Empty Elegy: What is a Zelda Clone?

BastianMarch 31st, 2013 by Bastian

Welcome, Dungeoneers, to this inaugural post for a new features series on Zelda clones! As many of you likely do not know, I am not new to this topic; I have a video series wherein I cover the same sort of topic on my YouTube channel. This text-based series will be a bit different in that rather than just rambling in a stream-of-conscious manner for seven minutes, it will be a bit more detailed and to-the-point with visual aids to compare and contrast.

But first let’s talk about the term “clone” and why I feel many Zelda fans interpret both that term and many of the games applied with it falsely.

Jump inside!

When used in normal non-gaming context, “clone” is understood to be a replica of sorts of another being or object, without a negative (or positive, for that matter) sentiment. It just simply is a copy. When used in the gaming industry, it often carries a similarly neutral note. Yet I’ve found that when used by fans of specific series, it overwhelmingly carries a negative connotation. They seem to feel that the only thing clones are doing is ripping off Nintendo’s intellectual property, but only just close enough to avoid a lawsuit. This can certainly be the case in some instances, but sometimes that isn’t the case at all; sometimes it seems like the people who develop these clones are just as in love with the Zelda franchise as we are and want to create something similar out of love for the beloved series.

This in and of itself can turn some people off; some people feel that the only reason to create any work of art or entertainment is to forge something brand new that borrows nothing from anything else. As someone who writes music and whose circle of friends is overwhelmingly songwriters, I can say with certainty that at least in the music business that just doesn’t reflect reality. Every songwriter is influenced by at least one previous songwriter and will often admit to writing this or that song “in the style of” another songwriter they admire. When these new songwriters bring nothing new to the table is when it becomes problematic. I feel certain that it must be the same in the video game industry. For instance, we might feel that Zelda “invented” top down action adventure games, but there were such games even before The Legend of Zelda that Nintendo was clearly inspired by. The Atari game Adventure, which came out half a decade before The Legend of Zelda, can be looked at as a bit of a Zelda prototype. Similarly, I feel we shouldn’t take umbrage with games who are either borrowing from Zelda or who are simply paying homage to Zelda.

Now, again, sometimes these games are not made out of love for Zelda; sometimes they are simply trying to cash in on what makes Zelda so loved. It seems clear to me that games such as Neutopia and Golden Axe Warrior fit that bill. Similarly, there have been Mario clones whose sole purpose is to steal that style of gameplay down to the specifics and make it playable on non-Nintendo-sanctioned platforms (Great Giana Sisters comes to mind). But then there are games whose developers clearly wish they were on the Zelda team and are not for whatever reason, so they create a game paying tribute to their favorite franchise. The oft-mentioned Okami is one, the indie games Binding of Issac and also Guardian of Paradise are others. These games are not trying to rip off Nintendo, but are trying merely to show Nintendo how much they love Zelda. And it helps that they are not 1-to-1 clones, but in each instance bring something brand new to the table that Zelda does not.

We will examine all types of Zelda clones, from the ripoffs to the homages in a roughly chronological order. So stay tuned next week at this date and time when we look at one of the very first (though not actually the first) Neutopia, which falls a bit more into the “ripoff” category. But it sure is a lot of fun, regardless!

Author: Bastian

The editor-in-chief for Zelda Dungeon, Bastian spends most of his time at the site recruiting, hiring, training, and editing nearly all of the writers you read here. He regrets that he has so little time to do much writing himself, but thoroughly enjoys it when he can. You can sometimes catch Bastian on Zelda Dungeon’s YouTube channel reporting breaking Zelda news, or reporting Nintendo news nearly daily on BastianTime, his own YouTube channel.

Categorized under: Editorials, Empty Elegy

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  • ShadowBeast

    Wow, this is really interesting. Looking forward to the next post! :P

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002424822349 Rin Okumura

    There’s Starfox adventures on the Game cube, which is a more modern clone. Even running on the same engine as Ocarina of time. It’s basically another game with “Starfox” slapped on the title. But I think it looks good and I wanna play it… “Seiken densetsu” or “Mana” series is something I always enjoyed too… :3 Zelda will always be better though. Haha…

    • JuicieJ

      I’d skip on Adventures. It’s not a good game at all.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002424822349 Rin Okumura

        I watched gameplay. I think it looks nice, personally. While not amazing, hey I’ve seen many many crappier games.

  • Vitamin E

    The storyline of Neutopia is a blatant ripoff of Zelda, but the gameplay is quite different from the original Legend of Zelda. It’s much more similar to A Link to the Past, and yet, Neutopia came out first. Hmm… :P

  • Twister27

    It took me a while to realize that “Empty Elegy” referred to the Elegy of Emptiness from Majora’s Mask that produced those clone statues. It’s a pretty thoughtful, clever name.

    • Twister27

      Looking back at this comment, I realized that it might come across as a bit condescending. I just want to make it clear that that was not my intention.

    • zombie_eat_flesh

      BEN is disappointed.

  • JuicieJ

    Okami and Darksiders II are the two “Zelda clones” I’ve played so far. More so Okami, but both are still excellent.

    • Twister27

      That’s one of the issues that I have with this post. I do not see games like Okami and Darksiders as Zelda clones. There is a difference between getting some inspiration from another game and cloning it. The word “clone” implies that things are nearly identical.

      • JuicieJ

        In truth, they’re not true-blue clones, unlike the original Darksiders, but does it really matter? They took heavy inspiration from Zelda, and they’re both great games.

        • Twister27

          I meant that when people say “Zelda clone” as a negative thing, which is what this post is talking about, they almost always mean games like Neutopia, which fit a more standard definition of clone. It seems, however, that the action-adventure genre is now so connected with the Zelda series that any games that are remotely similar are immediately branded as clones.

          • JuicieJ

            Both Okami and Darksiders are very similar to the Zelda formula. You explore an overworld, complete sidequests, plow through dungeons, and fight bosses. That’s enough to be considered a clone.

          • Twister27

            So Final Fantasy games are Zelda clones? They have those same exact elements, but I would be shocked to hear anyone call them Zelda clones because they are totally different games.

            Obviously that is an extreme example, but once again I will stress that there is a difference between sharing some elements or getting inspiration from games and cloning/copying them. For instance, Ōkami plays quite differently from Zelda games and gets at least as much inspiration from Japanese mythology as from the Zelda series. Even the original Darksiders is too dissimilar to Zelda games to be considered a clone. It is far more combat intensive and has a quite different style.

            All in all, it is unfair to call a game a clone unless it really is one. The creators of Darksiders were understandably annoyed with the number of people who were simply COMPARING it to Zelda for this very reason. By calling anything a clone, you are saying that it is an uninspired copy of an earlier work, and this can be quite insulting if it is not justified.

          • JuicieJ

            Zelda and Final Fantasy came out around the same time and have drastically different mechanics gameplay mechanics, namely in the combat. There’s a reason Zelda is listed as an Action-Adventure and Final Fantasy is listed as an RPG and why they’re both the icons of their particular genres.

          • Twister27

            You obviously only read the first paragraph of my previous comment. Also, the mention of Final Fantasy was simply an example of a game that contained the exact elements you mentioned in your previous comment but, as you said, is obviously not a Zelda clone.

          • JuicieJ

            When I responded to you, you only had that first paragraph up. :/

          • Twister27

            That’s weird, I thought I put it all up at once. Sorry for snapping at you.

    • SkullKid

      okami is my favorite game of all time!

      • http://www.facebook.com/amit.toren.9 Amit Toren

        Okami is on my top 50 video games ever. I wouldnt say its the best. but also I dont have a best because I havent played my perfect game yet. but number 2 is rayman for MS-DOS and third is OOT 3D.

    • Earthbound_X

      I really need to go back and finish Okami, got distracted when I first played it, it was awesome.

  • 10DS

    GoW. Of course no one mentions the similarities.

  • oozy the wolf

    an intreging new segment on zelda dungeon. this could be fun to read

  • somebody you don’t know

    has anyone ever played anonymous notes from the abyss? cuz it’s a pretty much a replica of Zelda.

    • http://youtube.com/bastiantime bastian

      Actually, I’ve played the original game “From the Abyss” and it was being market (and looked and played a lot like) a really basic version of the Mana series… which started out as a Zelda clone. But we’ll get to Final Fantasy Adventure (the first Mana game) in a future week. :D