I happened across an interesting article from Nintendo Enthusiast detailing a theoretical idea for a Legend of Zelda title; one where Zelda is the protagonist and player-controlled character rather than Link. The author was curious as to why it had not been done before, and was asking if Zelda was just an incapable character for leading a title of her own.
It isn’t that Zelda is an incapable character on her own, far from it. Zelda’s alter ego, Sheik, could definitely make for a rousing and interesting adventure. Even the princess herself is capable and has some interesting tricks up her sleeve, and of course as a member of royalty (supposedly) plays an important part in the politics and major events of the game world.
The problem is that this is a major Nintendo title.
People go to Nintendo the same way a child continues going to their grandparents house; for the sense of nostalgia and a place of loving stability away from the chaotic, noisy, and constantly changing world outside. It is a sort of slight reprieve from the “adult” world and allows for one to just kick back, relax and let grandma and grandpa tell their stories.
Imagine going to your grandparent’s home one evening for a visit only to find out that grandpa got a sex change, and that grandma is hosting dog fights in the basement?
What? Don’t look at me that way, it’s original, isn’t it?
Terrible analogies aside, this is a large part of Nintendo’s appeal. People always know what to expect with Nintendo, and they go to them for that. If you want good old fashioned platforming, colors, some Mario, Zelda or Pokemon action, you go to Nintendo, who could be said to be the last big gaming company to be delivering a wholesomely unique “feel” and experience with their console.
Even worse is the fact that some of the best ideas that people can seem to come up with for such a game is at best a mild role-reversal between two or more of the main characters and at worst a mere fan-fiction-esque gender swap. No one wants to pay and play a $60 big budget title with nothing more than fan-fiction allure going for it. Unless it’s a Super Smash Bros. title, in which case it’s somewhat understandable.
They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Many people misconstrue this idiom as meaning something along the lines of “you can’t try new things” or “old dogs suck, adopt a puppy.” This isn’t the real meaning behind it though. What it is actually saying is that after doing something the same way for so long, it becomes difficult to do something truly new or different with it.
Part of the problem with any of Nintendo’s main titles is that they have been doing nearly the same things for so long, and have such a strong and cemented foundation in both their execution and what their fans think of their games. Because of this, any attempts to do something new or creative with these old IP’s risks becoming or seeming like an obvious parody. This may have been part of what caused the overall (at least in comparison to Nintendo’s other Zelda titles) poor reception of Wind Waker. The pirates and sailing and talking boat, Zelda turning into a rough and tough runaway and the cell-shaded style, it all gave off a vibe of parody, or at least a sense that it can’t be taken as seriously as the other games in the franchise.
This is a shame because The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker is probably my personal favorite title in the series so far.
Perhaps a better way to approach this would be to, as many, many, MANY people have been clamoring for, go for a more mature angle. A game featuring Zelda as the lead should primarily only have Zelda/Sheik as the playable characters, in order to maintain a consistent narrative similar to previous titles. It would also work best by utilizing both aspects of her persona; both the regal and politically involved Zelda, and the nimble and combat based Sheik.
Another good idea might be to go for a sort of day/night mechanic, with the overall gameplay split into two conjoining segments:
During the day (a.k.a. working hours) you would play as Zelda, ruling over the kingdom, partaking in political intrigue, exploring the castle and town to chat with various citizens, and basically governing your empire. This would be where most of the world building and characterization comes into play, news of current events plays out, etc. etc. Here you could talk to Link from time to time, or try to, considering he;s a mute. Actually instead you could just give Link orders and hope for the best, like everyone else does.
During the night (a.k.a. clubbing hours) you would play as Sheik, taking part in faster paced combat and even stealth sections. Here the player would be more free to explore the world’s more dangerous and exciting sections, fighting enemies or sneaking past them. This would be the more investigative aspect of the game and involve perhaps the more dangerous and significant parts of the story and development. Perhaps you could even assist Link in his ventures, with what methods you use to help him actually affecting his progress and even the story’s progression.
Again, these are just a few ideas that I believe would help make a serious game of this type work. Feel free to leave your own thoughts.