LoZ: Twilight Princess was an incredible success for Nintendo exactly when they needed it. Fans rejoiced in its return to the realism it had once presented with Ocarina of Time. Many cite Twilight Princess as one of the best Zelda games of all time. Those of us not fooled by the huge Nintendo hype machine see the game as a fairly above average experience. Not to say I didn't like TP, I just expected an enriched adventure to follow Wind Waker, which I consider one of my favorite games of all time. Instead I got what I felt was a shell of a Zelda game. There were all the elements of what makes the series great, sure, but they were arranged without the purpose I found in previous titles. Its a vague concept, I know, I just had the distinct feeling that Nintendo made the game to satisfy those who demanded another Ocarina of Time; those ignorant, grumbling masses who hated Wind Waker because Link looked like a cartoon instead of a flamboyant elf. There is a small but loud collective of people like me unhappy with what Twilight Princess became and feared how it would influence the future of the series.
Luckily, Nintendo seemingly agrees with our sentiment. Supposedly, Zelda bigwigs were impressed with what lesser studios accomplished through Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and have vowed to make sure future Zelda games will be original and innovative experiences. With the little we've seen from the newest title in the works (one measly piece of promotional art,) it seems they're taking that ideal to heart, which is great news, but what can they absolutely do to make sure everyone is happy? Here are 5 things Nintendo should consider to reinvigorate the Zelda franchise.
1. Refrain from Following Formula
Fans are very obviously uneasy and begrudgingly aware of the fact that Zelda games have fallen into a rut. Will we find the boomerang in the first dungeon? Will we need to complete three preliminary dungeons before a shocking plot twist? Zelda plot flow can almost be broken down to a science. This isn't a good thing. People are creatures of habit but sometimes, enough is enough. Nintendo needs to embrace their knack for creative story telling and push it to its limits. They need to throw players for a loop with what happens in their games. Zelda is starving for innovation both storywise and mechanic wise. If they cater to both, they'll find themselves with a pleasantly surprised fan base. Perhaps they should introduce some new weaponry or combat concepts are dramatically different from past titles. I'm not saying Link should be introduced to guns in the steampunk temple or anything like that, but replacing the hookshot with a grappling hook does not make for effective innovation.
2. Adhere to the Needs of Fans and Haters Alike
Yahtzee is an infamous Zelda naysayer who speaks openly about how he would improve the series. Many times, its hard for fans to disagree.
Gamers know what they like and don't like. Zelda famously loses chunks of its fan base as Nintendo makes decisions for the series that aren't always agreeable to everyone. Any creative driving force should know that losing fans to make more fans is usually a good idea. With gaming, its a fickle and risky process to alienate a particular group of followers to let the series grow, but its usually for the best.
Nintendo very obviously listens to its fans sometimes. An overwhelming amount of people were distraught with Wind Waker's approach to Zelda, both in art style and execution. They demanded a recall to the Nintendo 64 titles and Nintendo answered with Twilight Princess. While they reclaimed their alienated demographic, but in return they delivered a somewhat stagnant title (see 1.)
Its a tough process, but Nintendo needs to focus on what decisions will retain their existing fan base while making the content fresh enough to attract those unhappy with the series.
3. Defy Convention, Focus on the Oddity Rather Than the Fantasy
Would you rather fight Gannon for the umpteenth time? Or scramble for three days to stop the moon from crushing the earth and foil the plots of a possessed mask?
Majora's Mask is one of Zelda's most infamously controversial titles as it deviates so far from what fans are used to. It's celebrated for remaining a familiar addition to the series while somehow being incredibly un-familiar. The plot is bizarre, the gameplay executions are unconventional but not gimmicky, and the game focuses on the overall oddity of itself.
Zelda is loved because it is fantasy but its not typical fantasy. When an America audience thinks fantasy, it thinks elves, dwarves, orcs, and a pseudo-medieval setting. The Zelda world follows these guidelines, but strays just enough to make the experience satisfyingly original. Every once and a while, fans are treated to even more deviation from a fantasy realm with the inclusion of its oddities. Strange, unsettling, and discomforting characters and concepts are always loved by Zelda fans. Its fun to be weird when most other fantasy plots stick to the concepts on virtue and righteousness. Zelda has a humor about itself that other stories neglect in their self importance.
Twilight Princess failed at delivering this horribly. I found myself rolling my eyes how Tolkien influenced the whole game looked. Meanwhile, I found myself cheering at the few and far between moments of weirdness. The most famous scene from TP among fans is easily the strangest.
Weird games allow for better plot execution as it takes more effort to tell an offbeat story. Weird characters develop better than typical characters and its easier for players to care about them. Whatever direction Nintendo chooses to take this new title in, let's hope its a weird one.
4. Abandon the Assumption that this New Game Should Follow in Any Past Games' Footsteps
I was working at Gamestop when Twilight Princess was announced back in 2005 and we were immediately given the task of selling as many preorders for the game as possible. When I approached customers about the preorder, more often than not, I was declined as they were really unhappy that Wind Waker wasn't like Ocarina of Time at all and they didn't want to risk buying another Zelda game if it wasn't like their favorite. This was a pretty popular opinion at the time, so popular that Nintendo developed TP with the intent of maintaining Ocarina's roots.
Going back to idea 2, doing this gains fans and alienates others. Is it worth it? Delivering a sequel to a series that is inventive, creative, and entirely original is sometimes risky, but its something Nintendo should very seriously consider. If Zelda keeps showing up with more games following the Ocarina of Time guideline, fans will eventually get bored and abandon the series entirely.
One thing all Zelda fans can agree on? That Nintendo often promises a lot that is ultimately can't deliver. Nintendo is notorious for development delays and no one suffers more than the Zelda series (and fans of course.) Furthermore, during all the delays, fans are often shown screenshots of parts of the game that never make it to the final version. Twilight Princess came out two years after its propsed release date. Wind Waker took so long to make, they had to reduce the dungeon count and include a frustrating triforce fetch quest. How long are fans supposed to put up with this abuse? Its up to Nintendo to promise big and deliver bigger. Not the exact opposite.