Fans of The Legend of Zelda series are perhaps the most complex and demanding that Nintendo have, and with each release Nintendo seems to satisfy only a subset of their fan base. Fault lines exist between different territories, age-groups and even skill levels which invites the question: Can Nintendo release a Zelda game that unites fans in that same way that Super Mario Galaxy was able to? Here’s a look at some of the factors that cause the divisions.
Most recently the Zelda series has diverged into 2 distinct visual styles: cel-shaded and semi-realisitic. Cel-shading was initially chosen to make The Wind Waker more attractive to those who felt the series had become too difficult and dark; essentially Japanese and younger gamers. The Twilight Princess’ more realistic style was created in an attempt to placate Western gamers who felt that The Wind Waker looked too childish. The Wii’s limited power also makes a case for continuing the timeless cel-shaded style of The Wind Waker. Perhaps Ubisoft has shown Nintendo the way with their upcoming Prince Of Persia?
The most thoroughly explored mechanic in the series has been dual worlds, and arguably none of them has bettered the one pioneered in A Link to the Past. The most inventive and divisive mechanic was the time travelling/limited Majora’s Mask, which also is the one most cherished by hardcore fans. The least liked is probably the repetitive manipulation of Wind in The Wind Waker. The central mechanic upon which the next game hinges must innovate and not frustrate, nor should it turn away less experienced gamers. Good luck with that Mr. Aonuma!
The Zelda series has been getting easier over time. The increase in restart points are welcome, and so are the dungeons that branch from a central hub to minimize aimless back-tracking. But the ease with which bosses and other enemies can now be dispatched means that the games present little challenge to many gamers. This has largely been a response to Nintendo discovering that less than half the gamers who started The Ocarina of Time finished the game. The inclusion of difficulty levels could be one (clumsy) solution. Perhaps more non-essential dungeons that are tougher would be a better one?
The Phantom Hourglass was a double header of accessibility: it had the cel-shaded style of The Wind Waker and more importantly was controlled entirely with the touch-screen. The game has since gone on to do very well in Japan, and introduce a new generation of gamers that would never have approached the series otherwise. The Twilight Princess gently introduced motion controls to the series, but expectations are that the next game will be built entirely around the Wii’s controls. The most accessible games on the Wii are typically those that use just the Wii remote or a peripheral, but if these were the sole options it would probably result in a backlash of Celda proportions replete with protests, book burnings and attempted suicides. Nintendo does seem to be following a trend of multiple control options in their recent releases thankfully.
The most universally accepted trend in modern Zelda games is their increasing emphasis on story and characterization. While Midna from The Twilight Princess was the most interesting and ambiguous (Tingle’s sexuality doesn’t count) character yet in the series, the game that gave the greatest impression of a living world was Majora’s Mask, with its fantastic interactive storytelling and interweaving time-lines. An orchestrated soundtrack and voice acting would also be welcomed, but what of the alternate timelines that have been created since The Ocarina of Time? The idea that Nintendo would use The Wind Waker timeline to provide accessible experiences has already been disproved with the release of Link’s Crossbow Training.