because of the uncompromising difficulty. And experts can dive straight into the world’s advanced areas and quickly ring the two bells.
The new Zelda game should similarly be an unlocked kingdom. Let the bullheaded rush towards the gates of the final level, only to be swiftly and viciously dispatched by its guardians. Only experts with a firm grasp of the combat and knowledge of their opponent’s weaknesses could even make their way to the entrance with their lives intact. The only element holding you back from completing a challenge is yourself—your mastery of the game. Such an early innovation from the series shouldn’t be lost to history.
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