With The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker‘s re-release barreling ever-closer to us, it’s gotten me thinking of what direction Nintendo’s other flagship (a pun!) series should take. It’s ironic that Nintendo would make Wind Waker the focus of a remake, as it remains one of the more radical departures of the typical Zelda formula. Visuals aside, Wind Waker‘s gameplay and structure were a marked deviation from what had come before. The sense of experimentation that Nintendo brought to Wind Waker resulted in one of the series’ more timeless outings; with that in mind, let’s examine how Nintendo could further spice things up for the future.
One thing I loved about both Wind Waker and Twilight Princess was how traditional dungeons were sometimes eschewed in favor of quests or masked with creative environmental designs. While I would never want to see Nintendo altogether abandon dungeons, offering a more diverse assortment would be a breath of fresh air. The Goron Mines in Twilight Princess are a perfect example of how to do this, with that dungeon seamlessly meshing into the environment. I’d also like to see a continuation or extension of Skyward Sword‘s mixing of the overworld with elements from dungeons. That seemingly small tweak made the transitions into the proper dungeons less jarring and more natural, something that I really appreciated as a player.
There are basic items I expect to get in every Zelda game; bow and arrows, a sword, hookshot, bombs, and a shield. It’s the deliberate pacing of how those items are given out that could stand for some change. Nintendo could try to distribute items as they did in games like Link’s Awakening, where you’d find them in shops or the overworld. I also would welcome being able to again get “secret” items like the Fierce Deity’s mask from Majora’s Mask or the Biggoron Sword from Ocarina of Time. Part of the allure of both those items is that they weren’t even necessary to beat the game, but rather were a reward for players who wanted more out of the experience, to explore. Which leads us handily to my next point…
More to Explore
After the gargantuan overworld of Twilight Princess, I don’t necessarily feel Nintendo needs to make the next Zelda game bigger, but more populated. One aspect of Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker that I found incredibly captivating was the metric-ton of NPCs (that’s non-playable characters for the nooblets) to interact with. Multiple characters make the game world feel alive and give you further cause to explore. Of course, that also means there should be some kind of reward/motivation for taking the time to do this, which could handily be resolved with the secret items and doo-dads I mentioned above. Along with the NPCs more shops, houses, and heck, even a secret dungeon or town, would be excellent additions to the experience.
Skyward Sword‘s motion-controlled sword fighting was pretty spot-on, but no matter how Link swings his sword in the next Zelda game, I hope that the combat evolves. Some of the most engaging (not boss) battles in Zelda history have either involved Dark Nuts or Iron Knuckles, and it’s because fights with them are more demanding than the average skirmish. One-off enemies like Deku Scrubs are fine here and there, but I’ve always loved seeing Link take on enemies that are both physically imposing and cunning. Give Link more of these tough and grueling foes to fight. Beefing up the enemies, though, means Link has to have a strong repertoire of fighting techniques to take them on with. Twilight Princess and Minish Cap both placed a big emphasis on Link developing an expanding move set over the course of his adventure, so I think those two games would be a good starting point for Nintendo to branch from. Link could even take a leaf from Samus in Other M with her more physical approach to combat!
Outside the Box
This next part is tricky, because I’m not sure if Nintendo needs to add much to the Zelda toy box. Perhaps touching on Zelda II and incorporating a RPG-like upgrade system could be worked in? Link could earn EXP from fighting enemies and players could determine which of his stats to boost. Nintendo, ever new-gamer-conscious, could even find a way to simplify this process to a handful of basic categories that would keep the addition from being too cumbersome. Expanded customization might be nice, as Skyward already sort of introduced this new dynamic with the shield and item upgrade system. Maybe even add the option to customize Link’s tunics and gear. Innovation and Zelda often go hand-in-hand, so whatever Nintendo chooses to add will surely be a boon to fans.
There are plenty of things about Zelda that don’t need changing, and I hope Nintendo doesn’t make the mistake of innovating for the sake of innovation. If I read the words “steampunk” or “modern” in conjunction with another Zelda fan-post I’m going to hurl. I’d like to see the stamina meter and lite-Prince of Persia agility elements carried over from Skyward, as they helped add a new layer to exploration. The basic set of items should remain and the essential dynamics of exploration, dungeons, and combat shouldn’t be sacrificed or tweaked too much. Nintendo continues to lead the industry with its mainstay series like Zelda, and part of that success comes from their exceptional ability respect the series’ past while simultaneously moving the brand forward. Skyward Sword is one of the most stunning videogame experiences of this past generation, and didn’t even need to be HD to do it. From the thrill of piloting a time machine boat that turned sand to water beneath its hull, to the thrill of fighting a virtual god under an endless sky of menacing thunder clouds, Nintendo has yet to show any signs of decline with the Zelda series. I’m just a beggar trying to be a chooser, but I do feel my humble suggestions might make the next Zelda the best one yet. Seriously though; more Iron Knuckle.