Retro Studios, the team behind Metroid Prime and Donkey Kong Country Returns, once pitched a Zelda game for the Nintendo DS akin to Final Fantasy Tactics.
This project was dubbed Heroes of Hyrule, and would not have had Link as the main character. Rather, the Hylian hero would have turned up as an NPC.
Per YouTube channel Did You Know Gaming, which got its hands on Retro Studios’ original pitch, Heroes of Hyrule would have told the story of a magical book.
The titular heroes of Hyrule would have been Dunar the Goron (a “gruff, tough fighter” who “embodied the triforce of power”), Seriph the Rito (a “patient [and] warm-hearted rito” who embodied the triforce of courage”), and Krel the Zora (yes, you guessed it, he embodied the Triforce of Wisdom and is described as being “cynical” but with a “warm heart”).
The game’s prologue would have told the story of a failed attempt by Link to save Princess Zelda from Ganon. Thankfully, the three heroes noticed Link’s absence, and rescued him. Following this successful rescue, Ganon would have subsequently retreated into the aforementioned magical book, but in a weakened state.
The heroes would have then all tried to dispose of said book – that Ganon had arrogantly called ‘The Book of Ganon’. However they would find it impossible to destroy entirely. To counteract this, the Hylian team instead would have ripped pages out of the book and scattered them across the kingdom in a bid to stop Ganon returning, with Link placing the now incomplete book somewhere in the Kingdom for safe keeping.
The game itself would have starred a young boy named Kori, who happens upon Ganon’s magical book in an antique shop. It is at this point that the Final Fantasy Tactics-like gameplay would come into effect, and the game would be split across two timelines – two thirds would have taken place in the past and one third of the the game would have taken place in the present.
In the present, players would have taken on the role of Kori and experienced more traditional Zelda gameplay, but “without dungeons or combat”. This part would have been focused on exploration, talking with NPCs throughout the world and mini-games such as fishing. While doing all this, Kori would also discover the ripped out pages from The Book of Ganon, and add them back into place.
This act of replacing the pages by Kori would have “literally [brought] the heroes’ adventures to life”, and at this point players would switch to the past and play as the titular heroes of Hyrule.
“Gameplay in the heroes’ world consists of turn-based strategy and puzzle solving,” a design document for Heroes of Hyrule reads.
“The player controls the heroes and their occasional allies in a series of discrete encounters. Although most of these encounters will involve combat, much of the gameplay in the heroes’ world is oriented toward solving environmental puzzles in traditional Zelda fashion.”
In addition to this turn-based puzzle solving, players would have been able to call upon “cameo characters” to aid them in their quest, although who these characters would have been remains a mystery for now.
Meanwhile, as players completed various quests in the past, Kori would have gained additional knowledge in the present, allowing him to progress further in his version of the world (an example of this described the heroes speaking to the Great Deku Tree, with Kori then recognising the tree in the present following the heroes’ encounter).
In its pitch, Retro Studios explained it believed Heroes of Hyrule would be a good fit for Nintendo and the series as a whole, as it would “[expand] the rich Zelda universe with new characters, storylines, and play mechanics. It [would] also [inject] exciting new themes into the proven handheld strategic RPG market segment, ultimately providing a product worthy of the Nintendo name.”
However, Nintendo ultimately did not go for this pitch. Why this is, we do not know. According to Retro Studios, the team “sent it over to [Nintendo] SPD and got an immediate ‘No, you’re not doing that’.”
Programmer Paul Tozour told Did You Know Gaming, “[Nintendo] just didn’t seem to have any interest in that gameplay concept, which is too bad.”
He continued, “it was a really solid concept and had the potential to be something great.”