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November 18, 2013

What Does Zelda Mean to You?

Hold on a second.  If I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do it right.

You got the Wii U!
This magical little console can play nifty games with its special GamePad.  Drain that battery all day, every day with the most colorful adventures the eighth generation of consoles has offered to date!  Set it to X, Y, or Z to use.

So yeah.  That happened.  And frankly, I’m pretty happy about it…even if it’s a move that’s more or less pure spite in the face of the PS4’s recent release, but whatever.  I'm not going to say that the PS3 is going to be a waste forever, but for now it is.  For now it's better to wait in case there's some neo-Red Ring of Death hiding in the wings.  So sign me up as a Nintendo fanboy if you must, but if there was going to be a step into the next generation I’m actually confident in, then screw it.  Screw day-one Killzone releases, screw incoming gray cover shooters, and screw waiting for a black box to become useful later when there’s another black box that’s useful now.

I got…I got the Zelda bundle.  It’s black, by the way.

It’s going to be a bit before I can fully dive into the console and see what’s up, but the mere ownership and the potential therein excite me.  Say what you will about Nintendo, but the company understands games in a way that most don’t, won’t, or even can’t.  I view it as something of an underdog, and for all the right reasons; in the same sense that the DS got off to a rough start but eventually built up an AMAZING library of games, and the original Wii -- in spite of its waggle stigma -- also has dozens of worthwhile games, I’m guessing that the Wii U is going to satisfy others in the long run.  Or if not others, then at least me.  I’m betting that Super Mario 3D World will see to that.  There’s a princess there that’s calling my name. 

But enough of that.  Let’s talk about the new Guilty Gear game.

My eyes pretty much rocketed out of my head at the mere sight of the article headlines -- and when I watched the actual trailer, said eyes reached escape velocity in a quarter of a picosecond.  And as hyped as I am for the new game (gotta represent my boys Axl, Venom, and Ky), my brother’s even more hyped.  Just yesterday he said “Well, I’m gonna go watch the Guilty Gear trailer for a couple of hours.”  And I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually did.

Honestly, though?  I’m surprised I’m as excited I am.  Ignoring the fact that I’m average (at best) at even the simplest fighting games, and the fact that I just threw my hat in the Nintendo ring, to date I have only played ONE game in the franchise -- two if you count the hour I spent trying out one of the Xbox releases, and three if you count the black sheep Overture.  To be fair I’ve played the hell out of Accent Core, including one monstrous five-hour session with my bro, but compared to a lot of other people I’m arguably “not a true fan”.  I’m true enough, I guess, but in the face of true die-hards I’m not much in the way of loyalty.

The reason I bring this up is because I acknowledge that, while I know plenty of games intimately, there are still a lot of titles and a lot of franchises that are lost on me.  That’s fine.  I’m all right with that; I don’t know every game, but I know some games.  And even if I don’t know every last beat of Guilty Gear, the fact that I had so much fun with one of its games makes me as much of a fan that I am today. 

The problem, however, is that being lost on the beats of a franchise means that I’m missing the full understanding of the essence.  The design philosophy, of sorts.  I may have loved Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, but without a strong understanding of the canon there’s going to be a missing level of enjoyment.  Something that only a true die-hard can have.

With that in mind, let me make a statement: I’ve never beaten Ocarina of Time.

Now put your halberds down, people.  I’ve never beaten Ocarina of Time, but that doesn’t mean I never will; I’ve got the cartridge right next to the TV in my room, and a working Nintendo 64 not far from it.  And it’s not like I’ve never seen the ending or the stuff leading up to it; once upon a time my brother finished it, and I was right there to see it happen.  But in terms of playing through and finishing the game?  Nope. 

I couldn’t bring myself to suffer through the Water Temple, knowing how much trouble it’s caused for gamers all over (not to mention I’m not a fan of water levels thanks to my own blinding rage against/fear of the ocean).  Worse yet, it’s been ages since the game has been released, and ages since the last time I even looked at the game.  I’m convinced that I only started getting critical about things in the past year or two; anything beyond that, and I’m worried I can’t report on anything with any accuracy or credibility beyond waxing nostalgic.

But the worst problem of all is that, like Guilty Gear, I’m not well-versed in the Zelda franchise.  Anything before OoT is completely lost on me.  With the exception of Wind Waker, I hadn’t beaten a game in the series until Skyward Sword.  And again, I’m not as critical now as I was back then -- which means that I’m only now starting to understand just WHY so many people love the franchise as much as they do.  I can derive some understanding and appreciation of the franchise based on my experiences, yes…but how I view Zelda and how others view Zelda could potentially be dozens of light-years apart.

It’s something that’s been on my mind for a while -- a weakness that I’ve perceived, even if it’s not as bad as I think it might be.  But it’s something I know I can get over, and not just because of some quick reasoning; obviously, I have one of the greatest resources around.

And that’s where you all come in.

If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I’ve already done a bit of posturing when it comes to the series.  I hold Skyward Sword in EXTREMELY high esteem, and I’d say Majora’s Mask is just as good, if not better.  But in order to decide how I feel about Wind Waker, the franchise as a whole, and ultimately try to figure out just why Zelda entertains so consistently, I’ll need more than a little conjecture.  I need to figure out why people feel the way they do about the games -- a response that’ll differ from one gamer to the next, I’m guessing.  These games have been popping up over twenty-five years, right?  So how they’ve affected us -- and by extension, how they can continue to be “the same game over and over again” -- is an answer that I’m eager to see from as many people as I can.  So the basic question here is in the title: what does Zelda mean to you?

If you had to ask me, I’d say that the reason I like Zelda (and why it continues to succeed in spite of being a relic of the past) is that it’s genuinely an “experience”.  I’m pretty sure that word’s been thrown out several times before by overzealous devs and marketers trying to hype up their game, but if there’s any game that deserves to use that word -- and consistently -- it’s this one.  On the surface, the games are more or less the same; you play as a guy in a silly green nightcap and traverse themed dungeons, paying mind to a bunch of magic triangles, a pretty princess, and some embodiment of evil, power, and corruption.  That much is almost a constant.  It’s a formula, but it’s a formula that works; you can use any sort of input (Time!  Masks!  The sea!  Animals!  The sky!) and get a high-quality output -- variations that make each game distinct enough to avoid too much eyebrow-raising.

But if there’s one thing that I’m starting to notice about these games, it’s that what’s going on below the surface is infinitely more important than all the dungeon-crawling, moblin-slashing action.  SS opened my eyes to the level of depth and complexity being woven into the background; just because Link is silent doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to say.  On the contrary, I’d say that the Zelda games -- at least based on recent experiences with SS, MM, and WW -- have more to say than dozens of games of comparable or greater length.  There’s a level of intimacy that one can’t help but register and appreciate, as long as you’re willing to look past the surface level and cut a bit deeper.

It certainly helps that whatever game you’re playing, it feels like the world actually matters.  You’re rewarded for taking things at a slower pace and observing the areas around you, letting you pick up on tiny details, points of interest about the people you’re trying to save, and just elements that increase the scope and scale of your adventure.  I’ll hold off on commenting too much on WW for now, because I started a playthrough, but now I want to clear the HD remake to get a full understanding of the game.  Still, I have to say that by design it nails the “scope” of an adventure.

Ignoring the fact that there’s a massive ocean to wander about, you can see incredible distances to spot islands and rock formations on the horizon.  Take a brief stop during the night, and you’ll be able to spot constellations.  Even in the opening half-hour, if you use the telescope to look at the pirate ship from Outset Island, you’ll be able to spot some of Tetra’s pirates working diligently.  In some ways, it’s reminiscent of BioShock Infinite; if you take time out to observe the world around you, you’ll get more out of it than just rushing from one fight to the next.  As it should be; no matter the medium, no matter the scale, the setting is a character of its own.  To underutilize it is to cripple your work.

But this isn’t about me.  This is about all of you.  I’m using this post to offer an open forum for discussion, and a repository for opinions.  No matter how much or how little experience you’ve had with the franchise, if you’ve got something to say about the adventures of Link and pals (and enemies), then go ahead and sound off.  Let me hear your thoughts -- thoughts, predictions, suggestions, memories, criticisms, whatever comes to mind.  The sword’s in your hands now, guys.

…Seriously, though.  New Guilty Gear?  My pants need a new pair of pants.


  1. My Zelda experience is not much better than yours. I got the collector's edition with my Gamecube way back when, and I did not beat a single title in there. The first game needs a guide, and the second game made me rage quit. I prefer the 3D games, but I only beat Twilight Princess, which is more like a remastered Ocarina of Time. Wind Waker, interestingly enough, kinda bored me by the time I found all the Triforce pieces.

    WW had its own story and thing going on with Link trying to save his sister, only to switch back to the mandatory Hyrule and Zelda plot. It felt shoe-horned in because it arrived more than halfway through the game. Thanks for the prologue "hint", but that was over ten hours ago, Nintendo! Not the end of the world, maybe, but even a casual fan like me finds the triforce and destiny stuff repetitive.

    Ignoring the plots and the people who will wring my neck for speaking such blasphemy, I enjoy these games for the exploration. Sailing in Wind Waker was endlessly fun. Rather than progress on to the next main plot fetch quest, I'd try to mark every single island on my map. I'd fight pirates and steal their loot. The kraken would pop up and I'd kick his ass. Fun times.

    Twilight Princess was scaled down tremendously, but I'd go everywhere on horseback, get milk from my hometown, and find some Poe souls to collect. I'd wander around Hyrule Castle Town and harass everyone in my wolf form. Or I'd hunt for rupees and invest in Malo's store until the expensive shop in Castle Town gets shut down. Or I'd fish... or try out for the Hyrulian Olympics by practicing diving at Zora's domain... or I'd snowboard at Snowpeak to get soup from the Yeti couple... Or row down Zora's river and shot jars with bomb arrows -

    Okay, the point's been made, me. >.<


    Hope you get a good experience out of the WiiU. Unless a great library comes out of it, I'm not getting any new consoles for a long time (graduation might be an exception). Bad experiences with the early days of the Wii convinced me enough to be cautious.

    And whatever additions or improvements there are to WW, it sure isn't in the graphics. It just looks shinier and more polished superficially... that's it. I'm happy enough with the original on my baby Gamecube. Still, I'm sure you'll have fun with this upgrade.

  2. Zelda is pretty much dead to me. Link to the Past being my favorite, I haven't liked the franchise since Zelda 64. I hated the cel shading on wind waker SO MUCH, that I refused to play the game. And now that Zelda is just stuck using the Z targeting system, I can't muster enough nostalgic energy to pick up any of the new ones. The Zelda franchise seems afraid to try something new and inventive. They're playing the typical nintendo card and playing it safe. I can't stand it.

  3. In the HD Wind Waker's defense, there have been a few updates beyond more than just the visuals. The Big N seems to have gone out of their way to make the game move faster -- maybe not in terms of Link's walking speed (that I know of), but cutscenes are skippable, sailing moves at a much faster pace, the grappling hook animation has practically doubled in speed, changing the wind direction is quicker -- and maybe automatic in some cases, I'm not 100% sure -- and some of the endgame stuff has apparently been readjusted for a smoother ride to the last boss. I'd bet there are more changes out there (there's a compilation video on YouTube, I think), but even if there weren't, WW HD has already got me impressed merely by virtue of existing.

    But back on topic. I find it interesting that you play Zelda in a way that I (or others) might play GTA. I'd assume that you did some of the storyline quests/dungeons to unlock the necessities, but going out of your way to explore the world and play minigames? It's intriguing. And I'd say it's a strength of the games to even allow something like that.

    It'll be interesting to see with a fresh perspective how WW -- and somewhere down the line, Ocarina of Time -- handle the series' concepts like destiny and the Triforce. Skyward Sword did a fantastic job with it, and Majora's Mask was its own separate beast, but you bring up an interesting point. I'll have to keep it in mind when I go through WW HD. Hope I don't forget anything important, though. The last time I played it, I felt like there were a lot of points worth mulling over...

  4. Dead to you? Man, that's brutal...not that I think you're wrong for thinking that, but it is a little surprising. I guess the "magic" isn't enough for everybody anymore.

    Funny thing, though. I actually tried A Link to the Past once when my family went on vacation -- we had one of those hotel rooms with a console attached to the TV. So my brother and I got to see thirty minutes of the game for the first time in our lives...and we never saw any of it again. I'm willing to bet that's just as shameful (if not more so) than not clearing Ocarina of Time, so maybe I'll watch an LP of the game one day. It'd be interesting to see the divide between the old games and the new ones.

  5. Door to trackless sea
    Swish of a green tasseled hat
    Time's Hero flies away

    I considered appending my comment onto Tom Badguy's because I've had some of the same problems with Nintendo's Zelda approach. It's easy to argue that, ever since Link to the Past, they've just stopped innovating (as they are wont to do): since Link to the Past (and with the exception of Majora's Mask), Zelda's mechanics have been set in cement. If you were to convert Link to the Past's top-down play to 3D, you'd get a similar experience to Ocarina. Actually, I'd argue that you'd get a better experience because LttP lacks the block moving antics that Ocarina gins up to pad its length out. I know that Link has always shouldered large boulders in his games, but never have those perfectly symmetrical, square rocks been as plentiful as in Ocarina's dungeons! I'm astounded that he didn't acquire a hernia.

    The tools and core mechanics remain the same between the Zelda titles. This is evident by how easily one can drop into the first Zelda and discern secrets that would have baffled its initial audience. If you see cracks in the wall, you can blow it open by dropping bombs? No way! Simple to us now, but invisible to everyone then unless you had a copy of Nintendo Power or something. The key difference between us and Timmy playing on his NES in the nineties? Iteration. Often mindless iteration. Hello, Phantom Hourglass. Hello, Spirit Tracks. Hello, Oracle of Seasons and Ages. Hello, Link's Awakening, which was the first Zelda I ever played.

    But you work with the language you have. You don't destroy the rapport you've just established out of an egoistic concern for your individuality or "differentness." You don't scorch the earth. This isn't Moscow.

    At its best, Zelda provides a language for engaging on a higher level (when it can be teased off its golden perch). Wind Waker and Majora's Mask stand out because they build bridges to more mechanics, more ideas, and a theme. Wind Waker's endless ocean is made possible BECAUSE of those iterative mechanics, not in spite of them. Same with Majora's Groundhog Day stuff. Wind Waker's orchestration of the wind takes after Ocarina's ocarina, and Majora's theme of an eternally repeating three day harmony personifies the entire series.

    Nintendo's biggest enemy is its fans, really. They were upset about Team Ninja's absence from Metroid : Prime, they were upset about Wind Waker, and they were upset about Super Mario : Sunshine. All of the Big N's . . . Old Ninny's . . . the Ninster's . . . Mr. Tendo's . . . Intendo's efforts to construct something on top of that language are blocked by a bizarre mobocracy. For people arriving at these proceedings after most of the decisions have been made for us by either that mobocracy or Nintendo, it looks like someone's digging holes and then filling them back up again.

  6. Grats on the Wii U. In all honesty I wouldn't have bit if not for the full backwards compatibility (Which was only bolstered when they added a stealth update that lets the Tablet function as a miniature Television for Wii Games.).

    Back on topic, the part that sticks the most with me in Zelda games is it's mysticism. Every game has this sense of wonder that few other games approach. I'm talking about atmosphere. It blows my mind how people hated Wind Waker for something as superficial as the cell shading. Each game has a feel unique to it while retaining that wonder you get when you first set foot on the over-world. In Wind Waker it was the first sunrise on the open sea along with the morning jingle.

    It screams: You're on an adventure, bitches.

    I do like the fact that Nintendo fixed the major game play flaw of WW by making your boat three times as fast. But I suspect that was due to a technical limitation of the Gamecube. WW upped the ante by making Link feel like a real little boy. From the look of disgust on his face when the weird green pajamas are presented to him, to the enthusiastic I got a cool item held aloft over his head. (Which WW outright makes it clear he ACTUALLY does that to hilarious effect.)

    WW link is also the first link I got the 'feels' for. I mean Majora's Mask is tragic, but Link is a placeholder in it. You find sorrow in the situation, the world, the souls of the people in the masks, but not link himself. When Link watched in despair as his sister was taken by that big bird. I felt his rage and if it wasn't a cut scene, I'd probably have run towards that cliff edge to jump after the bird myself.

    Zelda games strive to be great on that level now both in TP link and SS link. So I can't take anyone seriously when they say: "I hate Zelda cause of the cartoon cell shading."

  7. Ah, such a dazzling comment. It truly warms my heart.

    It's interesting that you'd bring up the effect of the fans on the company. Very interesting. Granted I'd like to think that ANY developer is going to run into issues when it comes to fan demand, but I suppose that the Big N is just as vulnerable as -- and maybe more than -- all the others. There's definitely an "I DON'T LIKE IT THIS WAY, CHANGE IT BACK!" mentality gamers have from time to time when it comes to the franchises they care about (it seems like every week my brother longs for the days of Street Fighter 3: Third Strike), and that could seriously be a problem for guys looking to express themselves and/or branch out.

    I've heard that Nintendo's planning to do something different with their (inevitable) Wii U installment of the franchise, so maybe that'll be something to unanimously bring gamers together. I would have figured that Skyward Sword was good enough to bridge the gap, but alas. It wasn't meant to be. The big question I have -- and have had for a while -- is how the company plans to reconcile core and casual gamers in the near future. Is there a way for the "Zelda language" to be tweaked, and speak to everyone? Can its mechanics be altered any further, and if so, how far?

    Maybe that's what I'm excited to see beyond just a new Zelda. Maybe I just want to see how far Link and his creators can go.

  8. As a wise man once said, "I know that feel, bro." Seriously, you would not BELIEVE the amount of crap my brother gave WW before its release just because of the art style...which is strange, because as the artist between the two of us you'd think he'd be a bit more receptive of others' creativity. But as it turns out, WW is now officially his favorite in the franchise, and he's the one planning on doing a run through this so-called Hero Mode...assuming he can put down Monster Hunter.

    Now, if only I could get him to stop giving Skyward Sword crap...

    But back on topic. It was SS that made me really think about what Zelda games were all about, considering how much that game made me feel...well, the feels. Was I missing something important? Something vital? If my time with MM and GameCube WW are any indication, then yes, I was. Like you said, the style and atmosphere are important -- if not incredibly vital -- to each game, and that alone makes me want to do something as stupid as suffer through the Water Temple. And by extension, the Shadow Temple.

    I hear the Shadow Temple is really scary, though, so I'm gonna wait until I have a healthy stock of clean pants.

  9. I may not be a die hard fan like a lot of others, but I really do enjoy the Zelda series. True, I have to check out a guide for puzzles that I frequently get stumped on, but I do like going through dungeons, hacking and slashing away at foes and coming out of it with new toys like the Hookshot and what have you. You get a true sense of classic adventure that a lot of other games wish they could emulate.

    WW has my favorite version of Link and is a very believable kid hero. He jumps up and down with delight when he vanquishes a boss, he's numerous facial expressions shows him scoping out his surroundings with wonder and I feel we got to watch him grow into the role of a hero and not just be one because destiny said so, which was more or less why OoT Link was the hero. WW Link had his sister abducted, giving him a personal reason to get involved with the quest. What's more, when he finally succeeds in rescuing her, he could have just ducked out on the world's plight and let Gannondorf go about his business, but he stayed the course.

  10. Well, Link wouldn't be much of a man if he just left the job undone, now would he? Someone had to get bodied, otherwise he wouldn't be able to look at himself in the mirror.

    Actually, a lot of people have brought up WW Link's expressions. It's interesting; I mirror the sentiment, but it's funny just how well Nintendo managed to nail exactly what they pined for. They wanted to do more with the hardware than just make a better-looking world; they made a bigger world, yes, but they made one of, if not the most expressive incarnations of the character yet.

    Just thinking about what they'll do now that they're in the HD biz is making me short of breath. Next-gen games seem to be getting more grim and more gray, while Nintendo's primed to give us color, nature, and the brightest faces this side of the galaxy. (Seriously, those Smash Bros. 4 screenshots? They're really trying to show off the faces in most of them -- and with good reason.) I guess this is just more proof that you don't bet against the House that Mario Built.

  11. You know, I have been reading your Family Guy articles and your points are all perfectly valid, but there is a point that you seem to be missing, not so much to your own detriment (you're doing a great job) as much to the detriment of the show and it is this: Family Guy's humopur was always based on the idea that it would be borderline offensive. It was obvious from the first 4 seasons (back when it was good and fresh and honest and funny) that the show wanted to tread in the footsteps of Bill Burr, Bill Hicks and George Carlin and even Louis CK, by producing jokes that would slap you in the face and all you would be able to do was laugh.

    But here's the deal. Offensive humor is RISQUE AS FUCK. It's like handling a jarful of nitroclycerine with greasy palms, while trying to balance it at the end of a broomstick. It's gonna be awesome if you pull it off, but if it blows up in your face, well...you're dead, man.

    So here's an example of a joke so goddamn offensive you can't help but laugh, done right:


    Louis CK talks about child killing, makes light of murder and makes the entire thing so in-your-face offensive, that you realize it is not meant to be taken seriously. Louis doesn't ask you to take up arms and kill people. He tells you 'hey, I know we are all a bunch of furless apes, so why pretend like we're better?' and it is so damn GOOD.

    The problem is that you cannot keep this up. There is no conceivable way (unless you are some sort of comedic genius) that you could maintain this approach to comedy and keep it fresh and funny forever. Hell, even your audience will come to expect that from you and will just show up with Dead Baby t-shirts and go 'eh, he's not so hardcore no more. Remember when he made those flaming babyskull jokes? Those were awesome'.

    Family guy is not written and produced by comedic geniuses OR managed to keep itself fresh. Instead, it is stuck in its ways, refusing to try a different take on its humor, on producing anything new, settling for shock value and pissing people off because...uuhhh...because shut up. The show has overstayed its welcome, dragged its feet and has even spawned a number of spinoffs that do JUST THE SAME THING.

    And the worst part is, Family Guy isn't going anywhere because by now it has become a staple of TV. People still talk about it, in the hopes that something good could be just around the corner, same as you thought it would. But there isn't. Because when the development team for a show IS PERFECTLY AWARE that they have nohing more to add to their chosen style yet still shamelessly pad their own episodes, it is painfully obvious that this is going to go on for as long as it can possibly go.

  12. Yes. Absolutely agree with you -- offensive humor can utterly fall flat, but it can be fantastic, too. Louis CK? I've got no problems with that. I don't mind laughing at that (even if I feel terrible about it). It can be done. It can work.

    But FG doesn't make it work. It's got no charm, no style, no charisma. It banks WAY too hard on being offensive without an understanding of why jokes like that work in the first place, or how to deliver jokes like that in the second. Once upon a time, the show did understand how that worked.

    I'll be honest: I don't know the exact formula for how to do offensive humor, and I don't want to get into a big brouhaha over what a joke should or shouldn't do. But if I had to make a guess based solely on FG's example, it's lacking in creativity. It's got no punch. No energy. The Louis CK example? That's good, because he commits to an offbeat idea and builds it up with all these sharp examples. I don't know how FG would pull that off consistently (that video's barely three minutes, and a cutaway has, what, twenty-five seconds?), but what they're doing doesn't work. If it DID work, consistently, almost EVERY time, I wouldn't give a damn about what FG said. I'd be laughing as hard as they want me to.

    But it doesn't. And just thinking about it gets me all riled up.

    Fortunately, I've got the Two Best Friends LP of Beyond: Two Souls to fall back on. So it evens out. In a sense. Wow, that game...for a given definition of "game".

  13. To be fair, that is a legitimate concern. If the animation in...you know, an animated show isn't up to par, then there really isn't a point in trying, is there? Well, unless you're FG, in which case you can coast to success.

    We live in such a magical world, don't we?