Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Evolution of a Theme

It goes without saying that the Legend of Zelda series is one of the longest running adventure game franchises ever.  Spanning nearly seven generations of console hardware and over a quarter century of real history, the tale of a boy garbed in green is perhaps the quintessential example of Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey in video game form.  Because of it's legacy, I think Zelda deserves the "Legend of" namesake in the title.  The question is though...can a legend evolve?

Based on what little we've all seen thus far, the Wii U iteration of Zelda looks promising.  Despite the limited power of Nintendo's current platform, the development team has shown that they are able to produce impressive visuals through stylish art rather than pixel and polygon counts.

"Zelda should be more like the Dark Souls!" was a comment I often saw and heard on the internet in the wake of Skyward Sword.  I even suggested the same idea in this very blog site several years ago.  In hindsight though, I don't think Zelda would do well copying from another similar franchise whole cloth.  Instead a new Zelda needs to borrow from a lot of places at once in order to be successful.

Interconnected open world locals have already been mentioned by the game's producer, Eiji Aonuma.  Along with that, I think environmental/visual storytelling is a good match since Zelda has never really benefited from lengthy dialogue sequences.  Still...keeping to text boxes would be better that trying to introduce voice acting to the series.  If there is anything I've learned from playing the Banner Saga, it's that reading what people say is still a perfectly viable way to tell a story.

Music in Zelda has made steady improvements over the years (as the video bellow clearly illustrates):    

I think the next step would be to upgrade to a full symphony orchestra (like this one used to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the franchise).

Eiji Aonuma also mentioned in an interview that many younger members of the development team have strong reservations about what a Zelda game should and shouldn't be.  Not knowing the details, I can't comment on what has been suggested thus far, but off the top of my head, I think it would be wise to avoid the RPG tradition of stat based numerical progression, as well as extremely gimmicky boss battles.  Then there is the excessive amount of hand holding that, in truth, could easily be avoided by simply including yes/no prompt at the beginning of the game that asks, "Have you played a Zelda game recently?"

Speaking of choices, it sounds like the player will have to make a lot of in-game decisions about where-to-go and what-to-do.  Especially since simultaneous events will be occurring in Hyrule.  For me, these welcome additions should tie nicely into the theme of player freedom (which is itself a callback to the original NES titles).

Exploration and the feelings of mystery, suspense and wonder are what originally drew me to the series.  Varying mixtures of triumph and terror are what have kept me interested even after all these years.  In some ways the development of the Zelda franchise is a reflection of the events in the games themselves.  Will the triforce of new ideas, old ideas and fun ideas be united once again?  Or will this next entry fragment fans like we've seen in the past?  I can't say for certain, but I do know that if the legend does continue it must evolve in order to endure the tests of time.

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