25 Years of Zelda in 25 Days - 2009

Co-written by Hombre and Lysia

By 2009 it was time to yet again enter another Zelda controversy. At the Game Developers Conference, Nintendo announced the next Zelda game for the Nintendo DS: Spirit Tracks. While most people seemed to be excited for Link’s upcoming adventure, there was a fair share of fans that were concerned about… trains.

“Nobody in the world should have the guts to ruin zelda with a train.”
“The game is about LINK RIDING A TRAIN?!?!?!”
“What do you all think? Spirit Tracks–is it going to be awesome, or does that train look like some bs?”
“It seems like it’s more of a ‘WOOO HOO TRAINS RULE’ game than a Zelda game.”

Those are just some of the quotes from an early discussion on Zelda Universe about the game, and all up until Spirit Tracks was released, people kept complaining about how the train was too high-tech to be in a Zelda game, even though Link’s Awakening featured a telephone and The Wind Waker featured a color camera. The seemingly high jump in technology did throw us theorists off though. Where would this game take place in the timeline? It had to be last, people figured, because nowhere else do we see train tracks and technology doesn’t get worse over time.

The second biggest complaint about Spirit Tracks was that it looked too much like Phantom Hourglass, and why didn’t Nintendo make another dark Zelda on Wii with Twilight Princess graphics? (This would later turn into another huge controversy when it turned out that Skyward Sword would be cartoony. No, Zelda fans never learn.) It was true though, Spirit Tracks looked pretty much exactly like Phantom Hourglass and seemed to play exactly the same spare for a few details like riding a train instead of a boat and having a Phantom to partner with instead of just fighting them.

Early poster for Skyward Sword

A few months later, the attention of Zelda fans turned to a single picture. A very special picture revealed at E3. It was the first piece of art from the game that was then only known as Zelda Wii. This image featured Link standing back to back with a mysterious girl who looked suspiciously similar to the Master Sword, while holding no sword himself. This of course made many people (correctly) assume that this mystery girl was the Master Sword, though not everybody was convinced at the time. This was also one of the main causes for the Skyward Sword visual controversy mentioned before. As you can clearly see, this image looks a lot like Twilight Princess Link and many people thought that this would surely be a direct sequel to Twilight Princess, which would look and play much the same, much like the similarities between Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time.

Spirit Tracks Box Art

Come winter, Spirit Tracks was released. By this time Nintendo had been sparse with details until a few weeks before release where a load of info hyped the Zelda community. The story was revealed and it intrigued a lot of people. The fact that Zelda was a ghost accompanying you was exciting to a lot of fans tired of rescuing her again and again. At this point, skeptics had finally come to accept the train and gamers around the world ventured through Hyrule in a game that turned out a lot better than most people had hoped for. It really seemed like Nintendo got a really good grip on what worked and what didn’t work for a DS Zelda after Phantom Hourglass. I’d like to say that if Phantom Hourglass was good, then Spirit Tracks was great, and it’s not uncommon these days to see Spirit Tracks in the top 5 Zelda games of fans on this website, and that’s saying something. What more can you ask for as you end the year of 2009 and begin the long awaiting of the mysterious Zelda Wii?

2009 also saw one of the most ambitious fan-made Zelda projects so far come to fruition. The Hero of Time was a full-length feature film loosely based on Ocarina of Time. Created by a group of filmmakers called BMB Finishes, the project first came to notice back in 2006 when a trailer was posted online. It generated a lot of excitement and hype at the time, but a lack of updates due to the problems with finding volunteers to work on the film lead many to believe it was a hoax or that it had simply fallen through. Nonetheless, BMB persisted behind the scenes and after several delays the film premiered on June 6, 2009 in Atlanta. BMB held several screenings over the following months, in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and even in Kassel, Germany. After the screenings, the film was premiered online through Dailymotion on December 14. On January 1, 2010, the film was suddenly taken offline and distribution stopped. A notice appeared on the site stating: “We just wanted to let you know that Dec. 31 was the last day that The Hero of Time was available for viewing. We came to an agreement with Nintendo earlier this month to stop distributing the film. In the spirit of the holiday season they were good enough to let us keep the movie up for you to watch and enjoy through the end of 2009, but not past 2009. We understand Nintendo’s right to protect its characters and trademarks and understand how in order to keep their property unspoiled by fan’s interpretation of the franchise, Nintendo needs to protect itself — even from fan-works with good intentions.” What had happened was that the hype surrounding this film had grown so big that it reached the attention of the big N itself. Nintendo, who usually seem to tolerate fan works, decided that this movie was a bit too big for its booties. It’s a shame that the film had to be taken offline, as it was clearly independent, but I do remember some fans being confused and thinking that it could be an official Zelda movie.

The Hero of Time logo

The film was directed by Joel Musch and starred David Blane as Link, Hannah Fierman as Princess Zelda and Adam Boyer as Ganon. In the story, Link, who has been raised by the Kokiri, is sent to Hyrule City by the Great Deku Tree. Once there, he meets Princess Zelda who tells him what the Triforce symbol on his hand means and exactly who he is. Meanwhile, Ganon has arranged a banquet for the king, but this gesture, seemingly in good faith, is just a part of his evil scheme. At the banquet the king is poisoned, and Ganon overthrows the kingdom. Link flees to the Temple of Time and takes the Master Sword, but is shocked when he finds he has suddenly traveled into the future. Link discovers that it is a bleak future, for Ganon has destroyed the land, and so he sets out to find Zelda. Along the way he meets Sheik, and learns that he will need the help of the sages to defeat Ganon. After he defeats demons that are guarding the sages, Link returns to Hyrule where he confronts dozens of Gerudo warriors and ultimately fights Ganon. Along the way, other characters from the game make appearances, including Saria, Impa, Malon and Talon.

While there are a few dark moments in the story, the movie never takes itself too seriously, and there are plenty of humourous scenes along the way, as well as hidden tidbits for the extra amusement of Zelda fans. While the movie will appeal mainly to Zelda fans, anyone who enjoys fantasy adventure should enjoy this movie, and they’ll still be able to follow the plot because The Hero of Time attempts to cater to those who haven’t played Zelda. One of the highlights of this movie is its beautiful soundtrack, composed by the talented George R. Powell. The music is original, with a definite Zelda flavor, and it is stunning. I highly recommend that you listen to it here.

The Hero of Time - Ganon

Overall, the response from fans was positive, although some had issues with the differences from the game and felt that despite a limited budget and resources, some of the differences could have been more in-line with the game. But when viewed as a fan-made film and not a Hollywood production, it’s a remarkable effort. It is clear while watching the movie that it was never meant to be a direct translation of Ocarina of Time onto the big screen, and this film is a new Zelda tale in its own right. Translating a video game from console to the big screen is never an easy task. Video game movies have a reputation for being pretty bad, and you only need to remember that a Nintendo game has not been made into a movie since the poorly-received Super Mario Bros. movie of the early 1990s. BMB Finishes have succeeded very well in adapting Zelda for the big screen and condensing it into an approximately 1 hour 40 minute run-time. Zelda games mainly consist of Link running around by himself, exploring dungeons and solving puzzles, and it would get very boring very fast to see this in a movie. While the Link in this movie must also complete a lot of his quest alone, the scenes where Link is by himself are broken up as he meets several colorful characters along the way. The story moves quite quickly, and does not become repetitive with watching Link do the same thing over and over like he does in the games. Zelda fans who were worried about the fact that Link speaks in this movie need not be. Yes, he does speak, but not excessively, and the film strikes a perfect balance between having Link talk when he needs to, and following the games where other characters do most of the talking.

Fans who were looking for a Hollywood big-budget style, blow-by-blow recreation of Ocarina of Time were disappointed by The Hero of Time. But what this movie is is a spirited new telling of a familiar story, made by Zelda fans for the enjoyment of other Zelda fans.