Regular readers of VideoGamer.com, or those who often subscribe to the podcast, may have picked up on the fact I'm fond of The Legend of Zelda. Continuing to stand tall as a franchise I very much admire, I still count Ocarina of Time as one of the best games ever made.
I'm also one of these people who is distinctly part of the problem. A fair few Zelda fans, and plenty of people who are but casual onlookers, often criticise Link's adventures of sticking to a rather rigid formula. Do some exploring, make your way to a dungeon, obtain a new item, kill a boss, repeat. Most games when broken down do fall into a pattern, but there's certainly a debate to be had where Zelda is concerned. It's just not one I particularly agree with.
The latest case in point is the upcoming release of the 3DS' first original title in the series: A Link Between Worlds. Paying homage and serving as a spiritual sequel to the still excellent A Link To The Past, it's a game, at least from a conceptual point of view, that everyone is onboard with: a follow-up to a title that's universally loved. No bad thing.
So far, so good, then, but the recent Nintendo Direct housed new information about Link's latest adventure that sent a shiver of worry down my spine. For the last 100 years* Nintendo has decided the best structure to enforce is the well-timed dripping out of items. For the uninitiated - and, my gosh, where have you been? - this revolves around entering a dungeon, getting stuck, before stumbling across a chest. A 'da-da-da-daaa!' later and you're now in possession of the boomerang, or maybe even the precious hookshot, and free to continue your journey.
Spin the clock forward to 2013 and the process is about to change to some degree. Rather than a specific order to tackle dungeons in, A Link Between Worlds is going to sit back, put its feet up and let you decide. It's not the most radical shift ever seen, especially as, in essence, it's a throwback to the first Zelda ever released. You were completely left to your own devices in 1986 - you could even complete the game without visiting the friendly old man who offered you a sword at the very start of the game.
While there's plenty of scope to revisit such an idea - if you want to be really smart there's an argument to be had that it was the start of the 'open world' template - having to rent or buy the aforementioned items is a new addition I'm not entirely sure about. Naturally at this juncture, without knowing entirely how it all fits together, it's hard to knock it too much, but it screams of needless influence from other games, namely Animal Crossing.
No one could debate how popular Tom Nook's prison has become, but the idea of having to save up rupees to pick your item of choice just seems like an uncomfortable marriage. Aside from steering players away from what you would assume they want to do - as an example, throwing themselves into the narrative or uncovering the many side quests - it introduces what is essentially money management to proceedings. Currency has always been a passing element of most Zelda games - the thought of having to actively look for cash, which I guess means hacking away at a hell of a lot of bushes to pieces, isn't instantly appealing.
It also raises the questions of what happens when you're in an actual dungeon. Should you be compelled to wander out into the great abyss in search of adventure, and just so happen to stumble across a dungeon, then what next? Is it a case of entering, finding out exactly what you need, leaving, heading to the shop, getting the item, and then returning? Not the most convenient, or streamlined setup, especially when you consider what the alternative was.
Obviously these new steps may work out wonderfully well, triggering a new direction for Nintendo to both nurture and develop, but there's also the sense it's an addition for the sake of it, influenced by other franchises that have recently flourished.
To take it a step further, what if a real-time approach has also been incorporated, meaning if you rent the boomerang at 9pm on a Wednesday, you only have till 9pm on a Thursday before it's whisked back to the store? To cast the biggest fear of all, maybe it's just a system to casually throw micro-transactions into the mix. Real money for the bow and arrow! Unlikely, admittedly, but who knows what the future holds.
I'm still excited for A Link Between Worlds, and despite this most sudden of changes will still play it. Nintendo has proven us all wrong before, and I'd be happy for them to do so again. I'm just not necessarily sure this is a path I ever wanted, or felt Zelda needed, to take.
*Not an accurate Zelda statistic.