The Legend Of Zelda
series, despite its legacy and considerable fanbase, seems to have developed two primary camps of decriers as the years have rolled on and the series has continued. There are those out there who would have you believe that every Zelda
game is just a rehash of the last game, and opposite them, there are those who cry foul whenever a Zelda
deviates from that homogeneity to any great degree. I see some validity in both sides' points, but at the same time, I'm dismayed that they both focus primarily on the whole "put on a green shirt, beat the badguy, save the girl," plot as the core element.
For me, the games are still takes on the same basic theme, but your stock hero's quest is not the undercurrent I see reiterating most every time. Rather, the Zelda
games read pretty well as metaphors for coming-of-age and other life lessons, and the more major changes and retweaks that happen every few titles are implemented, in part, because advances in technology and storytelling potential as gaming systems evolve allow for, if not demand, overhauls of how to tell such a tale.
Spoilers to be had from here on out, so if for some strange reason, you haven't played certain Zelda games and wish to remain pure, either stop reading, or at least look for the game titles at the beginning of each paragraph so you can scroll on past.
Going all the way back to the original Legend Of Zelda
, finding this theme is a bit more subtle, due to the limitations of an eight-bit medium. A young man named Link is thrust into an unfamiliar new realm (the original story pegged him as a wanderer or adventurer of sorts), asked to collect and assemble an artifact and save a clever princess from an ancient evil at the behest of her nursemaid. While not particularly blatant, the game does deal quite a bit with getting a handle on the world around you and learning how to get by, as well as knowing when to rely on others. The first person you meet in the game is an old man offering a sword with which to protect yourself, but there are old men who look exactly the same, as well as other characters, who may just be out for your money or, in some cases, your life. There's even a crash course in making money and budgeting, between the shops that often sell the same item for different prices, the monetary carrying limit of 255 rupees, and the fact that arrows cost you a rupee a shot. All fairly rudimentary life lessons, but the seeds were sown for greater ones down the line.
Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link
was (and still is) seen by many as an unnecessary departure from the Zelda
formula, but I respect and in many ways enjoy it as quite a leap towards trying to tell the whole coming-of-age story, especially so soon after its predecessor. Economy comes into play a bit, but one of the prominent new features was talking to townsfolk in the various villages throughout the game. While a great deal of them were only good for small talk or nothing at all, there were several instances where further progress in the game required a bit of networking, as you were sent to certain people by other characters, or did favors for others, such as retrieving lost heirlooms. Zelda II
was also the first shift towards the trend of Link's quest being a little more personal; whereas he was more doing things for the good of Hyrule in the first game, now you set off from Hyrule Castle specifically because the princess is in a magically-induced coma, and because you learn Ganon's minions are out to get you in particular to revive their evil overlord. The kiss at the end of the game was the first hint that Link may be doing things for more than just his honor or a sense of duty.
The transition to the SNES with A Link to the Past
took much of the groundwork of its two predecessors and completely blew it out of the water. Returning to the top-down view of the first Legend of Zelda
incorporated things such as monetary limitations, favor-granting, and other key elements with the room to give this Link more of a backstory. After his uncle leaves suddenly, armed, in the midst of a dark night's downpour, Link hears a voice in his head asking him for help. The reason this game, and this Link in particular, had such an impact on me in my formative years is because, rather than fretting about what's going on or trying to puzzle things out, he gets up and dives right in. There's a great deal of expansion on the idea of helping out people you barely even know, from Zelda right at the beginning, to the people of Kakariko Village, and the other six maidens captured by Agahnim, whom you haven't even met or spoken to until you rescue them from various Dark World bosses. A Link to the Past
goes a long way toward espousing on the point that no one should be a cock to a stranger, ever, as well as the corollary that you can't judge a book by its cover. The king of the Zoras and many of the Dark World inhabitants who end up helping you out are, arguably, fairly frightening or hideous, but underneath it all, they end up aiding you in crucial ways on your quest. And while it's quite the stretch, you could say Link's transformation into a pink bunny by the power of the Dark World, at least until the Moon Pearl is acquired, is a metaphor for puberty, given that hair (and a hare) is appearing in places there never was hair before.
While something of a sidetrack, Link's Awakening
managed to do just as much on the Game Boy as LttP
did on a full-fledged console, and then some. This time around, the whole networking/fetch-quest idea evolved into a form that persists even to this day with the item trading sequence. Finding and swapping a series of items with a slew of the inhabitants of Koholint Island eventually bestows upon Link the iconic LoZ
Boomerang, presented to you by the equally iconic, "It's a secret to everyone," Moblin. Even more prominent this time is another step towards the romance element, wherein Marin, a girl who resembles a ginger Zelda quite a bit, seems clearly interested in the young man who's washed up on Koholint's shores, and even shares a moment or two with him that somehow manage to be tender despite the Game Boy's technical limitations. All of this, and all of the characters you've come to know and appreciate, comes crashing down around you when you find out that ridding the island of the evil that plagues it would also rid the island of the island itself, as it's all a dream of the slumbering Wind Fish. Forced to choose between a fairly idyllic dream world, with a clear-cut shot at love, and the reality he's already established a life and responsibilities in, Link's final decision is one of the most resonant endings in video game history, which is even more highlighted by the montage of Koholint and its inhabitants fading away as the Wind Fish awakens.
The first 3D Zelda, Ocarina Of Time
on the Nintendo 64, is often hailed as the best of the series, and while I don't entirely share that sentiment, I will say I enjoyed it and its continuation of the the idea of Link going from boy to man, both figuratively and literally. Once again set to the task of saving Hyrule and the princess, Link this time around begins as an orphan and a bit of a stranger in a strange land, as he's the only boy amongst his Kokiri friends to not have his own fairy. Possibly the sharpest emphasis on how truly unique Link is up to this point in the series, the slight alienation from the people he's grown up this far with walks the line between pegging Link as a special boy, and making him seem truly alone, feeling lots of kids struggle with as peer groups and cliques begin to develop. That, and in order to deal with a grim, dark future that contrasts quite sharply with the bright, cheery childhood Hyrule he ends up leaving behind, Link is literally forced to grow into young adulthood after a long slumber in the Temple Of Time. The romance element is ramped up a bit, too, with the introduction of the girl next door Saria, who's clearly sympathetic to Link and has known him all her life; the friendly farmgirl Malon (my personal favorite), who gets helped out of quite a bind by Link almost as an aside to his quest, though taking care of her horse Epona ends up helping quite a bit in the long run; and the eager and exotic Princess Ruto, who, being a Zora, also introduces the idea of interracial attraction and relationships into the mix. It's the earliest in the series, at least that I can think of, that a Zelda
title addresses the idea that some of your peers of the opposite sex may be interested in you at the same time, and you're going to have to deal with that. The game's story pretty much keeps Link on track to be with Zelda with all is said and done, but all of that gets thrown out the window when it turns out, now that Ganondorf has been defeated, she has to send Link back to his childhood now that everything's been set right. This wipes the slate clean for all of the relationships built up in his admirers during his seven years missing in action, and despite a nod towards the potential of Link and Zelda meeting once again and becoming friends, everything afterwards becomes a motherlode for fanfiction writers. Also new was the introduction of variable wallet sizes, which espouse a rudimentary form of investment; save your money now for a bigger wallet, and later on you'll have more rupees to buy even better things you can't right now.
, on the other hand, kicks love to the side, at least for Link himself, in favor of revisiting the stranger in a strange land focus of the first game, and keeping Link's motivations focused on his quest to reunite with the abducted Epona, as well as on helping out strangers in Clock Town and other areas of Termina. Transformations into the different races of the N64-era Zelda universe, particularly a Goron, a Deku, and a Zora, serve the dual purpose of teaching the player about adaptability and learning to adjust to one's situation, and forces Link to see the world of Termina through new perspectives. The former is a pretty good life lesson in and of itself, but the latter goes a long way toward illustrating the point that people of all shapes, sizes, and colors have their own lives, stories, and difficulties, without getting obnoxiously up in anyone's face about it. The time reset mechanic, which could be considered a setback towards such progressive storytelling in that it sheds a positive light on the idea of going back and changing past mistakes, still manages to go a long way towards showing how actions and timing impact Link's life and the lives of those around him, as well as pointing out that, as often as not, there are second chances in life. Additionally, his return to Hyrule upon finally stopping the falling moon renders most all of the work he's done moot, as it turns out in the end that he'll probably never see Termina again, which is as kid-friendly a message of, "you can't take it with you," comes.
The dismissal of Wind Waker
as "kiddy" in nature, thanks in great part to its whimsical, cel-shaded art design really took me aback once I'd spent enough time with it, as it deals with some of the most adult ever content seen in a Zelda
is the first instance in which the games address the importance of family, at least that survives beyond the first few minutes of the game, with his sister Aryll playing a sizable part in the earlier bits of the game's plot as she provides Link with the motivation needed to leave his rather peaceful little home island and strike out on a new adventure. It's also the first time Zelda herself has been portrayed as particularly capable. Sure, she's been pretty smart in the past, as far back as breaking up the Triforce Of Wisdom to keep it out of Ganon's hands in the first game, and thinking to lob the Ocarina of Time to Link as Ganondorf's carrying her off in, uh, Ocarina of Time
, but in Wind Waker
, she's actually doing
something. From running an entire pirate crew as the sassy, intrepid Tetra, to laying down fire support during Link's final, final, final
battle with Ganondorf at the end of the game. And, as with the few prior games, helping out your neighbors and strangers proves to be the best and quickest way toward getting the equipment and guidance you need in the world.
A gem from the Game Boy Advance's later days, Minish Cap
, didn't do too much to retread old lessons or introduce new ones, given that it was more a "greatest hits" collection of Zelda iconography than anything else, but I did feel like the introduction of Kinstones, and Link's need to fuse the halves he collected with those possessed by people he met across the land, was a nice nod to the need in real life to work with people of different expertises and skillsets than your own to get things done. That, and the Picori and Vaati himself go a long way toward proving that even the smallest people, be it of stature or status, can still have quite an impact on the state of the world, for good or for ill.
may have slipped to some extent, in trying overmuch to be the "adult" Zelda certain aspects of the fanbase were clamoring for, but by no means does it fail to teach a few lessons of its own, while revisiting many that came before. Another Link thrust into "doing what he has to do," TP
's hero did so with even more adversity than his previous incarnation in LttP
, what with the whole "oh hey I'm a wolf now wtf," thing going on. What really stuck out for me, however, was the return to a romantic situation greatly akin to that of Ocarina
's, wherein you've got Ilia, the childhood friend whose sudden distress kicks off your adventure; the beautiful and noble Zelda, whom you can't help but want to aid in her aims to help her people; and Midna, the annoying brat who ends up growing up to be a total hottie who was just bugging you and tagging along because she had a thing for you the entire time; all archetypes that most players have encountered or will encounter in their lives (and, much as in real life, the brat-turned-hottie ends up being completely unavailable once hotness is established).
If Jonathan Holmes' review
of Skyward Sword
is anything to go by, Nintendo looks to be continuing this tradition of addressing adolescence, and even being a bit more direct about it than some of the more analogous approaches seen in prior Zeldas
. With a core cast that, from their descriptons, sounds like the roles in a typical teen drama, and a new approach to the relationship between Link and Zelda that feels more organic in its pre-existence than the usual, somewhat sexist implication that these two kids might hook up because the guy's saving the girl's ass, Zelda's
(and the Wii itself's) swan song looks set to tackle a universal tale of personal and interpersonal growth that they've only gotten so close to in earlier installments. I can't wait to see what other lessons they slide into Skyward Sword
, and I can only hope they mesh with the core plot as well as the review and its 9.5 score would seem to imply.
In closing, I hope those of you who've endured this wall of text can see just why I find the Zelda
games so enduring, endearing, and close to my heart. I'm quite aware I left out a few titles, but the Oracle
twins from the Game Boy Color days seemed more focused on exploring play styles than they did plot styles, from what I recall, as did Four Swords
and Four Swords Adventures
, though the latter two did do a nice job of espousing the value of cooperation, and/or the hilarity of trolling your friends by throwing them in pools of lava so you can steal all their money. As for the DS games, I haven't gotten to Spirit Tracks
, as I still have yet to finish Phantom Hourglass
due to the control scheme being an exercise in frustration (which, in and of itself, is kind of a metaphor for life sometimes). If you want to throw Link's Crossbow Training
in there, sure, I guess, "shooting things is fun," is something people might need to learn. Right? I also apologize for any negative implication the overarching theme of, "boy becoming a man," may hold; one of the delightful things about this series is that, even with the characters having clearly assigned genders, you can easily pull a Rule 63 and still have most everything work properly.
So get out there, play more Zelda
, whether or not you pick up Skyward Sword
, and rest assured that if I ever have offspring, I'm going to sit down with them and have them play at least a few games in the series when that time in their lives comes where things start getting really confusing. The legend is just that timeless.
Oni Link fanart originally by Mast3r-sword.
PS - I completely blame Marin, Malon, and Midna for perpetuating my thing for redheads. Just try and tell me those aren't good reasons.