Anyone who reads my articles probably knows the things I consider most important in a Zelda game. They will have heard me discussing how exploration of a beautiful land and the atmosphere created by it is the most important factor in creating a Zelda experience. They will have read my long-winded explanations of why this is so, how to replicate it in future games, and why Zelda rules. You’ll have read about how great of an influence a game like Link’s Awakening can have on a young mind. You’ll have witnessed me waxing lyrical about weather, and clouds, and how they symbolize… whatever. You’ll probably think I’m either insane or a genius, depending on your own grasp of reality. Either way, there’s one important aspect of the series that I have never really touched upon, but which had a deep impact on me nontheless.
But first, I invite you to remember back to older experiences, those of your first Zelda game, or perhaps your second or third, if you’ve been a long-time fan. A Link to the Past would be preferable – or maybe that’s just my bias talking? – but any will do. My own memory is rather vivid. I remember battling my way through the vast expanses of a swampy, grassy field of the beautiful land of Hyrule, with little patches of standing water around me. Enemy soldiers would ambush me from within the thick grass, shooting their arrows, but they were quickly dispatched. A rabbit or two could be seen as well, and old, mossy statues, with strange carvings of faces or symbols, dotted the area. I explored deeper into this unfamiliar territory, eventually finding my way out of the grass onto the rocky shores of a lake. I explored the coastline, noting the tell-tale cracks in the rock around me. I blasted my way in, and found myself in a very strange cavern. Pristine ice shone all around me, and on a raised area in the center of the room, there was a chest. Inside, I found an Ice Rod, a magical wand that could shoot out puffs of cold.
Yes, the Zelda games have always had cool items, though they were more alluring when I was younger, and less jaded. I always looked forward to finding them, and doing so was a big, and important, event. My favorite part of every dungeon was it’s special item or tool, and the possibility of finding something like an Ice Rod lent spice to my adventuring.
You might even say I was captivated by the items of the series. I remember I’d sit for hours, carefully drawing pictures of the items from the Zelda games, which I’d copy from the instruction booklets or strategy guide. I even made up new swords or weapons or tools for my drawings, and occasionally I’d even make up backstory for them. I’d draw a sword and name it Zora’s Blade, things of that nature. In fact, I’ve scanned a particularly telling collection of this stuff just for your viewing pleasure. I drew all this when I was seven or eight. Notice how in one part I name a bunch of stuff from the Warcraft series, my other obsession. I was such a cute kid. The sad thing is, I was a better artist then than I am now.
It’s amazing, really, the lengths that Zelda fans will go in appreciation of the series. There are thousands of fanartists out there, people who write fanfiction. Heck, somebody had to make this site. But this dedication is a topic for another article, I suppose.
For now, I want you to look at that picture of mine, and think about it for a moment. Look at all the stuff I’ve put in there, weapons, mostly. Would you really want all those in a Zelda game? Would they fit the series, add something worthwhile to the game? What is it about the items in Zelda that make them so wonderful, anyways?
Personally, I would say that no, most of those weapons would be terrible in a Zelda game, and I would be most unhappy to find them there.
It is my belief that the most important aspect of the weapons in Zelda games, their defining quality, is that they are all unique, and all serve at least two purposes. Look at the items in, say, Final Fantasy 7. You go through hundreds, if not thousands, of items in that game. None of them leave any sort of impression on you; how could they, when they’re nothing more then a stat or a piece of generic equipment, in a long list of generic items just like them?
But in Zelda, these items are unique, and they have character. They all have names, most of them are fun to use, most of them have multiple uses as both a tool and a weapon. They’re versatile, and, to top it all off, instead of being in a boring list, your item screen shows pictures, show-casing their design, which is usually good. A lot of care and thought goes into the items in the Zelda games, I would guess.
Look at your sword, for example. It can be used as a weapon, obviously. Indeed, ever since OoT, it can be used as a weapon in many different ways. But it is also a tool – you can use it to cut grass. You can swing your sword to grab a heart. You can do tons of stuff with it.
Or look at the boomerang. It is very useful as a weapon, being long-range, usually stuns enemies, and it has the whole thing where it comes back to you. But it is an extremely useful tool, with a variety of uses. You can pick up long range items with it, or hit switches that seem impossible to get to.
Bombs. Bombs’ primary use is as a tool, really, a way to remove obstructions and discover all your secret passageways. It has a secondary use as a weapon, but a weapon very different from all your others.
Do you begin to see my point? Your items all have many uses, and, though most of them can be used as weapons, they are all used in very different ways. That is what sets them apart from the items in most other games. They’re fun and versatile.
But I have noticed that, of late, Nintendo seems to have lost sight of this. Look at more recent games, like the Wind Waker and the Minish Cap, and notice how all the new items are… less then the old ones. The grappling hook and telescope in the Wind Waker, for instance, were lauded as a great new items by many, but I never really cared for them, and the reason for this is their lack of versatility. The grappling hook has one use. Sure, you could use it in a fight, but it’s pathetically weak and ineffective. The scope has one use, though that’s understandable, and you certainly can’t use them it in a fight. This wouldn’t matter much if their were many other new items that were versatile to offset them, but there are not. In fact, if you ask someone to name items introduced in the Wind Waker, I am willing to bet that those will be the first ones they name. The Minish Cap was the same way – those mole mitts were particularly bad. They had one very obvious use, and the programmers rarely even saw fit to change the aesthetics of it’s targets.
There is another a important aspect of the items that I feel has been neglected for the past seven years. Remember way back when, at the beginning of this article, when I described my experience of finding the Ice Rod in a Link to the Past? I said that I always looked forward to finding them, and then I described them as extra spice for my adventuring. Extra incentive to adventure, if you will. In LttP and LoZ, that adventuring aspect was much more prominent and integral to the series. By the time of OoT, it had become less important. Indeed, I don’t get the same adventuresome vibe from OoT or any of the games afterwards that I did from the ones before. This is partially due to me growing older, I’m sure, but I also blame it on the distribution of items, which are an important incentive to explore.
In LoZ, a huge number of items could only be found by exploring the landscape. In LttP, it was the same, minus the flaws that made LoZ a hellish world to explore. In LttP, you might find the Ice Rod in a cave in the corner of the map, on the shores of beautiful lake Hylia. You might find the Ether or Bombos Medallions by locating small stone monoliths hidden throughout the world, or you might find the Quake Medallion by throwing something in a suspicous looking ring of stones. You could find the magic cape, or the staff of Bryna, or maybe even a magical fountain where you can throw your items and get them upgraded.
In a Link to the Past, wonderful items were scattered throughout the world, and that is one of the reasons I wanted to and enjoyed exploring.
But around the time of OoT – and even earlier, with LA and it’s secret seashells – they gradually started moving away from that method. Nowadays, items and tools are always found in dungeons, or storyline events. The thrill of discovery is gone, wiped out, and along with it goes the incentive to explore, one of the hallmarks of the Zelda series.
Instead, you will find Gold Skulltulas, or Kinstones, or treasure maps that lead to worthless things like rupees. I have a deep loathing of Skulltulas and Kinstones. They are a very poor substitute for real items, for they lack any value in of themselves. Things like the Ice Rod and Magic Cape, you can actually use. They have intrinsic value, and are unique and varied. There is a real incentive to explore and find these things.
Gold Skulltulas and Kinstones, though… they replace real items as your rewards for exploration, but you get nothing out of it. They are pointless. There is no reason for them to exist, and they do a very poor job of convincing me to leave the main quest behind and explore for a second.
So. There are two things that Nintendo should do, to restore items to their former glory as an important aspect of the series and it’s character. First, they must make the items themselves interesting, and second, they need to be distributing better, rather then just part of storyline events, dungeons, and collectathon sidequests.
Of course, I doubt I’ll ever be able to sit down and enjoy drawing pictures of these items for hours on end, not again… Alas.
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