Why A Choice-Driven Story Game Would Make A Great Zelda Spin-Off - airbornebovine Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Why A Choice-Driven Story Game Would Make A Great Zelda Spin-Off

This article was originally published on zeldadungeon.net under the name Keaton, because that is my first name.

The empowerment of decision-making is a popular trend in video game stories these days. As shown by the critical acclaim and commercial success of series like Mass Effect and Telltale's The Walking Dead, players obviously enjoy the sense of free will and importance that meaningful in-game decisions create. Even games with narratives that are otherwise set in stone like to offer choices at pivotal story moments, particularly ending sequences. While I doubt Zelda will ever embrace interactive storytelling, it's fun to imagine what might happen if it did.

As it turns out, I believe there is a lot of potential in a game like this. Zelda has always placed game design as a higher priority than story, but there are plenty of intriguing and unique story elements that only Zelda can provide. The eternally reincarnated main characters, splitting timeline, and rich history of Hyrule can be explored and expanded upon in ways Nintendo might never dare to try. Considering so much has already happened in the Zelda universe, I think it would be best if a spin-off game or series of games told its own original story based on existing Zelda lore. Here are my ideas for such a game, and why I think it would be great.

The large span of time between the lives of two incarnations of Link is a story element integral to Zelda, and one that I think can be used to great effect, especially in a choice-driven plot. A major decision in any choice-driven game is great when there is no right or wrong choice. You have to act on your better judgment, and unforeseen consequences are usually waiting just around the corner. Imagine Zelda's life is put in danger during a heated battle with Ganondorf, and the only way for Link to save her is to sacrifice himself. Should Link give up his life for Zelda, or press on and defeat Ganondorf at any cost? No matter Link's decision, irreversible change will be done to Hyrule in the following years.

Suppose Link chooses to defeat Ganondorf, and Zelda is killed. Assuming the king is already dead, another member of the royal family is forced to take Zelda's place at the throne. Much controversy surrounds this new leader, and Hyrule eventually breaks into an all-out civil war. In a few centuries, this could result in a much different Hyrule where Zelda is no longer a princess. But what happens if Link makes the ultimate sacrifice for Zelda? Maybe Zelda escapes with her life, setting off a new chain of events. She returns to rule the people of Hyrule, and begin an offensive against Ganondorf and his forces. However, with no hero to slay Ganondorf, Hyrule ultimately loses the war. By the time another Link is born, Hyrule is under Ganondorf's oppressive rule, and the royal family is in hiding.

An important demand that many choice-driven games struggle to meet is creating meaningful choices that change the story significantly. Taking control of a new Link in a new time period and discovering the world-changing ramifications of the decisions you made as a previous Link would be very fulfilling, and even create some compelling new elements of exploration. A dungeon could contain inscriptions of a legend that tells of Link's heroic deeds and how they changed Hyrule for better or worse. NPCs who only know bits and pieces of the legend might misinterpret some of Link's actions, possibly resulting in characters you meet who question Link's true intentions (assuming they realize Link is the hero of legend). Of course these are only my ideas. I'm sure that someone who has more talent and experience with building interactive narratives could think up something better.

I also think this kind of Zelda game would benefit by taking a cue from the Mass Effect series. In Mass Effect games, galaxy-wide politics influence much of the story, and by extension, the decisions players must make. Tensions between different alien species often require drastic measures to be resolved, presenting players with difficult moral questions. This story element could factor perfectly into the Zelda universe. With so many races, like Gorons, Zora, Kokiri, Twili, Minish, and more, there is plenty of potential. What might happen if an artifact important (but not absolutely necessary) for defeating whatever evil is currently threatening Hyrule happens to be located in a dungeon considered sacred and forbidden by a Goron tribe? Should Link respect the Gorons' beliefs and attempt to save Hyrule without the artifact, or risk Goron retaliation against Hylians by encroaching upon the sacred dungeon?

The tricky part about making this kind of Zelda game would be the game design. Considering it would be a spin-off, it likely would not play like a traditional Zelda game. I imagine it as something along the lines of a Telltale game, but with its own versions of core Zelda mechanics. Dungeons might be smaller and more puzzle-focused, and always have something to contribute to the story, such as the inscriptions I mentioned earlier. Going even further in the Telltale direction, it could be an episodic series like The Walking Dead, with five-episode seasons that are each set in their own time period. I'd bet anything the talented developers at Nintendo could come up with something great, though.

As much as I enjoy this idea, it is not without potential flaws. Everything rides on the story; if that's no good, the game would amount to nothing more than a sub-par Zelda experience. And the regular, mostly self-contained stories of Zelda might lose player interest after some time. There would need to be an overarching story that isn't limited to a single time period in order to keep players engaged, which might be difficult to pull off in the long run. But overall, I still think this idea has a lot of potential. There are limitless possibilities for unique story paths that can only be taken in the Zelda universe, and even simply imagining what some of them might be is really fun to do. My ideas can't be the only ones worth reading and considering. What would you like to see from a Zelda game like the one I describe here? Let your voice be heard in the comments!

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