Anyone familiar with recent entries in “The Legend of Zelda” series is probably aware that Nintendo's internal studio, Monolith Soft (responsible for the Xenoblade series), has had a team dedicated to development support of these games. A recent job listing by Monolith Soft for the development of a new Zelda game has the video game world buzzing that the studio may be making a full fledged entry by themselves. If the rumors are true, a Zelda game made primarily by a JRPG developer could result in something truly remarkable.
Monolith Soft was founded by Tetsuya Takahashi in 1999 after he felt frustrated with his ongoing work at Square. During the early 2000s, the company developed mostly JRPG games like the Xenosaga series and the Baten Kaitos, series with Namco taking on publishing duties. By the mid 2000s, Monolith Soft's contact at Namco had retired and the company was going to stop funding their work. That's when Nintendo stepped in.
Nintendo began to take over publishing responsibilities for Monolith Soft and in 2007 officially announced that they had purchased a majority stake in the studio. In the years following the acquisition, Monolith Soft developed Soma Bringer, Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier, Disaster: Day of Crisis, and also contributed to the development of Super Smash Bros. Brawl. In 2010, Monolith Soft released their magnum opus, Xenoblade Chronicles, which was an unexpected commercial and critical success.
After the success of Xenoblade Chronicles, Monolith Soft founded another studio in Kyoto that is responsible for development support. This studio has contributed to games like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Pikmin 3, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild, two Animal Crossing games, and the Splatoon games. The studio's next big title, Xenoblade Chronicles X, was released in 2015 on the Wii U, followed in 2017 by Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on Nintendo Switch. In 2018, a prequel to Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country was released on Nintendo Switch. The Xenoblade games have largely performed very well critically and commercially, cementing Monolith Soft as not only a JRPG developer, but also as one of the best developers of the genre.
In late March of 2019, a job listing from Monolith Soft looking for technical artists, programmers, planners, designers, and a project manager to work on a Zelda game was posted on their Japanese website. At first glance this led fans to the conclusion that Monolith Soft would be assisting in the development of the next Zelda game as they have in the past. This makes sense as development of the series is rarely given to anyone other than Nintendo EAD (now Nintendo EPD). There have been several games in the series that were developed by Capcom (Minish Cap, Oracle of Ages and Seasons, etc.), but other than that there are few Zelda games that have ever been developed by internal or external studios.
So why is it even a possibility that Monolith Soft is developing their own console Zelda game? Perhaps were provided by a recruitment effort that Monolith Soft held back in August of 2017 to search for designers, programmers, planners, and management support with experience working on action games. Along with these job listings, Monolith Soft posted a few pieces of concept art that upon further inspection look suspiciously Zelda-esque. To make things even more interesting, the clever folks over at GameXplain found what looks to be the Triforce symbol in one of the pieces of concept art. The resemblance between the symbol shown in the video and the Triforce symbol is uncanny. Also, as pointed out in the video, the concept art includes a statue that looks remarkably similar to a statue of the Goddess Hylia, as well as a female character that looks suspiciously like Zelda. If these things are all nothing but coincidences, I'll eat my hat. This all makes it seem plausible that Monolith Soft could be developing their own Zelda game. So if Monolith Soft is developing their own Zelda game, what could it look like?
“ZeldaBlade” – My Hopes
If Monolith Soft is developing a Zelda game, they could bring a new take to the franchise that we've never seen before. Zelda has always been primarily an action-adventure series with some fairly shallow RPG elements (collecting pieces of heart and heart containers to improve health, improving magic, improving stamina, etc.). What if Monolith Soft can flesh these elements out into something deeper? Could I take my weapons and armor to a blacksmith and have them reinforced? Could I learn new spells, assuming magic makes a long awaited return? Maybe I can earn experience points and actually level up? Will I have skills to upgrade and learn? I wouldn't consider any of these JRPG tropes off the table for a Monolith Soft developed Zelda game.
A likely scenario for a Monolith Soft developed Zelda is that it will be very story and character driven, given Monolith Soft's penchant for titles such as Xenoblade. This is in contrast to Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which was much less story and character driven than many of its predecessors, presumably as a consequence of the freedom its non-linear design provided. That doesn't necessarily mean that this game will be more linear like the story driven Zelda games Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. Xenoblade Chronicles boasted a massive, almost seamless open world and a dramatic, emotional story with complex and memorable characters. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 similarly had massive, open environments and an equally powerful story and characters. In fact, Xenoblade Chronicles and its sequel are easily my favorite examples of non-linear game design that retain motivating narratives and characters. If anyone knows how to blend these two concepts, which have traditionally been difficult to balance, it's Monolith Soft.
Monolith Soft is one of my favorite developers and the thought of them bringing their own flavor to a Zelda game has me more than a little excited. I've always liked the idea of a Zelda game implementing deeper RPG elements. I also love when Zelda games have very involving stories and felt a bit let down by that aspect in Breath of The Wild. A Monolith Soft developed Zelda could be a tour de force of new ideas and revolutionary concepts. The incredible possibilities have me waiting on bated breath for an official confirmation.