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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!