I have spent years exploring and participating in the online Zelda communities – discussing my favorite memories, or the timeline, or maybe this graphic style or that dungeon. I like to think I’ve even made a bit of a name for myself, within the multitudes of forums and websites.
I’ve come to know many fans, made many friends. And one thing that I and many of these people have in common, and can agree with, is that the Legend of Zelda series is more then just another video game franchise, that it has it’s own special magic. Even above things such as gameplay, or graphics, or all the other common factors, it possesses something that makes it unique. Some atmosphere, some emotion or feeling it inspires. I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last few years trying to understand this, understand why the Zelda games are like this, whether we’re all feeling the same thing or whether we have different ideas of what the Zelda magic is. I have also tried to find ways to convey this feeling to those who do not feel it, something I have always found altogether impossible… but here I am, trying once more.
I think that it probably has something to do with the ages we begin to play the Zelda games. My first Zelda game was Link’s Awakening, for the old colorless brick that was the original Gameboy. Even now, merely hearing the name or the music from an old GB game that I’ve played and replayed is enough to unleash quite an impressive flood of nostalgia.
Nostalgia. Now there’s an interesting feeling, and one I’ve always enjoyed. I think that it is quite close to the feeling that the Zelda games have always inspired in me, though it is not it exactly. When I first played through the Wind Waker, almost two years ago now, the first few hours of the game was pure bliss. That was before the flaws began to make themselves apparent, though that is another issue entirely. I did notice that those hours of “bliss”, when the game felt radiated pure Zelda, felt very similar to a nostalgia trip. Perhaps the coveted Zelda feeling is merely intense nostalgia… But no, that can’t be.
I got Link’s Awakening when I was young. I don’t remember the exact age, but I couldn’t have been older then six. An impressionable age, something most of these Zelda fans I’ve met were at when they were introduced to the series.
It was the first game of it’s type that I had ever played. In fact, nothing I had played prior had been even remotely like it (and very few things since, heh). The wonderful feeling of exploring, the feeling that I was a young swordsman trapped on a mystical island, pervaded the entire gameplay experience. And there was no doubt that the world I had stumbled into - a strange place where giant eggs crowned mountains, where songs held magic and the music was wonderful, where elven heroes vanquished Nightmares with their plethora of interesting tools – was mystical, and mysteriousness.
This sense of youthful, innocent exploration, of being a hero that traveled through unknown lands and beheld strange sights and sounds, is the cause of the love that it’s fans hold for the Zelda series. There are few things in this world that can compare to that feeling, a feeling that the Zelda series can invoke in even it’s older followers.
Were you to ask me what the absolute best moments of my life are, I would probably start with the usual stuff – Christmas mornings, family trips, wonderful friends – but I would very quickly take an unusual turn. I would mention the absolute awe I felt when I first beheld the beautiful fields of Hyrule when I first saw Ocarina of Time, or the bittersweet ending of Link’s Awakening, or the sense of wonder and adventure I felt as I played through A Link to the Past.
The ending of Ocarina of Time, when it is just you, the monster, in a ring of fire on a floating island above a lake of lava, fighting for the fate of yourself, the princess, and the world, is still one of the greatest moments in video games, I feel. The sense of mystery, the almost ethereal sense of a dreamlike reality within the misty confines of Koholint Island, in Link’s Awakening, is still the best atmosphere I have ever seen in any game, movie, or story.
Who wasn’t stunned when, in A Link to the Past, they trudged through Hyrule, collected the Pendants of Virtue, and defeated Agahnim… only to be drawn into the Dark World, and appear on top of the Pyramid of Power, with the blood-red sunset in the distance? It was predictable, but still stunning.
For those of you who do not yet grasp the power of these experiences within the world of Zelda, let me give you an example: I own every Zelda game, have spent hundreds of hours playing the series, even more time writing about or discussing it. I’ve probably written a couple thousand pages on the series over the course of the last three years, at the very least. My writing skills, which I now hope to use in a job sometime in my future, saw most of their development within a Zelda role-playing forum. I have Zelda posters on my walls, and am a huge fan of the Zelda series. I have dedicated almost my entire life to the video game industry, in some way or another.
And I believe that a large part of the blame lies on four games – just four –that exhibited that Zelda feeling. They surely don’t deserve the blame, exclusively, but they get a lot of it nonetheless.
“Only four games?” That might be what some of you are thinking, and sadly, it is true. Perhaps it is due to me growing up, but I have found that the Zelda series is losing that magic.
A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening, and Ocarina of Time possess it in abundance. It is no coincidence that they are my three favorite games. I never felt it at all in the two NES games, probably because by the time I played them they were very aged, and did not match modern standards at all. I know from talking to others that they possessed it for some, however, and it saddens me to have missed it.
Majora’s Mask lacked it, but it possessed something different, something very unique – but that’s the subject for another article.
The Oracles, despite being great games in all categories, lacked it. They lacked the intangible quality, whatever it may be, that makes Zelda games feel like Zelda. I don’t know whether to blame this lack on the fact that it was developed by Capcom rather then EAD, or on the fact that the series is losing it’s touch. I tend to think it’s a combination of both, really.
The two Four Swords games were such radical departures from the series that it was impossible for them to have this feeling, I thought. I was right.
That leaves the Wind Waker, and future incarnations of the series. As I have mentioned… I felt it in the Wind Waker. Oh yes, I most certainly did. The first few hours of that game? Pure bliss. It felt like LA, or LttP, or OoT all over again. I was ready to declare it the greatest thing since – no, greater than sliced bread. But, somehow the game lost hold of it, and the rest of the game was more normal. I am still saddened by what might have been.
As for the Minish Cap, the upcoming GBA incarnation, and the new GC game… well. I have been avoiding too many spoilers for the Minish Cap, since it detracts from the sense of exploring the unknown, but I am holding out hope. The same goes for the new GC game.
Ah, but sitting back and holding out hope can be quite boring. Fans always have their own ideas of where a series should go, and what makes their favorite games good. I am certainly no exception, and for the Zelda series, I would go to great lengths to think of new ideas.
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