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Reinventing Zelda?

Written By mista sense on Friday, May 18, 2007 | 5:09 AM

Recently, as you may have already heard, Miyamoto gave a great interview to Entertainment Weekly-- how cool is it to see what's essentially a glorified celeb glossy devote space to a game designer, albeit the most recognizable one?

"I could make Halo..." Miyamoto said. "It's just that I choose not to." Aside from that priceless quote, he also expressed that he'd consider making a less-sunny title if it contained social issues that concern him (people not giving their seats to elderly folks on the bus, people who don't pay income taxes).

When asked why Twilight Princess wasn't selling well in Japan, he opined, "I think a lot of people who bought the Wii are not necessarily the types of people who are interested in playing that kind of game. And a lot of the people who would want to play it can't find a Wii!"

Though I don't live in Japan, I know that being unable to find a Wii was the reason I didn't start Twilight Princess for months. So I could buy that explanation. And I'd also agree, at least largely, with the assertion that the epic RPG gamer is a cinematic Sonyphile, not a Wii-devotee (though, with Sony's stumbles lately, Nintendo has a chance to leech some of that market)."But mostly," Miyamoto said, "I think it's that there are fewer and fewer people who are interested in playing a big role-playing game like Zelda."

Is that true? Here's Amazon's list of top-sellers in Japan. As of this minute, the anxiously-sought Wii is in first position-- and a big roleplaying game, Odin Sphere, is ahead even of insanely popular, highly anticipated Ouendan 2. Scroll down-- with few, predictable exceptions, nearly the entire list is RPG, RPG, and RPG. The new DS Zelda title is even more desirable presently than loli-witch-groper Doki Doki Majo Shinpan. Compare that to our list, where Zelda does appear-- but below Halo, Crackdown, Mario and Pokemon. Might that not suggest that the Japanese are actually more interested in playing big RPGs than we are?

It's true that, as the core gaming audience ages (let's say "matures", okay?), we have less time for 80-hour RPGs and all of their minigames. But I really don't think it's true that nobody wants to play big RPGs anymore.

It's that nobody wants to play the same RPG anymore. And for the past several years, that's really all we've been offered-- variations on a done-to-death formula. The vitriolic backlash in some circles against the once-beloved Final Fantasy series seems to indicate not RPG rejection, but the frustration of an audience that really loves RPGs. They're sick of the formula. And when it comes to formulaic, Zelda is perhaps the worst offender of them all.

But isn't the formula the draw with Zelda? It's probably a matter of taste. Generally, Zelda games are untouchable in reviews, but Wind Waker-- probably the most "different" Zelda title in some time-- took a few knocks, despite smatterings of highly vocal fan loyalty. I guess I'm a traditionalist, because I'm iffy on Wind Waker also-- while I love Twilight Princess particularly because it's true-to-form, even in the face of a brand-new control scheme the likes of which hadn't been seen before. This feature at CVG suggests it is indeed time to refurbish Zelda a little, and Miyamoto agrees-- in 2005, he said "[Twilight Princess] will be, without a doubt, the last Zelda game [in the series] as you know it in its present form."

But how much can you change about a game like Zelda and still retain its fan base? Remove Link? Give the hero a rifle? And moreover-- would those gamers who actually are suffering RPG-fatigue buy a Zelda game without its familiar aspects?

Change and evolution is essential in the gaming world-- but there's a fine line between evolution and mutation. Miyamoto's always managed to straddle it handily with the Mario series, so I've no worries about Zelda. It's the big-picture issue-- building a better RPG-- that developers will have to attend to, because even a Zelda game won't be immune to the consequences if the genre continues its descent.

Wonder how a socially-conscious Zelda would sell? A dutiful tax-paying Link, fighting to preserve a bus seat for an aging Princess. Think it could work?

(The super-cute lego figures are custom jobs by Donald Kennedy. He's also got Super Mario-- check out his stuff here: http://www.mocpages.com/moc.php/14321)

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