Muses: The ‘Death’ of Zelda

January 23 was a very interesting day for people around the gaming world. We had Nintendo giving us the news that the Wii-U will soon actually have software people want to play. We had the leak of the PS4 dev kit specs. And we had the THQ asset auction.

Among all of this came two pieces of news that are specifically of importance to this topic:

  1. The new Zelda will be redefining what it means to be Zelda.
  2. Vigil Games and Darksiders didn’t sell, meaning that unless something drastic changes, the franchise is effectively dead.

I’d like to start by sharing the exact quote of what was stated at Nintendo direct regarding the new Zelda:

“Our mission in developing this new Zelda game for Wii-U is quite plainly to rethink the conventions of Zelda. I’m referring to things such as the player is supposed to complete dungeons in a specific order. That you are supposed to play by yourself, the things that we’ve come to take for granted recently. We want to set aside these “conventions,”  get back to basics to create a newborn Zelda so players today can enjoy the real essence of the franchise.”

So, what this message says is that Nintendo doesn’t feel that the formula that made Zelda a household name holds true anymore. They are going to move away from the progressive dungeon format, which implies a more open game. Furthermore, they are planning to do away with solo gameplay – apparently – in the next Zelda. The implications of this are huge, but it all begs one question from me:

Do we really need more open world games in this day and age?

I might be taking the controversial stance here when I say ‘no’, but I think enough developers are creating multiplayer, open-ended titles… that the world can do without even more. That isn’t to say they’re bad. I love the Monster Hunter franchise, I loved Amalur, I loved World of Warcraft… there is absolutely value in the open world format. But there are enough studios pursuing that format, I feel.

I think when people say ‘they can’t wait for an HD Zelda’ they’re really asking for a game that follows the tried and true, long-beloved Zelda format. You know, progressive dungeons where you unlock new abilities. The tailored experience that the Zelda style offers better than any other because they can design every dungeon knowing exactly what you can and can’t do at that point in the game. The format that made Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time two of the most beloved and revered games in gaming history. This formula is one of the few ‘tried and true’ formulas that just never seems to get old.

Sometimes reinventing the wheel is a bad thing. Look at how much hatred Blizzard got for how drastically they changed Diablo 2’s formula in making Diablo 3. There is always room for innovation, but innovation is usually best when it doesn’t come at the cost of the core of what made the games great. Aside from the ageless, timeless story of the Hero coming to rescue his princess, what made Zelda great was how perfect the tailored experience was. It made you feel special. And lets face it, Link to the Past had a lot of open elements to it – just not in terms of the core progression. There were secrets all over the place, there were fairies to be found, areas to return to, etc… but you always knew where the game wanted you to go next.

It achieved a nice balance between the linear core elements and the open optional stuff. And I feel that was one of the things that made me love A Link to the Past so much. It is still, to this day, among my top 10 games of all time.

Isn’t Link The Hero?

How do you do multiplayer in a Zelda game without diminishing the fact that LINK is the hero? Zelda games have a persistent star – they always have. Link. Sure, we can talk about Four Swords and having the four Links work together as a gimmick, but that was just that: a gimmick. If they just put multiple Links in a game nowadays and say ‘hey we did multiplayer’ I somehow doubt people are going to take it well. Yet on the other side of the spectrum, who is going to want to have to play the Toad to Link’s Mario?

Or are they going to go a party route and have multiple main characters who are always there and if you have other people with you they just take over these AI companions? Because that hasn’t shown the greatest success as a concept either outside of Lego games.

It just feels to me like they’re really betraying what it is to be Zelda. Sure, I’ll admit, I haven’t been the ‘best fan of Zelda’ in recent years, but that’s mostly because the Wii-Mote hurts my hand. But I’ve always held reverence for the franchise and the formula, and I’ve always maintained that I would jump at the opportunity to play a modern, HD version of that formula on a controller I could use.

This is where Vigil comes into this…

That was what made me love the first Darksiders so much. It felt like the Zelda game that Nintendo refused to give me. Darksiders was a beautiful action-oriented rendition of the Zelda formula. It worked like a charm, I fell in love with that game. Solving the puzzles, earning the new abilities, exploring the world to find the next dungeon, the linear-openness. It was exciting.

Then Darksiders 2 came out, and to find out they’d only improved the formula was thrilling beyond my wildest dreams. I couldn’t put that game down – it brought back the kid in me while still catering to the adult in me as well and even managing to satisfy the loot-lover part of me. They had given me the ‘modern, HD version of that formula’ that I had been craving. And now I want more. This is why the news that nobody had picked up Vigil and Darksiders 2 – and that the incredibly talented people from that studio had been let go rather than try to pursue a sale – further devastated me. After the morning’s news that Nintendo wasn’t doing a TRUE Zelda game, they were doing a Zelda reboot…. hearing that Vigil wouldn’t be giving us a new mature Zelda either was the nail in the coffin. The end of an era.

RIP to one of the most ageless and timeless gaming formulae to have ever been. Someday I hope someone revives you…

And best wishes to all the fine people formerly of Vigil Games – you, at least, ensured I’d get one HD Zelda game. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for that, and I hope you all are able to move on to bigger, more successful, and more glorious ventures than ever before.

  • I think what they mean is that the latest Zelda games became too linear, compared to the originals. There was no exploration any more; it was just point a to b to c to d to e… I remember in the original Zelda games you really had to search for the dungeons, not just be led to them. I hope this means that the entire world will be open to you, as will the dungeons, if you can find them, only each will still need a specific item to finish them, which is normally found in that dungeon.
    The only part that confuses me is when they say you wont be by yourself.

    I doubt they would be stupid enough to force multiplayer on everyone, especially since Zelda was always a single player experience, so I feel they are referring to Mii-verse, or possibly adding a second NPC (that CAN be controlled by someone else) to join Link on his journey. I hope that I’m not wrong as it will ruin the franchise a lot of people love.

    There are other series out there that do follow the same pattern as Zelda and Darksiders, Ys, Okami, Psychonauts, Binding Of Isaac, Beyond Good & Evil, and Epic Mickey are games that I have played that do follow the same pattern, so the style is far from extinct. Who knows, if someone does by the IP, another Darksiders may yet come out too.

    It is too bad that THQ fell so harshly, and hopefully the staff affected to get picked up by others.

  • Honestly, I don’t really feel Epic Mickey follows the format – at least from my experience… there are some other games over time that have done this, but most of them have prettymuch stop putting out new titles in the past several years. Okami is a strange one, as it does use the basic format but its altered that it doesn’t really FEEL the same(but in a good way).

    But as to what they said – they specifically stated ‘complete dungeons in a specific order’, which tells me that they’re planning to remove the linear dungeon progression. And that is my biggest fear regarding the new Zelda. Zelda has always offered a truly impressive tailored experience, one that offers an incredible amount of depth because it is a tailored experience. A certain amount of non-linearity does enhance that, but having the dungeons be designed with them knowing exactly what you have at your disposal is dramatically different to having to design dungeons just for the player in general, and the puzzles become dramatically less satisfying in the latter case.

    Yep, it sounds like Platinum may end up grabbing some of the Vigil staff, so that might lend some hope since Platinum is a studio that could pull off a Darksiders spiritual successor pretty well(especially if they had the good folk from Vigil)… I just, and forgive me for being presumptuous, hope Nintendo doesn’t publish it if it happens. I don’t want something like that to be exclusive, and I don’t really trust Nintendo to not try to force their current fad on it(Asychronous gameplay wouldn’t really fit, in my eyes, in Darksiders).