We’re 25 years into the 30 Years in 30 Days series, so naturally 2011 marks the silver anniversary for Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf.
A lot happened this year. That honestly should be no surprise to anyone. Nintendo has celebrated anniversaries in the past, but I think it’s safe to say that what they did for The Legend of Zelda’s 25th anniversary outshines anything else they’ve ever done. Looking back at the year, there was no shortage of events celebrating this incredible series. Though Nintendo wouldn’t invite anyone to the party until the month of June when they unveiled their plans at E3, the remainder of the year would be unforgettable.
Celebrating 25 years of music
To start off the anniversary with a bang, anyone who watched footage of Nintendo’s E3 press conference will remember what happened first. Instead of immediately bringing out Reggie or Iwata or whomever else was deemed to speak first, the lights went down, and a symphony began to play. Yes, Nintendo hired an orchestra and a choir to share the beginning of the 25th anniversary of Zelda with the world. Accompanying the main overworld theme that has been in so many Zelda games was a video clip showing snippets from Link’s encounters throughout the Zelda series. It set the tone for the entire show as Zelda bombshell after Zelda bombshell was announced, one after another with alarming speed. Nintendo wanted you to know who was celebrating the big 2-5.
Among the announcements were a series of Zelda concerts produced by Nintendo taking place through the world. It would be called The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony, a series of four concerns with the first two in Tokyo, the third in Los Angeles, and the last in London during the month of October. While many more people would eventually become more familiar with the later years’ Symphony of the Goddesses, the shows presented a different ordering of songs than its future cousin. It wasn’t centered on telling some story in four parts; it instead featured music from across all of the Zelda games, handpicked by Koji Kondo himself, the creator of most of the Zelda themes we know and love. The songs he picked would include a song devoted to all the Ocarina of Time ocarina melodies, Twilight Princess’ Kakariko Village, the Great Fairy Fountain theme, and a medley of various boss themes.
Most special out of all the music played in each of the three venues would be the encore performance, which would drop the symphony entirely and bring Koji Kondo onstage to perform a piano solo of “Grandma’s Theme” from The Wind Waker. Eiji Aonuma would attend all four concerts, Shigeru Miyamoto would make appearances in Tokyo, while Zelda Williams, Robin Williams’ daughter who was named after the princess, attended the London show.
It was easy to be jealous of friends that lived in the selected cities across the world as all four concerts were completely sold out, and it was then not entirely certain where the concerts would go next or how easy it would be to attend them. All we could do was to hope and pray that the Zelda Symphony would end up stopping in our corner of the world soon. They would eventually come, but those would have to wait until the following years.
A trip down memory lane, remastered
Of course the 25th anniversary would be nothing without games, and the year was absolutely full of them. 2011 would be the year where the trend of remastering previous Zelda games and bringing them into the modern era really kicked off. All three of the 2011 game releases would be for the 3DS, which at the time was struggling to gain popularity in the video games space against its predecessor the Nintendo DS. Clearly, Nintendo had the big picture that Zelda could bring fans to the 3DS’ yard.
The most famous of these, of course, was the remastering of the Zelda game that launched so many fans’ love for the series. Ocarina of Time 3D was the first major remastering of a Zelda title since Link’s Awakening DX back in 1998 and, well, itself in the early 2000s with Master Quest. While Ocarina of Time is still an amazing game and one of the best video games of all time, the graphics of the age-old classic are perhaps one of the bits that hadn’t aged quite so well. But the 3DS fixed all of that by both upping the resolution of practically all of the game’s textures and by smoothing out all of the character models and introducing subtle curves to those polygon-riddled features.
The game utterly looks brilliant and plays exactly like it did back in 1998. In fact, it evokes all of those wonderful memories of playing the original version of it so many years prior. Seriously, how many games in the world can perform this very feat?
But wait; there’s more! Not only did it recreate Ocarina of Time in a new, pristine beauty, it also provided everyone with the ability to play the Master Quest of Ocarina of Time for the first time since the original release back in 2002. The original Master Quest was just a remix of all the dungeons according to the original Ura Zelda design from the turn of the century, but the 3DS Master Quest was much more brutal: It caused all enemies to deal double damage and mirrored the game vertically so that players would be extra confused. That means, for the second time ever, Link became a righty in a Zelda game. If that wasn’t enough, they also threw in a Boss Gauntlet mode, where players could experience the adrenaline rush of facing each boss of the game back to back using only the bottled healing items that they brought with them. Defeating more bosses escalated the rewards of success more and more.
Ultimately, this would create the new definitive version of the 1998 classic. It’s amazing to see just how immersive this game is even today, well over a decade since its N64 debut. The release of Ocarina of Time 3D would be so popular that it would eventually inspire Zelda Universe’s forum to organize and launch Operation: Moonfall, a fan-based attempt (eventually successful, though we would have to wait quite a while for it) to have Majora’s Mask remastered in glorious 3D as well.
Ocarina of Time 3D created the new DEFINITIVE version of the 1998 classic. It’s amazing to see just how immersive this game is even today.
But Ocarina of Time wasn’t the only game to be remastered in 2011. The year would take the incredibly difficult-to-play Four Swords and remake it so that anyone could play the game. Towards the end of 2011, the game was offered as a free gift to anyone who owned a 3DS and downloaded it from the Nintendo eShop before mid-February 2012.
While the Anniversary Edition was no longer paired with A Link to the Past like the original version of the game, this installment of Four Swords was still worth getting because the friction points of actually being able to play the game were reduced to nothing. Even better, the game was free, so what Zelda fan with a 3DS wouldn’t have it or be willing to spend a few minutes downloading it from the store? Finding friends to play with was no more difficult than finding someone with a 3DS at their beck and call. Best of all, the 3DS scoffed at all those Link Cables that caused the GBA’s multiplayer to be so difficult to play. While it didn’t include online play, a feature that was still in its infancy at Nintendo, it did offer local wireless instead, so you just had to bring your 3DSes and hook them up together.
The best part, however, was that, now, Anniversary Edition made it so you could play the game even if you didn’t have friends immediately available. In a move not unlike Four Swords Adventures, the game included a single-player option, which would allow you to control two Links (unlike Adventures’ four) in much the same way; the second Link would follow behind the first until you needed to separate them, at which point you could control them independently (though one at a time).
Finally, while it’s technically not a remaster in its own right, the release of the very first remaster in the Zelda franchise saw a release in all of Nintendo’s regions. At Nintendo’s E3 announcement, Nintendo re-released Link’s Awakening DX onto the 3DS Virtual Console, allowing players to play the colored version of the first-ever Zelda portable again. While it may not have been an up-res or a new, never-before-seen version of the original, Link’s Awakening has proven harder to get than even Ocarina of Time given all of its re-releases and Virtual Console appearances since 1998, and Link’s Awakening DX for 3DS changed all that by placing that firmly within Zelda fans’ grasps for good.
And what better way would there be to play all of these Zelda titles than on a special edition version of the 3DS honouring the Zelda series? As part of the 25th anniversary, Nintendo released a beautiful black 3DS with golden trim. It would even come bundled with Ocarina of Time 3D, just as the Zelda editions of the Game Boy Advance SP and Nintendo DS Lite before it with Minish Cap and Phantom Hourglass. This means Nintendo has created a special Zelda edition of each Zelda portable for the past decade, and the odds are that they’ll do it again next generation.
Looking skyward to the goddesses
But of course, the 25th anniversary didn’t just consist of games re-released from yesteryear. It would have its own Zelda title as well.
Skyward Sword was the self-styled game that would explain how Hyrule and all the games after it would come to be. It would be hailed, even before its release, as the prequel to the whole of the Zelda franchise before it. It would be the second Zelda title to find its place on the Wii, but the unique addition this time around would be the requirement of using the Wii Motion Plus attachment for the Wii Remotes in an attempt to make good on the promises of realistic sword combat that Twilight Princess initially offered when it was delayed for the Wii.
Skyward Sword takes place so much earlier in the Zelda timeline than the other games that Hyrule hasn’t been established yet, Zelda herself isn’t a princess yet, Ganondorf has yet to be born, and the Master Sword technically hasn’t even come to be. Instead, the main characters live in a village called Skyloft in a world above the clouds that the goddesses lifted from the surface world in order to protect them from the malevolent forces of the evil demon Demise.
Over the thousand years of time, the humans of Skyloft had largely forgotten about the world that existed below as they trained their young to be Knights and to ride birds called Loftwings to flit between the various islands and patrol against the few monsters that might attack their towns. So much about the surface would be forgotten such that, when the demon Lord Ghirahim manages to snatch Zelda, the Knight Academy’s headmaster’s daughter, out of the air and pull her beneath the clouds that everyone seems stymied by what to do. Everyone except Link, that is, as he dons his green Knight’s clothes — the color of the year, as it were — to descend to the surface, though not before encountering Fi, the spirit of the Goddess Sword — the sword that would become the Master Sword — who would aid him through his journey.
The journey across the surface world would show a “Hyrule” that was practically unrecognizable. Below the clouds, the world was split into three themed areas, the first being a forested and water-rich landscape, the second a volcanic mountain, and finally a desert wasteland that led to a dried sea. Link could descend from the heavens using his Sailcloth to safely descend into the three major regions of the surface in an attempt to pursue Zelda (and later to obtain the Sacred Flames to purify the Goddess Sword and to obtain the Song of the Hero). Unlike most overworlds in Zelda history, these three sections were completely separated from one another, and you had to travel via Loftwing into Skyloft to descend into the other areas when needed. It was via this mechanism that Nintendo made the most out of each area as each of the three large regions could be experienced in entirely brand new ways each time a visit was required; however, it also meant tediously revisiting each area so many times, which became a little bit of a slog.
The only familiar races to make appearances within Skyward Sword — outside of the obvious “humans” — would be the Goron, who perhaps had their most meaningful contributions to any Zelda game to date, and the Sheikah, though naturally their existence was mostly kept mysterious and secretive until the right time. Beyond this were the forest-dwelling Kikwi, a tribe of miniature animals with the ability to talk; the Parella, a race of seahorse-like creatures inhabiting the lake; the Mogma, a civilized group of mole creatures known for treasure hunting and getting into trouble; and the ancient robots, a sadly all-but-extinct group of intelligent workaholics with a keen interest in time travel. Most of the characters in the new races are largely forgettable, even if they have names. The main characters revolve around the humans of Skyloft as Link will end up forging meaningful relationships with nearly everyone by performing small tasks to make them happy, which generates Gratitude Crystals. And of course Impa makes her appearance as well, and she becomes extremely pivotal to the story as both the wise elder and Zelda’s protector.
There are three characters, however, that stand out above all the others though. First, there’s Groose. Groose at first is easy to just disregard as Link’s rival; he starts off as something of a Mido, someone who doesn’t matter and just gets in Link’s way. However, as the story evolves, his braggadocio dissolves and Link sees his softer side; in fact, they end up teaming up together to destroy the rampaging Imprisoned before it escapes the Sealed Grounds. Second, there’s Zelda, who exists (somewhat) in a love triangle between Groose and Link. But unlike previous games where the romance was merely imagined and inferred by fans, it was intentionally added in this game; there is meant to be a solemn and caring relationship between Zelda and Link, and the emotion that is conveyed whenever the duo meets up is tangible.
Lastly and perhaps most controversially, however, is the sword spirit Fi. At first, Fi is quite charming and novel. She starts off being incredibly useful, providing a lot of tips and tricks and explaining the specific language to the puzzles of Skyward Sword. She also has a quirky enough pattern of speech that makes her endearing. “Master, I calculate an 85% probability that your quest will be aided if you find the lost Kikwis for the elder,” she says once, revealing her calculating mind. However, given enough time, that sense of subtle teaching and hint-giving becomes an overbearing hammer on the head which grates the nerves at every possibility. As late as the fifth dungeon, Fi, master of the obvious, is still pointing out boss doors to Link as if he had never seen them before, this despite that they look absolutely no different to any other boss door thus far seen. At the same point, some of the more obtuse puzzles she proffers zero help upon whatsoever. Love her or hate her, she definitely stands out as one of the more impressionable of Link’s personal assistants.
As late as the fifth dungeon, Fi, master of the obvious, is still pointing out boss doors as if Link had never seen them before.
The game’s visuals are probably the best to date despite being limited by the Wii’s hardware. It’s hard to think when you look at it that those graphics are being rendered only at 480p instead of something better. There are a few isolated parts where the graphics really start to break down, but otherwise they’re absolutely stunning and hide the Wii’s limitations very well. The graphics exist as a relative hybrid between the realistic Twilight Princess and cartoony Wind Waker styles by exhibiting a painterly style not unlike the impressionistic paintings of Monet. While these visuals will almost certainly be surpassed with Zelda U, the developers certainly made the game sing for its day.
The plot for the game ultimately seemed a little disjointed despite its relative linearity. The driving motivation that pushed Link onward for the first third of the game began to fizzle out during the second act as one major plot point gets solved only to be replaced with an issue of greater importance but less personal impact. Also there were potential issues where, depending upon the order you undertook, it was possible to fight the same major boss twice in extremely fast succession, which seemed a little odd. However, many of the dungeons were absolutely amazingly done, especially the time-shifting dungeons of the Sandship, the Ancient Cistern (inspired by a Japanese fable), the sliding room dungeon that was the Sky Keep, and the beautiful opening dungeon Skyview Temple.
As the game that takes place at the beginning of the timeline, however, it solves precious little of Hyrule’s many timeline mysteries. While there’s a subtle hat tip to Ganondorf in the ending of the game, the Gerudo aren’t ever mentioned by name with the exception of their namesake being given to an insect in the desert region; their race is left completely off the map. The Kokiri and the Zora are left missing as well, and it’s unknown if there’s any association between them and the Kikwi and Parella. The ancient robots create something of a mystery as well as they allude to a time 1,000 years prior to the present day — a time that Link actually visits in part to when the desert was richer and more vibrant — yet this game was originally supposed to be the beginning of the Hyrulean story. And lastly, the goddess Hylia is never entirely explained; whether she’s coequal with Din, Farore, and Nayru or rather some sort of demigoddess instead is left up to the imagination. In many ways, the concept of a prequel to the whole series caused many to place high expectations for explanation, expectations that were never completely fulfilled.
Skyward Sword is still nevertheless a landmark game in the franchise, a game that brought ideas to Zelda that had never been seen before. And given that it’s the capstone game on the 25th anniversary, it was clearly a work of love and passion on behalf of the creators. But if there was any more proof that it deserves special placement in the franchise, one only needed to see what came out alongside it.
A history of Hyrule
Essentially co-released with Skyward Sword was the book that practically everyone had been waiting for since they became Zelda fans… or at least if they didn’t want it, they wanted it as soon as they heard about it. Nintendo released Hyrule Historia in Japan, something that served both the purpose of commemorating 25 years of Zelda whilst also being an art book that every fan would love to display on their coffee tables. Not only did it serve as a nostalgic trip across the other Zelda games, but it would also feature tons of concept art from Skyward Sword detailing all the characters, places, and items found within the series.
As an extra honor to Skyward Sword, Nintendo commissioned a 32-page miniature manga from the artist team of Akira Himegawa, most well known for their work on the 10 official Zelda manga books to date. While they weren’t tapped to create a full-blown comic like they have been in the past, the Skyward Sword manga is the only comic the duo has created for Nintendo that, even if only in part, appeared in color. Moreover, the comic doesn’t depict Skyward Sword’s actual story but instead a prequel to Skyward Sword, an allusion to the events that legitimately happened during the period of time 1,000 years before the goddess Hylia raised the humans up to Hyrule. While Hyrule Historia was about the entire franchise, this comic plus the artwork would give content about Skyward Sword nearly half of the book’s pages.
But perhaps the most well-known section of Hyrule Historia was the section that, finally, for once and for all, revealed the ultimate official timeline of the entire Zelda series. And at that moment of reveal, absolutely no one could have seen the aftermath coming. As has been mentioned earlier in this series of articles, originally timeline discussions debated whether or not there was more than one Link. Discussion then evolved to arguing whether Ocarina of Time had two endings, and thus two separate timelines, or just one with all of the games connecting linearly. But no one could have predicted that Nintendo had imagined a third timeline, a timeline that represented a hypothetical what-if timeline imagining if Link had died when fighting Ocarina of Time’s Ganondorf. So shocking was this revelation that anyone who could read Japanese at all immediately began to translate and pour over each paragraph to understand just what it was that Nintendo had wrought. While indeed the timeline is now a generally accepted part of the fan community, the three-pronged timeline for quite some time would be a difficult pill to swallow, and many people would continue to argue for alternate interpretations for some time to come.
No one could have predicted that Nintendo created a third timeline, one where Link had died fighting Ganondorf.
With 25 years under its belt, it’s clear that the Zelda train wasn’t about to stop at any point. For many fans, myself included, Zelda has been a major influence to us for over half of our lives. With online communities still dedicated to the franchise and so many Zelda games still on the horizon, one can’t help but imagine what the next 25 will look like. But at least we know what the next five years until the 30th anniversary do look like. So tomorrow, we’ll continue onward to our final march to 2016 and 30 years.