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):
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):
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:
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):
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):
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):
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):
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):
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):
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?):
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.
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