Zelda U may be a long ways off, but it's almost a certainty that Eiji Aonuma and company are going to take inspiration from the Zelda series at large and then try to expand upon it and/or break some of the common molds. When discussing anything in terms of taking aspects away for a new game in the Zelda series you simply have to start with Ocarina of Time.
Regardless of my own feelings that place the game outside of my top five, it's undeniable the impact the game made not only for the Zelda series, but the gaming industry at large. That is why I firmly believe there are given aspects of Ocarina of Time that Zelda U should absolutely take advantage of.
Over the years we have seen several different companion types. Be it Navi, Tatl, King of the Red Lions, or even a princess (be it Midna, or even Zelda herself). One constant image always seems to stick in people's minds – Link running around with a fairy helper.
That isn't to say it should stick with the simple lock on system Navi provided and her basic text of “Hey, Listen!”, but you could turn a fairy-like character into sort of a moral compass type. You have to know this is on Nintendo's mind, because despite the fact Twilight Princess never featured a fairy, Link was seen with one in the Zelda HD Experience. This naturally leaves you to understand the importance such a companion has to both the fans and the developers.
At this point, Ocarina of Time is best remembered because it was the first Zelda game to appear in a 3D world. It was magical, it was special, and it perfectly transformed a 2D top down game in a fully encapsulating experience unlike anything seen before it.
That' s a hard feeling to recapture, given it was specifically possible due to the advancement in technology. While HD in that of itself isn't nearly the same technical achievement, it does open the door for us to be left with a massive sense of wonder... depending upon the given art style.
It won't be the first Zelda game we get to see in HD – that honor belongs to the beloved The Wind Waker – but it will be the one that will leave us with a lasting impact from this generation. With the proper art style combined with the HD resolution, Nintendo has that unique chance again to make us feel like we are traveling Hyrule in real life. Something that many haven't felt since they first booted up the launch screen in Ocarina of Time.
Magic returning in some form to the series has long been a calling card of the fans, and Ocarina of Time was far from the first game to feature magical related feats. However, it was the first to do it in a 3D world, and sadly the last.
There is no denying the unique potential reintroducing magic could provide the overall experience. It doesn't need to be anything over the top, but even a simple fire, ice, and water like ability is appreciated. The prospect of obtaining it through Fairy Fountains was also an intriguing aspect in Ocarina of Time.
The reason the fountains are brought up in general was to point out that I think magic in Zelda U should also be one of those optional, side quest style, experiences. That yes, magic is in this world and you can use to accomplish a copious amount of tasks, but only if you're willing to explore it and find the hidden wonders within.
It truly did add a reason to explore, even a little bit, and provided a very unique benefit. Magic, it needs to return, and it needs to follow in Ocarina of Time's footsteps.
One thing that has irked many fans in the latest two console games was the fact that the main villain wasn't present as a threat throughout the entirety of the experience. We know that in Skyward Sword, it's technically true that Demise is present through the imprisoned, but we don't fully grasp or understand that presence until the end of the game. While we may repeatedly reseal the beast, we aren't even sure what the impact really is if the beast does get free, since technically he is so easy to put back down with the Skyward Sword (and later, the Master Sword).
Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time is present very early in the game. When you sneak into the courtyard in order to speak with Zelda, you are shown Ganondorf bowing before the king, and suggestions of his evil plight are instantly recognizable by the player. There is the main bad guy, right in front of you, seemingly acting innocent. He's present, he's there, and Zelda gives you this fear of what he is capable of.
Later, we seem him racing off with Zelda as a captive, smiling, looking creepy, and clearly up to no good. Fast forward, and eventually you skip seven years ahead, and the first thing spoken to you when you wake up is the wrath Ganondorf has put upon Hyrule... and then you get to see it first hand. He might not have been present in character, but he was present in speech and affect.
The fact is, we haven't gotten that in the last couple console games. Both times we got to see sort of the “resurrection” type story first popularized with A Link to the Past. It's time we return to when the final enemy, be it Ganondorf or whoever, is actually present and giving off a threat throughout the entirety of the game.
Ocarina of Time wasn't the first with this, but it was the first to have it in a way that presented multiple cultures and hubs for Link to deal with. He had Kokiri Forest, Kakariko Village, and Castle Town – three distinct villages he uses as a hub during certain questing. This had begun to vanish over the years with more recent releases – where the home town is all but forgotten and there isn't much outside of the one hub world.
What really made Ocarina of Time seem like a living and growing world were the constant expansion of people you got to see in various situations. It's not enough to just have say, the home of the Zoras at Zora's Domain, but what about a second outlying Zora village? What about some new towns outside of the starting area, Kakariko Village, and Castle Town? What about some new lore that leads to new villages?
There is a lot to be said about having more than one place to go. Also, in Ocarina of Time, they managed to keep each place interesting with unique things to do, so be sure to carry that over as well.
That completes my overall thoughts on what Zelda U should take from Ocarina of Time. Are there any other aspects you would take and use again?