Linear Zelda games are “games of the past”

The Tears of the Kingdom development team have been doing interviews recently, given they were in the US ahead of their success at the Game Awards. Eiji Aonuma has raised some eyebrows responding to fans requests for a more linear experience, or an older style Zelda game. Today we’re going to have a look into Eiji Aonuma’s response, plus look at where linear games came from and what was the breaking point for fans, which helped Nintendo pivot into Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom.

Eiji Aonuma has speaking to Kat Bailey from IGN ahead of the Game Awards, where Tears of the Kingdom would go on to win Best Action/Adventure Game of 2023. Aonuma acknowledged Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom had taken The Legend of Zelda in a new direction. Aonuma outs this down to nostalgia and “wanting the thing we don’t have”.

He added there was a set path in Tears of the Kingdom, but it’s a path the player dictates, rather than Nintendo.

“Its interesting when I hear people say [they want more linear Zelda] because I am wondering, “Why do you want to go back to a type of game where you’re more limited or more restricted in the types of things or ways you can play?” But I do understand that desire that we have for nostalgia, and so I can also understand it from that aspect. I do think we as people have a tendency to want the thing that we don’t currently have, and there’s a bit of a grass is greener mentality.”

Breath of the Wild went through a whole lot of changes from its release, to the final release of Tears of the Kingdom, with the Zelda team taking on a lot of feedback from fans. One example of this is dungeon design. Aonuma discussed dungeons by saying

“But then we did hear the desire from fans for a bit more of a designed dungeon, and that led to our approach to dungeons for Tears of the Kingdom. And so as we proceed, whenever we’re making a game, we look back at our past and then consider where we are now with the freedom that we give to the player in these games.”

Divine Beasts in Breath of the Wild were felt to be lacklustre by many fans, and therefore the temples were fleshed out in Tears of the Kingdom to be much more similar to traditional Zelda games, although in my opinion, while they certainly were better in Tears of the Kingdom, they don’t hold a candle to Skyward Sword, Twilight Princess or Ocarina of Time Dungeons.

It’s not surprising Zelda fans are looking back for a more traditional Zelda experience. From 1986 to 2017 the games followed a relativelt similar format. Link would solve a series of Dungeons in a set order, you’d earn items along the way which would open up more of the world around you, and then you’d save the day by beating the bad guy, more often than not this was Ganon, and you’d save Princess Zelda and regain the Triforce. Job done.

There is optional content in Zelda games, plus in Oarina of Time you can complete dungeons “out of order”. A Link Between Worlds in 2013 was our first real glimpse into the world where we could choose where to go and what to do, Nintendo giving us the player the choice of which dungeons to do and in which order. It was a massive departure from the recent 2011 Skyward Sword, and would serve as a sneak peak into the future with Breath of the Wild, that would finally release 4 years later in 2017.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing that Zelda games are moving on from the linear format, they were a sign of the times, and the times have moved on, so Zelda games have to move on too to stay relevent, otherwise they will be left behind with other defunct franchises, and none of us want that.

Skyward Sword was a point in time where Zelda fans cried out, saying “no more”. Ocarina of Time sold 14 million copies, Wind Waker sold 6.8 million, Twilight Princess just over 10 million. Skyward Sword only sold 3.67 million copies, although it was boosted later with an additional 4 million copies when the HD version was released on Nintendo Switch. However, this revival of Skyward Sword took years, and release on Nintendo’s most successful platform.

The initial sales figures tell me people were fed up with linear Zelda and wanted a change, and fans spoke with their wallets. Skyward Sword was famed for it’s lengthy tutorials, over explaining everything and Fi being rather annoying pointing out the ruppee every time you picked one up. The opening to Breath of the Wild was such a contrast to Skyward Sword, you didn’t have much information, you woke up, stepped out into the literal Wild and found your own way. The Great Plateau was just a taste of what’s to come in Breath of the Wild, but it was everything Skyward Sword was not, and that was great.

The next brand new Zelda adventure is likely years away, given the cycle time of development is 5-6 years for open-world Zelda games. Eiji Aonuma has confirmed the series isn’t going back it’s linear roots, which may dissappoint some fans. There are some fantastic other games out there which are like the Legend of Zelda, games like Death’s Door, Eastward, Nobody Saves the World, Okami, and Tunic. These are all great indie games which take inspiration from Zelda’s roots, and present new and interesting worlds to explore and discover, I’d recommend checking them out.

I look forward to the future of the Legend of Zelda, and I can’t wait to see what Nintendo is cooking up for us next. What do you think that’s going to be? Share your ideas down there in the comments.

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