April 24, 2017
In 2016, The Legend of Zelda turned 30 years old making it one of the oldest and most beloved video game series ever created. There are very few video game franchises that have continued to survive and even evolve in the modern game industry, yet the staple Nintendo franchises still have gamers coming back for more. But what is it that is particularly special about the green clad hero and his Master Sword?
Every Zelda fan has a particularly fond memory or experience that made them want to continue to save Zelda from Ganon (or Vaati and the various other final enemies from the series) and reconstruct the Triforce, so it makes sense to talk about mine very briefly. I was always a Nintendo fan; I had every Nintendo home console since birth (when I was born in 1989 my granddad bought me the original NES with the orange Zapper and the Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros. dual pack … I couldn’t even open my eyes properly!). Naturally I had a Nintendo 64 by the time Christmas 1998 rolled around. However, the travesty at this point was I had yet to play or own a Zelda game. This would change on the whim of my Dad (who knows very little about video games), who decided to queue for hours to pick up a copy of Ocarina of Time on the midnight of its December 11th (Europe) release date at a Toys’R’Us … just because he had seen the TV commercial. As an 8 year old I didn’t understand the logic or the significance of what he had done, but come Christmas Day I was about to discover not only what I had been missing out on … but in my opinion (and critics) the greatest video game series of all time. By sheer coincidence an 8 year old embarked on an adventure across Hyrule that would completely revolutionize his opinion of what games could do technologically and how they could be such an embracive, personal, interactive experience.
Mario was my first video game hero and I will always love the plucky Italian plumber for introducing me to this new, exciting medium of entertainment. But, it was Link, and his personal battles and struggles in who I found association, valour, courage and admiration. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the highest rated video game on Metacritic (99%) and is wildly regarded as the best game ever made. But to disqualify what came before would be at the loss of any gamer who is yet to have any experience of this series. I made it my duty to experience The Legend of Zelda’s origins.
1986 saw the Legend of Zelda launch on the Nintendo Entertainment System. What Miyamoto and his development team created was one of the first open world games that allowed you to explore in your own time, in your own direction and in what ever way you wanted. Though it was truly ‘dangerous to go alone’ many gamers embraced the challenged and explored Hyrule in search of the Triforce and the ability to defeat Ganon. Link’s first quest to this day stands above many as an example of how video games were not just simple piloted instruction and linear gameplay, they could be stories that the player could write themselves.
1992 (US and Europe) saw A Link to the Past come to the Super Nintendo. Gamers were greeted with how the series would evolve not just in size and scope, but in its story telling also. In now traditional style, a young knight is awoken from his slumber by a voice guiding him to Hyrule Castle, as it is under seize. A Link to a Past introduced us to some of the series staples that have stayed for a number of years including more sophisticated item based puzzles and side-quests. A Link to a Past opened up Zelda fans to the possibilities of what the series would become and cemented their belief that controlling the green clad Hylian on his adventures would always be a credible and enjoyable experience.
If Link to a Past and Ocarina of Time held the flag for traditional evolution, and if they would become standard bearers for the series then what came after would not only shake the mold but show that the Legend of Zelda could reinvent itself time and time again.
Space World 2000 saw a tech demo launch of what the Gamecube version of Zelda would look like. A realistic (for the time) portrayal of Link and Ganondorf sparing off and clashing swords in what would send the gaming world into a frenzy. With expectations set at a high, nobody expected what they would see a year later … 2001 brought us the first glimpse of Toon Link and the Wind Waker. Ironically, fans were ready to grab torches and pitchforks as an onslaught of negativity was directed toward Nintendo and Eiji Aonuma. People at the time forgot one small detail, this was still Nintendo and this was still Zelda. By the time Wind Waker hit western shores in 2003, it was critically applauded for its bold new direction and art style. Link boarded the King of Red Lions and explored a new place in which he could go to any corner of the map he desired. This was for the most part Aonuma’s love letter to the original Legend of Zelda. The Wind Waker became a cult classic and to this day, 14 years after its release still looks beautiful. Wind Waker wasn’t just another master class in video game design; it was graphically a piece of art. The art style was so influential that it would go on to affect the art styles of the two latest console entries in the Legend of Zelda series. One of which I am long overdue in tackling … Breath of the Wild.
Link would adventure across not only Hyrule again (Twilight Princess) in his time before the Nintendo Switch but also across new destinations. These included the further corners of the Great Sea (Phantom Hourglass), ‘New’ Hyrule (Spirit Tracks) and The Sky (Skyward Sword). These games also saw new styles of control to the series that diversified the games even further, including motion and touch controls. These entries, like all of the previous, were critically and commercially successful. But after 30 years of our green clad hero drawing his Master Sword, defeating dungeons and their bosses, collecting various emeralds and jewels to discover the resting place of the Triforce to defeat Ganon it felt like the series needed a shake up. A shake up that saw Link go back to his roots. In a reinvention of the 1986 classic that, in my opinion (and even many of the critics, highest amount of perfect scores in Metacritic history), would see our hero embark on his greatest journey he has ever embarked on … this time in blue!
Before I begin to justify why I believe Breath of Wild is the greatest Zelda game made to date (possibly the best game ever created) let me just give you some numbers. The launch of Breath of the Wild and the Switch on March 3rd, saw me begin on a journey that to this date (23rd April) I have sunk almost 150 hours into. 150 hours in a month and a half that includes me working full time, studying for a Masters part-time, going to the gym and practicing for various golf competitions, filming my very own podcast and blogging about current affairs. Very rarely does anything affect my very solid and regimented routine as I have a busy schedule, but thanks to the portability of the Switch and the grandness of this latest entry to the series, I can’t go a day without playing or thinking about this game. My love affair that began on Christmas Day 1998 has been sustained by various titles in the series (including what WAS my favourite title before Breath of the Wild, Majora’s Mask, which I will talk about another day … stay tuned!) but no game has made me stand, stop, schedule and play as much as the latest Zelda game has. I truly believe that the Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild is not only the breath of fresh air the series needed … but also the game the industry needed. The first ‘open-air’ game, there are no limitations in a sand box that makes you truly feel like you have entered another world. Open world games (including some of my favourites) have always had a strict formula and a path that one must take to progress. Breath of the Wild chucks dirt in the eyes of those that have come before and says, ‘do it your way, create your own journey’. The biggest testament and praise that I can give this title is that it changes the wheel while still feeling like the wheel of the old … no doubt this is a Zelda game, but this is a ‘new’ Zelda game. No Navi, Fi or King of Red Lions is going to direct you. You can go wherever you want, when you want. Of course, this may not be advisable, but you could literally go and confront Ganon head on after the first hour of the game if you wanted too. Since the original game there has not been a game that has allowed you such careless freedom. That is not to say Breath of the Wild is a perfect game, but it is a complete experience. To test this yourself I would advise talking to other players about Breath of the Wild, you could be in a room with several other people who could have played for the same amount of time and I guarantee not one person would of replicated another’s journey.
Its amazing how a game series that is over 30 years old can continue to thrive in such a competitive market in which, arguably, there is an over saturation of the same thing (annualized franchises anyone?). But in a world where Nintendo exists, we always know as gamers we are going to be ensured of quality and evolution. Sure Link will always have a sword to grab and Mario will always have a Gomba to stomp on, but no one can deny the variety of directions these series have gone in. Not only have they evolved, they have also maintained tradition and ensured quality. The Legend of Zelda is older than me, but looks a lot better for it. Whatever your favorite Zelda game is, we are all associated and passionate about the same thing … the most revolutionary, adventurous and quality driven series ever created, here is to another thirty years of the Legend, the legacy.
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This is aJNation from #Gamerbox signing off, continue to create your own story, continue to create your own adventure.