Realm of Memories is a series where we reflect on our absolute favorite moments in Zelda games. These could be the times we first fell in love with a game, were moved by the events of the story or actions of a character, felt triumphant when overcoming a tough boss or challenge, or we had an experience so unique that the adventure truly became our own. The Zelda series has touched our lives in many ways, and just as Hyrule has endless stories to share, so do our writers!
It’s Halloween week, so we’ve decided to bring you an extra-special edition of Realm of Memories. Our writers reflect on some of the more scary and sinister moments in Zelda. For a series that’s often viewed as being bright and colorful, Zelda sometimes gets pretty dark. And believe it or not, there are things that are scarier than the series’ non-canon appearance on the CD-i in the ’90s.
Ocarina of Time is scarier than you remember
By Zack Hubbard
I was only seven years old when Ocarina of Time was released, and I’ll never forget how my mother hid the game when she gave it to me for Christmas. It was in a Dr. Pepper case that she wrapped so I wouldn’t recognize the familiar box shape of a fresh new Nintendo 64 game. I still remember putting the game in my console and readying for myself for the journey of a lifetime. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but this unassuming game would contain something that would mentally scar me (if only a little bit) for the rest of my childhood.
Before I go on, I need to provide a little backstory. Without telling a completely different story, back in 1997 I watched my older brother attempt to play the original Resident Evil and as a result, I saw my first ever zombie. Yes, the very same campy Resident Evil you’re probably thinking of. To make a long story short, it left a mental scar on me that wouldn’t be easily healed. I was a sheltered and protected child, and up to this point I had never really seen anything that could be described as gruesome or scary. It was life changing. And arguably, it was the first time I’d ever experienced anything akin to terror at a young age. Of course, my brother just shrugged the game off with his “whatever” mentality, but it’s something I’ll never forget.
So what does this have to do with Ocarina of Time? I’m sure most of you have figured it out by now, but let’s get into the story. I had just reached the point in the game where I became adult Link, and all that crazy exposition went right over my head. I could read the words, but I definitely didn’t fully understand any of it at all. But hey! I’m a lot taller now and the game is really picking up! I’m so excited to finally embark on new adventures and see how the world changed in seven years! I’m sure everything will be fine and just like I remember it!
The moment I stepped outside, the wind howled, and the terrifying red ring over Death Mountain loomed in the distance. Castle Town Market was a dark and dreary place and the atmosphere hit my tiny little brain immediately. I cautiously walked around the area outside the Temple of Time, and finally took my first few steps into the new main area of the Castle Town Market.
ReDeads. The town was full of ReDeads.
Their moan immediately blared through my TV speakers, and it’s a sound that I’ll never soon forget. My body tensed up, and I approached one and heard that terrible, awful scream. Suddenly, I couldn’t move Link! I watched as it inched closer and closer towards me, and all of a sudden those terrifying memories of Resident Evil came rushing back and I watched in horror as a ReDead grabbed onto Link and as far as my brain was concerned, it was eating him just like I had seen in a different game a year prior. I finally broke out of my daze and turned off the console quickly.
What followed was a long instance of a lack of progress as I tried to process in my head the events of what I’d seen. My favorite video game of all time that I’d gotten for Christmas is now a thing of horror and fear. How am I supposed to get past this part if I just keep chickening out? There was another problem too: I had an overactive imagination. Here are some examples:
“Wait… that stuff on the ground… is that… blood!? It has to be! The zombies ate the people here and they must have spread their blood all over the ground!”
Of course, that was ash from the volcano. You know, the one with a terrible red ring in the background? The one that is now suddenly active? Not to mention Ganondorf did mess up Hyrule pretty much everywhere.
“These might also just be the zombies of the townsfolk who were here when I was a kid! They’re all standing in the same place!”
Never mind that they evacuated to Kakariko Village a little ways down and you can still see them there as an adult.
I watched in horror as a ReDead grabbed onto Link and as far as my brain was concerned, it was eating him.
I did eventually get past them in a run that can only be described as turning down the TV and trying to close my eyes and see as little as possible. You can only imagine how happy I was when I finally got past them and on to Hyrule Field, and I could move on with my adventure! Of course by the time I’d garnered enough courage to get past this section (if you can even call what I did “courageous”), it was bedtime for little me. I wonder where the game puts you when you save and quit the game?
I came back from school and I turned on the game only to find myself back in the Temple of Time. The nightmare repeated itself.
I never did end up beating the game until the 3DS version came out, and by that time I was far more knowledgeable about the game, or in the case of ReDeads and Gibdos, aware of the Sun’s Song. Most kids who talk about Nintendo 64 horrors talk about Super Mario 64: the piano in Big Boo’s Haunt or that eel in Jolly Roger’s Bay. My fear was the ReDeads. Even now when I play Ocarina of Time there’s always a small fear that lingers.
Looking back, it’s funny and embarrassing, but at the time this was a pretty bad fear. My mother can tell you plenty of embarrassing childhood stories about how much I talked about them because it was that big of a deal to me. The eel and the piano? I dealt with them no problem. The Dead Hand you fight in the Bottom of the Well? That didn’t scare me at all for some reason. But the ReDeads? Those left an impact on me that although I’ve conquered now, stopped me from playing Ocarina of Time entirely.
Ganon might be the final boss of Ocarina of Time for most people. But for me, it was the ReDeads.
Zant’s looming hand
By Liz Burton
Zelda games really love to use disembodied hands as enemies: Ocarina of Time has the Dead Hand and Bongo Bongo, The Wind Waker has Gohdan, and Wall and Floormasters appear throughout the series. With the exception of Gohdan’s hands, which are a little too robotic to tap into any fears, these horrid hand enemies excel at making you feel uneasy. You can thank your brain for that, which loves to look for common features and associate everything with a threat.
Hands separated from the body closely resemble the shape of a spider — the palm looks like the body and the fingers take on the appearance of the legs. Given how spiders are a common phobia, and how the idea of a human body part latching onto you is distressing, it’s easy to see why enemy designers use them. Even if you don’t have a phobia, the unpleasant appearance and unpredictable movement of spider-like creatures psychologically don’t sit well with most human beings.
Twilight Princess uses a hand enemy in an interesting and equally unnerving way. Even though it’s not fleshy and doesn’t move around with scuttling motions, Zant’s Hand in the Palace of Twilight still draws from this unsettling resemblance to give the player a sense of unease that something creepy wants to grab you.
It’s an enemy I remember well for that reason. Everything about it makes you feel ill at ease: the shadow its body casts on the floor; its slow, persistent hover towards you; its motionless fingers that only twitch into motion when it’s ready to pounce; and the tense, pulsing fragment of music that plays over the already-unsettling background track. This musical cue, which plays the closer Zant’s Hand approaches, is especially disconcerting, as it sounds like a beating heart and siren. It puts you on edge and adds to the existing tension created by how vulnerable you are throughout its pursuit.
That’s what really gets me about Zant’s Hand, especially compared to other hand enemies in the Zelda universe. While you can easily cut down a Floormaster once it lands on the ground, you’re completely vulnerable to Zant’s Hand, as you must carry the Sol orb above your head. You’re defenseless while his creepy hand silently yet endlessly pursues you.
If you stand still too long, there’s that eerie cue. If you need to stop to draw your weapon and fend off nearby monsters, the hand still looms near. It comes for you no matter what. Wherever you go, it can reach you, and you’ll know it’s coming. You’ll see its shadow. You’ll hear the eerie music. You’ll feel it drop down on you and take away the orb that you worked so hard to carry across the shadowy palace.
Until you succeed, its unsettling presence never leaves.
Entering the House of Skulltula
By Reece Heather
Kakariko Village is a peaceful place. Friendly faces, clucking Cuccos, stimulating side-quests: That’s the Kakariko Village we know.
In all of its incarnations throughout the Zelda series, it has always been Link’s (and by extension, the player’s) safe haven. It’s a humble village that I’m always happy to come back to. This was true of its first appearance in A Link to the Past, but even more so in Ocarina of Time, which was my introduction to the recurring village. Its cheerful music and frolicking townsfolk made you forget all about the evil infesting Hyrule everywhere. Even the graveyard, as sad as it is, had a tranquility to it.
There’s no harm in searching an abandoned house. What could go wrong?
Entering the village for the first time, I explored it as fully as I could, as an excited Zelda fan does. Once I had talked to every villager I came across and I had exhausted every side quest I could find, it was time to invite myself into the homes of the inhabitants. After all, what we call “trespassing” in the real world seems to be a normality in the world of Zelda.
After chatting with the locals and investigating their homes I stumbled upon a building unlike the rest. Dark, empty, and littered with looming cobwebs. Well, no one had seemed to mind me invading their property and breaking their pottery earlier, so there’s assuredly no harm in searching an abandoned house. What could go wrong? Nothing bad happens in Kakariko Village.
Yes, pictured above is the Skulltula that rapidly plummeted in front of me. The very same spider-like creatures I had been fighting out in the wild. By now I had encountered them inside the Great Deku Tree, underground, under rocks, and in small alcoves — but never in what I had perceived to be a safe space. Sure, Gold Skulltulas are everywhere, but they’re effectively harmless since they don’t move from their position.
So why is this here?! These things don’t belong here! Who changed the rules?
My immediate reaction was to run away from it, to get my bearings and prepare to attack. As I darted towards a corner, another Skulltula descended. Then another. And another. When I realised that the danger music wasn’t playing, for a moment I thought there was something wrong with the game, as though the monsters had glitched themselves into existence.
After the initial shock, I was still somewhat uneasy, but mostly confused. I decided to approach the one in the center again, when I eventually noticed there was a “Speak” prompt in the HUD, indicating that there was an option to communicate with the creature. This was no ordinary Skulltula, and it did not appear to be hostile. While that meant a few seconds of relief, I was alarmed at the fact that the Skulltula had a face.
The jump scare alone, as well as the resulting terror conjured from the vivid imagination of my young mind, means the House of Skulltula warrants a place here. But the horror didn’t stop there, as I came to learn that these skittering critters were once a family. A rich man and his five rich sons had been afflicted by the “Spiders of the Curse”, transformed into monsters due to their greed.
Naturally, there is no peaceful resolution here either. To lift the curse, Link must hunt down and destroy all 100 Gold Skulltulas.
it was a turning point in gaming for me: I saw beyond just objectives and rewards, and was affected by the story and the characters.
Collecting the Gold Skulltula Tokens of course means various rewards for Link, such as wallet upgrades and a Piece of Heart. I was determined to find them all — but for the first time, I found that I wasn’t driven by the promise of in-game riches. I felt so bad for the family, greedy and flawed as they may have been, that I just wanted to restore them back to their human form. Thinking back, this seems like it was a turning point in gaming for me: I saw beyond just objectives and rewards, and was affected by the story and the characters.
To end on a haunting note, I tested my curiosity before I left the house and embarked on my newfound Skulltula-killing quest. I found that I could still swing my sword at the family, and I could hurt them if I slashed at their underbelly (which is well known as the Skulltula’s weak spot). Their screams are extremely chilling, made all the worse by the fact that they come from real, helpless people. Instantly, I felt regret.
They can attack Link in retaliation too, of course. This means that Link can take damage here, which also means it is possible for him to die. Alone. Forgotten. Left to rest among monsters that once resembled people, now cursed for (presumably) eternity in the House of Skulltula.
Just a thought. Happy Halloween!