Last week, Nintendo confirmed that The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has surpassed ten million worldwide copies within the first three days of launch. The Zelda franchise has been around since 1986 and has released just shy of 30 titles. Few franchises have stood the test of time–pun intended–by boasting top-tier gameplay and ability to instill a sense of adventure.
With the successful release of Tears of the Kingdom fresh in everyone’s minds, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge Zelda’s impact on the video game industry and theorize the various secret ingredients that make it such a sustainable franchise.
The original The Legend of Zelda was forward thinking in its “open world” concept, encouraging the player to explore and tackle the dungeons as they come across them. In fact, The Legend of Zelda allowed for saving during the progression of the game, which was novel at the time so you did not need to start over from the beginning like in most 80s and arcade games. This further reinforced the idea of exploration and revisiting areas. It even has what we refer to now as “new game plus” with a second quest. Nintendo mixed action with puzzle-solving, pioneering this type of gameplay to iterate from for years to come, moving away for games of that time that focused on obtaining the highest score. Its music was also a massive impact. The main theme is memorable, and often remixed, to this day.
I’ll admit, that game is tough to come back to after playing modern games, as it provides little to no direction. However, you cannot doubt how The Legend of Zelda pioneered the genre of video games. I played through the entire first quest a few years ago, and I have a much deeper appreciation for Zelda’s roots.
Of course, many gamers are familiar with what The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has done for 3D gaming. The introduction to Z-targeting was revolutionary, and this title lay the groundwork for further refinement of 3D games.
I have the most love for this game. Yes, nowadays the polygonal art style doesn’t hold up well, and Hyrule field feels small and empty in comparison to later titles, but Ocarina of Time did so much for me as well as other people in my generation. Back then it felt big. We felt like we were growing up with Link. We were in awe of approaching each temple. Nintendo would quickly surprise us with Majora’s Mask, which proved that they would reuse assets and come up with something fresh. This efficiency, I believe, is one major ingredient that contributes to Zelda’s success.
For as long as Zelda has been around, Nintendo has been innovating gameplay and user experience to keep things fresh. Granted, not everything was successful, nor was the best (e.g. use of a microphone to blow into for Phantom Hourglass or Spirit Tracks or the love-it-or-hate-it motion controls in Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess.). Although Zelda recycles the concept of a Hero with courage working alongside a princess with Wisdom, Nintendo manages to shake things up differently every time.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is another prime example. Nintendo provided both a new-to-the-franchise art style and gameplay. At first, fans, especially in the West, balked at Toon Link. However, ask anyone today about The Wind Waker, and most will state it is an absolute joy. The evolved expressions on Link’s face make him more relatable and enjoyable to control. In regards to gameplay, Link travels across the ocean in a swashbuckling adventure with the King of Red Lions. Sure, in retrospect, the ocean was a little empty, but Nintendo turned Hyrule upside-down (or under water) to provide a new experience to a longstanding series.
Lastly, how could we forget The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? No, it was not the first modern open-world game; however, what Nintendo accomplished here turned into a massive influence in the industry. Not only was it an open world in a sense that you can approach a massive space any way you’d like, but this title made anything possible. Whatever you could see, you could travel to, interactive with, and/or climb. Climbing (and gliding) was a major part of Breath of the Wild, and games such as Horizon: Forbidden West and Dying Light 2 took notice.
Breath of the Wild also ensured that there was something to be discovered everywhere. This game motivated players to scour every inch of that massive map, and they were rewarded with a Korok, a special item or collectible, or even Zelda’s diary! Little tid-bits of lore scattered in such way could also be found in 2022’s Game of the Year, Elden Ring.
And of course, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom leads the charge to Nintendo’s continued success in 2023. After six years of waiting, fans feared there wasn’t going to be enough difference from Breath of the Wild, especially if Nintendo planned on using the same Hyrule as a sequel. However, it is the fastest selling Zelda game, and it somehow turned Breath of the Wild on its head with a sky and underground map as well as a “create anything” mind set with Ultrahand and Fuse abilities. Nintendo also returned a few traditional Zelda elements like themed dungeons and former bosses and enemies.
Nintendo, for better or for worse, and discovered the secret sauce to keep Link immortal. The Legend of Zelda franchise has been revolutionary from the beginning, and it evolved over time to remain competitive in the industry, and that is something to be admired. There is a lot other developers can learn from Zelda, and with a continued focus on innovative gameplay and efficient use of their assets, Nintendo is sure to keep Zelda alive and well for years to come. As a fan of the series–dare I say a series that changed my life–I am thrilled at the evolution of Link and looking forward to the future.
Nintendo Pow Block: The Nintendo Podcast of Boss Rush Media and the Boss Rush Network
Nintendo Pow Block – Nintendo Pow Block is Boss Rush Media’s Nintendo Podcast. Each week, Edward, Corey, and their friends from around the internet come together to talk about the week that was in the world of Nintendo, including news, rumors, games, fun facts, and more, including fan favorite segments like Snacktendo, Playing with Power, Game Fact Advance, and Question Block. Look for the question thread in the community Discord.
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