The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom releases this week. The long, long anticipated sequel to 2017’s Breath of the Wild is shaping up to be everything Switch owners have been clamoring for these past six years. A new map to discover, enemies to do battle, a crafting system to explore, and so many other unknown mysteries the game is sure to offer will all come to be known shortly. Having grown up with Zelda games my entire life and being in my mid-30s, I still find the idea of a new Zelda game coming out to be very exciting.
My brothers and I shared an NES, and one of those games was Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Often considered to be the black sheep of the franchise (assuming we just forget about the Philips CD-i games), Zelda II incorporated a different action style, camera placement, and puzzle elements compared to the first game a year prior. I recall the game being bright, colorful, dangerous, and fun. Watching my brother play and hearing the grandiose music play as you explore the deserts and forests was so far removed from what Mario and Sonic and Mega Man were doing at the time, it was hard to ignore it. Zelda II is also the game that gave us the name for this very blog. Needless to say, it had an impact on me.
This impact was only grown when my cousin showed me The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages on the Game Boy Color. He had one of them (maybe both?) and brought it along one summer vacation when he and his family were visiting. We played the game on the train into the city, squinting our eyes to even make out what the non-back lit screen was showing. “Ohhhh, I know, change the season here so it melts!” and other phrases probably confused our parents sitting behind us, but you know as long as we weren’t causing trouble I’m sure it was fine. At the time, I hadn’t yet played A Link to the Past or Link’s Awakening, which these two games borrow heavily from. Seeing what Link could do compared to the last time I saw him in Zelda II was pretty wild.
It wouldn’t be long before I did get my hands on A Link to the Past. My parents would take us to the video rental store on a fairly frequent basis, and I’d try to grab a new video game whenever possible. Enter A Link to the Past, better known as the Zelda game that made me fall in love with Zelda games. It’s almost cliche nowadays to say the game was so impactful and brilliant, but in the mid-90s there really wasn’t anything quite like this game. It was huge, with sprawling lands to explore. It had complex, creative, and dangerous dungeons, complete with a unique boss at the end of each. It had secrets upon secrets upon secrets that made you want to play time and again. The music was so phenomenal. And how can we not talk about the visuals, or the story lines, or the controls? It truly was something else. After playing it, I was so on board with Nintendo’s next story to tell…
Ocarina of Time released in November of 1998, and a month later I received hands-down the best Christmas gifts I could ever have imagined: a copy of the game and my very own, albeit very small, television. No longer did I have to play in my brothers room, I could play in my own room! And that’s what I did. Like, immediately. After opening our gifts, and before we went to our Grandmother’s house for more family fun times, I hooked everything up and had to turn on the game. Hyrule never looked so cool, Link was never more badass than here, and the game was at it’s peak. The weeks and months that would pass I would end up playing the game to 100% completion, starting a new file, and doing it all over again. Running through dungeons, listening to the once again amazing soundtrack, jumping over the fence with Epona, defeating Ganon with the Megaton Hammer, oh man… it was truly special. If I wasn’t already a Zelda fanboy, I certainly was after playing through this game.
Enter Majora’s Mask: the game that taught me not everything can be saved, and video games can tell stories deeper than “kill the bad guy”. Initially I thought the idea of going back in time and losing most all of your items and progress was such a stupid idea. “Why would i want to do it all again after three days” I remember thinking when the game was first announced. And then I played it and realized how that game choice impacted me as the player. I knew what was going to happen to that couple outside the shop. I knew the fate of the Deku Butler’s son. I knew what would happen to the Skull Kid if things weren’t stopped. Equipped with that knowledge then seeing how the world of Termina’s inhabitants reacted to their impending doom was that much more powerful. Was it as good a game as Ocarina of Time? Gameplay wise probably not. But Majora’s Mask compliments Ocarina so well it’s hard to differentiate the two in my mind today.
What isn’t hard to differentiate though is The Wind Waker for the Gamecube. Releasing after Majora and to much criticism about its visual style, the game was like nothing the series had seen before. Link was young again, the world was huge and flooded, the cel shaded art style was divisive, and the list can go on. Although I was a fan of the series, by this time in my gaming career I started to play other games. Wind Waker was and still is a great game, but it was a turning point for me. I played through most of the game, but didn’t actually complete it upon initial release. I moved on to something else (thinking about it now, I bet it was fighting games) and didn’t really look back. The same was the case for the next few releases for the franchise, including Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. But I did find time to play through all of Minish Cap, Four Swords/Four Swords Adventures, and Link’s Awakening, though 10 years later.
Dabbling with the franchises’ games here and there, I found fun in titles like Tri-Force Heroes with my friends, and even played through the entirety of A Link Between Worlds and absolutely loved it. This was also the time the 3DS gave us 3D remasters for the N64 games, which I happily gobbled up again. Link and crew also showed up in the Smash Bros. series of games which were in heavy rotation in my catalog. Despite not always playing their games, Link, Ganon, Zelda, and Hyrule were in mind for basically 20+ years.
2017’s Breath of the Wild was the first mainline Zelda game to come out since Majora’s Mask that I completed fully at the time of initial release. It’s also the first Zelda game since the N64 games to really bring me back to the feeling of nostalgia and wonder I most closely associate the series with. What is over that mountain? Why is this strange island all by itself? What if I light that pile of wood on fire? There was just so much to do, so much to see, and so much to discover in Breath of the Wild, it made it feel both like a Zelda game and equally unlike anything the series had on offer before. Perfect scores for reviews and 10 out of 10 award popped up seemingly everywhere, and for damn good reason: Breath of the Wild is a good video game. I, like millions of others, are ready for more. Though it’s been a tough six years to wait, I’m ready to skydive back down to Hyrule and see what the land has waiting for me.
And just like it was when I picked up the NES controller, or was passed the Game Boy Color, or turned on my own television, I’m ready for adventure. Nintendo has curated a long standing reputation for quality over the years, and behind that standard they have decades worth of amazing video games to back it up. The Legend of Zelda often stays in its lane, rarely treading new ground, but almost always takes some type of chance whenever it can get it. Like Zelda II before it, Breath of the Wild might have been the biggest departure the series had ever seen. And that type of drastic change, that wildly different approach to the tried-and-true formula of “See bad guy, defeat bad guy”, is why I’m still here 30 years later.
Will there be even more Zelda games in 30 more years? Honestly, I don’t really care either way. There are so many epic adventures already out there, what more could a fan ask for? The series has reinvented itself and redefined the genre time and again, and in so doing has inspired literal generations of game players and developers. What can there still be to do for Link and Zelda? I won’t venture a guess, but I know if there are more adventures, I’ll be anticipating them as I have been all these years.