Two words: Killable fairies.

23Feb12

Having spent some time rebutting what one person online had to say about how to ‘save’ Zelda, I naturally started to think about how I would personally like to see the series improve. There wasn’t a good way to integrate that into the rebuttal itself, which is why I left it out. But the idea is still there, and why not indulge it a little?

The biggest suggestion I have for the series is for a change of pace in regards to the plot. The overall setting isn’t an issue; being in natural areas and underground dungeons is not a problem. But every time, the plot boils down to “an ancient evil is waking up, and you have to kill it.” Play that plot enough time with the same characters, and it starts to feel like a rotating desk job rather than an epic destiny. At some point, you’d think the names “Link” and “Zelda” would be considered bad luck in Hyrule. Yes, there’s almost always a long stretch of time between each game, but at some point the common wisdom is just going to remember that part, even if they don’t remember why.

Leaving aside the naming issue, what it boils down to is that while we’re willing to play the same basic plot in our video games over and over again, so long as we enjoy the actual gameplay, this is where plot detail shines. It’s part of that tentative first step forward from Skyward Sword, where there was some real emotional investment in Link’s quest to save Zelda. Not a lot, but still enough to stand out. I should note that Skyward Sword wasn’t the first game in the series-it goes all the way back to Link to the Past, and Ocarina of Time has it as well. Still, giving us more detail on what Zelda thinks beyond “save Hyrule/me!” is a good move, and more would help. With that in mind, here are some possible new directions future Zelda games could take.

More overtly political

This one probably sounds strange. Zelda games are pretty black and white in motivation. Zelda and Link defend the status quo, Ganon (or in rare cases, another villain) try to destroy it. But what if our villain had a more sophisticated approach? Maybe they want to take over Hyrule…but they want to preserve the kingdom they’re conquering. In that case, the antagonist (we’ll stick with Ganon for this example) could be someone who signs a treaty with the King (or Zelda herself, as the queen/last surviving royal heir), and tries to infiltrate the power structure and subvert it from within. Rather than being the last surviving person who could save the day, Link is chosen to fight against Ganon as a lone agent, able to move with more secrecy than a large group could. On the flip side, the limited enemy numbers and boss fights are a matter of Ganon trying to stop you without either using his own skills directly (and publicly), or sending out army units to face one man with a sword and shield, since those could expose his master plan just as much as Link’s activities. Obviously something like this wouldn’t change the player’s role, but it would make the story more complex, and could provide more natural gating mechanisms than a random magical barrier. You can’t enter a given area because you would be easily noticed at that time, and you need to keep your cover to work effectively. The final stages would not be a seemingly hopeless fight against a god-like figure, but trying to complete your plans as Ganon accelerated his takeover of Hyrule from within.

Steampunk

This one is thornier for me, as much of my mental associations with steampunk are about people sticking gears on top hats and talking about “aether powered devices.” Moving from the pastoral settings of Hyrule to electricity guns and zeppelins is a pretty jarring transition. But I think it could work, as long as it was not presented as the fantastic alternate Victorian England. In other words, light on the “steam,” heavy on the “punk.”

Picture a rapidly industrializing Hyrule, moving away from magic and ritual towards machinery and technology…and pollution. Toxic sludge comes from many factories, the sky is a sickly yellow above the cities, and there is constant fighting between the Hylians and their more elemental neighbors, such as the Zora and the Gorons, over Hyrule’s rapacious appetite for ore and other resources. While many Hylians benefit from the cheaper goods and devices, there’s also a real sense that something has gone wrong. The player finds some clue that there is more to the rise of industry than just a demand for goods, and rather than working to stop one great evil, you try to save the land itself and make people realize something more sinister is going on, whether it’s an organized effort or simply a vicious cycle of corruption. Rather than moving away from the focus on the natural in Zelda games, it would be doubling down on it, contrasting the unspoiled wilderness with the danger of a modern world that does not care about the damage it’s doing to its birthplace.

Then there’s my final idea, which has nothing at all to do with the setting…

Multiple controllable characters.

This was something hinted at with Spirit Tracks, but we only got a very pale shadow there through directing Princess Zelda. I’m not going to harp on that game for dropping the ball, though; portable games aren’t designed to have multiple players looking at the same screen. Still, I think it’s time to have a Zelda game where we can play as Zelda, with or without Link in sight.

Don’t get me wrong: I like Link. Mute as he is, I think he’s a pretty likable character, and I prefer his stoic demeanor to bad wisecracking or over the top “badass moments.” But since Wind Waker, the games have tended to bill Zelda not just as a passive object to be rescued in the story, but as an active story participant for at least part of the game. I think Nintendo should take that next step and make her someone you can play for most of, if not all of, the game. Let us change between Link and Zelda in some way, and make the play style differences significant enough to matter, but not enough to require it; I don’t want to have a gimmick where you only change to Zelda to get past specific sections, then Link is better for everything else. That would also allow them to make it a two player game, where both characters can be on screen to clear dungeons and explore the world. It wouldn’t be the first multiplayer Zelda game, but it would be the first that wasn’t just color coded Links.

I’ll close by saying that not only do I not expect Nintendo to go in the first two directions, but I don’t think they have to. The issues with Zelda as a series is more about useful traditions versus ossification, and how to come down on the side of the former without obstructing real innovation. However, I think all of these ideas could work well for a Zelda game, and all three could be used in the same game without destroying the essential essence of Zelda.

And finally, kill Tingle.

Advertisements


No Responses Yet to “Two words: Killable fairies.”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: