Short answer: No.
But I can’t cheat like that.
There’s been a growing circle of gamers and reviewers that feel that the Legend of Zelda franchise needs innovation. The franchise is known for… oh for shit’s sake it’s Zelda! You know what it’s infamous for! Great level design, puzzles, fantasy adventure, dungeon crawling, keys that inexplicably break after one use, a series of three dungeons that give you access to the Master Sword and then six to seven more dungeons before a final dungeon where you fight Ganon. It’d be like telling you about this Italian fella named Mario!
Now some feel that while the games are always well polished, interesting, possessing great visual synergy and aesthetics as well as brilliant level design the franchise has been treading water since the era of Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. Others feel that that the game has shown tremendous development but has remained faithful to the core principles that made it a success.
I am not going to get into that. I just know better.
But, that isn’t to say that we can’t simply try some new feature, not to reinvent the series, but alter minor elements and see what is produced. A one shot if you will. A lot of people think that we should have a Zelda game that is an RPG.
Those people are wrong.
Allow me to explain. Let’s break RPG games and games that use RPG elements down by degrees if we will.
Now what I would call the strongest iteration of RPG games are the classic turn based Final Fantasy style game. If you are imagining that then you can immediately see the problems as you’re just cutting away all of the exploring and free flowing combat. In a typical Zelda game you can run into a room and use your entire inventory to solve a problem while evading enemy combat. A traditional menu system is the death of that.
Even if you take the approach of games like Skyrim that’s still a problem. Remember, Link always has access to an item’s full range of abilities as soon as he acquires it. Delaying that through an arbitrary level system does not help! That also means that games like Darksiders which only use levelling to open up moves for the player to use, despite copying a lot from Zelda, actually become more frustrating for it.
But then I have a big problem with games that force the player to gain “experience” or “souls” or whatever just to unlock a single combat move. I think it’s a cheap gimmick used to prolong what should be learned at the outset of acquiring a new item. The problem is that forcing the players to constantly learn a single new move as the game progresses forces them to constantly learn how to interact with the world. A new ability or move should be a big thing where once the player has it, they learn it quickly but invent applications for it much later. If the player is constantly learning small things that change their behaviour rather then add to it, it’s discouraging and it basically says: “Hey! Remember that three hit combo you learned? Well that is completely inadequate now. Go learn to tilt your stick back while using this item and pressing a different button.” You are forcing players to learn how to use tools differently then what is reliable. Imagine giving someone a simple mallet and letting them use it to hammer nails. Now tell them that using it to hammer nails is inferior to using it to break down walls. The problem is that you often invalidate the original methodology by giving new means to use it. It doesn’t always happen. God of War and Far Cry 3 give new moves without invalidating original ones but that’s due to good design.
The best way, in games, is to allow players to find items to use for different things allowing a different form of association to grow in their mind. Zelda is one of the last few bastions of this design aesthetic and it’s a really good one. To just dispose of that is a bad idea.
I was having this conversation with a co-worker and they asked me directly what my idea for an innovative Zelda game might be. Well, if I had to find a way to have players unlock abilities then I would use the Dishonored system. In Dishonored players have “access” to all of their magic abilities from the outset. They simply need to pay in runes to activate them once and then get the full version with a second payment. You can do that in Zelda, but with heart pieces.
I’d argue that most Zelda players don’t need more than half of a full heart set to complete the game. Some less, some more. If you give the heart pieces an additional function on top of the one they possess then suddenly collecting them has much more merit.
Here’s what I’ve come up with. Say that Link lives in Hyrule just before the industrial revolution. He’s an archaeologist and uses jumps, flips, climbs to explore. He finds an underground chamber that actually possesses all of the gear of the old Link but it is worn and decrepit. By finding heart pieces he restores them. Meanwhile a fellow excavator is being tormented by Ganon and has activated the old dungeons and awoken the King of Evil and the Hyrule above ground has been invaded by monsters.
What you do is have it that once Link collects a single heart piece he can activate one item with that piece whenever he wants. This allows him to enter and complete most of the dungeon puzzles from the outset. But there are hidden chambers and alcoves that can only be accessed by restoring the item a second time, this time completely, but with more heart pieces. Therefore each item has both a basic ability and an advanced ability! Just two though, no need to be dickish about this. Link will never run out of hearts either because each boss yields a full heart, giving four pieces to the player for more unlocking!
Let’s have some fun with it! Say that Link can visit any dungeon in any order! Just make the enemies really diverse in design, movement and attack style from dungeon to dungeon or just say that they get stronger as more of the dungeons are bested. Make it that as Link clears dungeons, the over world actually becomes safer (instead of more dangerous which is what normally happens) meaning that he can now interact with more people. Keep the roads infested but towns and populated areas are safe giving a sense of accomplishment as the game progresses.
Now make it that there are certain archaeological exploration items that are expended after one use. Things like lantern fuel, lockpicks, etc. that Link can spend rupees for to buy more of! As he saves areas these items become cheaper and more become available. This gets around the problem with rupees collecting dust in your inventory.
You can be really subversive too! Make the dungeons not match their names. Say that the water dungeon is now full of sand due to drying out, or the fire dungeon is full of trees and overgrowth. You can even have underground paintings that are references to older Zelda games. Or games that haven’t come out yet!
Have Zelda in there too as a fellow archaeologist who is as driven as Link to uncover the lost civilization. Have some fun with Ganon liking industrial design because it can be used to oppress the masses to utilize an overall theme about growth in technology! Freshen up the visuals with some new elements!
The point isn’t to override existing gameplay but add to it in a way that is rewarding and fulfilling. I love Zelda but I’m worried that the series has recycled the same core inventory items since 1998 and even changing that might be fun! Could you imagine something to replace the hookshot? A good portion of the Zelda concept is that of discovery and the wonderment of finding something new. Slight, ever so slight innovations can be made to assist that but only while preserving core gameplay. Or else you’ll just end up creating an entirely different game by changing even how basic combat works.
And so too does this work exist.