Modernization in Zelda
Written by: The King of Hyrule
One of my fondest childhood memories is playing The Legend of Zelda for the NES over and over again. I was so fascinated by the magical spells, creatures, songs, and items, and was captivated by idea of a young boy saving a princess in need.
Now, years later, I run a website dedicated to the very series that I have loved from the beginning. The general idea is the same as when I fell in love with the series: a young boy overcomes great obstacles to save a princess and live happily ever after. However, major aspects of the game have changed; some for better and some for worse. Graphics have improved with the changing hardware, creativity runs wild, and some new challenges have arisen, stumping even the best gamers, if only for a little while.
Through all of this, the Zelda series has evolved. It is still recognized today as one of the best gaming franchises ever, as it was years ago. Zelda games have broken records, and Ocarina of Time recently broke the record for the longest top ranked game of all time: ten years. TEN YEARS!!! Zelda has also broken barriers in terms of depth, controls, graphics, etc. Obviously, whatever formula Shigeru Miyamoto (the creator of Zelda) came up with for his games has worked amazingly.
However, over time, many Zelda fans, including myself, have watched this amazing, near flawless formula change into things that we may not want. Nintendo’s recent drive to appeal to younger gamers may have something to do with it, but I really feel that a large portion of the problems lies with the demystification of the items that have appeared in recent Zelda games.
Who can honestly say that they didn’t wish they had magical powers or spells or something like that? This was part of the almost perfect formula created by Shigeru Miyamoto for the original Zelda games. He gave the players the ability to have magical powers and to mess around with magical items. Over the years though, this magic and these magical items have become scarce in Zelda. Games now feature cannons, electronic tracking devices, ships with engines (not sails), and non-talking animals (more on this later). No more magical Ocarina songs; no more magical talking or flying birds to carry you all over the place; no more warp places or spells; no more masks to transform you; and certainly no more magical sword beams. Link no longer has magical candles; instead, he now has a full-fledged gas-fueled lantern.
Do you see a pattern here? The past few years, specifically the recent ones, have led to a significant decrease of the magic in Zelda. Zelda is subconsciously becoming a much more modern game. Through little things, even items, the Zelda series we love and the formula that has been proven to work is changing, and not for the better.
Ocarina of Time is not considered the best game of all time because it contains guns and computers. It’s because it appeals to the child in all of us. We like the magic. We like the mystery. We like the unanswered questions. It’s what keeps us coming back for more. But, now that those things are gone, the series as a whole is changing, and the only reason we play a game is because it has the title Zelda on it. Ocarina of Time is considered the greatest game of all time because has that mystical element that no other game has.
So what is this element and where does it come from? The answer is simple. Like I said before, people love magic, and they are intrigued by it. People are curious of magic because it is something uncommon in today’s world. Magic is generally associated with this, and we are naturally curious of it. When presented with an opportunity to possess and use this magic, we jump on it. The ability to use magic to defeat enemies, solve puzzles, or even jus mess around is the reason we love Zelda so much. In short, magic is what makes Zelda Zelda.
So where does this element of magic come from? The answer is something you may not expect: your surroundings. Things such as items, animals, dungeons, and people all provide the magic we crave. Magical items give us the ability to use magic; magical talking animals captivate us; we become addicted to the magical puzzles in dungeons; and we admire and fear others with powers just like ours. All of these things make up that mystical element I wrote about earlier.
Just as in real life, over the years this element we love has decreased. People modernized, and we entered in an age of rapidly advancing technology and hardware. Video games cannot escape the modernization that is going on around us, and Zelda is no different. The past few Zelda games, specifically Phantom Hourglass, have been great disappointments for some. Modernization is to blame. As the world around us changes, so do our video games. Zelda is rapidly modernizing, and in doing so, it is depleting that mystical element that we love.
The easiest area to notice modernization in has to be the items of the Zelda series. In the original Legend of Zelda for the NES, Link uses a log raft to travel the waters. A few years go by and Link is now using a motorboat! In The Wind Waker, Link at least had a sailboat, which is not nearly as modern as Phantom Hourglass’s engine-run boat. Just ten years ago, Ocarina of Time featured a magical musical item along with magical songs that would transport Link places, change the time of day, or even change the weather. Other games such as Oracle of Ages and Link’s Awakening also feature musical items that used magic to accomplish otherwise impossible feats. Oracle of Seasons is a great example: you could change the season of the year by standing on a magical stump and calling on the magic of a metal rod. Pretty impossible huh? But what impossible feat do the magical items in Phantom Hourglass accomplish? You can build a big sword from some magical stones. Woo; that sounds real fun. The magical items in recent games have become slim to none. The closest thing to a re-usable magical item in Phantom Hourglass was the hammer, which was just a modern item on steroids. Phantom Hourglass basically left out any remotely magical items and only kept the more modern ones: bombs, the bow and arrow, a boomerang, bombchus, and a shovel. All things we use today (save a bombchu – if they existed I’m sure we’d use them). Zelda is becoming more modern through items alone! But wait, there’s more.
We have all seen the stupid talking owl in Ocarina of Time that talks for an hour about your journey like he’s some kind of stalker, but he is another perfect example of what is being lost in modernization. Talking animals were frequently used to guide Link on his journey. No matter how annoying they were, we were all n00bs at one point, and were all helped by the animal at one point in time, which makes us realize that having a magical, all-knowing, talking animal isn’t all that bad (unless it’s name is Navi). But in recent games, these animals have been modernized and have been replaced by common, non-talking animals (Twilight Princess), and those have been replaced by humans (Linebeck)! What is more modern than that? We like the mystery and the magic behind our talking animals, but there is absolutely no mystery behind a human tour guide.
My third example of modernization is the overall layout of the dungeons. In Ocarina of Time dungeons, you are forced to push and pull blocks under a certain time and form a pre-designated shape or design. You had to out run ghosts and dead spirits, and even then you were timed. When you cleared the puzzle, a path would magically appear before you. Things like clearing a room of enemies would magically open the door for Link. Unfortunately, dungeons in Phantom Hourglass revolve around switch-pulling and switch-swatting. There is no mystery anymore. When you solve a puzzle and path forms in the darkness, you don’t know how it got there. But when you flip a switch and a door is unlocked, there is no magic. We do that in real life! But games are modernized, and all that magic is lost with the modernization.
My final example of the modernization of Zelda deals with the people of the games. Tons of non-playable characters are featured in every Zelda game, but few now a days are anything greater than normal. Ocarina of Time had wizards and gods and sages, all with magical powers. The modern equivalent of those things: fortunetellers; and that is exactly what you will find in Phantom Hourglass. To take the place of those magical beings, modern Zelda contains modern “magical” people. Most fortunetellers only give advice and possess no real magic. This is true in Zelda too. Zelda is becoming more modern because non-magical people are replacing the once very powerful people. Besides magic beings disappearing, magical races are being depleted as well. Where did the Hylians go? Most of the people in Phantom Hourglass look more like regular humans than Hylians, and they certainly don’t possess the magic the Hylians were said to have.
Basically, the underlying theme of Zelda has always been magic. This, however, is gradually fading away and being replaced by things of a more modern standard. Zelda will always contain various magical things like the Triforce, or the gods, or even magical swords, but I think, in the very near future, it will be a strain to fit those items and other magical things in Zelda games. If Nintendo does not act now, the Zelda series could easily evolve in a direction no one wants it to take.