Posted on February 17 2012 by Axle D. Wilder
Every group of people comes with a lot of idiots. No, don’t pretend that’s not true. You know it is. Even if they’re not exactly idiots, lots of people very often apply terrible logic to an argument when talking about video games, including Zelda games. Obviously, since this is a Zelda site, we’re familiar with haters coming up with terrible reasons to dislike the series. Unfortunately, there are plenty of terrible reasons to love Zelda games, too.
I’m here to put an end to all that. I’ve prepared a list of what I believe are five terrible reasons to hate the series and five terrible reasons to love it.
#5 Terrible Reason to Hate Zelda: It’s Technologically Inferior
This is first on the list not because it’s most crucial to cover but because it’s actually the most understandable and least terrible; we’re counting down to the most terrible reason here. Let’s face it, Zelda is a Nintendo game, and since the GameCube, Nintendo has not really valued graphical power or… power of any sort, save Nintendo Power. Zelda is a little behind on the technology side, and if that bothers you, then, well, there’s no helping that. But it’s not a good reason to hate the series.
First, let’s make sure we have this in perspective. When the original Nintendo Entertainment System came out, gaming wasn’t exactly pretty. Before the NES, people were happy with some white lines bouncing a pixel around on a black background, and to this day, that exact game (Pong) remains pretty famous. The NES was about as good as things got back then. Around the Super Nintendo days, Nintendo had competition in the form of Sega, but wasn’t exactly very behind until Sega’s next console. Nintendo’s next console was the N64, and their only competition was Sony. People tend to forget this because the Sony PlayStation is usually credited with a better library and a better storage medium in its CDs, but the fact is that of the two, the N64 was actually a lot more powerful. Even the GameCube was actually more powerful than the PlayStation 2 in numerous respects, even if not by a lot.
My point is, this whole “Nintendo consoles have worse graphics” idea is pretty new. Like new as in… totally false and irrelevant unless you’re only talking about the Wii and DS consoles. Virtually every Zelda game prior to Twilight Princess’ Wii release was actually pretty cutting-edge.
It’s true that the GameBoy series always had technologically superior competitors, but it’s also true that pretty much all of them sucked, so it was less like Nintendo competing against a worthy opponent than it was like them stepping over nails. This also raises the point that just because something is technologically weaker doesn’t mean it’s actually worse. Let’s say someone invents the most advanced piece of weaponry ever that can blow everything else away, but it’s way too expensive to mass-produce. Then someone else invents a weaker weapon but can make tons of it. Who wins? I mean come on, there is a reason that the Wii and DS totally outsold every other console this generation. And remember how some people (myself included, if we’re being honest) prefer the PS1 over the N64? Yeah, well it’s not because the PS1 had better hardware; I already established that the N64 was notably more powerful. If you’re going to apply the technology argument against Nintendo, then you have to also use it for Nintendo.
Now, speaking strictly of the Zelda games that actually can be considered technologically inferior… Well, you’ve still got a terrible argument. Zelda games are virtually always built up to utilize the console’s full potential, so if your issue is with the graphics then your criticism should not be directed at the game but at instead the console developer. Granted, in that case you’re talking about the same company, and good ol’ Nintendo does pretty much apply the same philosophies to all its products, but you’re still applying hatred to the Zelda series for something it could never help.
And again, the least powerful thing is not automatically the worst. Graphics don’t make a great game. Those who value good graphics roll their eyes at this, but it’s true. People didn’t complain about the graphics in NES games, and frankly those visuals were pretty obviously bad even back then, considering that when the NES was around, people were watching live-action movies. Video games are, first and foremost, about the game, not about eye candy. Yes we can have both, but one is pretty obviously less important than the other.
Even if the consoles and games truly are inferior in terms of technology, just because of the graphics or because of additional shortcomings… Well, in the Olympics, we don’t say the Silver and Bronze medalists are “bad” because the Gold Medalist was better. If you did, everyone would laugh at you for a good solid forever. “Worse” and “bad” are totally different. Skyward Sword is a great example of this. Complain all you want about inferior technology and visual flaws; the game looks beautiful and is frankly one of the best-looking games I’ve ever played.
Man that looks so ugly. Just terrible. Really dull and nasty looking.
#5 Terrible Reason to Love Zelda: It Has A Great Story
Oh come on, that’s a complete lie.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling out the people who enjoy the stories of specific Zelda games. I myself very much enjoy the story in Zelda. But there’s a huge difference between enjoying something and it being amazing, and kinda like how “worse” doesn’t equal “bad’, “good” doesn’t equal “great”.
The storylines of Zelda games are… pretty basic. As has been discussed before, Zelda games follow pretty standard conventions in storytelling and plot structure. Sure, plenty of stories follow the structure of the Hero’s Journey, but while that’s true, Zelda doesn’t make any effort to be unique from it; Zelda is the Hero’s Journey. Beyond that, Zelda games rarely make any real effort to be different from each other. How many times have you defeated an evil or demonic sorcerer or warrior who kidnapped Zelda or another important maiden? Seriously, count. In Zelda, it’s not just about following the Hero’s Journey. It’s about following pretty much the exact same frame of events. As Zelda clearly establishes, all heroes wake up, discover adventure in their village or home, set out to save a beautiful lady, retrieve a couple of artifacts, discover there’s a “secret” villain, then go retrieve a few more artifacts. I mean, it makes sense, right?
Wake up and smell the adventure.
Regurgitated plot points aren’t even the main issue with Zelda games having “great” stories though. It’s more the fact that… um, not a single word used to describe the writing, storytelling, continuity, or structure of Zelda’s plot can also be used to describe a piece of great literature.
I mean, really, think about it. In many epic storylines you have a big adventure, an intriguing plot and detailed history, with character development. Speaking of the bulk of the Zelda games, even just including Ocarina of Time and onward… everything is gameplay driven. Not to say that this is a bad thing, because as I said, it’s a video game, but it tends to obstruct everything that makes a great story great. Link doesn’t develop much. Sure, in The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess he shows all this emotion, but he still largely does not change as a character, and neither do his partners and supporting cast. Midna, okay sure she develops some, but that’s literally one character out of an entire game. Besides, she was so snooty. Zant? Come on. He’s one character one moment, then suddenly another character the next. The same applies to Fi in Skyward Sword. When Zelda employs character development, it’s usually less about gradual change and discovery as it is about jumping out from a hiding place and yelling “Surprise!”
To be fair, Skyward Sword is probably the best performer in all these areas. There’s some noticeable detail to the dialogue, some serious effort in showing the characters change, but it still falls short of what can honestly be considered greatness. It has an intriguing plot, but the plot itself is still incredibly basic and follows that of every other Zelda game. And the history? Never explained in any kind of detail.
You might say that simple, basic stories are good because they’re simple and basic. And I don’t disagree. That’s the entire point behind a children’s book. But you don’t call the average children’s books great, amazing stories. There are exceptions, certainly, but these are examples of stories that, while they may be aimed at children, have incredibly top-notch writing that Zelda still can’t compare to. Zelda might lack in the complexity department, but it suffers far worse with its writing.
So yes, Zelda stories are good, but no, they are not “great”. If you still don’t see where I’m coming from, pick up The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Once and Future King, or any number of fantasy classics and honestly look me in my digital over-the-internet eyes and tell me Zelda is on the same level. I’ll be riiight over here.
#4 Terrible Reason to Hate Zelda: Because It Isn’t Unique or Innovative
First off, who honestly cares? I don’t ride my bike because I invented bikes, nor is playing baseball, football, basketball, or any other sport something you’ll see anyone describe as “unique”. We do them because they’re fun. Secondly, that’s not really true.
I can sorta kinda maybe a little see where you’re coming from; on paper, Zelda definitely seems like it doesn’t have anything that other games don’t have, and probably has it in lesser degrees. But I remind you that the phrase “on paper” exists because it’s only on paper and has never met the real world.
No, Zelda doesn’t differentiate itself in any seriously major ways from its competition. It’s a familiar experience in a number of ways, even for those who’ve never played a Zelda game. Despite this, a lot of people say Zelda is pretty unique. Yeah, that might be really irrational, but considering that Zelda has a freaking massive fanbase, maybe there could be a little something to that as opposed to mass hysteria? In my experience with the Zelda series, it’s not so much the big picture that’s unique, but the experience itself. Zelda is not unique because of its components and the broad idea of the game, but it is unique on a personal level. Zelda games tends to be, for reasons difficult to explain, a little different than other games. There’s a reason that there’s basically a genre of Zelda clones within the larger Adventure genre; Zelda has its own flavor and everyone knows it. There’s really no argument against that. I mean, you can argue against it if you want, but I assumed you were like me and didn’t want to be trampled by a stampede of fans.
As for it not being innovative? Well actually… it sort of is. Let me bring up a little Nintendo history again. You remember the original Legend of Zelda? It’s the first game with a battery powered save feature — that’s save files, as opposed to passwords or no saving at all. Hey, are you familiar with the lock-on functions you see in a lot of adventure games? Guess where that first appeared? That was Ocarina of Time. Even Phantom Hourglass and Skyward Sword deserve a little credit in this area. They might not be the only games to control mostly with a touch screen or with 1:1 motion controls, but they are certainly fairly early pioneers of the technology. Not to mention the countless other innovations and popularizations that the Zelda series has been responsible for, which helped to shape the modern gaming landscape.
#4 Terrible Reason to Love Zelda: Because It’s Unique and Innovative
Oh, haha, I guess the reverse is a pretty terrible argument too.
Come on, I get that Nintendo has made massive contributions to gaming throughout its long history, many of them with the Zelda series itself, but that was then and this is now. Nostalgia is great, it’s a fine reason to enjoy something, but it’s not a good reason to proclaim that the entire series is good nor is it ever a compelling argument for anyone who didn’t first try something exactly when you did.
Yeah, Zelda does have a unique feel that tends to be all its own, and it does have a history of innovating and continues to do a little of that even now, but to be realistic about it, Zelda still falls under Nintendo’s most basic philosophy. That philosophy is “Everyone else is mean so we’re not going to use all their ideas and come up with our own because we’re awesome.” Sometimes I think Nintendo is sorta like an old guy with Alzheimer’s who still thinks it’s the “good old days,” since they seem convinced that they’re still innovators and that there aren’t any other good ideas to use. Skyward Sword was pretty awesome, but outside of the motion controls, nothing it had was new; a little unheard of in Zelda, maybe (only a little), but outside of Zelda they’re commonplace.
Sure Nintendo does come up with new ideas, but not in great quantities and more importantly, they also forget that they’re not the only people coming up with new ideas. Tricky thing about not being the only cool people on the planet is sometimes other people have cool ideas, and sometimes other people like them, or maybe, just maybe, grow pretty accustomed to them. The less ideas in play, the less tools you have to work with to craft a unique experience.
Zelda does have its own flavor, but you can’t say you won’t ever see anything else like it, and you also can’t say that Zelda’s the only series that comes up with new ideas, either. Come on, don’t insult Flower. Or Journey. They need all the help they can get, the poor little weirdos.
#3 Terrible Reason to Hate Zelda: It’s A Children’s Game
I bet the people who make this argument are usually self-proclaimed “mature” gamers who would have us believe they’re 25 or older. I hope for the sake of humanity they really are just misguided middle schoolers in disguise who think playing M-rated games will somehow transform them into badasses, and not actually sociopaths.
Let’s be entirely clear about something. The majority of the adults in the human race do not spend their time: Shooting things, blowing things up, killing, dying, get tortured, having sex all the time, wearing no clothes, surrounding themselves with colleagues who wear no clothes, fighting for survival, making morally objectionable decisions because it’s cool, or having the luxury of being angsty about or physically dealing with monsters, abstract horrors, military insurgents, totalitarian governments, or really cool psychological problems and vices.
That means that what you define as “not a children’s game” is probably not something adults spend a lot of time doing. Or want to spend a lot of time doing. Don’t get me wrong, lots of us can enjoy it in fiction. I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t really enjoy slicing heads off and blowing holes in things in Turok 2, but its not exactly something that’s “adult”. Really, it’s often more ridiculous and immature than any tale for children. And I’m okay with that.
So maybe, just maybe, the people who want to play a game where things are a little bit cheerful, a little bit fun, a little bit whimsical, might not be children or childlike so much as not in the mood to deal with horror, violence, and psychological anguish? You know, maybe?
Man look at that. That’s a wholesome childhood.
Besides, to say that Zelda contains no adult content is completely false and is probably an argument furthered by someone who hasn’t actually played a Zelda game. Every Zelda fan knows that virtually every game comes with an area full of shuffling corpses and other, more alien horrors. In Twilight Princess, people are corrupted and morphed into horrible monstrosities like in a fricken’ Junji Ito manga. (Side Note: Do not Google that name unless you want nightmares). You have Ganondorf in Twilight Princess basically die standing up, with the camera lingering on the silhouette of his standing corpse, murdered by his mentally insane, psychotic subordinate.
There isn’t even a shortage of sexual references, with arranged marriages, Nabooru offering sex to a preteen boy, and a series of vague references to rape, bestiality and adultery coming from the horrifying Rabbitland Rescue Guy in Spirit Tracks. And that doesn’t even touch on the sex appeal of the characters themselves, from Zelda’s general beauty to Twilight Princess Zelda’s large breasts, to macho manly Ganondorf and Demise, to Sumo Wrestling Link, to Fi’s fishnets and holy crap Midna.
I’m not comfortable with this.
#3 Terrible Reason to Love Zelda: The Timeline
Oh man, do not get me started on this. Too late. I was actually saving a couple points from the story part for this. I’ll be blunt: Zelda’s continuity and history are a complete mess.
There’s never been a better example than now with Hyrule Historia. See it was bad enough when we had the timeline split and the Adult and Child Timelines, which the casual Zelda fan doesn’t even understand. Now we have a third timeline in the split, but it’s what happens if Link failed in Ocarina of Time, except maybe it’s not a split but actually a parallel universe or maybe… You know what? No one knows. But that doesn’t stop everyone from acting like they do.
No matter how much the history of the series contradicts itself or just doesn’t make sense, or how poorly the games connect, Zelda fans will always be there to theorize about it and discuss it. I should know; I’ve done it myself. It’s a fun thing to do with a series you love — try to make sense of the story and come up with your own explanations.
But it’s a terrible reason to like the series.
Some fans get so into timeline theorizing that I swear it’s a large portion of their reason for enjoying the series. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that’s what it seems like. At the very least a lot of people get way too emotional about it and take it way too seriously. Again, I’ll be blunt: Saying you like Zelda because of its timeline is the same as saying you like it because the storyline and continuity are terrible and make no sense. That’s what you’re saying. Think about it.
It’s good when supplementary to the main thing, but no one bases their diet on vitamin supplements.
#2 Terrible Reason to Hate Zelda: Because of Its Fanbase
I’ll give you a tip. If you dislike something because of something that actually isn’t a part of it, you need to figure out a different reason to dislike it.
This has come up most recently during the G4 game of the year contest between Skyward Sword and Skyrim; during the voting processes, so many people in the comments talked about how irrational Zelda fans were, voting for Skyward Sword just because it’s Zelda because “Nyeeehhhh of course they only like it because it’s Zelda, it’s not like there’s a reason it’s critically acclaimed or anything”. Nevermind that everyone else voting for every other game was acting exactly the same way, and that Bethesda actually posted about the contest on their site.
I understand if you don’t like Zelda fanboys. Nobody likes fanboys. Of anything. That includes Final Fantasy fanboys, Halo fanboys, and Call of Duty fanboys, and Mario fanboys. Fanboys are very universally acknowledged as the scum of the universe. It’s a wonder the nations of the world have yet to make peace so we can unite against the fanboy hordes. But that’s the point. There are fanboys of everything. Not just Zelda. And it’s not the game’s fault, because every game has them.
You might say Zelda fans take things farther with the aforementioned theorizing, looking way too deeply into meaningless, nonsensical, unimportant things, but the fact is that’s pretty normal. Zelda fans get passionate about these things, and sure they’re insignificant details, but anyone passionate about something can easily get caught up in details, and the reason they do so is they have fun with it. That’s called having a hobby.
Talk to any gearhead, and he’ll tell you all this stuff about cars that no one should rationally care about. Talk to any poetry aficionado, and they’ll tell you about people you’ve never heard of, and also you’ll probably hear a lot of really weird, archaic words that sound like demonic incantations. RPG fanboys over-analyze game mechanics, Call of Duty fanboys obsess over stats and memorize maps, and Zelda fanboys theorize.
Who cares? If it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. You’ll hate it as much as I’m going to hate hearing about your car’s motors.
#2 Terrible Reason to Love Zelda: Because It’s Zelda
Really this one is just as bad as the last terrible reason to hate it; if your reason for liking something has nothing to do with the thing itself, maybe you don’t… actually like it?
The title for this one might sound like a paradox of some kind, but honestly it’s a real thing. I’m talking about excessive nostalgia and brand loyalty, with just a dash of crazy fanboy.
Way more times than I wish I had, I’ve heard people use the term “real Zelda fan”. It’s one of the single most annoying things I’ve ever heard. About half the time it’s used to apply to people who don’t use walkthroughs (which is a stupid requirement to be a “real fan” too), but more importantly there are the people who use it to criticize those who actually dislike elements of the series. Like you’re not a real Zelda fan if you don’t like Twilight Princess, or not a real Zelda fan if you didn’t think Skyward Sword looked like it was going to be the most amazing game ever.
If we’re being completely honest here, basically no one really cares about labeling who is a real fan or a fake fan. There’s no amount of “realness” to being a fan. You can’t prove or disprove fan-ness. And the only person who can really decide if they’re a fan is the person themselves. If they like something, then they like it, and if they don’t, they don’t. Someone can even recognize problems in something they still enjoy. No one is an authority on this stuff, nor should anyone be.
Moreover, saying someone might not be a “real fan” because they don’t like an entry in the series means that there’s something inherent about the series, totally independent of the games themselves, that deserves their praise. That’s treating the franchise like an entity.
I’m sorry I offended you, my master.
I’ll lay out how it really works: You become a fan of something because it did something right. The Legend of Zelda gained its fans by being a good game, catching peoples’ attention, and just being fun to play. The franchise kept those fans and gained new ones by continuing to do so. It will lose fans if it ever decides to stop being awesome. That is how it should be.
The second you decide that something deserves your loyalty and your money regardless of how good it actually is, you’re abandoning quality, and abandoning your ability and right to decide what you want to buy and whether or not to only buy good things, things you actually enjoy. You only ever became a fan because it did something well, so shouldn’t you ensure that it, um, stays good?
A series or game isn’t some abstract concept that you must or even can honor or dishonor. You’re talking about entertainment designed to entertain. It’s constructed of concrete elements that you either find fun and enjoyable or boring and irritating. If you’re going to be a fan of something, make sure it’s based on an actual element of the thing. Actually, nevermind, it’s okay. You don’t have to do that because that’s already why you’re a fan.
#1 Terrible Reason to Both Hate AND Love Zelda: It’s The Same Old Thing
As it turns out, the single worst reason that I’ve found is actually identical for both hating the series and loving it. That reason is that it never really changes.
Now, we’ve already talked about innovation and the lack of innovation in the Zelda series, as well as recycled plot elements. This is related, but it’s the bigger concept, that every Zelda game is essentially the same thing re-imagined.
I mean seriously guys, after Ocarina of Time, you had, um, Ocarina of Time. Also, Ocarina of Time, and Ocarina of Time. After that there was Ocarina of Time. Don’t get me wrong, all of these games differ in their own ways, but the basic groundwork is still there, unchanged.
But let’s try to look at this objectively… Something staying the same isn’t universally a good thing, or universally a bad thing. It’s just kind of a thing.
How can something being the same be a bad thing? As I established, you only ever become a fan of something because you liked something about it. Hopefully I don’t need to spell out that what you liked about it should probably not change or else, you know, you might not like it. The argument is especially odd though, because I get the feeling it comes from people who actually haven’t played much Zelda but are still accusing it of never changing or innovating. Why would they care?
Not everything needs to change. Not everything has to become something totally different every time a sequel comes out. In fact, a lot of things probably shouldn’t. There’s always a benefit to having new ideas, but keeping all the core ones intact at all times is a good thing. Many series thrive off it. Saying it’s a bad thing is usually blatantly hypocritical, especially from the First Person Shooter crowd, who are basically all playing the same game over and over too; at least Zelda fans only enjoy a single series that is exactly the same, and not an entire genre. It’s a phenomenon that’s much more present in shooters than it is in Zelda. And again, it’s not a bad thing at all, it’s just that it’s everywhere and people need to acknowledge that.
The other side of this is preferring that Zelda never change. As I said, keeping your core is fine. But Zelda’s a 25-year old series now. There’s definitely room for a few new ideas, and it’s important to remember that while Zelda recycles the same concepts all the time, there are always a few new ideas thrown into virtually every new Zelda game. This should continue, and I don’t think many of us will be complaining if it accelerates and we get a bit more new ideas than we got before. Or more accurately, most of us will be complaining, and then we’ll completely forget our gripes when we actually get to play it.
Sometimes it seems like Zelda fans are violently resistant to change, even though it keeps happening in the series. The Wind Waker’s cel-shaded graphics were trashed by Zelda fans, but pretty much everyone forgot about that after the game came out. People bellyached about the train in Spirit Tracks in the same way, but it didn’t change a thing. Then there’s future prospects that come up from time to time. Voice-acting, replacing Link, guns, technology. None of these things would necessarily be bad things, but Zelda fans can’t seem to stand the idea of change of any sort.
It’s funny when you think about it that way, considering that time and time again, when these things pop up we complain, but then the game actually comes out with it and no one has a problem. It’s like none of us have enough foresight to imagine it in an actual game. I’m including myself in this. I denounced the idea of having high-technology in Zelda, but when Skyward Sword came out, neither I nor any of you were really complaining; the game handled it well. I still want limitations on it, but the idea itself isn’t inherently bad.
So hopefully by now that’s abundantly clear. The idea of never changing is not a bad thing, but it’s not a good thing either. It can go both ways or be neither at all. It’s just a game. Be chill about it.