I couldn’t believe what I had just read. Microsoft had the audacity to say that they were creating a Zelda-killer. The article in the official Xbox magazine spoke fondly of Link to the Past, but declared that our favorite video game hero was going to fall at the hands of another. That sure raised my eyebrow. That is, before I dismissed the idea with a smirk. Then again, if any game was to be a Zelda-killer, this one did have the most potential: a game based directly off of a certain “little” book known as Fellowship of the Ring.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is the king of the modern fantasy genre, if only because it is the father of it. Because of Rings, Tolkien is considered to be “the author of the 20th century.” His work is at once grand and epic and yet at the same time subtle and touching. Rings, itself derived from Norse mythology, is the primary inspiration for everything from Star Wars to Harry Potter to WarCraft. The books simply begged to be made into films, but even great filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas shunned it, thinking it to be the impossible. But now the epic has finally been brought to film, and so far it looks as though it will reign as king of fantasy film.
Even the Legend of Zelda has strong roots in Middle Earth. Zelda is an RPG, and the RPG genre actually comes from Lord of the Rings. It all began when the books inspired D&D. Then it so happened that a man named Will Crowther began participating in a D&D called “Mirkwood Tales.” Crowther came to create a game called “Adventure.” And that was the first RPG.
Now flash-forward to the present. Black Label Games was able to obtain the rights to create games based off of the books. They didn’t have to stick with the movie material, like Electronic Arts had to do with their game. Instead they had a vast amount of source material with which to work, giving them the potential to create a truly epic game.
Well, the game Fellowship of the Ring arrived on the Xbox without much of a ruckus. It didn’t stay Xbox exclusive for very long, and now it’s on the PC. And I have now played it.
So what’s the verdict? Is it really the Zelda-killer the official Xbox magazine proclaimed it? I’m sure you know the answer already: NO.
In fact, the game kind of sucks. It’s not absolutely terrible, but I wasn’t playing it very long before I immediately began to think to myself wistfully, “This would be so much better if this was a Zelda game.” For starters, the initial Shire area is incredibly bland compared to the vibrant, wonderfully alive towns of the Zelda series, such as Kakariko Village or Clock Town. And guess what. Just when you begin to get excited about exploring the Shire, you notice that (a) the Shire is very small, that (b) there is hardly anyone around, and that (c) you can only enter one building, an inn containing an amazing 4 people. What’s worse, the level design is such that it constantly reminds you that you’re playing a video game, not venturing into a long lost mythical world. I could go on and on about the game’s problems. The presentation is poor, the conversations usually have no depth, and the controls are clunky. And the game is so short! It feels like a quick little adventure rather than the grand epic it should be.
Don’t get me wrong, the game does have its highlights. But in addition to all those problems which I have just mentioned, the game simply lacked that Nintendo magic that we’ve all come to know and love in the Zelda series. When you play Zelda, you’re engulfed in a mythical land full of wonder and discovery, a world that sucks you in and involves you emotionally with its characters. And of course, the game play is a perfect concoction of battle, puzzle solving, and more.
In the end, I suppose it isn’t so much that Fellowship of the Ring is such a bad game. More than anything else, it’s a tribute to the greatness of The Legend of Zelda. Lately I’ve been taking special note of whenever Zelda is mentioned in game reviews and articles. And I’ve noticed that reviewers often view Zelda to be the standard of gaming in many respects. Games are constantly compared to it. It just can’t be denied that Zelda is a wonderful game. We who are Zelda fans are used to playing a well-made game so perfectly polished that you forget you’re not actually engaged in a quest to save Hyrule. We don’t settle for the relative junk of gaming that is Fellowship of the Ring.
Link remains the Hero of Time, the king of all gaming legends.