We know Monolith Soft, one of Nintendo’s first-party studios, most recently known for the highly-acclaimed large-scale RPG Xenoblade Chronicles, is working on some kind of Wii U project. Of course, given Nintendo’s tight lips, we’re unlikely to hear anything about it until it’s significantly further along in development.
Given Monolith’s pedigree for grand RPG adventures, however, I think the best use of their talents might actually involve one of Nintendo’s existing IPs: The Legend of Zelda. And I’ve got five big reasons why I think Monolith and Zelda are a perfect match.
#5: They’ve worked on Zelda before
This may not be the biggest reason why I think Monolith should work on a Zelda game, but it was definitely the first to come to mind. If you’ve played The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, you’ve already tried a Zelda game that had Monolith’s fingerprints on it – they contributed to the game’s field layouts, sub-events, and game script. We don’t really know the specifics, but I suspect they had a lot to do with the introduction of quick-travel Bird Statues, the Scrap Shop item upgrade system, Gratitude Crystals, speech bubbles indicating important quest info, and other RPG elements.
Skyward Sword‘s RPG mechanics were some of the game’s more interesting additions, and if Monolith had a hand in any of them, I’d love to see them deliver on a new game that takes those elements even further. I don’t think Zelda needs to be intensely stats-based, but a larger focus on tiered equipment and player customization could only be a good thing for competition against the rest of the role-playing action-adventure genre, which has seen considerable growth over the last generation with knockout games like Assassin’s Creed, Darksiders, and Skyrim rising to prominence.
I don’t know where the future of Zelda will lie in its big step into the HD era, but I think Nintendo ought to leverage all of its greatest assets to ensure that the series comes in with a bang – and I think bringing Monolith fully on board would be a fantastic use of development power.
#4: Monolith deserves a shot at an established IP
There’s no denying that new IPs are a fairly hard sell this generation – especially on Nintendo platforms. While Xenoblade Chronicles garnered positively stellar reviews, holding onto a 92 rating on Metacritic, with a number of critics giving it perfect scores, the game’s only managed to pick up about 730,000 sales worldwide. It just can’t quite gain the same acceptance that mainstays like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and The Elder Scrolls have.
But at the same time, the average consumer is growing more and more conscious of which studios are behind their favorite games. There’s a reason why everything Rockstar Games touches seems to turn to gold – even when it’s not called Grand Theft Auto. Similarly, everyone is buzzing about whatever Retro Studios is working on. Once a studio works on a popular game, they tend to catch buyers’ interests with future games – even when those games are drastically different.
While I’m all for the industry creating new experiences, I think that studios whose games are generally praised as good deserve a fair shot at the kind of mainstream recognition that new IPs often don’t get these days. And I think Monolith Soft did such a good job with Xenoblade Chronicles, their last big game, that I think they ought to get a crack at something much bigger. And frankly I can’t think of a better match than The Legend of Zelda.
#3: They’re no strangers to fantasy
While Xenoblade has considerable sci-fi overtones that many people might want to stay far away from Zelda, it’s also full of more subdued and traditional whimsical fantasy stuff. The Nopons’ Frontier Village comes to mind, with its natural setting populated by little furry tribal creatures who fight with magic and large sticks. The mythology of the two great titans, the ancient world-forging sword, and the ultra-powerful beasts that inhabit the land all fit right in with traditional fantasy as well.
I wouldn’t expect Monolith to be great innovators in the Hyrule universe department, but I certainly expect them to do a good job building on top of the existing Zelda mythology.
#2: Passing franchises to different in-house studios results in new, unique gameplay
I said earlier that new IPs are great, but I think that solid refreshes for old IPs can sometimes be even better. Metroid Prime is a terrific example. Retro Studios did a complete re-imagining of the Metroid gameplay template, marrying the traditional exploration and investigation elements with more modern first-person shooter conventions. The result was the most popular and easily-accessible Metroid yet, and two sequels and a three-game Wii compilation later, people still want more Metroid Prime.
It’s a healthy approach to prolonging a franchise, and one that more and more publishers have turned to in recent years. Microsoft has handled off Halo from longtime developer Bungie to 343 Industries; Platinum Games is currently working on Metal Gear Rising; even Nintendo brought up Capcom’s Flagship studio to work on a few Zelda games for handhelds back in the day (and later hired the director to work on more Zelda!).
In the same way that Metroid got a boost from being handed over to a Western studio, I think Zelda could see a renewal with the help of a big RPG developer like Monolith Soft. The question is whether Nintendo believes that embracing deeper RPG mechanics is the right approach for the franchise’s future.
#1: Xenoblade’s enormous world is a perfect template for Zelda
The sweetest part of a Monolith-developed Zelda would be that their resume already includes one of the most impressive and gigantic game worlds ever seen on a home console. When I first turned from the beaten path to see what lay beyond its boundaries, I stumbled upon the massive scale of the game’s first major area, Colony 9. It was impressive, to be sure, but marching out onto the Gaur Plains is the closest I’ve ever come to matching the awe of my first trip to Hyrule Field.
Once I discovered that Gaur alone was several times the size of Twilight Princess‘s entire world map, criss-crossing caves, secret enemy hideouts, forests, lakes, and swamps, dynamic weather and day/night cycles that impacted the local monster ecosystem, all in one seamless field area, that was enough to convince me that Monolith had put together one of the most breathtaking game worlds I had ever experienced.
All of this sounds like it belongs in a new envelope-pushing Zelda overworld, one that can deliver for both fans and non-fans alike the sense that they’ve stepped into a Hyrule that’s as cutting edge in 2012 as Hyrule Field was in 1998. I’d love to see Monolith Soft get the chance to repeat that Xenoblade magic with a world that so many gamers already love: the fantasy land of Hyrule.
They deserve it. And, more importantly, Hyrule deserves them.
More Zelda articles:
- Not Immersive Enough: Why Zelda Should Embrace Voice Acting
- Skull Kid: The Imp From The Heavens
- Skyward Sword is Simultaneously the Best and Worst Zelda Game
- Majora’s Mask: The Essence of the Hero
- The Adventure of Link Convinced Me That Zelda is an RPG
- Kevin’s Reflection: The Legend of Zelda
- Zelda Wii U Needs More Than HD Visuals to Succeed