After finishing up my last post, regarding how best to whore your swords, I realized it was time for an adventure.
Way Greater Than This
I really thought I had wrung dry my ponderous juices from the sweet fruit of Zelda (ew?), but it’s that special sweet sauce that keeps on sustaining me.
Let me rephrase.
I thought I had reached conclusion in discussing A Link Between Worlds, which was the initial reason I was roused from my dormant state of writing slumber. While I’m largely finished talking about ALBW, it did make me realize there were immediately interesting topics to be had about Zelda. More so, when I spoke of Nintendo’s failure, in reference to selling Zelda, it made me think of why the company has so much trouble selling their concepts (see: whoring their swords). I related the idea of overlooked marketing, and Zelda itself, to the Halo series.
This odd comparison was an attempt to show you that despite having four different games…and ultimately four swords, all feeling slightly differently, they all held onto that “sword feel”. Zelda, like any good game, does this in spades, though I thought it was a worthwhile intellectual effort to analyze how.
Okay, it’s probably not going to be such a grand mental endeavor, but it will involve video games…and those are always fun, right?
I will begin with acknowledgement of what A Link Between Worlds does exceedingly right, and that’s the equipment rental system. Above all else, this is the biggest element of ALBW that really helps define it from other Zelda games, even A Link to the Past, it’s glorious predecessor. One of the reasons ALBW maintained it’s simplicity and kept “That Zelda Feel” I discussed in my last post, was due in part to it’s reinforcement of what makes Zelda games great. Exploration is Hyrule’s bread and butter, and the more you have in a single title, the tastier the experiences is.
In letting players rent almost any piece of equipment from the start, the designers practically tossed you the keys to the car and said “enjoy the ride”. This is a massive deviation from past Zelda titles, where progression was tied to gear acquisition. ALBW tries something different however, and it pays off immediately.
Zelda is exploration, and the rental system reignites the fires of curiosity from the start.
Which Is More Ideal Than Just Being Lit On Fire.
This is one of the elements I feel Nintendo simply overlooked in their marketing of the game. This notion of immediate accessibility really opens Hyrule up tremendously, due to it’s simplicity in honing a better Zelda game, by focusing about what is the Zelda experience. The game is about exploring, so don’t keep the players waiting to explore. While (perhaps) it may be a difficult facet of the game to vocalize, I’m not sure Nintendo has really adhered to keeping “non-linearity” synonymous to the Zelda brand.
While I’m aware non-linearity is not initially a “sellable concept” in terms of the snap, crackle and pop of marketing, the effort to try and put it in the minds of respective gamers is key to the experience. Having non-linearity be synonymous with the name Zelda, is a good way to use unspoken truths, and ultimately more fun language to elaborate on a dry semantic of principle gameplay. The rental system I feel is invaluable to the future of Zelda, and opening exploration up with such negotiable terms in getting items so immediately is perhaps one of the best innovations in Zelda since 3D.
ALBW offers up the rental system, which gives way to instant gratification in the exploration process. This should not be a one off, and should carry as a staple element of what helps to make the Zelda tradition, and gives us at least the first element to our all inclusive Zelda experience.
Next up, I take a look at what I feel is an overlooked element of what made Twilight Princess so much fun.
While not an immediate follow up to Ocarina of Time, as many Zelda games were sandwiched between both titles, it was more or less the spiritual successor to the title. Many Zelda fans believed OoT was the pinnacle of the series (aside from retro purists in regards to LttP), and were completely ruined when they saw the graphics for Wind Waker. I’ll leave that discussion be for now, but the acknowledgement of what fans wanted was abundantly clear. The darker tones, the more adult atmosphere…Twilight Princess was what many Zelda fans had been clambering for. TP did a lot of what OoT did, in creating a living breathing world. One of the ways TP helped to capitalize on he formula, however, was with it’s cunning use of in game dungeons.
Or seemingly, the lack there of.
I’m Sorry, Do You Live Here? I Was Looking For The Next Dungeon…
Twilight Princess really reinforced the art of dungeon design, mostly due in part to us (the players) not even knowing we were in one. While I readily admit the earlier dungeons were a bit more obvious in execution, Zelda does trip up a little bit on the hand holding aspects of the “tutorial” phases of the game. Even so, and considering that we were treated to the standard forest, fire, water levels of Zelda’s past, they had just enough clever elements as to feel more engaging. To run through just the first few levels, The Goron Mines felt more relevant to the geography of the world, with purpose and relevancy. Further, the quirks found within felt fresh and well done. Using the iron boots to be able to walk on magnetic surfaces, including the ceiling? Magnifico!
Lakebed Temple just felt danker, like you really were speulinking in an underwater cavern. Hell, it was a Water Temple that didn’t drive us to self-mutilation based on difficulty, and more importantly, didn’t suck. Full stop, that’s a great improvement on Ocarina’s dungeon, and pretty much across the board for water levels in video games. Even the forest temple, with all of it’s simplistic splendor, had fun elements other games just never pulled off. The entire thing was filled with Monkey’s for shitting sake, making the whole thing jump to life with an absurd tone most Zelda levels don’t ever exhibit…
…and all because of a load of monkey’s.
It Was Some Proper Monkey News Going On In The Forest Temple.
Which brings about a random but relevant question: Twilight Princess…Karl Pilkington’s favorite would be Zelda game?
So There Was Like This, Monkey, Right? And It Was Knocking About In Some Temple With A Boomerang And All That….
Ah…love that man. Head like a fucking Goron.
Anyways, my point is, even the introductory dungeons, in there more obvious implementation, still offered a lot of vitality and exuberance in what they offered. Interestingly enough, I feel as if I couldn’t do the later dungeons enough justice with just words, as they feel so pitch perfect, and organically nestled right into the bosom of Hyrule. The Arbiters Grounds, Snow Peak Ruins, The City In The Sky…they were all crafted so well, I forgot I was even in the process of beating a dungeon, and in a stroke of genius, didn’t even know I was actually in one to begin with.
An anecdote I don’t mind sharing here, involves my continual reference to Snow Peak Ruins as the Yeti’s House for years to come, finding out only much later the dungeon had a different name.
This is fitting, because it wasn’t until I was about to fight the boss I realized it was even a dungeon to begin with. That is what I’m talking about. That is world building, that is nuance, and that is immersion at it’s finest.
Bitch Please, I Know My Dungeons Be Bumbin.
While I readily admit, TP was not the first Zelda game to do this, but the Zelda game that did it the best. While Ocarina gets some heavy credit for some inventive invites (Deku Tree, Lord Jabu Jabu), Twilight Princess still stands as Queen of the Quest Areas, something even the best Zelda’s out there (Wind Waker, ALBW) can’t brag about.
Leaving behind some fascinating earthbound geography, I look to the skies for my next topic of interest.
Out Of Fear, Mind You.
Majora’s Mask is another good example of a Zelda game that had special flair, but wasn’t quite embraced within the Zelda pedigree from the start. Then again, and much like any (and many) sequels following highly successful games, MM was initially at arms length of fan approval as a follow up to Ocarina. This is understandable in one way, OoT is still the best rated game of all time, and is a regular on “best ever” lists right next to Super Mario Bros, Street Fighter II and GTA III.
That level of greatness.
Talk About Igniting The Fires Of Curiosity
Regressing back to the initial release of Majora’s Mask, we see a bit of a slow reception of the title, with only die hards really singing it’s praise. As time moved on, and the Ocarina hype train rode into the sun set, we had a second of introspection, in re-examining what MM did great. General Zeldiness…”That Zelda Feel” if you will, but what did Majora’s Mask do that Ocarina just couldn’t quite boast about?
I’m only slightly kidding. The selection was fantastic though…I mean that bunny hood…
Focusing on what helped to truly innovate Majora’s Mask, was the culture found within the game. While the span of Hyrule Field, the inhabitants of Hyrule Market, and the change of day and night really did make Ocarina feel more alive than most other games at the time, MM really took this concept and ran with it. Keeping in mind the game deals with time travel,the apocalypse and having only three short days to get shit done, the developers put a conscious effort in portraying every day life adequately. However, they did this quiantly, almost in a fourth wall breaking way. All of the NPC’s doing the same thing over and over again, was completely acceptable on the grounds that you keep repeating the same three days over and over again. Since Link’s passage through time technically doesn’t effect anything, as he’s only moving back to a singular point, this cyclical sense of familiarity made the entire game feel very alive.
Which Is A Refreshing Notion, Because Everyone Really Dies
Surprisingly, an in game element that usually stresses people out, and is the bane of virtual existence to many (time limits), would end up becoming the brilliant foundation Majora’s Mask is built on. Getting to know the townspeople, their issues, how you can help, and trying to make their lives a better place for the short time left they have to live has a subtle beauty about it, one that makes you feel kinda touched. A rare form of emotional heroism that no amount of slain dragons could ever match. Even if we just look at the heart wrenching Kafei side quest, you realize one of the most touching love stories ever told by Nintendo is in a Zelda game…and it doesn’t even involve the main character.
Just two lovers, finally finding each other at the ends of the earth, meeting under an apocalyptic sky, one last time.
The World Can End Now
Majora’s Mask’s culture is simply astounding, especially considering the limitations of the N64. That sense of inter-connectivity, intimacy, and involvement has to this day, not been topped by another Zelda game. That’s fourteen years of undisputed dominancy, by Termina, a couple dozen masks, and that gigantic bastard moon. The game effortlessly reminds us all, of how much you can really do, in three short days.
And the true joy that can follow suit.
In summation, while I do enjoy the individuality that each of these stellar elements brings to their respective games, I don’t think we would be robbing their own quality, if we continued to capitalize on their proven formula. Zelda was for a very long time, considered the best of the best, and for good reason. All of these elements and more (top-notch exploration, clever design, and culture) are all key reasons the games continued to keep topping themselves, again and again. I am a firm believer that this series will continue on long after their makers pass away, and very likely long after I’ve made a final trip into my own personal Lost Woods. We shouldn’t let inevitability ever stop us, and we should always do well to remind ourselves where we came from, and what we’ve done right to even have that thought in the first place.
It can mean a world of difference.