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Saving Zelda
January 21, 2013 9:40 PM   Subscribe

Second Quest is a fully funded Kickstarter comic by David Hellman (the artist of Braid) and Tevis Thompson that attempts to put the criticisms of modern Zelda games in Tevis' essay Saving Zelda (previously) into comic book form. As Tim Rogers says, "People are willing to pay money to make a comic book about Zelda‘s pedantry exist. What a weird time."
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (71 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great post.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:45 PM on January 21, 2013


I haven't seriously played a Zelda game since Ocarina of Time and a bit of Majora's Mask, and I stopped playing the DS Zelda game for some of these reasons. It seems like what people want in a 'modern Zelda' though is something more melancholy, more like the gorgeous Shadow of the Colossus or the brutal and enigmatic Dark Souls (the essay even mentions Demons Souls). The closest I've come to Hyrule Field is the Western pastiche of Red Dead Redemption. Are these people simply too old for Zelda?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:52 PM on January 21, 2013


I dunno, I thought that essay was bizarre: He's talking about a completely different game than what the Zelda series has been for literally decades, and an audience (ie adults) that it has heretofore never aimed at.

Those ideas might be good ideas, but it feels a bit like criticising Zelda compared to something it's not and has no intention of being. Like ordering a pizza and complaining that it's not a cake.

I dunno, I can't really call myself a gamer, not even a casual one really since I was a child, but I feel like some people get stupidly nostalgic about the brutally hard and - imho - often boring games of the past.

I'm obviously not the audience for these articles - my completionist nature and desire for basically an interactive novel had me grinding teeth away when I played Mario Galaxy - but I suspect people like me, and children, are still the audience for games like Zelda.

Sounds like the game was bigger in his head than it ever was in the cartridge.
posted by smoke at 10:08 PM on January 21, 2013 [16 favorites]


The thing is, you see, the thing of it is that Wind Waker is bar none the best Legend of Zelda game ever*. And while I have no evidence to support this I believe it represents the true apotheosis of Miyamoto's vision.

Think about it: Wind Waker is like a Saturday morning cartoon, the kind you used to wake up really early for and make yourself a bowl of cereal in the blue twilight while your parents are still asleep. And there was a tiny knot of anxiousness as you antipicated, waiting, knowing that soon THE GREATEST CARTOON EVER was about to be on the TV.

Only it wasn't a cartoon, and you didn't just watch it. You were in it. YOU were the hero, questing through this brightly colored world of of open seas, pirates (pirates!), ghost ships, deep caverns, treasure maps, underground temples, a Ballardian drowned world of a distant future past, epic sword fights with evil knights three times your size, talking ships who once were kings, cannonballs, romance, friendship, love, nature, grandmother trees, magic potions and an end battle that would have felt right at home in a classic Disney film.

That game had it all.

But there was kind of a backlash against it. A lot of gamers thought it was too childish. They mocked it, calling it "cell-da". Forums were awash with gamers yearning for a mature Zelda game, a "dark" Zelda game. Then they got one and it wasn't really that great.

Miyamoto is famously quoted as creating Legend of Zelda from his own childhood experiences. When it moves away from the single conceit, it suffers.

I think Miyamoto was a little disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm (at the time) for Wind Waker, so he gave the people what they wanted. But I think it was the wrong move. It didn't work. Darker didn't mean better. The people were wrong, and this guy is kinda wrong too.

*with Link to the Past and the original game coming in second and third
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:13 PM on January 21, 2013 [16 favorites]


Why do retro video game discussions on MetaFilter always start after midnight on a workday?
posted by Nomyte at 11:15 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Holy crap, did Tim Rogers just say that something someone else wrote is pedantry?

Anyway, in that previously link above I said just about everything I have to say about this. In summary: regardless of the way he states it, I think Tevis Thompson is dead on right on nearly every point, even in his choice of the two games to exempt from his claim of gradually increasing suck (Majora and Wind Waker).

It's odd, but I agree with most of the things Doleful Creature says, except really for his last sentence. And Tevis Thompson says he doesn't hate Wind Waker, and I think it's for all the reasons you give. He likes the original game more, but for different reasons.
posted by JHarris at 12:24 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dunno. I came into the Zelda series at Link to the Past, and try as I might, I've never understood the allure of having to use hard-to-collect bombs on every available surface in order to find the secrets. Some of which are bad secrets that take your money away.

It's unfortunate that they're not making games for the people who have time for that shit, but I'm glad they're making games for people, like me, who don't. I think there's room in the market for both.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 12:57 AM on January 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


I dunno. I came into the Zelda series at Link to the Past, and try as I might, I've never understood the allure of having to use hard-to-collect bombs on every available surface in order to find the secrets. Some of which are bad secrets that take your money away.

It's because they're secret. You don't have to find them. They're completely and entirely optional, except for the one you have to find because it's the entrance to Level 9, which is clued. And in the first quest there's only two, to my memory, that take money away from you, and they're both so obscure I practically never find them. (The second quest is a different story, but it's off the rails in many ways.)

Just because it's in the game doesn't mean you have to find it.
posted by JHarris at 1:53 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


How do you feel about Milon's Secret Castle and Super Pitfall, JHarris?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:07 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I completed Milon's Secret Castle. I rather like it. I never got the chance to play Super Pitfall when I had a NES.

This all makes me think. Here, step by step:

1. Yes, Zelda's many secrets are supposed to be optional wonders the player can find. None of them are essential except the entrances to levels 7, 8 and 9 in the first quest, each requiring its own means of entrance (recorder, candle, bomb). Each is also clued, in the previous dungeon.

2. The first quest actually follows a clear progression of secret discovery. Miyamoto is an exacting game designer, but the nuts and bolts of his technique, and that of other 8-bit game designers, are only now finally being sussed out. (GameSpite has some terrific screen-by-screen breakdowns of Zelda [I wanted to save these links for a Zelda Day post, but here: I - II - III - IV - V - VI - VII - VIII - IX - X] and the Castlevania series [which I will probably FPP before long], and the forums there has a fan doing something similar with Mega Man.) The details are too lengthy to go into here, but suffice to say there are subtle clues throughout the game world as to the existence of each type of secret, that invite the player to experiment and discover the game's world for himself. In the words of many Nintendo game manuals up to and including Mario 64: "Try many things!"

3. We know from the discovery of an unearthed beta FDS copy of The Legend of Zelda from a couple of years ago (previously) that, shortly before release, the game was made harder in many ways except for one way it was made much easier: the secret that hides the Silver Arrow in Level 9, an item that's essential to win the game, was changed from a walk-through wall, the only one in the first quest and entirely unclued up to that point, to a bombable wall. If the walk-through wall had persisted, it would have been one of the trickiest secrets in video game history, and have certainly prevented a horde of kids from ever finishing Zelda.

4. The second quest, however, takes the gloves off. Most dungeons are hidden, some diabolically, and nearly all are unclued. Levels 7 and 8 are particularly hard to find; Level 7's tree might be the single hardest tree to burn in the game that the player could still be able to enter the resulting staircase, and Level 8 is unlikely to be found unless the player does what r.t.t.s.a.r.t.c suggests and bombs every available forward-facing mountain square. And walk-through walls start being used a new secret type in dungeons, starting with Level 2.

5. This indicates that what Miyamoto was going for was a kind of smoothly-escalating level of obscurity in both hiding his secrets and their importance to play, reaching a crescendo at the end of the Second Quest.

6. He nearly reaches the limits of obscurity at the end of the game; compared to finding Level 8, Level 9 is actually kind of a cakewalk. It's extremely tricky, has one-way passages, and a variety of other gimmicks, but the player has seen them all before. For comparison's sake, the item in Second Quest Level 4 is a walk-through wall in the back of the Triforce room, the only secret in the game hidden in any of those rooms.

7. This leads me to believe that, if the game had to get any trickier in its tricks, Miyamoto would have had to have resorted to hinting at Game Genie codes to allow the player to send the code execution path down locked-off subroutines to win. Which would actually have been awesome -- except Nintendo hated the Game Genie, and anyway it wasn't available at the time Zelda was released.
posted by JHarris at 2:27 AM on January 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


I can't take this guy seriously. Ocarina is the heart of what Zelda was always meant to be. He doesn't want Zelda, he wants something else, which isn't even clear.
posted by Brocktoon at 2:53 AM on January 22, 2013


Is that because it was the first Zelda you played, Brocktoon? Like your first Doctor Who, it's easy to fixate on your first Zelda game as the perfect archetype.
posted by JHarris at 3:54 AM on January 22, 2013


Think about it: Wind Waker is like a Saturday morning cartoon, the kind you used to wake up really early for and make yourself a bowl of cereal in the blue twilight while your parents are still asleep. And there was a tiny knot of anxiousness as you antipicated, waiting, knowing that soon THE GREATEST CARTOON EVER was about to be on the TV.

Only it wasn't a cartoon, and you didn't just watch it. You were in it.


Oh wow did you ever hit the nail on the head with that comparison. There's a reason the games always let you rename Link and why Nintendo has steadfastly refused to provide him with voice acting. It's because you aren't just playing Link, you are Link, and this is your adventure.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:04 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's perfect, the creeping dungeon suck of Ocarina of Time has deepened, and I prefer the original game as said above. But Wind Waker is otherwise a ridiculous amount of fun.

And about those dungeons -- hey, the game doesn't even have that many of them!
posted by JHarris at 4:17 AM on January 22, 2013


One person's "exploration of a vast world of wonder" is another person's "wandering desperate and frustrated, poking at every rock and crevice to find something, ANYTHING that constitutes progress". Different games are for different people. Again, I started from Link to the Past, and I feel like the Zelda games have, generally, been getting better since then.

I do feel it's unfortunate that exploration has been so completely circumscribed lately, but it's possible to go too far in the other direction. For example, to this day, I won't touch Might & Magic games because I tried (I think) the original, on the Apple ][, and even with the manual and the map book, I couldn't find the specific direction to walk in that didn't result in getting eaten by impossibly powerful dragons. (It's only just occurred to me that that series has likely changed since then, too.)
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 4:18 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I struggled quite a bit with how poorly constructed the pedantry Tim Rogers quote was existed.
posted by surplus at 4:36 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


JHarris: "(GameSpite has some terrific screen-by-screen breakdowns of Zelda [I wanted to save these links for a Zelda Day post, but here: I - II - III - IV - V - VI - VII - VIII - IX - X] and the Castlevania series [which I will probably FPP before long], and the forums there has a fan doing something similar with Mega Man.)"

Man, I wish you had turned these into a FPP, but thanks all the same for pointing them out. I want to add, in case anyone else gets drawn in like I did, that there's also a XI, XII, XIII, and XIV. Fun fun fun fun!
posted by barnacles at 5:59 AM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Interesting. This seems a lot like the distinction in pen and paper roleplaying games between "story games" and the "old school renaissance".

In the former, you and your friends are trying to tell a story and behave more like actors improvising a role. In the latter, the GM drops the players in a sandbox and lets them mess about, trusting that a meaningful structure will emerge.

Zak Sabbath has a lot about old school games on his blog, "Playing D&D with Pornstars". Sadly, I cannot link to it from here (as the title suggests, it is occasionally highly NSFW), but he is a very intelligent and astute artist and commentator. He draws an interesting parallel to the distinction, in fiction, between drama and picaresque.

I think some people - the kind of people who like Dwarf Fortress, maybe - really get a kick out of emergent challenges. They like to be dropped into a complex world and work something out. I always thought that this picture summed up what, for them, was the appeal of different kinds of game.
posted by lucien_reeve at 6:00 AM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


From the Kickstarter video:
Hellman: "Well last year the new Zelda game came out, I went through the whole game that week . . . and whatever I was looking for in that game I always felt like it was right in the next area or something? And I never got it, and I just felt like so hollowed out by that experience."

Thompson: "With the essay I really wanted to capture this feeling I had while playing Skyward Sword that the mystery was gone, the game always told me what to do, told me what to expect, secrets were marked 'secret,' and I was extremely disappointed."

Hellman: "The best way I know of to redeem a bad experience be it heartbreak, or loss, or a middling Zelda sequel, is to make art, so I thought, I gotta make some art."
Honestly, comparing being disappointed with a video game with the death of a loved one? That's taking it a bit too far. It's just a game. I wonder what the intent was with writing the essay and making a comic. Sure, the essay makes some good points, but isn't it in the end just exalted bitching? It smacks of those Game of Thrones fans who think that George R. R. Martin "owes them something."
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 6:06 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


JHarris, while the entrance to the level 7 dungeon in the second quest is ridiculous, dungeons 8 and 9 are both hinted at by NPCs (#8 is something like "south of the arrow tip hides the secret" and #9 "if you go in the direction of the arrow..."). Still, all in all, the second quest is diabolical (especially, as you say, the #4 dungeon item--the book, I believe).

As for that Tim Harris quote... People are willing to pay money to make a comic book about Zelda's pedantry exist. What a weird time. I think Mr. Harris has it a bit inside-out. People like me aren't what make this a weird time. Weird, enthusiastic niche hobbyists/obsessors are not new! What's weird/awesome/fascinating is that the technologies that connect people like us have evolved to the point where collaborative efforts like Second Quest are not only possible, but economically viable.
posted by duffell at 6:13 AM on January 22, 2013


Just to throw in my 2 cents: never played the first Zelda, but my impression has always been that nostalgia for the older games is far stronger than it should be. I am fully in sympathy with smoke (comment #2), but I do think that the focus of the more recent Zeldas ona whole lot of mini-games is just not for me. (For whatever reason, I strongly dislike having to use the microphone on the DS for anything.)

So, um, anyone here play Okami?
posted by Going To Maine at 6:29 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the article: But when was the last time Zelda truly offered this? When the game plopped you in an open field and said: here is a world – have at it.

As Brocktoon notes above, "He doesn't want Zelda, he wants something else, which isn't even clear."

The game he wants is called the Fable series, and they were a lot more complex, a lot more ambiguous, a lot more work and a lot less fun than any of the Zeldas.

Kind of like adulthood.
posted by mhoye at 6:37 AM on January 22, 2013


No, I've played most of them, with Wind Waker being the first I didn't walk away from out of frustration and/or boredom (I came back later to Ocarina). I understand the appeal I guess of ridiculously difficult games, where you have to draw your own maps. I did that with Heroes Quest and the like. But games don't have to be that way to be great, as Ocarina proves.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:43 AM on January 22, 2013


I've played only the original Fable, and I really enjoyed that game, but it is definitely a linear game. I can't speak to the sequels.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:04 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The princess is in another castle on this save request.

In other words, while quality still varies to some degree between Zelda games, I don't see a franchise that needs saving.
posted by Twain Device at 7:13 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is that because it was the first Zelda you played, Brocktoon? Like your first Doctor Who, it's easy to fixate on your first Zelda game as the perfect archetype.

Windwaker has aged just beautifully, thanks to it's cell-shaded art. Having spent a fair bit of time trudging around the radioactive-brown mud-and-bark shitfields of Fallout, sailing on a stormy ocean really isn't that bad in comparison, even though the game is missing two dungeons and uses sailing-plus little-minigames to fluff the gametime back out.

Twilight Princess is best understood, I think, as a protracted and heartfelt love letter to other great video games of the past. Okami, obviously, but: City soldiers in uniforms straight from A Link To The Past. A dragon that looks and moves (and is shot, in camera angle terms) very much like Ridley from Metroid Prime. The hugely-out-of-scale Art-Deco-inspired architecture-on-the-edge-of-understanding reminiscent of Shadow Of The Colossus; the way Link's body sways for a moment on a one-handed grip before pulling himself up is instantly familiar. The castle-atop-the-castle as the entire structure ascends, seen only briefly, looks like it was taken directly from Windwaker's submerged Hyrule. There's even a minigame that looks and acts like SSX, the now-classic snowboarding game. So Twilight Princess is far better in the context of video gaming history than it might first appear.

The one that really sticks with me, though, is Majora's Mask - far and away the darkest Zelda game out there, if you're paying attention, and perhaps one of the darkest games ever made. Certainly one the most underrated games ever. You get to be a epic hero in games, that happens all the time, and sometimes you play an antihero, but you don't often get a chance to play the hero of an anti-epic.

Now that I'm all growed up and a parent and old and stuff, the narrative of Majora's Mask resonates with me more all the time, for reasons I barely have time to get into here, but that mostly revolve around the game's expectation that you'll do what needs to be done because that's who you are and nobody else will, even if nobody else will thank you, or notice, or even remember you for it.

(Saddest video-game-timeline observation ever: in Ocarina, a Stalfos is revealed to be the skeleton of a traveler who loses their way in the Kokiri's Lost Woods, the woods that Link returns to at the end of Majora's Mask. Majora starts with Link on a personal quest to find his friend Navi, lost at the end of Ocarina; it's not immediately apparent until you've put those things together, but the Hero's Spirit from Twilight Princess - the armored Stalfos who teaches the new Hero how to fight - is the remains of the now-lost Hero Of Time, who never finds his friend.)
posted by mhoye at 7:20 AM on January 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


(Your triforce-shaped plate of beans, I have it.)
posted by mhoye at 7:23 AM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


JHarris: "I don't think it's perfect, the creeping dungeon suck of Ocarina of Time has deepened, and I prefer the original game as said above. But Wind Waker is otherwise a ridiculous amount of fun.

And about those dungeons -- hey, the game doesn't even have that many of them
"

I really don't understand what you mean by dungeon suck. The dungeons are some of the best parts of Wind Waker! The dungeon design is one of the things I've continued to enjoy in the recent Zeldas, despite their other failings.

This essay is nostalgia in 10,000+ words. It's fine that he liked the original Zelda best. Maybe he should move on to a different series of games.
posted by graventy at 8:01 AM on January 22, 2013


mhoye: You get to be a epic hero in games, that happens all the time, and sometimes you play an antihero, but you don't often get a chance to play the hero of an anti-epic.

Having not palyed Majora's Mask, can you expand a little bit on "anti-epic"?
posted by spaltavian at 8:24 AM on January 22, 2013


Not that the dungeons are awful, but that the dungeons start to take up more time and become "cleverer" -- think "time suck".
posted by boo_radley at 8:24 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


mhoye: "Saddest video-game-timeline observation ever: in Ocarina, a Stalfos is revealed to be the skeleton of a traveler who loses their way in the Kokiri's Lost Woods, the woods that Link returns to at the end of Majora's Mask"

Note to self: reserve $5 for alt "stalfosthewondercuccoo" account.
posted by boo_radley at 8:26 AM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


boo_radley: "Not that the dungeons are awful, but that the dungeons start to take up more time and become "cleverer" -- think "time suck"."

Ahh. I'd wager the dungeons still take up about the same amount of game time as they have all series, though, percentage-wise.
posted by graventy at 8:39 AM on January 22, 2013


JHarris: The second quest, however, takes the gloves off. Most dungeons are hidden, some diabolically, and nearly all are unclued.

Do you think this is why Nintendo Power featured a map of the second quest in the first issue?
posted by starman at 9:19 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is that because it was the first Zelda you played, Brocktoon? Like your first Doctor Who, it's easy to fixate on your first Zelda game as the perfect archetype.
posted by JHarris at 3:54 AM on January 22 [+] [!]


There must be some truth to this - cause I absolutely loved Twighlight Princess. Literally played it for two weeks straight - telling my consulting clients that I was too busy with work with them. I was a kid again - only this time I got to play hooky as much as I wanted to. Moody, dark, expansive - beautifully rendered - full of little prizes for a completist like me. I explored every corner of that world.

And yet I hated Skyward Sword with a vengence. Indeed - you love your first Dr Who the most.
posted by helmutdog at 10:09 AM on January 22, 2013


And yet I hated Skyward Sword with a vengence.

I'm not sure that's entirely as a result of you having played it second. The first Legend of Zelda I played was the original, when it first came out, and I've played almost all of the games since (notable exceptions being a few of the handheld-based ones). And while I would argue that Wind Waker is without a doubt the pinnacle of 3D Zelda games, Twilight Princess is nonetheless solid.

Skyward Sword, though? That game deserves to be hated with a passion, no matter what your first entry to the series.
posted by tocts at 10:22 AM on January 22, 2013


I feel like the "first Dr" theory is a good one, but I don't think its a 100% thing. My first was Majora's mask and while I loved it, my personal favorite is Wind Waker by a LARGE degree. I've run through every game twice (except Skyward Sword), but WW I've played at least 5 times.

Twilight Princess was good, but it had a different feel than the others. Skyward Sword went back to that normal feel for me. Not that either is bad, per se, just different.
posted by Twain Device at 10:26 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like ordering a pizza and complaining that it's not a cake.

It may not be a cake, but it is, in fact, pie.
posted by Nomyte at 10:30 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


These late-era Zelda posts always make me feel guilty and anxious about the fact that I never finished Wind Waker or even started Majora's Mask.

"Catch up on Zelda" is #1 on my to-do list for when the Singularity comes.
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:36 AM on January 22, 2013


Thompson has a few valid points: Skyward Sword was, I felt, disappointing in a lot of ways, from the cramped feeling of the world map (only three areas? What happened to the single sweeping overworld of Ocarina or even Twilight Princess?) to the intelligence-insulting "hints" (Yes, Fi, I was listening to the NPC, you don't need to repeat the very same thing at me immediately afterwards), to the dragging and ultimately unnecessary cut scenes (seriously, the only "plot" a Zelda game needs is "MUTE ELF DRESSED IN GREEN RESCUES PRINCESS").

But, as others have already noted, most of his essay is dedicated to propping up his opinion that Zelda games need to be aimless and opaque and infuriatingly difficult. He's not only looking for a game that isn't Zelda, he's yearning for a game design philosophy that went out of style 20+ years ago.

Sure, it would be interesting to have a more open, non-linear Zelda, but I'll buy an Xbox game if I want a new and unique type of game experience. Much of what I love about the big Nintendo franchises is the familiarity. Each new Mario or Zelda or Metroid is, in many ways, a refinement of the classic, near-archetypical video games of my childhood, with marginal additions changing things just enough to make it feel fresh, yet familiar. I didn't love Ocarina because it was a whole new gaming experience, but because it was, in many ways, Link to the Past in 3D (Link to the Past, in turn, was essentially 16-bit "Super Zelda"). Maybe I'm in the minority on this, but I like having access to a "newish" iteration of an old classic every few years, just as I like having huge story-heavy or open-world games like Mass Effect or Red Dead Redemption that far exceed what was thought possible for video games 20 years ago, or exercises in new and unique game mechanics like Portal or Katamari or Braid. My gaming experience has room for all of these things.
posted by DiscountDeity at 10:49 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Skyward Sword, though? That game deserves to be hated with a passion, no matter what your first entry to the series.

Why? I played up to the desert area where you play with time to make the old mechanisms work again before I lost access to my console. My main criticism was that the areas felt discrete/self-contained, so there was less exploration, but turning the non-dungeon areas into puzzles reinvigorated them (since Zelda had done away with items being found in the wild ages ago), there were enough ideas that felt novel compared to Twilight Princess (which I quite enjoyed but was quite a deja vu) and adding a running button (in the series that eschewed a jumping button when it turned 3d!) made Link feel more in control of the environment. Did anything happen next?
posted by ersatz at 10:53 AM on January 22, 2013


you love your first Dr Who the most.

Yes that's basically true. Link to the Past is the first Zelda game I really actually played so it's always in the back of my mind as the best Zelda game, but I'm fully aware that it's a judgment heavily influenced by nostalgia and the fact that I was a child when I played it.

Contrast that with Wind Waker, which I played in my early twenties. It doesn't hit the same nostalgia buttons for me but looking back at it (and replaying it) I really appreciate what it was and stand by the idea that it represents the best version of what Zelda means to Miyamoto. And I really can't wait till my kids are old enough to play it.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:02 AM on January 22, 2013


Having not palyed Majora's Mask, can you expand a little bit on "anti-epic"?

(I'm not mhoye). In MM the main antagonist is not a power-hungry villain or a mutated incarnation of evil but a trickster who lacks companionship. There are some epic scenes where Link fights the Great Shark In The Deep*, but there is also that boss where you roll like a Goron-boulder around a circle like a racing game. You can later use the same mechanic in a racing mini-game. When you clear a temple you gain the allegiance of one of the four... great spirits or giants or whatever and the regular weather conditions resume. Poisoned swamps turn into pristine water, ice melts, the works. However, when you save, time turns back and the country turns back into its former state.

But this is mostly fluff. One of the first items you get is a notebook with the schedule of Termina's** citizens. Iirc, there are 30 of these quests to solve. They are personal; this time Link doesn't help people by killing the great dragon Volvagia, but he helps them with their everyday problems. However, every time you save the people resume facing the same problems. You have the sticker to prove you did it, but it leaves a bittersweet taste. Lastly, the longer of these quests spans the whole duration of the game (all three days) and is partially obligatory: it's a quest to bring two lovers together. Meanwhile, MM can be darker than other Zeldas and it shows quite well that people have problems even when the moon isn't about to collide with their house. It also explores the concept of heroism beyond killing things.

*I used to die or run out of time in the Water Temple boss, but when I replayed it I was in and out on my first try. Huh.

*Termina is the neighbouring kingdom to Hyrule.

Doleful Creature, but A Link To The Past is the best Zelda ;)
posted by ersatz at 11:14 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


the narrative of Majora's Mask resonates with me more all the time, for reasons I barely have time to get into here

I love you.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 11:22 AM on January 22, 2013


JHarris, don't tease. At this point it's unfair of you to wait until Zelda day to tell the story that connects those links together.

He's talking about a completely different game than what the Zelda series has been for literally decades

That's a legitimate complaint. There are at least three different genres of game within the Zelda franchise: top-down action (Zelda), side-scroller (Zelda II) and 3D action (Ocarina). Ocarina-style game mechanics do not seem to be well suited to Nintendo-hard difficulty. It would be nice to see sequels in the other two genres. Let 100 Zeldas bloom.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:28 AM on January 22, 2013


I've read Thompson's essay, its corresponding Metafilter thread, and now this whole thread. I feel stuck in the middle.

On the one hand, I would agree with some of the points in the essay: I do think that Zelda is resting too much upon its tropes. Most new Zelda games are set in their own continuity, with broad differences in plot even as the three main characters stay the same. Yet all these universes have the same bombs, same bow and arrow, same hookshot. A bit more discovery would be welcomed.

On the other hand, though I reject ever-present hand-holding and extended tutorials, I do not want a Zelda that is "[…] harder. Much harder." The original Zelda was hard. Those of you who beat it without guidance (whether from an actual guide, or whispered tips in the first grade lunch line, or your older brother's supervision) are better at video games than I am. And even when I knew where to go and what to do, it was painfully hard to do it, because I'd hit the room full of blue Darknuts and want to give up before I'd even begun. Or I'd drop my guard and a Like-Like would steal your shield.

For some of you, this is just the right level of difficulty, and you're the ones I envy. But pretend it's Battletoads that you're trying to beat, and you'll understand how I feel. Even when I've revisited Zelda in my adulthood, it's been hard to play. Even on an emulator, when I can create save states at arbitrary points and save-scum my way through, it's hard to play.

I can understand the appeal of a game that is hard; beating a hard game puts you in an elite class. But I can't think of anything that would be more poisonous to modern gaming than to revert to the sneering, rigid, insistent, stingy, and mean games that typified the NES.
posted by savetheclocktower at 12:16 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well I guess it was inescapable, I was one of Thompson's biggest defenders in the original thread. I'm trying to be less harangue-y about it this time, but I feel strongly about this, because I feel like I could have written the whole article myself. I can personally vouch: everything Thompson says is true, none of it is bullshitting, it strikes me very deeply. (And to be clear -- I have no connection with Thompson or Ted Harris; the connection between his last name and mine is coincidence.)

The change of the style of Zelda from the early game's radical non-linearity to the extremely structured quests of the later games is heartbreaking to me. As I said above, this might be because the first Zelda you play is the one that fixes the experience in your mind. That could well be in my case, but it remains that no other game offers the same experience or even tries to, while there are plenty of later games that want to be Ocarina. Even at this late date, The (original) Legend of Zelda is unique.

In my frankly sad life I've completed hundreds of video games, most of them as a kid. The Legend of Zelda was not the first, but it was one of the first few. Maybe it was because the game was released at a time when people expected less out of games, or maybe it's because people would throw themselves harder into a game. I've only rarely thrown myself into a game as hard as Zelda, and it's one of the few games that actually rewarded that obsession, by providing many unnecessary secrets, rather than making it clear you're overthinking it. If you beanplated Zelda, it revealed that Miyamoto had beanplated it just as much as you had.

Reader, I finished Zelda, both quests, with no aids other than the manual and the map that came with the game, which only goes up to Level 4 anyway. It took me months, although a large chunk of that was because I got stuck finding the entrance to Level 7 in the second quest. But I feel this is the only real way to play the original game, and it's extremely easy to forget that playing style in this age of ubiquitous FAQs. The manual is good at providing hints that aren't giveaways, that just nudge you towards the answer, but I think it's a little overkill. The manual outright reveals the existence of bomb and candle secret passages, but not how many there are, or that any exist that aren't clued in by the map.

What did I get for my effort? Well, as you might have gathered from above, I'm kind of good at video games. Castlevania I can finish on one credit, I have beaten Milon's Secret Castle, and many other, even harder games, including Athena, a game I don't seriously suggest you play. It's all because of Zelda.

Zelda taught me never to give up; Zelda taught me how to solve an obscure problem, all by myself, by gathering evidence and reasoning a solution from it; and, last and least, Zelda taught me how to properly play a strongly reflex-based video game. Zelda gave me skillz. I wouldn't be nearly as good at video games today if I hadn't played it at that age -- but I wouldn't be as good at other things either. Completing Zelda on my own gave me skills that have helped me in life outside of video gaming. That is why I defend it so tenaciously.

I don't think anyone has ever gotten any of that from Ocarina of Time.
posted by JHarris at 12:48 PM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Having not played Majora's Mask, can you expand a little bit on "anti-epic"?

(Spoilers, of course)

OK, so: In terms of narrative (and game-structure and world-structure, though perhaps that's for another post), Majora's Mask is very much The Ocarina Of Time seen through a dark mirror.

You're not The Hero Of TIme, on a quest to fulfill your destiny and cast down evil; the pillars of the traditional Zelda narrative, the Princess, Ganon and the Triforce don't even put in an appearance. As Ersatz notes above, the primary antagonist of Majora's Mask is an angry Skull Kid, lashing out from a sense of abandonment and enabled by a powerful artefact he stole but doesn't actually understand. This isn't a powerful arch-villain with designs for world domination, it's a child who's found a gun.

In fact, you're not a hero at all; the only person who ever addresses you as such is the child at Romani Ranch. For the rest of the time, you're hidden behind the masks of the people you're trying to help. Nobody knows who you are, or why you're important, and even when you've managed to help them, well, next time you reset that clock they won't remember how or if you did.

And that's the thing: the problems you have to set out to solve aren't huge, world-rescuing problems. They're by and large just messed-up relationships; people with bad communication, bad timing or bad luck. The broken down relationship between the Skull Kid and the Giants - pillars of the world in Termina, where Hyrule's three Goddesses are absent - is the big one, each of the core quests follows the same broad motif. There's some screwed up family situation, generally with a lost or absent mother-figure, that Link has to put right. And he has to do it not by being an epic hero but by wearing the death-mask of the hero who should be there, but for whatever reason is not.

Unlike Ocarina, where everything revolves around you, you get the sense that nothing in Majora does. You just happen to be there, the only person with the power to set things right, but whereas in Ocarina's narrative history will remember you (explicitly mentioned in Windwaker) as a legend, in Termina nobody will ever really even realize you were there. Day to day events aren't driven by your arrival either - you have to figure out where you need to be and show up on time, or time just moves on. And the ending reflects that - not much music, no fanfare, you're told you should go away now and you do, everyone else celebrates the town's festival and goes on to see the fourth day.

There's more to say about this - even the structure of the landscape, with the city in the core and fields and environment pushed to the fringes reflects the anti-Hyrulian, anti-Ocarina structure of the game. But that's the general outline of it.
posted by mhoye at 1:01 PM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


What did I get for my effort? Well, as you might have gathered from above, I'm kind of good at video games.

I appreciate this sentiment and your skills, but am uncertain that that payoff is sufficient for someone like me.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:02 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


JHarris: " including Athena, a game I don't seriously suggest you play. "

Holy crap. That game. That. God. Damn. Game.
posted by boo_radley at 1:12 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's the only good way to refer to Athena, probably.

I appreciate this sentiment and your skills, but am uncertain that that payoff is sufficient for someone like me.

Did you read to the end, where I said that some of my real world skills came from playing through it too? Especially regarding inductive reasoning -- finding that first walk-through wall in Second Quest Level 2, or finding late-game dungeons. Thinking what might be true purely from observing the environment.
posted by JHarris at 1:23 PM on January 22, 2013


Why [does Skyward Sword deserve hatred]?

DiscountDeity covered some of it, and I don't want to go on too enormous a rant. So, I'll attempt to summarize: Skyward Sword does a bunch of things wrong that aren't terrible on their own. When taken as a whole, though, it was the least enjoyable LoZ experience I've had, by a long shot.

Quick background: my wife and I play LoZ games together, tag-teaming (e.g. passing the controller back and forth every few minutes). Been doing it for years. Love doing it. I'm a much more hardcore gamer, while she is more casual. We get to explore together, solve puzzles together, I take over for the harder fights, and it's quality gaming time. Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess are very happy memories for us.

And then came Skyward Sword. It was not even halfway into the game that we both admitted that we were mostly hoping it would end soon. (Damn our completionist natures!)

The whole game felt caged in, like there was no possibility (or point) to exploration. Where did the enormous ocean of Wind Waker, or the world map of games like Ocarina or Twilight Princess go? It felt like a game on rails. If there had been any more guidance there would've been road signs.

And seriously why did the game need such an obnoxious "help" system? Fi was so incredibly frustrating. Even at the endgame, she would pop up to point out things you learned in the first 5 minutes of the game. Skyward Sword is a game on permanent tutorial mode. You, the player, are assumed to be a complete idiot. Just shut up, do what Fi says, and wait for the next cutscene.

But, if I'm being honest, the biggest problem was the controls. Never, not even after dozens of hours playing, did they ever work well for myself or my wife. Summary of almost every battle:

"Oh, I have to go horizontal. OK ... wait, wtf, why did I just slice vertical? I didn't move my hand that way. No, seriously, not that way. No, why ... argh, wtf? What was Nintendo thinking??"

I get that they wanted the system to involve more than flailing, but unfortunately, flailing was the only thing the Wii MotionPlus was good for in the game. Precise it was not. Oh and by the way, the first item you get in the first dungeon is an excuse to wedge more motion control in the game in ways that will frustrate and annoy. (Has anyone at Nintendo ever done studies into how people play games? Here's a hint: at my house, at least, it is done sitting down. So perhaps don't use motion control schemes for frequently used actions that require absurd bending of wrists unless you're willing to stand up while playing?)

So ... that's my not-really-a-summary summary. Skyward Sword with Twilight Princess controls could've been at worst 'meh'. With the controls we got, though, it is the only LoZ game I have no desire to ever re-play.

That's the only good way to refer to Athena, probably.

God. Yeah. That game. I don't even fully remember Athena, except that I remember how horribly hard it was. It's almost like something that came to me in a fever dream. Weird childhood memories, but I'm not sure I could actually describe the plot or mechanics without looking it up.
posted by tocts at 1:34 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I realized after I posted that I had cut your comments a bit short, but since the concrete examples you gave were of how it had made you better at particular games I didn't think I was doing you an injustice. Your follow-up comment does add to that a bit. And if the game made you more tenacious, then bully for it.

I am unaware of a particular game that has provided me with any similar gifts, but I always looked to my game systems to provide me with a good puzzle and a story and that's it. I want to work, but also to complete. I do not think that an open world game with little context would make me feel particularly tenacious outside of the game space. (Or within it? I liked the plots of most old school adventure games, but disliked many of the more absurd/abstruse puzzles. That said, I am waiting with baited breath for The Witness, so perhaps I'm a liar. Or not - I like to think that Jonathan Blow was not too crazy with the puzzles in Braid)
posted by Going To Maine at 1:51 PM on January 22, 2013


I can understand the appeal of a game that is hard; beating a hard game puts you in an elite class. But I can't think of anything that would be more poisonous to modern gaming than to revert to the sneering, rigid, insistent, stingy, and mean games that typified the NES.


It's probably worth noting that the NES generation came not too long after (heck, virtually overlapped with) a time when video games were dominated at least in part by arcades, and were thus designed to be extremely (possibly unreasonably) difficult to extract as many quarters as possible out of players, and I suspect a lot of that philosophy leaked into NES game design. And a lot of NES era games are difficult so as to prolong the experience as much as any other reason, since you couldn't really fit very much game on a cartridge back then. Heck, how long does the original Zelda take if you know the game fairly well? 2-3 hours? Maybe? Games are generally easier now, but that's because the nature of how we consume the experience, and what we've come to expect from it, has changed pretty drastically.
posted by DiscountDeity at 2:15 PM on January 22, 2013


And seriously why did the game need such an obnoxious "help" system? Fi was so incredibly frustrating. Even at the endgame, she would pop up to point out things you learned in the first 5 minutes of the game. Skyward Sword is a game on permanent tutorial mode. You, the player, are assumed to be a complete idiot.

As I remember it, there's a lengthy cut scene (***SPOILERS***, I guess) wherein a large chunk of the floating continent breaks loose and falls through the clouds to the ground. And, after I got done watching it happen, Fi popped out to tell me something like there was a 90%(!!) chance that part of Skyloft had fallen to the surface. I just laughed out loud at that point.
posted by DiscountDeity at 2:20 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


But I can't think of anything that would be more poisonous to modern gaming than to revert to the sneering, rigid, insistent, stingy, and mean games that typified the NES.

And yet it was the NES that revived video gaming.
posted by JHarris at 2:32 PM on January 22, 2013


But I can't think of anything that would be more poisonous to modern gaming than to revert to the sneering, rigid, insistent, stingy, and mean games that typified the NES.

And yet it was the NES that revived video gaming.


This isn't really a good argument. NES-style games existed in a vacuum. The changes that have come about in games are generally thought of as evolutions on original ideas that came from the arcade. If some other, mystery console had existed that had magical, exclusive retro games that incorporated modern design ideas, I would expect said magical console to win the fight.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:40 PM on January 22, 2013


Wow jharris, I'm really agreeing with a lot here.

On the idea that NES-hard gaming is not something that should be repeated I would point out the smashing success of Minecraft which, on its own and if you don't start googling things is impressively difficult and totally non linear and allows you to beanplate the hell out of it. And people LOVE LOVE LOVE that game. So I guess I'm correcting myself to say that it turns out I kind of really do agree with the argument that Zelda should be hard again.

Just as long as it's candy colored too.
posted by Doleful Creature at 3:13 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also I hear that current indie darling Hotline Miami is sneeringly hard. So there's that.
posted by Doleful Creature at 3:15 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The whole game felt caged in, like there was no possibility (or point) to exploration. Where did the enormous ocean of Wind Waker, or the world map of games like Ocarina or Twilight Princess go? It felt like a game on rails. If there had been any more guidance there would've been road signs.

And seriously why did the game need such an obnoxious "help" system? Fi was so incredibly frustrating.


Thanks for the reply. I'm afraid N had already restricted the overworld in TP severely, as it was huge but without many rewards for exploration. Fi was as annoying as "Hey, listen!", but it seemed to shoot for a copy of GladOS and fail spectacularly.

Zelda gave me skillz. [...] I don't think anyone has ever gotten any of that from Ocarina of Time.

ALTTP wasn't half bad in that regard. Good enough to get through most of that awfully-designed Parallel Worlds mod before getting bored.
posted by ersatz at 3:34 PM on January 22, 2013


My biggest complaint about Skyward Sword is the part where you "learn" how to do controlled falling. You jump off a thing and have right about four or five seconds to aim yourself at a target. If you don't succeed, you have to run back up there and try it again. This wouldn't be horrible, except there's way too much space between attempts. It makes it incredibly hard to learn if you didn't get it straight off. It would've been much better to have a free-falling area where you can fall as long as you like, giving you time to learn the control.

Also I hear that current indie darling Hotline Miami is sneeringly hard. So there's that.

This relates perfectly!

See, when you die in Hotline: Miami, you restart the level instantly. Same as with Super Meat Boy. Sure, you fail, and you fail a LOT, but failure just pops you right back to the start, ready to go again. Whatever lesson you needed to learn from your failure, Hotline: Miami and Super Meat Boy put as little time as possible between learning and application.

And for an NES example, let's go with what is, by lifetime time played, probably my all-time favorite NES game: Contra, a game many people regard as ridiculously difficult. When you die in Contra, your guy falls backward, a death noise plays, and an instant later, you drop down into the field of play, momentarily invincible and ready to go. Not only does it include virtually no delay at all between "die to something" and "go at it again", it preserves your progress (less a jump or two) and what killed you may not even be there anymore.

You can totally do "Nintendo hard" without being a dick. Some games managed it back in the day, and more and more games these days are learning how to be unforgivingly hard without being dickish about it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:58 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think you could argue that a significant part of his problem with Zelda games might be directly tied to the dumbing down of its help system. Twilight Princess would have been a much better and more enjoyable game if the first three hours had not been a slow tutorial you were stuck playing.

Hell, it's not even that. Every single Zelda since 3D has constantly held your hand through every little development. Kids aren't dumb, and I can't imagine that they like to be treated as such. And yet still every single time you start the newer games the first chest you open will explain itself, slowly "It's a red rupee! That's worth 5 rupees!" Even *IF* this was my first chest, there are subtle context clues that I think I could have picked up. Like my purse being 5 rupees heavier.

This might be more of a Nintendo problem than a Zelda problem, though.
posted by graventy at 6:51 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The heavy-handed tutorialing is something I've had to grit my teeth through, I admit. I actually really like Twilight Princess, but it's got a hell of a slow start. You get put through a bunch of tedious chores (some of which are actual literal chores) before you even get a sword, and even then there's a lot of fetchery before the game really gets underway.

And... Ocarina of Time. Navi, Navi, Navi. I was stunned - though I suppose I shouldn't have been - that they left in all that "this is a door" crap in the Master Quest version.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 10:24 PM on January 22, 2013


Heck, how long does the original Zelda take if you know the game fairly well? 2-3 hours? Maybe?

Under an hour to finish the first quest; my record is about 57 minutes, although that uses a non-standard dungeon order. Good speed runners have gotten it down to 34:04.
posted by JHarris at 12:08 AM on January 23, 2013


This might be more of a Nintendo problem than a Zelda problem, though.

I really don't think that's the case.

As the original article points out, Super Mario Brothers is a game series published by the same company for just as long a time that has nevertheless studiously avoided this problem. All of the SMB games (up to and including the latest version on the Wii U) manage to be fun, often challenging in new ways, and yet never once feel the need to subject the player to condescending and annoying tutorials.

Now, understandably, a more open-world game like Legend of Zelda is not 100% equivalent to a game like SMB that has discrete, defined stages, but I think the point is nonetheless a good one. There are ways to evolve a series while adding new challenges, keeping old fans happy, and bringing in new players, while avoiding the level of constant prompting that LoZ has been doing for unfortunately quite a while (and which I think reached an all-time low as far as gameplay as a result in Skyward Sword).
posted by tocts at 5:05 AM on January 23, 2013


[T]he all-new Wii U Zelda game will offer revolutionary changes to the series' staples - a series of dungeons presented in a particular order and, most excitingly, that the series traditionally played alone.

And click here for Wind Waker HD.

posted by ersatz at 8:41 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


That could be interesting, Wind Waker always felt like it wanted to be an open world kind of game. It was the series' insistence on linearity that kept most of the world locked off in the early game. But I have great faith that Aonuma will find some way to wreck this.
posted by JHarris at 9:13 AM on January 23, 2013


David Hellman is also the artist for A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible , one of my favorite all-time webcomics, which updated last month after a 6 year hiatus.
posted by Quart at 9:19 AM on January 23, 2013


SMB has not been completely immune to this phenomenon. The new ones do contain tutorials and even a newbie mode if you die enough times. It's not as I intrusive but it's there, which seems to be consistent with Nintendo's desire to reach the widest possible audience with their games.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:23 AM on January 23, 2013


SMB has not been completely immune to this phenomenon. The new ones do contain tutorials and even a newbie mode if you die enough times.

Hmm. So, completely serious: I love SMB, have played them all, always get all the star coins, etc ... and I do not even remember the tutorials in the latest games. I'm not saying they're not there, but whatever handholding is being done for the new players, it has never once even really registered as anything worth noticing or being bothered by as a veteran player.

My problem with Skyward Sword's help system isn't that it's there. There's nothing wrong with trying to make sure that players of all experience levels can play the game. My problem with it is that it is just a constant barrage of hand-holding that never seems to let up, even after you've been playing the game for 20 or 30 hours. There is never a point at which the game says "OK, the player has probably learned these things at this point".
posted by tocts at 10:52 AM on January 23, 2013


I just realized that if, as Tim Rogers claims, 'Zelda' is a genre than Arkham City was a pretty good post-OOT Zelda game. The overworld navigation was fun and filled with secrets and the dungeons were well-stocked with puzzles based on gadgets. Even half of Batman's iconic gadgets are the same as Link's (boomarang, grappling hook).
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:51 PM on January 23, 2013


Hah! That long-winded explanation of what makes Majora's Mask an anti-epic was my 1337th comment.

w00t!
posted by mhoye at 9:30 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


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