Why Everyone Knows That The Zelda Old School Rocks

By Juliet A. Singleton

I’m in the generation that grew up with pixels. I saw games go from simple ASCII symbols to flat 4 colour pixel affairs, then finally 2D pretending to be 3D in the fact that pixels could be a bit more detailed and look like they weren’t actually flat. That was my childhood. Now I’m an adult things have changed a lot. I’ve been playing games since I was three and I’m now twenty-four. Yep I love all the bright sparkly new 3D graphics, I don’t drool over them but I do marvel at what programmers can do these days. I remember being impressed in the days of Tomb Raider and Alone in the Dark on my PC cos you had these entire 3D locations to explore, I was also terrified of playing these games because you got attacked from all sides! Someone really could sneak up behind you and you wouldn’t know about it because you could only what was in front of you, just like real life. Many a death poor Lara suffered because I hadn’t realised there was a vicious vampire bat hanging above my head, or an evil zombie smashing through the door to murder poor old Emily Hartwood as she attempted to escape the haunted house Decerto.

That was back in the early 1990s. It’s almost fifteen years later and its incredible what programmers can accomplish with videogames now. I’ve been used to having full speech in videogames since the 1990s thanks to Lucasarts – loved the talkie versions of Fate of Atlantis and the Monkey Island series for example, and I remember enjoying the little comments from the Starfox team in Lylat Wars; it really added to the games. Nowadays its not unusual to find a lot of speech in games, especially in cinematic style cut scenes. OoT blew the minds of most of the Zelda community when it came out with its beautiful 3D graphics and amazing new combat system. It was a massive step from the simple top down style of its predecessors. Twilight Princess is going to go even further in the graphics sense – it looks absolutely luscious. I’m hoping there’ll be more sound too, because Zelda is fairly mute and it’s about time Link learnt to talk. But even though I’m excited for all these new developments, sometimes I still yearn for a bunch of pixels. Call me sad, but there’s something about those old styles that will always endear to me and my generation.

The Old Man of Zelda 1 is such a classic figure amongst fans. His quotes, in poorly translated English are legendary in their own right. Who can forget “Digdogger hate certain kind of sound” or “East most peninsula is the secret”? Error from AoL has also attained something of a cult status amongst fans, even though he only has two quotes and really does nothing at all. They’re just bunches of pixels but we love them. I’ll always remember them more than characters from the later games. Zelda sprite sheets are always very popular and the sprite comics such as Zelda comic make me laugh just because they’re using the retro sprites. There’s so much character in them, even though they’re just little blocks of colour that often look ugly and ungainly. They somehow have more personality than any of the NPCs from OoT, despite their physical limitations.

As my friend Reaper’s Ritual said “It’s easy for us in our 20’s to appreciate 2D because we were growing up as things were developing, whereas the kids nowadays have everything ready technology wise. They don’t have to wait for good graphics because they’re here.”

I’d hate to see all the new Zelda fans turning away from the old Zeldas because they aren’t in 3D. However there’s just something about the old Zelda games that means not even the youngest fans don’t like them because of their inferior graphics and sound. A great example of how popular Nintendo know their series is was by the release of the Collectors Edition CD. I was annoyed when it was released along with Mariokart Double Dash! and a cube, because I knew that the package was aimed mainly at young gamers and I thought “How could they possibly appreciate the games on that CD? They’ll toss it aside when they realise the games are old.” But after a little research I realised that this wasn’t always the case. For example, just because there’s an 11 year age gap between me and my friend Felkatil, it doesn’t mean she can’t appreciate old games. Just the same as I played ancient games such as Colossal Cave on my PC, released in the 70s, Felkatil’s favourite Zelda game, LTTP was released when she was just a baby. When I questioned her about her Zelda preferences, I assumed OoT would be her favourite game, as seems the trend amongst most younger gamers.

“The old Zelda rocks and they were perfect in their own little way. The new Zelda is still good but it lacks some of the Zelda gameplay that you got in the earlier games Graphics mean nothing, it’s the gameplay that matters… sound; the old Zelda tunes are always good to hear, but I prefer some of the new tunes in the games like OoT. However OoT is not my favourite game, LttP is.”

I was interested in this response so I queried a few more friends across different age groups to see their responses on the difference in retro and modern gaming. My friend Janus is a few years younger than me, but he was brought up in the same gaming era as me and Reaper’s Ritual.

“The thing about classic gaming, is there were so many physical limitations to it. They had to use everything they had to make a complex and interesting game. The sound was dodgy and the graphics, even to us then, weren’t terribly impressive, but they didn’t matter then. That’s what we had and it kicked ass and it was fun on its own merit. Effort went into the melodies, even if there were only four channels of sound.”

There’s two things synonymous with retro gaming and that’s pixels and midis. I think we’ve already established what I love about pixels, so let’s take a look at the midis that Janus mentioned. Zelda I feel, has had one of the best videogame soundtracks since way back to LoZ. It was a travesty when the overworld theme wasn’t included in OoT. AoL and LttP rate pretty highly in my book as far as midi soundtracks though, and in the golden era of the SNES there were so many great games with great soundtracks far too numerous to mention, even though as Janus rightly points out, the composers didn’t have a lot to play with Koji Kondo always did his best, despite those limitations.

A final point to mention is expectations. We’re all so eager for bigger and better graphics, better storylines and better games that we’re more likely to get disappointed. I was one of the worst culprits for this with OoT – I ended up bitterly disappointed by the game because it was completely different to what I expected it to be. I’m trying not to be the same victim for Twilight Princess, which is why you’ll not see me getting too excited about it. I suppose I measure Zelda by the old games, and when OoT wasn’t like them, I got very upset and agitated about it. Zelda had changed, and not for the better in my opinion, but I was in a minority because if it wasn’t for OoT, I know the community wouldn’t be as strong as it is today. My sister Kirsty summed up the situation perfectly when I asked her on her opinions regarding the two eras of gaming,

“If people measure yesterday’s games by today’s expectations, they’re going to be disappointed - ironically, people who measure today’s game’s by yesterday’s expectations are going to feel the same way I think the values in gaming have shifted somewhat. For better or worse, gamers expect beautiful graphics - but they also demand deeper, more demanding story lines. We don’t expect these things fro from older games (though I’d argue even some of the oldest games have the greatest storylines and Zelda III in my opinion had beautiful graphics), and those that do are going to be disappointed. Gaming, I think, is becoming less about pure gameplay – we often want more than just that, sometimes forgetting that, at the end of the day, gameplay, not graphics, not story, not sound, is the most important aspect of playing a game. I’m not saying the other aspects are not important, but gameplay, in my opinion, is the key.”

So where do we go from here? Is there really much more we can achieve with gaming or is it going to hit its limits? Will we one day experience a Red Dwarf style ‘Better Than Life’ simulation where you plug into VR headsets and you can feel everything in a game as if it were real? And is this really something we want to do? Sometimes you know, it’s the simple things that please a human being the most. Although we crave progression, we also love our roots. There’s just something irresistible about them. It’s like watching old cartoons or listening to childhood songs. It takes you back. We always want to be younger. Maybe that’s why I love my old Zelda games so much. It reminds me of happier days when I had no responsibilities on my shoulders, well, other than saving Hyrule!

I love retro gaming because it’s simple. It’s effective. It doesn’t disappoint you. It’s got no pretences. And no-one can sneak up on you J So in the rush of excitement, for TP, let’s not forget Zelda’s humble roots. Now where did I put that NES pad…

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 This page was created by Juliet A. Singleton © 2005. All rights reserved.