Untapped Potential: The Demon Army

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It’s been some time, but I’ve finally decided to return to Untapped Potential.  For those that have been eagerly awaiting the next installment, I apologize for the delay.  The wait is over!

Untapped Potential has thus far taken closer looks at specific moments/characters in the Zelda Universe.  This time on Untapped Potential, I want to switch gears and examine a more general topic.  Most of the protagonists within the franchise have fairly detailed backstories and bios either within the game or in each respective game’s manual.  Most of the villainous creatures, however, are considerably more ambiguous when it comes to their origins.  For the most part, they seem to spring out of nowhere when the series’ main villains make an appearance.  Most games in the franchise explain this as a result of evil power manifesting in physical form thanks to the overwhelming malevolent energy spreading forth from the principal antagonist.  While this isn’t a bad thing, it’s a little unfortunate when a franchise with such a color rogue’s gallery doesn’t have some type of compendium dedicated to their existence.  This Untapped Potential will take a look at some of the established lore surrounding the ghouls and grunts of Ganon’s forces, and how it can be expanded on/incorporated into the franchise more fully.  The Moblins have been waiting for their chance to shine!

What We Know

Starting at the beginning, Skyward Sword states in its intro that Demise and his demon army inexplicably sprang forth from a fissure in the earth.  Skyward Sword doesn’t specify which creatures specifically accompanied Demise as he encroached upon the golden land of Hylia, but based on the artwork present in the opening cinematic it’s safe to assume the bulk of Demise’s army consisted of Moblins/Bokoblins and Lizalfos.  These beasts appear on the surface during the events of Skyward Sword following an apparent weakening on Demise’s divine seal and do Ghirahim’s bidding.  The various Bokoblins and Lizalfos appear to do nothing but patrol the various wilds and dungeons throughout Skyward Sword, seemingly without much purpose apart from attacking Link anytime he enters their vicinity.  This behavior is consistent throughout the rest of the franchise, where creatures of the Demon Army are not seen doing anything other than walking around and trying to kill Link.

There are a few exceptions to this, where we do see some semblance of culture present in some members of the dark forces.  This is most notable in more recent Zelda titles;  in both Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, we see the Moblins/Bokoblins inhabiting bases of operations in various locations (Arbiter’s Grounds in Twilight Princess and Eldin Volcano in Skyward Sword).  In both cases, the living quarters that Moblins/Bokoblins occupy are akin to militant tribal dwellings, consistent with the kind crude simplicity in which they dress/arm themselves.

There also appears to something of a hierarchy within the Demon Army, at least within the ranks of the Moblins/Bokoblins.  In Twilight Princess, there’s a clear leadership presence thanks to King Bulblin, whom the Bokoblins follow and obey.  It’s probably safe to assume that the pecking order is determined by who’s the biggest and the baddest.

The other prominent members of the Demon Army, the Darknuts/Iron Knuckles and the various undead creatures (Stalfos, ReDeads, Gibdos, etc) are similarly aimless in the early Zelda games.  Once again, we see some semblance of back-story added following Ocarina of Time, where both Stalfos and Gibdos are origin stories outside of simply “springing from the earth.”  In Ocarina of Time, Stalfos are said to be those that became lost in the forest and transformed into the skeletal fiends.  This origin is not explored further in any subsequent games.  Gibdos in Majora’s Mask are said to be unfortunate souls that went in search of Ikana’s hidden treasure, only to be cursed and turned into horrendous ghouls.  In Ocarina of Time, Link encounters an Iron Knuckle that is revealed to be Nabooru the sage (whom had been brainwashed by Twinrova), which suggests the other Iron Knuckles in the game are also brainwashed individuals, or at least humanoids that have donned armor as opposed to bestial lackeys.  Darknuts, despite their notoriety as the toughest members of the Demon Army, are never given a back-story.  Similar to Moblins/Bokoblins, though, they appear to function within a hierarchy that is represented by armor color and accessories.  In The Wind Waker, Mighty Darknuts have red or black armor as well as altered helmet designs and capes.  It should also be noted that Darknuts alternate between humanoid forms and bestial forms from game to game.

Boss characters (discounting primary antagonists) are often less explained than their smaller numerous cohorts, but once again there are some exceptions to this.  They’re generally gigantic guardians for one important item or another and have no significant impact on the narrative, nor are their origins explained in any great detail.  To use Majora’s Mask as an arbitrary example, Odolwa is a massive, tribal warrior that dances and chants while swinging a huge blade and summoning  poison moths.  He’s responsible for imprisoning one of the four giants and kidnapping the Deku Princess…but, why?  His origins, presence, and motives are never revealed, and this is the case with the majority of early Zelda bosses throughout the series.

What We Don’t Know

If the Demon Army seemingly springs from the ground every time there’s a new big, bad antagonist born into the realm, what were they doing before that?  Are they literally birthed from the ground, forming purely out of the evil and malice radiating from a Great Evil?  Or, are they subterranean, waiting beneath the surface for a terrible ruler to lead them in conquest?  When they aren’t wandering about Hyrule, wreaking havoc on any poor sap traipsing aimlessly about, what do they do?  Is their only purpose in life to obey their masters and kill anything that looks benevolent?  Are they playing high-stakes poker games or mastering leather work?  Do they marry?  Do they have existential crises?!  WHAT?!

As you can see, this lack of information spurs a lot of asinine pondering on my part.  None of this stuff is overly important, nor would it have any impact on how the series’ narrative progresses.  More than anything, this kind of encyclopedic information would serve to provide substance for the more involved Zelda fan (like myself).  Which is something I think the series would really benefit from.

Where We Can Go From Here

Moving forward into the future of the franchise, I’d like to see Nintendo start crafting biographical information and lore for the Zelda enemies.  Since they’ve demonstrated that they’re willing to put some effort into this sort of thing (as evidenced by Ocarina of Time’s Stalfos and Majora’s Mask’s Gibdos), it’s not unreasonable for them to do the same with the rest of Link’s enemies.  That’s not to say I’d be impressed with simple two-sentence descriptions of each enemy.  Origin stories aren’t a bad start, but I am also interested in the etymology and behaviors of each creature.  It’s clear that Moblins/Bokoblins adhere to some sort of social hierarchy, and it’d be nice to see this explained in greater detail.  I’d also be interested to learn exactly what the story behind the Darknuts is.  Why are they occasionally bestial?  Are the human iterations simply soldiers for hire?

Aside from the most prominent Zelda enemies, we could learn more about some of the lesser-known beasties, like the bizarre Goriya or the infamous Pols Voice.  Obviously, the entries on some beasts would be more detailed than others when it comes to culture and behavior (creatures like Keese and Like Likes are wild animals that probably don’t have much of a societal structure).  Still, this kind of addition to The Legend of Zelda would serve to enrich the lore and create a more complete Universe.  I’ve mentioned that its a misguided notion that the Zelda series is one with an overly complex, layered lore.  Giving the Demon Army more depth of existence in compendium form would help to move the series closer to what fans have long considered it to be; a detailed, layered fantasy world of complexities and wide breadth of lore.

The closest thing to a compendium featured in a Zelda game was the Figurine Shop in The Wind Waker and The Minish Cap, that gave brief descriptions of each character/enemy in the game.  Outside of in-game features, several official game manuals published by Nintendo have featured character and enemy bios.  Hyrule Historia goes over the designs of some enemies, but offers no biographical information.  What I’d like to see is a compendium of sorts be incorporated both in-game and in book form.  Essentially, a Hyrule Historia that focuses on the lore of the series’ enemies.

In-game, it wouldn’t be difficult for Nintendo to incorporate this hypothetical monster compendium. They could simply reuse the ideas used in The Wind Waker and have Link take photographs of enemies, adding an entry into the compendium.  Hell, if he has a companion again, he could leave the photographing/recording to them.  That way, consulting them the way it’s demanded he do in Ocarina of Time and Skyward Sword might actually serve some purpose.

Seriously, Navi’s advice in Ocarina of Time when fighting Stalfos was “Wait for an opening and attack when it’s guard is down!” …no kidding, Navi?  Make yourself useful and record the compendium entry, you obnoxious, winged lightbulb.

And that’s about it.  Hopefully Nintendo decides to at least do something more involved in-game.  I’d love to see a physical book make its way onto the shelves, of course.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed in the meantime…

*THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON Hardore Casual Gamer*

Why Majora’s Mask 3D is Nintendo’s Folly

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Remakes.  Lately, it seems to be the cool thing to do.  And why the hell not?  Judging by the sales numbers of the next-gen versions of The Last of Us andGrand Theft Auto V, as well as the resounding success of Pokemon Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby, people will buy them.  You can say all you want about the negative impact remakes might have on diversity in the industry and any perceived laziness they might suggest about developers, or what these impressive sales numbers say about gamers in general…but that’s a topic for another time.  This article focuses on the merits (or lack thereof) of one remake coming to the 3DS next Spring: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.  Ever since Ocarina of Time was revamped for the 3DS (perhaps even before), fans of the game have been clamoring for Nintendo to give Majora’s Mask similar treatment.  They finally got their wish, as Nintendo announced on November 5th during a Direct that Majora’s Mask would indeed be making its way to the 3DS with a few upgrades.  This caused an explosion on the internet as fans voiced their excitement through a plethora of digital means.  The voice of the fans, apparently, was heard.

It seems that Majora’s Mask will be another sure-fire hit for Nintendo’s unstoppable handheld…

Yeah, not so much.  Let’s look at why not…

Majora’s Mask has Never Sold Well

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Though Majora’s Mask has a strong cult following and is beloved within the Zelda community, it is not a game known for being very accessible or resonating with the casual Zelda fan.  Ocarina of Time is the franchise’s best-selling game, andMajora’s Mask was the first console Zelda to follow in its footsteps.  You’d think that a game riding the coattails of what some call the greatest game of all time would fly inexorably off the shelves and into a record-breaking amount of living rooms.  You’d think.  Majora’s Mask was a critical hit with almost every known publication at the time (save GameShark and GameSpot), but they all had the same thing to say; it’s not as easy to play as Ocarina of Time.  Apparently, this was enough to dissuade the droves of gamers in love with Ocarina of Time, and Majora’s Mask posted subpar sales numbers.  To this day it remains the least-selling console Zelda game (not counting The Wind Waker HD) at 3.36 million.  Those are obviously not bad numbers, but considering Ocarina of Time has sold 7.6 million, 3.36 million is meh-worthy when looking at the franchise.  Even Zelda II: Adventure of Link, a game notorious for being a vast departure from established Zelda convention and falsely perceived to be a bad game, sold more copies than Majora’s Mask.   It is also worth noting that while almost a quarter of N64 owners purchased Ocarina of Time, only about 10% of them purchasedMajora’s Mask.

There’s no excuse you can make for Majora’s Mask not selling well other than “it’s not as accessible as the rest of the franchise.”  Waning interest in the franchise?  Hard to believe when the franchise’s best-selling entry released on the same console only two years prior.  Perhaps one argument you can make is that the N64 was nearing the end of its lifetime and the audience was losing interest in the console as a whole…but then, what about the sales of more recent versions of Majora’s Mask?  Even examining the admittedly sketchy sales estimates of FADE analysts shows that Majora’s Mask remains second fiddle to Ocarina of Time in terms of popularity.  So why the perception that Majora’s Mask is popular?  It’s likely a case of projection and generalization.  Fans of the game are taking their own love for the game and assigning it popularity based on that.  It doesn’t help that many of these fans are editors/writers for prominent Zelda community sites like Zelda Dungeon and Zelda Informer.  Unfortunately for them, saying something is popular does not make it so.  When it comes down to being able to judge a game’s popularity in no uncertain terms, one must look at the sales data.  In the case of Majora’s Mask, the numbers tell us all we really need to know when determining the game’s real place amongst its peers.  Frankly, it’s the IDEA of Majora’s Mask that people like, not the game itself.

 

The Perception that Majora’s Mask 3D has Been in High Demand is False

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There are plenty of reasons to do a remake that make sense both financially and for the sake of fans; high demand, a large market, limited availability, fixing problems that severely impact the enjoyment of a game, limitations of hardware that prevented a game’s full realization,  etc.   Majora’s Mask does not fall into any of these categories.  The game is being made with the singular purpose of satisfying the demands of an incredibly vocal and obnoxious minority.  There is a perception that Majora’s Mask remake has been in high demand.  I suppose you can make that argument, but you’d have to play pretty loose with your definition of “high.”  The fan movement known as “Operation Moonfall” (barf) is responsible for most of the whining within the community to get Majora’s Mask remade.  Since they have a name, they must be pretty prolific, right?  If you call less than 50,000 likes on Facebook and fewer than 6,000 on twitter prolific, sure buddy.  Operation Moonfall started a petition in 2011 to have Majora’s Mask remade, and by the time petitioning had ended, just over 10,000 signatures had been given.  Now, Reggie Fils-Aime has stated that Nintendo does not place much stock in such things when deciding to make/localize/remake/whatever their games, but even if they did…10,000 signatures?  That’s fewer than the amount of people that bought The Wonderful 101.  And believe me, as a Zelda fan that spends a considerable amount of time looking for things Zelda-related, there has been no shortage of advertisement for Operation Moonfall.  The lack of signatures is not due to a lack of exposure.  Rather, it’s due to a lack of motivation or interest.

Its Development is Taking Up Time That Could be Spent Making New Games

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The remake’s development is being handled by Grezzo, the same team that did OoT3D as well as The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition and Flower Garden (Street Plaza game).   Founded in 2006, Grezzo has been used by Nintendo for mostly throw-away purposes thus far.

“We need to release another Zelda game this year…what should we do?”

“Let’s get that one team remake one of the older ones.  We’ll let them do all the hard stuff while we micromanage.”

“Oh, that’s a super idea!”

…yeah.  Grezzo is headed by Koichi Ishii, the man responsible for creating the Mana series of Square/Square Enix RPGs.  Remember Secret of Mana?  Yeah, that guy.  What is this man doing remaking Zelda games?  Nintendo has one of the industry geniuses at its supposed disposal, and he’s being told to up the resolution on re-releases.  Derp.

Additionally, it’s quite obvious that Nintendo is not simply passing the development baton.  They’re overseeing the project with the eye of Sauron.  The Zelda franchise may have become something of a watered-down experience thanks to overexposure, but the franchise is definitely Aonuma and Miyamoto’s baby in the end.  They wouldn’t let Grezzo change anything without asking two or three times.  Why else are Iwata and Aonuma the only one’s publically saying anything about the game?  Recently, Aonuma stated that MM3D has been in development since 2011.  2011, people.  What the bloody hell is taking them so long to remake a game that will be 15 years old next year?  It’s possible that Nintendo deliberately timed MM3D to land between major Zelda releases, in order to propagate the idea of an annualized franchise, which Zelda most certainly is.  Whatever the case, that’s four years Grezzo could have spent coming up with something new and exciting.

Gamers Didn’t Buy Majora’s Mask in 2000, They Won’t Buy it in 2015

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Building off of the notion that Majora’s Mask is not an accessible game, there’s no reason to expect the current generation of gamers to jump on the Majora’s Mask bandwagon.  What’s changed since 2000?  Have gamers gotten smarter/opened their minds to unorthodox experiences?  Have Nintendo gamers realized they were wrong to ignore Majora’s Mask back in the day? I’m not sure how anyone has any grounds to make such an argument.  Consider the grievances most commonly held against MM; a save system limited to certain locations on the map, a three day cycle that requires a reset before the end of the world (causing careless players to lose much of their progress), and little-to-no explanation as to how certain items are obtained.  These all contribute to an overall lack of accessibility, especially from the perspective of the casual Zelda fan or casual gamer in general.  Some of these things may be altered prior to MM3D’s release, but I highly doubt the core mechanic (the three day cycle) will be drastically changed.  Despite its unorthodoxy, it is THE defining characteristic of the game and the backbone of both the gameplay and narrative.  To alter that in order to appeal to a larger audience seems unlikely, and its returning presence will once again scare off casual gamers.

Yes, the game has a very faithful cult following.  But that’s all it is; a niche audience that loudly proclaims their love for the game.  Within the grand scheme of Nintendo gamers, perhaps even specifically 3DS owners, there’s no evidence suggesting Majora’s Mask will have widespread appeal or anything greater than the interest gamers have expressed since 2000.  You have more evidence to argue that FEWER people will buy Majora’s Mask this time around.  Using history for reference and taking into account the current trend in Zelda game sales and the nature of those games (Ocarina of Time 3DS, Skyward Sword and A Link Between Worlds are all very accessible and cater to the core Zelda fan), Majora’s Mask will tank.  Ocarina of Time 3DS sold 3.36 million (coincidentally the same as MM on the N64), Skyward Sword 3.76, and A Link Between Worlds 2.07.  You want to talk about a waning interest in the franchise?  Those numbers are all very middle-of-the-road compared to the rest of the franchise.  Those numbers are especially telling when you consider the install base for both the Wii (when SS released) and the 3DS was/is greater than the N64’s by the time Majora’s Mask released.  If history repeats itself (and I believe it will), Majora’s Mask 3D will struggle to make it beyond 1 million units sold.

 

Majora’s Mask Is Already a Fantastic Game and is Readily Available on Nintendo’s Current-Gen Console

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Beating a dead horse, Majora’s Mask is a strange entry in the Zelda series.  It presents very differently than Ocarina of Time (as a prototypical example) and does not feature the standard “Zelda Formula.”  Rather than featuring a linear level/dungeon format and “save Zelda from Ganon” narrative made standard by A Link to the Past, Majora’s Mask instead delves deeper into thematic storytelling and time management-centered gameplay.  Yes, you’ll inevitably be tasked with conquering dungeons and their bosses in order to obtain important items in traditional Zelda fashion, but you’ll spend just as much time talking to NPCs and unraveling the mystery surrounding the Skull Kid and Termina while searching for the various masks both necessary and nonessential.  This process can quickly become tedious, but for the dedicated gamer, Majora’s Mask offers the deepest narrative experience in the series to date, rivaled only by Link’s Awakening.  The three day cycle may be initially frustrating, but as I mentioned before, it is the backbone of what makes Majora’s Mask so unique and magical.  It presents some incredibly emotional situations as the citizens of Termina ignorantly live out their lives in repeat as Link races to prevent their imminent doom.  Click on the link above to read my review of the game (it should dispel any idea that I don’t like Majora’s Mask).

The save system that everyone complains about is only an inconvenience for people that get pissed off when they have to wait 5 minutes for their microwaveable meals (another reason why MM will not be popular with today’s gamer generation).  The graphics, those glorious, jagged, jerky graphics, work beautifully to create a flawlessly macabre atmosphere.

Blatant subjectivism; the updated graphics in the 3DS version look non-threatening and downright goofy compared to the original N64 graphics.  That creepy, hollow atmosphere present in the original is an essential part of the MM experience, and based on the initial trailer, and Nintendo has already taken steps to tone it down.  Even revamping the save system will take something away from the unique experience that is Majora’s Mask.  The game is so beloved among its followers for the very things Nintendo looks to be changing.

One argument supporters of the game have tried to make is “remaking the game will make it available to a generation of gamers that never got to experience it on the N64.”  That’s asinine, considering Majora’s Mask has been available on EVERY HOME NINTENDO CONSOLE SINCE THE N64.  GameCube: The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition.  Wii: Virtual Console.  Wii U: see Wii. If you have not playedMajora’s Mask in this day and age, your only excuse is “I didn’t buy a N64/GameCube/Wii/Wii U.”  The people that missed out on Majora’s Mask have done so by nobody’s fault other than their own.  For that, I have no sympathy.  If you really wanted to play Majora’s Mask, you didn’t have to wait this long; you CHOSE to.

And lastly…

Majora’s Mask 3D Will Draw/Has Drawn Attention Away from New IPs

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During the Direct, viewer reactions could be read as onlookers typed out their poorly worded/spelled thoughts in the chat box next to the live stream.  The excitement for MM3D completely overtook the space, and the rest of the Direct may as well have been the reveal trailer on repeat.  Can anyone remember what else happened during the Nov. 5th Direct?  Probably not, but it featured extended looks at two new IPs coming exclusively to Nintendo consoles.  Codename S.T.E.A.M. and Splatoon are coming to the 3DS and Wii U respectively next year, but don’t expect the typical Nintendo fan to pay much attention.  Stifling my bile long enough to read through the comment stream during the Nov. 5th Direct revealed what goes on in the mind of Nintendo fan boys*:

“Who gives a sh!t about this game (S.T.E.A.M.)? MM HYPE!”

“OH MAGAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWDD!DEM GWAPHIX THANKS BASED REGGIE!”

“This is dumb (S.T.E.A.M.), show us more Majora! MOAR MAJORA! Why does Nintendo even bother showing us this? SHOW MORE MAJORA erbgnveryhbgjvneilgyhvjszdggulesbtinlbj”

…That’s super.

There’s more I have to say on the subject, but I believe this has already become a bit long.  You get the idea.  Obviously, this is subjective and the opinion of a few individuals who are quite passionate in regards to this subject.  If you read this whole thing…I’m impressed, and you have my sincerest thanks.

*A special shout out to C-Money/I am the liquor  for his brilliant take on the Direct Stream quotes, as well as RezJames, and everyone else that participated in the dialogue that eventually turned into this blog.

Untapped Potential: The Hero of Winds

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*THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT Hardcore Casual Gamer*

It’s been a while, but here we are with only the fourth entry into this series of blogs conceived to dig deeper into the existing narrative lore present in The Legend of Zelda franchise and explore what the future might hold.  In the same way I examined the hypothetical exploits of Child Link from OoT and MM, I’d like to take a look at the Hero of Winds.  For the uninitiated, The Hero of Winds refers to the Link featured in The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass.  The Wind Waker has long been my favorite game in the franchise (indeed, my favorite game period), and the aptly-named Toon Link has been my favorite Link within the franchise.  To me, he perfectly encapsulates the themes of childhood innocence and unadulterated courage overcoming the powers of darkness, which I consider an integral part of the Zelda charm.  As such, I’d like to see Nintendo revisit this Link and show us just what happened to him following the bizarre events of Phantom Hourglass.

My last entry in Untapped Potential was a bit long, so I’ve kept this one a little brief…briefer.

What We Know

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The Hero of Winds begins his adventure as a young boy living a quiet life on Outset Island in the care of his Grandmother.  Link and his sister Aryll appear to live relatively carefree, taking pleasure in spying on mailmen and disturbing their elderly neighbors from time to time.  It isn’t until after Link rescues Tetra atop a forested mountain and witnesses the kidnapping of his sister that he decides to leave the island and take up the mantle of adventurer.  After a series of whimsical events involving a talking boat, flying postmen, tree people, and a visit to the drowned land of Hyrule, Link is declared the Hero of Winds and chosen to wield the Master Sword for the purposes of defeating Ganondorf once and for all.  The Hero of Winds is not directly descended from the Hero of Time (at least, according to The King of Red Lions), and his claim to the Triforce of Courage is a little unclear…was it simply a matter of proving his worth to the Gods, or is he indeed the Hero of Time reborn as Ganondorf claims before their final encounter?  Whatever the case, The Hero of Winds is the first recorded hero within the Adult Timeline, and holds a very important place within the annals of Hyrule’s history.

After Link and Zelda/Tetra defeat Ganondorf at the conclusion of The Wind Waker, they sail off to find a new land reestablish the Kingdom of Hyrule.  Along the way, they are swept up in the events of The Ocean King, in a game-length dream sequence that only takes up ten minutes of Link and Tetra’s real-world time.  After sailing for an undetermined amount of time, they discover a new continent and establish New Hyrule, where the events of Spirit Tracks take place approximately 100 years later.

What We Don’t Know

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Most of what we don’t know regarding The Hero of Winds in between the events of was already touched on in a previous Untapped Potential entry.

  Essentially…we don’t know anything.

After Link and Tetra discover the continent that would become New Hyrule, what exactly happened that led to that establishment?  Did Link and Tetra work together to build a new kingdom?  Did they go their separate ways?  If Link did stick around, what exactly was his role?  If Link left Tetra’s side before/during/after New Hyrule was established, where did he go/what did he do?  As an adventurer, does it make more sense for Link to continue exploring uncharted territory beyond the horizon, or to settle down within the newly established kingdom and live out the rest of his days quietly?  What about Link’s family back on Outset Island?  Has he left them for good, or does he pine for their company while sailing an endless ocean?

Where We Can Go From Here

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Since there’s virtually no official information regarding The Hero of Winds’ exploits after Phantom Hourglass, there’s a plethora of narrative potential waiting to be tapped into.  The Hero of Winds is a proven adventurer and sailor, effectively making him free to go and do whatever he pleases and allowing Nintendo to go and do whatever THEY please.  The answer to all the speculative questions regarding Link in the previous paragraph is “it could happen.”  So, we could hypothesize just about anything and it wouldn’t be outside the realms of possibility, no matter how outrageous.  Link could be the Demon King Malladus, for all we know.

…however, to keep things within the realms of Zelda tradition, I have settled on something not quite so outlandish…

Here’s what I was thinking: As a sailor, I believe it would fall more in line with Link’s character to see him continue sailing the Great Sea, even after he and Tetra discover and establish New Hyrule.  The spirit of adventure takes hold of our young hero, and the sea beckons him to ride the waves of discovery once more.  For the scenario I have in mind, this wanderlust could occur immediately after Link and Tetra find New Hyrule or after the New Hyrule Kingdom had been established.  It makes no difference.  Also, looking at the cast of characters in Spirit Tracks, it appears that only two of the original pirate crew from The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass remained in New Hyrule (Niko and Gonzo).  It’s possible that while those two remained in New Hyrule with Tetra, the rest of the pirates shipped out with Link and became his crew.  I love this idea, and it sets the stage for where I’d like to see Nintendo take Toon Link.

After taking on a crew and getting a bigger ship, Link leaves New Hyrule in order to do nothing as grand as save the world.  Rather, he’d simply be exploring.  Sailing the vast seas and going wherever the hell he wanted to go, visiting islands or plundering enemy ships like any true free-spirited captain would do.  During his travels, Link could be swept up in the plights of indigenous island people, or discover treasures untold from the depths of the Great Sea.  All in the name of…nothing in particular.  If this sounds familiar, it’s because I pretty much just described Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag.  I admit to not really liking Black Flag, or any AC game for that matter, but the times I DID enjoy Black Flag were when I was allowed to explore the world at my leisure.  Ideally, this hypothetical Zelda game would take those elements of freedom and put them unequivocally in the spotlight.  Everything accomplishable in the game would be done through exploring an undiscovered world.

Some people hated the sailing in The Wind Waker.  I loved it.  It was superior to the tedious sailing in Phantom Hourglass and contributed to what I consider the most expansive spirit of adventure seen in a Zelda game.  In the game I have in mind, sailing once again plays a big part in the overall gameplay.  However, a few tweaks and additions here and there would work to improve the very simple mechanic seen in The Wind Waker.  Once again, I call upon Black Flag for reference.  With a larger ship and a crew, players would be tasked with keeping track of ship maintenance, wind direction, tides, etc.  I would hate to see things get TOO complicated, but I would also hate to see the sailing be completely unchanged from The Wind Waker.  This adventure would be bigger than the one featured in The Wind Waker, and as such, the sailing mechanics ought to be more developed and involved.

In my vision, Link would not be restricted from visiting any of the islands included in this hypothetical game.  He and his crew could stop wherever they wished, restocking supplies and interacting with the locals in whatever capacity they wished.  Some islands would be teeming with life and activity with a plethora of side-quests and mini-games for Link to engage in.  Other items might be completely devoid of life and activity, serving no purpose…at least, at first.  In the The Wind Waker, there was a side-quest involving Traveling Merchants that required Link to trade items between four purveyors of rare items, essentially acting as a currier.  In my hypothetical game, Link would once again employ his business savvy by negotiating trade deals with merchants, perhaps in the same manner as was seen in The Wind Waker.  Completing trade deals would afford Link better deals at shops, or perhaps access to Black Market items.  Those uninhabited islands I mentioned?  Perhaps after discovering and laying claim to them, Link could rent them out to various businessmen attempting to expand their businesses.

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Classic Zelda elements could exist in this capacity, as some islands might be home to traditional Zelda dungeons to be plundered and bosses to be crushed.  By doing this, Link could obtain items to upgrade his ship or outfit his crew with better equipment.  Hell, there could even be a core story present throughout all this.  However, the most important thing I’d like to see present in this hypothetical game is the pure spirit of autonomous adventure.  The Hero of Winds should be seen as the embodiment of such a thing.

The best thing about this hypothetical game is that the possibilities are completely open-ended.  The Hero of Winds does not appear in Spirit Tracks, so we aren’t tethered by time or place requirements with regards to Toon Link himself.  He could sail off the edge of the world and it wouldn’t be breaking any canon laws within the currently established lore.  There are tons of races within the Zelda franchise, and they could all be given their own islands within this hypothetical game.  Nintendo could even introduce new races to the mix.

Of all the Untapped Potentials I’ve done so far, I would have to say the ideas presented in this entry are the most plausible in terms of ever becoming a game.  I speculated after last E3 that Zelda U (still hate calling it that) might be another sequel to The Wind Waker, partially thanks to Link’s blue duds and Nintendo’s decision to use a brighter color palette again.  Time will tell, but I would be thrilled to see the franchise focus on The Hero of Winds again…

Untapped Potential: The Reincarnated King of Evil

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*THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT Hardcore Casual Gamer*

In the Legend of Zelda series, there are only a few bad games.  Perhaps the worst of those bad games is Four Swords Adventures.  Overreliance on one gimmick, a terrible hamstringing multiplayer component, and a recycled story that does nothing to differentiate itself from the rest of the franchise, Four Swords Adventures showed us that Nintendo is not above producing crappy Zelda games simply to cash in on the franchise’s popularity and force a terrible hardware gimmick on people.  Not a shining moment in the history of The Legend of Zelda.  However, there were some narrative elements present that have some potential to make a full-fledged Zelda game, some that could redeem the snooze-fest that is Four Swords.  The origins of the Elemental Maidens, the fate of Vaati, and the origin of the Dark Mirror are all interesting elements worthy of expansion.  The most interesting untapped elements of Four Swords Adventures for me, though, are the unseen exploits of Hyrule’s greatest villain… Ganondorf, the King of Evil.

What We Know

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The narrative of Four Swords Adventures takes place in the Shadow Era, on the same timeline as Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess, and is the last canonical entry to be told therein (so far).  Ganondorf plays the role of main antagonist along with Vaati, and his rise to power in the Shadow Era is chronicled during the later portion of the narrative; the young Gerudo started his life of leadership without the malicious intent seen in previous games, and acted as a protective figurehead instead of a power-hungry despot.  However, as the years passed, his heart grew more and more twisted with evil intent.  Ganondorf’s increasingly wicked behavior resulted in his unceremonious banishment from the Gerudo tribe, and the King of Evil struck out on his own.  He defied the laws of his tribe by entering an ancient pyramid and obtaining an evil Trident, which grants him an incredible amount of power.  Following his acquisition of the Trident, Ganondorf proceeds to steal the Dark Mirror (not to be confused with the Mirror of Twilight), spawn several Dark Link demons, possess the recently resurrected Vaati , enslave the Knights of Hyrule, and spread darkness over the land.  Once Link and Zelda come face to face with Ganondorf during the game’s conclusion, he has transformed into Ganon.  After being defeated, Ganon laments that the power he’d obtained was not sufficient to be the true King of Evil (likely referring to the fact that despite his great strength and tools of evil at his disposal, he never obtained anything rivaling the power of the Triforce, which is absent in Four Swords Adventures).  And once again, Ganon is sealed.  The dude gets sealed A LOT.

The Gerudo tribe looks relatively unchanged from previous games with one exception; they haven’t isolated themselves from the rest of Hyrule and are not a band of thieves (at least not by name).  The events surrounding Ganondorf’s banishment occurred before the events of Four Swords Adventures, and as such, it might be safe to assume that the apparent prosperity of the Gerudo Tribe was in place while Ganondorf was still their leader.  Of course, this prosperity could be the result of Ganondorf’s banishment as well.  However, since nobody in the Gerudo village mentions anything about a strained relationship with the rest of Hyrule (or even a checkered past), my inclination is to assume that Ganondorf once ruled the Gerudo with some semblance of functionality.

Another very important fact to keep in mind; the Ganondorf in Four Swords Adventures is NOT the Ganondorf seen in Ocarina of Time (who is indeed the same individual seen in every game during the Era of Light and Dark/Era of Decline, Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess, and The Wind Waker).  This is the ONLY TIME a different incarnation of Ganondorf has appeared on the current Zelda timeline, apart from Ganondorf’s progenitor Demise in Skyward Sword.  This is significant in that FSA’s Ganondorf has no malice towards the land of Hyrule or Link/Zelda that stems from past conflicts.  Instead, the creeping darkness that overtakes the Gerudo’s heart is purely a result of Demise’s curse, which bleeds into every one of his reincarnations and plants the seeds of blind hatred.  Even if Ganondorf had no reason to hate Link and Zelda, Demise’s curse dooms him to ultimately seek out and destroy the two Hylians while spreading evil across the land…

…OR DOES IT?!

What We Don’t Know

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While we can assume its Demise’s curse that’s responsible for the downward spiral of evil experienced by Ganondorf in FSA, we don’t know what life was like for him and the Gerudo leading up to his banishment.  We do know that Ganondorf’s banishment took place before the events of FSA, we don’t know HOW long exactly.  If Ganondorf was once a leader and protector to his people, how evil could he have been?  Is Ganondorf truly predisposed to evil behavior?  Does the curse take hold immediately following his birth, or is it a slow-burning fire that grows increasingly stronger as the years go by?  And just what did Ganondorf do to warrant banishment from the tribe that looked to him for leadership/protection?  Was it an amalgamation of several wicked deeds, or one very large, very evil event that sent him exiled into the desert?

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Speaking of his birth, what was Ganondorf’s childhood like?  How did the Gerudo train the young desert-dweller to rule and protect their tribe?  What is Ganondorf’s true role as protector of the tribe? Is he a diplomat to the rest of the tribes in Hyrule?  Is he a hunter/gatherer? Scholar? Purely a physical guardian?  It’s all speculation, but it seems reasonable to assume that Ganondorf was at least being groomed to function as the Ganondorf of Ocarina of Time did; a leader of his tribe that journeyed to Hyrule Castle in order to discuss loyalties as well as a powerful guardian.  However, if this were the case, it seems odd that Ganondorf’s involvement in the insidious happenings of FSA comes as a shock to Link and Zelda.  If Zelda/Hyrule Kingdom had any genuine and prolonged interactions with Ganondorf/the Gerudo prior to his banishment, why weren’t they made aware of his misdeeds earlier and told to seek him out accordingly from the get-go?  This could be because Zelda and company were too busy dealing with Vaati and the Shadow Links to make the connection on their own, or perhaps the Gerudo were too ashamed to admit what Ganondorf had done (or had deluded themselves into thinking he’d died in the desert following his excommunication).  Whatever the case, it seems that despite the level of peace and cooperation that exists between the Gerudo and the rest of Hyrule Kingdom, that state of affairs is only kept alive by the bare minimum amount of interaction.  That’s the only way one can explain Ganondorf’s absence from the narrative during character interactions leading up to his reveal late in the game; everyone has forgotten about him, or nobody cared in the first place.

Where We Can Go From Here

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Though Four Swords Adventures on the whole is a horrible waste of potential, the potential is there nonetheless and should be exploited.  Nintendo has the chance to weave a narrative that is told through the eyes of the greatest villain in the company’s long history.  Through the unseen machinations of Ganondorf, we have the makings of a very unique and compelling Zelda experience, and an opportunity to take a closer look into the mind of the King of Evil.  Since we don’t know exactly how long before FSA Ganondorf’s banishment occurred, we can take any liberty and build a narrative that potentially stretches all the way back to the events of Twilight Princess.  For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to examine a somewhat brief moment in time that assumes Ganondorf’s banishment occurred only a few years prior to the events of FSA.

This hypothetical narrative would begin during Ganondorf’s childhood years, when the young Gerudo was training to take over leadership of the desert tribe.  This would function like the tutorial levels seen in most Zelda games, allowing players to familiarize themselves with the controls and whatnot.  This would of course involve the various tests Ganondorf was expected to overcome during his training.  Those tests might include feats of physical ability, magical prowess, and perhaps even diplomatic persuasion.  Through this, we’d be given access to Ganondorf’s full capability as a leader, with his success hinging upon his mastery of all the aforementioned skills.

Once Ganondorf had overcome his challenges and proven himself worthy of leading the Gerudo, he would be expected to assume the duties assigned to the tribe’s figurehead.  Those duties could include traveling to the various other tribes of Hyrule to talk trade and alliance, as well as fending off the aggressive advances of deadly critters and overzealous bandits.  Additionally, we know that Ganondorf is not above plundering treasure (as evidenced by his invasion of the Ancient Pyramid to retrieve the Trident), much like Link in just about every Zelda game.  As such, Ganondorf might seek to increase the fortunes of his humble tribe by looting ancient caverns and abandoned ruins.  This is also a good place in the narrative to introduce some other events/narrative elements.  Perhaps in the absence of great calamity, other despots have risen to try and conquer the lands of Hyrule.  Ganondorf would have the opportunity to lead his people into battle against these villains, proving himself a skilled warrior and leader.

Now the big event; Ganondorf’s banishment.  There are at least two options here:

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One, we see Ganondorf become increasingly erratic in his decisions, plundering peaceful towns or punishing his people for supposed wrong-doings with an overabundance of zeal and cruelty.  Because of his un-leader-like behavior, the Gerudo council (or whatever they have) elects to banish Ganondorf before he can tarnish the Gerudo name further in the eyes of the rest of Hyrule.  This would be done in secret, within the confines of the desert land the Gerudo inhabit (this would help to explain why nobody seems to know/care what happens to the Gerudo King during FSA).  Having grown completely self-absorbed, malevolent, and power hungry, Ganondorf storms off into the desert following his excommunication.  He scours the desert with single-minded intent, attempting to locate the Ancient Pyramid and retrieve the Trident in open disobedience of his tribe’s laws, so that he might gain the strength to take back the authority he once wielded and reach for even greater seats of supremacy.

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Two: Ganondorf rules over the Gerudo with a benevolent sense of protection and duty, leading the desert tribe into a time of prosperity.  His people live well, have a working relationship with the rest of Hyrule, and things seem to be lookin’ up for the traditionally evil King of the Gerudo.  However, something snaps in Ganondorf’s head one day, and we see the real King of Evil emerge briefly beneath the layers of control and munificence.  This event would have to small enough to be kept under wraps (again explaining why nobody talks about Ganondorf in FSA), but big enough to warrant Ganondorf’s banishment.  Perhaps instead of simply defeating an enemy tribe and looting the spoils, Ganondorf erases them utterly out of existence in brutal fashion, burning their town and killing every man, woman, and child attempting to flee.  Perhaps Ganondorf kills one of his own tribesman, a close friend or important member of Gerudo politics in a flash of violent rage.  In this scenario, we might see Ganondorf express regret for what he has done, and perhaps even willingly accept his banishment for fear of any further abuse to his tribe.  Wandering the desert, Ganondorf may initially be seeking the Ancient Pyramid in order to bring back riches and glory to his people in an attempt to make amends.  It’s only until the evil power of the Trident takes hold of him that Ganondorf becomes truly evil and begins his conquest of the realm.

The hypothetical narrative I’ve proposed would continue into the events of FSA and conclude with the sealing of Ganon.  This would allow players the opportunity to see and experience what the King of Evil was up to behind the scenes.  Players would seek out the Dark Mirror in order to create the Dark Link demons, release Vaati (and proceed to enslave him), defeat and enslave the Knights of Hyrule, and eventually combat Zelda and Link in the grand finale.  Maybe, in an interesting twist, Nintendo might allow players to change history and defeat the two Heroes of Light, ushering in a new Era of Decline.

No matter what direction the narrative goes, the warping psychology of Ganondorf would be the highlight.  We’d see a young man struggling not only to live up to his tribes expectations of leadership, but also the ever-present desire to seek out and destroy all that is good in the world thanks to the curse of Demise.  No matter how kind-hearted and selfless Ganondorf may have started out, the curse of Demise constantly gnaws and him and bids him give in to the malevolence festering in his soul.  An interesting way to go about this would be to give players choices throughout the narrative that focus on moral decision.  In the event that players choose the path of benevolence, Ganondorf’s mind would become increasingly unstable, as those actions would contradict his destiny.  This could be presented in a manner befitting someone with schizophrenia, as Ganondorf becomes subject to wicked and intrusive voices demanding he accept his fate.  This instability would inevitably leak into Ganondorf’s behavior, causing him to appear dangerous and unpredictable in the eyes of his tribesman.  In the case that players choose to resort to violence and cruelty to advance the narrative, Ganondorf would be allowed to carry on unfettered by the demands of his soul, as those actions would fall in line with someone destined to be called the King of Evil.

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As far as the gameplay is concerned, this is another case where traditional Zelda mechanics might be best.  Taking control of Ganondorf shouldn’t be much different than moving Link around Hyrule.  Hell, Ganondorf even rides a horse, just like our little blonde buddy.  There are also plenty of opportunities for Ganondorf to go traipsing about ruins throughout the proposed narrative AND the existing narrative present in FSA.  Not only could players raid tombs/ruins prior to Ganondorf’s banishment, they’d be able to experience first-hand how the King of Evil obtained the Dark Mirrior and enslaved Vaati and the Knights of Hyrule to his will.  All three of those events could be presented in traditional ‘Zelda Temple’ fashion, and they’d fit nicely into the narrative.  However, simply obtaining items and skills seems to be a bit of a disservice to one of Ganondorf’s power, who has traditionally asserted his authority not through the use of gadgets and tricks, but with overwhelming power.  With this in mind, it might be prudent to introduce a leveling-up system that focuses on Ganondorf’s various physical/mental/magical traits.  As such, this hypothetical game might play more like a Fable game than a traditional Zelda title.  During Ganondorf’s training years, players would work to master feats that test dexterity and strength, traits that would level up accordingly.  Additionally, since Ganondorf IS a wizard, players would obtain/level-up/master various magic powers.  Once Ganondorf had grown up, it might also be interesting to see a ‘mental capacity’ meter of sorts, one that dictates how well Ganondorf can deal with his growing need for destruction and evil.

This untapped potential is perhaps the most unlikely of all my ideas to ever see the light of day.  Not only does it take players out of Link’s shoes, it would force Nintendo to try and explain events that have only been glossed over (much like the Imprisoning War).  It is a nice dream, however.  I’ve always loved Ganondorf’s character, and I believe many in the Zelda community would welcome an opportunity to learn more about the man, the myth, the legend…

Untapped Potential: New Hyrule

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THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT Hardcore Casual Gamer*

This entry of Untapped Potential will examine the time between Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, when Link and Tetra’s crew of pirates sailed the endless seas of the Adult timeline in search of a new land to colonize.  Though we see an established kingdom in Spirit Tracks, we never see the Link and Tetra from The Wind Waker/Phantom Hourglass actually arrive at this new land.  With no solid specifics of what happened in the decades that separate the two entries in the series, there is a boundless amount of narrative and gameplay potential waiting to be explored.  For Zelda fans eager for the series to return to its roots in exploration and a less intrusive narrative, this gap in the timeline is the perfect place to delve into that very important aspect of The Legend of Zelda.

 

What We Know

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According to Hyrule Historia, Link and Tetra arrived at the continent that would become New Hyrule to find that the Spirit Tower had already been erected, with the Spirit Tracks spiraling outward to cover the landscape.  We learn that in the distant past, this land was beset by the destructive onslaught of the Demon King Malladus.  The Lokomo, a group of Sages sent from the heavens, managed to seal the Demon King inside the Spirit Tower and the Spirit Tracks were put in place to keep that seal in place, drawing power from the four temples scattered across the land.  This seal remains in place right up until the events of Spirit Tracks, when the treacherous Chancellor Cole begins unraveling the barriers and unleashes the Demon King once again.

It is in this track-laden land that Tetra develops New Hyrule, building a new Hyrule Castle next to the Tower of Spirits and establishes the newest royal bloodline that endures into the events of Spirit Tracks 100 years later.  The established areas of New Hyrule are mostly landlocked, barring the ruins of the Ocean Temple beneath the sea, and are themed in standard Zelda fashion (Forest, Fire, Desert, Ice/Snow).  Within those realms are various villages and temples populated by principally humanoid tribes in addition to the Goron and Anouki tribes.

untitled2Most of the cast of The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass have passed on, leaving Niko the pirate as the only living reminder of the those series of events.  Everyone else is a distant relative, with Princess Zelda being the great-great-grandchild of The Wind Waker/Phantom Hourglass’ Tetra and Link apparently having no relation whatsoever to previous games’ Link.  The Lokomo tribe has been present since the first sealing of Malladus long before Link and Tetra arrived on the continent and linger to maintain the seal on the Demon King.  Following the events of Spirit Tracks, the Lokomo tribe returns to the heavens, having apparently fulfilled their purpose.

 

What We Don’t Know

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Though the origin of the Lokomo and Malladus is touched on during Spirit Tracks’ intro, the exact events are a mystery.  Where did Malladus come from?  Exactly how long ago did the initial sealing take place?  Are the Lokomo connected to the other divine races from the Legend of Zelda Universe (Oocca, guardian fairies/spirits, etc)?  Why is it safe for them to leave New Hyrule following the second sealing of Malladus?  Mysterious stuff…

When Link and Tetra’s crew first arrive on the shores of what becomes New Hyrule, how much of the landscape is already populated?  It’s not unreasonable to believe that the towns and populations that we see in Spirit Tracks are already well established prior to Link and Tetra’s entrance and subsequent settlement.  It’s also a possibility that the only locales present upon their arrival are the temples put into place to maintain the seal on Malladus.  The towns of Adoba, Whittleton, and Papuchia (and obviously Castle Town) may have not existed until Tetra’s lineage spread out over the landscape throughout the course of the 100 years between Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks.  If this was the case, the land would most likely have been undeveloped and required the working hands of an expanding population.   Although, this gives rise to another problem; how was the population increased when Tetra is the only female present amongst her crew?  Were there other indigenous humanoid tribes present aside from the Lokomo?  If so, were they thriving, or was it the introduction of the pirate crew that allowed them to thrive?  This would also explain why the majority of the towns in Spirit Tracks are occupied by humanoid residents, as opposed to the varying races seen in other Zelda titles.  Since the Anouki and Goron tribes are shown to exist in The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, it’s likely they did indeed inhabit the land prior to the arrival of Link and Tetra.

untitled3Though it’s stated that the royal line was continued through Tetra, we don’t know WHO helped out with that.  Of course, the first conclusion many would jump to is that Link is the obvious candidate for that role, but given the historically platonic relationship Link and Zelda have had throughout the series, I’m disinclined to conclude that myself.  Also, if the Link of Phantom Hourglass had a hand (er, other appendage) in continuing the royal bloodline, it is likely Hyrule Historia would at least hint at such a scenario.  This unknown information is probably a bit to fan-fiction-y to delve into depth for my personal tastes, but it is something to ponder.  Who is Spirit Tracks Zelda’s great-great-grandfather?

Speaking of Link, what happened to him?  What was his role in helping Tetra establish New Hyrule?  Did he remain in the newly established Hyrule Kingdom?  Did he perhaps decide to return home after helping Tetra set up New Hyrule?

 

Where We Can Go From Here

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With 100 years of unused time, we have a TON of potential for both narrative and gameplay material waiting to be exploited.  On the narrative side of things, we have an entire cast of established characters that have an unknown continent to explore.  We know that Link, Tetra, and the pirate crew eventually establish New Hyrule, but HOW the new kingdom was established is unknown.  As such, there are at least two interesting possibilities that come to mind;

One, Tetra and her crew find the continent mostly undeveloped, and go about setting up locales across the landscape unencumbered.  In this scenario, we might see Tetra establishing small hovels that eventually turn into the villages of Adoba, Whittleton, and Papuchia.  For each of these towns, Tetra might leave one of her pirate crew members in charge, acting as a mayor of sorts to oversee the expansion of each respective locale.  In this, we would see the landscape change from mostly unoccupied space into thriving human ecosystems over the course of the narrative.  During this time, Tetra would likely be opening dialogue with the indigenous Lokomo sages and the Anouki/Goron tribes in order to establish a new Hyrule Kingdom and build a new castle next to the Spirit Tower.   This would involve a level of negotiation, most likely, as Tetra would need to convince the indigenous peoples that they’d benefit in some way from this new Kingdom’s establishment.  Tetra and her crew would need to find ways of increasing the level of comfort and stability for both the Gorons and Anouki, as well as justify their enterprise to the Lokomo.  In this, we would see a more intricate plot being presented than we’ve come to expect from the Zelda franchise, with a greater focus on the complex mechanisms of politics and economics forming the backbone of the narrative experience.

Two, it turns out that the continent Tetra and her crew eventually turn into New Hyrule is already inhabited by several indigenous tribes.   Perhaps the Anouki and the Gorons, relegated to two areas of the map in Spirit Tracks, originally held dominion over a far greater area.  It’s even possible that other tribes seen in the Zelda series once had established provinces before the events of Spirit Tracks.  In this case, we might see an even more involved diplomatic process take over the narrative, as Tetra travels the landscape to discuss her plans for a new kingdom with the existing villages and tribes…

…OR…

 untitled5We might see the menacing pirate side of Tetra emerge in full force, as she systematically brings about the subjugation of the existing population by means of brute force.  Starting in one corner of the map, Tetra and her crew might decide that instead of being ambassadorial (let’s face it; Tetra’s crew isn’t exactly an intellectual group of diplomats), she’d engage in a brutal conquest of the nation, slowly building an army of loyal followers and forcibly supplanting herself as the ruler of the new nation.  This would also lend itself to ongoing conflict as neighboring provinces attempted to resist Tetra’s march across the landscape, or towns/villages attempted to rebel against the oppressive regime.   This might seem out of character for the Zelda Universe, and certainly for little Miss Tetra, but remember that Tetra was a PIRATE captain before it was revealed that she was Princess Zelda.  Also, we know that Nintendo is not above giving Hyrule patches of unsavory history, as was hinted in Ocarina of Time when Link tackled the Shadow Temple.  Not only would this provide a stark contrast to the generally squeaky clean image we normally see in Hyrule’s royal family, it would show that Nintendo is not afraid to take risks with the series’ narrative.  We would also get to see a more sinister side to a traditionally benevolent character in the series (perhaps in two of the series’ characters, if Link joins Tetra in her conquest).

An interesting prospect to consider when examining these two scenarios is the idea of being able to choose between the peaceful or violent paths, or a grey area in between.  In this, we could see more interesting psychological interplay between the core cast of characters; perhaps Tetra’s band of pirates push to have Tetra steamroll through New Hyrule, pillaging towns and suppressing denizens, while Link urges her to pursue the more peaceful path with benevolence and diplomacy.

Each of the above scenarios is flexible in that they could potentially take place over the course of the entire 100 years between Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, or a smaller period of time that would allow for other major events to take place within those 100 years.  Perhaps New Hyrule was established in a few brief decades, and peace reigned in the Kingdom until the events of Spirit Tracks.  Or, in a more interesting direction, New Hyrule was beset by a great famine or demon invasion following its establishment.  Hell, the map we see in Spirit Tracks might be completely different from the empire Tetra established early on.  It’s almost completely open-ended in that respect, when you consider that a plethora of significant events can take place in the span of 100 years.

As for Link…the possibilities are SO open-ended, whatever narrative scenario you could think of is a possibility.  Since The Wind Waker/Phantom Hourglass’ Link doesn’t appear to have any significant impact on the events of Spirit Tracks (outside of inspiring the color scheme of Hyrule’s knights), he could be out doing anything.  This massive amount of potential leads me to conclude that another blog entry is required to fully explore the exciting possibilities such open-endedness could afford…so, yeah, stay tuned for that.

350px-Knights1In the event that Tetra’s colonization endeavors between Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks became a full-fledged game, it seems somewhat unreasonable to expect traditional Zelda gameplay to capture the scope of such a concept.  3rdperson action-adventure wouldn’t lend itself to managing the large scale I had in mind.  Instead, this period of time in Zelda history ought to be approached using the grand scale mechanics seen in games like Sid Meier’s Civilization or the Total War franchise (similar to what I suggested for the Imprisoning War).  This would not only allow for a grander scope, it would allow Nintendo to tell a story that doesn’t focus on Link or any singular character in particular.  In the beginning of the game, players would have a blank map to fill in, which would either fill itself out as the players explore/discover more of the continent.  Players would take control of Tetra’s small band of pirates and Link as they arrived on the continent, scout about the landscape in search of resources, build a small base of operations, and work towards expanding New Hyrule in each direction until the map resembled what we see in Spirit Tracks.  This could be accomplished with ease in either the peaceful, diplomatic approach described in my first scenario, or the more violent approach of the second 350px-PZelda3Ironscenario.  In the case of the former, battle would be less-prevalent, as players would spend most of their time gathering resources and increasing the population.
Combat scenarios would be relegated to fending off aggressive packs of ferocious creatures or hostile groups of bandits/unfriendly tribes.  In the latter scenario previously described, warfare would be the primary gameplay focus as players concentrated on constructing an army capable of subjugating their future Kingdom and building a sprawling empire.

Another gameplay mechanic that I’d like to see used in this hypothetical game would be the Spot Pass feature seen in the recent 3DS RPG Bravely Default.  In that game, players could increase the population of their ruined home village by either downloading uploaded player data or by passing them using Street Pass.  With an increased population, restoration of the city sped up and players were rewarded with more shops and better items.  I found this mechanic to be an ingenious inclusion in Bravely Default, and I would like to see it implemented in other games.  It would be perfect for this theoretical Zelda game, where towns/areas on the map continue to manage themselves in the player’s absence.

This is getting pretty long, so I’ll stop here.  You get the idea.  As I mentioned earlier, the span of 100 years is in itself a goldmine of gaming potential.  It’s almost overwhelming, really, and the ideas detailed in this blog are just a few among countless I’ve pondered, and no doubt an even greater amount that never crossed my mind.  I’ve no doubt those of you reading this have come up with some ideas of your own.

Props to Zolaida for that badass Zelda picture, which I added a filter to.

Untapped Potential: Child Link

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    *THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT Hardcore Casual Gamer*

For the first entry in this series, I decided to start with the topic I’m most interested in.  All this talk of Majora’s Mask recently has turned my thoughts toward private inquiries that have materialized in several online comments and discussions.  Following Ocarina of Time in the Child Timeline, we see our hero traveling about in seemingly aimless fashion in search of Navi, only to get wrapped up in the plight of a doomed land in a parallel reality beset by the machinations of a trouble-maker possessed by the spirit of a malevolent entity.  After traveling back in times countless times and disposing of Majora, Link makes his way beyond the outskirts of Termina, rides into the sunset, and then…what?   Between Majora’s Mask and the next canonical entry, Twilight Princess, there are hundreds of years that pass in which some events are mentioned, but never featured in a Zelda game (notably, the capture and banishment of Ganondorf).  In those hundreds of years between Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess, Link’s exploits after the events of Majora’s Mask are unclear and oft debated in the community.  This entry will examine the possible exploits of Link leading up to his eventual death, after the events of Majora’s Mask and before the events of Twilight Princess.

What We Know

In the English translation of Hyrule Historia, it has been confirmed that the Hero’s Shade that teaches Twilight Princess’s Link his sword techniques is indeed the Hero of Time, existing as a lingering spirit.  In the Japanese edition of Hyrule Historia, however, this confirmation does not exist.  For the purposes of this entry, I will assume the former, and accept that the Hero’s Shade is the Hero of Time.  With this in mind, we know that following his exploits in Majora’s Mask, Link did indeed linger on and somewhere along the way met his end (assuming Link is subject to the painful realities of mortality).  We also know, based on the dialogue featured in Twilight Princess and the information in Hyrule Historia, that Link died carrying heavy regrets revolving around the Era he lives in not being able to recognize his accomplishments as a hero.

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When Link returned to the Child Era after defeating Ganon in Ocarina of Time, his heroic deeds were merely a tale told by a young boy, taken at face value by a similarly young Princess Zelda.  Though he and Zelda were able to convince the King of Hyrule that Ganondorf was indeed a threat against the peace and prevented the King of Thieves from ever entering the sacred realm, Link’s legacy as a time-traveling Hero who essentially saved the world was a mere fairy tale in an Era where none of his adventures ever took place.  Without that reputation, Link was just another kid in the eyes of the rest of Hyrule.  With this being the case, Link decides to leave Hyrule in search of his fairy companion, Navi, who apparently suffers some kind of dissociative fugue after returning to the Child Era with Link.  Then, of course, the events of Majora’s Mask occur in which Link stumbles into a parallel dimension and saves that realm from a bad case of heavenly bodies colliding.   Link rides Epona into the sunset and then…

What We Don’t Know

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The first thing to keep in mind is that it’s never made clear whether or not Link is able to leave the realm in which Termina exists.  Hyrule Historia makes it clear that Termina is a parallel world, and that Link’s whereabouts following his departure from Clock Town are unknown (a direct quote from Hyrule Historia: “The Hero took his leave of Termina, and his whereabouts after that are unknown”).

While this could be taken to mean that Link somehow did leave the parallel realm and return to the land of Hyrule, it’s a bit of an assumption.  One piece of evidence that exists to support the idea that Link returned to his own realm is the fact that the Hero’s Shade exists in the Hyrule Kingdom featured in Twilight Princess.  Of course, matters of spiritual beings and parallel dimensions don’t really follow the laws of reality or logic, so we can safely assume just about anything in this case.  I like to think that Link did manage to return to Hyrule, through the same means he found himself in Termina in the first place.

Did Link ever find Navi?  His main reason for leaving Hyrule was to reunite with his fairy companion (the other reason being Zelda enlisting Link to safeguard the Ocarina of Time and get as far away from Hyrule/Ganondorf as possible), and it stands to reason that at least some of his time spent after the events of Majora’s Mask was spent in search mode.  How would Link even go about finding Navi?  It would make sense to ask the Great Deku Tree, whom Navi had a close relationship with, but unfortunately the Guardian of The Forest is suffering from a bad case of petrification.  Link can no longer return to the Adult Timeline using his old methods, having left the Master Sword in the Temple of Time to safeguard the Sacred Realm, so asking anybody from that era is ruled out.  Whatever Link’s methods in his search, finding Navi or not remains an integral part of his journey after Majora’s Mask.

Once Link finds Navi, or abandons his search should it prove fruitless, what then?

Though we know Link died somewhere in between Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess, the circumstances of his death are a mystery.  Was his passing away untimely, or did he simply fade slowly into death as time marched on?  We can assume that he died without having accomplished anything comparable to his exploits in Ocarina of Time, or he would not have died with the regrets he carries as the Hero’s Shade.  Had he become a hero once more, the realms would no doubt recognize his accomplishments and honor him in ways befitting a savior of the realm (this is evident in the Adult Timeline, where Link’s heroic legacy as the Hero of Time is honored and passed down through the ages).

Where Can We Go From Here?

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The narrative direction I have in mind centers on Link searching for Navi by scouring the realms searching for clues hinting at her whereabouts.  This would involve Link riding from town to town, dungeon to dungeon, talking to NPCs, poring through documents, and beating information out of enemies/unsavory characters.  This would lead to Link either finding Navi, or discovering that she has indeed disappeared for good.  Depending on the outcome of his search, the rest of the tale told would feature a Link reinvigorated and ambitious at having reunited with his old friend, or melancholy and pensive at having to cope with the loss of a valuable friend and attempt to move on.  Upon finding/not finding Navi, Link would then have to find a way to occupy the rest of his days…

According to Hyrule Historia, the capture and execution of Ganondorf (seen as a flashback in Twilight Princess) takes place after the events of Majora’s Mask, though it’s not clear exactly HOW long.  Could Link have assisted in the capture of the Demon Thief?  It’s certainly possible, as Link knows firsthand the grave threat Ganondorf poses to Hyrule.  In this arc of the tale, Link would pursue Ganondorf as he fled from capture, chasing him through the various landscapes of Hyrule while cutting down his minions and eventually coming face to face with the Demon Thief in an encounter that resulted in the successful detainment of the notorious villain.  Twilight Princess tells us that after Ganondorf caught wind of the King’s decision to have him imprisoned, Ganondorf let his true colors show as he fled, tearing across the land and laying waste to all those in his path.  As Link pursued the villain, he would be subject to the aftermath of Ganondorf’s rampage, watching as towns burned and citizens cried out for abetment.  This would play out in a manner similar to Link’s search for Navi, as he made his way through the realm in search of Ganondorf, perhaps obtaining information/items essential to the arrest of the Demon Thief.  Now, it would be one thing to have Link perish during this encounter (which might explain why he wasn’t present for Ganondorf’s execution), but that would also lend itself to Link being remembered as the brave hero that gave his life in order to bring Ganondorf to justice.   However, I envision something a little different…

Once Ganondorf had been brought to justice, Link would have to find another way of keeping himself busy.  One might argue that Link retired quietly and lived the rest of his days in peace, but that wouldn’t be a very fun game, would it?  Instead, I see Link employing his impressive skill-set in a life of adventuring and mercenary, acting as a sort of hero-for-hire.  He’s obtained an absurd amount of weapons and items throughout his lifetime at this point, so why not put them to good use?  In this, we would take control of Link as he wandered the land of Hyrule in search of quests, perhaps plundering ruins as he has done countless times before, without the ‘I gotta do this to save the world’ connotation.  Additionally, Link might find himself in a position to bring ne’er-do-wells to justice for rewards and riches.  Through this scenario, we’d see Link grow from a young man into a hardened adult, a warrior/adventurer of unparalleled caliber.

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Despite this measure of success, in keeping with canon, we have to assume that Link adventures in a manner that isolates him from the rest of Hyrule.  The Hero’s Shade makes it clear that Link believes his legacy was lost following his death, as he passes along his sword-fighting skills to the Link of Twilight Princess.  Some have suggested that after Majora’s Mask, Link joined Hyrule’s military forces.  I don’t believe this fits well into the canon, as that would afford Link countless opportunities to teach other warriors his sword skills (though one could argue that nobody in Hyrule’s army could master Link’s skill-set, despite his best efforts, I am disinclined to believe that).  Instead, I see Link continuing to traipse about the land in search of adventure, reaching old age without taking on a prodigy or recording his knowledge, perhaps out of negligence or even indifference.  By the time Link realizes that he will have no lasting legacy, he may have journeyed too far away from those he knew in order to return, or has alienated the realm in a way that causes them to treat him with disdain or grudging respect instead of honor and admiration.  Link then passes on into the spirit realm without having left a real mark on the world as he had done in alternate timelines and dimensions he left behind…sniff

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The most fascinating prospect when looking at Child Link’s legacy following Majora’s Mask for me is the psychological changes that might occur in our young hero as he journeys to his inevitable demise.  In addition to the implications of Link finding Navi or not (see above), imagine the impact of living in a world where no one knows you literally saved the world from slipping into darkness, or chooses not to acknowledge that based on lack of evidence or apathy.  Though Link is noted for his heroism and courage, it’s not outside the realms of possibility that this current state of affairs would embitter the young Hylian, effectively placing a chip on his shoulder and adding an edge to a character we could have called a Boy Scout in Ocarina of Time (or even Majora’s Mask).  On the flip-side, it’s also easy to imagine Link carrying on with his head held high, ever the steadfast hero with nothing but honor and nobility to straighten his spine and carry his feet forward.  As Link grows into an adult and eventually an old man, we could see the once-proud and noble hero being ravaged by the onslaught of passing years, growing more weary and forlorn as time marched on.  Perhaps the regrets we see the Hero’s Shade lament only took hold of Link in his final hours, while pondering his legacy and waiting for death to take him.  Watching this psychological progression take place across Link’s face as he grows older is something I would love to see in the digital medium of a full-fledged Zelda game.

Due to the nature of the first two narrative elements described above, the gameplay would be mostly linear in the same vein as Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker.  Though the idea of having to investigate and explore each area Link visits in his search for Navi/Ganondorf lends itself to a certain level of immersion, it does relegate the game’s narrative largely to linear progression (unless players were allowed to employ a trial-and-error method of investigation in which they had absolutely no indication as to where Link’s search should begin).  In contrast to that, the third portion of the tale lends itself more to open-endedness, letting Link explore the world at his leisure without much of an end-goal in mind.  In this regard, putting this tale into game form would combine the two elements that seem to divide the Zelda fan base.

In my blog detailing my thoughts on what Nintendo could potentially do with The Imprisoning Wars, I suggested that approaching the event with RTS gameplay elements in mind would be the most effective way to present it.  In the case of exploring Child Link’s exploits after Majora’s Mask, it seems to me that the best choice in regards to gameplay would be to stick with the traditional, 3rd person action-adventure formula seen in most console Zelda games, or the overhead style of TLOZ, ALttP and the handheld titles.  With the investigative nature described in the first two story arcs, it might also be interesting to bring back the dousing mechanic seen in Skyward Sword, or even introduce some of the exploratory mechanics seen in Metroid Prime or even the detective elements of Batman’s Arkham series of games.  It would also make sense to have some sort of method for keeping track of the clues Link has obtained, which would also lend itself to keeping track of active missions that would be the focus of the third story arc.  Perhaps the Wii U’s Gamepad/3DS Touch Screen could be used to keep hand-written notes in a journal/map? Hmm…

That about wraps it up.  I would have liked to explore some of the individual elements presented here in more depth, but I didn’t really want this to turn into a bloated chore of a read.   Next time, I’ll be taking on untouched narrative elements from a different timeline in the Zelda lore.  See ya then!

Untapped Potential: The Series

*THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT Hardcore Casual Gamer*

Forever ago, I published a Zelda-themed blog examining the untapped potential of The Imprisoning War in the Zelda Universe. I touched on how complex the lore of the Universe has become, yet most of it remains shrouded in mystery and ignored by Nintendo. There’s endless debate in the Zelda fan community as to what Nintendo should be focusing on when it comes to future Zelda games, mainly between expanding the lore and exploring new gameplay elements. I am of the camp that wants to see Nintendo start fleshing out the lore and begin incorporating more complex narratives into the franchise. More character examinations/growth arcs, strengthening the validity of the lore, and novel story elements that break away from the established Zelda formula of collecting the Triforce, defeating Ganon and saving Zelda are what I want to see from future titles.

The reason I want to see a greater focus on story and narrative in the series is due to how tiresome the established storytelling has become for me. It seems that in the confines of the current timeline history of The Legend of Zelda, the same series of events inevitably repeat themselves until one has to wonder why Zelda and the Sages can’t seem to get it together. You KNOW Ganondorf is going to return in one form or another, you KNOW that someone is going to try and kidnap your dumbasses and Zelda’s too, so why haven’t you done something to prevent this from happening? Obviously, there are hundreds of years between most of the main entries in the series, so it’s somewhat understandable that the rotating cast of Sages and Princess Zeldas would ‘forget’ how easily they all seem to get captured. Still, as the focal narrative element in most of the Zelda games, it seems to happen a lot.

People’s first defense for the lack of variety in the Zelda franchise’s story-telling is that the Zelda team crafts the gameplay first and then writes the story around that. That would seem to be an understandable excuse, but there are a few games in the franchise that are not held back by that development cycle; Link’s Awakening, Majora’s Mask, and Oracle of Ages have all managed to tweak the narrative elements enough to separate themselves from the rest of the franchise’s entries, and are often defined by their ability to stand-out from the Zelda crowd. If Nintendo managed to do it in the past, they have no excuse not to be able to do it again.

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For those confused about what’s fan fiction and what’s canon, buy the damn book.

Another thing worth pointing out is how important the lore of Zelda has become over the course of the series’ lifetime. In the beginning, the defining element of Zelda was the exploration elements. Since ALttP, however, story and lore have become just as important to the spirit of the games, and have built up an impressive amount of complexity when you consider the rest of the Nintendo Universe and the lack of complexity present therein. Recently, Nintendo released Hyrule Historia, finally cementing the oft debated canonical timeline and exploring the many colorful characters that bring the lore to life. Now that we have this established presence of character-driven story-telling and a detailed history within the franchise, it is now Nintendo’s responsibility to attend to that established doctrine with care, for the benefit of the series’ continued relevance and the many fans like me that believe in the potential for a complex, engrossing, and immersive narrative experience. Zelda stands out as Nintendo’s premiere fantasy franchise, thanks in no small part to the timeless tales told throughout, and it;s time they treated it as such.

In the tradition of my Imprisoning War blog, I’ve decided to start up another series of blogs examining other unexplored lore elements within the Zelda Universe that I think warrant more attention from the Zelda team. I know I have another blog series I haven’t finished (Scoring a Legend) that has countless readers waiting in intense anticipation for the next installment

…to you, I say:

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I’ll get to it eventually.

This small blog is meant to provide an introduction for the lore examinations to come. I’ve got at least a few ideas in my head that have morphed into completed blogs, and a few small inklings that have yet to fully take shape.

Stay tuned!

Scoring a Legend: The Music of The Legend of Zelda (Part II)

After Ocarina of Time, Koji Kondo’s role as the sole composer for The Legend of Zelda would come to an end as he was joined by Toru Minegishi and other talented composers for subsequent Zelda scoring.  It’s evident in more contemporary Zelda titles that the orchestration has not only evolved in terms of technical production and musical complexity; it has taken on the identity of the series as much as the characters and the settings have.  No matter the departure from traditional Zelda orchestration, the music is unmistakably Zelda.

Majora’s Mask stands out in the Zelda series as perhaps the most unique in its storytelling, which is complemented by an equally unique soundtrack.  As past games featured scores that provided appropriate accompaniment to the various themes and moods throughout, MM’s melancholy moods and themes are elevated to outright spooky levels thanks to the soundtrack.  Majora’s Mask features the most bizarre, haunting, and melancholy soundtrack in the series.  Often compared to Chinese Theatre music, yangqin and paiban use conjure images of frightening surrealism and the odd, exaggerated posturing of maniacal personalities.  While many Zelda staples are present, they have been re-tooled to fit the unorthodox nature of Majora’s Mask (see Termina Field, Zora Hall and Goron Shrine).  The Song of Healing acts as the backbone of the soundtrack, appearing throughout as the means for Link to return to his original state (after being transformed into the Deku Shrub) as well as during cutscenes and as Clock Tower’s background theme.  Many of the Ocarina songs from OoT have returned as well, functioning mostly as Easter Eggs sprinkled throughout the land of Termina that Link can find and play for old-time’s sake.  It’s also interesting to note that Link finally gets in touch with his rock ‘n roll roots when donning the Zora Mask, shredding mad licks with his fishbone guitar.  By utilizing all three of the main masks, Link could essentially form his own band and play a kickass concert for the end of the world, much to the delight of Michael Stipe.

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When Zelda returned to the handheld format for Oracle of Ages and Seasons, the series’ orchestration returned to its simpler roots.  Both Oracle of Ages and Seasons borrow heavily from Link’s Awakening, and indeed only feature a handful of original tracks between the two of them.  While this does detract from the unique flavor usually present in each respective title, the Oracle games benefit from the classic score in that they have the goal in mind to recall elements of old-school, overhead-style Zelda.  When the score presents players with unique orchestrations, they tend to take on the characteristics of their respective title Oracles.  Both Nayru and Din are music-oriented individuals, one a singer/harp-player and the other a dancer/tambourine-player, and the original music focuses on up-tempo whimsy (Seasons) and subtle elegance (Ages).  The audio limitations of the Game Boy Color do little to take away from the signature sounds of Zelda, and the Oracle soundtracks retain the timeless essence of their predecessors.

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In returning to the console format, Koji Kondo and his cohorts looked to bring an unprecedented level of grandiosity and creative energy to the score of The Wind Waker.  Taking full advantage of the Gamecube’s hardware, The Wind Waker is scored with the most sweeping and lavish orchestration seen in the series so far. Even more so than its console predecessors, The Wind Waker succeeds in presenting a genuine and complete orchestral sound, which is appropriate considering that Link’s tool of choice is the titular Wind Waker (a conductor’s baton Link uses to control the wind).  Coming even closer to mimicking live orchestration, The Wind Waker is scored with adventure on the high seas in mind.  Returning Zelda tunes have been re-imagined as grand sea shanties and whimsical island tunes.   Capturing the whimsy of the game’s bright and colorful tone, the soundtrack to TWW is generally more light-hearted and playful in nature.  In addition to being able to control the wind, Link uses his conducting skills to lead other characters (the Sages Makar and Medli) in rousing fiddle and harp renditions of Master Sword-awakening melodies.  With countless standout tracks, The Wind Waker OST expertly captures the spirit of adventure and freedom apparent in the game’s gameplay and narrative.  The piano ballad “Farewell Hyrule King” is an impressive feat of ivory virtuoso and is a favorite of youtube pianists.  The title/end credits theme is on my list of most beautiful songs in all of music.

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The next Zelda title to grace the GameCube, Four Swords Adventures, is a terribly weak entry in an otherwise stellar franchise.  Despite this, the soundtrack retains an air of nostalgia while managing to sound fresh.  Almost the entire soundtrack is comprised of remastered versions of Zelda classic.  While this can certainly be seen a lazy and uninspired, FSA updates each track in a way that uses the GameCube’s hardware to impressive effect.  Not only is the simplicity of The Legend of Zelda and A Link to The Past present in FSA’s soundtrack, listeners can also hear the whimsical bounciness of The Wind Waker and the disjointed oddness of Majora’s Mask.  The Swamp, Village of The Blue Maiden and Formation Teaching are standout tracks, memorable in a game filled with forgettable moments.

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The Minish Cap took the franchise back to the handheld format in fine fashion, presenting gamers with another breath of fresh air in terms of gorgeous visual presentation and emotional storytelling.  Accompanying this charming little Zelda adventure is one of the franchises biggest orchestral offerings.   The Game Boy Advance’s sound capabilities outshine those of the Game Boy Color, and the sound quality present in The Minish Cap is impressive when one considers how tiny the device’s speakers are.  The Minish Cap’s soundtrack offers an unprecedented amount of variety when examining the handheld entries in the series.  Every environment is scored with BGM that summons a wide-variety of emotion, from apprehensiveness to playfulness.   Taking cues from The Wind Waker, The Minish Cap stands on the merits of quirkiness and whimsy to complement the colorful art direction.  Similarly, the soundtrack is rife with very robust and upbeat songs, bringing even more color to an already vibrant gaming experience.  All the grandiosity of OoT and TWW, as well as the solemn-ness of LA are present in The Minish Cap’s soundtrack.

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And thus concludes part II of this musical examination of The Legend of Zelda.  In my next entry, I’ll be taking a look at the more contemporary entries in the series to wrap up the main portion of this melodic endeavor.  Stay Tuned!

Scoring a Legend: The Music of The Legend of Zelda (Part One)

The Legend of Zelda has offered gamers a plethora of iconic scores throughout its lifetime.  From the opening notes that accompany the title banner to the medley showcasing the staff credits and familiar faces encountered throughout our time in Link’s shoes, our ears are treated to some of the most memorable and effective orchestration in all of video gamedom.  The over-world theme from the first game is perhaps the most recognized tune in the medium next to the Super Mario Bros theme or the Final Fantasy Victory Fanfare, and has appeared in every entry in one form or another.  The Menu Theme summons forth nostalgia faster than The Song of Storms summons rain (or the wrath of Guru Guru).  How many gamers can still hum the tune of The Song of Time, or Zelda’s Lullaby?  The Legend of Zelda’s score has bled into other forms of presentation as well; Countless piano virtuosi took to Youtube in order to showcase their mastery of Farewell, Hyrule King.  Speaking of Youtube, the great Lindsey Stirling recently showcased her Zelda Medley dressed as a blue-garbed Link.  During a football game my senior year of High School, the school band broke into Hyrule Field Main Theme following a kickoff, much to the delight of every nerd in attendance (myself included).  Every Zelda OST is a tour de force of earworm after earworm, embedding themselves into the minds and hearts of those that love the franchise, and even the less-than-passionate crowd must concede the merits of Koji Kondo’s (and his various cohorts) brilliant sonic orchestrations.

A common theme among the orchestrations conceived by Kondo are his propensity for scores that ring of novelty throughout their entirety despite their obvious repetition.  Using the vaunted Family BASIC system, Kondo achieved widespread acclaim for his work on Super Mario Bros and Zelda, turning simple oscillation into nostalgia-fuel for generations to come.  The Legend of Zelda is certainly the most primitive of the Zelda games in terms of it’s design across the board, yet the somber notes accompanied by light percussion-imitation plodding slowly out of tube TVs apprised players of an adventure more weighty than the bouncy acid trip featured in Super Mario Bros.  The Legend of Zelda took video games into a realm of unparalleled immersion, and the OST contributed heavily to the idea that players were taking part in a legend.  Though the OST is comprised of a mere four songs (outside of the Get Item jingle and the like), those four songs carried more substance than anything else presented in the medium at that time, and they continue to provide the foundation for Zelda soundtracks.

 

 

Despite not being among the most loved of the Zelda games, The Adventure of Link is a truly unique title that stands out among it’s peers for better or for worse, and it’s soundtrack is similarly distinct.  As the developers of the series attempted to add a layer of depth to the narrative, so too did the composers strive to bring another layer of complexity to their musical arrangements.  Despite the continued limitations of the NES hardware, The Adventure of Link features more atmospheric tunes than it’s predecessor, incorporating more sophisticated techniques of sonic manipulation.  Though many fans don’t know it, the Temple theme is the same tuned used in Super Smash Bros Melee to score the Hyrule Field stage.  The occasionally dissonant music combined with the unorthodox gameplay combined to make what would be Link’s strangest journey for more than a few installments in the series.  It was also the first game in the series to feature a musical instrument as an item, simply called the flute.

 

 

Though The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link laid the foundation for the series, it was A Link to the Past that put up the walls and installed the plumbing.  Practically everything present in contemporary Zelda titles originated in ALttP, and the soundtrack is no exception.  ALttP was the first big step taken by the development team to include a fleshed-out narrative and developed characters.  In the same manner, Koji Kondo worked diligently to bring more personality and complexity to the orchestration.  Using the more advanced capabilities afforded by the SNES (courtesy of the S-SMP), Kondo and his crew conducted a masterwork of sweeping themes, tense battle music, and tender ballads.  No longer was the music used as simple BGM, it was used to provided an atmospheric compliment to the story, adding varying moods to the more complex narrative situations.  The music contributed to a series becoming more and more immersive, and once again players found themselves caught up in the adventure of a lifetime set to a score of epic proportions.  The game introduced players to themes now synonymous with the series; Zelda’s Lullaby, Ganondorf’s Theme, Hyrule Castle Theme, and ominous Cave Theme made their debut in A Link to the Past.  ALttP also introduced the now-expected element of mystical musical instruments for Link to use throughout his adventure.  Apparently, before he was an adventurer, Link was a musical virtuoso.  Though fans of the series know the flute better as the ocarina now, it was simply the flute once again in ALttP.

 

 

Link’s Awakening is often forgotten by gamers, but it was the first major departure in the narrative focus for the franchise.  Not only did it not revolve around Link attempting to save Zelda, Link’s Awakening told a more somber and melancholy tale of a world that was mere imagined reality, destined to vanish upon Link’s success in his mission to awaken the Wind Fish.  The score reflects this, using methods similar to ALttP in that it set the mood for the story using more brooding melodies during the more poignant story narrative moments.  More than ever, music played an integral part in conveying the varying themes in a Zelda game.  Despite the simple hardware present in the Game Boy, Kondo was able to orchestrate a heartfelt score that conjured feelings of longing and bittersweet empathy in gamers.  Indeed, most of the Link’s journey revolves around collecting the various instruments he will use to wake the Wind Fish from his slumber and return to his own reality.  Marin, the lead female in Link’s Awakening, is a songstress of sorts with a deep passion for her music and the denizens of Koholint Island.  Marin teaches Link The Ballad of The Wind Fish, unwittingly giving Link the means to effectively obliterate her very existence.  It’s a heart-breaking tale, and once again we see a Zelda tale bolstered by a stellar soundtrack.  It’s not all doom and gloom, of course, as more than a few bouncy themes burrow their way into our ear canals throughout the game.  Along with The Ballad of The Wind Fish, stand-out tracks include The Storm, Link and Marin’s Song, Manbo’s Mambo and Animal Village.

 

 

 

 

Ocarina of Time arrived on the scene and quickly established itself as one of the greatest achievements in the video game medium.  A massive evolutionary step for the series, Ocarina of Time brought the series into the 3D realm with remarkable success, and it remains the most lucrative and popular entry in the series.  A big part of that popularity can be attributed to the soundtrack; Kondo utilized the technical capability of the N64 to craft the most stand-out score the series had seen thus far.  Ocarina of Time would also mark the last time Koji Kondo would take full responsibility for the series’ soundtrack.  For many, Ocarina of Time is one of the quintessential video game OSTs.  Most of the songs present are re-orchestrations of A Link to The Past tracks, but several original pieces shine just as brightly as their classic brethren (Saria’s Song, The Temple of Time theme).  No longer was the score limited to various blips and bleeps, and the various characters and landscapes were graced with themes that now sounded as if they were being played by real instruments.  The sweeping score provided an unparalleled sense of grandiose scale and atmosphere, and many of the songs are as memorable as the narrative moments and characters/locations they accompany.  Following the cues of Link’s Awakening, Ocarina of Time places a greater focus on music as part of the narrative, and the titular Ocarina of Time allowed players to take greater control of Link’s affinity for wind instruments.  In the second half of Link’s journey, the Ocarina songs become increasingly complex and adopt intricate and even philosophical implications as taught by Sheik (see Bolero of Fire, Nocturne of Shadow).  Throughout the adventure, Link uses the Ocarina to open doors, sway the inclinations of other characters, and travel through time.  With so many timeless songs, it’s difficult to pinpoint any standout tracks when the entire OST is composed of such.

 

 

 

Thus concludes part one of this examination of The Legend of Zelda’s music.  Next time, we’ll take a look at the series’ movement into more experimental, unique, and even bizarre musical directions.

Stay tuned!

It’s Been Said Before: (I’m not doing a) Review of Ocarina of Time

Score: 10

Personal Score: 9.5

Ocarina of Time released on the Nintendo 64 in 1998 to critical acclaim blah blah blah first 3D Zelda game blah blah blah reinvented the series and broke new ground for video games yak yak yak considered the best game evar blah dee blah blah Water Temple yada yada…

Before I started doing all these reviews, I stated I would work my way down from Skyward Sword and end with Ocarina of Time.  I’ve since decided that I won’t be doing an Ocarina of Time review.  At this point in all of our lives, we’ve all heard from countless publications and gamers that Ocarina of Time is super great, and many of us are quite tired of it.  I don’t feel the need to contribute to the bloated pile of praise this game has received, as I fear it’s become cliche to cite Ocarina of Time as the “best Zelda game ever” or even the “best video game ever.”

Don’t mistake this for an opinion that Ocarina of Time doesn’t deserve the praise it has received over the years.  It truly is a sublime game, and for many gamers (myself included), was an introduction to The Legend of Zelda.  I’ll never forget the first time I ruined the Windmill Man’s life, or scouring the land of Hyrule in search of the Gold Skulltulas, or watching the credits roll over familiar faces following the final defeat of Ganon.  There are so many special moments present in Ocarina of Time, all wrapped in one of the most polished gameplay packages seen in the medium.  To many gamers, Ocarina of Time is the unreachable bar of quality by which all other games (not just Zelda games) are judged.

It’s for precisely those reasons I’ve decided not to write an in-depth review of OoT.  What can I say that hasn’t been said by countless other fans and publications?  If I had deigned to write a full review in the style of my previous reviews, you’d likely find no unique elements therein.  The points of praise and contention I’d touch on are present in just about every review of the game ever written.  My first experience with Ocarina of Time is no doubt one that numerous others have also had.  In all likelihood, not a single person reading this very blog has NOT played OoT at least a few times.

I cannot bring myself to review the game, regardless of how spectacular of a game it is.  In addition to how over-exposed the game is, I find myself quite burned out on writing reviews.  I’ve been wanting to move on to other things for a while, and would only be going through the motions with a review of OoT.

With that, stay tuned for some Zelda-themed blogs of a different flavor in the future.  I promised a long time ago that I’d dedicate an entire blog entry to the music of the series, as I blatantly forgot to touch on the orchestration in my initial reviews.  I’d also like to do some character examinations, as well as some ideas that haven’t quite taken a decipherable form within the primordial ooze of my creative process.

Thanks to those that have been reading my reviews thus far!

Aaaaaaaand that’s all folks.