I don’t know if any of you have visited the official Legend of Zelda website recently – honestly I don’t think I could blame you if you hadn’t, since all they’ve added to it in the past year and a half is a redirect link to the Ocarina of Time 3D info page – but, quite frankly, it sucks. It’s so bad, in fact, that its very existence has become something of an inside joke among Zelda fans. If you’ve ever browsed the ”Zelda Encyclopedia” they have up there, you know what I’m talking about, from its embarrassing typos to blatant inaccuracies. And while there’s been a recent torrent of information about the Ocarina of Time remake recently, none of it is actually reflected in any way on the site.
How is it that humble indie sites like Zelda Informer can keep their audience better-informed than their own channels can? The answer, my friends, is of course: passion.
What do I mean by that? I mean that the marketing people at Nintendo (you know, the guys actually responsible for creating these kinds of materials) don’t have nearly the same care for the series that we the fans do. I’d feel a little sorry for them if they did, since I can’t imagine that Nintendo gives them much time to crank out any kind of worthwhile content to satisfy even the most casual fan’s love of the Hyrule lore, characters, or universe. What do they care about? Delivering whatever message the guys at Nintendo HQ want them to deliver – “you should buy this game because it’s a brand new game system designed just for the DS” or “check out all the neat things you can do with Skyward Sword‘s Motion Plus controls.”
I can kind of understand this, since it reflects that Nintendo at least realizes that people care mostly about the actual playing part of gaming, but I think it also reveals one of the symptoms that’s holding the franchise back: a lack of respect for the Zelda universe.
There was once a time when official Nintendo promotional materials were revered. Everyone talked about what was in the game manuals or in the latest magazine issue or on the official website – yes, the same one that’s now the laughingstock of the fanbase. I think in large part it had to do with the focus on lore that was pushed in the Zelda games of the 80s and early 90s. The manuals of the NES games were particularly important since nobody wanted to read the Engrish story translation shown in the opening crawl, and the A Link to the Past prologue was more influential still since it fleshed out a number of critical story elements that simply weren’t mentioned in the actual game. We also read tidbits about many of the enemies and places that appeared in the games that really made us feel like a part of the world we were diving into. Maps were often prominently featured to show us how big and exciting Hyrule was going to be this time around.
Today, Zelda manuals aren’t like that anymore. That’s not to say that the whole lore-based prologue format has been abandoned – it’s just that it’s been restricted entirely to the games themselves. Games like The Wind Waker and The Minish Cap tried to retain the encyclopedia-like elements of the older manuals through their figurine systems, but this approach was cast aside in later games. And now, the world maps start off veiled, hidden until we actually explore them. This has extended to Zelda.com also – once it featured a neat synopsis of the timeline (admittedly terribly flawed), a bank of interview statements, and a slew of other content, but now all that’s left is an error-ridden encyclopedia.
I won’t go so far to say that the trend away from these elements is absolute, but there’s definitely a noticeable difference between the game manuals of the early games and those of, say, the Wii and DS ones. I will admit, however, that the character and enemy features on the website for Twilight Princess were pretty awesome (not to mention that the site was extremely well-constructed) and that I really enjoyed the way Spirit Tracks teased the Rail Map in some of the early promotional materials. But that doesn’t justify the abject disregard shown to the series’ main hub site, nor the decline of the once-holy Zelda manual.
Nowadays, where do people find this kind of information? They find them on fan sites like this one or Zelda Wiki. We tend to be very efficient at gathering all the information and media in one place (see our Ocarina of Time 3D screenshot page, for example), so why should Nintendo go through the trouble? We’re also obsessively thorough at dissecting the storyline and promoting the heck out of pretty much every upcoming game release. Why waste time, paper, and money composing and printing a long piece of expository prose like the Link to the Past prologue for inclusion in the official manual or shoving in all the official art you can when it’s all going to show up on the Internet anyway? Could it be that Nintendo’s upkeep of Zelda.com has been so slack because they’re counting on us to do their job for them?
Just some food for thought. It’s been something Nate and I have talked about a couple times, so I thought I’d write something up and see if it’s a perspective that any of you share. Are we being a bit too conceited in thinking this of ourselves? Is this really a good excuse for Nintendo not to keep up the excellent supplementary content they included with the older titles?
In a way, I feel like this development makes our work as Zelda fans even more important, as now we are part of the driving force behind the development and evolution of the series. That’s the core philosophy that’s shaping our heavy content push this year, and the reason why we’re looking for some extra help around here to give us some room in our busy schedules to git ‘er done. (By the way, email Nate at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested!)