To a lot of people The Legend of Zelda has been super ceded many times over by its numerous sequels. Itís a game that is so open it borders on directionless, the story laid out is basic and simple Ė Ganon captures Zelda, Impa runs for help, gets surrounded by hired goons, and then is saved by a wandering young man by the name of Link. Itís not explained where Link comes from, why heís been wandering the land like Bruce Banner hitchhiking down a long and lonesome road, or how he single-handedly defeated a group of Ganonís henchmen when he hasnít even got a sword.
But to me these faults are to a large extent The Legend of Zeldaís faults are also the source of its greatest strengths. The game refuses to hold your hand Ė you go into a cave and get a wooden sword from an old man in a cave who says the famous line ďItís dangerous to go alone Ė take thisĒ. However, itís perfectly possible to not go into the cave in the first place and wander around Hyrule completely defenceless against the horde of moblins, octorocs and peahats who desire only your imminent doom. What I also loved about the openness of Zelda is it was possible to take on a lot of levels in a non-linear order, as youíre not told where the next temple is, you have to find them by exploring a huge open world. Iíll always remember wandering like an idiot into the 8th dungeon and getting completely creamed by the enemies within, after only finishing the 3rd dungeon. That was something I loved about the original game that I miss in the later iterations Ė the risk/reward of exploration. Sometimes you got lucky and you could get an item from a dungeon you werenít meant to advance to, and then go back to an earlier dungeon and massacre the boss.
The fact that the story being barely explained is both something decided by the limitation of the technology of the time and because the sophisticated storytelling tools we take for granted now simply didnít exist then, or were in their infancy. A basic rule of storytelling is show, donít tell, and Zelda does exactly that, with no in game exposition apart from old crones and old men giving you the occasional obtuse hint about navigating a maze (north, west, south, west) to get to a temple or to walk up a waterfall to get the white sword. Link is our avatar, heíll always look the way he does but we can change his name to whatever we want, as long as itís only 4 spaces long. We know the basic story by an introduction in the manual but weíre left to piece together the rest on our own and use our imagination. Where did Link come from? Who is he? What is Ganonís motivation? Who was it that built all of these temples full of death traps and helpful items to help you navigate them? These were questions I never asked myself as a kid, because I was Link. I defeated Ganon, I saved Zelda and I reclaimed the Triforce. You donít ask those questions when youíre immersed in the world, because youíre playing the role of the hero. It was only later when I asked these questions and realised they probably had no answers, they were just there Ė mysteries of a lost civilisation who built these temples for an unknown purpose. One thing that is explained in the manual is that it is Zelda who splits the triforce into fragments and hides them throughout the kingdom to keep them from Ganon. Does this mean that the bosses in the eight dungeons are guardians that Zelda left behind to guard the triforce from Ganon? Quite possibly, but itís also possible that the bosses are left by Ganon to impede Linkís progress. Thatís the beauty of such a sparse storyline; there are no absolutes, only interpretation.
The Legend of Zelda is one of the first experiences I had of feeling like a hero, of embarking on a great adventure and feeling like I could achieve something beyond my own limitations. At the same time, it started a lifelong fascination with the fantasy genre, which put me on the path of wanting to become a writer. Iím still writing, still unpublished, and rather than feeling like a hero of my own life I feel like an uncredited extra in someone elseís story. But the original Legend of Zelda and its sequels gave me a chance to escape into a role I could never fulfil, and it also gave me a great appreciation of the subtleties of storytelling.