Nintendo is known to be notoriously stingy when it comes to lending its historic IPs to other developers – unless rhythm based dungeon crawlers or weird rabbits are involved. The company is also known to crack down on individuals or parties putting out ROMs or emulators of Nintendo games. It's safe to say that the company likes to keep its big names close to its heart, but that didn't stop Retro Studios from once pitching for a Legend of Zelda game.
In fact, the game wasn't just pitched on the conceptual phase, according to DidYouKnowGaming, there was artwork and a playable prototype with nine months of work put into it too (thanks NintendoLife). The game was meant to be a spin-off that followed the last male Sheikah as well as Sheik from Ocarina of Time. The decided title at the time was Heroes of Hyrule.
In terms of gameplay, Heroes of Hyrule was set to be similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, focussing on three main characters, a Goron, Zora and Rito, who embark on a journey to rescue Link. Although, the story is set 100 years in the past, and Link is an old man during the events of the game and runs an antique shop. It would have been quite strange seeing our beloved hero as an old man, considering we've seen him as a kid.
There were a few ex-Retro employees who were willing to talk about the project, however Paul Tozour, then a programmer with the studio, was the only one willing to do so openly. "I feel the statute of limitations has expired on a lot of this because it's 15 years ago, and I'm interested in telling the truth," he said. There was also another source providing information about the canceled project, but they chose to do so under the condition of anonymity.
However, what happened to that pitch eventually was heartbreaking for the Retro devs. The team internally was not happy with the build or the direction, but management refused to change anything. Eventually, when the time came to show Nintendo what they had worked on, the representatives "couldn't really make heads or tails of it," to use Tozour's words.
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