The Legend of Zelda E3 2004 Updated Impressions

We get a look a longer trailer for Nintendo's new Zelda game.

We had the chance to get a look at a longer trailer for the upcoming The Legend of Zelda for the GameCube. Hot on the heels of the game's showstopping debut at Nintendo's press conference, the legendary company gave us a look at a longer trailer that showed off more from the upcoming game. The footage, cut completely from the game engine, was a potent reminder of the GameCube's graphical muscle, Nintendo's skill at creating Zelda games, and the undeniable appeal of the realistic Link.

It looks like equestrian combat will be a major component of the new Legend of Zelda's gameplay.

The one-minute trailer we saw at the press conference opened with an extended cut of the camera panning across figures silhouetted against a red-hued sky. As the camera zoomed in, we saw the forms of bokoblins (recognizable from The Wind Waker) making their way toward the camera. The dramatic lighting and shadowing in the sequence made it easy to overlook the level of detail on the characters as the camera pulled in close, but the surly crowd was indeed sporting an impressive amount of detail. The mob ran forward, kicking up clouds of dust, before the scene shifted. The animation on the characters was somewhat stiff and a little too precise to really look that menacing. We expect that, given how far out the game's release is, this was actually intended to underscore the visuals that are being lauded as so stunning by those who've already seen the trailer, and to reinforce that the visuals are not just edited gameplay.

The next (and equally striking) image was of Link on horseback, which reminded us of how much we missed Epona in The Wind Waker and what the freedom of galloping across open land brings to the Zelda experience. As cool as the boat was, there's just no substitute for racing through an open field on horseback. This segment also included glimpses of a castle lit by torches at night, a countryside, misty woods, and some hints of the weather system in the game (we saw Link in a rainstorm). The darker tone of the previous imagery was lightened considerably with a warm and fuzzy scene featuring Link and his horse kicking it with some friendly dogs on a hillside.

With the game engine's prowess at rendering outdoor areas established, the trailer shifted its focus to indoor environments. This longer trailer offered an extended look at Link navigating an indoor area with a distinctive fire theme, which we thought was going to be the new game's version of the fire temple. This sequence was shown from a bird's-eye view of Link's surroundings, and we also saw some impressive graphical effects that showed off the game engine's capabilities. The room Link explored in the segment featured a metal walkway that we could see through, blocks that could be pushed, and torches whose light flickered haphazardly on their surroundings. The camera's close-up on Link as he pushed a block displayed the impressive texture work on both the character model and the environment. Link's hair and clothing looked sharp while the rock itself featured some rather fine detail on its rough surface. The lighting in the level offered some cool additions, such as a proper real-time shadow on Link and a nice atmospheric touch to the interior.

The remainder of the trailer offered a series of snippets showing glimpses of Link engaged in combat with old and new faces in different locations, some from the first trailer and others that were new. For the moment, it appears that the combat mechanics are staying pretty close to those we've become familiar with since Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64. Link is clearly performing some of his staple moves, such as a jumping lunge and charged slashes. However, what impressed us most was seeing old attacks given realistic makeovers with the new engine, not to mention graphical flourishes like the particles given off as weapons clash.

This may be the darkest Zelda yet, based on what we've seen of the game so far.

The next montage focused on Link riding his horse and fighting assorted enemies, which highlighted the new horse combat mechanic that director Eiji Aonuma hinted at in his recent roundtable. This segment had various sequences where Link was seen taking on numerous mounted enemies. In most cases, Link's foes weren't mounted for long after they received a solid smack with his sword. One sequence showed a brave Link preparing to take on mounted foes on foot. The last bit of the trailer focused on highlighting Link's heroic nature. The scenes were of him fighting the Balrog-like flame critter seen in the original trailer, navigating perilous dungeons, riding his noble steed, shooting arrows, and generally looking like the green tights-wearing badass we all know and love.

The music cut throughout the trailer was different in tone than the trailer shown at the press conference, as it had a darker feel to it. There were still elements to the music that made it a good fit for a Zelda game, but it sure wasn't in the same lighthearted vein as the tunes heard in The Wind Waker.

All told, the extended Zelda trailer was an impressive teaser for what's to come in the Zelda franchise. That said, we sincerely doubt it comes close to offering any more than the barest idea of what to expect from the next game. The trailer seems geared toward touching on the key points that fans have been asking for since The Wind Waker's release, such as realistic graphics, horse action, Ocarina-style dungeons, and dry land to roam on, without giving much away. At this time, it's not known how much of the story, what the full range of gameplay will be, or what the dungeon styles are going to be in the game. As far as aesthetics go, this new Zelda seems to be hitting all the right notes at the moment. While we're all obviously excited about the game's more realistic look, we're curious about what the gameplay is going to offer. We didn't see any Navi-like critters near Link or any special items such as the ocarina, mask, or Wind Waker on hand. However, we feel good about what Aonuma and company will be cooking up with this broad new canvas. The Legend of Zelda is slated to ship in 2005, so look for more on the game in the coming months.

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