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What Will the Next Zelda Game Be?

Majora's Cat

How about that
Sep 3, 2010
The Legend of Zelda is one of the best-selling video game franchises of all time - we all know that. However, some installments in the series have been more popular than others. Most of the time, the content and actual quality of the game are not very large factors in sales. It is how the game appeals to the public which boosts the number of copies sold. I’m sure that Nintendo keeps this in mind and designs games to suit hardcore gamers’ best interests as well as being friendly and accessible to soft-core gamers. The hardcore gaming community will question why Nintendo makes Zelda games of low difficulty, and the only answer is that they want to appeal to a much broader spectrum of gamers. The easier difficulty will attract gamers, and sales have started spiking upward just a tad in the past few years due to this. This upward trend is good news for Nintendo, especially after Four Swords Adventures’ poor sales due to its unfamiliar and unpopular style. Perhaps the success and failures of the past can determine Nintendo’s course of action in the future. We already know that Skyward Sword is on its way, but what can we expect from Nintendo in the future? Well, first let’s take a look at the sales (that reflect the overall appeal) of past titles.

Below is the number of copies sold for each and every major Zelda title to date:

The Legend of Zelda - 6.5 million copies

The Legend of Zelda: Adventure of Link - 4.4 million copies

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - 4.6 million copies

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening - 3.8 million copies

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - 7.6 million copies

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask - 3 million copies

The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker - 4.6 million copies

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past/Four Swords - 1.8 million copies

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons/Ages - 4 million copies

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures - 250,000 copies

The Legend of Zelda: the Minish Cap - 1 million copies

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess - 6.8 million copies

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass - 4.1 million copies

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks - 2.8 million copies

To further illustrate the trend of the Zelda games’ sales, below is a line graph I created that projects each and every Zelda game’s sales. Games are listed in chronological order:

Zelda Sales Chart.jpg

What is clearly visible is the slow, downward trend that the series is taking. This comes as a bit of a surprise, considering how popular games like the Wind Waker and Twilight Princess were. However, sales of modern Zelda games pale in comparison to the first five major games in the series. So when did this cooling trend begin? Well, the series’ sales took a dramatic plunge with the release of Majora’s Mask, a game now considered to be a masterpiece. At the time of its release, though, it didn’t quite connect with the general audience. From there on out, the Zelda series maintained an average of approximately 3.7 million copies per game, a respectable average (though nothing compared to the first five games). Then, Nintendo took a huge risk in inducting Four Swords Adventures into the Hall of Zelda. The game completed changed the Zelda formula and this displeased fans. Some major changes (or annoyances) were the following: FSA was divided into levels, items could only be held one at a time, Heart Pieces and other collectibles couldn’t be collected and kept, etc. This resulted in the game selling a mere 250,000 copies, a record low for the series. Twilight Princess set the series back on track with an unprecedented 6.8 million copies sold, and Phantom Hourglass followed suite with a decent 4.1 million copies sold. With the success of the Wind Waker, Nintendo decided to try to cash in on the game’s fanbase by crafting two sequels. Phantom Hourglass did unexpectedly well, but the same cannot be said for Spirit Tracks.

No with the past games out of the way, Nintendo would like to focus on the future. But what future lies ahead? Most recently, cel-shaded games have been the object of Nintendo’s attention. Even the upcoming Skyward Sword is cel-shaded, like its two predecessors (Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks). However, cel-shaded games may not be the most successful. Classic-style Zelda titles like the original LoZ, A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess are four best-selling games. The success of these titles is clearly due to Ganon being the main antagonist, Zelda being the damsel in distress, the Master Sword being Link’s weapon of choice (not featured in the original LoZ) and the fact that Link must save Hyrule and the princess to restore order. This is what I consider to be the “standard” Zelda game, but it goes a long way (in terms of sales, that is). If Nintendo wants big sales, they must try to make another standard Zelda title, one that gives players everything they crave: an epic fight against Ganon and the blade of evil’s bane as the instrument of his demise.

Personally, I split the Zelda games into four main categories (one being “Standard”, one being “Cel-Shaded”, one being “Alternate Land”, and one being “Strange/Off the Beaten Path”). These categories just about cover all the Zelda games and are pretty self-explanatory. LoZ, ALttP, OoT and TP are under the classification of “Standard”, WW, PT and ST are “Cel-Shaded”, LA, MM, OoS and OoA are under “Alternate Land” and AoL, FS, FSA and MC are “Strange/Off the Beaten Path”.

Each of these categories has its own quotient of success, as seen in the chart I created below:

Zelda Sales Chart 2.jpg

“Standard” Zelda games lead in sales, averaging well over 6 million copies per game. The next most popular category is “Alternate Land”, where Link’s adventures take place in lands other than Hyrule. For the most part, these installments are very similar to “Standard” Zelda titles in terms of gameplay (since many are sequels to “Standard” games). The only main differences are the setting and situation Link is in. The third most popular category among gamers appears to be “Cel-Shaded”, proving that Nintendo was pretty smart to invest their time and money into creating more Wind Waker-esque games. Finally, the games I labeled “Strange” are indeed unpopular in the eye of the gaming population. Out-of-the-ordinary Zelda games like Adventure of Link (a side-scroller), Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures aren’t very well-received by the public. On the other hand, the Minish Cap is an often-praised and beloved handheld Zelda, despite its shallow sales. It seems that whenever Nintendo takes a risk, the end result isn’t pleasant.

If anything, Nintendo should focus on producing more ordinary Zelda games; games that feature all the characters and elements we know and love. While hardcore fans of the series may not necessarily want that, it’s what results in the most copies sold. With Skyward Sword on the horizon, we shouldn’t expect another cel-shaded Zelda game anytime soon. Recently, there’s been a lack of particularly bold releases, so that may be the direction Nintendo will take in the near future. Still, if Nintendo can learn from their blunders and triumphs, they should be able to realize that releasing another typical Zelda game that features good ol’ Ganon will do them some good. Conversely, a Zelda game they takes place in a different world hasn’t been released lately. The statistics prove that Zelda games that are set in faraway lands are the second-highest in sales, preceded only by “Standard” Zeldas. A change of venue may very well be the boost that Zelda to dominate the charts once again. Skyward Sword is set in Skyloft, yes, but the meat of the adventure is in Hyrule, so I don’t consider it to be under the “Alternate Land” category. Since players will be returning to Hyrule in the upcoming Zelda epic, I don’t believe anyone will be missing Hyrule much. Therefore, I predict that the next Zelda game will be one that takes place in a land other than Hyrule, but still plays much like Zelda games that highlight Ganon and the Master Sword.

So what route do you think Nintendo will take with a new release? Will it be cel-shaded or will it have more traditional visuals? Will it be an offbeat adventure? What are your thoughts?
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The game is on!
The Zelda game that I have been wanting for quite a while now is a game with extremely well made and realistic graphics (perhaps on the WiiU). However that's not all, I want the game to take place out at sea just like WW and PH, but this time I want the graphics to be hyper realistic (not cel-shaded)!
Perhaps in that Zelda title Link is the Captain on a ship and sails around on the sea from island to island with super realistic graphics (try to imagine that)!
Also, I really want the game to be long, with a lot of dungeons, a lot to do between the dungeons and a lot of side quests!
That would be extraordinary!

Michael Heide

The 8th Wise Man
Oct 15, 2010
Cologne, Germany
The problem is not the quality of the Zelda games starting with Majora's Mask. Zelda games have always been the cream of the crop for every system they were released on (and yes, that includes the CD-i games. Sure, compared to other Zelda games, they were crap, but have you seen other titles for the CD-i? Compared to those, Wand of Gamelon was gold). Neither is the problem the graphic style or the setting. Link's Awakening sold really well, and Zelda doesn't even appear in it.

The problem is that for three hardware generations (NES, GameBoy, Super Nintendo), Nintendo had been the undisputed king of the video game industry. The only real competitor in some parts of the world was the Genesis/Mega Drive. Up until a certain point, if you had a video game system, odds were that it was made by Nintendo. And since the Zelda games were among the best games for each system, if you had a video game system, odds were that you owned a Zelda game.

That changed when Sony released the Playstation, and changed even more when the next generation brought us the Playstation 2 and the Xbox. Nintendo wasn't the standard anymore. The Gamecube was great, but it was massively overshadowed by the other two systems. If you had a gaming system, odds were that it was a Playstation.

The Wii sold great, but its target audience weren't Zelda fans. Its target audience were non gamers. Casual gamers. People who buy Wii Play, Wii Fit or Wii Sports Resort. Those people don't buy Twilight Princess. Or Skyward Sword, for that matter. Same thing with the DS. If the hardware is targeted at customers who like Nintendogs, Kawashima and maybe Professor Layton, you won't be able to sell many copies of Spirit Tracks.

Nintendo promises to change things with the Wii U. They say that it will be relevant to both casual gamers and core gamers. It combines gimmicks like the touch pad with HD graphics and a software lineup that goes beyond Sudoku Master. Among the games announced for the Wii U are titles like Arkham City, Darksiders 2 and Ninja Gaiden 3. If The Legend of Zelda Wii U can compete with those games, then I'm confident that sales will be great.

Majora's Cat

How about that
Sep 3, 2010
You make an outstanding point, Mr. Heide. I hadn't thought about the competition during the time of the earlier Zelda games. Yes, as Mases has pointed out to me before, Sony and Microsoft have clearly given Nintendo a run for its money. Majora's Mask was likely hindered due to the fact that the PlayStation 2 was released on the very same day. Also, MM required the Expansion Pak and costed a bit more than regular N64 games. MM marked the beginning of Nintendo's slumping sales, as this was the day the widely-owned PS2 was finally put on the market.

I have high hopes for the Wii U, but if it ends up like the Wii, I don't think Nintendo can compete very well with Sony and Microsoft. The Wii promised to be a "revolution", but was instead just a gimmick. I sincerely hope that the Wii U delivers what it promises and helps Nintendo (and Zelda) dominate the industry again.

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