The Legend of Zelda
02/04/2018 04:52 PM Filed in: Blog
Wow. I just realized that I haven't written a blog in over a year! Oh well…. time flies.
Gotta say, though—I'm pretty happy about the days ahead. We've started playing with a new guitarist in the band named Keith Barber and he's very good. As in REALLY GOOD. I've been studying Jazz with him since December and I'm more than happy that he's playing with us with CMB now.
But alas—this blog is not about music. Nope. It's about one of my other passions.
The Legend of Zelda.
A little back story….
It occurred to me the other day that I've been kicking Ganon's butt around Hyrule for 30 years. My cousin Troy had a Nintendo and a new game called The Legend of Zelda. It wasn't like any other game any of us had ever played. For starters, the cartridge was gold. Seriously. Gold. As in C-3PO gold. Shiny and all…. And yes kids. Much like the Switch, old school games came to us in the form of cartridges with a circuit board, a chipset, and a no downloadable content. Everything had to be right the first time. You paid for a game, you got an entire game. This game was different right from the start. It was gold on the outside and soon we'd plug it in to discover that it was better than gold on the inside.
Zelda did what no other console game had done before. It allowed you to save your progress.
This suggested two things:
1. You wouldn't be beating it in one sitting.
2. The game was probably challenging.
They were correct on both accounts.
To understand how groundbreaking this is, you have to take yourself back to a pre Xbox and Playstation world where consoles had no internal memory or storage. In the acid washed days of the summer of 1986, the average household microwave had more memory than even the top of the line game console. At least your microwave had enough memory to keep track of the time. Consoles had no such luxury—they were simply boxes that played your games. Nintendo changed all of this by putting a battery inside a game cartridge and adding a built in memory into the game cartridge itself. It was both genius, and revolutionary.
Zelda started out simple enough. You start out in a pretty sparse landscape with no real clue what to do. Before long, you're walking into a cave, talking to an old man about a sword, and looking for a princess. Oh yeah. I was hooked.
But wait—I can't tell you about the game just yet. I've got to fill you in on the magic here…
To understand why this game has endured for so long and has a special place in the heart of SOOOOOOOO many fans, you've got to understand the depth of the game. To a degree, Zelda did for Videogames what Tolkien did for Lord of the Rings. Much like Tolkien, The Legend of Zelda developed an entire world with a history rich with characters. It came with a game booklet that gave us all sorts of hints that this was gonna be hard. In the booklet (and game), we were introduced to beasts that we had never heard of. From Lynels, Octorocks, to Wizrobes - all of them had a mysterious past that we knew nothing about but were somehow ready to be thrown in the middle and figure it out.
The game was massive. It wasn't just shoot 'em up or run and gun like the beloved Konami titles of the day. It was an open world. You could go where you wanted when you wanted. No other game had done that. You also had to figure out that certain weapons had certain powers and play through countless hours of gameplay, talking to random in-game characters just to figure out what was going on. I was 12 years old when it came out and it was just the right time to make an impression on me. I was just at the age where I was starting to work out critical thinking issues on my own. Good thing, too - Zelda had a ton of puzzles. Not only that, it had currency. You had to earn enough money in the game to buy certain items that you may need later. We had never even thought of that before. Now we were 12 year olds budgeting in game currency to purchase arrows, potions, and anything that could help us take down the baddies.
Did I mention that the game was massive? It was. And like I said—it was open world. This meant we had to learn to read a map. A serious map (click here to see just how big this world was). We had to traverse back and forth to collect rupees, items, and to simply get our bearings. In the age of Exite Bike, Super Mario Brothers, and Kung Fu, this game stood out on it's own by allowing you complete freedom to solve the game as you saw fit. No longer did you just go from left to right.
No other game had ever pulled me in quite like this one. Sure, I spent a summer feeding quarters into Super Mario Brothers at Sunrise Minit Market in Hagan, but it only entertained me as long as my quarters lasted.
Okay…. here's how it actually started…
One night my cousin Joe was at Troy's house and we all decided to try this game out. We sat down to play Zelda the first time and I remember two things vividly. First, we were very strict about who's turn it was. Since the game could go for endless hours, we were making sure that we all got equal play time. Second…. and oh God…. I remember this like it was yesterday…. We played for eight hours straight. EIGHT HOURS!! When we stood up, our bodies hurt like they had never hurt before. All of us were like the stone soldiers we were trying so hard to avoid in the game. We were stiff from head to toe. Our backs ached, our legs and arms were stiff, and we were all in pain. We all looked at each other and compared notes to if we all felt the same way. We did. There we were, motionless teenagers for eight solid hours. And we paid the price….
We called it a day around 3:00am and slept like rocks.
Now I'm not sure exactly how much time went by (whether it was weeks or months), but after countless hours of pouring our hearts and souls into that game, I did figure out that the silver arrow was what we needed to kill Ganon. When it came time to face off with him, it was my turn at bat.
I remember being scared to death watching that blue son of a bitch bounce around the room with no regard for human life or for the time that Troy and I had sunk into that game. He just kept flashing and shooting some kind of fireball at us until he received a silver arrow straight through the chest. Then he collapsed and dropped the final piece of the Triforce on the castle floor.
It was Euphoric. We had beaten a game that seemed impossible to beat. Heck, none of our friends at school had beaten it yet. As far as we knew, we were the first kids that beat it ever. We were the heroes of legend. That's right, ladies… Autographs will be signed after we kiss the princess.
I was inspired. If beating a video game can be considered a major accomplishment, this was my first major accomplishment. We did a victory dance around the house, called my older brother Mark to brag about it, and we were pretty sure that we were going to be on television for our feat of bravery. Needless to say that we didn't get on television, but we did have bragging rights at school for months before any one else beat the game.
A second Zelda game came out in 1988 and Troy got it. I looked at it and played it for about 10 minutes or so but it just didn't capture my interest. It didn't seem to have the freedom that the previous Zelda game had. All of a sudden, it was a side scroller? What? That didn't seem open world at all! And I knew that it would take a much greater investment of time than I was willing to give. In 1988 I had already moved away from video games. I picked up a guitar that same year and I knew I was going to dedicate my life to music.
Speaking of music….
Fast forward 10 years into the future and I'm finishing my degree in music education. It was going well with one exception… My supervising teacher and I just didn't click. It was awful. I was stressed out of my mind and exhausted. I was at my wit's end and had no solution to fix this. It was the first time in my life that I was doing everything right and nothing was working.
It had gotten so stressful that I started to drive 30 minutes away just to visit my friend at the end of the day—just to get my mind off the job.
One day, I noticed that he had a gold cartridge in his Nintendo 64 entitled "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time". I asked him what it was like. He said: "Oh, you gotta see this.". He began playing the game and asked me if I wanted to play.
I remember seeing the beauty of Zelda in a true 3D world and saying: "I can't play this right now. If I start playing this, I won't quit playing and I'll fail student teaching. I knew that I had seen something that was special. I also knew myself well enough to prioritize what little time I had.
After graduation, life was awesome. I picked up guitar students full time and began playing another instrument….
Ocarina of Time
After graduation in Spring, I bought the Nintendo 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I played that game for hours. I did everything you could do in the game. Every side quest, got every gold Skulltula, every wallet, every heart container, and every upgrade. I even bought the master quest and beat it. I was single and made my living teaching guitar. Pladd Dot Music was only a name on business cards and I had more time on my hands than I would ever have again.
In the original Zelda, you played a flute to travel swiftly to remote regions in the game. Much of the Zelda series requires you to listen to music for cues and clues.
The amazing thing about Ocarina of time was it's use of learning music to maneuver through the game. It's not just part of the game, it's the major part of the game. And that's where Zelda differentiates itself from so many other games. Many games have great music. But Zelda has always forced Link's hand toward being amusician (or music lover) of sorts. He had to learn to play the Ocarina in this game. Each town or area was associated with music. You had to learn songs of their region to move forward in the game. With each new song you learned, you gained an ability or knowledge that helped you move forward (or back) in the game. Heck, even the major baddie, Ganondorf himself plays pipe organ in Ocarina!
And my God. This music is breathtaking. I never will forget traveling on Hyrule field for the first time and hearing the Zelda theme I had heard so long ago. It was inspiring. The use of the leitmotif in music to paint characters and environments is like no other game. Nintendo is a master at this. Think about it—you know the Mario theme. Every child that I've ever played it for knows that music. They all know that it's Mario's theme. Zelda is no different. Instead of a be bop jazz theme like Mario, Zelda uses longer orchestral themes and motifs to define it's setting. It paints the world so well that to this day when I hear some of those themes, I remember exactly where I was in the game. That was 20 years ago. That's seriously good music.
When you learned the song of time, you could now send our hero back and forward through time. Many things that were to happen in the future had to be rectified in the past, so you had a strong feeling of how to make things right in this game. Not only did you have to learn the layout of the land to figure out where events happened, you had to learn to master time to discover when these events happened. The game allowed you to travel through 3D space and time.
Since the map was so large, it only made sense to travel the land with a horse. When you spent time on Lon Lon ranch learning that ballad, you finally earned the trust of your loyal horse, Epona. This made traveling the land much easier (and faster). It also gave you a strong sense of bonding with your horse. She would follow you and help you on your quest to destroy evil.
Ocarina of Time is considered to be one of the greatest video games of all time. And rightfully so. At the time, the game was so monumentally different from anything that had come before it, that it got perfect scores from almost every game review out there.
I knew that after this game, I would buy every Nintendo console that offered a new Zelda.
Majora's Mask picked up right where Ocarina left off in the Zelda timeframe. The game had gotten significantly darker in tone but it had introduced new concepts to Zelda. It allowed the player to transform into unique characters (by wearing their respective masks) and also introduced the element of a constant impending doom of the moon crashing into Hyrule. This meant that you constantly had to think about time as a fleeting moment. You were forever under the stopwatch.
Much like Ocarina, time became just as much of the gameplay as any sword, shield, or item that you could carry. You had to learn to master a finite amount of time to play this game.
And like with the previous Zelda titles, music played a major element. Each character had their own instrument and you had to master their songs to master their abilities. Side note…. My favorite was the Zora (he played the guitar).
Up until this year, Majora's Mask was always my favorite in the series. The gameplay, use of characters as abilities, and the element of time all added enough complexity to keep the game interesting for a long time.
The Wind Waker
The Legend of Zelda, The Windwaker came out in Fall of 2002. I was living in an apartment and single. I would soon meet my future wife and plan building our house. I got about halfway through the game and realized that I had to put it down in order to build my house. Yeah. I'm that involved with Zelda…
Again, our hero Link finds himself starting from square one on a remote island. Hundreds of years have passed and Hyrule as we once knew it is mostly under water (due to a great catastrophe). Instead of our trusty horse, we now set sail on the open seas in our boat to discover new lands. Link learned to used the magical baton known as the Wind Waker to conduct symphonic scores that would allow him to travel to distant lands.
The greatest achievement that The Wind Waker brought to the franchise is it's gorgeous cell shading. The game still holds up as a masterpiece in art design. It truly looks like you're playing a cartoon. Although many fans felt like the game was a bit too cartoon for a Zelda title, no one could dispel the game's simple beauty. It was gorgeous. This time, our hero Link looked liked a younger "boy hero" and not the more mature Link we had seen in Ocarina.
Like all Zelda games, you form a strong connection with the protagonist from the time you start playing. You want him to win and you want to help all the people you meet along the way. I've played Skyrim and other sandbox games like Assassins's Creed but they lack the sense of community that Zelda commands. Those games really don't pull you into a story the way Zelda does. You don't feel compassion for characters in other video games the way that Zelda makes you feel. That's a true testament to the art style, game play, story, and music that work together seamlessly to weave the moral fabric that we know and love as Zelda.
Time went by. I finished my house and traveled back to Hyrule to finish Link's quest. We conquered the seas and I looked forward to our next adventure!
The Windwaker looked like you were playing Fantasia. It was a wind of change for Zelda fans.
The Age of Twilight and Skyward Sword
Twilight Princess was released in 2006 and Skyward Sword was released in 2011. By any other account these games would be considered a ten out of ten. As a Zelda title, they were about an 8 or 9. They were very good, but they wouldn't be revered as the legendary or groundbreaking titles that the original Legend of Zelda or Ocarina of Time were.
That being said, they did add some more defining moments of what is considered canon in the Zelda universe. In Twilight Princess, we learned that while Hyrule is a land full of magic and mysticism, it certainly isn't void of technology. This would of course, play a role in future Zelda games. In Skyward Sword, you could use the motion controls of the Wii to help Link navigate, use his sword, or even fly. Again, this too would find it's way into future Zelda titles. So while Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword weren't fan favorites, they did offer a glimpse into what would come in the future adventures of Link.
That is yet another monumental achievement of what makes these games so special. Nintendo doesn't just abandon an original idea (even it receives public backlash)—they develop it, cultivate it, and expand it to become an integral part of the ever-growing franchise.
Twilight Princess finally got the "older and more mature link" many fans had wanted.
Skyward Sword took Link to the skies and introduced us to flying elements and motion controls that would continue through the franchise.
Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild was released on March 3rd, 2017. My wife, Ashlee asked asked me if I was going to get it. I explained that I couldn't until I was finished recording my new album. Again, I knew it would occupy my time.
After seeing screen shots of in game footage (like the one above), I'm glad I waited until this Christmas to jump in.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is sheer perfection.
Breath of the Wild has taken elements of every great part of the Zelda franchise and put them into one game. The game is 100% free roaming. You can go anywhere you want anytime you want. There are COUNTLESS side quests from the citizens of Hyrule that help tie in the community fabric of Zelda. There are puzzles, shrines, items, and an arsenal of weapons that Link can find to help him on his journey.
This is the first time any Zelda game has included downloadable content. Zelda's downloadable content doesn't just give you new maps or puzzles, but it also allows you to earn new upgradable skills by completing new quests. From outfits from previous Zelda titles, to upgrading the Master Sword to it's full potential, this game lets you re-live part of the game's legacy. Not only with items, but with music as well. The music is just as lush as the beautiful scenery. Back are some of the motifs from previous Zelda games. Breath of the Wild makes you feel as if you never left Hyrule.
I've always felt like it would be good concept to have a game that continued where your achievements left off in the previous game. After all, you spend so much time earning items in games, it feels heartbreaking to start off at square one in the next. In many ways, this allows you to do just that. Breath of the Wild ties all of the previous facets of the Zelda franchise together by including them in this game.
At the time of writing this article, I've beaten 70 shrines, conquered countless baddies, and tamed all four divine beasts in Breath of the Wild. Sure, I could march over to Hyrule castle and finish the game, but I'm having way too much fun and enjoying every minute.
My only hope is that Nintendo will expand their downloadable content so I can continue my quest to explore Hyrule for the next few years.
At some point, when I feel I'm ready, I'll go square off with Gannon again. I'll remind him that I have beaten him every time we've faced each other. I'll remind him that I fought him through the ages. I'll remind him that every time evil reared it's ugly head in the form of Gannon, that I was there to stop him. I'll remind him that I beat him as a child, as a young adult, and now as a man.
And when he shows up again, I'll be ready.