Those who read my oversized piece about how to improve Zelda BotW may already have guessed so, but I like Zelda Games.
Like, a LOT!
It’s not only the series that got me into gaming proper, but also the one that got me into my current career as a game designer.
While there are many things to love about those games, there is one aspect that, at least from my point of view, could be featured in a much bigger way:
The lore behind this incredible world.
Nintendo being Nintendo, the Zelda games usually focus much more on gameplay, what, don’t get me wrong, is perfectly fine. Yet I think there is a lot of potential lost:
- The histories of the different tribes of Hyrule,
- The creation myth and the goddesses,
- and, especially, the eternal cycle of reincarnation that started in Skyward Sword!
The latter especially interests me, mostly because it pretty much hasn’t been used at all in the games, apart from the usual “It’s another Link, it’s another Zelda, they are kicking evil’s butt!”-story.
So, long story short, here are three short story concepts based around the reincarnation cycle in one way or the other. We will probably never see anything like this in an actual Zelda game, but I wanted to share them with you anyway. Each segment starts with the story as an in-universe narration and is followed by some more details about the idea and how it came to be.
Sons of the Desert
The night when one hundred years became ten.
And we nearly would have missed it.
Our people have wandered through this desert for ages. We know every oasis with clean water, every trader’s post with fair prices, every cave that offers shelter from the unrelenting nature.
And yet, never before something like this happened.
We may never know how he got there, but had the youngest among us, barely 10 years of age himself, not heard him, nobody would have ever known he was there in the first place.
A small infant boy, all alone, lying in a basket, crying with the faintest of voices.
No tracks, no signs of anything. It was as if he had appeared out of nowhere.
Knowing the harsh nature of this land all too well we took the young one in and raised him like our own.
Over the years the little one learned our tongue and our ways. He may look as different from us as one could possibly imagine, but, just like his saviour, he is our treasured son.
Despite the rift in age and looks the two boys grew closer than anyone could have imagined.
Saviour and saved, mentor and student, brothers in all but blood.
We may never find out how he got here, but one thing is certain:
This boy is special, just like the one that found him. Both are meant for something greater. The other elders agree. Every year the signs grow stronger and as much as we hate the thought of having to let them go, we all know that it will be the best.
Another oasis dried up this year. The herds of wild game are smaller and weaker than ever before. The last trading post we visited was empty.
Our people are slowly fading away and yet we are hopeful beyond any reason.
Seeing those two side by side, unwavering, always pushing onward, has given us the hope we nearly lost. The hope that they will lead us all too new prosperity. In this desperate fight for our very survival, we all rely on them.
As if to mock all that sets them apart, the bond between those two is strong enough to overcome every challenge that fate may throw at them.
They are the Sons of the Desert, the Children of the Gerudo.
Ganondorf and Link.
Only one son is born to us every one hundred years. And yet here the two of you are standing, as if to refute fate itself! Show us once more that the seemingly impossible can be overcome, just like in that fateful night, when a hundred years shrunk to ten and we found our second son!
The basic idea behind this was simply to turn the status quo on its head. Instead of Ganondorf as the ultimate enemy he would be the strongest ally, Links mentor even.
I actually like the thought of those two in Gerudo/Desert garb sitting around a fire with Ganondorf as the older leader and Link the still teenage follower. Imagine Ganondorf less as evil king of destruction and more of a future leader of his people, kinda like Marx in FE Fates: He sees it as his duty to save the Gerudo and also has this brotherly love for Link, wanting him to grow up a good man, without having to suffer the same pressure as he has.
As for Zeldas place in this world I am unsure. She could be a kind of antagonist as the ruler (to-be?) of Hyrule that looks down on the Gerudo as thieves that should stay out of her country. Though I also like the idea to completely remove her from the royal status and bring her in the group at some point, having all three of them travel together, maybe even throw some sages (Nabooru?) in there, though technically it would have to be their descendants.
The quest of trying to save the Gerudo could gradually transform into finding out what’s behind their powers (Triforce) and at some point confronting all three separately with the deeds of their previous lives.
Most of all I would love to see the conflict from the Gerudo perspective. From the lore of the previous games we already know that they are not as evil as they are believed by the hylians, and that they aren’t necessarily to blame for their situation. After all they only want to survive.
Also I really like the idea of a 20-something Ganondorf having to look after a naive & hyperactive 14 year old Link constantly getting in trouble. We had enough old-cranky-dude-that-just-wants-to-wreck-everyone’s-shit Ganondorfs. I am really curious how a younger Ganondorf would look and behave, especially if he has no memory of his evil previous incarnations (yet?). Put that together with the classic over enthusiastic teenage Link (and maybe Zelda?) and you could get something really interesting.
The broken Cycle
Here we are.
The entrance to the Desert. How fitting.
He must think himself undefeatable, to call us out like this. He has no idea.
Two lives ago I learned to remember.
One life ago I thought him.
Now we stand here, with the experience, the wisdom and the courage of hundreds of previous lives, stretched across the millennia.
We knew he would appear soon.
I first remembered at the age of 8. Realizing what was happening, I immediatly started searching for him, my other half, with whatever limited resources I was granted.
I understood my parents reluctance. The eight-year old princess suddenly started speaking with the authority and maturity of an adult. Who wouldn’t be scared? This is how we are fated to be.
In the end he found me.
He was born in the mountains this time, just half a year before me. Being so far away from the castle it took him longer. He only remembered at age 10. When he did, he simply set out to come to my side.
And two months later there he stood, smiling that same dorky smile I always loved.
And I knew: All would be well. As long as we are united we will always prevail.
But it is interesting.
There have been enough times when we knew each other before disaster struck.
But never like this, as descendant of the goddess and chosen hero, being completely aware of our fate, our past, and what is bound to come.
It was tempting to just relax, lose ourselves in memories of old triumphs and act normally, enjoying a childhood together. Grow up like normal kids, get to know each other once again, share our youth like we did so often before. Forget fate and just relish in the present. Too often in the past had our time together been brutally cut short.
But we made a decision.
If we wanted to have this peaceful life together, we would have to make sure that HE never managed to disturb it in the first place.
So we prepared. We looked deep in our past lives, looked at all the possibilities and chances. There had been times when he managed to triumph, as rare and as short as those victories were. We couldn’t risk this happening again. Neither for the realm nor for ourselves.
So here we stand.
He still isn’t aware that this meeting never was of his design in the first place.
Death Trap would be more fitting.
He probably believes himself invincible, just as he always does when he finally unlocks his powers. Whether he just tries to strike us down or offers us the “mercy” of just yielding to him, it doesn’t matter.
There will be no sudden invasion of darkness, no desperate struggle for survival, no hasty search for artifacts of legend to seal him again.
We have the artifacts.
We know his powers.
He will fall, and this era will be spared, just as all future ones will!
We have arrived.
He starts walking towards us.
We have anticipated every possible scheme.
We are prepared for everything.
He does the one thing we never thought we had to prepare for.
Lowers his head... and speaks:
I remember now.
I know what will happen.
I give in to the rage and the hatred.
I burn down the realm.
Then you rise again.
You challenge me, strike me down.
And I am banished again, to suffer for hundreds of years, until all of this begins again.
I want it to stop.
Judging by your reaction, you remember as well, don’t you? Thinking back, I’d guess you managed to do so the last time too, right?
You can just strike me down here and now, but this will change nothing. Next time I might not remember. Or I lose myself in this rage and hatred, like so often before.”
We don’t speak. Our looks speak volumes.
How are we supposed to end this, if we do not strike him down?
I think there is another way.
I remember the first time.
Before being Ganon.
Before being Ganondorf.
Before even being mortal.
Where it all started.
Maybe it can show us how to end it.”
The one thing we never were able to to.
Our memories reach back for eons, but they do get blurry.
We are able to recall details of what we believe to be our first battle.
The first time we had to accept our fate and take up our sacred duty.
When I held him sealed.
When he forged the blade.
We don’t know.
Why does he?
Will it change anything?
Ok, there were three big parts behind this idea:
The first was to have sort of an opposite to Skyward Sword, an end to the cycle, or at least an attempt to end it, while looking to the time before Skyward Sword as well.
The second was the concept of reincarnation taken a few steps further, with the reincarnated being able to recall their past lives and make decisions based on those experiences.
The third was (again) Ganondorf’s Character. As you probably have guessed by now, I really believe he is one of the most underutilized characters in the series! At this point he has just become the personification of the cliched uber-evil-force-of-darkness-that-just-wants-to wreck-everyone’s-sh*t and honestly, its getting annoying.
There were some (smaller) attempts to give him depth, motivation and backstory in OoT and TP but mostly, the guy is just evil and that’s it.
Considering that Skyward Sword clearly states that it is Demise’s curse, his hatred, that keeps the cycle going, Ganondorf has, in a way, always just been a puppet, a pawn. That hatred never was his in the first place, he just was unlucky enough to become its vessel.
If such a person were ever to become aware of this, he of course would want to end that curse, wouldn’t they?
In general this game would double down on the mythology behind the series, especially the origin-story set by Skyward Sword, as well as the characters of Zelda, Link and Ganondorf as three immortal souls, locked in an endless conflict.
Its probably a bit darker than your usual Zelda game, but its still nothing compared to the last idea!
The birth of a child is a joyous occasion.
The baby screams, yells, not knowing, not understanding what is happening. But the world laughs, it celebrates the new life.
Except for me.
I was quiet, calm, different.
But that was never the issue.
For when I was born, the world wept in sorrow and despair, my mother more than anyone. She recognised that I indeed was who they all feared, despite all hopes that the seers had erred.
Reborn after millennia, I am the harbinger of calamity, the sign of endless darkness and destruction.
I am Zelda, wretched legacy of a baneful past.
For a long time our people believed to be free of this curse. Today there are only tales left of what happened the last time a Zelda and a Link were reborn into the world.
But in the end, every tale is the same.
They realize their talents.
And then, the darkness comes.
The darkness always comes after them, leaving nothing but death and destruction in its wake.
And while they defeat it every now and then, the countless lost lives, the ruination of the land and the horrors inflicted on the survivors never change, and the darkness just returns whenever they return as well.
And then, after millennia of peace, I was born.
It would take several years until I learned that he had been born as well.
I spent my childhood in a monastery, among the sisters, in hopes of their powers suppressing mine, staying the darkness, and saving us all.
And while they taught me all I needed to learn, it was always visible:
The fear, the disgust, the pressure to stop me from fulfilling my accursed destiny.
It got worse when I got older.
While I slowly started to discover my talents, the seer’s visions did not change. Despite all they tried, the signs were clear:
I was Zelda, I would bring the Cataclysm.
I never understood why they wouldn’t just kill me, at least not until a few years later.
At age seven I was suddenly taken away from the monastery. The signs were getting worse, and the hope of stopping the darkness grew smaller with every year I lived. My new home was deep in the mountains, far from the country’s center, right in the middle of nowhere.
And yet, off all places, here I never was lonely.
The two old hermits didn’t care for the prophecies, they had lived away from society so long, it simply couldn’t bother them.
But more importantly, this was the first time I met him.
The second half of the curse.
He was my age, and unexpectedly silent when we first met.
But over the years we became the most important part of each other’s world: The one person in existence who understood how we felt, what we have gone through. We never wanted this to happen. We were born into this world, destined to bring upon its destruction, eternally cursed, without any way to stop it.
He knew better than anyone.
After all, he had already tried.
His birth was as mourned as was mine, and yet, his parents wanted to try it, to keep the child feared by all.
It went well for a short time. He grew, he learned, things happened.
And then, in one night when he was five years old, it didn’t work.
People came, silently, at night, planning to save the world.
The parents were first. For wanting to keep a child like him, they could only be monsters or demons in disguise. With his protectors gone, the men started looking for the boy.
But they never found a boy.
What they found was a warrior of a thousand battles, using magics and powers unheard of. A fighter beyond everything they could imagine, with only one goal in mind: Survive.
When the boy finally returned he was alone among the dead.
Afterwards he was brought here. During the first weeks his memory was hazy and confused. At points he still believed to be home, on the small farm where his parents raised him. When he finally started to remember what happened, it was too much for him. So he wandered into the mountains and looked for the steepest and tallest cliff he could reach.
And then he stepped over the edge.
When he woke up he stood at the beginning of the narrow path he had followed, looking down on the small hut that was his home now. The only evidence that it all hadn’t just been a dream were the scratches and bruises covering his little body.
I didn’t hear this story until we were nine. That’s when he also confessed how much me coming here had helped. How he was about to lose it when he finally met the one person able to understand him. Despite having felt the same way I was surprised by this confession. He had kept his silence for so long, it was easy to forget that, before coming here, he suffered from this curse just like I did.
Sharing our past and our fate we grew close, knowing that, whatever might happen, there was one person who would always stand by our side, ready to face whatever the world were to throw at us equally.
This is what saved us.
Having lived in this constant fear of a doomed destiny had led us to live lives full of misery and loneliness, hated by the world, ostracised from all of mankind.
And yet, the time we spent in those mountains were the best years of our lives. Because all of a sudden, the rest of the world didn’t matter anymore. As long as we had each other no fate could be too horrible.
That in itself should have been telling.
We should have known, we did know, that it couldn’t possibly continue like this.
A few weeks after we turned fourteen years old, those fears manifested themselves.
Up here we never noticed it, but apparently the signs had gotten worse.
Not being able to die we were exiled, banished from the lands of mankind, in the desperate hope that the darkness would follow us into the unknown.
It’s been two weeks since we left the last settlement. This is no-man’s land, unexplored, hostile, unknown.
Mankind hasn’t set foot here for millennia.
All that we know about this place is the name it had in long forgotten times:
Ok, yeah, just as advertiesd, this one was pretty dark compared to what we are used to from Zelda.
I always wanted a Zelda game with Zelda and Link exploring a lost/destroyed/untouched world, kinda like Breath of the Wild but with two differences:
They both travel together, something I thought BotW would give us, only to realize that all those scenes were flashbacks, and…
A land that is truly deserted, with pretty much no human or other intelligent life. For a fitting comparison look at the Souls games were the only sane/intelligent beings are rare isolated individuals with long stretches of monsters and traps between them.
BotW is close to this, but it’s still a bit too cheerful and nice and happy as a world in general. I don’t want this world to go full Miyazaki and be depressingly dark, but rather a melancholy of a kingdom that fell eons ago. Think a bit like Shadow of the Colossus or maybe Journey. This kind of somber and melancholic emptiness is what I am talking about.
So when I thought about how Link and Zelda go on to rediscover this kingdom, I started thinking about why they weren’t in Hyrule in the first place, and the logical answer was, that their ancestors had fled the land due to constant monster invasions and resurrected demon lords and whatnot. So if they are already fleeing, there is a good chance that some have stopped seeing those chosen ones as something good, but as a curse instead. It’s like the old “Without Batman we wouldn’t have to deal with all those maniacs” argument: Depending on your viewpoint a blessing for one can easily be seen as a curse by others. Considering how much death and destruction Ganondorf & Co usually cause (and how much time Link ususally wastes on stupid side-quests), it wouldnt be all that surprising to have people that are pissed of.
The idea of Link and Zelda as outcasts would also help to focus on only those two and their relationship as the only people they can trust. Kinda like Skyward Sword or Spirit Tracks, just way, WAY darker.
I am actually not sure if I would put Ganon or something like him in the game at all, the focus would be Link and Zeldas slow and steady discovery of Hyrule and their past while they wonder about their own future and how to go on from here.
They idea is to tell a more mature story without any easy “Just beat the bad guy/save the world and everything is going to be fine” story that instead shows a their relationship and how it develops over several years, while they find their own place in the world.
So, that ended up being quite a bit longer than I had initially planned, but I really didn’t want to cut anything. Thanks for holding on and making it through it all!
Any kind of feedback, especially when it comes to the narrations, is highly appreciated!
While those concepts will probably never become games, they are a good exercise for writing actual games, so I would be really happy to get your opinions and ideas on those!