Posted on October 31 2014 by Davis Rojas
There are few games as infamous as the Zelda CD-i trilogy. They are games that evoke, ire, disgust, and have achieved countless internet memes in the Zelda community; all the while disgracing the series that it claims to be. However, it may surprise you that there is more to this train wreck than meets the eye; small details that no one really focuses on. Follow the jump below to learn more.
Let’s begin with a little lesson on the development cycle of the two games, Zelda: Wand of Gamelon, and Link: Faces of Evil. The late creator, Dale DeSharone, had a team of three programmers, one audio engineer/composer, four artists, a freelance writer, and a budget of $120,000. Not only that, but a team of six Russian animators who were flown over to work on the cut-scenes. With this limited and newly assembled team, DeSharone was challenged to make two games in less than two years, on a system that wasn’t meant to run video games.
All things considered, it’s amazing both games turned out as well as they did. Upon closer inspection, it’s clear his team did a reasonable amount of research with the material they were given. Let’s start by talking about the animated cutscenes.
The Cutscene Designs
When jumping into the game, right off the bat you would assume this game took inspiration from the Zelda TV series. After all, there is a king character, and Link asks Zelda for a kiss. That’s something you’d expect from the TV series right?
There are multiple things that are off though. For starters, the King looks nothing like the one in the show; not to mention his colors are off. Zelda barely resembles her incarnation from the TV series. Impa never made an appearance in the show; and not once in this game does Link ever say, “Excuse me Princess,” which was essentially his catchphrase in the show.
Originally, I had chalked this up there being a disconnect between the animation team and the main team leading to miscoloring and incorrect designs. You will notice that many of the in-game sprites don’t always match what the animation tells you they should look like.
But I was still confused. In an interview with HarcoreGaming101, Mr. DeSharone stated:
DD: Really we only had… of course the two Nintendo games that had come previously from Nintendo, and um… Then box art from Nintendo in terms of the design of the characters, and booklet artwork. Otherwise there wasn’t anything that came from Nintendo.
He doesn’t mention anything about the TV series in this sentence, so where on earth did he know where to get these designs from? That’s when it dawned on me, that there was another official Nintendo booklet out at the time: The Valiant Comics!
Now this is where the confusion all starts to make sense. It explains why Zelda and Link would often shift their appearances in cutscenes. It’s because they were based off their comic selves originally. It also explained why Impa was even a factor in the story as a soothsayer, interpreting the wisdom of a pyramid standing in for the Triforce of Wisdom. So, this game was based off a comic, that was based off a TV show, that was based on two games. Some circle huh?
However, if this was fully the case, then why do the final designs of Link and Zelda look different? Why is Link blonde, and why is Zelda wearing a sleeveless shirt that bears her midriff? This part is easy to answer.
The most likely answer is because Phillips did not have the rights to those initial designs or any design that wasn’t Zelda and Link. While Nintendo co-owned the Zelda TV show, they did not have the full rights for the designs of characters like Harkinian, or his color scheme. Phillips couldn’t get the rights to Impa’s color either, so they changed her robe from red to blue. It also explains why Ganon looks so little like any of his previous designs.
The contract only extended to Zelda and Link. But why were those two changed? Well, Zelda was obviously changed to a different design because they didn’t have the rights to that design, but why had Link’s hair color changed?
Interestingly enough, there was another reason for why the designs are so different and it had come out in America the year of the CD-i games’ development; the Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Not only that; at the last minute, Nintendo gave Mr. DeSharone’s team a new set of art, reflecting the newest game and Nintendo’s expectations for the designs.
That’s right. The infamous 1993 Nintendo character guide that claims Link had almost killed princess Zelda. The proof that Phillips were given this guide lies nowhere else but the box art of their games. In Wand of Gamelon, the artwork for Zelda on that box is pretty much indistinguishable from the artwork in this guide barring the most minor of changes. Leave it to Phillips to claim the art as their own, when the book clearly states they weren’t supposed to do that.
From this point on, the animation team was most likely sent into a panic to try and match these new designs with a tight deadline following them. In the end, they couldn’t afford to change every cutscene due to the lack of time and money to do so. When you look at the cutscenes, it’s obvious that Zelda was given the most attention to with this change. Her design only ever changes once between the cutscenes, while Link’s hair will change color very frequently in Faces of Evil to the point it becomes half and half.
Now remember, this is all speculation on my part, but it all lines up very neatly doesn’t it? In the end, poor Mr. DeSharone is long gone, and we have no one to really elaborate exactly what happened in those chaotic days of development. One thing is for sure though; the odds were stacked against that poor team.
Either way, don’t go too far dear readers. I’ve got more info coming on the way, but it’s too much to fit into just one article. Stay tuned for Part 2 of The Secret of the CD-i games when we discuss the sprite artwork of the CDI games. See you then.