Talking Point: Could Another Nintendo Series Take Over The ‘Traditional’ Zelda Template?

Legend of Zelda Link Between Worlds
Image: Nintendo

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they’ve been chewing over. Today, Nathan considers the two-forks Zelda conundrum and wonders if another Nintendo series might take on the old-school Zelda mantle…

Perhaps the most surprising announcement in the June Nintendo Direct was for a brand-new, top-down Zelda title starring none other than Zelda herself. We may have predicted it, but we had no idea it would arrive so soon! Not that we’re complaining, mind you.

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The Legend of Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom shares the stylized look of the Link’s Awakening remake, but it appears to be putting a fresh spin on the tried-and-true Zelda formula, and we’re here for it.

That got us thinking, what if Nintendo chose a different franchise to adopt the old Zelda template? Which franchise might they choose?

Wait, What’s the ‘Template’?

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the ‘traditional Zelda’ formula boils down to these key elements:

  • Linear game structure
  • Themed elemental dungeons
  • Key items which open new areas or are required to defeat certain bosses
  • Side quests and collectibles

This formula first appeared in the original The Legend of Zelda but was templated a few years later by A Link to the Past for the Super NES. Every mainline Zelda title released between 1992 and 2013 adhered to the formula and was easily recognizable as a ‘Zelda game’, even as the franchise shifted between 2D and 3D gameplay.

The ‘Modern’ Formula

Zelda TOTK
Image: Nintendo

By now, we all know that Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom have established a ‘modern Zelda’ formula where player freedom reigns supreme. (William Wallace would approve!) The Echo mechanic in Echoes of Wisdom is further evidence that this newer approach prioritizing player expression and creativity is, without a doubt, here to stay.

The Zelda series has evolved, so where does that leave fans of the traditional formula? Sure, they can seek satisfaction in the arms of Zelda-likes produced by other publishers, but what if Nintendo co-opted another franchise to make its own Zelda-likes?

The Candidates – Light Fantasy

Although it’s not necessarily part of the traditional Zelda formula, a light fantasy setting is a hallmark of all Zelda titles. It’s also common amongst Zelda clones.

Here are a few franchises Nintendo might use if they stuck with the fantasy trope:

Kid Icarus

Let’s kick off this list with perhaps the most obvious and most viable option.

Kid Icarus is a criminally underutilized arrow in Nintendo’s quiver. Despite the series only having three games (for the NES, Game Boy, and 3DS) Pit is a recognizable video game icon who could comfortably step into Link’s sandals. Kid Icarus: Uprising breathed new life into the franchise as a heart-pounding arcade action title, but it doesn’t require much imagination to envision a Zelda-like entry in the Kid Icarus universe.

In fact, the biggest challenge Nintendo would face is finding a way to distinguish a Kid Icarus Zelda-like from Zelda itself. And who knows, the prospect of reinventing Kid Icarus once again might be enough to coax Masahiro Sakurai out of his early retirement. That is if Nintendo hasn’t already tied him up with ‘Smash Infinite’.

Glory of Heracles

Believe it or not, Kid Icarus isn’t Nintendo’s only Greek-themed series. In 2010 Nintendo published Glory of Heracles for the DS, a JRPG developed by Paon DP.

To this day Nintendo retains the copyright, although we haven’t seen hide nor hair from it since the DS release. It seems unlikely, but perhaps ole Herc could be convinced to star in a Zelda clone. After all, those Seven Labours aren’t going to accomplish themselves.

Fire Emblem

Kid Icarus gets our vote for purely nostalgic reasons, but Fire Emblem wins out by virtue of name recognition alone. If Mr. Iwata were here, we think he’d side with Pit, but [straightens tie] a spin-off from the Fire Emblem series would be a solid business decision.

Not only has the franchise already ventured into other genres, including JRPG (Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE) and hack and slash (Fire Emblem Warriors), but Intelligent Systems has proven time and time again that they’re capable of creating stone-cold classics in any genre they please. See Mario Paint, Panel de Pon, Paper Mario, Pushmo/Pullbox, and the underrated Battle Clash for a few examples.

Plus, imagine the puzzles that Intelligent Systems could come up with for their Zelda clone!

The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls

This Japan-only would-be series is known as Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru in Japan. It has never been released to the West, but was built using the Link’s Awakening game engine and thus shares many of the same mechanics as Zelda and its copycats.

The Frog For Whom The Bell Tolls
Image: Gavin Lane / Nintendo Life

The Candidates – A More Modern Setting

What do you say we take a different approach? Or rather, a different setting. Instead of franchises set in a fantasy world similar to Zelda games, what if Nintendo chose a series that could play like Zelda, but would feature a more modern aesthetic?


Gen X gamers will remember StarTropics and its sequel as ‘Zelda clones’ before that was a thing. These unique NES titles employed most of the Zelda formula, particularly in their gameplay and dungeon design. The most notable differences are the modern-day setting and a plot that could be described as a cross between The Goonies, Pinocchio, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League.


We may never get an official translation of Mother 3, but would anyone complain if a new installment in the Mother franchise was Zelda-like? Ditching turn-based battles might be a hard pill to swallow for die-hard fans, but linear progression, a silent protagonist, and themed areas are already hallmarks of the Mother titles. Plus, this could be the first and only Mother game with a modern inventory system!

Unlikely, but we can dream.

Copy of EarthBound for the SNES
Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

Eternal Darkness

Hear me out on this one. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem for the GameCube is the very definition of a cult classic. It checks most of the ‘Zelda formula’ boxes, although Roivas Mansion is decidedly more foreboding than Hyrule. Eternal Darkness features a myriad of playable characters instead of a single Link-like protagonist, which we think would make for an interesting dynamic in a Zelda-like game.

Yes, it’s exceedingly rare for Nintendo to publish a “Mature” rated title but they aren’t closed off to the idea, as evidenced by their continued support of the Bayonetta series as well as the rollout of a “mature” rated Nintendo 64 app. How’s that for a glimmer of hope?

Eternal Darkness
Image: Silicon Knights / Nintendo

What do you think? Might The Mysterious Murasame Castle be a better fit? Which franchise do you wish Nintendo would apply the traditional Zelda formula to? Let us know in the comments.

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