In Which the Author Gets Slightly Personal, Among Other Things
Here’s the thing – Behind the Rupees has been off the block for a while. Though at least a third of this had to do with Mother Nature dropping ‘bows on the States a while back, those of us in the team of writers took it as a welcome break. And you wouldn’t think each only writing one article per month would be all that tiring… but it was.
This, in some nebulous way, is quite like the Trouble with Adventures.
The trouble with writing article after article about a video game series which only pops one out every three years on average is that it’s easy to run out of things to say that haven’t been said. It’s easy to get complacent with repeating yourself. One can make the same statement and be met with the same arguments a dozen times before they tire of it – indeed, sometimes it’s just a warm-up. Politically, it’s rather like American partisan-ism; you have your Right and your Left on either side of a length of rope, and though the flag in the middle can dart either way in a heartbeat, you’re essentially left with two teams standing still and growling at each other over a silly piece of rope. It’s easy to repeat yourself – echoes are automatic. Like now, in fact.
How does Zelda stay fresh? The trouble with adventures is they can’t become too repetitive, or they cease being an adventure. Knowing what to expect in terms of control and playablility is one thing; if you hit upon something great you stick to it. The game mechanics have remained relatively unchanged in the three most recent incarnations, whereas another Nintendo staple, Mario (and look for an upcoming article that explains why I always use Mario in contrast), is always suffering spacial schizophrenia – in his various incarnations, Mario’s flown, flapped, swam, smashed, jumped and spin-jumped in ever increasingly complicated ways. It makes sense – Mario games are always a bit of a spatial puzzle. But Zelda found the best way of travelling through 3D Hyrule right out of the gate, and, besides, it’s never really been about how well you can jump.
Not to say that Zelda doesn’t take it’s space seriously – ways in which space is used is ever evolving. Incrementally but noticeably, each of the most recent console adventures increased the stakes – identity swapping in Majora’s Mask, horse-back riding in Ocarina, sailing and swinging in The Wind Waker. Creative movement and transportation within the game is changed drastically between titles. Hyrule is never precisely the same Hyrule through each incarnation, and the games neatly weave their plots through their innovations in transportation.
As Hyrule changes, so do the people. The baffling evolution of Zora to Ruto serves two functions – it introduces a new race to the Zeldaverse, and it’s tied to in-game history. It’s still the strangest logic I’ve ever witnessed: “Let’s flood the entire world, and turn the fish people, the only race suited to handle a flooded world with ease, into birds. Yes, birds. Because, naturally, when the habitat of any species becomes ridiculously big and lush said species has no choice but to evolve out of their situation into something more narratively dramatic.”
Really. That’s fascinating.
So Hyrule may never be the best place to learn Darwinism, but it’s population keeps growing – there’s a healthy mix of new and old faces, and a whole range of personal problems that, strangely enough, require the attentions of a hero trying to save the world. “Yes, I know the moon is falling. But you see, it’s these darn chickens…” It’s enough to make you want to slap someone and shout, “Wake up! The world is ending! Eat your damn chickens now before they mutate!” But they keep things colourful. Even familiar elements like Ganon and Zelda, monsters like Moblins or the boss Twinrova, are treated as if they are new – the developers are never afraid to mine previous games for baddies, but they always put a bit of a spin on them.
And that’s the key – spin.
What keeps Zelda grounded? As fresh as each game may be on release, it’s still distinctly Zelda, and has as much in common with it’s predecessors as it differs. These are necessary echoes, like an image in the mirror or a handful of photographs. Zelda games stay interesting because they respect their history but aren’t afraid to be daring. Each game is it’s own adventure in form. Compare The Legend of Zelda with The Adventure of Link – there’s a gap between the two where the entire structure of the game changed. Many Zelda purists look on it as the family’s fascinating mutant-in-the-attic, and A Link to the Past is largely considered a triumphant return to form, but you can’t fault them for taking risks. And few can honestly claim it’s a rotten game – it just used a drastically different approach, as any rebellious child is likely to when they come from successful parents. AlttP bred Link’s Awakening, and ultimately Four Swords Adventures – find something that sticks and work with it, remember. Spin it.
Diversifying into ‘party-game’ territory is a move that has yet to be judged by the fans at large. It’s too early to tell. But it’s completely in line with the other steps taken to keep the Zelda brand going strong.
Zelda manages to re-invent itself by making select changes to its description of the world and it’s assorted elements, but keeps relatively in line with all that’s come before.
Which has a valuable lesson to teach when one is sitting down in front of his computer, thinking about Zelda, and wondering what to say. A blank page can be the most intimidating thing in the world, when you’re asked to fill it. It’s easy to forget that mistakes are quickly forgiven and dissected, but monotony lasts, untouched.
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