Expanding on the Zelda Time-line Theme

I wrote this for a required weekly homework assignment (that explains the ugly “academic” format it’s in) and I thought it relevant enough to my previous post to put up here.

The Legend of Zelda is a popular series of Nintendo video games that have largely the same plot with the same character with the same basic goals. It is a 3D platformer, usually comprised of an “overworld,” or large central area, connecting other various worlds or landmarks. The game usually begins with a boy named Link, who receives a cry for help from some entity, and then is sent on a mission/adventure to explore the world and defeat the originator of some obvious evil.

Legend of Zelda has the same basic plot structure in every game. The Legend of Zelda series is one of the few that has received excellent reviews on every game. Ocarina of Time is arguably the best game in the series, yet it is not only old, but has fewer tools (a variation on the idea of “power-up”) and simpler graphics in comparison to future games. What makes Legend of Zelda truly great is its brilliant plot, which heavily influences its game-play. What is this plot that is so excellent? How can a plot structure strike a chord with its players no matter how many times it is used? Why have the players investigated the way the series’ plots interact to create a time-line?

Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is considered the best game of the series, yet it is an old game, with many nearly-as-good sequels following it. Every game follows the same basic plot. It always starts with Link at home. His home is either suddenly damaged by the evil in the outer world, or secrets about an evil in the outer world are discovered. Link is sent on a mission, either to save the rest of the world, or to save something that was lost in his own home (at thus the rest of the world). Link initially goes out, completes a few puzzles, and then meets the bad guy who inevitably defeats the unprepared Link. For reasons dependent on the game, Link starts exploring the rest of the world, collecting important objects or pieces of important objects by completing puzzles or dungeons. Once all the pieces are collected, Link returns with greater power and more tools, this for victory.

At first, this may appear to be yet another game plot, if not specialized somewhat. However, take a second look. People knowledgeable in ancient literature forms will note that the plot, likely unintentionally, since the developers have themselves commented they don’t understand where the feel of Zelda comes from, follows the hero journey structure precisely. The hero is prepared to go on a journey, completes the difficult and dangerous journey, and then returns with lessons to apply and solve the original problem. Link does this, exactly, and it is done for the chivalric duty to an important lady (or girl, in Ocarina of Time) named Zelda. Since the dawn of time, this kind of story has appealed to everyone as an inspiration and excellent life goal. Players of the Legend of Zelda feel as though they are part of this story, accomplishing something worth-while and virtuous.

One of the unique, perhaps critical components of The Legend of Zelda is that Link is mostly an undefined and non-speaking character. The only thing told about the character is that they are brave, and chosen by the three gods of the Triforce. Arguably, this allows the player to speak for Link, and give Link a personality. The player can become emotionally invested in the game. This is not uncommon in the gaming world, and is what makes long games fun, but Legend of Zelda manages to do it best.

It is likely because of this connection that players feel they must construct the single time-line that connects all of the games together. Unfortunately, the games’ plots conflict with each other, despite obvious references between games, showing that Nintendo’s focus has never been to create a solid single plot, like Metal Gear Solid had. Attempts at creating a single time-line have been given up numerous times by most. The rest have had big debates over how exactly to reconcile the games. These players wish to make meaning out of The Legend of Zelda because there is something there, something in the hero journey that appeals to us and tells us that something there is meaningful to our lives.

“The Legend of Zelda” is a name that evokes many memories and feelings in its players, and for good reason. What started as a humble but fun 2D dungeon-crawling RPG has taken on epic proportions in its hero journey-styled plot and its success. Anyone who plays Zelda and enjoys it does so because they enjoy learning about a world that inspires them through its small but brave character, fighting it out for a world of helpful and helpless people. The next Wii game is rumored to be changing its game-play heavily to try and do something new with the series, but it will likely never feel any less like a Zelda game to its players as long as the plot structure remains the same.

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