by Stephanie Klimov
Stephanie reflects on Nintendo's ability to reuse assets for Zelda sequels in creative and engaging ways.
Nintendo holds several reputations, one of which includes the master ability to make use of all its assets in the most efficient way possible. This efficiency has led to several Zelda sequels with familiar settings and characters who are completely flipped on their heads or expanding on an existing asset. The two most iconic examples within the franchise are The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time vs. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask as well as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild vs. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. How does Nintendo keep things from becoming stale? Let’s take a deeper dive.
Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask
Majora’s Mask is a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time. It begins with Link in the Lost Woods searching for Navi, who left him abruptly after he completed his quest to defeat Ganondorf. Soon, Link is met with a terrible fate and lands in the world of Termina. Despite a new world and different landscapes, we see familiar faces, like the Cucco Lady as Anju or Malon as Cremia. They look pretty much the same; however, Anju has a completely different role. In Cremia’s case, she lives at a farm like her Ocarina of Time counterpart–although her younger sister, Romani (the child version of Malon), is much more interested in fighting off aliens!
In a 2015 interview with Game Informer, Eiji Aonuma answers the question on whether reusing the same character models was a stylistic choice or time- and money-saving decision:
“Really, it was a little bit of both... I think a lot of it comes down to those character models having the ability to express something that they couldn’t in the setting of Ocarina because we had this very different image for the world where Majora’s Mask takes place.” -Eiji Aonuma
While some people may scoff at the thought of reusing assets, Majora’s Mask carries a completely different story, theme(s), and tone. The game has its own identity, and fans have enjoyed it just as much as–if not more than–Ocarina of Time. Nintendo achieved this with great success because they did not simply hit copy and paste. They grafted the assets into a style that fit Marjora’s Mask and altered the premise. Ocarina of Time is an epic quest filled with several dungeons and sages where you strive to defeat the King of Evil. In Majora’s Mask, Link must save Termina before the moon crashes in three days. There is a three-day time mechanic, only four dungeons, a mask mechanic, and scores of side quests. Note that Nintendo picked out a concept that was minor in Ocarina of Time–the Happy Mask Salesman and his masks–and expanded on that idea.
Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is Nintendo’s first open-world Zelda game that focuses on exploration. Players have poured hundreds of hours scouring the largest map in franchise history, and some even completed the Hyrule Compendium and 900 Korok Seed side quest. What had fans scratching their heads during the six years waiting for the direct sequel was wondering how in the world could Nintendo create a fun game with the same map that we’ve explored up and down over and over? Would we be cooking the same foods and fighting the same enemies? If an open world Zelda is about exploration and we’ve explored it all, what is there left to do?
At the time of this writing, I have seen all trailers for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and am eagerly awaiting for its release in May; however, we also have seen a ten-minute gameplay demo from Eiji Aonuma that proves that Nintendo once again found a way to build off of what has been done in Breath of the Wild.
Eiji Aonuma played ten minutes of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on March 28th, 2023. In addition to expanding the map to the sky, Aonuma revealed brand new game mechanics, most of which involve creating or building weapons and enjoying different modes of travel. These new abilities are called Fuse and Ultra Hand. If sky islands weren’t enough (as many were skeptical since The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword’s islands are mostly barren), Nintendo hands us a “sandbox” to play in. So, if Breath of the Wild’s statement is “explore everything,” then Tears of the Kingdom’s is “create anything”! This again flips Breath of the Wild on its head–creates another vertical, so to speak–despite repeated settings and items. Eiji Aonuma challenges us, the end-user, on how we could ascend into the sky and what creations we could come up with.
I also want to comment on the Zonai, which have long since been a theory and recently confirmed as playing a large role in Tears of the Kingdom. Like with the masks in Ocarina of Time, Nintendo has expanded on the Zonai that were merely referenced in Breath of the Wild with landmarks and statues in the Faron region.
Nintendo has this ability to create a living, breathing environment, leaving little bits of lore and background in its games, and, if the team so chooses, can pick out a specific feature and flesh out details until it becomes a major influence on a sequel. This heeds to their attention to detail and artistic genius on either reusing assets or reiterating on them. This Nintendo touch assures that Zelda and other first-party franchises are in good hands.
What do you think about reusing characters, locations, and/or assets in sequels? Do you prefer a sequel over its predecessor? Let me know on Twitter!