A look at the 25th Anniversary of the Legend of Zelda in 2011.
25th October 2011. An army of excitable hardcore hylians from the N.E.S to the Wii era pile into the Apollo theatre. That night at least a few hundred street pass Miis would clock up on their overworked 3DS systems.
Street passes from all over the world because tonight was a pilgrimage. A return to the kingdom of Hyrule …via Hammersmith.
In the Orchestra pit; bows and reeds were finely tuned and finally tested. Seats taken, lights dimmed and voices hushed to silence. The night would not only belong to series producer Eiji Aonuma and composer Koji Kondo, but also creator Shigeru Miyamoto who unlike his aforementioned peers was unfortunately absent. As the curtains rose the compere for the night took the stage. The spokesperson for the quarter centenary marketing campaign; Zelda Williams.
Selling a legend for a quarter of a century.
The daughter of Comedian and film star Robin Williams (Jumanji, Hook, Good Will Hunting. etc), was actually named after the eponymous Princess 25 years ago (see where this is going). Advertising the series with someone who grew up with it not only tied in a somewhat celebrity endorsement to the series but also promoted an underlying theme the series has nurtured over the years; nostalgia. Long standing players of Zelda games could relate to this. Given a glimpse of what they hadn't had before, newcomers to the series that were either previously too young to grasp the appeal of a Zelda game or simply hadn't chosen to dive in to such an established line before could potentially be reached by using a strong year long campaign in this manner. Nintendo excellently delivered on this marketer’s dream through the promotion of ‘The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3DS’ and ‘The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword’. 2011’s major releases.
Despite releasing toward the later part of the year (Oct 2011) 'Skyward Sword' is worth mentioning first because it owes so much to what has gone before. In particular, 2 heavyweight Zelda titles help to define it.
Interviews with Producer Eiji Aonuma insisted that the artistic influences in Skyward Sword adhered to impressionist artists such as Cezanne and Monet. Although Impressionistic style created a blurred abstraction of horizons and depths helpfully masking the graphical limitations and loading times of the Wii; Visually 'Skyward Sword’ more consciously emulates the cartoony cel shaded imagery of 'Wind Waker'.
‘The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker’ Released in 2003 on a 2 year old Gamecube. Wind Waker was a stylistic reboot aimed at a new and younger audience. Link was a young boy again and the vibrant ocean world was full of humorous characters. The new direction ultimately breathed new life into the franchise.
Skyward Sword also carried into it's arsenal the character design and teen drama aspect of 'The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess', a game the polar opposite of Windwaker. If WW was a fun and friendly saturday morning cartoon then TP was a three hour Hollywood scale epic in the vein of 'Lord of the Rings'. A much more Drama centric narrative and a Dark and heady world gave older players what they craved; A 'grown up' Zelda. Although audiences were once again split (as with Windwaker) The mainstay series character's (or at least their heraldic incarnations) relationships with one another were explored in more depth than ever before.
This welcome attribute thankfully carried over to 'Skyward Sword' a game explicitly detailed as the first in the zelda series timeline. This information was revealed in an official timeline by Nintendo as a fanfare to end it's anniversary celebrations. The decision to divulge the long guarded timeline in December was like the revelation of a sacred scripture to fans. For years fans had often divided themselves into differing ideas over dynastic traits that crossed between the games. A 'Link'.
Skyward Sword was not only an exciting, new experience peppered with familiar gameplay aspects, it is a worthy tribute to Zelda games of the past as well as a ode to it's narrative future.
Ocarina of our time.
The 'Ocarina of Time' 3DS remake was a game built for fans of the original, of course newcomers to the series would be a prime focus for marketing promos but were it not for the main fan base singing the praises of the 'greatest game of all time' for more than a decade there wouldn't be a remake. Nintendo knew this, the foundation to effectively evoke nostalgia was already exhibited in the product itself, a device Nintendo hit hard with on their publicity campaign. A device to help launch their new handheld.
The prime time father/daughter TV spots featuring Robin and Zelda ran all year and broadly underlined the generational difference between fans of Zelda games from previous console eras and now.
Despite the 14 year difference between the 1998 N64 version and the 2012 3DS revamp, the game is still fundamentally the same. A dramatically enhanced graphical update and the immersive 3D capability of the 3DS being the main difference. This is what makes the franchise so endearing. Whatever game from whatever era you pick up (whether prettied anew with a fresh coat of graphical paint or seen through its original blotchy polygons and cubist pixels) , a Zelda game will deliver a fun and rewarding experience.
"Excuuuuuse me, Princess!"
Back in the 80's and early 90's Nintendo dominated the home console market thanks to the nes. Nintendo reportedly spent $95 Million on advertising and marketing In 1990 alone. In the case of Zelda, this meant everything from Saturday morning cartoons, comics, breakfast cereals and live tours were carrying the brand name. As Sega and later Sony and Microsoft shortened Nintendo's reach on the market in the decades to come, the Zelda name has for the most part been carried by it's consistent reputation for gaming brilliance.
One of the ways nintendo celebrated the 25th Anniversary was by re-releasing through the 3DS e-shop one of it's less celebrated titles; Link's Awakening.
Revisiting a missing Link.
Legend of Zelda: Links Awakening DX ( 1993 / GBC via 3DS £5.40 in e-shop)
Thanks to Nintendo bringing Link's Awakening to 3DS I finally got to play this. I've played and completed every Zelda game except for the oracle entries (The CDi atrocities don't count!). Believe me when I say it: Link's Awakening could just be the best game in the series.
This is an incredibly narrative driven Zelda, and so talking about this game thematically without totally spoiling it is a risk I'm not going to take.
Too much has been said about this game so don't read up on it. Imagine I wrote a book review and told you what happens on the last page of the book and then recommended you read that book. You wouldn't, I wouldn't either.
Most importantly; I don't want to talk about it because you have to play this game for yourself to truly appreciate it.
Like all Zelda's what makes LA fun is it's inventive dungeons, finding key items and exploring. In this game exploring unravelling the mystery of koholit; a vast purgatorial paradise island IS the experience.
It is amazing to think how much nintendo managed to fit into a tiny cartridge.. The world is huge and it could take completists over10 hours to beat.
Without saying too much ( I said I wouldn't) LAs story is a Dante's Divine Comedy of sorts and it's interesting seeing the narrative parallels in an 8 bit Gameboy Game from 1993 to such recent lorded screen works as 'Lost' and 'Inception'.
If you are a Zelda fan you need this game. Buy it now, it's a couple of bob on 3DS.
Zelda 25th Anniversary Concert. London Hammersmith Apollo. 25th October 2011.
Back to the concert, yes I was lucky enough to attend the Zelda 25th Anniversary Concert and I don't use the term lucky sparingly. I felt genuinely blessed by the tide of memories that rose within me with each song. Every symphonic masterpiece was a milestone in the series history, a cutscene played out from a game, a personal moment. The whole concert was a link to the past.
Quite a few video game themed concerts have begun to take place over recent years, some are now regular features. From fan arranged events like 'play!' and 'video games live' to more mature and revered tours like Final Fantasy's 'Distant World's the symphonic off shoot of composer Nobuo Uematsu's live touring band 'The Black Mages'.
Zelda lends itself to a live orchestral production perfectly. Koji Kondo's masterpieces rival the cinematic scores of today's great composers. John Williams, Hans Zimmer and Yo-Yo Ma's efforts are so doggedly embedded into classic fm's too 100 yet Kondo's scores would be just as revered were it not for these works progenating from a 'taboo' medium; computer games. A medium misunderstood by generations old enough to avoid noticing it's dramatic 25 years of ascension as the most innovative and unpredictable art form in the 21st century.
The concerts are not just another way to market and promote the series, they add another way to experience it. They awaken our memories of the series through the game's music. When I look forward to a new Zelda game, I look forward to hearing a new score as well as looking forward to enjoying a new game play experience.
The (Ongoing) Adventure Of Link.
In 25 years 'The Legend if Zelda' has often progressed beyond the restrictions of it's familiar in house development formula. From dropping Link into the world's of rival studio franchises (Link notably appeared in Namco Bandai's Gamecube port of Soul Caliber II and will appear in Tecmo Koei's Dynasty Warriors VS. on 3DS as a downloadable costume) or sporadically outsourcing it's most guarded series to competitive developers like Capcom (notably the 4swords games and 'Oracle' series) and relative unknowns as Grezzo (studio behind the Ocarina of Time 3DS remake) and Monolith Soft (outsourced content developers for Skyward Sword).
Nintendo has kept the essence and appeal of Zelda consistent. There are defining aspects that fire the imagination of first time players and keep familiarised gamers coming back. Fun and satisfying puzzle solving. The incredible sense of wonder and adventure that comes from exploration. Finally, the thrilling action of battle. Wisdom, Courage and Power.
LOOK WHO CAME: