Legend of Zelda TV Show: 5 Hurdles Netflix Must Overcome

March 5, 2015 8:30 AM

So the internet went crazy when Netflix announced they were in very early talks to produce a Legend of Zelda TV show to be hosted on their streaming services around the world. But now the dust has settled slightly and we’ve all calmed down, what do we really think of the idea? We all remember the abysmal 1989 animated series. But is this project destined for the same fate? Will creators behind this series be chased with pitchforks by angry Zelda fans looking for vengeance? One thing is certain. There are most definitely some obstructive issues that are going to be discussed before this thing ever gathers any momentum and should they manage to negotiate these vital elements, they could maybe have a hit on their hands. Here’s what we think…

  1. The Fans
Legend of Zelda

Dedicated fans at a Legend of Zelda Convention

One of the biggest problems with adaptations from popular source material, especially ones as rich in legend and open to interpretation as the Legend of Zelda series, is the fans. They’re loyal, they’re knowledgeable and they’re very vocal indeed. It goes without saying that, whichever direction Netflix and Nintendo commit to should this project get off the ground, it will be impossible to please everyone. At best, there will be fans that will appreciate the quality of the show (if it’s done well) but will disagree with how the makers have interpreted the Hyrule universe. At worst, millions of furious fans worldwide take up arms and head to Netflix HQ to burn it to the ground after they completely butcher their beloved franchise. Ok maybe it won’t go that far but you can guarantee that if Netflix get this wrong, the whole world will know and will probably hear about it for a long time.

  1. The Game of Thrones Quote

It’s difficult to find the exact source of the “family-friendly Game of Thrones” pitch but somehow it has ended up becoming the hazard light for the whole project before it’s even really started. Consequently, the team behind this adaptation will have to overcome this schmaltzy image that has been conjured thanks to that quote. People are picturing rainbows and fairies, which isn’t a far stretch considering some of Zelda’s content. But we must remember the rest of the extremely dark and, at times, sinister material from the games.

Legend of Zelda

The creepy looking mask in Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Maybe, by “family-friendly” they mean no sex, no bloody deaths, and no graphic violence. But if the dark and gritty content is left completely conceptual, where viewers must use their imaginations to fill in the blanks, then you could get away with a lot whilst still keeping it PG-13. You could keep it mildly menacing with the creepy, floating poes or go full-on disturbing with the ReDeads, the life-sucking zombie skeletons that paralyze you with a single stare. Neither would involve blood or violence and both would keep it far from schmaltzy.

  1. The Plot

Critics of the Legend of Zelda series (yes, there are some) have often cited its lack of substantial plot line. All the games essentially boil down to Link saving Hyrule and defeating Ganondorf. All other elements are based around players investigating the open world and interacting with the various corners of Hyrule and the rest of the Zelda universe. This is a big point of debate when discussing what form the TV adaptation will take. Will it be based on one single game? Or will it try and cover the whole series? Realistically, the best option would be to use the games as source material only and for the creators to employ all the classic hallmarks of the game (Hyrule, fairies, the Triforce, Link, Zelda and Ganondorf) to create a new story that honours where the TV series has come from but also allows it to stand on its own.

Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda games all tend to follow the same simple story

As long as the writers simultaneously work with Nintendo and are allowed creative freedom, there is a deep well of legendary material for them to create a rich and compelling narrative with. The only question is, will they? Netflix have a good track record of creating good television. Both Orange is the New Black and House of Cards have been very well received. House of Cards has even earned two Golden Globes but of course, this doesn’t mean they’ve turned everything they’ve touched into gold. You’d be forgiven if you’ve never watched Lilyhammer or Marco Polo. But if they can get a group of writers with the same talent and wit as the writers from Netflix’s two biggest shows, who knows what might happen?

2. The Timeline

Legend of Zelda

Link as a young kid in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Ok so they manage to sort out a plot. And magically, it somewhat pacifies everyone out there. But even if the writers manage to conceive a brilliant story, with all the right characters and the perfect balance between Nintendo humour and epic “good vs. evil” dramatic tension, there’s still the question of the timeline. Yes, it is arguably intertwined with plot because to define a narrative you need structure but they could have every plot element and still not nail the everlasting, ever-elusive timeline of the Legend of Zelda series. Fans have developed many different theories about the Zelda timeline with some even arguing that Link is in fact dead for the entirety of Majora’s mask. But the official order is Skyward Sword, The Minish Cap, Four Swords, Ocarina of Time and after that it gets a bit messy depending on what you believe happens as a result of all the time travelling in the most renowned instalment of the series.

So you can see how this might be a problem for writers. The most logical thing to do would be to steer completely clear of all the proposed theories about the order of events in the games. Legend of Zelda creators want the timeline to be always out of reach and left to the players’ imaginations. To lean towards some interpretation of the games’ sequence of events would be to ruin what was sacred. But how exactly should they structure their own narrative? Should they reflect the chaotic and timeless nature of the games and risk confusing newcomers to the series? Or should they dishonour one of the most loved characteristics of the franchise and keep things simple with a linear timeline that is easily followed by all? It’s a difficult one to call.

1. Link

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Link in Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

By far, the biggest problem that writers will have to overcome is the main character, or lack there of. Link is essentially just an avatar for players to plant themselves into the world of Hyrule. Aside from the occasional yell or grunt of exertion, Link does not speak and doesn’t really have a character. We, as players, project one onto him according to what is in our imagination. But that differs from player to player so again, the writers would struggle to please everyone. Giving Link a voice and a personality would infringe on a character that some players have grown up with and have played through for years.

Of course, they could instil in him the typical qualities of any warrior hero. Noble, humble and brave. But there’s tonnes of other issues to tackle on top of his personality. What should he look like? Should he keep his Peter Pan costume? Should he be young Link or adult Link? We just don’t know. The obvious answer seems to be the less changed the better. Perhaps if they were to create a relatively monosyllabic hero (like Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Angel, for example), with most of his thoughts and motives being implied rather than spoken out loud, he could still have a complex and deep enough character without doing anything drastic that could alienate fans.

It really could go either way. One thing we’ve learnt is that video game adaptations either become huge successes or abominations never to be spoken of or seen again. But just to calm our nerves slightly, let’s remember how amazing this April Fool’s trailer from a few years ago made the Legend of Zelda look. The trailer was based on Ocarina of Time and was widely well received by fans. Anything along these lines, and it might be a one for the ages…

What do you think about the rumours? Would you like to see something like the Ocarina of Time trailer? Or are you dreading the whole idea? Let us know by leaving your thoughts and theories in the comments below!