The Legend of Zelda has always offered players the ability to upgrade equipment as the game progresses, but prior to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword most upgrades were required to complete the game and given to you as a reward for completing a mandatory task. The best examples are the swords used in each Legend of Zelda game. You always begin with a basic sword that is upgraded as the game progresses. In many Legend of Zelda games, the “upgraded sword” is the Master Sword, a sword imbued with magical properties that make it capable of injuring evil creatures an ordinary sword could not harm.
Skyward Sword introduced a large number of optional upgrades for both mandatory and optional equipment, but very few upgrades are required to complete the game. The few upgrades that are required are given to players for completing a mandatory task. Upgrading equipment was brought to the forefront because of the changes Skyward Sword introduced, but it does not feel like an integral part of the game or the series. With a few changes upgrading equipment could become a vital part of the Legend of Zelda, but all of these changes revolve around a simple idea: upgrading should be required.
The primary benefit of using an optional upgrade system is that players are not forced to stop their adventure to collect more rupees or treasures before continuing. It is easy to tell the different between being stuck because something is challenging and being stuck because you haven’t collecting enough in-game money. A challenge can make a player want to try harder to develop a new strategy. A lack of money is more likely to make a player frustrated.
Skyward Sword required both rupees and treasures to complete item upgrades, but if upgrading is going to become an integral part of the series then one or the other needs to be removed. Removing treasures and making rupees more-than-abundant sounds like an easy solution to this problem, but I think requiring treasures for upgrades is more interesting.
Instead, the cost associated with upgrading should be removed. I found collecting the treasures in Skyward Sword to be fun (certainly more fun than cutting grass for rupees), and making the treasures more readily available shouldn’t hurt that. However, for players who do not enjoy – or simply do not have - the treasures required for upgrading I also recommend an in-game store that lets you trade rupees for each treasure.
In order for upgrading to become a core part of the series, making the majority of upgrades mandatory is essential. However, there’s no reason there cannot be fun optional upgrades as well. The problem Skyward Sword introduced is that none of the upgrades were required, and you could complete the entire game without ever bothering to upgrade an item.
Mandatory Upgrading or No Upgrading.
When I first considered the idea of mandatory upgrading I thought it was a great idea. However, as I have continued to think about it I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to make upgrading inventory items an integral part of the Legend of Zelda series may change it for the worse. Specifically, it will make the Legend of Zelda series more similar to countless other video game series that have always required that players purchase or find better weapons, armor, etc. to proceed.
On the other hand, I don’t think upgrading should be left as it is in Skyward Sword. If changes are not made to make upgrading more important, then I think upgrading is better off being removed from future entries. Instead of becoming a constant feature, upgrading can be looked at as something unique to Skyward Sword the same way that rings are unique to Oracle and Ages and Oracle of Seasons. In this way, the Legend of Zelda series is always changing and differentiates itself from competing video game series.