As Nintendo’s hero Link celebrates a quarter of a century of adventures, Matt Hill lists 25 life lessons learned from his time in Hyrule…
[Originally published as a Guardian Guide cover feature in October 2011]
The Legend Of Zelda, Nintendo’s second-biggest videogame series behind that rather popular, plump plumber chap, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. A multi-layered love letter to dungeon scouring, sword wielding and princess rescuing in an ever-widening land called Hyrule, it’s an adventure of escapism, wish-fulfilment and a young boy in green garb coming of age.
From the original Legend Of Zelda on the Famicom in 1986 to this year’s Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword for the Wii, the adventures of Link and Zelda have been played out over 15 titles (and 18 spinoffs and remakes) of role-playing, puzzle-solving, action-packed fun, with 1998’s epic Ocarina Of Time on the N64 still regularly holding its own in any “greatest game of all time” debates.
The franchise has shifted 60m games and saved a couple of Nintendo’s consoles along the way, with its high-water marks influencing not only the way we play games, but how we approach life. The Guide‘s spent the last two decades and more taking notes…
1 Women rule the world
Link may be the hero, but the game is named after Zelda. Our green-clad, near-mute elf must silently wonder how many feral scorpions he has to slaughter before he gets top-billing over the “legendary” but rarely seen princess. We bet her trailer is bigger, too.
2 No matter how hard you work, life remains a lottery
Slaving away in the fields chopping grass may get you a few coins, and more skilled labour vanquishing an enchanted spider can earn you a nice blade, but you can never account for those times when you happen across an enormous rupee motherlode in the middle of bloody nowhere. Must fight the urge to blow it all on green hats we don’t need and have ‘Z E L D A’ tattooed on our knuckles.
3 There was life in the name ‘Zelda’ after Terrahawks
Once the Thunderbirds-via-Dark Crystal TV oddity had kids crying into their Ready Brek the world over, it seemed the most heinous of baddie’s monickers would be consigned to the scrap heap, alongside “Morag” after poisoning Home & Away and “Adolf” after that incident in Poland. Yet Nintendo’s magic has reinvented “Zelda” as angel child of the rich and famous. Well, Robin Williams named his daughter after her anyway. No sign of any celeb kids called Link. Yet.
4 They really had it right in the old days
While Grand Theft Auto delivers an ultra-modern world full of cars, guns and eastern European stereotypes for us to call our own, Zelda’s timelessly magical Hyrule is an agriculturalist’s dream of galloping horses, bows and arrows, and mead-drinking, pox-free peasants. Evolution is over-rated.
5 You are what you wear
But if only we could breathe underwater just by putting on a blue shirt or make ourselves fireproof by rocking a red one. We’re sure Mary Portas is on it.
6 Clunk, click, every trip
Remember to always lock your house when you leave, or some bloke you don’t know may come in, rifle through your belongings, steal any cash you’ve left in a treasure chest and then break your vases. Thanks, Link.
7 Shigeru Miyamoto isn’t a one-trick wonder
Super Mario Bros on Nintendo’s NES console rocked entertainment’s foundation blocks with a well-aimed headbutt in 1985, but surely it would take a while to match its might? No, it turned out, as the very same developer delivered The Legend Of Zelda the very next year on the same format. A gaming god was born (again, Link, that’s Miyamoto, not you).
8 Consumerism is good
The Zelda series’ core principles are work hard, earn cash money and spend it on weapons and potions to better your chance of nabbing the princess. A western world manifesto reimagined in the east.
9 Stealing is bad
Sure, it was funny to confuse Mabe the Shopkeeper and pilfer his wares. But you weren’t so smug when you returned to be zapped by his retail magic and the “Game Over” screen. A strong moral message and a neat trick for all WHSmiths cashiers to work on.
10 Don’t mess with chickens
As the recurring Cucco Revenge Squad confirm, it’s just not a good idea on any level.
11 Taking time out for yourself is reward within itself
Well, we could spend days making our way through the perilous cavern dungeon levels to slay Lizalfos and King Dodongo in exchange for Goron’s Ruby, but look – some fish! In a pond! Let’s catch some! For no reason! For two hours!
12 Handheld consoles were the future
Zelda was the last of Nintendo’s Game & Watch single-game portables to be launched before the firm realised it could refine the format for bigger things. The bigger thing? The Game Boy, which changed gaming and has seen Nintendo alone shift 300 million handhelds of various shapes and sizes since.
13 Strong and silent types win the day
In a game like Fallout 3, if you try and speak to everyone in Megaton they’ll look at you like you’re some oddball who’s been locked away for years in blue pyjamas. In Zelda, wander into town, say nothing, and everyone’s tripping over themselves to give you free advice.
14 Gambling doesn’t pay
The Legend Of Zelda’s Money Making Game is a follow-the-lady-like lesson in futility, where your rupee stash can end in bankruptcy through no fault of your own. Kids: consider this a warning.
15 Real men choose monogamy
Usually thought of as a Nintendo-only franchise, Link and co actually popped up on the not-long-for-this-world Philips CD-i for three CD-Rom adventures. The Full Motion Video-focused, dialogue-heavy results had them sprinting back to Ninty’s cartridges pleading forgiveness. As the old saying goes: if you’ve got a steak at home, why mess around with a ropey console with excessive loading times?
16 If it ain’t broke, that’s the best time to fix it
In 2002 Zelda was one of the most loved franchises in gaming, with fans just wanting more of the same, only bigger. But instead of releasing a straight sequel to Ocarina Of Time, Nintendo went back to the drawing board, literally, for The Wind Waker, and redrew the polygon princess’s next outing in a radical, cel-shaded cartoon style. Teeth were gnashed, fans on forums were furious – and bucketloads were sold.
17 All a small boy wants is new trainers
… or Pegasus Boots, as the Nike Air Max of Hyrule are known. Their go-faster heels have been helping the land’s kids escape quicksand and style-based playground bullying since 1991.
18 Unless you fly business, travelling is a royal pain in the arse
Unlike some games where you can jump to your favourite levels from a handy home screen, there are no shortcuts in Hyrule, just the long, hard slog of the road, be it by foot or on horseback. You’ll never sneer at Premium Economy again.
19 Musicians will always be cool
Give Link an ocarina to play and his street cred increases exponentially. Before you can say “difficult second album”, sales of ocarinas (a small handheld flute-like instrument) in Japan have spiralled and Link is boots-deep in groupies on a 50-day world tour.
20 Videogame music is a serious business
We weren’t joking about the world tour. Chiptune may have had its day, but the games industry has bigger musical fish to fry. Orchestras are the new soundcards and, having opened Nintendo’s keynote presentation at gaming expo E3, the guys behind Play! A Video Game Symphony are now bringing a Proms-like take on Zelda’s sweeping scores to London’s Hammersmith Apollo this month.
21 Experience is everything
Want better health, faster moves and stronger weapon attacks? Only after you’ve put in the hours, earned the right and levelled up, intoned Zelda II: Adventure Of Link. Words that have stuck with us through the next 20 years of playing RPGs and being stuck in depressing office jobs. Our time will come …
22 Get milk
Link’s dairy intake comes from Lon Lon Ranch, whose milk can improve health, just like the real thing – but also heal wounds. So either it’s laced with something more medicinal, like Anthony Burgess’s Moloko, or it’s been passed by a lost herd of magical cows. In Hyrule, we wouldn’t rule either out.
23 Substance abuse can be beneficial
So many coloured potion vials to drink, so little time.
24 The Wii has another Christmas left in it
With new console Wii U on the horizon, and Microsoft’s Kinect stealing gaming’s motion-sensing thunder, it’s easy to forget there are still games being made for Nintendo’s previously pioneering platform. That was, until they announced a new Zelda, Skyward Sword, out this November. Cue thousands of men “mis-placing” their partner’s Wii Fit mat and re-learning how to use a Wiimote. (Wii can’t wait.)
25 Chivalry is not dead
Well, the entire series is an ode to a young boy rescuing a young girl, no matter what giant monsters and evil curses stand in his way, after all. The final scene of the last ever Zelda should just be Link holding a door open. To which Zelda turns and asks, “Who are you again?”
Article also readable (with 102 comments and counting) at The Guardian website