I recently found out about a rejected pitch for a Zelda game inspired by Final Fantasy Tactics, and I find myself mourning for what could have been. Heroes of Hyrule was conceptualized as a DS game that combined tactical combat with puzzle-based exploration. Unfortunately, Nintendo scrapped Retro Studios’ idea before it ever saw the light of day.
YouTube personality Shane Gill’s latest entry in his Did You Know Gaming series of videos investigating gaming secrets, trivia, and long-lost products shines a light on Heroes of Hyrule, which Retro Studios pitched to Nintendo in a failed effort in 2004. Gill sourced the information in his video from a 22-page design document and an interview with one of Retro Studios’ developers. The gameplay was described as turn-based strategy with puzzle-solving elements.
According to the pitch document, Link was not to be the protagonist of the scrapped concept. Instead, the main character was a young boy who stumbles upon a history book about defeating Ganon. Two-thirds of the story would take place in the history book, which would come to life as he read it, while the remaining third took place in the boy’s “present-day” town. Instead of leveling with experience points like in a traditional roleplaying game, the heroes—members of the Goron, Rito, and Zora peoples—would collect power-ups and abilities through puzzle-solving and exploration like in a traditional Zelda game. You’d also place objects from the real world into the book in order to give its heroes new abilities or stat boosts.
Fully exploring both sections was necessary to advance the main plot, since the protagonist had to gather book pages in his own world in order to progress the story. Similarly, there were areas in the present-day town that were inaccessible until you obtained certain keys from the story world. Each page in the book would represent an explorable region of the campaign, and new areas would unlock as players gained new abilities. There was also underlying narrative tension built into the game’s planned progression. Ganon would initially be sealed in the book, and putting the scattered pages together would allow him to break free.
The pitch was created by Retro Studios, known for developing the Metroid Prime trilogy. They felt “burnt out” on Metroid Prime 2’s development, and wanted to work on a new IP. Programmer Paul Tozour headed the pitch for Heroes of Hyrule, and Metroid Prime game director Mark Pacini helped to shape the ideas that eventually made it into the 22-page document.
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After the studio pitched Heroes, Satoru Iwata reportedly told the Retro Studios developers to work on Metroid Prime 3: Corruption for the Wii. They were also asked to revive the Donkey Kong Country franchise, a project which didn’t interest Tozour, and led to him and others leaving the company.
“We sent it over to [Nintendo] SPD and got an immediate no, you’re not doing that. To this day I do not know why,” Tozour said during an interview with DidYouKnowGaming. “They just didn’t seem to have any interest in that gameplay concept.”
Boo. I’m interested, and I’m certain that other people would be too.