The Identity of Zelda

It was over this week-long personal hiatus filled with a half-mad chemistry professor and an older male science department chair trying his best to look young and desperately failing that I realized something about the Zelda series – it really is the video game jack-of-all-trades. How did this realization come from the awkward events described in the above sentence? Don’t ask.

Rather, ask “what’s so special about Zelda”, or something along those lines that doesn’t sound that potentially rude. We’ve been playing this series for how many years now, and yet there’s still debate over what genre it is. I personally consider it to be an action-adventure title, but you’d find a lot of people blatantly disagree with this assertion.

That’s when it all sort of clicked – Zelda doesn’t really even have a genre. It’s a Swiss army knife of a series that draws from every single other genre out there. Puzzles, combat, platforming, RPG elements, first-person shooting, racing, you name it – it’s already been in Zelda.

But how did this come to be? How did Zelda, of all the series out there, end up becoming a sort of CliffsNotes for the entire medium we refer to as video games? Honestly, I don’t really know. Perhaps it comes from its forward-thinking origins inspiring it to further accumulate new forms of play to feel fresh. Or maybe it’s just because video games are fun, Miyamoto likes fun, and damnit he’s going to put every single video game thing ever in his game.

Do not question his devotion to fun. He has a sharp object in hand.

Regardless of how this came to pass, it’s certainly an interesting phenomenon. For a while now, if someone interested in video games would ask me to refer them to one, I’d give them Zelda. I always assumed this was just because it was my favorite series – but now I realize it’s because Zelda is the basic, intrinsic thing used to demonstrate a video game. I would pass it on to non-gamers because, in some odd way, Zelda contains every other game inside of it.

Of course, one could also look at this development and refer to it as a weakness of the series. In one line of thought, Zelda’s lack of definitive “Zelda-ness” means it has no real identity to itself. This concept has some validity – surely no other video game series in existence changes so dramatically between incarnations as much as Zelda. Whether this is weakness or strength, however, depends entirely on our opinion.

Sure, it could be seen as weak and somewhat annoying when it basically reinvents itself every few years. But isn’t that part of the charm? You could argue the lack of cohesion between titles strips Zelda of identity, but might that very lack of cohesion be its identity?

In lieu of some cliched Inception joke. I prefer Pink Vader to DiCaprio anyway.

In many ways, Zelda is a paradox. It’s oft-maligned for not changing enough between incarnations, even though each new version is drastically different from the previous. It has one of the strongest and most devoted fan bases in existence, and yet there is no single, distinctive thing about it that rises above anything else done in another video game series.

But that doesn’t matter, because that’s not what Zelda is. That’s not its identity.

Zelda is the jack-of-all-trades, the series in which the entirety of video gaming is encapsulated and teased. Similarities in gameplay can be drawn to every single other video game from Zelda, and thus call back to it. Zelda exists as the single, basic series that comes to mind when the term “video game” is stated.

Whether this is strength or weakness, success or folly, is up to you.

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