I recently replayed The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks and came across a character that I realized I had subconsciously kept in the back of my mind: Captain Linebeck. Linebeck really got the short end of the stick game-wise. He was introduced in a game that saw mediocre sales (by Zelda standards) and is typically a game that, despite incredible innovation, Zelda fans overlook or forget. I won't lie and say that either Phantom Hourglass or Spirit Tracks were my favorite in the Zelda franchise (that spot will always be for Wind Waker) but they definitely deserve more credit than they are given.
Phantom Hourglass took our hero and steered his course towards a new type of Zelda game. One where the Triforce and Master Sword weren't heard from again, and gameplay innovations were around every dungeon's corner. Nintendo had taken the DS and asked how can this hardware help us take the player into a different world, and they mostly succeeded. It's been a long time since we've visited the shores of New Hyrule or set sail for a new adventure on the waves of the Great Sea, but I truly hope it isn't the last we'll see of that age of a new Zelda frontier.
Characters with Character (That I Want to See Again)
Once you get past the initial novelty of it's gameplay mechanics, you'll find a Zelda game that's as charming as any other, with characters and worlds to explore. Linebeck, the captain of the S.S. Linebeck, was a sniveling coward and a sleazy treasure hunter but by the end of Phantom Hourglass he had gone through as much of a transformation as current Zelda-fan heart-throb Groose. In fact Linebeck is arguably a more interesting and important than Groose, as he was present though out the game's entirety and has a major end-game role (I won't spoil the details for you). He was uncharismatic, but witty and offered plenty of funny dialogue. His ancestor even plays a part in Spirit Tracks!
In Spirit Tracks we were accompanied by the ghost of the Princess herself, which opens us up to a unique exploration of the lore and history of New Hyrule. This is where I think these entries falter; the worlds they built were sparse and truly exploring it seemed like more chore than fun. It could have been a fault of hardware limitations, but having Princess Zelda as the guide in Spirit tracks was a missed opportunity to see the world through the eyes of a royal. She was a fleshed out character where she was used, but it just was never enough. Even more, the space between locations in Spirit Tracks were empty. Long stretches of green texture with nothing to expand on the world. I'd like to note, that the best Zelda's are the ones that aren't always the wise and calm princess, but the brash and brave with flaws intact.
A New Age in Zelda's History
Since the world of Wind Waker Nintendo has taken strides to provide a more story driven Zelda game. Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword elevated the retelling of the Hero of Courage and gave us worlds (and characters) that are mostly unparalleled within the Zelda Franchise. It would be fantastic to have Nintendo take what they've learned and push the Zelda timeline out even further, with the advent of technology never seen in Hyrule before!
The land of Hyrule is no stranger to technology (remember the strange Ooccoos from Skyward Sword?), but whenever Link encountered advanced technology in a Zelda game we would see it as sort of a magical lens, where it wasn't really understood, or presented as nearly alien. The DS Zelda games take place in what could be seen as Hyrule's industrial age, and seeing Hyrule through that lens could make for some new interesting gameplay and insight. Rather than a world mired in old Hyrule magic, we are seeing the optimism of New Hyrules age of technology and development.
Manifest Destiny of Hyrule
That leaves me at my pie in the sky dream. We are all undoubtedly grateful for this new open-world Zelda title to be released in 2015, and it looks beautiful. Like it'll take the best from previous titles, while exploring new mechanics. But it isn't a new Hyrule, so we'll be visiting many of the same locations, only with fresh coats of paint. New Hyrule should be the new frontier of Zelda; like the unexplored wilderness of the Louisiana Purchase and the California Gold Rush. I want to re-explore an updated version of Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, where the worlds are a little fuller, and I get to see more of this wide-eyed and enthusiastic New Hyrule. Please Nintendo, we know you'll be delivering two fantastic Zelda experiences this year, but don't forget these gems that took Zelda to a whole new world.
Please Nintendo. Make it happen.