Hey, welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! I hope everyone had a great week!
It’s been a pretty productive time for me, post-Mobius VII Book 1. The worldbuilding for Book 2 has commenced, writing for the podcast series – Mobius VII Story Notes – is progressing fairly well and streaming has never been more fun than it has today. Today, however, I’ll be putting aside all talks about Sonic and Final Fantasy and I’ll be putting a spotlight on a third series that has had an enormous impact on my life.
That series is The Legend of Zelda, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.
In The Beginning…
My journey with Link started off with the old 1989 Zelda cartoon that would air on The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. I was in kindergarten during that time and I remember (albeit, vaguely) coming home at lunchtime to watch this show and it was there that I first watched that Zelda cartoon. It was set in the magical land of Hyrule and starred an irascible, rascally hero, a sassy princess, a mischievous fairy and a villainous pig monster/wizard who tried to steal the Triforce of Wisdom in order to rule the land. The moment I saw that show intro, I was HOOKED.
I remember at one point back in kindergarten that I pretended to be Link and had magical adventures with friends… but I could be misremembering things? Memory works in strange ways, sometimes.
In fact, looking back now, I credit the Legend of Zelda cartoon as the first instance where I was exposed to High Fantasy, my favourite genre of fiction. I was always swept up in the fantastical worlds that existed within these stories, with their crafty characters, deep and introspective lores and zany, over-the-top adventures and I have to thank the series for introducing that into my life.
Anyway, we fast forward to around the summer of ‘94, when a neighbourhood friend introduced me to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. This was my first foray into the Zelda gaming universe and, in my eyes, it did not disappoint. Despite its status as the black sheep of the series, Zelda II was an incredible stroke of genius. With its focus on action and exploration instead of puzzle solving, the game has Link traversing the entirety of North Hyrule to place crystals in six palaces and unlock the Great Palace, said to hold the Triforce of Courage, the third piece of the Triforce. Before playing this title (and Dragon Warrior, which I played right after this one), I found that at a young age, games weren’t very immersive. They were simple affairs, like getting from one end of a level to the goal or beating a boss at the very end. With Zelda II, there was a story to be had, even though it was simple. Playing it made me feel as though I was a part of the adventure and my actions had an effect on whether or not Link succeeded in his quest to revive Princess Zelda from her eternal sleep.
Also, as I’ve mentioned several times before, Zelda II was also a test of patience. It’s not enough to just hack and slash at everything in sight, there’s strategy involved in this game. Ironkuckles can easily be defeated by aggressively advancing forward, jumping and stabbing at them. Daria’s (Axe-wielding monsters) can be defeated in several ways – orange ones are eliminated by crouch-stabbing while advancing forward while the red ones can be defeated by timing their axe throws and slashing at their heads when an opening presents itself.
By far, my favourite enemies to fight are the Lizalfos and they’re simple to beat once you nail the strategy. While advancing forward, jump up, hold down (as though you’re initiating the downstab) and then immediately stab forward. If done right, Link will look like he’s crouching in mid-air and almost 80% of the time, it catches the Lizalfos off guard, making for an easy kill. It also means easy experience, considering the orange ones give off 150 xp per kill.
If I haven’t mentioned it before (and if it wasn’t obvious from the above), Zelda II is by far my favourite game of the series. There was a point in time where I thought all Zelda games were like Zelda II, but I was sorely mistaken once I started delving deeper into the series.
From Side-Scrolling to Traditional
Christmas of 1998 was a special time for me, as it was the year that I picked up my very first Game Boy – a Game Boy Pocket in Electric Green. I’m actually kicking myself for selling that unit all those years ago as it was just a wonderful little thing, but alas, hindsight’s 20/20, right? Still, the first game that I got with the system was The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX, released in that same year to coincide with the release of the Game Boy Colour.
Compared to Zelda II, Link’s Awakening was a completely different beast. It was more puzzle based than the side-scrolling action adventure title. I struggled to wrap my mind around the mechanics around the different items. I remember on my first playthrough being stuck in the Mysterious Woods with the raccoon blocking my path forward. It took some time, but I realized that I needed to use the Magic Powder to proceed further. At the time, I thought the only source of the powder was through the Crane Game mechanic and I remember spending hours chopping grass over and over again in order to get the necessary Rupees needed to play the game and get the powder. I only realized years later that I could have gotten the Toadstool within the woods, hand it over to the Witch by the graveyard area and receive a free sack of powder instead!
I also remember getting stuck on the last three dungeons for the longest time. As a kid of 11 or 12, I found those to be particularly difficult. The final boss was also a nightmare (pun intended) to deal with, but eventually I persevered. Link’s Awakening would be the first Zelda game that I would finish – I hadn’t beaten Zelda II until I was in my mid-teens and that was with save states and cheats and such! The message within the game, in that the whole island and its inhabitants are nought but illusions, flew over my head at the time, but I started to understand what it meant as I got older. The fact that your existence may be nothing more than a conjuring within someone’s dream and that it can be erased as soon as that individual awakens… that’s pretty terrifying to realize haha.
Transitioning to 3D
At around the same time I was struggling through Link’s Awakening, I also got to play the next evolution of the Zelda series with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, thanks to an older cousin of mine who had an Nintendo 64. He and I would journey through the vast lands of Hyrule together, fighting off monsters, solving problems for folks and trying to stop a madman from conquering the kingdom. The time travel twist was so awesome to behold and I remember sitting with my cousin and my brother watching all our efforts go to waste once we picked up the Master Sword and thinking, “Wow, we just got played.”
The dungeon difficulty went up several notches at that point, as each of the Temples had tons of tricky sections that really threw me for a loop. The most infamous of them all was the Water Temple, and I remember that we were stuck in that particular area for a good couple of weeks!
Ultimately, this was a game that we didn’t get to finish together as a group. School and life got in the way and my cousin ended up finishing the game without me. He had also picked up Majora’s Mask – the sequel to Ocarina of Time and we spent a fair deal of time playing that one until his system and games got stolen during one of his baseball practices… Meanwhile, I didn’t get a proper chance to finish OoT until I picked up the Collector’s Edition for the GameCube for Christmas of 2003. I admit, I used walkthroughs to get through the rest of the game, particularly for the bloody Water Temple, which I still detest to this day haha.
The final battle between Link and Ganondorf – transformed into the demon Ganon – was one of the most iconic and memorable fights that I experienced within gaming. The music, the atmosphere and the backdrop of the ultimate fight between good and evil, it was something that could only come from an epic High Fantasy tale. In this case, it was better because I could control the action, I could feel the tension between these two forces. I remember my hands gripping the controller tightly as I felt each blow of Ganon’s twin, forked swords. I remember gritting my teeth as I sought a way to hit the Demon King’s weak point on his tail. And I remember the jubilation I felt when I landed the final blow to his head and his subsequent sealing into the Sacred Realm. That moment solidified The Legend of Zelda’s place as one of my favourite gaming series of all time, ranking up there with both Sonic the Hedgehog and Final Fantasy.
After Ocarina of Time though, things just got better and better. Majora’s Mask – while not within my top ten Zelda games – was still an awesome and dark entry to the series. Wind Waker’s cel-shaded graphics didn’t deter me from experiencing a fantastic and compelling story set in a waterlogged Hyrule. Twilight Princess was, at one point, my favourite 3D Zelda game, because it combined everything that made Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker great into one complete and dense package. My only complaint was that it started off a bit slow, but once the first scenes were passed, the enormous world of Hyrule really opened up and it was what I’ve always imagined it to be. A land full of fantasy and mystery and wonder.
The Rest of the Series
I played the original Legend of Zelda game for the first time around the same moment that I got the Collector’s Edition. Seeing where it all started from gave me both a better appreciation for the games that came after it and a sense of gratitude that the series even existed and improved so much over the years. I followed that up with A Link to the Past – arguably the most talked about Zelda title prior to Ocarina of Time – and I understood why it was so highly regarded.
Oracles of Ages and Seasons, a pair of GBC Zelda games, marked the first games in which the events of one game would affect those in the second. My brother and I owned both copies of this game (Ages was his, while Seasons was mine) and the two of us would work together to figure out each game’s puzzles, unlock the mysteries of Holodrum and Labrynna and ultimately defeat Ganon once more.
The Minish Cap was styled in the same way as Wind Waker and featured a fantastic shrinking mechanic that allowed players to explore Hyrule in completely new ways. Speaking of Wind Waker, I’ve also played the two DS sequels to the game: Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. I adored Spirit Tracks’ iteration of Zelda – she is my second favourite version in the series thus far. Plus, you can’t go wrong with trains!
There are some titles I haven’t touched yet, notably Skyward Sword, which is coming out this year, and Link Between Worlds for the 3DS. There’s also the Four Swords series, both for the GameCube and the GBA, as well as the Triforce Heroes games. I dare not mention the CDi games though haha. I don’t know if I’ll ever play those…
What I appreciated about the Zelda series was that it never stopped trying to improve itself in every way. Each and every game built up from the previous ones, while introducing new and innovative mechanics to keep things from going stale. And while the timeline ended up being a confusing mess, all the events eventually coalesced into one, singular stream and transported players 10,000 years into the future…
Breath of the Wild and the Future of Zelda
From the moment Breath of the Wild and the Nintendo Switch were announced, I knew I had to get both. Due to shortages in both supply and in cash, I wasn’t able to get a system on launch, but I did end up getting a Switch and a copy of Breath of the Wild around my birthday. Nothing could have prepared me for the experience that I was about to undertake the moment I inserted the cartridge and turned on the system.
The stories of previous games had faded into near obscurity and the current game takes place after Ganon, now known as Calamity Ganon – more a force of nature than an individual – was unleashed and devastated the world. Link, the final hope of the land, had awoken 100 years after its release and now must free the Divine Beasts from Ganon’s control and defeat the monster with Zelda’s help. Zelda herself was trapped in Hyrule Castle, holding the beast at bay using the Triforce. As he was now, Link wouldn’t stand a chance, but by going to shrines, offering Spirit Orbs to the Goddess in exchange for power and exploring the land for new weapons, armour and techniques, he’d be more than ready to stand toe-to-toe with the creature of Malice.
I mentioned before how Twilight Princess had an enormous version of Hyrule to explore. Breath of the Wild makes Twilight Princess’ version look like a speck in comparison. The moment Link awoke from the Spring of Resurrection and walked out towards that grand, sweeping vista overlooking Hyrule Castle, I knew for a fact that this was the Hyrule I’ve always dreamed of. A world filled with mystery and magic and even some ancient technology thrown in to deepen the intrigue.
The introduction of the Champions, coupled with a deeper focus on Zelda and her conflicts between her responsibilities as the Princess of Destiny and her desires to be a scholar, really made this game memorable. The only other game that made me feel so invested in the story in the series was Twilight Princess.
The release of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity years later filled in many gaps within Breath of the Wild, while also providing a satisfying twist to the story and opening the series up to new interpretations. The Dynasty Warriors-styled gameplay was a perfect match to showcase what the war against Ganon was like before everything went south. Here, you got a sense of how truly powerful Link was before his defeat at Fort Hateno. I also enjoyed how the story focused on Zelda herself and how she had to battle back her doubts and low self-esteem in order to be the leader everyone knew she could be.
Now, with the sequel to Breath of the Wild in development (and hopefully we can hear more about it in the summer!), I’m excited to see what the future lies within the Legend of Zelda series. There is so much to talk about, from its characters, to its settings and its lore that I could just go on and on if I wanted to! Alas, I’ve drawn out this post long enough, I suppose haha.
With that, we’ll call this edition here. What’s your favourite Zelda game? What is it about the series that makes it so special to you? Let me know in the comments below?
Also, I’ve been working my way through numerous Zelda games on my Twitch channel. I’m currently on a playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. If your Tuesday nights are open, drop by and say hi! I start up every Tuesdays at 9:30pm EST.
Until next week, this has been Ryan from Games with Coffee, reminding you to Live with No Regrets, Believe in Yourself and Chase the Impossible. See you next time!