The magic, the wonder, the future – of Zelda

By Lord-of-Shadow

How many of you enjoyed playing through the vast Hyrule field, from Ocarina of Time? I know I did. I know that I had never before seen a large 3D plain, complete with hills, roads, fences, a complete day night system, and a beautiful cycle for the sun. It was a wonderful thing to find in a game, a feeling of scope, of a large world. I have yet to find another game that accomplishes that so well.

Yet in retrospect, even when clouded by the rose-tinted glass of nostalgia and the game's illusion of a vast realm, the game's world was incredibly small. There was a single forest, a single desert, a single castle, a single ranch, a single village, a single mountain, a single lake, and a single hidden lagoon. That should not be. All but one of the Zelda games have been the same, really.

It would be quite nice if, in this upcoming GC game, they included a larger world. Remember the Adventure of Link? The game's scope, though limited by the NES hardware and the way they had the overworld work, was large. There were many towns, many forests, and many places to go. I want to see that again, only without the limits of the NES or the other aspects of AoL.

I want them to recreate the sort of overworlds they had in the old 2D games, in 3D. In a Link to the Past or Link's Awakening, every screen was different. Rather then a large, repetitive field or ocean, they should have a varied overworld, filled with valleys, rocks, stands of trees, roads, the odd hermit or two, a house here, a tent and campfire there. They need an overworld that seems alive, one filled with activity. In the 2D games, every screen had enemies or something to do. Due in large part to that, the overworlds seemed active, alive, like they were part of a living breathing world.

But that wouldn't work as well in 3D… the constant fighting might get annoying. They would have to do something different. Maybe make travelers, or bands of enemies, or just make more interesting and varied sights. A brook and waterfall there, someone's tree-house there, a band of moblins around their campfire there…

There is another major hindrance to the feeling of a living, breathing overworld… well-defined areas. In all Zelda games, and as far as I know, all games period, you always know that you're in a specific area. You're in that town. That forest. That desert. They would have rock walls or walls of trees or buildings blocking ways. There are always clearly defined entry-points for areas.

I would like to do away with that entirely. I should hope that most of you have played the Wind Waker. If you have, you will have noticed that such boundaries did not exist. You can take the boat, and arrive at any island from any direction; it's all part of one vast world. But it was still hindered by the fact that they are islands, and therefore have another sort of separation.

On a land-based game, it would be different. Instead of going through a little pathway through some cliff and ending up in another area… the overworld, the forests, the lakes and rivers and towns… everything should intermingle. Set boundaries should be done away with completely. You should be able to enter into the outskirts of a town from the forest that grows right up to it, or from the field, or from any direction, rather then sticking to two or three set entrances.

Of course, boundaries are necessary to keep players from going into areas they should not yet be in. The developers would have to find creative ways to enforce invisible, intangible boundaries. I'm sure they could, they've proven themselves in the past.

An important thing would be forests… in most games, forests are basically just paths you can't walk out of, and the trees that lines the edges. Why is that? It's quite ridiculous, really. It hinders the feeling of actually being within a forest. There should be trees spread through a wide area, and you can walk between and around the individual trees. It should be more like a shadowed, cluttered "field" then the forests we currently have. And there's no reason why forests shouldn't have the same sort of ravines, valleys and everything else that I want in the main overworld.

I want to travel through a gorge, fight a small band of roving moblins, find a cave with a hermit in it (a la LoZ or LttP), then climb out of the gorge to be greeted by a beautiful sunset, rising over the vast world, with a forest and a town there. No big cliffs or boundaries blocking my view.

And you've all seen a little bit of the new horse-back fighting system, or at least I should hope so. No details yet, but I would think that such a vast world would accommodate horse-back travel and fighting perfectly.

And annoying as it may have been, there is no doubt that the sailing in the Wind Waker started out fun, and had vast potential. I want a land-based game, for the most part, but… There is no reason why we couldn't have multiple continents, or a big ocean off to the side, or a game taking place on a string of large islands, like a combination of Link's Awakening and the Wind Waker.

The sailing was marred by many things. Most importantly, it was boring once the novelty wore off. The ocean is a cool place, but it is… monotonous. They would need to mix it up some. Give you larger or multiple boats, turn the treasure hunting into a more complex and engaging system. Allow you to upgrade your ship, and even have enemy ships, full-size large ships which you can board and fight it's crew hand-to-hand.

In The Wind Waker, I had the most fun sailing when the waves were big, and you felt like a small child, lost in a vast, angry ocean – exactly what you, or more precisely, Link, was. They should replicate that more often, giving full storms, waves, lightening, what have you.

With that sort of stuff, they would be taking an important step towards undoing the monotony of the Wind Waker's sailing.

And I mentioned storms, did I not? Why limit the world to what I've described? Give it a weather system, and an important one! We've seen things like rain, snow, and storms in games before, and they've even affected gameplay… but we've never seen anything like that in a 3D adventure game.

And why stop with weather systems? It would be very hard work for the developers, but I think a seasonal system could work as well. If a game has weather, a day/night cycle, and such a vast world, different seasons are the natural progression. The Lost Woods are always cool, even beautiful, places in the Zelda games… but imagine seeing them in autumn, when their leaves turn to fantastic different colors, or winter, when the leaves fall and leave you standing in a hibernating forest.

For those of you who have yet to understand, I think I know how to halt and reverse the steady drop in the "Zelda magic" that I spoke of earlier in this article. The essence of Zelda, as I see it, lies not in it's story, not in it's characters or art style, but in it's sense of exploration. And how do you help a feeling of exploration grow? Why, you feed it, of course. Feed it with nooks and crannies, caves, variation, change, characters, places to explore and things to see. Many developers, I think, have some slight grasp of this… but they don't know how to go about it correctly. Endless sidequests or things to collect are not the way. You need to through variations, new and interesting things, new sights to see and people to meet. You need a vast world, one like the one I have described.

Of course, cool places and dungeon themes help a great deal. We've had dungeons based on sunlight, on water flow, on lava, on forests, on water. We've had floating islands, clouds, the bellies of fish, and the hollow interior of enormous eggs. But there is far more. Even to reuse some of these ideas in a 3D game would be fantastic.

I can honestly say that the Ikana Tower Temple, from Majora's Mask, is the coolest place I have ever, ever, seen. Normal, commonly themed places are cool, but again, variation is the way to go. Even what seems like a slight new twist to the same theme can make a huge difference. Look at the Forest Temple from OoT and then the Woodfall Temple from MM. They're both forest themed, but with a few slight changes, they are completely different experiences. Any common theme, with a few minor adjustments, or a combination of them, can lead to something amazing or new.

But I'm forgetting something of importance, aren't I? The story, perhaps? Now I'm not going to lay out some exact story that I want – that would just be a waste of time. I'm always rather annoyed, in a mild sort of way, when someone tries to pass some glorified fan fiction as what they want for a story in future Zelda games. But there are some important things. The most important of which, and something that ties in with the Zelda feeling that I have described, is this: in all the Zelda games, even those where he is an "adult", Link is still young. Young, innocent, untested. I mentioned how, even for the oldest fans, that sense of exploration, of seeing new things for the first time, is a way of feeling like an innocent young kid again. Link and his circumstances are integral to that, as is the overall atmosphere of the game.

If you make Link a battle-hardened warrior or something, and stick him in a violent or gory game… well, you'll lose that sense, and the essence of Zelda will go with it. That would destroy the Zelda series, totally and completely. It is the absolute worst thing that could happen to it. Link always has been and must always be an untested, innocent teenager or child.

On a different note, how many of you truly appreciated the possibilities and complexity of MM's bomber's notebook thing, combined with the 3-day time cycle? Not many, I am willing to bet. It took me awhile to truly grasp it, and I highly doubt there are many people who put as much thought into the Zelda series as I do. Whether that's complimentary to me… well, I'm proud of it at least, heh.

But yes. A system like that allowed for truly structured lives for it's characters. They all had schedules, events, dangers and loves. The continuous repeating 3-day cycle allowed you to deeply delve into the complex (for a video game) lives of any and every character in the game. That is… unparalleled, really. No other game can compete with that, in the living breathing world aspect. I am really rather disappointed that nobody else in the video game industry has taken this under-appreciated and – dare I say it? – revolutionary idea and done something with it. Well, with so many other wonderful, complex ideas in one game, what's wrong with one more? So yes, I would like to see this, or some variations of it, in a Zelda game again. I think that, of all the ideas I have seen since the midway cycle of the N64's lifetime, it has by far the most potential. I do not understand why nobody else really grasps this.

In conclusion… many people think that gaming has grown stale, that most innovations are done with, that revolutions and new ideas are impossible, used up… but they are wrong. There is a wealth of untapped potential for a game like Zelda. Limitless, and not even the sky can contain it.

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 This page was created by Juliet A. Singleton © 2005. All rights reserved.