What's next for the Legend of Zelda franchise after Tears of the Kingdom?

Even if it feels like the Legend of Zelda franchise won't be able to top itself after Tears of the Kingdom, there are several ways Nintendo can take us by surprise in the future.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom /

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is not only the latest installment in Nintendo's beloved franchise but also the culmination of 38 years of evolution. Link's adventures have consistently gotten bigger and better ever since the first Legend of Zelda title was released back in 1986. Many believed the series' greatest leap took place when it shifted from taking place in a 2D world to being a fully open 3D adventure, but it didn't stop there.

Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom both revolutionized the videogame industry by fully allowing vertical exploration in a huge open world. Many other video games let their main character climb over a few selected walls that have only one designated path. However, no title up to 2017 gave players the complete freedom to go, literally, anywhere as Breath of the Wild did (at least when it's not raining in-game, that is).

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom took things one step further and it improved over everything its predecessor did, including adding three fully explorable maps alongside a deeper narrative. So where does Nintendo go from here? How can the Legend of Zelda franchise top itself after releasing its biggest title to date? Well, there are a few paths that can make that possible.

Addapt old features of the franchise

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom are both fantastical games that pushed the franchise in a whole new direction. However, that means some key features that used to be present in previous titles are nowhere to be found now. The hero of time doesn't have a companion anymore, there's no signature musical instrument to play, and breakable weapons now substitute traditional items. However, nothing is set in stone for future titles and all of those aspects can change.

Perhaps the easiest thing to incorporate in upcoming Legend of Zelda games is a playable musical instrument. After all, Tears of the Kingdom already has a dynamic time-of-day cycle and well-thought puzzles that require players to use different items. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch for an upcoming Zelda game to let players change the time of day using an instrument, and create new puzzles around it as well. Now that physics is a big part of the franchise, even the direction of the wind could be controlled using a musical instrument much like the Wind Waker.

Permanent weapons could also make a return. Ultimately, the idea behind breakable items is that players should always explore new areas and defeat enemies to get new weapons after their old ones break. That mechanic could still be used even if other key items become irreplaceable.

The Hookshoot is a perfect example since it isn't used to damage enemies but rather to reach places that are out of reach. Gust Bellows could also make its return, allowing players to change the world around them and find new secrets that are hidden behind different places such as a bale of leaves. A musical instrument would also fit into this category of irreplaceable items as well. Any weapon that is used to damage enemies (such as swords, magic rods, etc) can be breakable while allowing for other permanent items along the way.

Finally, underwater exploration would also be a welcome return to the newest titles in the franchise. Tears of the Kingdom already gave us a sky map, an overworld map, and an underground map. So the next logical step is for Nintendo to allow underwater exploration, which was a staple of the series for a long time.

Make "traditional" games in between bigger titles

There was a time when 2D Zelda titles were considered the mainline entries in the saga. However, as time has gone by, they've fallen second to Link's 3D adventures with a big open world and six dungeons to complete (more or less). Now, those 2D games can be seen as "fillers" in between the bigger releases even if they are still fun and generate a lot of excitement.

Now that the Zelda series has a new design philosophy that aims to give players a lot of freedom in the way they explore the world and tackle the main story, the old-traditional games should take the place that 2D games have nowadays.

Tears of the Kingdom was released six years after Breath of the Wild. That's quite a big gap, especially considering Nintendo got to use the same world and physics engine in both titles. With that in mind, it's safe to assume the next mainline entry in the franchise is at least five years away, So while we wait for the Big N to develop a new open-world game that has the freedom and design of its two latest predecessors, they can release a game that has the linear and "restricted" structure the series used to have before Breath of the Wild.

It wouldn't matter if you are a fan of the traditional games or support the new direction the series is going for, there would be something for everyone.

Go beyond Hyrule

The Legend of Zelda series is the home of the breathtaking kingdom of Hyrule. Even if (almost) every entry features a different version of said kingdom, they all share some similarities. Big castle at the center of the world? Check. Goron/Volcanic region? Check. Kakariko Village? Check and check. Players have come to expect these landmarks and many more to make an appearance in most Zelda titles, so why not change things a bit?

Everyone has a different favorite Zelda game, but one of the most common answers is Majora's Mask, which takes place in the alternate (and twisted) world of Termina. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess also introduced the twilight dimension which players were able to briefly explore. And let's face it, that parallel dimension was one of the highlights of the entire game. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks also took place in a different place, but not too many people played those games.

Just imagine the amount of creative freedom Nintendo could take if the next installment in the franchise was a completely different place. Granted, Tears of the Kingdom proved there are countless secrets and different areas to the Kingdom of Hyrule. But another shake to the established formula would never hurt.

Go for a smaller world with more secrets

According to Hidemaro Fujibayashi, development for Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild started around January 2013. While the game was finally released in 2017, its version of Hyrule wasn't fully developed until 2023 with the release of Tears of the Kingdom. That means the map players got to explore in the latest (and biggest) Zelda title has been ten years in the making. While it was very well worth the wait, I think we can all agree it shouldn't take another decade for us to revisit the kingdom of Hyrule (or any other new world).

No one expects the next Zelda game to have a bigger map than that of Tears of the Kingdom. A smaller overworld could do the trick, especially if it's filled with a lot of secrets and thoughtful side quests. If Starfield proved anything, is that bigger doesn't mean better. Nintendo shouldn't try to create a huge map just for the sake of it. Instead, they can focus on creating a smaller world with more content.

Bring traditional dungeons back

Breath of the Wild opted to leave behind traditional dungeons in favor of 120 shrines and four divine beasts. However, that proved to be one of the game's most polarizing changes, and Tears of the Kingdom was quick to try and rectify that mistake. But even when Nintendo took a step in the right direction with its latest title, we can't deny its six dungeons feel somewhat lacking.

Big dungeons that contain a map, a compass, and a boss key are certainly missed. If the next Zelda installment brings the openness of Tears of the Kingdom alongside dungeons like the ones in Ocarina of Time, it would certainly be the best of both worlds. Combining the traditional features of past Zelda games with the liberty of newer entries in the series seems to be the right step to take, and it would make both old and new fans of the series happy.

We're still far away from getting even the slightest of glimpses into the next Legend of Zelda game. However, whenever that happens, we hope to see some of these aspects make it into the final game. Until then, be sure to stick around Bam! Smack! Pow! for more video game news.

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