While I had said last week that my intention for this week was to return back to chronology of Zelda clones in roughly the order in which they were released, I was preparing for the next episode of a similar series (albeit a video one) on Zelda clones on my YouTube channel… and that episode was on the topic of The Legend of Spyro trilogy… so I decided to kill two Keese with one arrow and just use that research for this feature. Sorry!
And I know what you’re thinking: “Spyro the Dragon, really?!” Yes, really. For those who have only played the Spyro the Dragon trilogy, you might think Spyro has more in common with Mario than with Link, and in that you would be right. But The Legend of Spyro trilogy is a very different beast, and this beast looks a heck of a lot like Zelda.
Jump inside to see why I feel this trilogy is borrowing a thing or two from the Legend of Zelda!
First of all: a bit of history. The Legend of Spyro trilogy is actually a reboot of an earlier series of games which have about as much in common as Mario does with Zelda. The Spyro the Dragon trilogy is all about platforming and collecting hundreds of gems scattered everywhere across the landscape with cartoon-y graphics and humorous villains; the stories in these games are ancillary and silly and really the focus of this earlier trilogy was just on exploring and collecting gems.
The combat was extremely simple: either head bash into an enemy (akin to Mario’s jumping on an enemy) or breathing fire on those enemies impervious to the head bash (akin to Mario’s fire power); in either case, it’s a one-shot-and-done deal for the most part. The Legend of Spyro trilogy, on the other hand, is a completely different genre of game. The focus on combat is much greater, and instead of headbutting, most enemies will require some fancy slashing with your front claws; this amounts to about the same as several sword slashes. Sure, you can still breathe fire, but that’s now more of an extra power rather than a requirement, similar to how in Zelda games you could use a Fire Rod or Din’s Fire or some such: it is an extra powerful attack that your “magic meter” limits your use of, but more on those in a bit. The point is the Legend of Spyro trilogy has very little in common with the original Spyro the Dragon trilogy.
Let’s take a look at the actual title of this trilogy: The Legend of Spyro. I feel it is fairly intentional that the developers chose to include the same wording as that from the series title for The Legend of Zelda. I think they were looking at Zelda as their blueprint in how to bring Spyro to a different genre. Rather than the mindless gem-collecting and silly enemies and goofy story, I think they looked to Zelda to show them how to make something still kid-friendly but also a little darker and a little more serious. They used Zelda to show them the path on changing the combat, but then they even went a step further an sort of winked at the gamers by adding “The Legend of” in the beginning to tell us: this is Spyro in the style of Zelda.
The combat. Yes, I know it might be difficult to imagine, but pressing the button and having Spyro swipe at an enemy really does feel fairly similar to Link slashing an enemy with his sword. Okami showed us before that replacing Link with a quadruped really didn’t change the feel of the movement and attacks much. They really could remove Spyro’s model from the game and replace it with Link’s and it would amount to the same thing as far as combat goes. Some enemies take five or so claw swipes just like some Zelda enemies take five or so sword slices. It’s the same thing really. And where in Zelda there are certain bosses who can only be hurt by certain pieces of equipment which can be found in either that dungeon or just before that dungeon, so it is as well in Spyro. Sort of. Instead of different pieces of equipment, you learn different types of elemental breaths, each one having a different status effect on an enemy and each one also used to solve various puzzles.
Which brings us to puzzles. Yes, there are switches which when pressed open doors in dungeons. There are also switches which require blocks to be pushed up onto them to hold that door open. Remind you of any game series which, if I’m remembering correctly, pioneered this type of puzzle. There are also puzzles which require several torches to be lit to unlock a door or way forward. The developers couldn’t have been much more obvious if they had included the same “you solved the puzzle” chime heard in Zelda.
But now let’s talk about some differences: Spyro can glide. Imagine always having the Deku Leaf from The Wind Waker right from the beginning of the game and that it’s always mapped to the same button: it is about the same mechanic. Spyro cannot actually fly until the final game of the trilogy (sorry, spoiled) but even then it’s just sort of like always riding your Loftwing from Skyward Sword and being able land on the ground and run around on it and take back to the sky when you feel like. Again, this doesn’t occur until the final game in the trilogy.
Which is another major difference: The Legend of Spyro is structured in the form of a trilogy with each of the first two games sort of leaving off on cliffhangers immediately picked up and resolved in the following game. The story is about as unencumbered by complexity as a Zelda story: it’s pretty straightforward “there a bad guy, let’s go beat him and save various races of creatures along the way” fare, but there are some fascinating twists along the way which I won’t ruin for you. Really, though, the three games are rather short clocking in at only about six hours each. Combined together they form into about one Zelda-sized game.
Another major difference is the voice acting and music. The music is 100% orchestral, and sounds very much like something you’d hear in a film score (the main theme, is absolutely beautiful in its simplicity). The voice acting is usually top-notch with actors such as Elijah Wood (Frodo in The Lord of the Rings) voicing Spyro, David Spade and Billy West and Wayne Brady each taking a turn at Sparx, Christina Ricci, Mark Hamill, Gary Oldman, Blair Underwood… the trilogy is bursting with fine voice actors and it shows. In fact, the voice actor for the wise older dragon who mentors Spyro sounds an awfully lot like Gandalf next to Elijah Wood’s Spyro… if anything it gives the story all that more weight and importance.
So while there are many, many surprising similarities to the 3D style of Zelda, there are enough differences to not only make it not a ripoff, but to show that maybe Zelda could learn a thing or two about voice acting. Maybe.
Have you played the Legend of Spyro trilogy? Let us know what you thought about the games in the comments below!