Zelda Wii U has the potential to be one of the first truly high-tech, cutting-edge entries since Ocarina of Time. While I don’t think being cutting-edge is everything by a long stretch, there’s no denying that that potential, if leveraged correctly, could be just what the team needs to create a game that could truly and definitively top that first glorious jump to 3D. A lot of this is going to require knowing what elements to carry over into the world of higher system power and HD visuals - and Zelda‘s got a 25-year history of superb ideas to draw from.
I’ve got a set of elements that I’d like to see re-used in some way in the new game - some of them are wishful thinking on my part, others are more feasible and things that many fans probably already expect. Read on for the top ten Zelda series features I’d like to see carried over to Zelda Wii U.
Magic in its various forms has always been a big part of Zelda - but some games have incorporated it more directly into the gameplay than others. The original game started with a Magic Wand that shot fire; Zelda II took things one step further with a dedicated Magic Meter and a wide palette of spells. Various games since have used magic, but in general the prevalence of spells has declined since Ocarina of Time.
I don’t think magic is essential by any means, and I certainly don’t think it really makes sense as a primary puzzle-solving element outside of the occasional opportunity to use a fire spell in place of your lantern if you’re out of fuel or something, but I think that if spells are well-designed they could really enhance the player-building experience.
I think the spellsets in Adventure of Link and Ocarina of Time were the most balanced and the best starting point for any future attempts to incorporate magic. You had your offensive spells (fire-based), a defensive spell or two (Shield, Nayru’s Love), and a couple spells that make adventuring a little easier (Jump, Fairy, Farore’s Wind). Expand the repertoire a little in each of those departments and you’d have a solid magic system that doesn’t get into too deep into pretentious RPG territory.
I loved the Tower of Spirits and the Silent Realm. They’re in my opinion the best uses of stealth gameplay in Zelda - but what I think makes them so powerful are the Phantoms and Guardians. I love the idea of an invincible enemy that you can’t truly defeat, but can only avoid and fight back in a somewhat limited manner. The Silent Realm Guardians in particular were really chilling, with a creepy otherworld setting to match.
I’d like to see this concept explored again, but geared less towards stealth and item collection and more towards thrilling combat. I thought about a basic format I’d use for better incorporating Silent Realm-style gameplay in a recent discussion on the forums:
This is just an example of how Nintendo might extend Silent Realm style gameplay into another game, not necessarily a strict template I’m demanding that they follow. It’s just such a cool concept that I feel didn’t quite get to shine as much as it might have in those previous games due to being bogged down by fetch quests and stealth-oriented mechanics instead of “survival” oriented gameplay. The Tower of Spirits is still one of my favorite dungeons ever, and the Silent Realm one of my favorite atmospheres in any Zelda, but I still feel they could have been a little stronger and taken a more unique and impactful approach to enemies.
I try to refrain from asking much of Zelda‘s storyline - I’d prefer the developers focus on making a better gameplay experience - but after having seen the difference between the more active role the series’ titular princess took in The Wind Waker, Spirit Tracks and Skyward Sword compared to her damsel-in-distress role in previous games and especially her stilted character in Twilight Princess, this is one thing that I feel is worth asking for. I just find that I usually enjoy those moments when Zelda is involved in the progression of the plot.
I don’t know if it has to do with her having actual character development (my aversion to Twilight Princess‘s incarnation certainly speaks to this) or if it’s just satisfying to see that Link isn’t the only person in Hyrule fighting the forces of evil (Tetra coming to his rescue in The Wind Waker and the tag team battles in some of the more recent games serve as shining examples of this)... but this has always gone over well with me. Even just knowing that something strange was going on in Skyward Sword that involves her was enough to actually interest me in the character. I think this is something they could do to continue with future Zeldas.
Part of me wants to kick myself for even thinking of including these, since (at least in the 3D games) the hidden skills often made Link feel cheaply overpowered… but they’re just so damn cool that I can’t help but want to see them included anyway. Ending Blow and Shield Bash both seem to have become mainstays, but why not find a way to incorporate the Helm Splitter and Back Slice that makes Link more balanced? Darknut fights in both The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess were pretty satisfying, despite being a bit formulaic, so I’d also like to see more enemies like that so that these special moves feel like they have some purpose. I don’t think anyone could argue with more satisfying enemy encounters.
I do however think that hidden sword skills should be more, well, hidden. It’d help balance out the game; they’d be available to those players who have truly earned them. At the same time, there’s an extent to which hidden skills can work as a kind of handicap for players who struggle defeating tough enemies with the conventional sword moves.
So as you can see the whole issue has me at a bit of a crossroads. Still, it’s something I’d like Nintendo to explore in the future if possible!
Ocarina of Time was one of the first majorly popular games to incorporate a full day and night system, and it wowed the world back in ‘98. Majora’s Mask took the concept one step further; The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess carried it over to future console entries… but Skyward Sword lessened its importance.
For the next game I think a sort of combo of Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask and Skyward Sword could work well. Certain areas would be accessible during certain times of day, just like in Ocarina, while others would change based on a set schedule, as in Majora’s Mask. I really liked the “fall asleep to quickly cycle between night and day” mechanic from Skyward Sword, though, so I’d love to see that brought back as well. I don’t expect any kind of scheduling system to be nearly as ambitious as Majora’s Mask, of course, but I think that making a game that modernizes the concept would be a good step for the series.
One of the really exciting things about a Wii U Zelda is how much potential it has to be a truly huge world thanks to the additional disc space and the ability for the hardware to render larger gameplay areas. For me, that means the prospect of perhaps seeing a more diverse world, with more realistically-scaled rivers, lakes, and fields - perhaps even an entire country or a vast sea. To truly capitalize on that kind of environment, Nintendo would have to incorporate multiple modes of transportation.
Historically most Zelda games have stuck to one primary method of travel, apart from on-foot. Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and Twilight Princess had horseback; The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass had ship travel; Spirit Tracks had trains; and Skyward Sword had Link’s trusty Loftwing (as well as a short stint in a ship at the Sand Sea). I think the kind of Zelda world I’ve pictured would benefit from both horseback and boat transport. Epona could carry Link across the sweeping plains; a sailboat could guide him along the coast; perhaps we could even see the return of the canoe, which originally seemed like it’d be a big part of Twilight Princess but inevitably wound up being saved for mini-games.
I certainly don’t think a new game should revolve around any particular form of transportation, but I think it’d be nice for players to have multiple options as well as multiple practical applications for each of those options. Riding a horse might make it a little easier to fight off mounted enemies, for instance; rafting down the river could lead you to a hidden grotto inaccessible by land routes; obtaining a sailboat could lead you to secret treasures and dungeons on otherwise unreachable islands at sea. Of course, these methods of travel would also be useful just for getting around the world faster, or taking some time to see the sights. There are plenty of satisfying ways to bring back some of these transportation options without shackling the game in the process.
I wrote a full article about why I love Skyward Sword‘s expansions to the inventory system, so I’ve discussed this one in great detail already. It’s a very appropriate system for including a RPG-like equipment setup in the 3D Zelda framework many of us are familiar with. If there’s anything I’ve got to say about how it might be used in a future Zelda, it’s summed up in just two short words: go bigger.
Here’s an excerpt from my article, “Soaring Skyward: That RPG Feeling,” that conveys what I mean:
“If there’s anything I’d change, it’d be to amp things up a bit. Potions seem a little too affordable, to the point that the low cost is somewhat unbalanced given their supreme usefulness. Item upgrades could also do to be a bit more expensive, and in some cases (the bow especially) seem to make Link’s weapons too powerful. But I also mean that they should be amped up in the sense that there should be more variety in terms of items in general. We’ve already got multiple shield classes - why not multiple sword classes as well? Different swords could have different attack attributes, like faster combos, stronger hits, or certain special sword maneuvers. How about tunics/armor? The costume changes in Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess were pretty popular and it’d be cool to see them played out in a full armor-equip system.”
And of course I’m in love with the Adventure Pouch, although like the upgrades I feel as though it’s a good idea for which the impact could have been much greater had it been put to more ambitious use:
“I proposed a few suggestions for giving players more options in terms of items like swords, armor, and even traditional equip items like bows or bombs. If you take these ideas to their logical conclusion, incorporating alternate weapon varieties into the Adventure Pouch in the same way that shields are already, the idea sounds even more enticing - and even more suitable to the RPG fan.”
The Legend of Zelda was well-known for a lot of reasons, but one of them was its Second Quest. Unlocked after you completed the game, the Second Quest featured a remixed overworld and redesigned dungeons and offered a completely different and much more trying challenge than the already-tough original game. Ocarina of Time carried on this tradition with its Master Quest, which in the 3DS edition added some extra challenge by mirroring the overworld and doubling the damage received from enemies. Skyward Sword took things one step further by removing recovery hearts from all but a few choice scenarios, and the result was one of the most satisfying difficulty levels in the series’ history.
For the future, I say yes to all of the above! Do make some changes to the overworld - whether that means mirroring it, adding more or more powerful enemies, shifting around some item locations, or whatever other crafty schemes Nintendo can come up with. And definitely do mix up the dungeons to make them a little more confusing for even the most skilled of players. But crucial I think is the return of the double damage ratios and the heart-less run.
Combine all these features and the result I think would be a Zelda that might prove a considerable challenge for many years and many replays to come.
Of all the things I put on the list, this one’s actually the one I want most, but more in the “wishful thinking” kind of way than the “I think this should actually happen” or “this would work really well with what Wii U’s tech has to offer.” I think I’ll be finding ways to slide in a bit of praise for Skyward Sword‘s Wii Motion Plus controls until the day I die; the ability to really control your sword and shield and the more complex combat scenarios that were born out of this struck a very happy chord with me.
I’ve compared the impact on Skyward Sword‘s combat compared to other 3D titles as analogous to the difference between the original NES game and Zelda II from the very first time I experienced it firsthand, and I’m sticking to that. I think I’d amend that comparison a little by saying that “it’s like Zelda II combat, only much, much more gratifying.”
It wasn’t just the sword and shield, of course - I loved the Wii Sports Resort style bow controls as well as the incorporation of the Beetle and Whip. I’m sure there are a number of unused ideas that Nintendo could bring forth in a future Zelda, especially with the increased gameplay possibilities thanks to the Wii U’s greater system power. I’m also just as sure that I’d love another Wii Motion Plus Zelda just as much as I loved Skyward Sword. Tweak the game balance a bit to up the difficulty and I’m sold.
The one thing I missed most from Skyward Sword was feeling like I was adventuring through Hyrule. Instead, I felt like I was dropping down to some forest, mountain, and desert that had some vague connection to Hyrule that wasn’t quite as established. From a timeline perspective, this might have been just what they were going for; as a game, they were pretty well-designed in my opinion, but it still wound up feeling like something was missing.
Recent experiments with different kinds of worlds have been cool; I love sailing the Great Sea and training around in Spirit Tracks. But I don’t think there will ever be any substitute for the field overworld that’s characterized Hyrule from the very beginning. By that I don’t just mean a central “Hyrule Field” hub; I mean the feeling that every area is a vast game field, part of an even vaster world.
It’s a feeling that in hindsight was really most present in the original game, with its multi-regional overworld, although its 2D sequels have passed on that legacy all the way to The Minish Cap. The 3D entries, while they took a very different direction in terms of world design, did a good job of producing a sense of awe with their sweeping vistas. Walking out into Ocarina of Time‘s Hyrule Field gave me goosebumps. I had never experienced anything like it in a game before.
What direction do I think the next Zelda should take, then? I feel a reference to Xenoblade Chronicles is appropriate, even though it kind of corrupts my purpose of discussing features I’d like to carry over from past Zeldas. Every individual area is like a “field” unto itself; hardly anything feels like a sub-area unless it’s a town or dungeon. It serves as a kind of extreme version of what a Zelda overworld could be like if it cut away from the mentality that “overworld” means “central hub with more linear sub-areas surrounding it.”
Why not have a forest that’s as sweeping as Hyrule Field? Or a mountain with more than one path to the top? I want to have plentiful opportunities to feel like I can strike out on my own in every new area I visit. I don’t think that approach is really exclusive to Xenoblade, it’s more of a marriage between both 2D and 3D Zeldas’ design sensibilities.