At twenty-five years of age, and still going strong, The Legend of Zelda franchise has displayed an incredible ability to overcome the effects of time. Not only has the series remained one of gaming's most acclaimed and recognized properties throughout all that time, it has also produced a number of titles that remain as good and impressive today as they were at their time of release. Its gameplay experienced a process of natural growth during its two-dimensional run; something that culminated with the release of A Link to the Past: the game that set in stone the core elements of the franchise, and their relationship, therefore forming one solid structure that been being used by Nintendo ever since its successful inception.
With its leap into the 3-D realm, the traditional format of the Zelda gameplay gained some extra wiggling room to continue to operate under that formula without receiving much backlash. After all, dressed up in a new dimension, the feel of the game drastically changed, and the design possibilities expanded to magnificent degrees. Nintendo took advantage of that opportunity while they could, giving us three stellar titles: Ocarina of Time, which was the organic development of the A Link to the Past skeleton on its translation to a new environment; Majora's Mask, a more concise twin with an unique atmosphere and more immersive sidequests; and Wind Waker, the game that successfully masked the old bones of the franchise by blessing gamers with incredible visuals, a great plot, and plenty of exciting locations to explore.
After three gems, came the turning point: Twilight Princess. A game that suffered not due to poor traits, but because, unlike its three predecessors, it failed in hiding the fact that, fifteen years later, the Zelda franchise kept an intact core. While that repetition is not a negative point itself, it does become one once players are able to realize that the game feels a whole lot like something they have already played. Twilight Princess is absolutely above average, but its underwhelming wolf mechanics, the emptiness of the gargantuan and gorgeous Hyrule, and its superficial character development - something that became specially clear in a game that came on the heels of Majora's Mask and Wind Waker, both of which spectacularly thrived under that aspect - stripped the game so much to its bare bones. And even though its mostly fantastic dungeons tried to save it from that fate, the game eventually came off as an attempt to recreate something that was better achieved with both A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time.
Twilight Princess deserved to be called a turning point, because its existence allowed Nintendo to confront something that would surely come up in the future, which was the fact that the Zelda franchise needed some drastic changes if it wanted to exist successfully for another twenty years. And better yet, Nintendo was able to see it without allowing its most ambitious franchise to reach a point in repetitiveness where it would simply embarrass itself by spawning a poor entry to the series. The offspring of those happenings came into the world one year ago, and despite its flaws in both sidequests and in the blandness of the sky segments, Skyward Sword was not only a huge landmark to motion-controlled gaming, but it was also a title that showed Nintendo is well aware of the steps that need to be taken in order to keep The Legend of Zelda as a franchise that keeps building a strong legacy, instead of one that simply sits on it.
As most first experiments go, Skyward Sword was not entirely successful, but it paves the way so that bigger steps can be taken. With whatever premise Nintendo is able to craft for the Wii U's upcoming Zelda game, the company can choose to either go back to the safe, good, but predictable, grounds of its early 3-D era, or to keep pushing the boundaries of the game into brand new places and gameplay opportunities. It goes without saying that the system's control scheme will certainly be used to a bigger effect than simply being a tidy little interface for the character's inventory or dungeon maps, but more important than figuring out clever ways to use the control scheme is finding unexpected ways to break that existent mold that dictates that Link must progress from the overworld to a dungeon, only to then return to the overworld and find the next dungeon.
Skyward Sword was already arguably successful in that area to some level, as we saw the dull huge world of Twilight Princess be swapped by something considerably smaller, but that was much more entertaining due to its density. Instead of large masses of grass with no importance other than padding gameplay time and giving players a sense of the series's epic scale, we winded up receiving a world that felt felt like a natural expansion of the dungeons, as if the puzzles had accidentally leaked out of the buildings they were supposed to be located in. It made for a more slow-paced and engaging experience, and it managed to keep our eyes wide open as it took away most of the inevitable sense of familiarity that would come packed with the traditional Zelda structure. At the same time, Skyward Sword ends making players urge for more, because it feels like an intermediate stop - a midway maturation point - to a franchise that is on its way to spreading its wings wide open and exploring a newly found scenario.
Undoubtedly, Nintendo has plenty of concepts that, like the masks in Majora's Mask and the vast ocean in Wind Waker, can make players forget that the next Zelda feels a whole lot like A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time, but it will be in the joining of a fantastic ingredient, such as those aforementioned two, with a continuing shift on the series' central pillars that Nintendo will most likely find its next franchise-defining Zelda game. And, as we all know, when it comes to Zelda, being a great game is not quite enough. The franchise's standard has been set much higher than that by Nintendo themselves in their ability to produce greatness with scary consistency. Whenever Link's next adventure may be, and whatever challenges he may need to face, one thing is for sure: we will turn on our Wii U's expecting, aside from having a great time, to have our gaming ideals rocked to their core.