Zelda Title Screen

Zelda Doesn’t Need a Reboot, Here’s Why

When a successful series has been around for as long as the Legend of Zelda has, eventually things start to feel a bit stale. Gamers enjoy a sense of familiarity, and it’s great to see a game’s universe grow and evolve over the years, but there’s a line between nostalgia and monotony, and that line gets thinner with every new game in a series. Eventually, players get tired of the same old stuff, and sales begin to decline.

As this trend continues, developers often find themselves faced with two choices. The first is to bring the series to a close, choosing to let it rest in peace rather than continuing to rehash and taint its legacy. The second and increasingly more popular option is to reboot the series. Popular franchises like Tomb Raider and Devil May Cry have recently opted for reboots, starting each series over from square one with new (but familiar) stories and gameplay mechanics. Many have called for the Legend of Zelda series to do the same, but when you step back and take a good look at the series it becomes apparent that rebooting is not the answer to Zelda‘s problems.

Toon LinkGenerally when developers choose to reboot a series it’s because there’s just not much left that can be done to develop the plot, main character(s), and gameplay mechanics without feeling forced. Rather than try to find a way to put new ideas into an old mold, they scrap everything and start fresh, letting them take the characters and ideas in a new direction.

The Zelda series is definitely in need of some innovation, especially when it comes to story. Since A Link to the Past we’ve seen the story of an ancient, sealed-off demon returning to get the Triforce and/or Zelda’s Life Force played out so many different times that it’s not even funny anymore. Sure, there’s some twists thrown in here and there, but at the core of almost every major Zelda title is the same story being played out by primarily the same characters.

This fact alone makes a reboot seem sensible, but here’s the thing about the repetition in Zelda: it’s a choice, not an unavoidable eventuality. Many franchises just run out of directions to go with the current plot; Zelda chooses to repeat itself.

While you can only do so much with the original story of Lara Croft and Dante, Link isn’t bound to one particular story, personality, or era in time. Link isn’t a single entity; almost every new Zelda game features a new Link living generations (or even centuries) after the previous incarnation. In a way, it’s almost like every new Zelda game is a “reboot” of sorts, because the characters and plot start over. Nintendo’s hands aren’t tied by the plot of past games, because they’re ancient history.

The sense of familiarity and continuity in Zelda is both it’s greatest strength and it’s most glaring weakness. Zelda has one of the most utterly fanatical fanbases of any series ever, and the overall chronology and universe of Zelda is a big reason for that. Giving the series a true reboot – effectively cutting it off from this established universe and it’s dedicated fanbase – would take away a huge part of what makes Zelda what it is.

So if rebooting isn’t an option, what does Nintendo do? The whole point of a reboot is to take the series in a new direction that isn’t possible with the current games, but no such limitations really exist for Zelda due to the nature of its story progression. If Nintendo wants to take Zelda in new directions, they can. It’s as simple as that. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto has often said that the “a few centuries later” formula for placing games chronologically exists to keep the series from being restricted, yet the Zelda development team consistently chooses to rehash the same plots anyway. This has to stop.

Ganon DeathDue to some fancy time travel mechanics in Ocarina of Time, the Zelda series actually has three separate and distinct timelines to work with. That’s already more freedom than a reboot gives you.

If Nintendo has multiple, opposing plot ideas for Zelda, they can use them all, and it’s no problem. They can take the series in three completely different directions if they so choose, because the events of each separate timeline have no bearing on their counterparts.

One of the specific changes fans have called for in the past is a change in villains. Ganon has hatched scheme after scheme, and some are getting tired of him. We’ve seen a few other villains, but most of them were either very weak characters (Bellum) or came off as Ganon clones (Malladus, Demise). If fans want a story that doesn’t revolve around travelling through Hyrule, getting the Master Sword and using it to stop Ganon from getting the Triforce, there’s a perfect opportunity for that on the “Adult Timeline” story arc.

After the events of Wind Waker the Master Sword and Hyrule are washed away beneath the Great Sea, Ganon has been defeated, and the Triforce vanishes into thin air. The descendants of Link and Zelda go on to start a new nation, giving the Zelda team a clean slate to work with. No reboot required, and they can still go back and reference events from the previous games.

What Zelda fans really want isn’t a reboot; it’s innovation. The chronology and nature of the series gives Nintendo the perfect opportunity to do virtually anything they want with the game without having to reboot to get that freedom. In keeping the existing story as canon but taking it in new directions, Zelda can give fans the innovation they desire without sacrificing the universe that they’ve come to fall in love with.

  • Gaseous Snake

    I think that they should throw in a newer entry into the downfall timeline because they could turn the shattered hyrule in that timeline into something new and refreshing. Obviously, they did something similar with ST and can continue from there to provide the same effect. They can even drastically shake up the events on the child timeline. They just have to do it.

  • K2L

    Agreed completely. A reboot, in some cases, only worsens things.

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

    Yes and no.

    I actually do think that the timeline reveal – which goes against what Eiji even said about the point of keeping the timeline secret, which is to keep the future games from being shackled by its expectations – indicates that they might be at least going away from the established story arcs in some way. While this doesn’t necessarily mean a total reboot, I do think it’s likely that future games will kind of feel like they’ve “started over.”

    I also think the series seriously needs a TOTAL “back to basics” gameplay/design overhaul, not these “let’s do new things” revisions we’ve been seeing over the years.

    • HylianBadger25

      It’d be even better if they could actually capitalize on an art style that generates the most fan enthusiasm. *Cough E3 tech demo cough*

    • Michael Medina

      or if they had a game after Twilight Princess that tied everything up and truly ended the cycle.

  • zdog

    Great article! I agree, no need for a Zelda reboot. Just like you said, link isn’t stale or over the top through repetition, in fact I think Skyward Sword’s Link was the most grounded real character we’ve seen yet. I don’t need new, just more.

  • Dadoong21

    Maora’s Mask was practically a reboot, well… you know what I mean. The story was SO out there for a Zelda game. Personally I’d prefer them to venture more storylines like that now and again. There’s only so many times Ganon can appear for the Triforce…

  • the_mags

    I honestly think a story that plays more along the lines of Majora’s mask–a personal story with an overarching evil present might be a good idea. Picking up some ideas from Elder Scrolls or Fallout could help the franchise feel fresh again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/briankimanderson Brian K. Anderson

    Novel Idea: give new characters the individual triforces. They’ve already established a lot of MacGuffin strategies with this (Search TV Trops for MacGuffin definitions), but the triforces can be so much more than check-off-the-list rewards. Imagine what these races, cultures, and regions could do with a shard of the Triforce of Power – power machines, generate magic, you name it.

    Then when the mysterious omens of destruction begin to appear, you could have three characters tasked with retrieving the pieces of each triforce – some retrieved after story points, others after dungeons, one in a hidden cave at the bottom of Lake Hylia. The catch – none of the heroes can retrieve all the pieces on his/her own, emphasizing the Triforce’s main message of triple balance.

    But most importantly, it would mean that Ganon would stop hogging the Triforce of Power. :?)