It’s not just clever items that provide the Zelda series with some of its innovation and charm, but also clever use of gameplay mechanics. Some of these are very much Zelda traits, like the transformational masks in Majora’s Mask. Breath of the Wild‘s gear and stats are to be expected in many RPGs, but were very new to Nintendo’s long-running series.
Masks (Majora’s Mask)
By Stephanie Sybydlo
While I respect the Zelda series for trying to avoid using the same mechanics twice, Majora‘s many Masks offered literal game-changing mechanics. Finally, players could see through the eyes of some of Hyrule’s most notable inhabitants with special transformation masks, while other masks had unique and varied features. Becoming a lovable Goron not only shows Link with facial hair for the first time ever, but includes probably his best “ground roll”; the Captain’s Hat lets Link communicate with the very vocal and animated undead in Ikana Valley; the Stone Mask lets Link blend into the background; the Kamaro Mask imparts mystical power that lets Link break into a mysterious dance. Whether for story or sidequests, the Masks were an incredibly fun thing to seek and collect, creating an intriguing mechanic against Majora‘s intimidating three-day countdown.
Wolf Link (Twilight Princess)
By Michael Sollosi
Maybe the most stylish alternative gameplay feature in one of Link’s most stylized adventures, Wolf Link allows Link to track down people and objects with enhanced senses, speak to animals for intel, and attack enemies in a beastly fashion. Plus, look at that thing. Has Link ever looked better?
Unique Armor (Breath of the Wild)
By Stephanie Sybydlo
While unique pieces of …tunic have been around the series for some time, it wasn’t until Breath of the Wild that Link finally decided to expand his wardrobe. Nintendo decided that in addition to defense stats, armor in Breath of the Wild let you mix and match headgear, tops, and bottoms that gave actual non-stat perks to help Link swim further, climb faster, or explore frozen fields. Armor was practical (well, most of the time), creative, offered unique set bonuses, and helped players weather the much more “wild” post-apocalyptic Hyrulean landscape.
EXP & Stat Growth (Zelda II: The Adventure of Link)
By Patrick Gann
With the exception of Hyrule Warriors (which operates under the rules and principles of Dynasty Warriors), Zelda II was the only game in the franchise with the truest of true JRPG mechanics: grinding experience points to level up. It may not be every player’s favorite mechanic, so it works that it was not implemented in every game going forward. However, an open-world title like Breath of the Wild with some more traditional RPG elements, such as a leveling system, stat growth, and/or skill trees could make for a fresh, new experience in this ever-changing franchise.