Sticking Up For Zelda

As we’ve seen, sequels are a hot topic around these parts – and whilst the promise of annual Call of Duty updates or a FIFA game with slightly better graphics fills me with a pervading sense of unending boredom every year, the thought of a new Zelda game has quite the opposite effect.  I’m in the minority, perhaps – running around shooting people seems to be de rigueur at the moment – but I don’t really care, give me a sprawling adventure with the little guy coming out the hero after battling through dozens of hours of gameplay and I’m as happy as a pig with an AK47.  In football boots.

[drop]That’ll be Link, by the way – Zelda’s the princess, but don’t let that stop you thinking the series is a dull, perpetually repetitive mobius loop of childish role playing-lite.  Sure, each Legend of Zelda game plays by the same rules, introduces familiar weapons and items along its mostly-linear exposition and has you saving the eponymous captured damsel as the credits roll, but then when was the last time a first person shooter didn’t start you with a pistol, then upgrade to a shotgun, then a machine gun whilst funnelling you down corridors and then saying – hey – this is the final boss; pull the trigger?

I’m exaggerating, of course.  The Zelda games are similar – in fact, take a look back at the original NES classic and compare it with the likes of Twilight Princess or Ocarina of Time – many of the same principles set in stone in 1986 are echoed time and time again.  The overworld that leads to dungeons and temples, the aforementioned item progression and weapon set that’s remained in place for decades, the end boss: all retained, all carried forward like an ever evolving copy and paste template.  But here’s the thing: the Zelda games work, so why change them?

For me, it’s all about the journey.  From humble, generally safe beginnings Link (if indeed he’s named in that particular game) slowly develops some basic combat skills and a few rudimentary weapons before starting out on whatever quest he’s been bestowed.  As the world opens up gradually, he’ll learn new abilities, get new items and find new places to explore and conquer – the player feels like they’re on the same journey, growing with the character and – like all good role playing games – getting wrapped up in the story.

[drop2]This is particularly true with Ocarina of Time.  I know I go on about this one a fair bit here on TSA, but I’d rather do that and attract some criticism I can defend than blog about games I have no interest in.  Ocarina of Time, in my eyes, is the perfect videogame: it’s deep plot-wise, there’s a huge overworld to explore and the dungeons are some of the best designed levels ever to grace silicon.  It’s also the only game ever to make me cry: the closing cut-scene of young Link with Zelda, after everything they’ve been through as children and, ultimately, as adults, remains with me still.

So it’s confusing when people moan about Nintendo re-releasing it on 3DS in June.  There’s two issues I can see here: one, it’s another Zelda game which non-fans immediately deride because they don’t understand or appreciate the lineage; and two, it’s a port/remake of an old N64 game, and one that’s already been re-released on GameCube. So what? It’s not like Nintendo are alien to revamping old games – they’ve been doing it since day one and have a hugely rich library from which to do so.  Some of which, like Ocarina, are true classics.

And this isn’t just a straight port, the visuals are much improved, the UI’s tweaked a little (the titular instrument has a permanent item slot leaving three open) and it’s now portable, for the first time.  I’ve played Ocarina 3DS – the 3D doesn’t have a huge effect but the opportunity to ride around Hyrule on the bus or tackle Death Mountain on the loo brings the kind of excitement that an ageing gamer like myself feels all too rarely.  I can think of a hundred bits of Ocarina that I can’t wait to play again, and don’t really care if you don’t feel the same way.

After all, there’s always Call of Duty.

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23 Comments

  1. Yeah, but Modern Warfare has been repeating itself for 4 or 5 years, not a decade or so. I don’t like the repetition in either (any) series, you can’t say so what to Zelda’s repeating itself every time, then use CoD as an example, it’s just ‘yeah – but they do it too!’ It’s not ok anywhere.

    I’ll be getting both Ocarina of Time 3DS and Skyward Sword (which I’ll be getting a Wii to play) because I want to give them a chance. I really liked Majora’s Mask and Windwaker (though managed to never finish either of them (!) ) so I have no clue why I didn’t like Ocarina of Time when I played it all those years ago. So it’s getting another chance to enrapture me – who knows, maybe I’ll love it.

    Also; spliiiiiiish.

    • Hasnt modern warfare only repeated itself once, or if you like twice at the moat. modern warfare 2 then black ops (though different devs). world at war is hardly any kind of follow on and was well into development when mw released.

      • Well, Call of Duty has been repeating for 4 or 5 years. World at War plays exactly like Modern Warfare, it handles just the same.

    • Personally, i think its great to release it again for all the people who never played it the first time around, for that reason (i havent played it) I’ll be getting it, if i had played it before, i wouldnt. Simples

  2. Zelda is probably my favourite superhero. His laser eyes are probably my favourite weapon to use. Plus his steed, Battlecat, is 100% awesomebiscuits.

    • I was about to cerrect you on the fact that the main male protagonists name is Link but then I read the rest of your comment and was confused about the level of irony that was used in the process of writing it… :P

  3. Zelda set the standard for all other rpgs. Surely all of the rpg staples are rooted in Zelda? Levelling up, item acquisition etc.

    • You are kidding, aren’t you?

    • Zelda never featured levels, just exploration, story progression and set skill progression that usually ties in with the story. Games like Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star probably set the RPG, with others like Diablo developing on it.

    • Are you serious? It’s a good series with some classic gems over the years and granted, lots of its charm has been emulated by others but I don’t think Zelda set the standard for all other RPGS.

      I do think however, that it is probably the definitive action adventure RPG and one that I will fondly remember till I am (even more) old and grey.

  4. One day someone is going to force those rose tinted spectacles off your face. They’ll probably have to use a crowbar.

    • One day someone is going to force you to play Zelda. You’ll probably love it.

  5. My problem is Nintendo work on nostalgia. People buy a Nintendo platform for the latest Zelda or Mario or Pokemon. And their just the same old thing.

    • They do know how to use Nostalgia don’t they? The key here is that Nintendo are great at targeting a set age group and definitely play to their strengths. There are many people who have grown up on their NES/SNES/Gameboys, who all end up buying the latest Nintendos for their own offspring, so it is natural Nintendo churn out tried and tested formulas as they know it will sell. They don’t need to cater for the boys/girls that have grown up as much as they do for their children and so we will get more Zelda, Mario and Pokemon etc.

      • I think I’ll buy a DSi today just to play Pokemon. :)
        I’m 20 years old, and I’m not letting go.

      • I played Pokemon Red on my Game Boy Pocket for about 2 hours, when Black and White came out recently. I’m twenty blood nine!

      • Yeah but what I’m saying is that I don’t want any of these games. I loved Mario and Pokemon but I’m really just over them. I’d like if they tried to offer me something new and interesting.

  6. I really wondered what this article was going to be about when I saw the title, as I haven’t met anyone with a bad word to say about Zelda! Then again I can put that down to me not being pulled in by the 3DS.

    I guess your love of Ocarina of Time is like my love of MGS1, so even though I have never played a Zelda game *gasp* I can understand what you mean.

  7. Can’t wait, to be honest… its my first Zelda and have never been persuaded to buy into that cod crap. Always liked games like Maximo, Soul Reaver. and a few platformers especially Croc that game is legend.

    So what if Nintendo make a new Mario, Zelda etc etc, these games are legendary they are heavenly and they rock!

  8. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing – them re-releasing this on the 3DS, or that I dislike the game. However, because of what it doesn’t offer me at this moment in time, it sits further down my list of things to buy.
    Skyward Sword on the other hand is a day one.

    Hmm… is it a depressing thought when you realise that you’re old enough to experience when the second cycle of something comes along? Sort of how like people see fashion come back into style.
    I can now say something like, “I remember when that was first released.” to a ten year old. Ugh.

  9. They might retain an extremely high level of quality, but that’s no excuse not to innovate. It’s more difficult to innovate in a series as rigidly structured and as with as strong a tradition as Zelda, of course, but the innovation needs to come even as they retain that sense of tradition and legend that makes playing Zelda great. Phantom Hourglass kept the traditional Zelda structures but innovated greatly with the control scheme; Spirit Tracks improved on this and built a better game, which I personally enjoyed far more than Phantom Hourglass, but was rightly criticised for playing it too safe, too soon after Phantom Hourglass.

    Zelda is my favourite franchise. I have posters, books about it, and some day I may even write a thesis about it in relation to heroic epic literature (crazzzzy…) but I hope that they take some structural risks with Skyward Sword–change the way we progress through the game, don’t have dungeon/field as so rigidly defined, separate areas, don’t have the puzzles so reliant on new items. There are some great context sensitive puzzles in Wind Waker–puzzles that rely on you simply cutting ropes with your sword, or setting fire to things with enemies weapons, or disabling searchlights by killing enemies. Add more story driven side quests like in Majora’s Mask–each mask you could obtain had a personal, character driven story behind it, and there were 20 secondary masks to obtain. The quest to stop the Moon falling was half the game, the quest to save the individual residents of Termina was the other, more personal half. It wasn’t so much about saving the world as about saving the people in it. They hinted cryptically Skyward Sword will be a “denser” experience compared to the long, linear Twilight Princess–I’m hoping that implies a focus on a more even split between main quest and secondary quest content.

    As for this Ocarina remake, it’s only the second time they’ve re-released it and charged money for it (Virtual Console release, of course). Ocarina was included as a free bonus if you pre-ordered Wind Waker. I don’t see the problem in remaking it for 3DS–they aren’t using one of their major internal (EAD) teams to do it, so they aren’t distracting their major Zelda team (who are finishing Skyward Sword), they aren’t going to force anyone to buy it(I think), and it’s twelve and a half years since the original release, giving many gamers who have never experienced (or perhaps not even heard of) one of the finest games ever released a chance to play it.

    If remakes are done as lovingly as something like this Ocarina 3D is done, and if they give a chance for a genuinely quality title to reach a wider audience, then where is the problem? Variety is the spice of life, they say. That should apply to the games industry too, whether your spice is Zelda, a yearly CoD, something remade, or a new IP.

    • I’d also like to point out Zelda started in 1986 as a non-linear adventure. You were dumped into the overworld and could go wherever the hell you wanted. You could tackle the dungeons–with the exception of the last–in any order. It was, of course, advisable to go through the door on the first screen of the game and get the sword before doing anything else. After all, it’s dangerous to go alone.

  10. It’s the best game ever, and an article like this was exactly what I had in mind.
    Thanks XOXO

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