With E3 2014 right around the corner, I can't help but have Zelda U on my mind a lot. What self-respecting Zelda fan wouldn't? One of my very first games for the original Nintendo Entertainment System was The Legend of Zelda, and the original still garners a replay from me now and then, as does The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and yes, even on a rare occasion Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. So if I'm talking about Zelda U a lot, I'm sure I'm not the only one.
As I mentioned in an article a few weeks back, some events in history are cyclical, and Zelda releases definitely fall into that category:
Now, E3 2014 is almost upon us, and Nintendo has promised more information on a game which, after so long, has become borderline-vaporware – the game codenamed “Zelda U.” This, too, will be a cyclical event, as most Zelda releases have been: fans of the series will wait with anticipation while Nintendo doomsayers will bemoan the death of the company and cry out that the once-dominant corporation is out of ideas and should dismantle and sell, then Nintendo will reveal demos, possibly playable at E3, and journalists will tell the haters to wait on their doom prophecies, then the game will come out and everyone, nearly universally, will love the game. If you need proof, look back at the reveal/release cycle for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.
In addition to this release cycle, I've also noticed two corollaries to this inevitable pattern. Two loud drums will begin to be beat in time with the naysayers who promise that this is the last Zelda game we will ever see. Sometimes these offshoot opinions will stay regulated to forums, some serious, some just aiming to troll; sometimes they will make it to actual articles. While I admire those who have put some thought into this idea, I'd like to address this “need” for a “darker” Zelda game or a modern-day Zelda.
In November 2006, as a launch title for Nintendo's brand-new Wii system, Eiji Aonuma and his team released The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for both the Wii and the Gamecube, the latter system seeing its final release in the title. Aonuma, along with the stuffed shirts at Nintendo of America, wanted to avoid the cartoonish feel that the prior iteration of Zelda, The Wind Waker, created, fearing it to be the cause of sluggish sales in North America. By this time, Sony and Microsoft were in the game creating more realistic graphics, and as we all know, a game can't be a real game if it's pretty, brah. (Sigh.)
So the Zelda team brought forth a new Zelda, with darker, more realistic graphics, a grittier theme, and even a few splashes of blood here and there to get the franchise's first “T” rating. People loved the game (as the cycle dictates) and the entire theme and feel of the game was highly lauded.
And yet, at the release of every game in the series since Twilight Princess (four, to be exact), some fans have demanded a darker, grittier, more realistic Zelda game. What are they looking for? For Link to run up to Ganondorf and straight slice his head off Kill Bill-style? Are you not entertained?!
If Twilight Princess wasn't “dark” or “gritty” enough, those fans may simply be S.O.L.—Nintendo may have said it's committed to bringing more mature, adult content to its consoles (Bayonetta 2 and X, swear they're coming for realsies), but the company is not likely to do it with one of its mainstays. Nintendo is a creature of habit, especially with its Zelda franchise. Every new game carries over elements symbolic of the series, such as finding items for dungeon exploration, magic, and of course, Link and Zelda. The likelihood of Link becoming a bloodthirsty warrior is about as high as Mario Kart 8 turning into Red Asphalt from our Driver's Ed classes.
As for the modern-day Zelda chants… just stop. Just. Stop. As I just said, Nintendo is a creature of habit. Every Zelda game, and I do mean every, from the original to the most recent release, A Link Between Worlds, has been set in some sort of fantasy version of Hyrule or surrounding areas. Though some versions have more technology than others, given that the timeline of the Zelda franchise binds together with only the thinnest of logic and requires a Master's Degree to fully understand, all are set in a fantasy world with fairies, beasts, and creatures of the imagination, magic, and the like. The idea of transposing all of this to a real-world type of setting piques the curiosity, but likely doesn't hold much weight with the Powers That Be at Nintendo.
However, I do see one scenario that may change their minds—and this is a long shot: It all depends on how well one game affects the hearts, minds, and wallets of the people. That game is Final Fantasy XV.
Hear me out here. To think that Nintendo doesn't pay attention to the rest of the gamersphere borders on comedy. The company hasn't been all that keen on parlaying that into profit, honestly, but it pays attention. Unless something massive rocks its launch a la SimCity, WATCH_DOGS is slated to go gangbusters upon its release on the 27 of this month. Hyrule Warriors will also be released, and though feudal Japan seems like a fantasy world to us in 2014, it still bears a closer resemblance to reality than anything Zelda has had to offer yet.
And between then and the launch of Final Fantasy XV, the trend could be set on more real-world settings in games, as opposed to fantasy lands or even sci-fi elements. If the Square Enix offering can knock it out of the park, translating Final Fantasy's fantastical elements to a more-or-less real-world setting, then, and most likely only then, would Nintendo consider putting Link and Zelda among condominium towers and strip malls.
Unfortunately, we won't begin to see if this holds any weight or is just crazy speculation until at least 2015. Until then, let's let the cycle play out and enjoy another go-round in one of the most-loved and most-lauded game franchises in existence.