I’ve been playing a lot of Persona 5 Royal recently. The turn-based combat, life simulation mechanics, and more interact with one another to deliver an immersive experience. I fell in love with the original Persona 5 back in 2017, and according to my PlayStation 5, I sunk over 160 hours into it. My recent Phantom Thief escapades have gotten me thinking about what The Legend of Zelda would look like as an RPG. I strongly believe that the Zelda franchise is capable of lending itself to an RPG format.
Super Mario has had the honor of experiencing a variety of RPGs, including the likes of Paper Mario, Mario & Luigi, and, of course, Super Mario RPG. If the plumber can do it, I’m pretty sure our pointy-hatted hero can as well. The Zelda franchise is home to a cast of colorful characters and interesting lore. But if a Zelda RPG were to happen, the gameplay could go in a variety of different directions. Therefore, I’m going to look at three different gameplay styles that I believe would fit the world of Hyrule.
Option 1: Turn-based JRPG
When I think of a traditional RPG, games such as Final Fantasy come to mind. The Final Fantasy franchise is defined by its often complicated storytelling and, in the early era, turn-based battles with random encounters. Mario‘s catalogue of RPGs are also turn-based, with timing-based attack inputs. The Legend of Zelda could easily go down a similar path. There are years’ worth of lore that can be explored in a narrative sense, and the fantasy setting would provide conventional mechanics to apply to a turn-based combat system, including offering lots of items to use in battle.
Link could be joined by Princess Zelda (or perhaps Sheik) as well as different party members that you gather along the way. Each character could have their own skill trees, unique attacks, and abilities. The timing-based combat of the Mario RPGs gameplay could enhance a Zelda RPG for the same reason it enhances the Mario RPGs, in that it adds back a bit of the action that players are used to from the franchise. Don’t worry though, as your weapons won’t break!
An original story separate from what has come before in the series might work best for a Zelda RPG, as it would allow the developers to use the already existing lore in new ways. In fact, a Zelda RPG in this style would probably warrant a separate series. Imagine if we got Paper Zelda!
Although, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity demonstrated that expanding an existing story can yield a successful story too. Therefore, either option could work. Either option could send us on adventures for the Triforce and the Master Sword with twists and turns along the way.
Option 2: Tactical RPG
The kingdom of Hyrule is the perfect environment for a tactical RPG similar to the Fire Emblem games. Instead of Link being the protagonist of this one, I believe Zelda should be the star of the show. Link would obviously still be in the game, but the princess would be taking the charge. Zelda would take on a tactician role, commanding her army in a fight against enemy forces. The gameplay could use a traditional grid and see the player defending their forces against, most likely, Ganon’s minions.
Similar to the turn-based RPG, this one would allow you to customize your party, taking on classes that derive from the series lore. Link for example would probably be a “Hero” or “Royal Knight” class. Throughout the game, players could travel across the sprawling lands of Hyrule as they improve their army, partake in battles, and interact with characters. Borrowing Fire Emblem‘s relationship system between characters could also enhance gameplay. In Fire Emblem, it improves a character’s fighting abilities when near their comrades, and a similar riff could be used for Zelda. In fact, Intelligent Systems would be the perfect studio to develop such a title, and I hope it comes true some day.
Option 3: Open-world action RPG
Breath of the Wild is a fantastic open-world epic. It has some “light” RPG elements such as cooking, weapon durability, and of course sidequests. I’d describe Breath of the Wild as more of an adventure game, where exploration is an obvious form of progression. If Zelda dived into more of a RPG format though, more mechanics could come into play. Things such as a level system, weapon upgrades and customization, and maybe a morality system could come into play. For example, if Link decided to break some pots like he normally does, people would react negatively to it. Maybe Link could get sent to the slammer for his crimes if he’s not careful like in Skyrim.
But with more action elements, Zelda could easily head in a direction reminiscent of Final Fantasy XV or maybe even Kingdom Hearts, whereas with more open-world elements, it could head in a Xenoblade direction.
The Legend of Zelda series has the potential to deliver something great if it went down the RPG route. There are a variety of directions that it could go, and honestly all of them would probably be great. I wonder if we’ll see more surprises this year, as it is of course the 35th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity took us by surprise last year, so who knows what’s in store? This year should hopefully be a big one for the franchise!
Would you like to see a Zelda RPG spin-off?