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.


Other Zelda-related articles at GenGAME:

Read more info about upcoming Zelda games @ Zelda Dungeon wiki:

  • Skyward Schlong

    Whatever they do, I hope it’s as stylized as Zelda has always been.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.philliber.7 Michael Philliber

    i think telling a game designer how to design their game is like telling a painter how to paint their paintings.

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      I think being a consumer of a product means you know what you actually want to buy more than the person who makes the product.

      • http://www.facebook.com/michael.philliber.7 Michael Philliber

        so you saying take all creative rights away from the people who make games for people and give it to fans. i say if you wish to have a game be a certain way make your own. there is no reason developers shouldnt have full control over their entire product, considering they are the ones making it. saying they should make things only for a group of people is selfish, and i say a group of people instead of everyone, just because not everyone agrees on what they want something to be. you can never please anyone, but my point was you buy something because you like what they made and sold, you dont like it, dont buy it, simple

      • Ernesto Reyna

        Nobody is forcing you to spend (or not) your money. Feel free to miss out on great games because you judge them before you play them.

  • Megera

    i like this more realistic style, I mean link doesn’t even talk so him looking more real makes it more believable to me and less cartoony for those of us that have been growing up playing the zelda games a more grown up style I believe is a better look.

  • guestt

    I think the issue with Nintendo currently is that they don’t seem to acknowledge (at least significantly) what their fans/ consumers want. Instead nintendo seems to create products or games based on what Nintendo *wants Us to want. Now this may not be a problem down the road long after a games release (wind waker comes to mind, not popular at release but well received now), but that ignores the sales of a product and that is a big issue.
    Based on quotes and the little information and hints we have now about Zelda U demonstrate this fairly well. The style of the tech demo was incredibly popular and well received but despite that, all the quotes, hints and facts do point towards a skyward sword style and i’m worried that they will go with that. Not because i don’t like that style (i thought it was alright, not spectacular but not bad) but because based on the previous example, it doesn’t sell well. I’m worried Nintendo is becoming too stubborn and isn’t making the right decisions about what *we want anymore.

    i will point out though that with Each Zelda tech demo, for all of the releases of a new console since the n64, the style and graphic capabilities of the actual Zelda game are Far better then the tech demo. (though keep in mind this still doesn’t necessarily mean better reception and sales, again think wind waker, it did look better then the tech dome but none the less)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jugglaj91 Joe Onley Jr

    With Nintendo pushing the HD aspect so hard if they do anything but for Zelda it will be a major turn in the wrong direction for the console. Not that I wouldnt mind seeing another art style but at the get go they need to push as much realism and detail as possible to prove the machine can do what they say.

  • anonymousfanatic

    Cmon Nintendo… SMELL THE FREE MONEY! We’re all pushing it into your face! -_- I feel like Nintendo doesnt listen.

  • TheWanderingN00b

    Who’s the fairy? im kinda hoping that maybe this is link grown up after majoras mask still searching for Navi and he finally found her

  • IW

    The sad thing is, even if they did release a game that looked as beautiful as this, haters and naysayers will attempt to create BS, ‘It doesn’t even look as good as Skyrim’ narrative in the gaming community. Nintendo is probably damned if they do and damned if they don’t, so as much as I’d LOVE to see this art style, I understand if they keep experimenting with other looks that aren’t as expensive…

  • Aiddon

    I’d much prefer Skyward Sword’s more colorful, vibrant art style. Plus Zelda has never been about art style what with things shifting between stuff like the “Celda” look and TP’s more somber aesthetic. It’s always more about mechanics and the adventures you get from exploring Hyrule.

  • Czech

    I annoyed with Nintendo and their kiddy Zelda graphics. I thought maybe they had gotten a little sense when they made TP. But then Skyward sword was released. My opinion, Zelda fans are looking for a hard core Zelda game with intense fights and intense “real life graphics”. Too scared to make a rated “M” Zelda game? God forbid.

    • Aiddon

      …..Kiddie? Seriously? From my experience, that which tries to act more “adult” is in fact the more “kiddie” product.

    • Joharis Yadiel Burgos-Cotto


  • Yianni

    I felt the Zelda HD experience was a bit different than Twilight Princess. It wasn’t as brown and had more vibrant colors which I felt Twilight Princess was lacking.
    I think the HD experiences graphics would drag in a much a larger audience as described in the article and I feel it would be a step in the wrong direction to not go with the style.

  • http://twitter.com/ElementalShade Stealth

    shut up with this western realism bullshit

  • hedmunky84

    I would love to see another T rated (or even M rated for that matter) Zelda game like Twilight Princess. Im a HUGE Zelda fan too since the very 1st one when I was 4. I have a huge Link tattoo on my side. A game that has a darker story line and realistic graphics. I would buy a Wii U just for it. And get a good director cause Skyward Sword was a MASSIVE let down, probably as much, if not more than, Majora’s Mask.

  • Onkeljan

    Windwaker looked superior in every way, and showed of the gamecube hardware much better than the spaceworld tech demo. Skyward Sword also ended up being one of the prettiest games on Wii. Im sure the next Zelda will look gorgeus no matte what arstyle they choose.

  • http://www.facebook.com/emiel.haakma Emiel Haakma

    This look is exactly what the Legend of Zelda deserves. Plus, we finally get to see what the Hylian Shield looks like when you can see the small details as well

  • zdog

    The HD style is not what you want! I made this point in the poll. If you look at the spaceworld demo and then watch skyward sword it is a clear choice which one is better! I’m sure it will be the same way with the new Zelda. Frankly I’d be disappointed if it looked like the HD demo.