We live in a global world. We can travel distances that would once have taken years to span in less than 24 hours. We can communicate with people on completely different continents virtually instantly via the Almighty Internetz. We all contribute to a world economy by buying goods manufactured in and imported from foreign countries. Whereas the world was once sharply divided between East and West, now we see a blending, a deep connection, that binds us together in the world community.
Nintendo serves as a key example of just what globalization has accomplished. For years, Nintendo has produced characters and franchises that are beloved the world over. They’ve taken an Italian plumber from Brooklyn and made him one of the biggest pop culture heroes in history, they’ve brought the legends of the medieval West to life in the land of Hyrule – they even managed to bring something as blatantly Japanese as Pokémon to a worldwide audience.
Spirit Tracks isn’t just a Zelda legend that happens to feature trains – it’s a reflection on this trend towards a more connected world. While Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass featured ship travel, one of the first forays into true global transit, Spirit Tracks takes it one step further with the introduction of the locomotive. Due to the train’s interconnected rail track system, emphasis on transporting freight from place to place, and overall greater impact on the industry of moving people from place to place, it serves as a powerful symbol for modern society.
The game’s story opens with the gradual disappearance of the Spirit Tracks, the magical rail system that binds the kingdom together. Without the tracks, trains cannot move between the various villages of Hyrule, and as a result trade grinds to a halt and people are left stranded. This image is paralleled by the segmentation of the Tower of Spirits, the hub of the kingdom, and Zelda’s separation from her body. Without these fundamental connections to the world, the seals on evil weaken, and Zelda cannot act in her capacity as the ruler of the kingdom. If nothing is done to solve these calamities, Hyrule’s way of life will collapse. Hyrule City will no longer receive shipments of fresh fish from Papuchia on the coast; Aboda Village won’t be able to sustain its Cucco-farming industry; the Gorons won’t have a way to quell the fires that rage across their village.
Think about what would happen if our society’s infrastructure were to collapse due to a massive power failure, the erosion of the Internet, a topsy-turvy reversal of the world economy. What would happen? This question has been the subject of much attention in recent years, and has spawned countless books, documentaries, and feature films, most of them concluding that life as we know it would change forever.
Spirit Tracks represents the possible disasters that could ensue through its main antagonist, the Demon King Malladus, whose name comes from the Latin word for “evil.” With the Spirit Tracks gone, Malladus is freed from his prison and returns to threaten mankind once again. It takes the restoration of the magical connections across the land and the cooperation of the heroes of Hyrule and the servants of the ancient spirits to finally defeat him once and for all.
The message is clear: now that the global community has formed, we need to maintain the strong bonds that tie us to one another if we are to survive together. Without this collective effort, we’ll have to face our own demons – we’ve already done so twice during the first two World Wars, and many believe that humanity could not survive a third. We must strive to maintain not only our local and national communities, but the international community, which we all depend on and are part of.
Themes in Motion is a regular article series that plans to cover the major story themes of every game in the Zelda series. As you read, please consider your own reactions to the games’ stories and feel free to reply in the comment sections with any thoughts you may have that differ from or go beyond what is explained in the article. Entries in the series will release every other Tuesday, each covering a different theme.