We've already discussed, long before now, how Nintendo's approach to E3 has caused understandable disappointment for some. Even after the company expanded its plans with more streams and games, when we polled Nintendo Life readers there was still disappointment. The promise of E3 discounts on the eShop has helped lift the mood a little further, and as is always the case the closer E3 gets the more excitement can be found online.
Through a mix of promotional art and lanyards (yes, really!) there's been a bit of enhanced excitement and curiosity around Nintendo's main showcase for this year's event - The Legend of Zelda on Wii U (also, importantly, coming to NX). First of all a promotional image (first uploaded by Amazon and then Nintendo itself) showed Link doing a bit of climbing; when combined with the re-appearance of the Sail Cloth, as seen way back in December 2014, this could point to a great deal of verticality and flexibility in exploration.
The second bit of art that got people talking came from E3 press lanyards, which draw on two different pieces of art and, when viewed in that context, made it look like there may be more than one Link. It's all rather hotly disputed (mainly because it draws on previously seen art), and the odds seem even between there being a character and gender choice in the new games, or the art simply showing the same character with relatively small differences in looks. There have been rumours about the new game having a gender choice for a while, though, and it's a topic we tackled last year in an extensive editorial.
To start with the question around gender choice, as argued in that editorial, if it transpires to be true then we can't say it wasn't heavily sign-posted by Eiji Aonuma. Below are some comments from 2014, when he initially admitted that teases over Link's appearance in the original reveal had been made jokingly. He emphasized that Link is there to represent the player, ultimately.
...I don't want people to get hung up on the way Link looks because ultimately Link represents the player in the game.
I don't want to define him so much that it becomes limiting to the players. I want players to focus on other parts of the trailer and not specifically on the character because the character Link represents, again, the player.
In other comments around the game Aonuma-san has also emphasized that it'll take a new approach for the series. In Famitsu earlier this year the series producer was clear that innovation for the franchise is a key goal.
I think the base of our secret sauce has always been Ocarina of Time. But this time, the change in flavour will be like going from Japanese food to Western style food. Perhaps, players will be surprised. Please look forward to it, because I think we'll be able to make 'something new' like Ocarina of Time was.
With previous talk of a truly open world, the instinct is to expect an experience less linear than so many of its predecessors, an idea that took form to some degree in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. The 3DS title had many of the standard Legend of Zelda tropes, but it also allowed players to tackle dungeons in an order as they saw fit, with narrative limited to key points at the beginning, middle and end. This freedom for the player is how various current-day RPG titles work, not following the template mastered by Nintendo's franchise in the past. Key narrative points form small parts of the experience, with the bulk of gameplay hours consisting of exploration and seeking out quests.
This sense of freedom, if delivered, would suit a gender choice for Link. We must remember that 'Link' is an avatar, as you can always rename the character anyway - gender can be changed without altering the core essence of what Link represents as a hero. As Aonuma-san suggests, we are the heroes. The player is the star that saves the world, so why not let the player choose how they're represented on the screen? Choice is an increasingly vital part of modern games, after all.
We shall see, in any case, but we think the odds are strong that this title will have a gender choice to accompany greater freedom in how we play, explore and progress the game's story.
Moving on to the concept art, it seems exciting simply because of the gameplay dynamic that it promises. Below you can see the video from way back in December 2014 in which Eiji Aonuma and Shigeru Miyamoto show off the game; the focus is on exploration, picking a spot in the map and going there with a mix of gliding and horse riding. Climbing could be a fun extra means of traversal to throw into the mix.
When you combine Aonuma-san's interviews in which he speaks with such ambition, along with snippets of information and some rumours, this week we could see the most ambitious Legend of Zelda entry yet. That could be a significant boon for Nintendo as a whole, if it lives up to expectations and has truly brought out the best in the development team. Though Nintendo will try to divert attention to it as a Wii U game, let's be real about it, the test will be for this as an NX game. With Nintendo almost giving up on the Wii U as a commercial enterprise - as projected global sales for the year at under a million units attest - its next-generation hardware could benefit greatly if it has a big, bold, modern RPG adventure in its library early on.
Along with - we assume - other key releases, this could be a standard bearer for Nintendo's new hardware. A game to help the NX have a good start. In the process if it can contribute to strong sales for the NX, that could also draw more third-parties into the fray. A lot of third-party support for the NX likely depends on what it actually is, frankly, but a degree of support will be vital to give it variety and regular releases beyond what Nintendo can deliver. As we saw with Wii U, a slow start can be critically damaging, so that needs to be avoided.
Beyond all of that, The Legend of Zelda is a series that still draws a lot of attention and excitement. It's not Nintendo's biggest-selling franchise, but we'd argue that in this age, and with the current trends in gaming, it can be the company's most influential IP. It's a franchise, along with a few select others, that can draw in gamers that may have previously walked away from Nintendo - if, of course, it hits the mark and attracts buzz on a mainstream level.
Nintendo has taken a long time to produce this home console entry, over five years by the time it arrives - The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword launched in late 2011. It's produced HD remasters and some portable entries that range from brilliant to 'not bad', but now it's time for the main event.
Let's hope that the best things truly do come to those who wait.