Scary thing, I’d been toying with the idea of where The Legend of Zelda should venture in terms of expanding gameplay options in the few days leading up to the announcement of Hyrule Warriors. Not that Hyrule Warriors is exactly what I had in mind, but the idea of Zelda utilizing different gameplay techniques from other games/genres was (er, is) going to be a major point of this blog. Kinda spooky. So, as a preface, please note that this blog was conceived prior to the announcement of Hyrule Warriors. In fact, Nintendo totally stole the thunder from this brilliant entry. Rude.
Anyways, here goes. In the lore of The Legend of Zelda, there are several subplots and story arcs that have been hinted at but never fully explored. Ganondorf’s transformation into Ganon, the banishment of the Shadow Tribe, the disappearance of the Minish Tribe, what the hell happened to Navi, etc. All of these would make interesting narratives in a subsequent entry into the Zelda canon, but I’m more interested in the events leading up to the Seven Sages sealing of Ganon in the Sacred Realm. I’m referring, of course, to what is known as The Imprisoning War.
Zelda faithful know the Imprisoning War as the terrible conflict between the Kingdom of Hyrule and Ganon, preceding the events of A Link to The Past. For those of you unfamiliar with the ins and outs of The Imprisoning War, just keep this in mind; The Legend of Zelda fan community is bursting with theories as to what actually happened and where the event belongs on the timeline. If you choose to do your own research on The Imprisoning War, bear in mind that the internet is an intricate web of fan fiction, theory, and outright fabrication. For a concise explanation of what occurred during the Imprisoning Wars, Hyrule Historia and (to a lesser extent) the Zelda Wiki are your best sources. My rule is ‘if Nintendo said it happened, that’s what happened, for better or worse.’
Despite The Imprisoning War occupying a rather important space in Zelda lore, Nintendo has not developed any Zelda games that take place DURING the Imprisoning War. This is mind-boggling, considering the level of significance The Imprisoning War has in a very large branch of the Legend of Zelda lore. During this event, Ganondorf killed Link, broke into the Sacred Realm and obtained the Triforce, transformed into the Demon King Ganon, amassed an army of demonic creatures, and launched a campaign against the entire kingdom of Hyrule. A veritable cornucopia of narrative material! In spite of this, The Imprisoning War is highlighted in the intro of A Link to The Past and then never heard from again. Wars tend to be focal points in historical documentation of most civilizations, yet it has been relegated to footnote status by Nintendo. So where is the game dedicated to The Imprisoning War?
There are a number of reasons for this; an obvious one being that in the timeline that The Imprisoning War takes place in, Link is DEAD. In a franchise where players have almost exclusively been given control of the pointy-eared blondie, that protagonist being dead MIGHT lend itself to some difficulty if the developers are attempting to be consistent (go figure). However, I’m not convinced that Link’s death has much to do with Nintendo’s decision to not expand upon the story arc. Miyamoto has stated several times that story comes second in the development of Zelda games. With that in mind, Link being dead shouldn’t have much of an impact. I believe that the foremost reason for Nintendo’s negligence of The Imprisoning War is that traditional Legend of Zelda gameplay does not lend itself too particularly well to large-scale conflict. Thinking about it briefly, one might have a difficult time shoe-horning standard action/adventure into The Imprisoning War narrative. Let’s ignore that Link is dead for the moment (or, perhaps, another protagonist rises to take Link’s place?). Does Link/new protagonist travel around Hyrule, crawling through dungeons in search of relics while a war rages around him? Sounds a little odd. Thinking about it a bit longer, one might be able to offer Link a reason to traverse dungeons in familiar fashion; perhaps the Sages needed Link to find the talismans they eventually use to seal Ganon away. That certainly fits the bill in terms of staying true to ‘the Zelda experience.’
Naturally, I’d be thrilled if Nintendo decided to feature The Imprisoning War as the central narrative in a new Zelda game, even if it was done in the shoe-horn fashion I mentioned above. However, I also believe it would be a grand waste of narrative and gameplay potential to focus solely on one character prancing about dungeons while one of the greatest conflicts of Hyrule history plays out around the player. If Nintendo really wanted to please the Zelda geek in me (and hopefully other Zelda fans), they’d give us the opportunity to participate in The Imprisoning War. Nintendo’s next iteration of The Legend of Zelda should allow players to take control of Hyrule’s destiny and command its armies against Ganon’s onslaught. Or on the flip-side, of course, allow players to step into Ganon’s shoes and blanket the land of Hyrule in unending darkness and tyranny. This might be difficult using the tried-and-true gameplay mechanics we’ve seen in every Zelda game. As such, when/if Nintendo decides to tackle The Imprisoning War in a full-fledged entry, they ought to consider using gameplay mechanics not normally used in Zelda games. The principle mechanic that I believe would lend itself best to this narrative should be somewhat obvious at this point; RTS elements that allow players to control massive armies.
For those of you who haven’t seen this, watch this:
This is a fan-made mod of the Total War engine, utilizing the various races/characters from the Zelda Universe. There are several such videos on youtube putting the Zelda Universe into an RTS setting, but this one gives you a good idea of what it could look like. Pretty cool, huh? Hyrule has such a diverse group of races, all of which could be used in complex, Total War fashion. Each army could have access to unique weapon and skill sets, varying classes, and advantages/disadvantages. For example, the Kokiri could be able to utilize copious amounts of resources for weapons and armor, yet are relatively weak (since, you know, their weapons and armor are made out of sticks and s**t). Inversely, the Oocca might not have access to vast amounts of resources, but have the potential to craft devastating weaponry.
Arm yourselves with Deku Sticks and Deku Nuts! Their swords and armor will not withstand our onslaught! …we’re f****d.
Speaking of the races, it’s interesting to note that because The Imprisoning War hasn’t been outlined in any exact terms, we don’t really know who all participated. We know that Ganon laid siege to Hyrule with an army of demon-beasts, but that’s not entirely specific in terms of which Hyrulians actually met Ganon on the battlefield. Using it’s placement on the Zelda timeline, we can assume that at least five major races existed during The Imprisoning War; the Hylians, the Kokiri, the Gorons, the Zora, and the Gerudo. This doesn’t disclude the existence of other races present in other Zelda games, such as the Twili, the Oocca, and the Minish tribe among several others, but their inclusion in an accurate representation of The Imprisoning War might be a bit of a shoe-horn on Nintendo’s part. For the purposes of gameplay variety, it would make sense to include some races that may not have been present in Hyrule during this time period (i.e., the Rito, a race that is supposedly descended from the Zora tribe). With a plethora of different races to include, there’s no reason for Nintendo to have trouble conceptualizing fully realized armies to participate in The Imprisoning War.
Pipe dream material? No doubt, but material that still warrants consideration on the part of us as gamers and Zelda fans, and certainly Nintendo themselves. We’ve seen that Nintendo is willing to put Zelda characters (er, at least Link) in other genres of gameplay, including Soul Calibur II and the recently announced ‘Hyrule Warriors.’ So far, those appearances have been relegated to ‘guest appearance’ status and have not impacted the canon (we still don’t know if Hyrule Warriors will take place on the Zelda timeline or not). What I have in mind deals directly with events in Hyrule history. Nintendo needs to start taking some risks with The Legend of Zelda, lest the tried-and-true gameplay/narrative patterns become tired (for some fans, this has already become the reality). Yes, The Imprisoning War would not be a narrative challenge for Nintendo, considering it’s already been written. However, it would show a willingness to experiment with the Zelda formula and a greater focus on the series’ narrative. For me, these two things NEED to happen in order for The Legend of Zelda to remain relevant. I’ve expressed how much love I have for the franchise, and no matter what, it will go down as the pinnacle of my video game experience. We know that Nintendo can craft a transcendent gaming experience in the Zelda universe based on gameplay alone. It’s time they flexed their writing chops and expand upon the lore that has inspired boundless love and theory from a myriad of dedicated fans. Using The Imprisoning War and the gameplay mechanics I outlined in this blog as a starting point, I believe Nintendo has the potential to elevate the Zelda franchise above and beyond the dizzying heights it has already risen and into the cosmos of gaming omnipotence.
War is Hell! Unless it involves anthropomorphic Lizards/Dogs and Skeletons…then it’s awesome.