Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Why Smashing Clay Pots Is Sexy: A Legend of Zelda Retrospective

Picture credit to my persona copy of The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia.
When I was nine years old I developed my first crush.  Granted I was only nine, but that’s when girls start thinking about boys.  The trouble was that my guy was not your typical crush.  He was tall, pale, with dark brown hair and ears that were more pointy than normal.  He didn’t live around here; he was from…very far away.  He was quite the heroic lad, always running around saving damsels in distress and breaking clay pots while scaring chickens.  He killed monsters and slashed at bats with boomerangs and swords, fished in lakes and dungeon crawled for gems of all colors as he looked for clues to solving the puzzles that would save the world.  He was also a bit of a lazy and loud mouthed slob at times, but that only made him more charming to me.  Did I mention that he was a cartoon character from a video game that I had played since I was six?  I guess I left that part out…

Nintendo originally existed as a company that created trading cards.  Most notably, cards that included the face of a now famous Italian plumber we know and love.  When they expanded into the video game world they gave us the ability to have a new realm of reality and a new gamer geek level of awesome.  Of the many games they created, two icons stuck out:  our lovable, high jumping plumber Mario, and a green clad elf.  This elf would become Nintendo’s most famous adventurer and live on in many games, timelines, age ranges, and alternate realities.  Thanks to the game titles, many non-gamers call him “Zelda.”  That would be his lady fair.  His name is Link, and for a dude that wears such a weird hat he is scary tough, man.

Picture credit to my persona copy of The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia.

The Legend of Zelda” was released for the original Nintendo Entertainment System on February 21st, 1986.  Nintendo already had a slew of playable, 8-bit gems under its belt.  They ranged from puzzle games, grid based decision making dungeoneering, basic sports games, and a few typical two player pvp’s.  Zelda, however, knocked us all on our ears.  Even my non-gaming mother couldn’t stop playing it.  It was fantasy, puzzles, action, and role-play all rolled in one. You had to get a sword (from an old man in a cave) before you could fight.  You had to kill the monsters to earn the money for potions and gear from sellers.  The world map was extensive.  And the little hero was just so darn cute…

Picture credit to my persona copy of The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia.

I would love to say that Mario or Rygar, Legend of Kage or Athena, were the games that turned me into a hard core gamer.  They weren’t.  It was the adventures of this tall, skinny, pale skinned elf that knocked me off my feet and kept me up way passed my bedtime.  The game became a sensation that put  Link as one of the ruling class of the gaming industry and one of the Kings of Nintendo’s virtual realm.  All bowed down to him and all of us wished to bring our proverbial dowry to offer up to his royal courts. 

Picture credit to my persona copy of The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia.

Heck, he and Mario already owned our hearts and wallets.  Why not our cows and chickens, huh?

Fast forward one year.  In 1987 they released part two of the Zelda franchise.  To this day Link gets referred to by this moniker despite the fact that it is not only the name of the Princess he saves, but depending on the game/comic/manga/cartoon that you watch, the Princess he is either friends with, spirit guided by, or in love with.  This game release, however, should be what points out to everyone their mistake, but does anyone notice this?  Nope.  The game is titled bluntly “Zelda II:  The Adventures of Link.”  This game stepped it up a notch, making the fight scenes more interactive (Link could jump for example,) creating new creatures and Hylian areas to explore (lands, dungeons, etc.,) adding more RP elements in the form of towns to visit and NPCs to interact with, and giving Link a more grown-up look with more detail.  For an 8-bit system it was impressive to be able to give that kind of detail and expansiveness.  

A panel from the Zelda Manga.  Picture credit to my persona copy of The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia.

The first two games seem to be the only ones that are linked within their own timeline.  According to the chronology of every other Zelda game there is a reason that you see Link at a different age.  It isn’t just due to the game plot, such as in Ocarina of Time.  It is because the games themselves are set in different time periods and different timelines, the varying alternate realities giving Link so many different stories to choose from that you can make a veritable “Choose You Own Adventure Story” out of his life.  Be it the SNES release of A Link To The Past (the first game to abandon side-scrolling capability in the Zelda verse) or the Gamecube release of The Wind Waker (Link of the high seas solving puzzles, in short,) Link could be young or old, cute or serious, solving puzzles for fun or saving Hyrule/the entire universe.  The draw of the Zelda franchise for me was always Link himself and the awesomeness of his character.  What kept me involved was the versatility of the series and the possibilities it gave you for varying types of game play.

A panel from the Zelda Manga. Picture credit to my persona copy of The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia.

Link being the strong silent type in his games has always been his “thing.”  It was his identifier that stood him out as the hero of the day in that brooding, serious sense.  There are only two notable exceptions to this.  One was absolutely wonderful and one was so horribly, gruesomely bad that most dedicated nerds choose not to even speak of it.  We’ll get the bad one out of the way first.  Released October 10th, 1993, Zelda:  Wand of Gamelon, was a beacon of hope for the geekdom...at first.  CD-i format, typical Zelda side-scroller from the NES format (which we hadn’t seen since Link To The Past came out,) and in this version you played as Zelda herself in an outfit similar to that of her gear from the cartoon.  If that didn’t sound promising I can’t imagine what would!  And then...the animation cut scenes would come in.  The voice acting was as bad as the original Resident Evil (if you can imagine that.)  The animation look choppy, the inking looked...I don't know how else to say this...runny.  I swear the coloring looked like it needed Pepto to stop the "slushing."  And whenever Link opened his mouth…..oh, I swear every time he did I wanted him to shut up.  My ultimate hero as a child and for the first time made me want to bust his Elf lips wide with every moronic word he spoke.  The controls are useless, there is no ability to pause the game, the in-game purchase system for rupees is off at best, the graphics for main game play are decent for the time, but are unable to be made up for due to the inability to get around appropriately.  There just wasn’t much that you could walk away with happily with this game.  Not even a talking Link made up for it.  If anything, the talking Link was one of the worst parts of it.  

The 1989 Zelda cartoon.  Sadly it only ran for 13 episodes.

The only time a talking Link was acceptable was the time that, as a kid, I developed my first crush.  It was what made me fall for a cartoon character as a kid, despite the weirdness of that admission.  I’m talking about why I planted my butt in front of the TV every Friday afternoon instead of being outside like I normally was.  The Super Mario Bros Super Show was all about Mario, except on Fridays.  Then, it was about The Legend of Zelda.  Starting in September 1989, Fridays on the Super Mario Bros Super Show were reserved for an animated version of Hyrule with some interesting twists.  A fat and mouthy Ganon, a Zelda with a warrior spirit, a talking Triforce, and a lazy good for nothing smart mouth slob of a hero who, when the going got tough,  fought harder than any hero ever could.  And I was glued to the TV watching a Link I never had dreamed existed every weekend, loving this version of my strapping young Elf.   

Another Zelda cartoon shot.

Or maybe not so young...we know how Elvin age progression works…

The Nintendo market keeps bouncing back and forth between high end and obscurity.  Between closing its doors and being on top of its game again.  Regardless of its future the company has left us with some wonderful gifts such as a couple of Italian plumbers, a barrel swinging Ape, and an Elfin hero who uses a sword and three mystical triangles to regularly save a Princess.  Even if your XBox and your PS3/4 are your preferred toys, you can’t say that you would even have them if you had never heard the theme song to Zelda coming across your NES.  He he has had more game variations and alternate timelines than most game characters in history, had his own TV Show and comic book, he even has a Japanese Manga.  From killing Moblins to smashing pots, collecting rupees to throwing out that annoying “Excuuusssse me, Princess!” Link has been everywhere, done everything, and is one of the coolest heroes to ever grace a console. 

Respect your elders, novice gamers.  You wouldn’t have what you have now if it wasn’t for the Hero of Hyrule. 

Christina Sizemore is trained in only four things:  writing, fighting, paranormal investigating, and being a mom.  At this point in her life she truly feels that she is not qualified to attempt to learn any new field.  A twenty year martial artist, mother of three, and writer who is working on the publication of her first book titled “Finding Your Way: A Guide To Your Path In The Martial Arts,” she spends her days working out, writing, making fanvids, going to DragonCon, and playing board games/video games/out in the yard with her kids and husband who are just as geeky as she is.  She is convinced that one day her skills will be of assistance in the Zombie Apocalypse and that while she is of no use in the kitchen, she can Buffy that zombie for ya or teach you the best way to get the blood stains out of your clothes (Psst…the secret is mixing Crown Cleaner and Shout.  Just sayin’.)

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