Posted on June 11 2010 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
So it’s been roughly a week since the 1st part of this Retrospective came out, and finally we are ready to deliver on the once a day promise. The reason it took so long? The only part missing was this, part 2. You all know me today for a lot of my previous article work and many of my news posts. Hell, most of you may recognize me most as the guy who posted the Zelda Wii Rumors Part 1 and Part 2. Zelda Wii really is just around the corner and we deciding taking a step back and looking around would honestly be the best method to predict our futures.
So, before we get into it, I’ll follow Damir’s styling and present a few details about me:
Name: Nathanial Rumphol-Janc (Nathan)
First Zelda game: Link’s Awakening (GameBoy)
Started playing Zelda: 1992 (Age: 6)
Favorite Zelda game: The Adventure of Link
So I first got into Zelda in what may be one of the most unique ways, playing it on a handheld. A lot of people seemed to enter the series through various console games, be that A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, or Twilight Princess. To be honest, those generally mark the 3 major entry points. That may be why Zelda rubbed me in a much different light than it did for others at the time. The first time I experienced what Zelda was all about was on a bus ride back from school, after I punched a kid and stole his GameBoy.
When I turned on the little green screen lit up with some egg picture and I was really wondering what was going on. I started a new file and I was mesmerized. From the very first moment I swung the sword I was completely hooked. Eventually I did give the GameBoy back a couple weeks later, but of course I had to see the game through the end. At the time, I wasn’t even really aware of what Zelda was, but I sure knew I had a great experience with it.
We fast forward 6 years before I would ever lay eyes on a Zelda title again. That title? Ocarina of Time. I actually rented the game from blockbuster for the sole reason that I saw Zelda on the box and was instantly reminded of Link’s Awakening. I had no idea the series was still going on, and I was really digging my Nintendo 64 at the time. I popped it in when I got home and was instantly hooked. I played it non-stop for 3 days straight and beat the entire game.
For some reason, the game just felt like it was missing something. At the time I thought I was just too busy being nostalgic about Link’s Awakening, but Ocarina of Time just felt off to me. It was fun, of course. I will never forget my first time pulling the Master Sword or my reaction when a ReDead jumped on back and started humping me. That gave me nightmares for weeks. However, Ocarina of Time just wasn’t what I thought Zelda to be. It felt to me like it was restricted.
Up to that point, I always felt Zelda was really big into story and exploration. As Ocarina of Time played out, the story began to get extremely predictable and the world just felt so tiny in comparison to the little island used in Link’s Awakening. I kept telling myself it would be worth it at the end because of a major plot twist ending, but alas it never really came. Sure, I was sent back in time, but to this day I still remember what I felt when it happened. Nintendo just wanted me to replay the game, and by sending me back it sort of reinforced this notion. I still contend, to this day, that at the time of the games release the ending was never planned to start a split timeline. It was a replay value idea. You thought the adventure wasn’t over, and that a second time through things would be different. That wasn’t the case, but that was clearly the intention.
Having been intrigued by Ocarina of Time’s pure existence, I went on what was then a very young internet to look up if there were any other Zelda games. To my surprise, there were 3 other titles I had not even touched. I decided it was best to start where at all began, so the next day I went to the game store and purchased The Legend of Zelda.
Something about this game felt extremely different from the other two. Sure, the game was indeed harder, movement felt a tad more limited and I actually died, something that never happened to me in Ocarina of Time despite the fact I was 12. So, in that sense, it had a layer of difficulty I wasn’t accustomed too. However, what really was the big difference to me was the lack of story, and how I really didn’t even care. This baffled me, and it can still be baffling to me today. Story was a big reason I played games, and it’s still one of my main driving forces for playing today. The Legend of Zelda had a very “bare bones” story, but I was still hooked.
It hit me about half way through the game why I was intrigued: I had no idea what was going on, where to go, had very minimal hints at anything, and I was left to explore and wonder around freely in this seemingly larger world than Ocarina of Time where just figuring out what to do and how to do it was a mystery in that of itself. Blowing holes in a mountain where the mountain doesn’t give away any signs that it a hole can be made? This was just an entirely new concept to me. That’s when I realized how magnificent the series is. Here I had played 3 different Zelda games, and each one had given me a completely different experience. To this day, I think that is why so many people define Zelda differently.
I picked up The Adventure of Link next, and by this time it was almost the end of 1999. I had read some bad reviews about the game and saw a few screenshots that showed off a more Final Fantasy top down style with a mix of Mario platforming. I was intrigued just to at least figure out what why it didn’t seem to work. 115 hours of game play later, I knew it was time to dedicate an entire website to the series. I fired up geocities and made Zelda Domain in late 1999. The Adventure of Link is why I stand before you today.
The game itself was drastically different, and that is actually something I appreciated. It featured many things I had grown to love in Final Fantasy 3 for the SNES, but at the same time it featured that Zelda charm. Enemies were much harder, boss fights felt more fulfilling than ever before. Death was a common factor, magic actually mattered, and any and all items I picked up felt essential throughout. I was introduced to town whores and the biggest Zelda world I had yet known. The story was gripping, even if a majority of it I read in the manual. It featured a leveling system, and for all intensive purposes this was an Action RPG, and I was loving every minute of it.
It feels odd saying that to people today. It’s widely considered the worst game in the series. It had more exploration than I knew what to do with, some of the most challenging dungeons and boss fights to date, a decent story, an RPG leveling system, impressive magic system, and it felt right. Granted, this wasn’t a game for the feint of heart. I had grown up playing games like Zork, so a challenging difficulty was something I was accustomed too. To this day, most games in any genre are easy by comparison to The Adventure of Link.
Having completed that game, I moved on in early 2000 to A Link to the Past. This is the 2nd most popular Zelda game in existence which is often praised for having the right balance of everything that made previous titles fun. The problem for me with this game is the fact that I already played Ocarina of Time… A Link to the Past felt surprisingly similar. I guess I fit into “that group” that claims Ocarina of Time is just a 3D A Link to the Past. I stand by that notion today having experienced it the other way around. The one thing though that really stood out to me when comparing it to the aforementioned game is the fact that it was harder. I died about 3 times throughout the game, and having just completed the two toughest games in the series I realized that I actually wanted to die more. Without death, it seems the challenge was gone.
Life moved on, and I was shocked to see Majora’s Mask come out later that year. I picked it up expecting an expansion pack to Ocarina of Time. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised. Not only was Majora’s Mask far more difficult than Ocarina of Time… the story just blew my mind. I died a handful of times just to exploring the graveyard area and what laid beneath, and the side quests just really engrossed you into an epic world. There is a reason this is the most talked about game in the series, and more than any other game it gives you an infinite amount of things to talk about. So, at this point I had played 6 Zelda games and had about 5 completely different experiences. Zelda seemed to always stay fresh and new, ever evolving.
The Wind Waker rolled out and I was actually decently happy. I loved the new art direction just for the simple fact it was different. Sailing on the sea added a whole new dimension of travel and exploration. Overall, most the game felt like previous iterations, but it had it’s own unique charm. Ganondorf having a real story and showing true emotions was a big plus, as was including some of Link’s family and finally making Zelda not be completely useless (yeah I liked Sheik, but really… Sheik did nothing).
Having done all of that, I was understandably excited for what lay next. I went back and started playing all the hand held titles I missed, but I was quickly disappointed. I will always give props to the Oracle series for their boss difficulties, but overall the games have been extremely predictable and very easy, with little sense of exploration. In fact, I will admit I may think Spirit Tracks is so good mainly because Phantom Hourglass is extremely poor. However, Twilight Princess made it feel like Nintendo ran out of ideas.
I loved Twilight Princess. It’s two new features, wolf form and a very involving side character, were refreshing. Still, they completely destroyed the main villain at the end, and there were just so many flaws it really baffled me. Twilight Princess is a good game – and if it ran under any other title other than Zelda I may be inclined to say it’s a great game. The problem is, it is a Zelda game and it just doesn’t stand up well to many before it. It felt rehashed, the story felt reused, the items felt pointless, the UI felt cluttered, and at times the game play felt clunky. Worst part of all was that it just felt too much like I had already played this game before. Zelda had finally, in my mind, reached a point of being the same as before… and that is never good for a 20+ year old series.
In the end, Zelda has been known through most it’s series to me as a franchise constantly evolving. I always attribute big things to different games. Best story and side quests? Majora’s Mask. Best game play? A Link to the Past. Most difficult? The Adventure of Link. Greatest sense of exploration? The Legend of Zelda. Most daring approach? The Wind Waker. As you can see, Zelda has really evolved over the years to provide unique experiences. I think if you go back and look at the series on a whole, you can expect nothing less from Zelda Wii. Oh, and will someone please punch Miyamoto in the face for me until magic and the sword beam comes back? Thanks.