Reviews: The Legend Of Zelda

The Living Legend

If any series deserves the lofty title of "Best Video Game Series of All Time", The Legend of Zelda comes pretty damn close. It's certainly one of the most consistently good, and the few missteps over the years can mostly be written off as well-intended experiments, or throwaways. Throughout a majority of the series, one constant has remained; a sense of fun, adventure, and true gaming joy. Zelda's heady mix of exploration, intense combat, and clever (and sometimes mind-breakingly tough) puzzles is one that has shone through in even the least of its outings. This central pillar allows for a consistent level of enjoyment, regardless of the changes or additions made in a new installment.

And special mention must be made of the series' flawless transition from 2D to 3D. As with Super Mario 64, Nintendo shaped the mold for all genre-mates to come, and even beyond the action-adventure genre. But both styles of Zelda each have their own strengths and drawbacks, and I'm happy to see that as time goes on, Nintendo hasn't turned its back on the series' origins. It's like dark and light; one cannot wholly exist without the other, and indeed, they are happily co-existing at time of writing.

The series' storytelling ambitions have grown in time. Though often a bit simplistic, the stories you play your way through are often resonant and upbeat. It's a kind of narrative that really only Zelda could pull off without it seeming hokey and lazy. It's a kind of magic, I guess. You sort of know what to expect going into a game after you've played a few, but sometimes they can really surprise you. I've got a feeling the zenith of Zelda storytelling has yet to be glimpsed, and I've only high hopes for the future (even if I've pretty much accepted they'll never outdo the series' high point).

Zelda just keeps evolving and experimenting as time goes on, maintaining a level of freshness that most long-running series of any avenue of fiction can only hope to achieve. Zelda is just special, and I always eagerly anticipate Nintendo's next surprise like a kid awaiting Christmas. Now, here's my pal Barney Stinson to summarize my opinion in one word:

"LEGEN...... DARY!"

The Unending Transition

The Legend Of Zelda is a series which has a tendency to inspire excitement, nostalgia, passion and incoherent babbling in its fans, as the early draft of this review can testify. When I first wrote it, it read more like a fond recollection of Zelda history, rather than an actual review. Here, I'll focus on what makes The Legend of Zelda so great and popular, and what it has in its favor to have kept it around for twenty-five years.

The name of the game is innovation. While the whole series is rather infamous for using different variations of essentially the same gameplay, story and formula, it should be noted that Zelda actually invented many of the things we take for granted in adventure games nowadays, and that Nintendo must be doing something right if the same old formula still seems fun and exciting after all this time.

When it came into being in 1986, the first game was critically hailed, not just for being generally fun, but for being among the first games to feature top-down, non-linear exploration. Nintendo experimented a good deal with The Adventure Of Link two years later, then took everything from the previous games and raised the bar. A Link to the Past is regarded as the ultimate example of 2D, top-down gaming; a perfection of the formula introduced in the original Zelda. Nintendo wisely saw that it would be impossible to top ALP using the same gameplay style, so they didn't even try. Instead, they made Ocarina Of Time. While keeping many traditional elements, Ocarina completely changed the way The Legend of Zelda was played. The world transitioned from 2D to 3D, the story revealed more of the history of the land of Hyrule, and the Legend was allowed to continue, with plenty of room to grow. Ocarina's gameplay system was improved upon in Majoras Mask and Wind Waker, and perfected in Twilight Princess. And change is coming again. The upcoming Skyward Sword promises to be another transition from old to new, like the transition from ALP to OOT. Nintendo isn't afraid to take chances and make changes when things start to look rusty.

There is plenty more I could say about the atmosphere and world-building or the unique storytelling techniques of The Legend of Zelda, but I unfortunately don't have the room. Zelda is a series which can somehow stay fresh and traditional at the same time, and can deliver an epic adventure unlike anything else.