A stretch of green pasture rolls out before me, hills, rivers, forests, villages, caves, swamps, mountain(s) and one big castle is a familiar landscape of unfixed size and design. Equipped with nothing but a sword and shield (and fire lantern by this stage) to tackle every secret and challenger it offered. Looking outward towards all of the adventuring playground felt so large and dangerous for a young child, unaware how their imagination would continue to be outdone by Links later arsenal. I always named my main character Link, because Link is my hero of this story and fit far better after naming my family and food in Earthbound every iteration in exploiting all of the NPC’s dialogue, laughing at them being doomed to compliment my choice of inputted letters.
When I was a young sapling of a human, with a mind eager to be full to the brim with gaming lore, I read and re-read Nintendo power magazines because children will drink up entertainment to mind numbing lengths, and within I saw several different styled artist portrayals of Link. There was the old fashioned link who resembled some sort of clipart pagan knight, the young Link from SmashBros’/Majoras Mask, there was chibi cel-shaded Link and of course there was badass adult OOT Link. I attempted to draw all of them but I was naturally drawn to the adventures of young Link.
I was unable to dig up my old drawings on account of the timing of this post but here is a drawing I did of what I think my old drawings looked like:
An old Pokemon save that I had been carefully crafting was corrupted on a battered GB cartridge and so something else had to be slotted in rather than put it down and go outside. In went Links Awakening and up opened a new world.
It was there within Links awakening did I enjoy sandy beaches, looked up at strange mountains, I cut grass over and over and over when my parents begged me to do something even remotely similar in reality, and the magical feather that granted Link a jump button which collided universes with the jumping Mario lands so much so that that chain chomper in the town HAD to be more than just a fun add-in.
So I went in search of chests and heart pieces. At the time for me there was no more noble task. I thought myself a hit with the ladies.
Links awakening was probably the first game I sought out every secret and fight without caring if an older brother could get me out of that mess. I can think of no more fitting rite of passage... for me.
There were massive revelations in collision detection which are larger and wider than what I had previously witnessed. The fact that Link could turn toward the enemy projectile, facing like a obese human target unafraid of the canon being fired at their gut, the bullet simply disintegrates upon impact with a light *tink* sound and with that sound shattered my gaming minds eye. Pokemon this was not. Monkey Island this was not at all like. Such revelation gave confidence to my handle grip on the sword/gameboy and I went flailing like a mad man. With hindsight I should feel sorry for Link being controlled by a young child too eager for a reaction from every living thing that my sword could collide with.
A great deal of the series Heroic journey in a whimsical and ‘fairy-tale’ like setting is arguably been seeped into much of my own interests and what I am drawn to in media. A small boy/teenager who is facing a labyrinth of monsters of varying scales, long before Demon Souls took a more dark and literal take on this. It wasn’t long ago that I played ‘Marvelous: Another Treasure Island’ and seen Aonuma’s happy-feeling world building skills on full display as being a great deal of what I admired about Zelda, and seeing how there are many small pieces which make up different sides of the experience.
Oracle of seasons showed me environmental changes that WarioLand 3 had only displayed to me before, for me that was what Zelda brought out, a world where depending on my choice of tools to interact with the environment, will reveal more hidden treasures. Seeing things not be fixed in a game and it change as progress continues was a neat feature back then before that became a game by itself. Input and output are digital processes that keep proving to be rewarding.
It was not long before A Link to The Past was infront of me and a controller was made available. I don't remember the date but I remember how it went.
This lead to the next best and greatest gaming learning experience which was that it was funny to whack chickens with a sword, doing what even a young me knew full well was savage and cruel in the real world was just a boys will be boys action in the gaming world. Separation from reality was enabling my impulses to try out what should not be done without consequence. Thankfully my insistence on finding where the game would fight back came via a chicken storm of reinforcements which would prove greater than any other enemy in the game. There was and still is few game environmental punishments as impactful and as terrifying as when those chickens taught me that if I want to play in this world then, after a line gets crossed, the game would resist me inflicting any action not lessened by compassion.
Nowadays I see that some Zeldas puzzles are indeed a consumer friendly version of Adventures of Lolo and there were times the challenge was just right for my little hyper headspace. I was seeped in triforce lore and hyrule secrets and wondering why the Zoras looked like sea-dragon monsters in a Link to the Past but Nintendos polygon designs of Zoras in the 3D games were either rockstars or mermaids.
The image of a small boy within the forest stood upon a tree stump playing a flute that drew all the animals around him and coming close meant they all scattered, then the boy disappears. That was the simple visual power of early Zelda games that while certainly is intact in later entries, there was a power to when the early games kept the appearance of speech bubbles as few as possible.
A Links Awakening was re-released in color. A cardridge was again purchased because little that was sacred survived the storm of childhood wrath.
Navigating the neon bright coloured pixels that shaped the landscape of Links awakening was a sight that when beheld was truly odd but wonderful in equal amounts. I adore the weird side of Zelda that many people have pointed out when the developers spent too long in the cold steely side of realistic Hyrule that Ocarina sowed adoration for. Now anyone who has seen the Shadow temple in OOT will know that game contains out right horror, but the followup game on that console is a peyote trip. To me those colours, those simple sound effects, those charming three or four sprite animations of the NPCs walk cycles and that menu screen of what looked like a big Yoshi egg were all what Nintendo was for me. A Link to the Pasts mirror dark world felt like these developers letting out this wild side, I adored how every corner seemed rife with danger and the dark imagery that turned the happy world inside out. Later entries would build a greater aesthetic for what would become Zelda with Ocarina showing world building that no one had even expected from the Mario factory. It’s triumphs like those that remind me why Nintendo chooses carefully with Donkey Kong and Metroid.
One day my impressionable and bored mind, moody just looking at the threshold of teenage-hood, would be granted some playtime with Wind Waker before my older siblings came home and took over by force. When my hands steered that controller through a fresh new world, my brain soon overwrought Mario 64 gameplay muscle memory or how Majoras Link controlled and introduced me to how Zelda could have pirates and sailing and I was convinced that Nintendo was in direct communication with the dreamscape of every adventurous young boy and was finding ways to make them all come true in a game. ‘This was what I wanted and then some’, I thought to myself and now only they could let me play as a brooding wolf.
I have FourSwords on my to-play list since I now (finally) live with someone tolerant enough of me to play with me from the same room. I’m sure it will be a surprisingly enjoyable experience.
I got pretty far into Minish cap when I had to return it to a friend but it was fun while it lasted.
Twilight princess came out around the time when I was done with colourful things and focused on things that resembled a cold world view outside our warm homes where struggling as part of living was a more grounded way of life. In a few years media would capitalise on ‘grit’ settings and tone when really all of my attention could be enslaved by something with an engaging story and heart (even if teenage me would have never used such words) and thankfully there was a handful of tonally challenging moments that certainly gave me what I wanted in a Zelda styled package. But this was traditional days, when the formula wasn’t to abandon it but double down and try and fine tune every gear, re-examine every bolt for efficiency, make the best version of that machine before you re-invent the wheel. Maybe a re-release will adjust the difficulty and make that game its most perfect version, if they can resist other adjustments like shortening the wolf segments or removing Links horrific demon face.
The issue being that Zelda showed my own love of these traditional formulas, I personally would have been fine with the Yettie mansion in Twilight Princess being the direction of how we would change it up going forward. This is why I’m suited to the role of game player and not a game maker.
I played both DS Zelda entries which were further exercise in showing the gimmicks the series would enjoy rolling out to make them appealing but I actually found the gameplay to be what I had enjoyed from older top down Zelda games, it is nice to be given a game that reminds you of a style and setting that you didn’t even know you missed. And Spirit tracks has some of the finest puzzle design on that system, Nintendo was throwing money at these and whoever was at the helm of the ship or train was steering it well even if it wasn’t for everyone.
Skyward Sword was released and the early gameplay promotional material showed it as a convergence of weird goofy Nintendo and the other styled they had so tried and tested (and perfected?) earlier and while I had fun it simplified world and new angles on dungeons felt more closer to what Okami had done before (no objections) or regardless it showed me that Zelda had to change with the times. The formula was in need of an overhaul if it was to survive in the new expanding gaming landscape and this was fine by me, I had played other grittier games and had even tried making a few of my own and I knew that the place Zelda held in my heart and mind would be shelved when love of alcohol and playing music would overwrite such things. I had finished Vice City without any cheats or sibling assistance, if there was an achievement to wear as medal of manhood I fancied myself as decorated with and envied for it.
It was encouraging as a cynical gamer who saw Skyrim as a new potent realm for adventure, that Zelda was improving its graphics and looking sharper and brighter than ever while seeming to expand more in options of interactivity, never allowing anything in the game which fall into 'collectable' done in quantity had to be executed with quality. A few franchises I shared almost equal love alongside or after Zelda did not prioritise such things as times and industry grew more advanced. In an age where anything held at deep reverence is rightfully up for skepticism, I still take a happy breath when my memory returns to these games.
I have not played A Link Between Worlds because I never owned a 2/3DS. I expect I will love it once emulation and my understanding of it catches up.
I have not played Breath of the Wild, there is now grey in my hair and I spent my own money on a PC rather than a Switch, a decision I’m sure I will regret when the next sequel gets announced. I’m happy Zelda took the extra leap after Skyward Sword and became something new to match modern sky-high standards for adventuring, interaction and customising. Maybe we will have a female link, maybe Link will look how you design him/her, maybe you’ll have carriage or an airship since horses have been overdone.
I’m no great fan of story being retold in restructured ways, even if we know where it ends up (hot potato ball of light boss battle followed up by pig God throwdown). People will turn out to see a Shakespeare play with a new cast and setting, or a remake of a classic movie with practically the same script or a movie so studio engineered you can see the story beats on the poster, or whatever the hell the FF7 remake is doing. Point is, Zelda is a simple formula and the destination has never been the core or even the best part of the experience, or so I assume, theres a type of player for every game type these days.
I was a child forced to give up adventuring in favour of studies and education and in fear living my life out without ever exiting my hometown which was scarce of adventure, but for quite a while the controller in my hand was forgotten by my mind and it was the extension which wield Links many weapons.
The greenest pastures around me were fields with land ownerships laws and cattle that really would gang up and fight back if I came at them, and any caves would most likely have made me into a missing persons case. That is a strange view of looking back at my past self but maybe writing the sentence will help me accept it was closer to the truth than I can see from an internal perspective.
Link will always be there, ready for me to guide him through the next dark cavern or against the next beast blocking my path or whichever item was placed to help me realise my potential and help me push that block over that switch with a satisfying *click* followed by a unlock jingle.
Maybe Zelda is entering into a whole new chapter and Aonuma and Miyamoto won’t be around forever in order to oversee that the ship stays on course and maybe that will be for the better and it could be that what Zelda once held for me is in the past among many wonderful entires where I can forever go back and relive those grand adventures. Or maybe they’ll just remake Link to the Past and have me truly won over and Zelda at 45 will tell of how it saved me from the path that leads away from gaming and excitement of future green pastures is ahead, we can dream.