(A few spoilers here for Ocarina of Time)
When I was just a wee Anime-Newspaper Boy, my older brother and I got ourselves a shiny second-hand Nintendo 64 along with a few choice games. We’d played a video game or two on the Sega Mega Drive II but this already felt like a whole other level. Super Mario 64 immediately won me over as a classic and I liked playing multiplayer Goldeneye (in paintball mode), but there was a game I’d never heard of that I eventually got around to; The Legend of Zelda- Ocarina of Time. At first I wasn’t sure about this game where you played a young boy dressed like Peter Pan whose sole companion was a pretty glowing fairy girl, but once we really got playing, it was so easy to get drawn into the world of the Kokiri forest. Even though the main character Link, was effectively mute as far as we could see, the characters around him were so full of life and personality that I was hooked, genuinely wanting to save these characters and their world. My brother had quickly established himself as being “in charge” of the games and I wasn’t allowed to progress any further in Zelda than he was and so we gradually, agonisingly made our way through the Deku Tree. Not being as experienced with games as we are now, this took quite a while and when we eventually left the Kokiri forest, I was blown away that there was still this huge world left to explore in Hyrule Field. Every scene, every new location and character felt like a new level, but whenever I wanted I could turn around and see every piece of the world I had already visited. This blew me away.
More than the completion of levels and the killing of dungeons, what stood out to me about OoT was the characters with their various requests and problems. Want a Keaton mask for your son? I think I’ve seen that one around somewhere! Your cuccos are missing? I’m on it! Your entire family is cursed and forced to live as deformed spiders and you need someone to kill one hundred golden skulltullas to free you? I’d be delighted! It really was my first experience of a game where I was asked to do things that weren’t a direct part of my need to kill things and save other things. It was when I first saw that a video game was a story every bit as much as any book or film. When we eventually managed to get all three of the Spiritual Stones and claim the Master Sword, I felt proud and a little bit sad. Like the best books, finishing the game felt just a little bit like saying goodbye to a dear friend. It had been a great game, far more than I’d ever expected it to be and I knew I’d come back and play it many times.
But of course, that wasn’t the end. It had taken us a really long time and it was designed to feel like the end of the road, but we had barely begun Link’s journey. Link’s adventures would continue seven years in the future and things would become much darker and much, much more difficult. Entire weeks would go by with us stuck on getting past a certain puzzle or a specific room of a dungeon. Without much gaming experience and without the internet to provide us with walkthroughs, we were often stranded but determined to overcome the game’s challenges. None more so than the infuriating Water Temple and the sinister Shadow Temple.
Eventually, my brother moved on to more violent and realistic games and I was allowed free reign to play OoT at my own pace. I can’t remember exactly how long it took, but after at least a year from the time I first started playing, I shot a fire arrow half-heartedly at a clutch of bombs beside a pillar across a gorge and what had just been a creepy pillar became a bridge. I was torn between celebrating my own genius and lamenting the fact that it now seemed so obvious and I’d spent over a month, on and off, trying to figure out to cross that damned gorge. When I eventually managed to clear each of those dungeons and drive away Ganon, it really did feel like closing a chapter of my own life, again, a feeling I’d feel at the end of a truly great book.
The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time was easily the greatest gaming experience I’d ever had. From the superlative soundtrack to the wonderfully warm and endearing characters to the combination of puzzles and actions which refused to hold my hand, Zelda truly was a world to itself. Again, we were without internet access in those days and so my excitement grew tremendously for what I believed to be a second Zelda game’s release; Majora’s Mask.
As the years went on, I made it my business to play any Zelda games I could get my hands on and while very few came close to the experience of OoT, each and every one was a pleasure and a challenge to play. For the N64 I had Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. For the Wii I had Twilight Princess, the Gamecube’s Wind Waker and eventually, Skyward Sword. For the Gameboy Colour I had Link’s Awakening and for the DS I had Phantom Hourglass and the Gameboy Advanced version of Link to the Past and Four Swords. When the Ocarina of Time 3d came out, I wasted no time in picking up the latest handheld console to which I’ve since added Link’s Awakening, Link Between Worlds, Oracle of Ages, Oracles of Seasons, Zelda and Zelda II. As I write this, Majora’s Mask 3D has not yet come out but I have little doubt that by the time this article goes online I’ll be in the middle of playing the copy I pre-ordered weeks ago.
Each of these games brings a very different take on the Zelda mythos and adds something to the ongoing continuity. For me, I worry less about where precisely a game fits in relation to the timeline of other games than how it feels as a story in itself, though I do find it enjoyable to know where in the history of Hryule (or elsewhere) I’m playing and whether the story I’m experiencing is the result of something I’ve played before or whether it’s setting the foundation for those tales.
The thing about Zelda that makes it stand out for me, not just a game series but as a story, is the attention paid to different characters’ feelings. It’s entirely possible to go through Ocarina of Time or Master Quest and ignore the wide range of side quests and pleas for help that you frequently encounter but there’s something about the design of the world and its characters that makes me not want to ignore them and this is something which returns in so many of the Zelda games. In particular, for Majora’s Mask, there’s a feeling of great satisfaction in seeing the different pieces come together as you help a person who would have ordinarily spent a rather miserable three days awaiting their own demise. The gameplay of the Zelda games is typically innovative, intelligent and highly enjoyable, but it rarely stops there, insisting on also making you care about some part of the world that you need to save, whether it’s the proactive princess, your long-time forest friend or the loyal horse with which you share a musical bond.
There’s something genuinely heartfelt about so much of this series that it’s hard not to care about its characters as much as those of any anime or manga series.
As many citizens of the internet are already entirely aware, there are rumours afloat courtesy of the Wall Street Journal that Netflix is planning a live-action Zelda series, aiming to capitalise on the popularity of Game of Thrones and The Hobbit by bringing a fantasy-style saga to a younger audience. While there will likely be a couple of clashes between video-game dogma and live-action drama, such as Link’s hat or the fact that we’ve never heard him speak, never really heard his opinion or anything, I’m optimistic that one of the greatest stories, one of the greatest fictional worlds I’ve experienced more than has what it takes to make it on the small screen, as long as those who do so handle with the care and fondness that its original creators did.
Thanks for reading,