Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Legend of Zelda Retrospective

A while back I gathered up some friends to reflect on the Zelda series. This means a smorgasbord of guest writers for a smorgasboard of great games. Join us for this trip down memory lane as we look at what is arguably the greatest game series of all time.

Big shout-out and thank you to all of the contributors.


The Legend of Zelda, by Aaron Cox (Resistanceline.wordpress.com)

The first game in this series is actually pretty unique.  Not just for the time it came out, but in the context of the entire series.  It stood out from its direct sequel, but at the time when there were only two Zelda games, no one could say which one was more “Zelda-y”.  From Link to the Past and on, the original Legend of Zelda became solidified as the true originator of the type of game that Zelda is.  Despite this, the game stands out greatly from everything that came after it in its non-linearity.  Whenever I play it, I like to grab some bombs (whether from random finds or by building up money) and pick up two more hearts to get the White Sword before I even enter the first dungeon.  I don’t need to, but the fact that I can dance around the structure of the game encourages me to do it.  Most of the dungeons can be done out of order, and everything you discover feels like a big deal.  Which brings me to something else I want to mention. LttP is probably my favorite game in the series, but it began one of my least favorite series traits, pieces of heart.  In Zelda 1 you feel significantly more powerful with each heart you get, while in the rest of the series, the pieces feel meaningless until you get every fourth one.

These are the things that stand out in my mind when I think of the very first Zelda game.  Important things the series has lost.  The fact that most of the games are still great is a testament to their quality despite this.

Zelda 2: Adventure of Link, by JD Ricardi (The Bossthusiast on Youtube)

This is, hands-down, the most maligned entry in the Zelda series. No one wanted to write about this one besides me. No other game in the series has drawn this level of dislike; not even Majora's Mask. Why is that? For starters, it barely qualifies as a Zelda game. It is, for the most part, a side-scroller. It's the only Zelda game that can make this claim, with a few brief exceptions showing up in Link's Awakening. Much like the second series entries of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Castlevania, the second game of this series is the worst of a good thing, but that doesn't make it outright bad. More like “tedious and mediocre”, but still fun. It continues many of the trends from the original game like artifact-collecting and exploration, while introducing new aspects like magical spells and experience-gaining. I'm glad that the experience points were removed from the series after this game, because gaining levels in Zelda just seems really out of place.

The thing I remember most about this game is the intense difficulty; it's definitely more difficult than its predecessor. Link doesn't swing (hyuck) very far when he strikes, resulting in enemies more often than not clobbering you when you move in for the kill. This resulted in a lot of level-building, especially before that section of caves where you either get or use the magic hammer. (It's been a while, okay?) And of course, this game eschews the convention of having Ganon be the final boss, introducing Dark Link in that role. DL shows up again in Ocarina of Time in a particularly awesome scene; this is also the genesis of the weird shadow creature that manages to be the final boss in several other Zelda games, as well.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, by James Smyth (http://jsmyth.wordpress.com/)

Twelve Zeldas and dozens of other perfect games have been made since A Link to the Past, so I can't throw your iPhone out a window and yell "STOP EVERYTHING YOU ARE DOING AND PLAY THIS GAME!" but I can tell friends and family that if they played it, they would  understand what the inside of my brain looked like when I was six.  There are plenty of games with great qualities this one doesn't have, but this game has something the others never will: it existed in 1992.  In the early '90s the four corners of my earth were the backyard, the cry room of the church, the kindergarten playroom, and grandma's dining room with its tall chairs and image of Don Quixote.  The magic and drama and vastness of the Zelda world went past that.  It made me really excited about being alive.  Do you remember feeling jealous and wistful when you read/watched fantasy and wished your world was like that?  I'd get to that stage later, but when I played A Link to the Past I figured it was all real and out there somewhere and my life bar just wasn't long enough for me to survive it yet.

The Nintendo Power cover story and screenshots and manga primed me so much that I felt like I couldn't breathe until I had it (Zelda III was my third game ever), and then when I finally had it, the Biblical opening montage and the strings and the telepathy and the rain were so epic I had to jump around the room.  But I grounded myself soon enough because I was certain that the game was keeping track of time, and that if I didn't save Zelda as fast as possible, something terrible would happen.  Even now that opening track with the rising violin line punctuated by trumpets puts me on edge.

For the next couple months I looked at the entire world as if I were Link.  During recess I jumped around using Link's inventory (every abyss I saw for the next five years made me think "hookshot"), and during art I drew pictures of it.  My Dad had to use game metaphors to get me to understand what he was saying (like "Use your Pegasus boots" instead of "run").  I wanted to play the game exactly right, so I got the Player's Guide before I'd missed out on a single Piece of Heart.

Besides all the new environments and beings I encountered, the game introduced me to a ton of tropes - concepts you probably came across in pieces but which hit me all at once while I was playing this.  Namely: betrayal and the danger inherent to trusting strangers, even pathetic-looking ones (Blind the Thief), pollution (Misery Mire), resurrection (I'd heard about Jesus, but fairies in bottles were easier to understand at that point), murders of defenseless people for getting in the way of the powers that be (the priest), graveyards still having life inside them, unorthodox weapons (the Bug-Catching Net reflecting magic), family feuds (the two brothers who seal off each other's rooms - they make up after Link blows their wall open to get a heart piece), power-up moves (Link's circular sword swoosh), sages (Sahasrahla and Aginah, who live in a town and cave respectively), things unattractive by our standards still being good (the Zoras), ghosts as the souls of people with regrets who don't want to leave this world yet (the piper in the Haunted Grove), one's outward appearance hiding an entirely different inner self (Light World Link and Ganondorf v. Dark World Link and Ganon), a place taking on an entirely new identity when death visits it (Forest of Illusion v. Skull Woods), a Village of Outcasts, looming gloomy and doomy mountains as the peak of difficulty (Turtle Rock was such an epic place), old legends actually being true and affecting the present day (A Link to the Past), a young country man suddenly being called into duty and becoming a hero (Link), and damsels in distress who communicate from afar through telepathy/prayer (Zelda).  The purpose of A Link to the Past was to be a fun game, but I used its material to construct my image of the world.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, by James Smyth (http://jsmyth.wordpress.com/)

My first image of this is one of my favorite magazine covers ever.  The sword and owl and gold background would have pumped kids up just as much a thousand years ago.  At first I was unsettled that another Zelda was being made: first of all because I wondered why Link couldn't get a break and whether Zelda would be lonely if he weren't coming home every night (I was 7 and didn't realize sequel makers aren't really concerned with these kinds of questions), and second of all because in my mind Zelda III was so great that it set the Super Nintendo on fire so nothing could follow it.  But I couldn't play Zelda III in the car, and this cover was magical and promised a different tone of game (gold not green) so I put it on the top of my Christmas list.

And it was wonderful.  It was the first time a game gave me what I wanted before I realized I wanted it.  Early games more often showed me the limits of what could be done - like I always wanted greater multiplayer options and bigger worlds - but the joy of Link's Awakening came from being surprised with how it shook things up.  The jumping jumps to mind: you could jump over obstacles on the classic 3D map with a feather, a sweet variation I'd never thought of, and there were genre-bending Mario-style platform sections and other addictive minigames like the crane game and the frog game as well.  All in all the game was fun, challenging without ever being frustrating.

Most importantly from a big picture perspective, its plot and mood were atypical.  Link shipwrecks and awakens inside the Dream of the Wind Fish, which is actually a creation of the Chinese Sage Zhuangzi (who also once asked "Am I a butterfly dreaming I'm a man?").  The game preserved a relaxed quality throughout without turning soporific.  The graphics were black and white, but morally the world was less black and white than Zelda III's.  There was no Big Bad to hate, which meant I had more emotional space to devote to the villagers he met, like the cute singer with big dreams, Marin, her bumbling bee's nest-bumping uncle Talon, and their dog, a Chain Chomp who is actually feminine and wants to wear a pretty bow.  The people in this world are goofy in a good way (with the exception of the shopkeeper who literally murders you if you steal something, which made me never want to steal anything ever).

I still laugh about the way the Link-Marin relationship tweaks series tropes for humor.  So the two of them are sitting on a beach, and Marin speaks for a long time about her hopes and dreams.  Then there's silence.  Which is natural, since as we all know, our hero never gets his own lines; characters repeat questions before answering them, and you assume Link asked them really quietly.  But this time, Marin turns to Link and says, "Hey!  Are you listening?  Link, are you listening to me?"  Sassy!  Then you can take her around the world, Dragon Warrior style, and she calls you out if you, like most gamers, have antisocial tics like throwing the pots and slashing at the chickens.

Link's goal isn't to take a vacation with them; it's to get home to the leading lady we know so well.  Yet in pursuing this goal he's drawn so much closer to the people he encounters that leaving becomes less desirable than before.  (I've been there, on an island called Japan.)  To leave, Link must wake the Wind Fish.  The logical consequence of this action is revealed to him in a spooky shrine scene that still comes back and haunts me sometimes.  Even after realizing what he must do, Link continues because his heart and the Fish tell him it's the right course of action.

Enjoy what's around you now but follow your heart if it leads you somewhere else.  Accepting that all things must pass, make sacrifices and hope that prayers come true.  19 years later, I still think Link's Awakening's message is heavy.  I'm more used to hearing that I can have everything I want at the same time and I should be working toward that.  But after all, you can only listen to one song at a time and be in one place at a time, right?  Though my life path has taken me away from consoles and controllers, games like Link's Awakening were worth playing then, and they continue to inform me now.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, by Nick Vogt (Twitter - https://twitter.com/#!/NicholasVogt)

“Otherness In Ocarina”

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is perhaps one of the greatest videogames ever made. It has garnered quite the acclaim since Nintendo first released it in 1998. For what it's worth, the website Metacritic—which compiles as many ratings it can find from various critics into one amalgam score— places Ocarina of Time as the highest rated videogame ever. Ocarina of Time’s success has been an impetus for Nintendo to remake it several times over including a beefed up, limited edition, GameCube version called Master Quest; They also brought us a remake which moves Ocarina into the third dimension for Nintendo’s new handheld, the 3DS.

I consider myself fortunate to have been there for Ocarina of Time’s original release. I was in sixth grade and I remember being blown away by the game. Ocarina’s graphics were some of the best anyone had seen back then (and, honestly I still find old videogame system graphics endearing), but it wasn’t just the graphics that were moving. The game’s heart is really what has made it a classic. Ocarina of Time is, in both gameplay and story, an epic adventure that is truly moving and entertaining. While Ocarina’s story is just a basic fantasy tale, it is a solid one nonetheless. Part of what makes the story powerful is how Ocarina of Time is a sort of coming of age story. It is the only game in the Legend of Zelda franchise to take Link from youth to adulthood.

Ocarina begins with young Link living in a forest village among a race of elf people known as the Kokiri. These elf people have raised Link from birth, but he is not one of them. Link is a human orphan (in Ocarina of Time, humans are called "Hylians") and the Kokiri adopted Link after his parents’ deaths. The Kokiri don't age and are all in a state of perpetual elementary schoolhood. But, Link, as a Hylian, does age. From the very beginning of the game, even before Link receives his call to adventure, there is a sense that Link can’t live the Kokiri lifestyle for much longer. When he was a child, when he looked like a Kokiri, he fit in. But, now that he is going into puberty, his difference from The Kokiri is quickly becoming apparent.

Link’s aforementioned call to adventure comes when Kokiri Village’s guardian spirit, The Deku Tree, asks for Link’s help. The Deku Tree has been poisoned by dark magic, and in his infinite wisdom, recognizes this a bad omen for the whole world, not just for the Kokiri forest. In its dying moments, the Deku Tree informs Link that a “Dark Man Of The Desert” is responsible for putting the dark magic whammy on him. This “dark man” is Ocarina of Time’s villain and Link’s arch-nemesis in just about every Legend of Zelda game: the warlock known as Ganondorf. The Deku Tree essentially tasks Link with saving the world at this moment. Ganondorf will attempt to conquer the world (and will succeed in a way), and Link, as he is the prophesized “Hero of Time” will have to stop Ganondorf from doing so.

Now, the Legend of Zelda franchise has a convoluted timeline. And, while its place in that timeline isn’t exactly clear, the Ocarina of Time is probably a prequel to the Zelda games Nintendo made before it and is also a prequel to most of (save Minish Cap and Skyward Sword) the games that have come after it. As a prequel, Ocarina of Time is about Link and Ganondorf’s first battle, a battle that will flare up again and again in just about every other game and one that will occur across many different periods of time involving many different incarnations of Link. In my opinion, Ocarina explores how Link and Ganondorf are foils for each other more than any of the games that follow it chronologically.

In Ocarina of Time’s world, the Aryan Hylians are the dominant culture. Thus the Gerudo, the dark-skinned desert dwellers, look quite different than the world’s rulers. The Kingdom of Hyrule, styled after a high fantasy style Medieval England, is the pinnacle of advanced culture and technology in the game. Hyrule stands in contrast to the untamed desert where the Gerudo make their home. Ganondorf, and really all the Gerudo people, are definitely an “other” when compared to the white Hylians. But, Ganondorf is not just different from Hylians. As the only male Gerudo, he is alien among his own people as well.

Yes, the Gerudo make Ganondorf their king, but does that mean they really accept him as one of them? The Gerudo crowning the rare male a king is similar to the ancient Mesopotamian ritual of “King For A Day.” Once a year, the king of Mesopotamia would step down and give power to a peasant. The peasant would then get to rule for a day. But, at the end of his reign, the peasant would be executed, his royalty having been a total farce.

Beyond the “King For A Day” similarity, aren't all leaders somewhat of an "other" to the people they lead? Why else would politicians have to try so hard to appear like "everymen?" Why else would there be so many photo ops with presidents out jogging or cutting down brush in Texas?

Ganondorf’s otherness in Ocarina of Time comes to a head at the end of the game when he, enraged during his final battle with Link, becomes something actually nonhuman. As a last ditch effort in that fight, Ganondorf transforms a giant demon called “Ganon”. For the whole game until that transformation, Ganondorf is a villain, but he looks essentially human. But, becoming Ganon seals the deal on his otherness making him into an actual monster.

Many stories with a clear "hero" and "villain" duality (especially videogames as the videogame is not a terribly progressive genre) make villains "the other." It is easy to create dislike for a character by making him look different or monstrous. In Ocarina of Time, Gannondorf is an “other” in a few ways. His appearance, his homeland and his gender among his all-female people other him. But, Ocarina of Time’s villain is not the game’s only other. Link, the hero, is also one.

Throughout his childhood, Ganondorf was the only male among an all woman Gerudo community. In a way, Link’s childhood was similar. Link was the only mortal among the forever-young Kokiri who raised him. Plus, both Link and Ganondorf come from a kind of wilderness. Link is from the deep forest and Ganondorf is from the desert. Interestingly, both Link and Ganondorf eventually leave their wildernesses and come to Hyrule. Hyrule is the sort of “big city" in Ocarina of Time’s world. Ganondorf is an other to the Hylians because of his appearance, and Link also doesn’t fit in for different reasons. Link is an Aryan Hylian, but even though he looks like the people of Hyrule, he wasn’t raised as they were. Link is from a forest society and does not understand Hyrule’s urban culture. Link and Ganondorf are both outsiders, both others. But, as foils for each other they are also opposites.

Ocarina of Time’s plot revolves around a mystical artifact called “The Triforce” which was left behind after the world’s creation. The Triforce is three pieces, Power, Wisdom and Courage, and each piece is housed in the body of a special, “chosen one” who embodies one of those traits. By the end of the game, we learn that Link is the fated keeper of the Triforce of Courage, Ganondorf has the Triforce of "Power" and Princess Zelda, the game’s “damsel in distress” (which, while a trope of the sort of fantasy Ocarina of Time exemplifies, is something definitely problematic about most Legend of Zelda games) holds the Triforce of Wisdom. Both “Power” and “Courage” involve strength; while Power involves using strength on others, Courage is using strength for others. This difference is shown in how Link, while not very intelligent, is perseverant and kind and “fights the good fight” - while Ganondorf is a genius and powerful sorcerer, but also a selfish sociopath.

Frequently in “action/adventure” videogames like The Legend of Zelda the villain is “the other,” is a deviant and an outcast from society and the hero is the opposite. Heroes are typically strong, capable “everymen” (cf., Uncharted’s Nathan Drake, Resident Evil 5’s Chris Redfield, Halo’s Master Chief, Marcus Phoenix of Gears of War and more!). While Link looks like the ruling class of Hyrule, he is not a typical everyman. Link is not a muscle-bound character like his fellow videogame heroes. He is short, left-handed, dresses in elf clothes and doesn’t fit into society. He has more in common with his story’s villain than he has with any other character in the series, even his love interest Princess Zelda. And while that doesn’t make up for the discourse of race that plays out in Ocarina with Ganondorf, the “dark man” terrorizing the white Hylians, the fact that Link is not the typical action hero does complicate the game’s story. It is not simply a shallow fantasy story about “good vs. evil”. Ocarina of Time, through the plights of Ganondorf and Link, explores ideas of otherness and not fitting in with surprising depth for a videogame.

Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, by Ron Metellus (http://ronaldmetellus.blogspot.com/) (https://twitter.com/#!/@ronaldmetellus)

“Majora’s Mask in My Hands”

One of the least crazy moments of Gnarls Barkley’s song “Crazy” finds Cee-lo offering a touching concession to his childhood heroes, remarking, “All I remember is thinking, ‘I wanna be like them’.” This, too, is what I remembered thinking when I came across the N64oid app. This was the first Android app I ever cared about. Besides the interactive wallpaper—tap your screen and push puddles of water around—which isn’t that interesting after the first five minutes, it’s the only Android app I’ve ever cared about. An emulator on steroids, it managed not only to run N64 games—Mario 64, Ocarina, Majora, Mario Kart—on your phone, but did it without any peripherals: all touch screen.

I downloaded the app. It was awesome. The music, though it lagged at some parts, were the Zelda themes I had grown to love from Super Smash Bros. Oh, yeah, this my first Zelda experience by the way. I had been a Zelda lurker since the SNES days because watching video games is like playing video games without the prospect of failure seeping its way in. The music seemed perfectly suited to the ring-tone-ready cell-phone (as Nick would say, Cellyphone). This was before Nintendo evoked orchestras for scores and it was nice to spend some days in this nostalgia. Seeing the N64 controller rendered on the screen was neat, too. The N64 controller was interesting in that you had to move one hand to the middle, even though you were naturally inclined to used the d-pad. When the right analog stick became a thing on the PS2, you just had to slide a thumb down—the d-pad’s obsolescence was less felt. With a layout that was more like an NES and touch-screen mechanics, Majora felt like navigating two games. Like playing Skyward Sword with thumbs slashing across the screen instead of arms.

Then the dream of the 90’s died. By which I mean the app was removed from the Android store and my download was voided. Also, Majora’s Mask was released in the year 2000, but you get my meaning. After a while I would just let my phone die. I still do. What did the noise it was making matter if it wasn’t calling me to Hyrule?

Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages / Oracle of Seasons, by JD Ricardi (The Bossthusiast on Youtube)

These two games are essentially two halves of a greater Zelda project; thus, I'm counting them as one game for the most part. They took the Link's Awakening graphic engine and brought it to the Game Boy Color, and the results were pretty impressive for the time. Seasons was a very combat-centric Zelda game, while Ages was puzzle-centric. Taking a page from the Pokemon series, Seasons had a red theme while Ages had a blue theme, and one needed both to get the full story. In Oracle of Seasons, the player controls the weather and the seasons, while in Oracle of Ages the player has to mess around with time to progress. Unfortunately these innovative aspects of gameplay are more gimmick than anything else; you don't get to play with them as much as utilize them at key, largely predetermined points. Finish both Seasons and Ages and you get to progress (thanks to a password) to the real final dungeon of the games, where you do battle with Ganon. Since Ganon was missed in Link's Awakening, here's your chance to see him in Game Boy form.

There are more noteworthy things about this duo-gy that have less to do with the game world and more to do with the real world. For one thing, Capcom is responsible for developing these rather than Nintendo. Despite early apprehension from fans, this turned out to be a great move as Capcom put their own spin on the series and it really works out. Originally, the Seasons project consisted of a trinity of games; the third was likely to be a green-themed game based on Farore, the third goddess that didn't get any attention from Seasons or Ages. Rumor had it that the third game was going to basically be a remake of Zelda 1; I would have loved to have played this. Unfortunately, it got scrapped. Many of the Zelda 1 elements were brought to Seasons, however – namely, some of the dungeons and bosses. I'd recommend this duo of games to anyone; just be sure you play both. The order doesn't really matter, but I found Ages to be the more difficult of the two.

Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, by Morgan Kent (https://twitter.com/#!/MisterResetti)

Ever since A Link to the Past, the Zelda franchise has played with the idea of two parallel worlds existing on top of each other. In Minish Cap this theme is very literal.

In this game Link gains the ability from a talking bird hat to shrink down and travel around in the world of the Minish people. From this perspective regular enemies like Chuchus and Octorocks go from being enemies that you ignore to towering bosses.

This game is also awesome because it takes the villain from Four Swords, Vaati, and makes him the central bad guy. Best of all he isn’t secretly working for Gannondorf, it’s all just him.

What many don’t realize about this game is that it is the third Zelda game developed by Capcom and not Nintendo. When playing it you can certainly tell that there are some very different mechanics getting thrown in there. Minish Cap is actually the first Zelda game that made me want Nintendo pass the franchise on to other developers just to see what they would do.

Retro Studios would make a really cool version of Zelda. Just saying.

Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, by JD Ricardi (The Bossthusiast on Youtube)

Four Swords Adventures is the “other” Gamecube Zelda game; the one people forget existed. It's a strange game in that it doesn't really seem like a true Zelda – this may be why it doesn't occupy a more immediate place in the minds of series fans. In this game, you control four Links at once – four people can play, or one person can control all four. It's easier than it sounds to control all four, since you get access to various formations that keep the Links together as you play. Most of the locations are lifted right from A Link to the Past, only with graphical updates fitting for a 2D game on a more powerful system like the Gamecube. As a result, the nostalgia runs thick in this game, and I had a lot of fun playing it.

All of that said, it needs to be pointed out that the game deviates greatly from the rest of the series; rather than have an open world like most Zeldas, this game consists of “levels”. Each level is an area unto itself; most are from LTTP but there are some new additions to the world as well. Within each level, you generally can't leave and explore other levels of the world. You might go through a couple of levels that involve climbing a mountain, then have the final level of that set be the “dungeon”, a tower at the top. Because of this, even the “overworld” type areas feel like dungeons, and the game is basically one long dungeon. This is cool in a way because it doesn't feel like there is any real filler or time-wasting between important areas; you're always progressing. On the other hand, it gets a little bit tiresome to play, since you're basically going from dungeon to dungeon for the entire game. Even still, this game was a lot of fun to play.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass / Spirit Tracks, by Kenneth Rex Horner (Check out his book, An Eon in the Catacombs of Saviors)

“Phantom and Spirit”

Every creative, world-creating video game I’ve played has been a Legend of Zelda title. The Zelda series was bound to catch the attention of any fantasy reader - compare, for the instance, The Hobbit and the plot of Ocarina of Time, the first N64 Zelda title. A hobbit leaves the peaceful Shire for the unexplored yonder and its dangers. An elf-boy leaves tranquil Kokiri Forest to enter a wide world that surprises him at every turn and scares him with its monsters. In both stories, there are dragons that live inside of mountains.

Adapting the Zelda world for the handheld Gameboy DS system meant more creative opportunity for Shigeru Miyamoto and everyone else involved. The Gameboy was twice as addictive as a normal tabletop system, and Phantom Hourglass was twice the experience of most games alongside it on GameStop shelves. The making of the game involved a detailed, crisp graphics engine, controls where a gamer wielded a pen instead of a sword, and letting Link sail, an activity he started in the Gamecube Wind Waker.

The concept of almost every Zelda game revolves around a very important object. (Back to The Hobbit, where the One Ring is introduced.) The ocarina, the myriad masks, a shrinking cap, an elemental baton, a spirit-filled hourglass. These objects aren’t cheap tricks, they’re rooted in cultural history. Cultures are often focused on material goods. What about the face that launched a thousand ships to Troy? What about the Holy Grail? Surrounding these objects are other intriguing stories of lost civilizations, whispered legends, mysterious figures, and prophecies. Zelda adds all these dimensions to its plot lines.

With Spirit Tracks, the second DS Zelda - where your boat becomes a traincar, and the rail lines are actually chains imprisoning an ancient beast trapped beneath the earth - the Zelda team was really thinking on its feet and coming up with gold.

Both DS titles show Miyamoto and friends consciously trying to make a new gaming experience with each installment. Ganon makes no appearances in these games. New characters are invented and given emotional arcs. Travel moves from horseback, to boat, to train. What’s next? Hot air balloons?

Gameplay is developed with the mindset that this little portable device has a speaker, a microphone, two screens, a stylus pen, high-powered hardware, and however many buttons. None of these elements are left out of the Zelda gameplay. (There was one puzzle where snapping the DS shut was the answer. Wow!)

With some hours left in Spirit Tracks until the final battle, I’m excited to hop back in the conductor’s chair. While the game and Phantom Hourglass before it aren’t dark and visually strong as Twilight Princess, or classic as Ocarina, or wacky as Majora’s Mask, the DS Zeldas are unique and satisfying.

Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, by JD Ricardi (The Bossthusiast on Youtube)

"I Feel the Wind"

Ah, Wind Waker. This game is particularly noteworthy for me because I had it for SEVEN YEARS before I finished it, which absolutely shatters any other records I have. (The closest runner-up is Dragon Quest 7, which took me three years to get to after buying it and another three to finish). For some reason, every time I'd start this game, I just wouldn't be able to get into it. I'd turn this game on, toss some livestock into a volcano (WHY?) and then go back to whatever I was doing previously. When I finally did start it for real, I got through it in probably 15 hours or so – not overly long, and I wish I'd gotten to it sooner.

It isn't the best Zelda by any stretch of the imagination. I'd put it in the lower echelon of the series. Given how great the series is, though, being in the lower echelon still means it's a great game. This game has a number of glaring problems, though. The Triforce Hunt lives in infamy as one of the, if not THE most tedious section of any Zelda game to date. I know at least two people who got to that part of the game and got turned off by it. It's unfortunate that the game designers felt the need to add this exercise in frustration and tedium to the game right before the final dungeon; likely it was just to add another five or more hours to what would otherwise be a ten hour game. Problem is, the Triforce hunt just isn't fun.

Similarly, the final two temples before that have an ill-advised game mechanic where you have to switch between Link and another character in order to make it through said dungeons. This mechanic is carried out pretty badly, and those last two temples ended up being really tedious. Despite all of these problems with the game that bring it down from what it could have been, it's still a fine game. The graphics are cartoon-ized, giving the game a distinctive and different look from the rest of the series. A lot of people resented this when the game launched, decrying it as a game for little kids. In actuality, it's as much of a “game for kids” as any other Zelda game – it certainly is, but it's also a game for everyone. It's really too bad that so many people avoided the game because they thought it was “kiddie”. The cartoonish graphics just gave it a unique personality that it couldn't have had with normal graphics of the time. Link, in particular, is more animated (no pun intended) than in any other Zelda game; he exudes all kinds of personality and likability without even saying a word. I have to say that this game features my favorite Link of the entire series.

Another strong point: the music. This game has some great tracks. Particular standouts include some of the boss themes (especially Phantom Ganon). Then there's the hypnotic Wind Temple theme.

This track is perhaps my favorite dungeon theme in all of Zelda-dom (with only Ocarina's Forest and Fire Temples possibly being competition). Listening to it makes my childhood flash at high speed through my brain. It is a track that is - all at once - silly, menacing, happy, and ominous. The truth is, none of us know what awaits us.

A special thanks to my old friend Richard “Dickie” Scandrett for giving me this game back in 2004 before he shipped out to Fallujah, Iraq. He was gonna sell it, but when I mentioned that I hadn't played it, he gave it to me instead. That was pretty cool, man. I never forgot that, and I hope everything turned out okay for you.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, by Nick Vogt (https://twitter.com/#!/NicholasVogt)

I waited 12 hours to get Twilight Princess. In front of a Wal*Mart. Very sick. On a freezing day in November 2006.

Twilight Princess wasn’t actually what I was waiting for. I was waiting for a Wii to play it on mostly. But, Twilight Princess was the first game I owned for that Wii I worked very hard for. The story of that wait is, I guess, the stuff of another piece since it has little to do with Zelda. Although it was an adventure, one where I braved many odds and got a treasure at the end and got to have sex with the princess and…

The way I see Twilight Princess it was Nintendo’s attempt to get fans back on board who had this reaction to Wind Waker: “FUCK THIS KID SHIT!” I myself liked Wind Waker, but many people did not. Twilight brought back Ocarina of Time’s art style and more serious, less cartoony tone. It also brought in a wolf mode (something I, an avid wolf fan, liked a lot), a falcon friend (something I, an avid falcon fan, liked a lot) and a little imp girl among other things.

I’ve heard from numerous people that I should’ve played the Gamecube version of this game and not played it on Wii. That’s because A) the motion controls are very far from “one to one” meaning they suck and B) the Wii version is flipped from left to right. What does that mean? One of the cool things about Link is he’s Left handed. While most of us are righties, Link swings the Master Sword with his left. But, because there are way fewer southpaw gamers in the world, the Wii version had to flip Link’s handedness from Right to Left so the crappy motion control could work for the majority of people. And, for some reason, they didn’t just flip that for Link, but for the whole game. How cool would it have been to challenge us right-handed people, though? What if Nintendo forced us to use our left hands as Link? Would that be a fun challenge or an annoying one?

For some reason Midna really reminds me of Lisabeth from David Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Maybe that’s because I just saw that movie the other day. Midna was not my cup of tea exactly, but I know a lot of people liked her angry cuteness. “Angry cuteness” usually equals “suck” to me. And Wolf Link should’ve been able to run free, you know? Why does he need this rider? Granted, Midna was less annoying than Ocarina’s Navi. But, Navi has nostalgia on her side to make her endearing to me. Of course when in her true “hot form” Midna is pretty cool. I guess that was the idea though.

Another new addition to the game was Ganon underling Zant who surprisingly wasn’t completely stupid. The fact that the dude is a worshipper of Ganon is a legitimately cool idea for the game’s story. Plus, Zant is actually somewhat creepy until he takes his mask off…then he just looks like a mime.

All that said, my favorite part of Twilight Princess is making soup. Having to make soup for a sickly Yeti is perhaps the greatest thing to happen in any Zelda game yet. I once had a whole class on Bigfoot so my love of the Yeti is pretty huge. Also, I once made a lot of soups at a deli job so my love of soup is up there, too.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, by Morgan Kent (https://twitter.com/#!/MisterResetti)

Every Zelda game brings with it traits that could make it the best in the franchise. For Twilight Princess it’s Midna.

Midna was the first companion character to lose all of the obnoxious traits of Navi, and actually become a character worth caring about. Midna was not just a great replacement for the Navi role, but was the single driving force in the story.

She gave you hints while being condescending, and was the perfect dichotomy to a Link who was very different from his past incarnations. The Link in Twilight Princess was not the unlikely hero of Wind Waker, or “chosen one” of Ocarina of Time. The Link of Twilight Princess was a tough fighter who knew what had to be done, and how to do it. Midna on the other was a total smart ass, who would make fun of anything the player would do.

Midna stands out to me still as the single greatest character in the franchise, and I’m still holding out for her character to get reincarnated into a new role in future games.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, by Aaron Cox (Resistanceline.wordpress.com)

I feel the first thing I should say is that the only other 3D Zelda I’ve completed is Ocarina of Time back in 1998.  I’ve spent some time with most of the others and they haven’t really grabbed me in the past decade.  On something of a whim I decided to really give Skyward Sword a shot.  Even though 3D Zelda aren’t my favorite games and I greatly dislike motion controls.  I wanted to get that out of the way before I stated that this is my favorite 3D Zelda.

What puts it over the top is the motion controls.  I expected to be battling these throughout the game, but to my surprise after an hour or two I got used to them, and to my much greater surprise after the first dungeon I realized how much I liked them.  I really don’t like motion controls at all, but this is the first time I’ve played a game that actually used them in a logical way that couldn’t be done with a standard controller.  It’s all about the sword slashing where you direct it to, though the shield bashing is definitely the game’s most important technique.  When it comes down to it Zelda really isn’t a combat-focused game, but I truly enjoyed each enemy encounter as a chance to “play” the game.  Mad props, Nintendo.

As for everything else, well, everything else solidifies it.  It probably has the best Zelda plot in that it’s there enough for you to care but not heavy to the point where it’s bound to be stupid.  Most Nintendo franchises are pretty good at this, but occasionally they’ll have a slip-up in this area like Other M.  The music is amazing.  About a dozen times while I was playing I wished I had a soundtrack of the game. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_2mwHmLDJg  Skyward Sword isn’t flawless, though the little issues don’t extract from it much.  The biggest weakness of the game is probably how often it reuses the three main areas, but it does an admirable job in making them feel new with each approach to an area.  I could live without ever doing another Spirit Realm challenge again, though!

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, by Morgan Kent (https://twitter.com/#!/MisterResetti)

Skyward Sword may be my favorite game of all time, and I don’t say that lightly. For over 10 years my favorite games list was unchanging. After this generation it has changed multiple times.

Skyward Sword is in nearly every way a better game than all of it’s predecessors. The combat is no longer slamming on the attack button until the enemy dies, the items have more use than just in the dungeon which they are discovered, and the over world is far more playable.

Now I know a lot of people are going to hate on the overworld because there is only one town, and on the surface world there is no one to talk to, but I’m going to come out and say that those people weren’t paying attention in past Zelda games. With the exception of Majora’s Mask not a single Zelda overworld has been that good. Ocarina of Time’s was impressive for the era, but now it really is just filler between dungeons. Same with Wind Waker’s endless ocean, and Twilight Princess’ visually impressive, but empty castle town.

Skyward Sword is the first Zelda game to be self-aware enough to say: “You know what, the overworlds are worthless”, and instead turn the overworld into a dungeon-like environment. What stands out the most to me about Skyward Sword is that the line between overworld and dungeon is no longer as clear, and for the first time in the franchise it makes travelling from place to place full of suprises.

The Wii has had some troubles this generation, but Skyward Sword is joining my huge list of games that proves the Wii is a great system. Earlier on in this piece I said that my favorite games list had not changed until this generation. What most would not expect is that most of these changes have been on the Wii.

For my top 10 games of all time I have had to rearrange the list for Twilight Princess, Mario Galaxy, Mario Galaxy 2, Twilight Princess, and Metroid Prime 3. And before anyone calls me a Nintendo fanboy, I have all three consoles, and I make it my business to play all of the big titles for each platform (I just wait until they’re cheap).

I’m not entirely sure yet where Skyward Sword belongs in my “best games” ranking. I’m still thinking about it’s pros and cons right now, but I know for sure that it is something very special and should not be missed.

Check out other retrospectives from our distinguished panel HERE.


  1. Gooooood post here. Surprised it doesn't have more comments

  2. What Aaron has to say about Zelda 1 is so spot-on, about how Zelda 3 is the game that decided what Zeldas were going to be. Written like a true pro from Nintendo.

    Jer, props to you for standing up for Zelda 2.

    Nick's political reading of Ocarina of Time's plot fascinated me. I had really never thought about the game this way before and it's a great POV.

    I'm glad Skyward Sword is so good!

    I'm left-handed so I love that Link is left-handed too. I'd never realized it. It also gives him an advantage for fighting because his opponents are all used to right-handers, I'm sure.

  3. I stopped buying anything Nintendo related when I learned they made Link right handed on the Wii version. I am left-handed and I took it as a personnal attack to all lefties in the world. Yeah sweep us under the rug all you want Nintendo, we are everywhere. We occupy high position of power, I've already sent Obama on your ass. You will pay for this insult Nintendo. Illuminati is very real and we are true sinistrals.

    I could have stopped at Wind Waker and 80 % Wii games being extremely childish but to me when they made Link right-handed was when the series was officialy over. I mean at that point they are willing to fuck with canon for no reasons at all. Nintendo was great up until the Wii era. Gamecube had awesome games but the Wii started sucking big time.

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