There's something to be said for a good overworld in Zelda games. More than just the space between locations, it's the land the people live in, a lush environment ripe with adventure, with people to meet, places to discover, secrets to unearth, enemies to fight. A good overworld is important to the adventure, for without it, well... it becomes less of an adventure and more of a romp, or even a chore. In most games, you have an option to teleport to different areas, skipping overworld travel, but to me, a good overworld makes me not want to skip the overworld, and instead travel through normally, enjoying the scenery and possibly stumbling across something new along the way, or simply feeling the thrill of adventure.
The upcoming Zelda game for Wii U, however, promises the largest overworld we've yet seen, and what's more, it's planned to be completely open from the start. A true open world Zelda, the likes of which we haven't seen since... well, the very first Zelda game. It's so large, in fact, that the entirety of Twilight Princess's Hyrule Field is said to fit in just one corner of the game map.
That's a lot of world to traverse, and keeping it interesting to explore and ride through is going to be quite the task for the development team. There are a few things I would like to see that would certainly help this world feel worth traveling, and not make me want to just teleport around from destination to destination. So just in time for issue five, let's delve into...
The Top Five Most Wanted Overworld Features for Zelda U
Most wanted by who? ... well mainly just me, but some of these have been influenced by other discussions, as well as some of my own desires. You can agree or disagree or have something else you would like to see more than any of these, but anyway, onto the list!
1. Villages that evolve as you progress.
In the majorities, you'll have a town or settlement where a group of various races will live, which generally have tips for you, give you more information on their little pocket of the world and perhaps some lore of the land, or have items and accessories to sell you in some sort of shop. Every now and then, things may actually change within a village throughout the course of the adventure, most commonly with the Gorons; in Ocarina of Time, they'll all vanish in the future with you needing to rescue them from the Fire Temple, and in Twilight Princess, they outright attack you until you prove yourself and save their patriarch, earning you their trust and acceptance.
I would love to see something like this greatly expanded upon in the towns and settlements of Zelda U. Maybe the villagers like you from the start. Maybe they're reluctant to greet you. Maybe they outright distrust you, and before they'll give you any sort of helpful advice or even supplies, you'll have to prove your worth somehow. Perhaps in one village, everyone hides indoors from some nearby threat, then decide it's safe to return outside once you've eliminated said threat. It would be a great way to help the world feel very much alive, where the residents have real problems and you can aid them; not unlike Majora's Mask, only without the time constraint attached to it.
Exploring and discovering settlements that you can aid in exchange for better relationships with the people, items you can buy, or even quest items would make great incentive for exploring the lands and seeing what you can discover.
2. Multiple ways to navigate sections of the world based on your inventory.
This one's pretty self-explanatory. If the idea is to be able to explore all of the overworld (or at least most of it) from the start, it would be nice if various areas of the world allowed you multiple ways to get around, depending on what kind of equipment you have. Maybe there's a cliff area that you have to traverse a treacherous trail to cross... or you can take the simple hookshot path. Maybe there's an area you need to get into by finding your way around from an alternate exit... or you can hit a switch just out of your reach with the boomerang. There's not really a whole lot to say on this one, but it would certainly make navigation a lot more interesting, and also add a nice bit of replayability to the overall adventure as well.
3. Finding items in the world.
This isn't really a new idea. Well, so far, none of these really are new ideas, just ones that could be greatly expanded to fit wonderfully in this world. But sometimes I think about it, and I realize... what's so special about a bow or boomerang that you can't just buy one? Or heck, rob a boomerang off a Goriya? "Special" variations, such as a Bow of Light or the Gale Boomerang, sure, but just plain, regular old boomerangs and bows? Why not just pluck one off a store shelf for a modest fee? For that matter, bombs themselves have countless times now been sold in shops, even in the original game.
I don't mean something like the rental shop in A Link Between Worlds; no renting or item gauge or anything like that. Nope. You pay the rupees, it's yours forever, and also it has ammo that you also have to restock on. Not that I think every item should be bought and found in some store, no, I still believe there's plenty of room for dungeon items; objects like the hookshot are clearly rare and can remain a dungeon item, as well as other technological wonders or magical items that you would never just find on a shelf.
And why stop there? Why not bring back secret items in the overworld itself that you can seek out and find hidden away in some unassuming location? They don't have to be necessary, but they can give you an edge in combat, upgrade some part of your current abilities or equipment, or simply be really fun to play around with. These would easily make exploring and traveling through the world much more worth it than before.
4. Smarter, tougher enemies, and enemy caravans.
Enemies on the overworld is a given, but let's be honest, ever since the inclusion of the horse, they've really meant nothing when you can just ride past them. Sure, before you get the horse, enemies can catch up to you, but generally their AI is not smart enough to actually, ya know, stop you from keeping on your way while they stop and swing at you, missing entirely. So a simple solution to keep them from being completely useless would be to completely rewrite their AI and make them more aggressive! Catching up to you doesn't mean they'll just whiff while you keep running, no, they'll actually be able to land a quick hit, enough to slow you down and force you to fight them. As for horseback, why not bring back Kargoroks? As flying enemies, they're more than capable of catching up to Link and being a nuisance, enough to keep you alert at least.
And most especially, bring back mounted enemies. The horseback swordplay from Twilight Princess was very fun but criminally underplayed in that game. They would create worthy foes for a mounted Link, making overworld travel less boring and filled with fun combat to keep you on your toes; this is an adventure, after all, and not a mere leisure stroll. That's not to say the overworld should be densely populated by monsters with no peaceful field anywhere, hardly; some peace would be nice as well, because you don't always wanna fight monsters all the time.
As far as enemy caravans, what I mean is: Say you're riding along through a grassy knoll when suddenly you spy a rather large gaggle of baddies sticking close together, with one obvious leader, or a cart that clearly holds something valuable within. Naturally, you wanna know what it is, despite the potential risk. So you strike, wiping out the party, then getting to that treasure. Maybe it's an item, a rare material, a piece of heart. Things like that would spice up your travels, and would definitely feel more rewarding if the enemies were made to be tougher.
5. More dynamic music to keep each area interesting.
Music has always been important to Zelda. Memorable, catchy tunes to accompany us on our adventures have been a staple since, well, the very beginning. And there have been very few missteps in the soundtrack department. Each game's overworld had a single song, whether it be the main Zelda theme we all know and love, or a brand new one that's equally enjoyable. But in Zelda U's large world, I'm not so sure one song will be enough.
Think about it. In the gameplay footage shown at the 2014 Game Awards, Aonuma mentioned taking about five minutes to reach one of their destinations, and it didn't seem to span across the entire continent. If that's just the tip of the iceberg, well, then I feel like we're either going to need multiple tunes, or one following the Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess Hyrule Field style, with several sections that it cycles through in a random order—the order might not actually be random, but I'm not entirely sure on this. If the latter, then it's going to need a lot of sections, perhaps lengthier ones. However, I could easily see the land being split into "countries," or at least provinces similar to Twilight Princess, with each one possessing its own theme. Villages and settlements should still have their own themes, of course, but while out in the field, we're going to need to be audibly entertained, lest we grow tired of the same song playing all the time.
Heck, change up the instruments depending on situation or area; again pointing to Twilight Princess, there were extra instrument tracks added when you were on horseback, which is a bit of extra variety and gives the soundtrack that extra bit of oomph. And plus, the more memorable and enjoyable world tunes, the better!
And that wraps up my list. I hope it was an interesting and engaging read for you all, and I'm curious to see if you all agree, disagree, or have your own items you'd like to see over any of these. Either way, thank you for reading, and we'll see you in the next issue of The Purist!