Would Ura-Zelda be a good thing?

By Conrad

While people all over are rejoicing over the words "New Zelda in works", the truth is that Ura-Zelda may plague the Zelda community.

I know a bunch of people are thinking I'm a pessimistic nay-sayer thanks to that last paragraph.  That's okay.  The truth is, I'm not much of an optimist for games coming out and fully living up to their promises.  And I won't say what I think of the people who still believe everything will be ten times better than what the first reports indicate they might be.

On one hand, the statement that a cartridge is likely sounds good. It means we'll see a sequel! Woo-hoo! But on the other hand, the cartridge will clearly be more limited than the 64DD version. If the game could fit nicely on a cartridge, then it would fit on a cartridge. The reason the game is slated to go on the 64DD is because there are advantages to the 64DD. Advantages that aren't going to make it to the English-speaking nations. The US(/Canadian/European/Australian) release would likely keep much of the graphics of Link and the character movements. So what the game would have to ditch are things such as mini-games, sub-plots, and maybe even deungeons and bosses. Items are usually fairly "cheap" in the economy of computer chip memory, and therefore it's not impossible that Nintendo would leave in some of the items from the later dungeons, even though the dungeons were taken out. More items in less of a quest. That makes for an easier, less challenging quest.

Speculation is that several games may come out on the Japanese 64DD and then be crippled down to take up less memory and actually fit on a cartridge. So if you thought that Ocarina of Time was too short, you may not become overly-cheery when you get to the end of Ura-Zelda.

Have you ever played Final Fantasy 2 (US) for the Super NES? Have you ever looked at the quality of the graphics and thought, "This Super NES game doesn't look that much better than the high-quality NES games"? Well, that's because Square was designing FF2 to be a system-exploting game for the NES and then Nintendo wanted support for the SNES so they convinced Square to released for the Super NES. Result? The game didn't take full advantage of the Super NES (it wasn't designed to), but due to the Super NES's advanced power, it was simple to make the game look better. And so, now several years later, the game Americans received as Final Fintasy 2 is a Super NES game and still looks better than it would have if it were a NES game.

What would be best for us is if the game came out on the Dolphin in Japan. Note that while that may be best for us, that may not be best for Nintendo. Nintendo might benefit more from making the extra money off of a 64-bit game, even if that isn't what makes for what's ultimately the best entry in a particular series. And if the game does come out for the Dolphin in Japan, then we're not really talking about the 64DD Ura-Zelda anymore, so let's leave that idea alone here.

It may make sense to some people to have the game released for the 64DD in Japan, and then for the US version to just put the game on a cheap DVD-CD for the Dolphin. Maybe even add some extra stuff to the US version since it's going on the Dolphin. Unfortunately, that actually doesn't go over too well. The Dolphin isn't a 64-bit machine. Unless Nintendo were to write an N64 and 64DD emulator for the Dolphin (in which case it would be easy to bring over 64DD games to the US), it would probably be viewed as too much work to have the game programed for the 64-bit N64 and the chips inside that game, and re-program those parts for the Dolphin, when they could just decide to cut out some stuff and keep all the techological programming pretty much the same and release the game as a cart in the US. An N64-emulator, only released as machine-code to be run on a Nintendo-system, may make a bit of sense. However, it's not very likely that Nintendo is going to be using emulators because they'd probably fear Internet Pirates would disassemble the game and use the included emulator along with other 64DD games. It's also not very likely for the Dophin to feature (suprise!) Playstation backwards-compatibility (which would make many less people be super-interested in upgrading to the Playstation 2) because of the lawsuits. Even if Bleem! and VGS win over Sony and it's declared PSX emulators are legal, Nintendo's not going to support unauthorized emulating because doing so weakens Nintendo's arguement that they hate emulators of current on-market systems.

Back to Ura-Zelda, there is another bad option (Doesn't this article just lift your spirits?): The Japanese get Ura-Zelda for the 64DD and even a cartridge version, and we don't get either. On more than one occasion (that is, many, many occasions) games are released in Japan and not in America. Mother, a Japanese game, was perfectly translated into English by Nintendo into a NES game called "Earthbound" and then never released.  (Mother 2 for the Super Famicom (SNES) was then translated into English and became our Earthbound.)  And if Nintendo based releases on popoularity, then you'd think that the second Final Fantasy game that was released for the Famicom (NES) would have made it's way to American shores.  Guess what: It didn't until years and years and years later some guys with computers and emulators translated the game themselves. Nintendo had obtained the rights for a US release for the game, and then never released it.  We never got a legitimately-sold version of what the Japanese called Final Fanasy 2.  So, the idea that Ura-Zelda may not come here at all isn't completely out of the question.

If the estimated US-release of Ura-Zelda would be too close to the originally-scheduled Japanese release date of the next game, Nintendo might not decide to cause media conflicts by pursueing Ura-Zelda in the States, and instead save US excitement for a new Zelda game for the next platform. (And other English-speaking countries would be even less likely to see it then.) Result is that Ura-Zelda would become similar to the "lost" Final Fantasy games. A few Japanese speakers would play the game and say it's the best thing on earth, but English speakers might never get to play it on a legitimate system. (Chances are, too, that several emulation fans will try translating the game, giving up half-way through, cursing each other's projects, all claiming credit for the same work. Uh... not referring to any particular examples, of course.)

This last option may seem particularily likely if N64 cartridge version of Ura-Zelda doesn't do well in Japan. Executives in charge of porting may decide to focus more on the cartridge version's sales than the 64DD version's sales, since the cartridge is what they'd be bringing over to the US. Perhaps the worst available option is that when the game is ready to be ported for Americans, Nintendo will see how well the Japanese liked the game, and the Japanese players will remember Ura-Zelda like what we fondly remember of Battletoads And Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team. This game, same title, same levels and enemies and everything, was brought out on both the NES and the Super NES. The NES version didn't do so hot since fewer people were playing the NES at the time, since the Super NES had been out for a while. And the Super NES version's graphics paled in comparison to other Super NES games because, in truth, they weren't much better than the NES game that the Super NES game. If Ura-Zelda's 64DD version is considered second-rate; not much better than the cartridge version and other cartridge-based games, and if the cartridge version had hardly any sales because the 64DD took all of them away, that leaves us with a rather bleak picture for the American version.

I know a bunch of people are thinking I'm a pessimistic nay-sayer thanks to that last bunch of paragraphs.  That's okay. The truth is, I expect Ura-Zelda, if the title does make it to the light of day, to do better than this doom-and-gloom article suggests. I basically gave a bunch of different negative possible scenerios here. I want to make this clear: I am painting a very dark, bleek picture here; not one that I fully believe myself. Chances are the game will do quite well.

Still, I'd ramther have reservations and then be pleasantly surpised than be all hyped up and later be disappointed. Hope that Ura-Zelda doesn't become a Japanese-only release which nearly nobody in America has actually played (although many people will remember them from reading possibly-bad reviews of the game). We already have that with a couple of CD-i.  And Zelda II: The Adventure of Link proves that just because the game has the word "Zelda" in it doesn't mean that everybody will love the released gae.  I can imagine every website having a section, "In Defence of Ura-Zelda".  Ugh...

Just... be careful what you're all excited over.

And hope for the best.