An old man waits in a cave. He offers a sword for your troubles–a wish of good fortune on his lips–and then vanishes forevermore. Link must venture forth alone. The road ahead is filled with dangers, deadlier than anyone but a hero should face. Reptilian beasts lurk in swirling rivers, spindly-legged monsters leap among rocky outcrops, and nameless knights guard desolate paths. Hostility confronts your senses. There are no friends to offer guidance, only roaming creatures that rush toward you with unbridled aggression. Even the trees are against you. Maybe you should burn one; it may be the only way forward.
Questions dangle overhead in The Legend of Zelda, dancing outside of your periphery as you chase after the answers that lie hidden beyond. Those who are chosen to explore cryptic ruins must be brave enough to face whatever beasts reside there, and place faith in the deep-seated knowledge that allows progress through impassable passageways. For the three pieces of the triforce that mark a true hero are composed of not only power and courage, but wisdom as well. A man falls dead because his brain was much slower than his sword.
The Legend of Zelda confounded and amazed, and the series has consistently transformed as the years have flown by. Puzzles have become more concrete, and the dialogue more telling, as Link has matured from a precocious boy to a man worthy of his prodigious demands. Changes have manifested in bombastic ways that are impossible to ignore. Controls were stripped down to their very essence in Phantom Hourglass, only to require more patience and finesse than ever in Skyward Sword. Epona arrived in Ocarina of Time, giving Link his first view from atop a horse, and then disappeared without even a flap of her ears as we entered the floating warmth of the King of Red Lions in Wind Waker. Time even briefly halted. Majora’s Mask imitated Groundhog Day for a glorious moment, and then the moon squashed that dream before we were ready to awake.
As the path stretches behind us, we can see the many forms The Legend of Zelda games have taken. What started as a conniving adventure has softened with age. Guidance was absent when Link first set forth on his journey, then became so blaring that mysteries yelled their secrets before you could scrounge for an answer. The circle was completed in A Link Between Worlds as Link once again found himself alone in a threatening world, but does that return to a less-forgiving past herald a new age for The Legend of Zelda? Or is it just one more branch along a path that has twisted and spiraled until we’ve become so disoriented that we no longer know which direction we’re facing?
The road ahead is filled with dangers, deadlier than anyone but a hero should face.
The Legend of Zelda is more varied than it gets credit for. Aside from those three travesties on the CD-i, each of Link’s many adventures has offered an enticement for those who have readily taken up the hero’s mantle. Some of those rewards have been novelties whose impact was fleeting. Becoming a wolf in Twilight Princess created a stir for only so long, because those canine sections halted the breathless excitement of Link’s human struggles. Other rewards were less obvious but more compelling. Mastering the unforgiving combat in The Adventure of Link required so much determination and so much dexterity that only the dedicated few could survive. But those who did triumph hold tightly to those memories.
Because the history of this timeless franchise has taken so many forms, predicting how Link’s next journey will turn out is an exercise in madness. Will Nintendo once more rely on flashy features, previously unseen, to differentiate it from its many predecessors? Or will raw craftsmanship take center stage, as the creators unearth the core of what makes The Legend of Zelda tick? And should we voice our opinion loudly to steer Nintendo in one direction or the other? It’s tempting to do so, given how much I relish the latter ideology and fear the former, yet I know that my ideas can never live up to the incomparable vision that Nintendo holds.
But if I can dream, I would love to see Nintendo turn its back on the rich legacy we all hold dear. Sacrilegious? Maybe. But sometimes you have to set fire to what you love. The Legend of Zelda now carries with it so much baggage that every iteration is smothered under features before it can even begin to take flight. We expect dungeons and puzzles, a narrative and characters. The weapons we’ve grown to love, the enemies we’ve cut to shreds, the heart containers we’ve sought out, and the music that has filled our ears have to return in every new version. They have to, right? We’ve defined The Legend of Zelda in such a way that innovation can only extend so far. But if we cut out all the bloat, only its beautiful essence would remain.
Imagine if The Legend of Zelda removed the strict puzzles that have become commonplace since A Link to the Past. Picture a plot that does no more than see you off without stopping your journey with long-winded exposition. What if your sword was your best friend as your inventory was unceremoniously emptied? Would the result still be The Legend of Zelda? Yes, it would, as long as it carried the mystery that has been the foundation upon which this enduring franchise has been built. So jut out your jaw when danger draws near and yell with glee when clever exploration leads you to an unimaginable discovery. The future is bright and clean. Link isn’t beholden to the past, and we shouldn’t be either.