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The Legend of Zelda is a widely beloved Nintendo series that has managed to capture the hearts of many gamers with its action-puzzle oriented gameplay, fantastic stories, loveable characters, and,of course, its famous green clad hero. Although there hasn’t been a new official Zelda announcement for neither the Wii U nor the 3DS, Nintendo is probably cooking up new ideas for its next iteration. This new game is bound to contain a legendary tale, a re-imagined Hyrule, tight gameplay controls, and our iconic hero. The implementation of these new elements, however, will undoubtedly be steeped in mystery up until a few months before its release, and thus is up for speculation. Personally, I think now is the time for Nintendo to create a dark and more mature Zelda game. At this point, I’ve probably lost clear over a majority of you reading this, but this isn’t nearly as bad as you might think. Despite its relatively family oriented focus, Nintendo has previously sold the Wii U as a machine with the ‘hardcore’ (don’t like that word) gamer in mind, and is perfectly capable of creating mature titles. In fact, Nintendo has already done it on multiple occasions. While Majora’s Mask is often the prime example (which I’ll draw on heavily later), other games such as Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and even the cutesy styled Wind Waker all have elements that can be used to create an immersive, gritty experience. Gameplay, sounds, story, environment, and graphics all play an equally important part, but before I elaborate on what Nintendo should do, I’m going to quickly run down what Nintendo should not do.
Hey! Listen! This is very important!
Mature Titles Don’t Need a Mature Rating
Prior to writing this blog, I’d often come across blogs that wanted a Zelda with ‘mature’ themes, often including things like blood, sexual content, language, and extreme violence. While I can understand some gamers wish to have their favorite titles age in content along with them, having this kind of content has the head focus simply won’t work. This is because the ‘shock value’ provided by these features will end up drawing attention away from the more important parts of the game that make each Zelda a masterpiece. Zelda games have had ‘blood’ before, but it was seldom used, and was mostly limited to enemy goo splats signifying a sword hit. Anything more and the focus of the fight becomes the blood spectacle and not the combat. As for sexual content, I don’t think it needs to be displayed any more than what it already has. Zelda characters have always been defined by their personalities, and it’s these relationships that drive the main character forward toward his goal. Overly skimpy outfits and sensual displays can cheapen this important point and should be avoided at all costs. There is also no need for bad language since Link can’t talk, and if you want a Zelda game with extreme violence, go play Darksiders. Hehehehehe, sorry I didn’t explain more, but I’ll start rambling and need to move on.
This is as sexy as it gets, yet still pretty dang attractive
So if Nintendo shouldn’t have adult themes in a Zelda game, how can they make it dark and mature? The answers to this are rather simple. There are plenty of attributes games can use to portray that gritty vibe without resorting to ‘adult’ show tricks, though the execution results may vary from person to person. Here are some that I’m looking forward to, in no particular order.
Lose the Cartoon
If you take the Zelda universe at face value, it is a pretty scary place. The land is filled with slimes with wide-eyed smiley faces materializing out of nowhere, walking octopuses pelting you with rocks, giant spiders trying to pounce you, and well... Tingle. While nothing is really more disturbing than a prancing adult man in a tight green jumpsuit (with red undies on the outside), most of the other dangers seem to have a goofy, cartoony vibe. This was especially prevalent in the Wind Waker style games and Skyword Sword. Despite the enemies taking a couple hits, I’m sure most of you felt pretty confident that you could slap the silliness out of them, and then chuckle as they poof away in a small cloud of smoke.
This is not a bad thing by itself, and I’ve enjoyed all the games under this style. However, I feel its time we rotate back to the ‘Ocarina’ style design. Give enemies well-defined models with detailed textures instead of the rounded figures with solid colors. Have the Moblins brandishing fangs with large muscular bodies rather than the chubby, clumsy display they’re usually given. Given them a menacing, intimidating battle cry as well. The enemies can’t just look like a threat, they need to act like a threat (and preferably be one too)
Provide a Sense of Urgency
It’s often argued that Zelda’s best games will be always and forever be Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. The reason for this, I believe, is because both games rely heavily on one very important trait... time. Time allows for all sorts of strange narratives and interesting game mechanics. Ocarina used it for time travel to control either a young or older Link. Skyward Sword used it to change landscapes and activate broken devices. Majora’s Mask arguably used it in the best way by limiting your actual time. From the moment that game boots, you have three days to accomplish your goal, all while watching that menacing moon grow ever closer to the town.
There’s a sense of urgency as you struggle through the jagged land and muscle through those temples. Sure you can just play the Song of Time and reset the day counter, but the realization that there is an ultimate limit to what you can do drives a small feeling of helplessness. There isn’t enough time to screw off and get stuff done at the same time, it’s either one or the other. The choice is yours to make. The next Zelda game needs a have its main quest (and side quests) drive home a feeling of dire need. This place and its people are in trouble, whether they know it or not. They need your help, and most importantly, they need it now. This also leads into my next wish:
All Action and Inaction Have Consequences
Most Zelda games have waded into these waters, but very few have actually pulled it off rather well. Ocarina of Time introduced you to Ganondorf, a man Zelda describes as actively seeking the Spiritual Stones. He poisoned and effectively murdered the Great Deku Tree, and was hell-bent on starving the entire race of Gorons for those things. Yet, while Zelda pleads that you find them quickly, Link can literally just screw off, go swimming, mountain climbing, and pick a bushel of daisies for weeks and nothing ever changes.
In Twilight Princess, Zant forces Midna into the realm of light causing her to slowly die unless you can make it to Zelda to heal her. While this does provide a great sense of urgency, the feeling eventually falls flat as you can run around and beat up enemies, taking as much time as you need. There is no ultimate consequence to any of your actions. Majora’s Mask, however, pulled this off perfectly. When the local ranch is threatened, if you aren’t there at a specific time, the ranch loses it livestock (and source of income). If you don’t defend the milk cart from a raid by the badly disguised Gorman Bros., then the bar doesn’t get its shipment, and the Ranch once again loses out on their income.
The biggest, most famous one of all though, is if you fail to stop the moon in 3 days, it will slam into the town and destroy all life in the land. There’s even a really dramatic cutscene to go with it. I remember messing around in Clock Town, purposefully watching the timer tick down to zero thinking I’d just have a still image with a Game Over. After watching that scene, I felt a small pit in my stomach... Even though it was purposeful, I felt like I messed up horribly as the moon crushed the city and its impact burned everything in sight.
When the next Zelda game provides any sort of threat, they need to follow up and provide consequences for those actions. If some dude is trying to kidnap Zelda, then you need to buckle down and find the little lady before he does (or at least some way to stop him). If a character suffers something similar to what Midna did, Nintendo shouldn’t be afraid to have them die. After all, death can be handled tastefully, but still create a sense of loss then rub it in your face like it’s your fault. Events like these could also be used to create multiple, different endings, providing more replay value and choice experimentation. You could also use the multiple ending excuse to patch up the horribly explained ‘timeline’. Just a thought.
Although the horror in Zelda isn’t as shocking and in-your-face compared to a game like Dead Space, they did contain some pretty disturbing stuff. Wind Waker has Ganondorf slowly morph into a giant silly looking puppet, but that effect didn’t last long. The game was just too cartoony to provide any real sense of fear (except maybe their Re-dead shrieks, that made me jump the first time). Link’s Awakening had the “It was all a dream” story theme where you realize that waking up destroys everything on the island, but staying asleep kills you anyway. Looking back, it was a rather neat conundrum, but it doesn’t manifest itself until much later in the game.
Twilight Princess provided a good amount of weird. The Shadow Beasts were strange, and the ominous hand following you in the Twilight Realm was rather creepy. When you approach the Twilight Wall, the screen goes dark and silent, and then a giant orange hand busts out of nowhere and drags you inside. There is also the Fused Shadow history scene, the entire desert dungeon, and the yeti lady.
Ocarina of Time had the ‘jail cells’ containing all sort of weird shackles and stains all over the Bottom of the Well. The Shadow temple was bad enough with Dead Hand, skeleton decorated walls, and all sorts of creepy death machines. The Re-deads were also the some of the creepiest things I’ve ever met in a Nintendo game. Standing still with blank expressions, upon catching sight of you, they’ll perform a blood-curling scream paralyzing Link in fear. If their slow walk catches Link, they wrap their bodies around him performing who knows what kind of disturbing torture to him. The creepiest of them all was Majora’s Mask. Now I’ve played games like Dead Space and Resident Evil, and a lot of them focus on the ‘BOO’ factor. Things like opening a door causing a Necromancer to slaughter you immediately after it opens, or a masked dude with a chainsaw sawing off your limbs. This submits your body to a few seconds of fear, and then disgusts it with awful dismemberment display.
Majora’s Mask on the other hand focuses strictly on the mind. In a silent, misty wood, Link is thrown off his horse after being spooked. Out of the mist, materializes an ominous floating mask with wide orange eyes, piercing and never blinking. The Skullkid’s creepy laugh reverberates throughout the woods. Upon chasing him, Link falls into a dark pit awakening to find mask’s bright eyes staring at him, and then after a few taunts starts shaking violently in the most creepy way possible. Couple that with the creepy bi-polar Mask Salesman, the slowly approach moon with the giant evil face, and the mask transformation screens and you’ve got a pretty creepy game. Majora’s Mask disturbed me as a little kid and very few Zelda games save a few scenes from Twilight Princess have been able to recreate it.
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The next Zelda has got find its spooky niche in both the main story and part of its environment. Have the main character be some sort of weird Majora/Zant/Ghirahim hybrid where he’s essentially evil and insane, but is driven by a specific purpose rather than just “Let’s take over the world”. You could even have a dungeon based off Amnesia: The Dark Descent or some kind of spiritual homage. Imagine a place like Ocarina’s Shadow Temple but having Bongo Bongo’s shadow following you. The place is creepy as it is, but knowing that the effectively invisible spirit is nearby could provide an extra motivation to finish up those dungeon puzzles quickly.
Develop Characters that Provide a Sense of Worth
Zelda games are often more than just discovering some evil bad guy plot, and trying to put a stop to it. As Link wanders from location to location, he’s bound to meet an interesting cast of unique (or sometimes molded) citizens. Most of them are regular townsfolk trying to live out their daily lives despite the impending disaster that seems to be surrounding them. Unfortunately, a lot of their personalities seem to fall flat. Zelda characters have always been rather cheery and optimistic, but sometimes it’s a little too much. What the game needs is a good mix of emotions from the individual people to help round out the presented character.
The citizens of Termina are a great testament to this. As you mosey your way into their lives, you realize that each and every person has fears and worries that they battle with. Skyward Sword tried this with the various citizens of Skyloft, and it worked only to a small degree. We saw the happy, everyday citizens worry about their love lives, lose their precious belongings, or have trouble finding the inspiration they need. Unfortunately, most of the tasks felt more like errands that you were guilted into because the citizens were too lazy to put forth a decent effort themselves. In Majora’s Mask, the citizens need you. An old lady can’t easily defend herself from a thief, Romani can’t protect the farm by herself, and her older sister can’t drive the cart and shield her products at the same time. Each of these tasks provide a sense of worth because at the end of the day, if you don’t help them, no one else will. With or without you, they’re bound and determined to get their job done. The question is whether you’ll help to succeed, or watch them fail from the sidelines.
The next Zelda game needs to go beyond the fetch quests and develop a deep, emotional connection with the people you’re trying to save. Create a scenario that asks for a meaningful request and gives you a compelling reason to help. Have them join you side-by-side or provide a good reason not to. If the poor lad hasn’t broken his leg, or the little lass is too young to fight, I don’t want to hear excuses as to why I have to do it alone. Don’t forget the sense of urgency and consequences as well. While not every quest needs to be “You have 30 seconds to crawl through a dungeon, beat up a monster, grab an item, and make it back, on foot, both ways”, there needs to be an ultimate limit up to which the quest expires. If you succeed, some smiles, a Heart Piece, and maybe even a special scene should be in order. Failure should at least be met with a half-hearted guilt trip of some sort. After all, they trusted you with something important and you failed.
Things Not to Forget
To close off, I’d like to provide a short list of things Nintendo needs to include as well:
Alright, I think I’ve covered almost all of the bases I can think of at this point.
Is there any particular you want stressed in the next Zelda game?
Do you prefer the more ‘realistic’ style of the Ocarina games, or the more ‘abstract’ style found in Wind Waker?
Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed it!