July 2, 2019
Even before the end of Nintendo’s E3 direct, it had already made us long forget every other conference that had come before it. E3 was particularly disappointing this year, with many developers either landing with a thud, or simply not showing up. Going into the Nintendo Direct, I didn’t think there was any way to beat Square Enix’s reveal of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake gameplay, but boy was I wrong. No More Heroes, Banjo Kazooie, Luigi’s Mansion, Trials of Mana, and Witcher 3 were all more than enough to make Nintendo stand out above the rest. Even without a Metroid trilogy, and an Animal Crossing delay, we still received a large gross of quality titles coming to the Switch. In normal Nintendo fashion, they had one more surprise just at the end. Something so unexpected that only Nintendo could pull it off. Ironically this was probably the biggest E3 surprise since the announcement of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake in 2015. Not just a new Zelda game, but a Breath of the Wild sequel!!!!!!
I remember watching the direct live from my bedroom. There was a dark screen and flowing green lights. Zelda was the furthest thing from my mind, especially with the looming release of the Link’s Awakening remake. The optimistic side of me did in fact think they were bringing in the Metroid Prime trilogy, but then I saw what was clearly a dungeon. Then you see Link and Zelda. Not just the two of them, but the exact versions of them from Breath of the Wild (BOTW). My heart skipped so many beats at that moment. Was this a surprise DLC announcement? Much of the footage flashed too fast more me to even comprehend what I was witnessing, and then the title card came in. “The sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is now in development”. Needless to say the internet was in an uproar.
We had been hearing rumblings for some time about how a new Zelda title is in the works. This should come as no surprise, as Nintendo has continuously released Legend of Zelda games at a steady pace since its introduction in 1986. There had been a few small reports of Nintendo working on a followup to BOTW, as well as some interesting job postings which lead fans to speculate about future games. Personally I had always assumed such things were alluding to a completely new Zelda game, as the DLC for BOTW had clearly wrapped up. This, of course, is not the case, as Nintendo is now working on a direct sequel to BOTW, something rare indeed.. We have only ever seen a few direct Zelda sequels over the years, the most obvious ones being Majora’s Mask or Zelda II, but one can make an argument for Phantom Hourglass, and A Link Between Worlds being sequels as well. The BOTW teaser is on a whole other level though, as in the final shot of the trailer we are given a glimpse of what seems to be the same exact same overworld as the original game.
The video I am writing about today, narrated and edited by Konrad Janusz Vaernes on the Youtube channel Commonwealth Realm, uses a Kotaku article by Jason Schrier as a starting point. The interview between Schier and Eiji Aonuma, who has been heavily involved with the Zelda franchise since Ocarina of Time, goes into some detail on how the game came to be. Originally there was going to be more DLC for BOTW, but the ideas were starting to become too big. In the end the decision was made to turn these ideas into a full fledged sequel, separate from the original game. When speaking of DLC vs full games, Aonuma stated “when we wanted to add bigger changes, DLC is not enough, and that’s why we thought maybe a sequel would be a good fit.” In regards to the BOTW DLC specifically he went on to mention “This is too many ideas, let’s just make one new game and start from scratch.”
These few statements were all that pertained to the unnamed BOTW sequel, leaving Vaernes a lot of wiggle room. He uses the video to speculate on what this information means for the game as a sequel, as well as a standalone title. BOTW was an expansive game which ran on a brand new engine. It was an overall success, netting over $600 million in sales, in addition to sales from DLC content. Making a direct sequel to such a successful title seems like a no brainer, even if it was more or less an accident. Vaernes dives into the similarities between a BOTW sequel, and Majora’s Mask, both of which Aonuma had a direct hand in. Majora’s Mask was originally planned to be an expansion, but ended up becoming a brand new game with an extremely short development time. This was accomplished using many of the same assets from Ocarina of Time, but in a new setting. I’m not exactly sure how an expansion would have worked on a cartridge based system with no internet capability like the N64. In theory there is a possibility that there would have been a new, cheaper cartridge sold separately, while maybe a complete version being sold as well.
Similarly the BOTW sequel started out as a third part to the DLC, but became bigger as time went on. Using the same assets and game engine as a base, making a sequel will be much easier and can be done within a relatively short amount of time (as opposed to creating a new game from scratch). There is a huge learning curve when it comes to working with a new game engine, which is something they are completely dodging here. This is the same reason why Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was so humongous compared to its predecessors on the PS2. When you have a solid base that needs no patching, you can spend your resources enhancing the rest of the game. For Zelda this leaves more time to work on things like dungeons, story, and overall world building.
One of the issues many gamers complained about with BOTW was the lack of unique, expansive dungeons. Using the same overworld, the development team will be able to put more effort into dungeon design. It still remains to be seen whether we will be using the same overworld in the sequel, but I imagine it would be at the very least the same shell. Considering this started as DLC for the same game, it would be relatively foolish and time consuming to throw out every asset that the previous game had to offer, even if those assets needed to be refined or edited. Every Zelda game, even the “sequels”, have been very unique in world and ideas. My thought is they are going to make some sweeping changes to the overworld in order to differentiate it from the previous game. Considering the game started off as a smaller project, I think that they would have to work hard to expand it into a full game that could rival the expansiveness of BOTW. The worst thing to do would be to follow-up this masterpiece with something that feels like it should have been DLC all along. It’s likely that once Nintendo realized how large the project had gotten, they went back to predevelopment in order to create a more elaborate and expansive world.
Vaernes mentions something in the video which never occurred to me when I was playing through the DLC. There is strong evidence to corroborate that 3 DLC packs were originally planned. Each of the two existing DLC packs, Trial of the Sword and The Champions Ballad, had a primary focus on two of the three Zelda elements. Trial of the Sword dealt primarily with “powering” up your master sword, while The Champions Ballad dealt more with the “wisdom” of the Sheikah. Had the third DLC pack come out, it may have focused on Link’s courage against an oppressive foe. There is also the fact that in the trailer much of the flowing energy is green, which is remensesent to Farore, the golden goddess of courage. I thought this was some impressive insight into something I had completely overlooked, but it did not surprise me when it was mentioned. Things in the Zelda universe seem to always come down to “The Rule of Three”. Whether it be the amount of times a boss needs to be hit, or items being collected in a dungeon, nine out of ten times there are three elements.
Another good point that Vaernes made that I was unaware of was the publication of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Master Works. The book illustrates many of the concepts for the game and DLC, but leaves out any mention of unmade or future DLC. This would make perfect sense, as by the time of it’s publication the development team was most likely aware that they were now working on a full game as opposed to a new DLC pack. They chose to leave such information out of the book, as you would not want to spoil anything from the game before information is intended to be released. I for one look forward to a new book once the sequel is out, chronicling the development from DLC to a full game.
Vaernes speculates that it is possible that by next E3, the sequel will be playable, and possibly even nearing release. He uses a few frames of reference to come to this conclusion. One is that the third DLC pack has most likely been in development since shortly after the original game came out. By next year’s E3 this will have been roughly 3 years. The other is that Nintendo will need a big splash to compete with the next versions of the Playstation and XBOX, which are both looking to be out for the holiday 2020 season.
While Vaernes’ guess isn’t without merit, I disagree with the 2020 release window. I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense for this to be the case, but I’ll be a bit concerned if it is true based on some key factors. While it is true that the game already has a foundation to start from, I don’t believe they are going to be using the same overworld as BOTW in its entirety. In order to assure that the game lives up to its predecessor, and Nintendo’s quality, a three year development time may not be enough time to complete the project. Given this, it is more probable that we will see a 2021 release date.
Above all else, one thing is certain, we have plenty of time for speculation. And while we speculate, you can check out Commonwealth Realm’s video below!