The year 2013, in my opinion, was the high point of the current decade for Zelda. While the legacy of the 2010s is still being written, the 1990s and 2000s are tough decades to beat considering they solidified the Zelda experience and then converted it into an annual franchise. This decade has seen a few more bumps and hurdles to jump over as Zelda has become more of a biannual event as production schedules have been prolonged due to the increasing demands of gaming hardware. 2013, though, is one of those magical biannual years, hosting not only a top-notch Zelda game but one of the most momentous Zelda moments… at least for English-speaking fans.
The history of Hyrule
That special moment was the English release of Hyrule Historia. Yes, let’s get history out of the way first: 2011 gets all of the real credit for this book. The Japanese version of the book came two years earlier, yet at the time there was no English release on the immediate horizon. Nintendo of America was practically mum on the subject for an extended period of time. As such, many gamers resorted to creating accounts on Amazon Japan to import their own copies from Japan’s limited supply. For many months, it remained incredibly uncertain if North America and Europe would ever get a fully translated copy. But finally, after a long silence from Nintendo of America, the announcement and release of Hyrule Historia came to Western shores.
While the timeline portion — perhaps the most significant and earth-shattering part — of the book had been translated by fans back with the Japanese release, having the book in English was still hugely important. First and foremost, the English book was bigger in terms of page size and therefore higher quality art; even if someone had gone out of their way to import the Japanese book, getting the English book was still a must for the collector. Second, much of the book apart from the official Zelda timeline hadn’t yet been widely translated, and so now English speakers could finally take the trip down memory lane (albeit two years late) to read up on much of the development history and concept art of Skyward Sword as well as all of the earlier mainline Zelda titles, not to mention reading about the concept art that got cut or completely redone from the final versions of the games. And lastly and most obviously, it was much easier for inhabitants of the Western world to get their hands on their own copies.
Of special notice was the Collector’s Edition of Hyrule Historia, simultaneously released with the regular edition. Whereas the normal copy of the book featured a green Book of Mudora-like hardback cover, the Collector’s Edition harkened much closer to the original brown Japanese version. However, the Collector’s Edition was even nicer as it featured a thick hardback cover that had the vague resemblance of a magical tome that one might find in an old library. It also, unlike the other two versions, featured gold-trimmed pages, making it the veritable envy of every Zelda fan.
Unfortunately, as is the case with many modern releases, the Collector’s Edition announcement was not without a minor bit of controversy. Firstly, the Collector’s Edition was announced after the normal edition, meaning that many people who had already pre-ordered the book had to go through the ropes to cancel their existing orders in order to get the more expensive Collector’s Edition.
If that had been it, though, it probably wouldn’t have been too controversial. However, supplies of the Collector’s Edition were very limited, and many of the online suppliers in the United States — Barnes & Noble and Amazon, to name a few — accidentally oversold the book beyond their stocks. They simply hadn’t anticipated the demand for it, and they couldn’t turn off the spigot of pre-orders fast enough on their websites to register it as being sold out. This led to the cancellation of many orders, and, married to the fact that some had already cancelled their original order, many were left with a bitter taste as they had to find a way to re-pre-order the normal edition. In all, getting your hands on the Collector’s Edition was a matter of how quick or how lucky you were, with those reacting to the announcement late left high and dry.
Getting your hands on the Collector’s Edition was a matter of how quick or how lucky you were.
Still, finally having a copy of Hyrule Historia that we could read and pore over was an experience. Even if the timeline and much of the concept art had been revealed two years ago, having the physical book in your hands was an entirely new experience, and the book is one that belongs on every fan’s bookshelf or coffee table.
A Link Between Worlds
The second big reveal of 2013 was the first post-Hyrule Historia Zelda game and a sequel to one of the most critically acclaimed games within the Zelda franchise: A Link to the Past. A moment of real talk here: The DS line has admittedly been a little bit hit and miss with Zelda games. The two previous DS-line Zelda games, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, had some significant flaws that generally prevent them from ranking too high on people’s list of favorite games. Sure, both games have their fans, and they’re still fun, but they frequently fall in the shadow of Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, and the like. While Phantom Hourglass had the much-loved Linebeck, it also the much maligned Temple of the Ocean King; Spirit Tracks’ Tower of Spirits was a lot of fun, but it chases it by replacing the overworld with a rail shooter and starting off with a couple of ridiculously easy dungeons.
But A Link Between Worlds I’d argue is the best DS Zelda experience to date, even if many of the concepts it uses to tell the story are somewhat derivative from its A Link to the Past inspiration. Yes, it reused its Light World/Dark World semantics. It completely borrowed the long-familiar seven Sages concept. And many of the dungeons were precisely where their LttP equivalents were. But to say that A Link Between Worlds brought nothing to the table is a disservice for the newfound inspiration it brought to a series that had started to place conformist linearity as one of Zelda’s pillars. Finally, at long last, there wasn’t a specific ordering for the dungeons, and much of that centered was due to one character: Ravio.
Unbeknownst to us at the start of the game, Ravio was Link’s equivalent from the “Dark World” Lorule. The fallen hero, he had fled the collapse of Lorule’s environment in order to find Hyrule’s hero and, er, “equip” them to save his own kingdom. And to do that, he brought his own collection of items and allowed Link to either rent or buy them outright whenever he wished. What this meant for the series was astounding: No longer was there a new item within each of the dungeons Link would encounter; instead, while each dungeon would still be themed after one of the various items in the game, players wouldn’t necessarily know which item it was themed after until they explored the dungeon and found out. And certainly, while renting the appropriate item was incredibly cheap and certainly affordable, death carried its consequences beyond simply restarting at your last save point; now Link would have to head back to his house and re-rent all of the items that he hadn’t yet outright purchased.
The original Legend of Zelda title was themed around exploration. It required the player to comb the entire landscape in search of the dungeons and then, upon finding them, defeat them. It was essentially one of the first goal-oriented nonlinear games in the history of video gaming as we know it. And here in 2013, A Link Between Worlds brought back that very central thesis to the franchise.
However beyond Ravio was a cast of characters that were equal parts charming and sentimental. Yes, while Zelda and Ganon also made their appearances in the game, the seven Sages also brought significant personalities to A Link Between World, just as the seven Sages did way back in Ocarina of Time. Gulley is the son of the blacksmith who had been training Link, Seres and Osfala are captured before Link’s very own eyes, Irene is the Witch’s apprentice who totes Link around from fast-travel point to fast-travel point, Oren and Rosso grant Link useful items before being whisked away, and well… everyone knows Impa. Unlike A Link to the Past, the seven Sages are not mere Macguffins to be sought after; they are people we are familiar with and thus want to save because Link has befriended them before they are captured.
Add to the combination the Zelda and Ganon equivalents of Hilda and Yuga and suddenly you have a very interesting and volatile mixture. A land devoid of a Triforce collapsing at the seams causes the fallen bearer of Wisdom to form a pact with the fallen bearer of Power to steal the Triforce of another land to heal their own. Princess Hilda is, therefore, one of the biggest plot twists that has ever existed within the Zelda franchise, and we remain (mostly) clueless of her façade nearly until the end of the game. It’s only then that we find that the princess that’s been “aiding” us the entire time is actually against us, and so she frees her “prisoner” Yuga and unleashes her upon Link. It’s a dramatic twist that causes the ending sequence to be rather sentimental.
Hilda is one of the biggest plot twists of Zelda; we remain clueless of her façade nearly until the end of the game.
Of course, discussing characters, dungeons, and items fails to mention the most significant twist of the game, the fact that Link can transform into a drawing on the wall and walk along the wall. When I first saw this presented in trailers, I figured it would be a complete gimmick, something that would end up being overused and completely trite by the game’s denouement. However, I found that it added a new dimension (pun intended) to solving puzzles in the game, and that aspect made some of the game’s later puzzles all the more tricky because one had to think outside of the traditional set of Zelda elements and realize that places normally inaccessible using conventional mechanics were in fact truly accessible.
Return to the high seas
Lastly though certainly not least in the lineup for 2013 was the re-release of Wind Waker in full HD glory. Wind Waker HD remastered the GameCube original and made what was already an amazing game even better. Originally, back when I played Wind Waker in the early 2000s, I did not think that the visuals of the game could ever be improved upon, both for Wind Waker and in future Zelda games; I thought that the cartoon-style cel shading was absolutely perfect and really stood the test of time. However, I would be wrong on both accounts as Wind Waker HD was jaw-droppingly beautiful in so many ways.
But Wind Waker HD wasn’t just a graphical improvement of the original; the remaster made a strong effort to smooth out some of the friction points of the original game to essentially make what could be considered a director’s cut of the game. One of the major changes from the original was making the quest for obtaining the eight pieces of the Triforce much easier. Instead of finding the several of the Triforce maps, having to pay Tingle to decipher them, and then collecting the Triforce pieces, you just simply obtained the Triforce pieces straight away. The other big critique of The Wind Waker, sailing, was also patched up by allowing players to collect the Swift Sail, which enabled double movement speed over the water. And indeed, having the extra controller buttons gave much easier access to the Wind Waker without having to fetch it back out of the items list every time you needed to use it. And if you wanted to collect all of the Pictograph statues, you now could save 12 Pictographs at once instead of three, making collecting all the statues much easier.
Wind Waker HD helped tide us all over while waiting for a completely new Zelda game for the Wii U. And it’s Hyrule Historia and A Link Between Worlds that really revitalized the lifeblood of the Zelda series after a set of games that found many high notes but were troubled by many low notes. It also began the speculation about whether or not that the next big Zelda game for the Wii U would end up returning to the core elements of Zelda or simply recycle all of the more modern Zelda pillars. Unfortunately, there’s still a few years yet to go before we get there, and while there won’t be another mainline title for two a few more years, 2014 still had its contributions to add to the Zelda chronicle.