I have a confession to make: I never played The Legend of Zelda series as a kid. This is strange because I played many Nintendo games growing up, including Mario, Pokémon, Metroid, and Super Smash Brothers. Maybe I was scared off by the traumatizing imagery of Majora's Mask, or I was too engrossed in Super Metroid and Metroid Prime at the time to give Zelda a proper chance. It wasn't until I played the original Hyrule Warriors on the Nintendo Wii U that I finally decided to give the Zelda series a shot.
After playing several games, I can definitely see why this series has captivated gamers and how much impact it left on the videogame industry. However, there's something about the Zelda franchise that rubs me up the wrong way: the timeline. This timeline has established rules and traditions that have discouraged the Zelda developers from making games that risk upsetting the status quo, angering the fanbase. It's the reason we have so few Zelda spinoffs compared to Mario or Pokémon.
It's a shame because this franchise has many unexplored concepts and cultures which could make for new, exciting games if the developers decided to take more risks and not feel constrained by the timeline. So, I'm going to propose a list of ways to break from the norm while still maintaining the franchise's iconography. Be warned — this article will be filled with spoilers.
Let Ganondorf break free from Demise
In Skyward Sword, it was revealed that Ganon's creation was the result of an ancient demon known as Demise. When Demise's plans to conquer the world were foiled by Link and Zelda, he placed a curse on them with his dying breath. His hatred for Zelda and Link takes the physical form of the pig monster, Ganon, and subsequently, his Gerudo-form, Ganondorf, to destroy their descendants for all eternity.
This revelation invalidates any characterization Ganondorf has ever had in the games, especially Ganondorf's well-received character development in the Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, where he showed signs of humanity. Now he's just a one-dimensional evil pig and always will be, thanks to Demise.
So what I propose is a story where a future incarnation of Ganondorf finds outs the truth of his origins. Ganondorf would be furious knowing all his decisions in his past, present, and future lives were already decided for him by some ancient demon rather than by his own volition. So he sets out on a journey, ignoring Zelda and Link for the time being to find a way to free himself from Demise and become his own man.
Letting Ganondorf separate himself from Demise would let him regain the character development that Zelda fans loved him for in the first place. Plus, this idea could be the premise for a new Zelda game on the Nintendo Switch, where Ganondorf could be the main playable character. As someone who loved playing as Bowser in Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, I would love to play a traditional Zelda game where you could play as Ganondorf. Imagine how it would be smashing puzzles to pieces and demolishing bosses using Ganondorf's magic powers and swordplay!
Play as someone other than Link
One of the things I loved about Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was finally playing as one of the numerous side characters in the Zelda series. Charging through hordes of Moblins as Midna, Darunia, Ruto, Sheik, Impa, and Zelda was awesome. But in the mainline Zelda series, you only play as Link, and it's high time we have a game that gives other characters the spotlight.
For example, we could have Zelda be the main playable protagonist in her namesake franchise for once (and no, the horrible Zelda CD-i games don't count). Take a page from Super Princess Peach and have Link get captured by Ganondorf, and it's up to Zelda to save the day. The gameplay resulting from this change could see Zelda use her great magical prowess to beat bosses and solve puzzles in ways Link couldn't. Perhaps we could even see Zelda don her Sheik identity again from Ocarina of Time for some acrobatic platforming and combat akin to how she fights in the Super Smash Brothers series.
Another idea of possible new main leads would be to let us play as the other races of Hyrule. I know that Link used masks In Majora's Mask to transform into a Goron, Zora, and a Deku Scrub. But I suggest we play as a completely different person born from these races, from beginning to end.
This way, we could experience and learn more about Hyrule's various cultures as someone who grew up from the inside rather than an outsider. Plus, this would open up new gameplay possibilities you would never get as a regular Hylian and expand on the gameplay we had in Majora's Mask. I would pay so much money to play as Gorons in the next title.
No more silent hero
One of the biggest missed opportunities of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was not letting Link talk. It is strange that one of the best games on the Nintendo Switch, lauded for letting Zelda characters finally speak, strangely kept Link's mouth shut. What compounds this disappointment further is that Link can speak but chooses not to because it's his way of coping with the pressure put on him. As confirmed through Zelda's diary entries, you find throughout the game.
This creative decision felt inconsistent with the rest of the game's story and left Link as an emotionless blank slate, which he usually is in most games. Not to mention it made Link's conversations with the Champions and Zelda awkward and unnatural like they're practicing a monologue in front of a brick wall. This was an issue in Skyward Sword as well, where Link was speaking openly to characters, but we don't hear or read what he says.
Link being a silent protagonist is an archaic mechanic from when voice acting wasn't possible in video games. However, there were some exceptions, like in Ocarina of Time, where you had the dialogue option to refuse a character's plea for help, just to see their funny, indignant reaction. But in an era where Mario characters and even Samus Aran from Metroid have finally started speaking, it's about time that Link spoke his mind.
If Link were allowed to properly talk in the games, he would finally have a fully developed personality and allow the audience to relate to him better and understand why so many characters put their faith so strongly in him. But if you wish for Link to remain a mouthpiece for the player, you can give him an expanded version of Ocarina of Time's and Skyward Sword's dialogue options akin to those seen in Bioware's Mass Effect.
This way, you can still project yourself as the main lead while Link still gets to have his voice. You can portray Link as the goody-goody hero like always, or you can have Link act like a jerk for once and tell Zelda to "Excuse me, princess!" like in the 1980's Legend of Zelda Saturday morning cartoon.
Introduce more original villains
As cool as Ganondorf is, it can be tiresome to have him be the main villain in nearly every game. Most villains of the series who aren't Ganondorf are either his servants like Ghirahim and Zant, or a vessel for Ganon like Agahnim. There are very few villains with no ties to Ganondorf, like Link's doppelgänger Dark Link, who often served as Link's greatest challenges since he was fighting a dark mirror of himself. There's also the evil Minish wizard Vaati, whose curiosity into the hearts of evil men led to an insatiable desire for power.
The most famous example of a Zelda villain with no allegiance to Ganondorf is Majora from Majora's Mask. This deranged psychopath transformed innocent people into objects, he tortured and humiliated Young Link, and he attempted to destroy Termina Bay by crashing the moon into it, all just for the fun of it.
One of my favorite Zelda villains is the underrated Cia from Hyrule Warriors. She was a sorceress who did Ganondorf's bidding to get her hands on Link, whom she was disturbingly in love with. When she realizes that Ganondorf was just using her, she imprisoned him and decided to go after Link herself.
I was genuinely shocked when this happened because other villains in her position would have been begging Ganondorf for mercy. She swept the main villain role from under Ganondorf's feet, which no villain in the entire Zelda franchise has ever done before or since. I respected her for that, even if her accomplishment was short-lived and non-canon.
We need more villains that steal the thunder from Ganondorf or have them fighting each other in cool turf wars with our heroes caught in the middle. These original villains could challenge our heroes in ways never seen before and force them to turn to unlikely allies for help, like Ganondorf in a mainline Zelda game for the first time. We could see new character dynamics between the trio as they work together (and Ganondorf holding his urge to backstab Link and Zelda) to defeat a common foe.
Explore outside of Hyrule more
While not as important as the other ideas on this list, I would like to see more Zelda games where we explore the world outside the kingdom of Hyrule. Most of the games either occur in Hyrule, an alternate universe version of Hyrule, or a ruined version.
We rarely get to visit locations outside the kingdom's borders, like Termina Bay from Majora's Mask. This region had all sorts of unique locales filled with interesting characters that gave you fun and strange sidequests, like using your masks to form a one-person band or defending a ranch from an alien invasion.
Koholint Island from Link's Awakening is another good example of an interesting location not set in Hyrule. I have good memories of spending time with the small community of Mabe Village, helping them with their problems, having conversations with Marin, and playing some of their mini-games. It motivated me to defend them from the never-ending waves of nightmare creatures plaguing the island.
If we ventured beyond Hyrule more, we could discover new cultures, new locations to explore, and new villains to fight. Perhaps we may even encounter aspects of Hyrule's history that have been lost to time or remnants of the civilization that inhabited Skyloft. And from what little we've seen from Breath of the Wild 2, it looks like we'll be getting that wish granted soon.
Do you have ideas for a new Zelda game?
Those are my ideas for a Zelda game if the developers decided to break free from tradition more often. Do you agree with my ideas, do you have ideas for a new Zelda title, or do you disagree with me and feel like the Zelda series is fine as is? Let your voice be heard in the comment section below, and tell us how you feel about the Legend of Zelda.
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Alexander Cope is a writer for Windows Central and iMore that has been gaming since the 16-bit era.