It doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway: The Legend of Zelda is among the most memorable, salient, seminal, and magical series to ever grace that wonderful medium called videogaming. And, what’s more, its 25-year-history has been intertwined throughout my 32-year life in more ways than I care to discuss or is probably healthy– and I know I’m not the only one who feels so.
Or am I? When discussing doing this celebration of all things Zelda, a good buddy and extremely-well-known gaming journalist confessed his almost complete apathy– hell, maybe it was even antipathy— towards the franchise. “I have a feeling that there are plenty of people that think the exact same thing,” he said, “but might be afraid to admit it. Even some of the diehard Nintendo junkies that I knew started to get burned out on what I could arguably point to as a ‘lack of evolution.’ ”
But something that can produce such potent passions either way is, indeed, something that deserves to be touched upon. So I gathered ‘round the childrens and posed two simple questions: why does Zelda matter so much to them? And why will the series continue to matter in the future?
Sir Gordon Wheelmeier, TotalPlayStation advisor and gaming guru
I haven’t really liked a Zelda game in a long time. I never even finished Ocarina of Time (couldn’t take the Water Temple). I played 10 hours of Twilight Princess and was bored to death the whole time.
Still, A Link to the Past is a Top 10 Ever for me, so I certainly have nostalgia, but right now I don’t care about any of the games. It really needs a re-do to interest me. For me, I think it should be done more like Arkham Asylum/City, even if much less dark in theme.
Peer Schneider, IGN VP of content and Nintendojo founder
I own and have played every Zelda game ever– even the terrible CDi off-shoots that have little to do with Nintendo’s consistently great series. I’ve got collectibles, statues, books. My cell phone’s ringer is the “secret” chime. My kids have been known to run around the house wearing a Minish Cap. So yes, Zelda matters to me.
I discovered the series pretty late. I fell out of love with videogames after the home computing days (C64 forever!) and didn’t seriously get hooked again until I played two games on the Super Famicom (SNES) during my college years in Japan. The two games were Super Mario World and A Link to the Past. I had played traditional adventure games, as well as RPGs like Ultima in the past, but I immediately loved the simple, stats-free, action-oriented gameplay of A Link to the Past. But what ultimately makes the Zelda games matter so much to me is how well conceived the overall quest and overworld are. Nintendo just pulls off the most interactive worlds and gadgets, sucking you deep into their world– not by dazzling you with realism or with prominent voice actors, but by making you feel like a kid who just discovered the coolest fucking playground ever.
The Legend of Zelda games are very difficult to create. Everything, from the finely tuned puzzle dungeons to the overall flow of the quest, takes some very creative thinkers. Although many titles have borrowed elements from Zelda over the years, there are really few games like them. And each game in the series brings some unique, new tweaks to the formula. From the way it felt to ride a horse in an open world, to lock-on-targeting, to “feeling” when you’re near a secret, to mixing point-and-click and action gameplay… as long as Nintendo focuses on “feel” and creating a unique toy box, I’m confident that the series will continue to capture our imagination.
You have to remember, before the NES came around, gamers were shooting space bugs, jumping over barrels, eating white pellets, and stomping on giant hamburger buns. Videogames were great in those days, but they were fairly shallow experiences.
Then the original Legend of Zelda came along and showed us that games can be grand, epic, and adventurous. They can offer strange lands to explore, bizarre creatures to battle, and some of the catchiest tunes you’ll ever get stuck in your head.
Do you still remember the tinny title-screen music, what it felt like to hoist a Triforce over your head for the first time, or the message “It’s a secret to everybody”? If so, then you don’t need me to tell you why Zelda matters so much– you already know.
I actually feel like Zelda’s becoming less and less relevant these days. Sure, the hardcore fans will worship Link for another 500 years, but it’s going to be very difficult for Nintendo to reach the heights that A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time achieved in pure, memorable awesomeness. The series hasn’t evolved that much, and a lot of gamers have grown out of it. Just look at Skyward Sword— when a new Zelda game is taking a backseat in hype to stuff like Skyrim, Modern Warfare 3, and Arkham City, you know people have started to move on.
Ryan DeLaRosa, Game Over Nation editor and co-host
Zelda is a franchise with a lot of history not just for me, but for my family. My mom married my step-dad when I was six. Suddenly, I was tossed into a new family with a lot of cousins, though not many near my age. My family spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house on my step-dad’s side, and it was a situation absolutely designed for a six-year-old to feel out of place in. It was a house full of grandchildren who were all blood-related… and me. I was the odd man out. But there were videogames. Looking back, my step-grandpa (is that a phrase?) and I likely would have gotten along really well had he lived a bit longer. He loved videogames. I never really realized how much until I was a bit older, but in his later life, we were likely a lot alike. He always had a nice PC and several consoles sitting around. He found out a bit late, but he was a total nerd.
I think that’s what planted the Zelda seed in my head. While I did watch friends play through The Adventure of Link and A Link to the Past, I never even owned a Zelda game of my own until Ocarina. But that series always had a place in my heart. Remember the old Link to the Past comic that used to run in Nintendo Power? I still have the book of the full collection that released when the series completed.
I guess what I’m getting at is that Zelda is important to me because it was around a lot during my formative years. In addition to what I already said about the original, Ocarina happened in high school and Wind Waker was a big college experience. I have a lot of memories tied to every game, even if I didn’t own it or play it myself.
Why do I think Zelda will continue to matter? That’s a tough question because I’m not sure it will– not to me, at least. I wanted to love Twilight Princess, but I couldn’t get into it. I never finished it. For whatever reason, that game wasn’t the game I was looking for. I might give Skyward Sword a shot, but nothing I’ve seen of it impresses me. Walter Lopez, Javi Rodriguez, and I have had in-depth conversations on our podcast over at Game Over Nation about what it would take to get us really excited about a Zelda game, and it’s a far darker game that Nintendo will likely ever be willing to make. It could be done, but I don’t think we’ll ever see it.
Andre Segers, GameXplain EIC and former Nintendojo staffer
The Zelda series has been with me most of my life, growing and evolving much as I was in my own pre-teen through adolescence years (and even now, to some extent). And perhaps one of the most important parts of growing up is the sense of discovery; constantly learning new things and ideas that better complete our understanding of the world.
Zelda has always been about capturing this child-like wonder of discovery. Each adventure presents a new world filled to the brim with mysteries. Every treasure chest elicits a Christmas-morning-like sensation. Every discovery better completes our understanding of Link’s world, much as we’ve come to understand our own. At its essence, playing Zelda is like growing up all over again. Link is a vessel through which we not only experience his coming of age, but relive ours, as well. That sense of discovery is the basis of life and can be a wonderful feeling. The day we stop learning is the day we cease to live.
As long as Zelda continues to capture that aspect of our lives, by continually to innovate and offer new experiences, I can’t see how it will ever become irrelevant to the gaming world.
Marc N. Kleinhenz has covered gaming for over a dozen publications, including Gamasutra and TotalPlayStation, where he was features editor. He also likes mittens.