The future of Hyrule, and of the Zelda brand - La Bustina di Lakitu

The future of Hyrule, and of the Zelda brand - La Bustina di Lakitu
Breath of the Wild is the game that, adding up the various coronations, has been nominated by many as the best of the decade (a few weeks ago also by the ResetEra forum, for what it's worth): this, however, is not a unique result in the The Legend of Zelda series. A similar figure, in itself, should convey the value and prestige of this saga. A similar response was obtained by Ocarina of Time in 1998, on Nintendo 64: the work that canonized three-dimensional action games, the one that spread the lock on (at the time called Z-Targeting), the one that, still today, has the highest Metacritic average ever recorded (99/100).

At the time, ratings weren't engraved on Metacritic, but they probably would have achieved a similar, if not the same, milestone A Link to the Past (Super Nintendo) and the first The Legend of Zelda (NES). What separates Breath of the Wild from every illustrious predecessor, however, is the enormous commercial success: this is the first chapter of the series to exceed twenty million copies (it has already done so by adding up the sales of Wii U and Switch, between little will succeed even considering only the Switch). Neither Ocarina of Time nor The Legend of Zelda had succeeded in a similar feat, indeed, neither of them had reached ten million units. And it's not just about absolute numbers: for the first time, The Legend of Zelda saga has climbed - also in terms of sales - the internal hierarchies. Breath of the Wild has sold more than Super Mario Odyssey, an unimaginable milestone in the days of Skyward Sword.

There is another factor that could make Breath of the Wild a breaking point, and that is the fact that, after Ocarina of Time, it was the first The Legend of Zelda to excel over the entire industry. This series, from 1998 onwards, while always remaining excellent, has gradually curled up on itself, more and more like a precious tinsel than a decisive work in the evolution of videogames as a means of expression. Breath of the Wild has reversed the trend dramatically, and it is impossible that such a result does not have major consequences.

History

Ocarina of Time was so important that it originated and shaped the entire timeline of The Legend of Zelda; not that it is a topic that is so close to our hearts, but some fans hold it in high regard, and Nintendo itself, even if between the serious and the facetious, gave official answers to those who asked for a chronology of the various episodes. In short, almost every chapter of the saga, previous and next, is arranged according to its relationship with Ocarina of Time. Is the Hero of Time Defeated? Here comes the desolate world of the first The Legend of Zelda. Does the hero win and become a child again? Here is Majora's Mask. Does the hero triumph and a century passes? Here it is in the form of a statue in The Wind Waker.

Nintendo hoped that Breath of the Wild could achieve a success comparable to that actually achieved: it dedicated an entire E3 (2016) to the title, used it to promote the launch of Nintendo Switch, and avoided, in narrative terms, to place it precisely in the timeline. Some have tried to narrow it down to a particular branch of history, but the most likely option, being a little cynical, is that Breath of Wild was inserted "thousands of years" after all the others for, well, detach it from the past. Not by chance, within the most recent Hyrule, there are references - geographical, archaeological and toponymic - to each previous title.

If Ocarina of Time was powerful enough to generate and catalyze the current timeline, what will Breath of the Wild be able to do? This year we had a prime example. For the first time, a game in the saga will not only have a direct sequel (honor already touched by The Legend of Zelda and Ocarina of Time), but even a prequel, within the same generation. When we talk about a "direct sequel", we mean a story that continues with the same Link, in the same Hyrule as the previous chapter. In short, already at this moment Breath of the Wild, through the successor and the musou Hyrule Warriors: the Age of Calamity, received an in-depth study that had not belonged to any ancestor.

Up to now, Nintendo's attitude has made complete sense: many wanted a sequel to Breath of the Wild, many are interested in a niche genre, like that of the Koei Tecmo project, only for the setting and characters. But what will happen in the future? Would you be happy if instead of a trilogy, Breath of the Wild had the power to break the rituality of the series? What if it became a more linear story, with characters and continuous plots, instead of a myth repeated over time? If the next The Legend of Zelda, we mean the one after the Breath of the Wild sequel, should also be a direct continuation of the same narrative line?

Graphics

Another peculiarity of the saga is made up, in the three-dimensional era, by its continuous graphic research, by its changing visual style: we talked about it in detail here, five years ago. It is a feature that has manifested itself with the Aonuma management, more so than in the Miyamoto or Tezuka era; through thick and thin, it has become one of the uniqueness of the series. Let's review their evolution in brief.

Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask arrived at the dawn of the three-dimensional era, they were ambitious and appreciable but, like many contemporary titles, they did not have a particular stylistic research behind them. The first notable creative instance came with The Wind Waker, who rejected the predominant direction of the industry to take refuge in an amazing cartoon style. Exaggerated, courageous, divisive, but still remains one of the most beautiful games - visually - ever made. Twilight Princess represented a reaction to The Wind Waker, said to be requested by Nintendo of America, and explored the opposite path: desaturated colors, a modeling tending towards realism, dark atmospheres. A commercially appreciated identity, but which Nintendo is not - in our opinion - able to embrace with the same ease and naturalness as the more stylized one. Skyward Sword has chosen a middle ground between the two, with realistic proportions and vivid colors, inspired by the works of Cezanne (especially in the landscape representation).

Breath of the Wild has found a practically perfect style. Wiry enough not to scare adults craving bombast, cartoon enough not to sever the series' fairytale yearning. Cel-shaded characters, realistic environments. With this episode, and with its light (less cartoonish and dazzling than in the first demo, dated 2014), Nintendo has achieved a beautiful and functional synthesis of past research. And in fact it will be re-proposed unchanged in the next Hyrule Warriors, and - barring unforeseen upheavals - it will return, as anticipated by the trailer, in the sequel Breath of the Wild. Which will be darker and gloomy - apparently - but will have the same graphic style.

Again, we ask ourselves the same question: Will Nintendo have the courage to continue experimenting? It's not a foregone question, even less so for the timeline. The graphic style of Breath of the Wild reconciles the many souls of the series. It will not be easy to deform it to go back to the times of The Wind Waker, or darken it to make everything darker. The Legend of Zelda for the successor of Switch, quite simply, could continue on this path, updating it to new technological possibilities.

Game Design

If we have many on the timeline and on the graphic research doubts and few certainties, there are some fixed points on game design. Not only for obvious intuitions, but also for direct confirmation: Aonuma himself has declared that, at least in the immediate future, they will not deviate from the "open air" of Breath of the Wild. This saga has often altered its internal balance, its essence, but it is taken for granted - given its success - that the new base will be provided by the most recent episode.

Again, Ocarina of Time represents a precedent to keep in mind. Although it was a kind of three-dimensional transposition of A Link to the Past, it is obvious that it influenced the successors like no other - even excessively. It is likely that Breath of the Wild, the first to truly break away from that structure, will fill the same role for the next ones in The Legend of Zelda.

We do not intend to suggest that the structure will remain unchanged and immutable, indeed: i future chapters will expand and deepen the approach proposed by Breath of the Wild, starting with the sequel. But by now the road is marked: there will be no return, at least for the next few years, to the old approach. Nintendo will no longer lock Links into linear paths, in which puzzles must be solved to continue. On an abstract level, we will hardly find dichotomous situations, in which there are only two alternatives (basically, right or wrong). The overworld will remain open. It will be enriched, explored; maybe other weapons will return, or a slower and more punctual update of Link's equipment.

These are just some of the possible developments of the saga: rather than making predictions, we have tried to understand how The Legend of Zelda will evolve . In this range of possibilities, we have a belief that is hard to break: however things go, there will be a before and after Breath of the Wild.

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