After years of immersion in playing, analyzing and just being a fan of The Legend of Zelda series, everyone comes to have their own ideas—sometimes even obscure fantasies—about what their ideal Zelda game would entail. Online communities are full of fans with opinions to share, including plot-lines from the tangible to the impossible.
Of all these fan wishes for the upcoming Zelda Wii U installment due out in 2015 (which I will call Zelda U), two concepts unanimously continue to rise to the top of the collective fanbase’s list. There’s the desire for the lush expansive world to explore and the wish for a large-scale war taking place within.
The Open World
Release after release to the Zelda series goes by and fans keep petitioning for a return to the open-world exploration style of the inaugural 1986 game. Skyward Sword’s vastly empty overworld and its disjoint linear land below failed to meet this particular request. Zelda U, however, is not only shaping up to deliver, but the open world is the very concept the developers are using to promote the game.
Series producer Eiji Aonuma has likened the upcoming game to Japan’s former capital, and one of the country’s larger cities, Kyoto, in an attempt to convey the game’s scope. At E3 this year, Aonuma emphasized that Link can travel to any destination he sees in the game’s expansive map.
Gesturing at the image in this article’s header, he stated that Link can “actually travel to those distant mountains.” At that moment my mind thought only one word: Skyrim. Bethesda Softworks’ The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a game that Aonuma has mentioned playing, but he later clarified that he was “surprised by the focus on [his] comments about Skyrim.”
He later elaborated, in regards to Zelda U, that “no inspiration [was] taken from Skyrim.” True enough, for as Skyrim-esque as the landscape we were shown at E3 looked, let us not forget that it was the classic Zelda titles that pioneered such a game-world. We should think of Zelda U’s world as returning to, in Aonuma’s words, “the real essence of the franchise.”
Aonuma has spoken of travel in Zelda U’s world as like a “real life” experience of trial and error. Players will become more efficient through “acquired experience” as they gain items, abilities and knowledge to overcome obstacles in the world that once left them puzzled. Sounds like classic Zelda.
Where Nintendo’s development team needs to be careful is in ensuring that the open world gameplay doesn’t become solely about travel. While admiring the world’s detail is nice, alone it fills up gameplay with empty wandering. This was an area where Skyrim did not constantly deliver.
For Zelda U, nooks and crannies tucked away all over the world waiting to be explored is a must. What may just appear as a knoll of grass could be a secret grotto, just like in Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule Field.
Akin to Skyrim in its finer moments, Zelda U must always have the chance of players stumbling into somewhere unexpected where they may not be able to fully explore the vicinity until later in their quest.
Zelda series creator Shigeru Miyamoto based the franchise upon exploring caves, lakes and landscapes around his childhood home. He once likened the maps of Zelda games to being “a kind of miniature garden.” This is precisely the spirit of design Zelda U needs, although the garden is far beyond miniature nowadays.
The Field Battle
The Zelda franchise we know is a series of action-adventure games, which on occasion, incorporates role-playing elements. The concept of a ‘field battle’ would potentially add a taste of strategy to Zelda U.
With an open world comes the possibility of the ‘field battle,’ or more accurately worded, a large-scale war involving horde battling. I once fantasized about a game—albeit with an uninspired title—called ‘The Legend of Zelda: Total War.”
This idea comes from the desire to actually play-out the massive-scale wars that we all-too-often hear about in backstories that never play out in-game. It is a desire to fight an explicit menace posing an immediate and tangible threat to the entirety of Hyrule.
Hyrule Warriors, which hits stores in September, gives us a feel for Link and other franchise characters fighting against an abundant onslaught of enemies. Imagine this sort of concept with more ally soldiers, a typical Zelda control-scheme, and within the story of Zelda U. Now you understand the ‘field battle’ concept.
Link could merely be one soldier, but if he were to take a commanding role, that’s where elements of strategy gameplay can arise. What is not to like about both foot soldiers and cavalry mounting a defense against Ganon’s army in an ultimate showdown for Hyrule’s fate?
This idea is not entirely foreign to Zelda. We have seen lesser implementations of this with Link alone against a number of enemies. In Twilight Princess he fought King Bulbin for Colin’s safety on horseback while fighting off a platoon of boar-mounted bokoblins. He fended off even more to protect Telma, Ilia and Ralis as they traveled to Kakariko by carriage.
In Skyward Sword’s penultimate moments Link fought his way down to Ghirahim through wave after wave of opponents. This is the very scene that Hyrule Warriors hearkens back to.
With the large overworld already confirmed for Zelda U, the ‘field battle’ seems almost too good not to implement on some scale. The two elements were made for each other.
The large world facilitates the large-battle, which in turn opens up a range of gameplay options and emotive plot devices as Hyrule fights for survival. All too often Zelda games end with Link and Ganon’s solitary showdown, but this time why not make it a public struggle of forces?
After all, what Zelda fan wouldn’t get excited by the idea of Link and Epona leading the charge of an army of Hylians, Gorons and Zoras into a sea of bokoblins, moblins, stalfos, darknuts and iron knuckles? That, my friends, is the Zelda of the future.