This month’s Bloggers Wanted theme is all about those series you followed back when you were a kid, and are still in love with now. Seeing a series you love evolve from 8-bit to 3D and beyond must be a magical journal one can only find in video games. Unfortunately, I don’t really have something like that. Pokémon certainly, but for as much as Pokémon has changed over the years, the underlying game is still essentially the same experience.
That’s why I’m dedicating this blog to a different series. One for which my journey was quite different. For The Legend of Zelda, I didn’t start at the beginning. Instead, I went there and back again.
My first exposure to the Zelda series was watching a friend play Ocarina of Time. Since I was only really familiar with 2D games in one form or another, this thing absolutely blew my mind. Here there was a grand adventure where you could go in any direction, to explore the vast lands beyond and ultimately to fulfill your quest. Ocarina of Time looked grand in ways that the games I was familiar with just didn’t.
It still took me a few years to play Ocarina of Time for myself. Playing it for myself was just as grand and magical as I had imagined it was. Nevertheless, the game did a great job of easing me into it with the Deku Tree. You couldn’t just go in a straight path to your goal, but the dungeon was linear enough that it could teach the Shadeling that was me how to progress. Go upstairs, explore, find Slingshot, drop down, explore, get boss key, explore, fight Gohma. From there on out I learned quickly, tackling larger and more complicated dungeons as they came. When I finally thrust the enchanted Master Sword into Ganon’s ugly mug, I was hooked.
From then on, I started playing Zelda games when they came, in any order that I came across them. By the time I played Ocarina for the first time, Majora’s Mask was also out already. That was admittedly a little harder to get into, and I remember playing through most of Majora’s Mask with a walkthrough. But besides Majora’s Mask, there were other Zelda games waiting for me.
In particular, it wasn’t long until I came across The Minish Cap, with A Link to the Past as a pack-in. Just like that, I jumped from 3D, which had inspired me to try the series in the first place, back to 2D. And yet it wasn’t really a surprise to me anymore that the series was just as good in 2D. The Minish Cap is actually very underrated entry in the series with some excellent music to boot. What’s funny though is that I could still see and appreciate all the little aspects that make Zelda what it is. Dungeon design is necessarily different between 2D and 3D, but the dungeon design in The Minish Cap was still exactly what I expected from the Zelda I had come to know. The same thing goes for A Link to the Past. Undeniably, I was going backwards in the Zelda series. But even after experiencing the wonders of Ocarina of Time, A Link to the Past never felt like it was a step back. Instead, it was amazing to see how the series that I had fallen in love with half-way through had come into being.
A few years later, I was fully into gaming. I got myself a Gamecube, and The Wind Waker to go along with it. A huge leap once again: from early 2D to the newest 3D. And once again, the Zelda series captured me. The adventure felt grander than ever, traversing the Great Sea, yet despite these changes in progression, it was once again everything I ever wanted. The change in the character of Ganondorf was also much appreciated. It showed me that the series, and the plot thereof, didn’t have to be stale, but could continue to reinvent itself. And for just a moment, I experienced the same of accomplishment I had years earlier, as I thrust the Master Sword into Ganondorf’s ugly mug.
A few years later still, and I dived head-first into the Wii era. Now, the Wii brought something interesting to me. Not the motion controls, and not the mass appeal. No, the Wii brought Virtual Console. And with Virtual Console, I finally had a great way to dive back into the history of my now favorite series. If A Link to the Past was an interesting history lesson, then the original NES The Legend of Zelda was that tenfold.
The original was admittedly a little bit more difficult to get into. The game was a lot more difficult than I had gotten used to, and some secrets may as well be impossible to figure out on your own. Despite these drawbacks, I persevered. With guide in hand I eventually made it to the end of the game that started it all. I had heard the music that became the iconic theme, I had seen the enemies that would later be reimagined in 3D, and I had explored the dungeons that would go on to be the defining feature of the series.
However, since this was on the Wii, there was another Zelda game that needed my attention. Perhaps the biggest jump inbetween games I’ve ever made, I played the original and Twilight Princess essentially back-to-back. NES Zelda may have been the history lesson, but Twilight Princess was the return to form. It wasn’t necessarily very unique, but it had some of the best dungeons and some of the coolest items. It was, yet again, all I ever wanted. Even if the waggle was a little iffy.
And from 3D back to top-down. On the original DS, there were Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks to enjoy. These two are a little divisive because of their control scheme, but I would argue that Phantom Hourglass at least is very underrated. The controls always worked well for me, and I really liked the dungeon design. More than anything though, it reinforced in my mind how different the Zelda series could become, while still staying true to the things I loved.
And yet again, from top-down to 3D: this time with Skyward Sword. Motion controls were also back, but this time in an actually functional capacity. However, what I particularly loved about Skyward Sword was the art direction. A nice blend of Wind Waker and Ocarina of Time, it seemed to me that the series was acknowledging its previous accomplishments while also trying something new. Skyward Sword also tried some new things in its dungeon design and overworld, but ultimately I don’t think they were the big evolution of the series that we were promised. That’s fine though, Skyward Sword was a damn good game regardless, if a little slow sometimes.
Just like that, we’ve arrived at the present generation of consoles. Once more, there were plenty of Zelda games to enjoy, new, old, and in-between. On the new front, we’ve had A Link Between Worlds and Tri Force Heroes. On the old front, we’ve had even more Virtual Console releases. Special mention goes to Link’s Awakening and the Oracle series. Three games I had once passed up because I doubted they would hold up on the original Gameboy. Three games I love to death now that I’ve played them. I should’ve known better: old or new, 2D or 3D, console or handheld, Zelda will always be Zelda. Even on the Gameboy, these games hit all the right notes and crafted some damn good dungeons.
Finally, on the in-between front we have the remakes. Ocarina of Time 3D, Majora’s Mask 3D, The Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD are all the great games that I remember, just better. The Wind Waker HD in particular is a huge improvement over what was already one of my favorites.
As you have seen, my own Zelda timeline is more messed up than the actual Zelda timeline. Starting with 3D, going back to the classics, moving forward to the new entries, going back to the classics again, and with some remakes and handheld games to mess it all up even further, I can’t in good conscience say that “Then and now” strictly applies to my experience. Nevertheless, throughout my time as a gamer I’ve experienced everything that Zelda has to offer, from the 8est of bits to the 3est of D.
Yet whether I was moving forward or back, on handheld or console, every Zelda always seemed to offer something new and unique. For someone who ‘grew up’ with Ocarina of Time, jumping back to simpler times wasn’t nearly the shock it could’ve been. It doesn’t matter with which game you start, Zelda is always Zelda. It may look a little different and it may play a little different, but the heart is always in the same place. With every game having the feel of Zelda while also bringing something unique to the table, I never felt like I was going up or down on the evolutionary ladder. Instead I experienced the wonders of the Zelda series over and over again, in whatever form it happened to take.
What’s next, after having been There and Back Again? Well, I think I’m quite ready for another adventure…