As can be read about here, legendary game developer Eiji Aonuma has announced that the next Zelda title has begun production. With the promise of a new Zelda game comes speculation as to how it might improve upon its predecessors. As such, I figured it’d be a good time to elaborate on how I think the next Zelda title could improve on the groundwork laid out by Breath of the Wild.
I’d like to state, for the record, that I love Breath of the Wild. It’s in a three-way tie for my favorite Zelda game. That said, this article is extremely critical of its flaws; it may sound like I hate the game, but I don’t. I’m simply pointing out ways the next Zelda game could improve upon its flaws, so naturally the tone will come across as negative.
10. Musical Instrument
This is low on the list because, as Breath of the Wild, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword show, the inclusion of an instrument gimmick isn’t necessary. Breath of the Wild shows this in that it refrains from incorporating one and doesn’t feel like it’s sorely lacking such a thing; Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword show this in that they include one but it feels incredibly shoehorned.
That said, using musical instruments to manipulate time, weather, or what have you remains a staple of the Zelda franchise, and though Breath of the Wild didn’t need one, it probably could have benefited from a magical instrument that at least let you keep the rain at bay. Incorporating one into the next game would be welcome, provided that it doesn’t feel shoehorned in like Skyward Sword’s harp and Twilight Princess’s wolf howling.
If you ask me, the Yiga Clan Hideout was one of the highlights of Breath of the Wild. It was refreshing to come across a fleshed out location rather than more empty land; sneaking into and through the hideout before encountering the unique boss at the end made the experience feel like a miniature dungeon; one that was a more enjoyable experience than the game’s actual dungeons. It was SO nice to be able to infiltrate an enemy base that didn’t merely consist of a few Bokoblins with a treasure chest lying atop a platform. It left me wondering why we couldn’t have had more of these; having to infiltrate a separate Yiga hideout for each of the main story segments would have helped with the game’s lackluster story content. Or heck, even just one more hideout in the Faron region would have been nice.
The next Zelda game should strive to have numerous enemy camps such as this scattered throughout the overworld; the encampments we got are just… bad. I really think Zelda should try to be a bit more Skyrim-esque in this regard.
8. Overworld Music
I’m passionately against the direction that Breath of the Wild took with its soundtrack; heck, this site’s debut article, which you can read here, is an opinion piece about this unfortunate direction they took. Having memorable tunes looping in different areas has always been integral to the Zelda franchise, and the fun of exploration in Breath of the Wild really suffered from the lack of proper musical accompaniment. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the best area in the game, Hyrule Castle, is also one of the only times a traditional area theme is playing in the background.
I’ve heard the arguments people have made in favor of ambient music, but they’re simply not valid. Don’t like hearing the same track looping in an area? Well, there are ways around that. You could have different versions depending on the time of day, as Xenoblade Chronicles X did; a louder, faster one for day, and a softer, out-of-focus one for night. You could have music play exclusively during the day and give the player a break at night. You could have the option to turn off overworld music. Any of these would address the issue of music that gets too repetitive and would allow for actual music, as opposed to the minimalist piano freeform we got.
7. Better Bosses
Let’s be frank: Breath of the Wild’s boss selection sucks. The Blights all feel like separate phases for one boss, there are only three overworld bosses, Kohga is a joke, and the final fight is a glorified cutscene. The only truly great boss in the game is Monk Maz Koshia, and he’s locked behind a DLC paywall along with a rehash of one of the overworld bosses that only differs in how much damage it can take.
This is unacceptable. For the Zelda franchise, a series known for having some of gaming’s best and most iconic boss fights, to put out this poor selection, is just disappointing.
Now, that’s not to say I dislike the untraditional direction Breath of the Wild took with the bosses; giving them health gauges that can be whittled down at the player’s pace rather than the standard “hit weak point three times with dungeon item” formula is a good move. They just need to put some actual creativity into the boss fights, which they’re clearly capable of doing, if Monk Maz Koshia is any indication.
6. Enemy Variety
Fighting different color variations of Bokoblins, Moblins, and Lizalfos gets old fast. Sure, running into the occasional Lynel is a nice change of pace, but it’s not enough. If the next Zelda title is to improve upon the open-world formula established by Breath of the Wild, there NEEDS to be greater enemy variety. There’s not much more to say, as this point has been made a million times and seems to be the mainstream opinion. Give us more enemies.
5. Quality Sidequests
Breath of the Wild had 76 sidequests. At the absolute most, three were actually good: these would be the ones in which you construct Link’s House, build Tarrey Town from the ground up, and get involved in some Sheikah/Yiga Clan drama in Kakariko Village. The rest are completely forgettable fetch quests. 3/76 is an absolutely abysmal ratio. The open-world genre is one that should involve numerous MEANINGFUL sidequests scattered all across the land, generally serving as a way to develop characters, expand on lore, and provide worthwhile rewards. 73 out of Breath of the Wild’s 76 sidequests fail miserably in achieving all three of these criteria, and even the good ones don’t necessarily provide decent rewards for completing them.
The next game needs to take a serious look at how other open world games like Skyrim use sidequests, as well as how the Zelda franchise has incorporated fantastic sidequests into a particular title involving an evil accessory.
The nonlinear structure of open-world games is one that often serves as an anathema to storytelling; it’s common for developers of these types of games to remedy this by making it possible to uncover a healthy amount of lore through exploring, should the player so choose. I expected that Breath of the Wild would use such a strategy. It did not.
Seriously, outside of the rare open diary entry that you can find laying about in a select few locations, the game makes no effort to provide world building. There are so many locations that could have potentially been given an interesting backstory but just weren’t. Coming across the same groupings of unexplained ruins overrun by Bokoblins isn’t especially interesting.
3. Proactive Antagonist
You can say what you want about Skyward Sword, but one of the points that I think even the game’s biggest detractors can agree on is that it did manage to provide an antagonist with some presence. You really felt like you were in a race against Ghirahim to find Zelda; he would show up at the end of nearly every dungeon, delivering an entertaining monologue and then either taking up arms against you himself or summoning a monster to deal with you. He didn’t just sit around waiting for you to show up to fight him at the end; he was constantly out to get in your way. Ghirahim, without question, has more screentime in his game than any Zelda villain had in their game(I say this because Ganon might have more if you consider all the games he’s been in; though it says a lot that even then, I’m not sure he does).
Contrast this with Calamity Ganon, who does absolutely nothing the entire game. Its attempt to take over Hyrule had occurred 100 years prior; in the present it just festers. There’s absolutely no feeling of necessity to stop the thing. The people of Hyrule barely mention it. It’s absurdly easy to forget that the thing exists in the first place, seeing as how little it matters. Calamity Ganon has got to be among the most disappointingly passive antagonists in gaming, and that’s just a crying shame. Even when you finally confront the beast it doesn’t do much. Breath of the Wild even had the opportunity to rectify this by having a proactive secondary antagonist in Kohga and the Yiga Clan, but they totally dropped the ball on that one.
Can we get an actual villain next time, Nintendo? It doesn’t even have to be one that’s as proactive as Ghirahim; another Zant would be fine. Just please, provide what every epic tale needs: an actual antagonist to menace the hero.
Yeah, Shrines are a poor replacement for traditional Zelda dungeons. That’s not to say I don’t like Shrines; miniature dungeons that serve as warp points are a fine idea, but only as a supplement to dungeons; not a replacement. And yes, I’m putting the Divine Beasts under the “Shrines” category because that’s essentially what they are. They all look and function more or less the same.
What happened to having eight or so fully unique dungeons, each with their own theme and gimmick? I miss the days of exploring the incredibly atmospheric puzzle chambers such as the Ancient Cistern and Arbiter’s Grounds. The next game needs to introduce their triumphant return; none of these mega Shrines trying to pass themselves off as actual dungeons.
1. A Story
Yeah, Breath of the Wild really dropped the ball here. You’re thrust out onto the Great Plateau, and eventually you get a big exposition dump from the King of Hyrule, telling of an epic and tragic tale that took place one hundred years ago. And then that’s pretty much it until you face off against Ganon; and even after that there’s hardly an ending. I don’t know why they made the decision to have the entire game take place in the present rather than incorporating gameplay in the far-more-interesting past, or having it take place in the past to begin with, but… wow, what a letdown.
And it’s not just the lack of a proper narrative, it’s the lack of story content that’s disappointing as well. Each of the four main quests that you can go through before confronting Ganon is more or less the same thing: team up with some sort of Champion-wannabe to stop the Divine Beast so that you can get inside and free the Champion’s spirit. Having virtually all of the game’s story content revolve around you going through this specific formula four times over is far too repetitive, and it doesn’t provide for much playtime. The hours of story content in this game barely reaches into double digits. And the Champions’ Ballad has been panned for contributing little, if anything, to the story as it was advertised to do.
The next Zelda game should really strive to do a better job of balancing the open-world gameplay with an engaging and content-rich story. It doesn’t have to be as narrative-focused as something like Skyward Sword or Twilight Princess: the linearity of those games allows for a level of plot development that an open-world title would struggle to match. But good gravy, the story should still be present and even the meat of the game! Keep the ability to travel anywhere in the overworld, but maybe axe the potential to go straight to the final boss or complete the dungeons in any order: given the general perception of the Divine Beasts and ending as underwhelming, I think this would be an acceptable trade-off.