Longing and Disappointment in the Land of Hyrule

This week has not been lacking in Zelda-centric articles, but with the franchise’s 25th anniversary having passed us I think we can spare a bit of attention.

My feelings on the Zelda games tend to be a bit complicated. I, like many gamers, adored it growing up. When I was young boy, my days spent with an uncomfortable rectangular controller in hand, my penultimate wish was to have my own copy of The Legend of Zelda. My parents would occasionally take me to a local video store (always on Saturday; the place was closed Sunday so we’d get an extra day free) and it was consistently my rental of choice. Well, except for that weekend I took Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade home. That game rocked.

I never got my own Zelda though, leastways not when it mattered. By the time I laid my hands on my shiny copy of the game, it was well into 1997 and I was playing the N64 instead of the NES. I wouldn’t beat it until 2009 when I bought a copy of the GBA port. Suffice it to say, where many fans of have great memories of playing the game, most of mine surround my longing for it.

The same could be said for A Link to the Past. I didn’t get a Super Nintendo until 1996 and A Link to the Past was yet another title I had spent years lusting after. I had a few friends who had it, and whenever we’d visit my Uncle Keith I’d spent hours playing his copy while he and my Dad chattered on about boring non-Zelda stuff. But by the time I actually got my own copy, I was past my point of needing to have it. In 1996 I was enamored with the forthcoming Ocarina of Time. A Link to the Past was cool to have and I did love playing it, but the part of me that had held a passion for it had moved on.

Ocarina of Time though would be different. On Christmas morning I opened up a game sized box to find a limited edition copy. The box was shiny. The cartridge was gold. All the animosity I had been harboring toward my Dad for getting me ice skates instead of an N64 the year prior dissipated. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to experience a game with quite the same sense of wonder as I did when I first popped Ocarina of Time into my Nintendo. It was something genuinely new and revolutionary. Every moment I played it, I knew that I was taking part in a game that would change things. And it did. Ocarina of Time was one of the first, and still the best forays into realizing a complex 3D world in a video game.

Ironically, the one franchise that would never grow as a result of the game would be Zelda itself. As much fondness as I carry for the world of Hyrule, the overarching stagnancy of the franchise has long since tripped away my interest. Even with the novelty of 1:1 realistic motion controlled sword fighting the upcoming Skyward Sword has barely registered on my radar. Everything since OoT (well, except Majora’s Mask) has just struck me as treading weathered ground with maybe a bit of divergence here and there to keep things at least a little fresh.

I grew up, but Zelda stopped growing with me and as a result, that wonder is gone. I look back on the old entries, the ones that demonstrated real ambition and real innovation with fondness. That said, as the 25th anniversary drifts by I can’t help but wonder ifwe’ll be celebrating the same way when Zelda turns 50. When the franchise is arguably already past its prime, should we even hope it will keep going so long? Or should we perhaps just wish bid it farewell and allow ourselves the luxury of being able to remember Zelda as something bold and excellent instead of a franchise tarnished by the desire of a big N to keep the money train rolling along the tracks of mediocrity.

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