Netflix has been on a roll ever since it first opened the gates for original series content with House of Cards in 2013, producing such far-flung concepts as historical fiction (Marco Polo, Narcos, The Crown), superhero dramas (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage), and out-there scif-fi (Sense8, The OA).
But last week’s announcement of a Castlevania series arriving later this year shows just how far the streaming service is willing to go – video game properties haven’t been known for their adaptation successes, and even if, say, $75 million is just a drop in the bucket of the $6 billion that the company spent last year on original content, it’s still a considerable sum to spend on any single series. (Note: $75 million is just a guess, a general ballpark estimation that’s nowhere near the $100 million spent on The Crown or The Get Down’s reported $120 million budget.)
That being said, there’s a single property floating out there that is just begging for a similar treatment: The Legend of Zelda. Already previously rumored for just such a possibility, one of the most hallowed gaming series of all time is more primed than ever before for a Netflix debut – think of it with, say, Marco Polo’s production design, crossed with A Series of Unfortunate Events’s imaginative, off-kilter sensibilities. It’s one of the closest things that the company would ever get to a slam-dunk certainty (if they manage to do it correctly, of course).
Here’s why Zelda would make sure a great addition to Netflix’s roster.
Across 31 years and over 20 installments, The Legend of Zelda has grown to include a number of settings, events, and characters that have made it one of the most well-fleshed-out sagas in video game history. For a linear medium such as television, this translates to not only a wealth of material to transform into a traditional, serialized narrative, it also provides a great deal of possibilities for the showrunner(s) and creative executives to mine for years to come.
Let’s take the series’s timeline, for instance. After releasing the first two titles, Nintendo opted to hop backwards in time, sketching out the developments that would ultimately lead to the state of affairs in the mystical kingdom of Hyrule that gamers were originally introduced to in 8-bit form. Events such as the transformation of the thief Ganondorf Dragmire into the god-like beast Ganon, his imprisonment in the Sacred Realm (and its subsequent transformation into the Dark World), and his various attempts to break out, corrupting many intermediaries along the way. In fitting with the typical Japanese cultural approach to storytelling, the games’ creators were eager to explore nearly every variation on the theme, resulting in three main timelines – a golden scenario for Netflix to spin not only multiple seasons off of, but also multiple productions, such as various miniseries or films in addition to the main TV show.
Even more intriguing, however, is the art style brandished in each Zelda, which can oftentimes vary wildly from release to release. Imagine one season that is overwhelming dark or Lord of the Rings-esque (which is precisely what The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was), another that is more whimsical (as seen in the washed-out pastels of Skyward Sword), or, even, animated (The Wind Waker’s cartoony-yet-engrossing style). The possibilities are almost endless.
Zelda’s story may be simplistic – awaken your destiny as the Legendary Hero, save Princess Zelda, defeat Ganon, and safeguard the divine Triforce – but this has worked to the series’s benefit thus far, and there’s little reason to believe it couldn’t provide the same narrative boon to a Netflix production.
For starters, this Mythology 101 approach has worked wonders for such long-running cinematic franchises as Star Wars (creator George Lucas famously wrote his initial screenplay back in the mid-1970s using Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces as a step-by-step guide); it touches on the fundamental attributes of storytelling that sufficiently move audiences, no matter the format or culture. Nintendo oftentimes plays with the audience’s expectations on this front, such as hiding Zelda’s identity as another character until late in the game.
This type of subversion perfectly illustrates just how important The Legend of Zelda’s characters are – a surprisingly wide and diverse collection of faces has popped up over the past three decades, allowing for a great number of interactions to occur and relationships to develop. From the comedic to the tragic, from the mundane to the downright bizarre, the saga has essentially seen it all.
Granted, Zelda’s traditional narrative setup, particularly with regard to its protagonist, Link, also poses one of the adaptation’s biggest challenges. When the central figure in the entire mythos doesn’t even speak, the writer must imprint a personality unto the main character, which then has ripple effects for the way he interacts with the vast supporting cast. Luckily enough, there have been more than enough comic book, radiodrama, and, even, animated television adaptations to help pave the way – even if most of them definitively illustrate how not to flesh Link out.
Let’s return to that idea of doing multiple Legend of Zelda productions instead of just the one. This would form a mini-shared cinematic universe – what the Defenders franchise does on Netflix already, as it mostly eschews the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe mythos for its own, internal, street-level narrative.
Given how each video game essentially carves out a new space within the Zelda saga, from art style to storytelling sensibilities to conceptual hook (is Hyrule sunk under the water, forcing its denizens to travel mostly by boat? Does Link live in a floating kingdom up in the sky? Is he mostly trapped in the Twilight Realm?), there are multiple possibilities to spin out new adventures that more fully explore the backstories of each of these new realities. Even series creator Shigeru Miyamoto has flirted with the idea of making a Shiek spinoff game, so why not do an eight-episode miniseries exploring the origins and history of the Shiekah people? Or an original story following Midna and the Twili in their parallel dimension following their liberation from Ganon’s influence?
In this way, beyond doing a straight adaptation of the franchise’s main plot points, it can contain a whole bevy of brand new additions that would exist to reinforce or otherwise expand the video game source material, building upon it instead of recycling it.
Remember what we were saying about the possibilities being limitless?