Zelda: A Retrospective Part 2

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Changes were in store for my beloved series. Would it mean the end for my love?

When last we left off, I was swooning over the storytelling prowess of Majora’s Mask and specifically, how dark the tone of the game placed the series. My hopes for a new Zelda game were high and I was eager to hear what would happen next. Before a real console sequel though, we’d be getting a little handheld detour first.

Oracle of Ages (2001):

If this looks a lot like Link's Awakening, that's because it looks a lot like Link's Awakening.

Nintendo Power did its usual thing of hyping me up for the new Zelda games, but this time things were different. Oracle of Ages was for the Game Boy Color, but it wasn’t being released all alone. It was one of two Zelda games released at the same time, so I was skeptical as to the true intentions of this noble little game. I still went out and rented Oracle of Ages, an odd thing to think about since renting Game Boy Color games was extremely rare. Anyway, I rented the game and played it, not thinking too much one way or another. This was another one of those cases where I needed to return once I was a little older and a little wiser. Sure enough, upon closer inspection I found Oracle of Ages to be an excellent game that specialized in the puzzles Zelda games are known for. But wait, there’s more.

Oracle of Seasons (2001):

Is there any wonder why I loved these two games?

Oracle of Seasons was released at the same time as Oracle of Ages, and while they had different core stories and different styles with Ages being more puzzle-oriented and Seasons much more about the action, it was the effect gained from playing them back-to-back that added an extra oomph to the experience. The reason being is that once you played one game, didn’t matter which first, you’d get a code to input in the other game when you started a new file. You’d get to begin the game with an extra heart and characters would reference your exploits from the other game, making the world feel more complete. Even better, these characters would give you a new code to input in the first game, unlocking new weapons and upgrades and such that could then be unlocked in the other game. And after beating the second game, you’d get the chance to fight with Ganon once more, tying things together so nicely. I was really amazed with how cool the whole package felt. Do not buy just one of these if you choose to play them. It’s required that you play both.

The GameCube is Announced:

But all was not well in Hyrule and lands beyond. A great schism was approaching. Nintendo had announced the GameCube and with it showed a now infamous tech demo that’d lead fans astray. The culprit? This image:

If you were a Zelda fan, this got you so jazzed it hurt.

The assumption was that this and a few other images shown in Nintendo Power were actual footage from a new Legend of Zelda game being developed for the GameCube. And why wouldn’t we believe that? It only made sense, plus it looked so much like Ocarina of Time but with better graphics. Except something was wrong. After seeing these images, Nintendo wouldn’t say anything for what seemed like a year until finally we got a look at the new Zelda title on the GameCube. And that’s when fans got mad.

Wind Waker (2002):

Goodbye Zelda series you knew and loved. Hope you like cartoons and sailing.

It is important to note that my opinion of The Wind Waker is this: It is an extremely great game, just a very bad Zelda game. I, like many other Zelda fans, believed the images previously seen in Nintendo Power were what to expect from the new Zelda title, so when a year later we see the equivalent of a cartoon penis pretending to be Link, we were miffed. And no, this wasn’t all fans, and even some fans that were miffed eventually didn’t have a problem, but the general feeling was that Nintendo had betrayed us somehow, regardless of their intent.

Despite any negative feelings due to a misunderstanding, The Wind Waker is a really great game. The art style is pretty darn cool and the controls are spot-on. But the tone doesn’t feel like a Zelda game. Sure, there are races from previous Zelda titles and landmarks mentioned, but overall it just didn’t feel that much like the games I grew up with. It just felt…foreign. And foreign isn’t a bad thing necessarily, unless of course I just wanted a true follow-up to Majora’s Mask with the same sort of mature themes done tastefully. This new cartoon style only pointed me to believe that the dark, sad atmosphere I had been touched by in Majora’s Mask would be replaced by this vibrant color scheme, as if to wash over any real emotion that could potentially occur. The cartoon-style Zelda games would continue to be decent, but they’d never come close to the expectations fans asked for Majora’s Mask’s sequel.

Four Swords Adventures (2004):

I assure you, it's a fun game, just yet another bad Zelda game.

And then something really odd happened. Four Swords Adventures was released on the GameCube to an audience that was mostly unaware (read: indifferent) to its appearance. I for one couldn’t muster a shred of interest when I read about it. I ended up playing it, as always, and all I could say was, “Wow, this is just Link to the Past 2.0.” Once again, it wasn’t a bad thing, per say. It was just another Zelda game that didn’t deliver where the fans were concerned. Art style, yes, it was yet another gorgeous title in the Zelda franchise, and once you got past how it broke with all Zelda conventions it was actually very enjoyable. But as I said, it just wasn’t what fans were asking for, and the multiplayer aspect that Nintendo was pushing for the title wasn’t available unless every player owned a GBA and a GBA-GameCube cable, of which I personally had the needed equipment but had no friends that did. I’d still recommend Four Swords Adventures if you want a simple, cheap game to pass the time in between larger titles.

Minish Cap (2004):

Good, the classic style gameplay. Fine, make it cartoony, just give me back my classic style gameplay.

Something had just broken inside me when it came to the Zelda series. My favorite games were still holding up, but the new releases were failing to stir any desire to fork over the money immediately and buy the next game. Minish Cap was one such example. Oh sure, when I finally played it I found that it was amazing, just as the rest of the Zelda games, but sadly the art style reminded me of Wind Waker. I’m not a snob, I assure you, but that art style doesn’t invoke joy from me. To me, the Wind Waker art style represents a movement away from anything serious within the series, meaning that ultimately the game is the adventure-genre equivalent of a Mario title, by which I mean the ultimate thing at stake is the same over and over again. Princess Zelda has been kidnapped and Link must go through a number of dungeons to get her back. No surprises, no real thrills. Great gameplay and dungeon design, but it feels like empty calories. I don’t feel as if the narrative if progressing towards bettering me as a Zelda gamer or rewarding me for continuing on in the series. All the older titles did, but now something feels like it’s missing. I needed more than trading Kinstones to keep me interested anymore. Would Nintendo ever satisfy fans like me anymore?

Twilight Princess (2006):

The Hero had returned at last.

Things were bleak in my eyes, and then the miracle that is Twilight Princess was announced. Suddenly I was more excited for a video game than I’ve ever been. That pure rush of excitement hit me and I was ready to experience a new Zelda title in the vein of my favorites. But a trailer wouldn’t be enough to satisfy. I’d watch it over and over, waiting for my game, MY game, to finally come out. But therein slept yet another problem.

Twilight Princess would be pushed back again and again until finally it became a launch title for the Wii as well as a GameCube game. I was confused about that, but I was already buying a Wii, so Twilight Princess was a no-brainer for a launch title. It’s still the version I recommend. And Twilight Princess is really recommended. The tone was darker without being overly serious, the story was pretty cool, and all the new elements were excellently added, such as the motion controls. I felt like a very powerful character once I had the bow in my hand, aiming with pinpoint accuracy. This was the game I’d been waiting for, no question. But in my ravenous greed for a new Zelda title I devoured it too quickly, beating the majority of the game (minus some tedious side-quests) in a little over 20 hours. I could only speculate where the series would go from here.

Phantom Hourglass (2007):

Crap, I spoke too soon. We're on a damned boat again.

And then the cartoon style of Zelda came back with a vengeance just to spite me. Phourglass appeared and as soon as I heard it was a DS title I was happy. I thought it would be like the older Zelda titles I enjoyed such as Link’s Awakening or Oracle of Ages. Then I heard you’d use the stylus to control, exclusively. That made me beyond sad. I don’t mind touch controls when they work, but I didn’t see any need to change basic movement and sword swinging from the tried and true D-pad/A button combo. It didn’t matter, I would still play Phourglass, and so I did.

Following directly after The Wind Waker, Phourglass had Link and Tetra/Zelda on an adventure that felt entirely unnecessary. A ghost ship appears and separates the two. Link must go find her through a series of dungeon-related events, accessible via boating. As I mentioned before, this just felt like empty calories. It didn’t feel like the series progressed anywhere but rather decided to fall into a rut. Repetitive gameplay, dull story and setting, and the first Zelda title not to add a single new weapon/item. Seriously, bow, boomerang, bombs? We’ve seen those before! Twilight Princess gave us things like the Spinner, the Ball and Chain, and the Double Claw Shots, but Phourglass couldn’t think of anything. How sad. I was painfully happy when Link saved Tetra in the end and the credits rolled, because it meant I never had to play this one again.

Spirit Tracks (2009):

If the characters in the artwork look like they don't care, that should be a pretty clear indication, shouldn't it?

Silly me, I had to play Phourglass again, except it was called Spirit Tracks this time. You’ve read my review detailing my numerous frustrations with Spirit Tracks, so there isn’t much more to say about this title. When it was first announced it seemed like it had to be a joke. Link on a train? Was there really nothing left to do with the Hero of Legend? At least it added new weapons/tools whereas Phourglass hadn’t, but these new items included the usual variety of bombs, bows, boomerangs, and the obligatory “odd” item, the pinwheel, an item I loathed because it required I used the microphone. Blowing into the DS microphone is NOT enjoyable in any game I’ve yet played. Even worse, the final boss fight felt nearly impossible due to the awful touch screen sword mechanics. I’ve never cursed so much while playing a Zelda game, a very bad sign. All Zelda fans could do was look to the future and hope, knowing that Nintendo had promised a new Wii Zelda sometime. But when would we know more?

Skyward Sword (2011?):

I'm ready for this game to knock my shorts off. It's got a lot to live up to.

This year’s E3 showed us our first true look at Skyward Sword, the official name of the new Zelda title for the Wii. It’s not out yet (obviously), but Nintendo has claimed it should be out around 2011. I’ll believe it when I see it happen, but the sooner the better. The last “good” Zelda game was in late 2006, so I’m ready for something new and something now.

Skyward Sword has a slew of screenshots, plus some gameplay footage and an excellent trailer showing off what we can expect. And what stands out the most? The art style. It looks very much like Twilight Princess but with a cell-shaded sheen, almost a hybrid between Twilight Princess and The Wind Waker. Naturally, this worries me. Has the precedence been set to ease the series once more toward the cartoony style? To me, this means a movement away from a deeper Zelda experience and a push toward more empty calories. The console Zelda games have always been excellent in one form or another, each very different from the last, but the cartoony-style Zelda games have a very repetitive feel to them. What also scares me is the decision of Skyward Sword to use motion controls for every action now, similar to how stylus control was forced work for the DS titles. Is the Zelda series officially dead to me? We’ll have to wait and see.

So what comes next? Where will the series take us in the future? Nintendo seems pretty keen on remaking Ocarina of Time for the 3DS, but that’s just a remake, nothing new. Will we ever hear Link truly speak? Will Ganondorf stay trapped or dead? I’m hopeful for what comes next, but how about you? Do you still love the Zelda series no matter what it does next? Or are too jaded at this point to care? I’m done with all my memories so now it’s your turn to pontificate about one of gaming’s oldest and dearest franchises. In the meantime I’ll just sit here and pray to Din, Nayru and Farore that Skyward Sword is awesome.

Need more retrospectives? Take a look at these:

Mario: A Retrospctive

Rare: A Retrospective

-Go Green Machine! A Ninja Turtle Video Game Retrospective

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About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.

8 Comments

  1. Nothing wrong with having favorites. 🙂 It seems each game hits us in different ways. I guess Majora’s Mask hit me harder upon revisiting it and Wind Waker just had bad memories associated from my personal experiences. I still think it’s a great game though. I think I’ve even played through it more times than Majora’s Mask, actually. Don’t know how that happened…

  2. I found this article after finally playing through Majora’s Mask for the first time ever via the Virtual Console. I did find it to be very good but my all time favorite is still Wind Waker. Where I disagree with you is that I think Wind Waker just has more of that intangible Zelda feel to me when compared to Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess.
    I think the reason that I love WW so much is because for the first time in the series, Nintendo really implemented a well paced plot and real character development. For the first time, Ganondorf was more than just the standard maniacal villain and Tetra/Zelda was portrayed as a much stronger female character. I especially love the ending in which the King lets go of his regret and grief and wishes for a future for Link and Zelda. Watching the old Hyrule being engulfed and washed away by the sea is far more intriguing imagery to me than anything else that I’ve seen in the series.
    Naturally each fan will have their own favorite Zelda. Personally, I’ll take the whimsical, Caribbean tone of Wind Waker over the colder and darker tones of Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess. Great job on the retrospective!

  3. Wow, your impressions of the Wind Waker and Twilight Princess are the polar opposite of mine. I felt like Wind Waker was a breath of fresh air, while Twilight Princess felt like a hollow attempt to cater to the people who just wanted to buy a slightly different version of Ocarina of Time.

    Here’s how I rank the Zelda games I’ve played myself:

    1) Minish Cap – Absolutely superb, through and through. Inventive dungeons and bosses, an overworld as complex as any dungeon, and fun new game play mechanics.
    2) Majora’s Mask – I loved how you got to interact more with NPCs, especially since you needed to observe their actions over the course of the three day cycles to solve their problems. It was also fun getting to play as other races.
    3) Legend of Zelda – This game did not hold your hand. At all. In a time where games seem to be getting easier and easier, the first LoZ forced you to bomb every wall and play the whistle just to find the few situations where it worked. Some people might find that annoying, but it really made me feel like I was being challenged.
    4) Wind Waker – This game introduced parries into combat and gave you a wide open world to explore. I wish the developers had spent more time on it, though; two whole dungeons were cut from the game, and I wanted more neat things to discover on the open sea.
    5) Oracle of Ages/Seasons – These two games added a lot of unique mechanics. They also boasted interesting characters; I’d much rather fight General Onox and Veran again than I would Ganon.
    6) Link’s Awakening – Lots of cool stuff in this one. Taking a chain chomp for a walk, laying a ghost to rest, and reviving a cucco from the dead so you could use it to fly were all memorable events.
    7) Ocarina of Time – Come to think of it, there were a ton of dungeons in this one. There wasn’t too awful much outside of the dungeons, but that’s okay. They definitely should have stocked Hyrule Field with more stuff, though. I also wish the developers would have emphasized the implications of time travel more, such as by changing something as Young Link that could open up a path for Adult Link in the future.
    8) A Link to the Past – This may sound blasphemous, but I don’t really have any strong feelings about this game. That’s probably because I never played it until the GBA port. If I had played it on SNES, I might have appreciated Ocarina of Time more.
    9) Twilight Princess – This wasn’t a bad game (although I tired quickly of the wolf sections), but it felt like a step back from Wind Waker and especially Majora’s Mask. The overworld was huge, but it also felt empty. I would have liked it if I actually got to fight alongside the Resistance, but instead they just existed to tell you where to go next. I also wish that they hadn’t thrown Ganondorf into the mix at the end. Wind Waker made his presence felt throughout the entire game, whereas Twilight Princess’s treatment of Ganondorf reminded me of all those Mega Man games where some new villain appears only for, surprise surprise, Dr. Wily to be exposed as the true villain.
    10) Adventure of Link – Jeez this game is hard, and not in a good way. Some difficult games make me think to myself “Argh…I better try harder next time!” This game made me think “Argh…time to play something else.” Couldn’t you at least retain your XP when you die? Grinding forever just to get killed before leveling up and losing all your XP is annoying.
    11) Phantom Hourglass – This game took everything I liked about Wind Waker, but somehow made those things terrible. I especially got tired of constantly having to revisit the Temple of the Ocean King.

  4. I argue that while Wind Waker’s final moment was cool, it wasn’t “serious” or even very well done. It’s the type of thing a kid would write. “And then, uh, Link…uh…STABS GANON IN THE FACE!” Sure, I said, “Oh jeez” when it first happened, but it just didn’t feel as if it was really that hardcore enough to say, “So what if we’re cartoony? Look at this!” Plus, the final battle against Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time resulted in Ganon coughing blood, then when Link fought with Ganon in his monster form he slashes him and stabs him int eh face, throwing blood everywhere. Maybe you played a version after the first edition of OoT because everything after that Ganon’s blood is green, but originally, in my edition, it’s red and just as hardcore of a scene as Wind Waker, if not more so.

    Also, Zelda’s character has never needed to evolve past anything more than “object” since the whole game is based around her as a “legend.” Think of the classic legend characters such as Snow White, Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty. Those girls are blank slates of characters, only succeeding because the right heroic figure came and rescued them.

  5. I just have to mention, for as much as you say that the cartoony style is too much a sale away from Zelda games taking themselves “seriously,” I still think that Windwaker has one of the most epic, graphic, hardcore finishing moves in any Zelda game thus far. In fact, any Nintendo game period.

    Just keep in mind how this fight ends. http://th07.deviantart.net/fs11/300W/i/2006/179/e/2/WW___Link_VS_Ganondorf___final_by_gts.jpg

    Honestly, I’m not qutie sure how I would feel about adding voice acting. On one hand, it’s a japanese game and it might not translate well in an English Dialect. On the other, as long as they keep Link silent and found good enough actors to speak for the supporting cast, it would make the world a little more engadging and believable, as voices would add a whole other layer to characters personality. But if they can’t make it spot on, or I start hearing similar voices around towns too often, than it’s going to hurt it more than help.

    As for Twilight Princess, I LOVED Midna. So much so, that I almost felt slapping Ganondorf at the very end of the story was unnecessary. The entire game. Zant was established as the real threat that her kingdom and even her own humanity, but then it was like “No, Zant was just a pawn the whole time. Ganon was the one pulling his strings.”

    I loved the story arc of Midna so much that I wanted to write as story concept for a sequel to Twilight Princess, in which she is a misunderstood villian because she realizes how much she misses Link. So she reopens the gate between the real and twilight realm and cast a spell on him and Zelda, causing them to switch roles (princess and the poper style) so she can take Link away, now a prince, and make him her King. As she locks the gate again, with Link traped in the twilight realm, a game would revolve around a player playing as Zelda, now a ranch girl in a tunic, having to search for the brocken shards to enter the twilight realm, rescue Link and break the spell.

    You know, one of the things that has bugged me is that Zelda is the name of the game, yet Zelda’s actuall feelings usually seemed really shallow. Yeah, in OoC she did stuff, but only when we thought she was a ninja. Windwaker too, but that was when she thought she was a pirate, then she finds out her true identity and becomes fragile again. She’s basically been Princess Peach with a bow and arrow. Maybe that’s just how fans like her, but I thought with my story idea, it would give the chance for Zelda to not only tell her own Legend, but actually show how far she would go to save someone she cared about.

  6. I’ve heard that Skyward Sword’s art style isn’t final, so there’s a chance it could change before release. However, I doubt they’ll change it at this point. I’m just hoping for a move away from gimmicky controls for Zelda titles. I hated that both the DS Zelda games felt simpler than all other Zelda games to compensate for the difficulty if the controls. I don’t want the difficulty come as a result of unnecessary controls. That’s bad game design. Nintendo should have known better.

  7. PuppetDoctor on

    Well the game that got me into Zelda was Wind Waker thanks to the Zelda Collection (it came with my Gamecube which I got on December 23, 2003). I played the demo for it and then when I got back from vacation I rented Wind Waker from Blockbuster and then eventually purchased it. I always enjoyed the look of Wind Waker being like a cartoon but with that being said I can’t share your feelings of seeing a realistic looking Link and then seeing it going in a cartoon direction.

    I loved Twilight Princess to death though. I think it was Midna and the whole story about the game. The ending still makes me sad since its bitter sweet. However, I am annoyed that in Twilight Princess there is no voice acting. Seeing the characters lips move but nothing come out of their lips grinds my gears. The next Zelda game had better have voice acting if they want to make it cinematic. There is nothing I hate more then timed text sequences. It makes me feel rushed when I am trying to read the story but I know the text is going to change automatically and then I miss something because I become nervous. A good example is Mass Effect 1 and 2 intro scenes.

    I hated Phantom Hourglass soooooooooo much! Nintendo why the heck can’t you let us use the D-Pad? Is it that darn hard? I found that moving around and then having to swing the sword with the stylus to be difficult. I never did finish Phantom Hourglass and I have had it since it was released in 2007. Spirit Tracks though I got near the end (I stopped at the Fire Temple) and I don’t know why but I found the game to be more fun. I just wish they would end with the cartoon look of Zelda games and make a sequel to Twilight Princess on the 3DS or something.

    I am disappointed in the new Zelda just because of the way it looks. This may sound crazy but the mushrooms remind me of Alice & Wonderland and I am not a fan of the pastel colors. I liked the darker look of Twilight Princess, and I liked the concept art that was shown behind closed doors last year of E3 with Link and that weird sword. Why did they scrap that idea? Oh, well I guess we will have to wait and see.

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