Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Zelda - 25 Years of Greatness
Zelda. The very name conjures up so many images. Oddly enough, most of them are of Link. Say Zelda and almost anyone will know what you're talking about. Whether new fans of games like Twilight Princess for the Wii, Phantom Hour Glass for the DS, somewhat older fans of the classics Ocarina of Time (which is even being re-released with added difficulty and other changes because of its lasting greatness) and Majora's Mask for the Nintnedo64, or if its for the nostalgia, hardcore gamers of yore, playing The Legend of Zelda or Zelda II: The Adventures of Link for the ancient 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), people love these games. Even some have started playing them from their NES years and followed them all the way into the next generation systems. These games are great. They've instilled in our hearts a sense of adventure, excitement, and fantasy. It was created by Shigeru Miyamoto when he was a 33-year-old video game designer (who's responsible for many infamous titles including Mario, Donkey Kong, and Star Fox). In 1985, The Legend of Zelda was released in Japan, and then eighteen months later in the United States. When I bring up the title screen I see "copyright 1986," and note this game was released in the states the year I was born. These games are older than I, and there's many good reasons they've survived all these years with game after game after game. In celebration of this great milestone, I want to go back and express my nostalgic gratitude for the original NES games (The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventures of Link), as well as break them down as games. This entry will be on the first Zelda game to reach our homes: The Legend of Zelda.
Let me start off by saying: I love this game. My brothers and I spent hours in my room playing it to no end. My dad forced us out of the room one afternoon because we spent our entire weekend listening to Silverchair's Frogstomp and playing The Legend of Zelda. I remember having to kill myself to save the game as the song "Suicidal Dream" conveniently came on. There's a wonderful nostalgia to it, as well as a strength in its feeling of adventure and excitement. The music is classic, and some of the sounds have survived, to this day, into the later games. Everyone knows that sound when you unlock a secret, the song of the Overworld, or Ganon's stupid laugh when you die. With a plethora of different enemies, areas, and labyrinth-like levels, it's no wonder this game was so popular. This was also one of the first games to introduce the ability to save your progress. To this point, beating a game seemed damn near impossible, and not just because of the absurd difficulty, but because you couldn't walk away. You either had to beat it in one sitting or accept that you were just going to be playing the first four levels over and over. Zelda gave a big fuck you to that, and gave you the hope that if you were stubborn enough, committed enough, you could beat this goddamn game and show the world you could accomplish something. And with a game this hard, it is damn satisfying to see that end screen--even if it isn't the most elaborate thing.
Now on my replay of this game, it wasn't just about nostalgia for me. It was also about reliving the experience. One thing, however, that I wanted to change from my childhood, was that I didn't want to be sitting next to my Nintendo Power Magazine staring down all the screen shots and arrows directing me to the next level, to all the necessary items, and reading every piece of strategy before I even played the game. I wanted to venture through this game on my own, lost in the big wide Overworld, overrun with all of Ganon's foul monsters. As I played, at first my wandering was enough, but then I found myself relying on my memories, and finally, I found myself engulfed in utter tedium having to go back and forth onto a screen so I could use my blue candle on a different bush. I quickly realized something: it's impossible to beat this game without a FAQ, Walkthrough, YouTube Video, or Nintendo Power Magazine. At first this was really disheartening for me, and I felt kind of weak. Then when I discovered the plethora of help available on the internet, I realized it wasn't just me. People realize this game BEGS for a Walkthrough. When I played it as a kid with the Nintendo Power, sure I probably over used it, but regardless, I still needed the thing to beat the game. To beat the game without it would take--sincerely--months of regular playing. Running out of bombs, buying/finding new bombs, back and forth on screens to use the blue candle on every suspicious bush, blowing the whistle every where, etc. As far as my personal feelings: this cheapens the experience. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, however, Nintendo thrived on these kinds of games and obviously there was some really exciting elements to the secretive aspect of the game. It really did give you an added feeling of danger and adventure. Of course, sometimes it felt pretty stupid when you finally found a hidden staircase and some old man forces you to pay for his bush or rock of a door.
Seriously? How much does it cost to push another rock? Can't you find a seed for a bush? How do you get outside without catching the place on fire? Could you imagine having to bomb your way out of your house? WTF?! It's a little nitpicky, but when you're playing this game, you're playing it for a while, and you're going to be venturing all over the place, and if you're not looking for help, you're going to come across these pricks occasionally, and you're going to feel the same way I did.
So aside from needing help simply to find essential items to the gameplay (power bracelet, blue ring, master sword, magical sword, most of the levels, etc.), the game has a few other things that would really not work for the average kid, especially the ones with ADD. Getting rupees is a huge problem. The second one eliminates this all together, and the later games introduce stealing and just cutting grass, but in this game it's still super tedious. You have to walk around the Overworld and levels simply killing enemies and hoping that they drop a rupee or possibly a five-in-one rupee. If you go hunting you can find the famous Moblin--i.e. "It's a secret to everybody"--and you'll get anywhere from ten to one hundred rupees. The problem with this is if you're simply hunting the Moblins you'll also find the Old Men who claim bushes and rock-faces are their doors and you need to pay the fee, even though they never replace them. So sometimes you'll take hits, and ultimately the search is tedious unless you have a walkthrough that tells you where they are. Hunting money can get extremely frustrating for other reasons, when Like-Like's eat your magic shield or how Zola constantly reappears on nearly every screen with water, even if you killed it on that screen and all the other enemies haven't respawned there, yet.
Aside from the game's requirement of tedium as well as extreme patience, it has a few other nit-picky shortcomings. Most of the enemies charge you, requiring the constant use of the boomerang to stun them, because all the enemies know they can just run into you and take your health. The invincibility you get after being hit doesn't last long enough and you may got knocked into a corner and hit three times before you have an opportunity to recover. The enemies have better hit detection against you than you have against them, with the boomerang and sword, so often times you could think you've stunned them or should have stabbed them, but it doesn't work and then they run into you and you have to start the closing in process all over again. The candle, though a cool-looking weapon, can only be used once per screen (until the Red Candle in level 7), and even though it knocks most enemies back, it doesn't do decent damage. It gets extremely annoying when going through levels and every other room is "dark" and needs to be lit up with the candle. Most of the time you don't have the candle out, and so you have to tediously pause the game, pull out the candle, light the room, and then the weapon is useless for that screen so you need to pause again and replace it with something like the bow or boomerang. This gets old when you're lost in a level trying to find the special item, returning to dark rooms or if you accidentally back into a bombed opening. I think I should just simply say: Blue Wizzrobes. That really should be enough for any hardcore gamer.
Sometimes a room is cluttered with eight blue Darknuts, a stone statue in each of the four corners, and sometimes even a few Bubbles. The screen is so overwhelmed the game begins to glitch and slow, the Darknuts are extremely tedious as is, and while constantly being berated by the stone statue fireballs which, between four, can only be avoided more than blocked, and sometimes getting run into an unbeatable Bubble where you can't use your sword temporarily, the screen becomes a frustrating mess. It gets worse in the Second Quest when Bubbles can be defined blue or red, and red ones make sword use permanently disabled unless you run into a blue one, or get a Triforce shard (I discovered once). This is horrible. Sometimes rooms are filled only with red ones, and finding a blue one can get hard, all the while you're traveling without your main and most valued weapon (I mean, it's not switchable, it's always A). Nothing is more frustrating than having to chase down the one blue Bubble in a room of three red ones and a sea of blue Darknuts. Sometimes I just kill myself.
Speaking of killing yourself, I mentioned how Zelda got the infinite continues right. Most will also notice that if you die at a specific level, you can continue and start at the beginning of the level, rather than where you start in the Overworld. I'll admit this is convenient, but there's one huge mistake in the game that still, to this day, I can't seem to forgive: you start with three hearts. In what other game do you not start at full health? In what other game? Name one! NAME ONE! Yes, at the beginning of the game you have only three hearts, but you collect heart containers throughout. This is part of what makes the game an RPG (along with the blue ring, the swords, and collecting the special items that help you proceed further). And yet getting these heart containers, for whatever reason, doesn't mean you get to start with that health. Oh no, you always stay starting with three. So, especially in the harder levels, and ultimately the entire Second Quest, continuing at a level is USELESS. Hearts and fairies rarely present themselves and usually by that point you're simply trying hard just to keep up at three after having been hit so many times. This is one flaw that becomes so glaringly frustrating and obvious, so consistent as you're constantly saving and coming back for later, constantly dying in the hard-as-hell levels where a continue is almost essential, that I can't just let go. Everything else is forgivable, but I will forever hold a grudge on Zelda for making me think I could continue at a level, only to realize it's not worth it. You're simply better off starting at the main screen, going to the very nearby fairy to fill up your health, and then going back to the level. Might as well not have had that feature to continue at the beginning of the level. No, seriously.
Finally, the last nit-pick, some general inconsistencies. My least favorite is fireballs. With the magic shield, which is usually 130 rupees unless you know/cheat/find the special place for only 90, you can block fireballs. This becomes essential later into the game, and it's a much nicer stroll across the Overworld when you can block Zola's constant recurring annoyance. The problem, here, however, is that sometimes fireballs can't be blocked. Even if they look exactly the same, animated with the exact same sprites. The game has little intricate inconsistencies of this nature that get really frustrating. Ultimately, it's safe to say that if it's not a regular villain, assume you can't block the fire balls. Sometimes a glitch happens and Dodongos don't eat the bomb. Generally, however, this isn't the case, and the game is usually very consistent. So much so that even as the game gets harder, adds additional maze elements, bosses, etc., you can pick up on what must be done all on your own. Towards the end of the Second Quest, you'll really start to come into your own and figure things out. And by then, even though you're almost through, you'll be accidentally beating levels and finding items, and if anything, the Second Quest Level Nine is anti-climactic. That being said, you just played a hell of a game, and you should feel accomplished. It wasn't easy getting there and it won't be easy the next thirty times you play it.
So that's it for my replay of The Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System. And despite my nitpicks, it's truly an amazing game. There's no doubt I loved it and played it as a kid, and it's no doubt thousands did as well. And when Zelda moved into 3D with The Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo64 (a blog for another time), it was truly seamless. It's like he belonged there. And each game learned from its predecessors successes and failings. Each game experimented with the basics, the game play, the RPG elements, and found what worked the best and what fans loved most. Though this first game doesn't let you go back through the game with all your leveled-up power (like many RPG games like to do now-a-days), Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, definitely bring this into play. Nintendo truly is proud and excited about such a great series that has spawned an elaborate Wikipedia page, it's own Zeldapedia, Zeldawiki, Zelda Universe, Zelda Dungeon,, and of course it's own website, it's clear how gamers and fans feel. And even though the game experiments with gameplay, RPG, and story, it always stirs in us a sense of adventure and excitement, expands our imaginations and concepts of a completely different fantasy, romantic world. Thank you, Shigeru Miyamoto, and leave your timelines be damned.
Next Week: Be Ready for some more Zelda! Oh? Could it be? One of the most controversial of the series? That's right! Some strange side-scrolling Zelda-action in The Adventures of Link!