It’s been awhile since Zelda offered a truly vast open world, but several entries dotting the series' long fruitful history did. The original NES release comes to mind, and Ocarina of Time again revived the style in the 90s with what was, at the time, quite the sprawling Hyrule Field. Now in 2017 we have Breath of the Wild, swinging the pendulum of change once more. Given the latest Hyrule’s sheer size and breadth of detail, there’s little argument the series is positioned quite well for both DLC and future entries.
In an interview with entrenched Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu that ran just recently, the Zelda-man himself Eiji Aonuma (also known as the series producer) implied that he’s quite convinced the series will proceed with open world sensibilities in mind. It seems logical enough - why stray from something that was so brazenly successful? And yet Zelda has often pledged itself to a concept or core notion that it suddenly, for any number of reasons, decides to uphend mere years later.
The most pronounced example is relatively recent, and like Aonuma’s latest remarks, took place in the wake of a newly-released Zelda game. You may recall Skyward Sword’s one-to-one motion controls, an arduous development labor that took so much of the Zelda team’s time (eventually realized via collaboration with the developers behind, of all things, Wii Sports Resort) that the rest of the game became a very dense, very packed, but also very linear and narrative-driven experience.
Post-release, while presumably enjoying the positive critical buzz the game was receiving (not as pronounced as Breath of the Wild’s of course, and seeded with a fair dose of motion-centric controversy), Aonuma took to the interview circuit. When asked if the Zelda series could ever feasibly return to button-style controls, he had the following to say.
Does it sound familiar? The cadence certainly does; let’s compare it to Aonuma’s recent comments on Breath of the Wild when asked if parting with open-world stylings is in the cards for the Zelda series’ future.
The point is not to indict Aonuma in any way - the man is merely providing what he feels are honest responses to questions. The point is, however, to remind that off-hand remarks ought not be too thoroughly read into. In addition to Zelda being susceptible to volatile change in the latter part of its 3D era (likely because its home-console entries recently only release twice per decade), there is also Nintendo hardware to consider. At the end of the day, Nintendo games are made to sell Nintendo hardware, which is why Skyward Sword featured motion (to sell the Wii), and is why Breath of the Wild features a tablet-inspired in-game item (Wii U and Nintendo Switch), and focuses on a world-style that appeals to the tastes of classical dedicated gamers more so than any Wii or Nintendo DS release.
If Nintendo releases a VR headset, or some wacky wearable peripheral sometime in the next five for six years, you can bet its major titles will embrace that hardware, regardless of whether or not that means sustaining open-world design, motion combat, or anything else. This is not a flaw, but rather a fact - it’s simply the way the company operates. Post-release interview answers don’t get stickied in a Nintendo board room, placed in Aonuma’s company mailbox, or forwarded to Miyamoto or Kimishima’s desk.
Thankfully none of this warrants worry, and what’s more likely is that we receive a souped-up 2D Zelda title on Switch between now and the next major franchise milestone anyway. For more Nintendo Switch and Zelda, check out the pros and cons of launching Nintendo Switch in March, and our dedicated FAQ page for Breath of the Wild.