Okay, so this is a little bit of a rehash of an older article. I guess I’d like to think of it as version 2.0 of my article on how I came to love the Zelda franchise so much. In the wake of Satoru Iwata’s death, there have been many articles praising his work, his innovation and his love of videogames. That’s why, in this article, I’m choosing to talk about what I think makes Nintendo games, particularly the Legend of Zelda series, so different from the other games out there and so utterly worthwhile.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Zelda games are among my all-time favourite stories even before we get to the gameplay. Yes, there are so many games based around saving worlds/kingdoms/princesses, but LoZ is so often a much more personal story. We start off with a young boy who has no idea what destiny has in store for him and we almost always start off first and foremost with his home and family. We see that this boy, Link, already has a life, has friends and hopes and then… well then we usually see things start to crumble.
In the Legend of Zelda, whenever the Triforce, (a mystical energy comprised of the three energies of Courage, Wisdom and Power), comes into play, Link is always the holder of the Triforce of Courage. Now, it’s certainly true from the very beginning that this boy is taking on monsters and fighting battles, he’s certainly not brave enough to take on the enormity of the quest ahead of him. We get to see this boy grow into his role. He makes friends, he helps strangers and he overcomes challenge after challenge after challenge. All the while, there’s not a line of dialogue to be seen or heard from him and that’s a huge part of the magic of his character. Link is us. Our thoughts are his thoughts, our perspective is his. In many ways, he’s every fairy tale hero we ever read about and he’s the little boy dreaming of one day being that big hero. He really is the perfect link between player and game. These games, the LoZ series, are not just about swinging a sword and killing beasties or even getting new weapons and items. Although it’s overflowing with puzzles and humour and suspense and originality, that’s not what the series is about either. It’s a story, a huge, ongoing, beautiful story about Good versus Evil, Right versus Might and about loyalty, friendship and love.
This is what makes the Zelda games so much more attractive than series’ like Call of Duty, Assassins Creed or Grand Theft Auto. These games, available on PC, Playstation and Xbox systems, are games designed to bring you the same thing with some stylish new gameplay elements, some more realistic graphics and bigger, badder things to destroy or blow up. So many of the games available across all systems are the equivalent of action blockbusters; fun, impressive escapism with plenty of explosions and “Holy shit” moments thrown in for good measure. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t enjoy non-Nintendo video games and I’m certainly not going to pretend that Nintendo has a monopoly on character design or innovation or even that other video games don’t tell ongoing storylines. It just feels more and more like Nintendo’s original series’ are the ones most concerned with telling a story, the ones that feel more like reading a favourite book or catching up with an old friend rather than just trying to out-badass other video game releases this year.
When I was a kid playing Pokémon Blue on my Gameboy Colour, I felt like I really had a whole world on my screen and I felt like each of the Pokémon fighting for me were my partners and comrades. More than just a game, I really did feel like there was a story taking shape around my character. Now, some would argue that Pokémon has been telling the exact same story for a little bit too long and I can see where those criticisms come from. In reality though, people are only aware enough to make such a complaint because of Nintendo’s otherwise stellar track record at developing their characters and tales. People say that Pokémon has become a bit stale because it’s a Nintendo title and we’ve all perhaps learned to expect more from Nintendo’s imagination than we have with other companies’.
Playstation, Xbox and Pc games have their differences, though these typically come down to things like just how incredibly HD different version of the same game are or what “Special Edition” downloadable features are only available on one platform. The biggest and most popular games available on Playstation are also available on Xbox and vice versa. Nintendo is the mainstream company interested in giving something different to the world of gamers and it isn’t afraid to let these gamers be of any age or demographic. Satoru Iwata guided Nintendo towards this platform of innovation, imagination and storytelling. In many ways I owe my love of storytelling to him and the innovators like him at Nintendo. Ocarina of Time on the N64 retooled my entire way of thinking about storytelling and made me understand for the first time that a video game could be a story-experience. The best stories let you feel like a part of them and the best games are stories.
Earlier this year, it was announced that Netflix was planning a live-action series based around the Legend of Zelda. Now, apparently, these claims were less than accurate, but I don’t regret for a second that after hearing about this, I pooled my LoZ experience and started writing a pilot script for what I thought a LoZ series should look like. Writing that made me remember how the different games in the series fit together, how there’s a larger story being crafted across the whole series, and how rich and precious each individual game is as a story in its own right.
I owe my love of storytelling to the types of games that Nintendo has insisted on enriching the world with and to innovators like Satoru Iwata and Shigeru Miyamoto.