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Zelda Was In Trouble, Breath of Wind Might Save It

Christopher Coke Posted:
Columns The RPG Files 0

Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the unexpected Game of the Show for many fans at this year’s E3. Many of us expected what Nintendo has been delivering: more Zelda. This time Link would be in an open world, of course, but by and large the series kept its mainstays only making additions within a well-worn wrapper. Breath of the Wild is nothing short of a reimagining of the series and is officially a real roleplaying game. It looks exactly the shot in the arm this franchise desperately needs.

Zelda is one of those franchises that has achieved a lofty legendary status among gamers. Who doesn’t have treasured memories of running around as Link through Hyrule? The problem is, Nintendo has had a hard time proving that Zelda has what it takes to remain legendary against their ever steeper competition. Put another way, they’ve been beating the same Goron for too long. Here’s Nintendo’s last five years of Zelda games:

  • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2016, Wii U) - REHASH
  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2016, 3DS) - REHASH
  • The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (2015, 3DS) - Poorly Reviewed, Barely Zelda - MEH
  • Hyrule Warriors (2014) - Dynasty Warriors in a Zelda Skin - MEH
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (2013, 3DS) - Amazing, 2D Adventure - WOOT!
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (2013, Wii U) - REHASH
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (2011, Wii) - Good early reviews, poor long-term reception - MEH
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (2011, 3DS) - REHASH

Notice anything? Of eight, a solid half are remakes. Hyrule Warriors probably shouldn’t even be up there since it’s really just a reskin of a whole different franchise. Tri Force Heroes… did anyone even buy that? When those are thrown out, you’re left with one solidly good handheld game (A Link Between Worlds) and Skyward Sword, which people thought was kind of good in the beginning and now just remember as a waggle-fest. The next most recent well-reviewed and well-remembered mainline game is the original Twilight Princess which came out in 2006.

Zelda has been much more focused on helping you remember what you used to be amazing instead of amazing you today. That’s a major problem. Now, people love Zelda, and they buy remake after remake because they’re still good games today and want to relive a little of their past (full disclosure: I have a copy of Twilight Princess on my kitchen island right now). But the impact of Skyward Sword on the fanbase can’t be ignored.

Skyward Sword wasn’t a bad game. It just wasn’t great. And after waiting five years from Twilight Princess, and seeing some of those amazing trailers and screenshots, players let their excitement soar to new heights (no pun intended). Was it the failing of motion controls? Maybe, at least in part. Skyward Sword joined the motion party after players had already moved on. A bigger problem was that the whole game felt so familiar that it failed to capture the joy of the mainline games that came before it.

And try as they might, the handheld Zelda’s just can’t capture the pomp and impress of a major, AAA release.

Nintendo is lucky enough to have a fanbase so rabid that they’ll argue about how great its properties are until they’re blue in the face, regardless of what’s actually being released. Yet nothing can change the fact that Zelda has had one impressive, original game out of close to ten in the last five years. It has been a theme of More of the Same with dollops of disappointment every other year. If Breath of the Wild failed to deliver, would people even care anymore? How much cachet would The Legend of Zelda lose?

Which is why it is so, so good to see Nintendo breaking the mold with Breath of the Wild. Just being set in an open world would have gone a long way to making the experience fresh again, but it appears that Nintendo isn’t content to add a single gimmick this time around. Zelda wouldn’t be Zelda without mainstay features like unlocking items and exploring temples, but it’s clear that Nintendo is reimagining what Zelda should be in 2016.

Going completely counter to my expectation when the game was first shown, the most exciting part for me isn’t even the open world. Instead, it’s all of those delicious RPG systems. You can now equip different armors and take weapons from your enemies. You can hunt, collect meat, and forage in the woods. When you’re done, you can throw it all into a pan on a cookfire and make a meal to replenish your health. Exploration has always been important in the Zelda franchise, but now that gear is an important part of the game, there is even more of a reason to go off the beaten path, even if it means chopping down a tree to make your own bridge. All of this makes the game so much deeper than it has ever been able to be.

Breath of the Wild may be the shot in the arm Zelda needs to maintain its legendary status. Right now, it’s the most exciting thing the franchise has done in years.

Quick Hits

Mass Effect: Andromeda will be getting a series of four tie-in novels. This is good news, but will they be “video game novels” or actual “worth reading” novels?

Speaking of E3, our own Steve Messner caught up with Jeff Strain of Undead Labs to talk about the upcoming State of Decay 2. There’s lots of good information there -- multiplayer! -- but what really caught my eye was this Strain explaining that “thousands of people running around” didn’t fit the apocalypitic theme and that players really just wanted to play with their friends. That should worry us all for the future of any MMO coming from them.

Did you play Skyrim on PC? Are you planning on picking up the Special Edition this October? Good news, then. Your saves will transfer. Pete Hines, VP of Marketing for Bethesda also confirmed via that tweet that a separate Creation Kit will be released to upload mods to Bnet.

Bethesda also shared some insight into the challenges of bringing mods to Fallout 4 players on PlayStation 4. Of note are memory and performance issues brought on when PC textures are imported. Likewise, sound files are also causing issues, as is a 900MB mod storage limit.

In a bit of news we missed in our E3 wrap up, Final Fantasy XV game director Hajime Tabata confirmed at the end of a recent live stream that that main campaign will have 40-50 hours of content. With all of the side content factored in, however, he estimates between 100-200 hours!


Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight