Now that I’ve spent over a hundred more hours in Hyrule, and it will be some time before the next installment in the series arrives, it’s time to look forward rather than back. And all thoughts begin with a quote.
“I think it’s accurate to say that it has created a new kind of format for the series to start from.”
Those words are from Eiji Aonuma, producer of the last Zelda games and director of several before that. I want to start dissecting those words, because in that particular “assuming … “ to which I personally attach the most importance. There seems to be some kind of general concern that the way Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom look and work is a framework that is completely determined, but that is obviously not the case. I see it more as a loose foundation, and Aonuma’s words confirm this. Future games will have changes and improvements and be different in many ways. No need to worry about that. Tears of the Kingdom was a direct sequel, and thus very similar in some ways. The same, albeit a very expanded, world. The same mechanics, the same kind of exploration to tie the game’s story together. And much more. But of course, there were also many changes, improvements and news, and if the next game also changes visually and is set in a new version of Hyrule, then we’ve already taken a big step forward from what we’ve gotten now in the last two editions.
Might as well address the biggest change people want to see right away, and no – I’m not talking about weapons that don’t break. Because although we got 120 shrines in Breath of the Wild and a whopping 152 in Tears of the Kingdom, traditional temples are something that has been asked and talked about quite a bit since we set foot in the open world introduced in March 2017. We got four Divine Beasts getting their fair share of criticism and in Tears of the Kingdom, it was as if Nintendo had listened, at least somewhat, to this and when the words “Wind Temple,” “Fire Temple,” “Water Temple” and “Lightning Temple” appeared on the screen, A nostalgic feeling was brought to life. Although the variety was greater than its predecessor Divine Beasts, these temples were not quite what we wanted, but it was a step in the right direction. A small one, but a step nonetheless.
I think the question of what counts as a traditional temple stems from a couple of factors. The first, of course, is a design of a place with a map like the older games. You move through corridors and clearly divided rooms, solving puzzles, finding keys and defeating enemies to advance to a final boss. Tears of the Kingdom had parts of that, but everything revolved more around larger open spaces and a recurring design of activating five machines of one kind or another. Here I think Nintendo should dare to go back to the kind of design they themselves were so good at in previous games. Even the first The Legend of Zelda had really good temples and I personally wouldn’t mind going back to limiting the spaces and giving us puzzles in the rooms that need to be solved to progress.
The other thing that is conspicuous by its absence is a specific item that can only be found in the temple we are in and is essential to solve it. Here I understand that the open world limits this, but I am not so sure it is necessary. Rather, I think the opposite: finding a specific object in a temple can cause the outside world to invite new ways to approach challenges and exploration. For example, I think about the fact that Nintendo has been very restrictive about water. Sure, there are small streams and in both recent games we’ve been able to build rafts to get across smaller bodies of water, but that’s about it. The fact that a water temple has something that allows Link to breathe underwater makes exploration possible in a whole new way. Only once you pass this temple can you explore all of Hyrule’s lakes and find secrets at the bottom. Apply this to the rest of the temples and the possibilities become dizzying as you can find items that give you new opportunities beyond them.
I’ve always been convinced that just because you make an open world, you can still design specific elements. Some game developers have a strong belief that a more linear game allows them to direct the experience, and sure – I understand that breathtaking car chases and lots of platform sequences where bridges and other things collapse under the character’s feet work better in that format. But that doesn’t mean it becomes an impossibility in an open world. Running around in Tears of the Kingdom and seeing a boulder fall from the sky, or placing a huge Flame Gleeok on the Lake Hylia bridge, are just two examples of how you can create events by specifically placing things you discover when you first arrive at a particular location. However, I think that Nintendo’s design philosophy is that you should be able to take advantage of all of this no matter how early or late in the game you are, that they don’t want to limit anyone no matter what they have done, discovered or are equipped with. But I wouldn’t mind if they move away from that in part.
Another thing I hope Nintendo redesigns is the way the story is told. It was stronger in Tears of the Kingdom than in Breath of the Wild, and the game’s memories were easier to find. The hunt for the game’s geoglyphs was exciting and a cool feature of the open world, but Nintendo has now, in two games, mostly told a story about what happened back then. We get some dialogue that advances the plot while talking to characters, but really no cutscenes throughout the game (with a few exceptions). This is explained by the fact that you are shaping your own story, and I can absolutely understand that it is your own adventure in the world that will be the strongest. Each player’s experience will be different and I remember making one of the most memorable ones for myself in Tears of the Kingdom.
I decided to go from the far edge of the southeastern part of the map to the other side, at the top of the northwest. The world is a big place, so I knew this alone would take time. But I also set up some mandatory rules to follow. I would complete the shrines I discovered along the way, and if something else in the form of a side mission or something similar came my way, I would do the same. The entire journey took three hours, a perfect gaming session that really showed the strengths of this format. But as I said earlier, just because it’s so open doesn’t mean you can’t include scripted sequences. Because just like when you arrive at a specific point in other open-world games, you can choose to start an intermediate sequence. I think the connection with Link would be stronger because of this, if there was a more traditionally told story that wasn’t just told in flashbacks.
Many of the things we want from future Zelda games are things we already get in previous games in the series, which Nintendo has since abandoned. The more linear, more classic temples and so on. But in many ways, all the games in the series have also invited largely unrestricted exploration, where we can run around Hyrule almost unhindered between the game’s temples, or for that matter, even sail around a bit on a vast ocean as we please. Some of the obvious obstacles don’t work so well now, even in Ocarina of Time we couldn’t get past certain sections because Link wasn’t climbing, but even now that we can explore the world the way we want, it makes specific items a must to reach certain parts, and even though players have erased Tears of the Kingdom’s fire temple by climbing around and flying around instead of riding the rails, You can still build rooms and puzzles – something the latest game’s final temple is a perfect example of. It’s exactly the kind of puzzle-solving that I would have liked to have seen recreated in the labyrinth building a temple, looking for keys, hidden passages to blow up. It doesn’t matter if you hinder Link’s exploration with roofs and other solutions. Let the world outside be as grand and free as in two games, but be more traditional in this particular aspect. In Tears of the Kingdom, we had the ability to teleport through ceilings to what was above, and if this skill does not exist in the next Zelda game, there is also the possibility of designing more traditional temples.
I understand that Nintendo is obviously trying out all these ideas. Or at least discussing them. Then of course all the new things they want to develop will also have a place, new game mechanics and new locations. To me, this, what will be new, is at least as exciting as hoping for more classic temples. With a world as big as Hyrule in the previous game, it’s a little dizzying to imagine where this particular part will go. But really, you can apply the same thinking here; You take everything that has been created and refine and change it. An underground in the last game was a welcome addition, but here you can obviously create a more vibrant one. Cities, villages, more life and movement. All the new features presented are like planting a seed for the next installment and the next. If Tears of the Kingdom proved anything, it was how much more could be developed from its predecessor, how you could fill the world with even more – and it still doesn’t feel like Nintendo has come anywhere close to what is possible.
While I will always maintain that the greatest strengths of the Zelda game lie in the content and that, despite obvious technical flaws, I love the design, part of this text still has to be about the visuals. After all, this is a text that primarily asks what comes next. Now that we have two critically acclaimed Switch games, it is still part of an inevitable change in graphics. As the credits rolled in Tears of the Kingdom, I began the Horizon: Forbidden West expansion. It was great to see Aloy again in Burning Shores and although the latest Zelda adventure is in a higher class in terms of entertainment value, there was one thing that the Horizon games do so incredibly well and that is set the bar very high in terms of technology.
Before I dive into this, I want to make it very clear that I love the design of Link’s last two adventures. We don’t all agree on this, but I really like them, especially because Nintendo manages to create an atmosphere and make me feel like I want from such an adventure. However, there is no doubt that a more technically perfect Zelda game would have been welcome. But as welcome as a more technically polished game would be, it is likely that it will mostly be about finding a visual style that presents Nintendo’s next hardware in a solid way. I don’t think the design in Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom was chosen just because it’s what the Nintendo Switch can do, although that certainly plays a role. I think Nintendo’s design philosophy just leans heavily on the way these games look graphically. But I also believe that a new game in the series should differentiate itself in more ways than just game mechanics, and here the visuals become an important cornerstone. Whether it leans more toward keeping something similar, but with changes in the interface, menus and other things – or making a completely different design, it remains to be seen. In any case, the first images and the first teaser will tell us what we will end up with, and it is the visuals that will be the first hint of how the next Zelda game will differ from the one we got on Switch.
We’ve had two Zelda games now, over a period of seven years, that have defined where this game series is today. They haven’t appealed to everyone, far from it, but they are very popular and celebrated as a whole. However, I think it’s important to think that this is how we define the game series now, just as we defined it according to what Ocarina of Time / Majora’s Mask gave us, or how cell shading in Wind Waker also characterized the game series during a certain period of time. When we leave this Hyrule now, the next game will naturally be as the series is currently characterized, and I don’t think we need to worry too much that Nintendo will get stuck in old ruts. Of course, I could be completely wrong here. The future will tell, but I thought I would end this text by giving my personal thoughts on what the next Zelda game will be. Then you can return to this pure guessing game and see if I was right, or if I was completely out of line.
But personally, I think the next Zelda will be much different than we might think today. I think the menus and design have been heavily reworked, I think the visual style has undergone a major change, and I think that although the concept is an open world, the series will bring back many classic things, of which fully refined temples are one. However, I think Link’s abilities similar to those he had in two games will return in some form, but may be more about a single item like an ocarina or the wand from Wind Waker. One or more items just, something different from what we have now, but still manipulating and changing things. I also think Nintendo will give us some real surprises, like playing with Zelda for a while or Link being able to transform into another character like in Majora’s Mask. I also think a companion like Navi or Midna will be an important element and will be used extensively for all the puzzles in the upcoming game. But most of all, I think the open world will be a different playground, a very different Hyrule or actually a very different kingdom.
It’s all conjecture, of course. But since Zelda is a series that in many ways is as predictable as it is not, we can assume that Nintendo holds some things dear. The identity of the series is reflected in many smaller details and even if some said it was lost with the latest games, I felt at home in those games. You can never make everyone happy and a more traditional retreat in the next game will naturally make some people unhappy as well. We still live in a time when Tears of the Kingdom is still relatively current and we all have dreams and hopes of what each new game will contain. I’m sure Nintendo will think about every possible mechanic, every possible idea, and then make a decision about what will and will not be included. We can be sure that if not everything you want is in the next game, there will be more and even if the series may never find its way back to its roots in the way many want, Nintendo will find something else that will be fun.
I sometimes wonder, jokingly, “how many more Zeldas do I have to experience before I die?” and if my math on this is based on a statistical life expectancy of 81 years and we get a Zelda every seven (but hopefully a little more often), then I have at least seven more adventures with Link to play. Which, of course, also means that I have many texts like this left to write.
Feel free to share your thoughts on the Zelda games in the comments and tell us what you think future games will include and what direction you hope the series will take.