April 6, 2017
Being human foremost, I find there is almost always a great story behind every gamer and why they choose their favorite series. For me that series is The Legend of Zelda, and I would like to spin the tale of its influence on my childhood, and how it eventually led me down the path to become the person I am in adulthood. My intentions with this piece are to introduce myself to give perspective to future articles, and to inspire discussion. I’d love to hear other stories even more than I’d like to share my own, so feel free to comment.
The first time I knew I was playing a Zelda game was after discovering Link as a character in Super Smash Bros, for Nintendo 64. After seeing his massive multitude of weapons, my brothers and I were compelled to research and discover where this fantastic fighter had come from. Shortly after, we all were absolutely addicted to Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. To me this masterpiece proved how powerful a storytelling medium a video game can be, and was the first 3D game I’d ever played to deliver a sense of unparalleled freedom and exploration.
At the time, this game encompassed my thoughts and became close to an obsession. Whenever my brothers or I would uncover a hidden chest, a Skulltula location, or another secret, a newfound haste would drive us immediately to share our discovery. This simple but enticing social aspect the game had inadvertently presented brought about a feeling I had seldom felt before, and certainly not on this scale. Most of the games we played before that were adversarial, and the competition led to almost as much dispute as they did fun. A simple game of Super Mario Bros. easily escalated to “I can beat world eight so I’m better than you.” It might sound cheesy (because it totally is) but one of the things I enjoy most in this world is interacting with people to overcome obstacles and develop relationships; an aspect I attribute almost exclusively to Ocarina of Time.
Over the years, Zelda became an integral part of my life, and I not only kept up with the series’ latest installments, but also went back to reap the roots through which the series had grown to eventually become the series I loved. While doing so, of all the unlikely scenarios, I found myself playing a game I had played before. To my shock and delight, I had unknowingly played a Zelda game before I even knew what it was. In the late 90s, my eldest brother was a lot more computer savvy than I (being less than ten years old did not help), and had installed an emulator to the family computer that could run GameBoy games. Now commonplace, I believe at the time that nobody I knew had such a program. This seemed like a great way to play games we didn’t have access to whether or not we later found out it was illegal. Originally this program had attracted my attention with the Japanese version of Pokemon: Gold Version before its US release. Beyond that, though, we had a few other games, and among them was, to this day my favorite, Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. This game enticed me at the time in the way Ocarina would later, eclipsing all other thought with a mysterious world full of secrets to discover and puzzles to overcome. Even the simple fishing mini-game felt like I had somehow become part of the strange world of Koholint. This was a feeling I had completely forgotten until replaying it on the original hardware many years later.
Over the years, these feelings faded, however. After a peak with the release of Twilight Princess during my high school years, each subsequent release seemed like a step in reverse in terms of world design as means to the end of exploration. Phantom Hourglass I gave a pass due to the limits of the console (a pass that I would later revoke because of how well Golden Sun did it on even more limited hardware). Spirit Tracks jumped back once more by railroading players on a literal railroad. Skyward Sword’s segmented world just made the entire game feel like you were going from one dungeon to the next and some dungeons just happened to be outside. In all cases, I had a lot of fun with the puzzles and whatever element of exploration that was present, but something felt missing, and I kept a recursive thought within my mind ever since Twilight Princess, “Why can’t Legend of Zelda have a big open sandbox world like Morrowind?
The fact that Nintendo apparently heard my plea is public knowledge, though, and now we come to this year with the release of Breath of the Wild. As much as I have praised every other Zelda game through the years, none has so quickly proven to me that it is worthy of the title. I don’t know yet where I would lie in a list of my favorite games, even within the series, but I do know that it has rekindled the lost feeling of mystery which envelopes a player and creates a deeper sense of escapism than that which any other medium is capable. As much as this game has dazzled me with its colossal scale and unique storytelling, it has brought me back to a simpler childhood day wherein I had no worry about the outside world, and played off the nostalgia that games hold for me. This is no simple feat, though, as time and time again game studios have made such an attempt. The aforementioned Morrowind and the rest of the Elder Scrolls series were caringly crafted upon similar driving principles, and in fact owe much of their inspiration to the Legend of Zelda whether they know it or not. With this title, Nintendo has created something special. It is brand new, but at the same time familiar. They have included a plethora of new mechanics that have been seen in games outside the series, but never all in the same game. By combining this with a rich world that has been painstakingly cotton-picked to avoid two players having an identical game experience, magic has returned to gaming.
From Link’s Awakening to Breath of the Wild, it’s been one astounding adventure after another, and Link and I have grown up a lot together. With the series going strong after thirty-one years, I cannot contain my excitement for what is to come. If only I could find a Link to the future.