Weekend Response: Zelda HD Experience is the Perfect Style for a New Game

This is a staff response piece to this week’s “Weekend Wondering” community poll question: “Which Visual Style Would You Like for the Next 3D Zelda Game?” Feel free to share your own thoughts on the subject in the comments!

I remember reading about the famous GameCube tech demo from SpaceWorld 2000 that depicted an epic clash between Link and Ganondorf, styled after the artwork of Ocarina of Time, but with a much more faithful graphical execution. It was the world’s first real glimpse at GameCube – at what it could achieve on a visual level. Everyone was excited, and wanted to see this new Zelda take shape.

Fast-forward to 2011, and Nintendo’s just debuted their new Wii U home system, and yet again they call upon Zelda as the forerunner of what the system can do graphically speaking. A new tech demo – the Zelda HD Experience – gives the world the first official look at Link in glorious HD, and after a spectacular reception, people’s expectations for the next Zelda game are higher than ever yet again.

With so much excitement built up, can Nintendo really afford not to deliver on the hype they’ve created?

While I personally adored The Wind Waker, it’s clear that the difference between its reception and Twilight Princess‘s reception is like the difference between night and day. The Wind Waker was controversial and turned many people away; Twilight Princess was immediately well-received and brought a number of people in – it would go on to become the third Zelda game in history to attract an audience of over 6 million.

There’s something about The Wind Waker‘s style that just didn’t click with a lot of people. It was a very different approach to Zelda‘s fantasy world all-around, when you factor in not only its artwork but its goofy enemies and open ocean setting. Twilight Princess, on the other hand, managed to hit a lot of the right beats, capitalizing on the explosion in mainstream fantasy films that began with Lord of the Rings by revisiting high fantasy for its artistic inspiration.


It’s not difficult to see why this style was such a success. Apart from the obvious attempt to follow up the Lord of the Rings phenomenon, high fantasy is easily the most recognizable of the many fantasy genres. A lot of this has to do with the fact that it is derived in large part from some of the most well-known mythological universes in human history: medieval narratives such as the Grail legends, stories of the faerie world, and a long tradition of folktales based on Roman, Greek, and Norse mythology. These are stories that feature many staples of fantasy worlds – heroes and demons; mythical monsters such as dragons and goblins; fabulous treasures and magic swords. It’s only fitting that a fantasy universe like Hyrule should stick close to this tradition, and that goes for its artistic representations as well.

The desire for an art style like that of Twilight Princess and the Zelda HD Experience isn’t inevitably about wanting “realistic” graphics. It’s more about wanting Zelda to reflect the popular cultural imagination as far as its approach to the fantastic – to the unreal and the imaginary. Zelda does best when it frames itself as a universal story, one that everyone can instantly recognize and identify with. While I’ve loved some of the more “unique” styles, even I can admit that they tend to lose that grand universal quality in the transition.

That’s why I’m an advocate of the art style seen in the Zelda HD Experience. It delivers on the most widespread and universal of tastes, as its status as the clear winner in this week’s poll with over 40% of the vote should serve to demonstrate. But it also does the best job of situating the world of Hyrule as a modern take on the even greater tradition of Western mythology.

Unfortunately, Mr. Aonuma has been hinting that the next game won’t actually use that style, despite how popular it is. I’d hate to see the fan-base split yet again over another stylistic decision – it’s better for everyone if Zelda adopts a more consistent stylistic identity.


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