Posted by: seanmalstrom | June 16, 2010

Email: Zelda’s Content and Zelda Wii

Hello there, Malstrom.

I’m glad we agree that Zelda’s content is one of its major flaws. I would go as far as saying content and not “romanticism” (as you put it) is the virus affecting Zelda. Why? Because The newest Zelda games don’t have the same content as the old ones. Zelda I & II, Link to the Past and Ocarina where based on the legend of King Arthur (with the sword in the stone and medieval themes) with a little Tolkien thrown in. They where fantasy adventures.

But what about Windwaker? It’s about the sea, tropical islands and pirates. Not the same. Twilight Princess seemed to go in the right direction, but it mixed Zelda’s old content with things like werewolves, imps, dark creatures and even some “technological” or “sci-fi” stuff. In my opinion, it didn’t mesh. All of those things aren’t “Zelda”. That’s also the reason why a “futuristic Zelda” probably wouldn’t work.
So… What about Zelda Wii? As you put it, we don’t know enough to tell if its content will be good. However, Miyamoto and Aonuma -do- talk about a “back to basics” approach to Zelda (here: http://e3.nintendo.com/iwata-asks/) and the demo seemed fairly focused on sword combat. There is potential, but you are right… there probably won’t be enough time to really fix things.

If not Zelda Wii, I really hope that the Zelda after that brings the series to its former glory.

Glad you’re posting on your blog about all these E3 news… the next few months are going to be really interesting. Keep up the good work.

Regards,

Mr. Reader

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What you’re really asking is for Zelda to return to its mythical sources, to feel as epic and powerful as any myth. The sources you listed are more western.

When the Second Revolution occurred (NES Era), it was a total invasion of content from Japan. It wasn’t just video games, it was Japanese culture and content coming in. Aside from video games, another thing that arose was anime. I remember Robotech from 1985 and thought, “Wow!” I had never seen a show like that. Of course, anime became lame and western interest in it faded (somewhat how it is occurring with video games).

Zelda didn’t do anything that out of the ordinary for the mythical realm. You had the hero Link, the Master Sword in LTTP, the dual world, and basically a grand adventure. The Triforce, above all, I recall as being the source of great interest and intrigue. If you notice the Zelda cartoon show of the 1980s focused much on the (then) two Triforces. As the Star Control 2’s Pkunk would say, they were like Pyramid Power, “Pointy Power” the mystical birds would say.

Sometimes clues to Zelda’s content can be found in events and things occurring at that time. Let us take the Zelda cartoon for example…

I’m always puzzled why later Zelda fans have hatred for this cartoon. When all there was is Zelda I and II, there wasn’t anything this cartoon contradicted at the time. To this day, I find it entertaining. The love triangle between Sprite, Link, and Zelda makes for some hilarious dialogue. “But Sprite, you’re only six inches tall.” “What!? You don’t like short girls?” Link shooting beams with his sword is the correct thing to do, and he did this in the first three Zelda games. Ganon was a pig in the cartoon, and of course Zelda had a nice butt.

“Hey princess! You look really good from over here!” says Link in the very first episode, seeing Zelda from an angle when she is in her night gown. It’s hilarious. I loved how the season ended. Zelda was growing closer to Link, even falling in love with him (she could see him when he died), but at the very last episode when Ganon had both the Triforces, Link pulled Zelda away during a cave-in after getting the Triforce of Wisdom back even though the other Triforce was sitting right there next to it. Zelda is furious at him because he messed up Hyrule getting both Triforces. The show ends with Link turning to the camera and saying, “Well, at least I still have a job.” hahaha. I can relate to this Link. I’d act just like he did if I was stuck in that Hyrule.

One thing the intro makes clear is that the Triforce is integral to the core of the Zelda experience.

What is with the wings? Oh, don’t tell me. I am sure there is Zelda lore to explain it, all that I know is that Zelda games are no longer about the Triforce.

Zelda I was about the Triforce. Zelda II was about the Triforce. Link to the Past was about the Triforce. Note a pattern?

Part of my real life existence is to study myth. I can talk on hours about the subject. My studying is not about myths as substance, as in studying them, but in getting to the roots of myths. I am not talking theory junk. The myths we read on paper were not on paper. They were oral songs. Where did these oral songs come from? It goes back before the invention of writing. It goes way, way, way back. Thousands and thousands of years. What will really bake your noodle is that the really, really old oral songs… are exactly the same across the world. This means either there was global transportation back then (not impossible) or/and everyone was using the celestial sky for the source of much of these myths (also extremely likely) and they used it with the precision of a computer. Those ancients were damn mathematical. And they were obsessed about the calender.

Anyway, early Zelda games had so much power because the conflict in the story was about the Triforce being broken. Zelda being captured and the land falling into monsters was the consequence. Ganon gaining power was the consequence. Link’s entire purpose was to correct the Order of the Universe, to correct the order of the Triforce. In Zelda I and II, this meant collecting the Triforce.

Look how Link to the Past starts:

Note how the very first thing that appears is the Triforce. And note how the story is about the Golden Land being defiled and now regular Hyrule being defiled. The conflict of the game is not about characters. The conflict is in the Triforce. Ganon took over the Triforce and thus a Dark Age begins.

In ancient myths, the pattern is that the calendar is overrun by a monster which causes chain events of horrible things. A hero appears who not only defeats the monster but corrects the calendar. Link does not just defeat Ganon. He restores the Triforce. And by doing so, Link restores the world.

While there are NPCs in Link to the Past, they are all trivial. The conflict is not about NPCs, and definitely not about power or politics. The conflict in Zelda is the conflict of heaven itself. It is conflict of the Triforce who dooms the world to a Dark Age unless Link can save it. When you watched the intro to Link to the Past, did you feel its power? Did you feel the power of myth? A story that revolves around the conflict of the heavens?

Let us look at Zelda I:

First thing you see is the Triforce inside the logo. When the ‘story’ starts, what does it talk about? It talks about the Triforce. The conflict of the original Legend of Zelda was the Triforce being stolen. The conflict of Zelda is not Link versus Ganon or Hyrule versus Ganon. The conflict of Zelda is between Heaven versus Evil. Triforce is representative of that ‘Heaven’, Ganon represents the evil, and Hyrule is just caught up in it all. Link is the ‘hero’ not because he defeats Ganon but because he corrects the ways of Order, he returns the Triforce from the monsters who have messed it up.

Here is Zelda II’s intro:

What do we see? Well, we have the sword in the stone. But the story talks about waking Zelda from a sleep with the third Triforce. In other words, this game is all about the Triforce as well.

Back in the 1980s, I remember some critic at a newspaper somewhere remarking that Zelda II was Nintendo’s take on ‘Sleeping Beauty’. I thought that was an interesting way to put it. Now, when Link dies in Zelda II, Ganon returns (with a very scary game over screen). Again, the game is about the conflict about the Triforce and evil, between heaven and evil. It is not a soap opera about NPCs.

Ocarina of Time also falls into this pattern. In fact, it utilizes the pattern of myth the best.

In Ocarina, it is time that is disordered with Ganon’s evil in the future. Time as a linear concept is a very modern notion. To the ancients, time was cyclical. The concept of ‘time travel’ could not occur to them. The monster would ‘mess up’ the calendar and the hero would ‘restore’ the calendar. That may sound boring but the calendar was THE UNIVERSE to the ancients. It is perhaps why Ocarina has the strongest power of myth of all the Zeldas.

Note that this same power can be seen in a game like Chrono Trigger, for example.

The Ultima series was the golden RPG and each game held a tremendous power with them. Like Zelda, Ultima used spiritual conflict as the source of conflict in the game (after Ultima III of course). The ‘chosen one’ in Ultima was the Avatar. Instead of the Triforce, you had the ‘Virtues’. The conflicts that occurred in Britannia, such as Blackthorn becoming king, or the Fellowship taking over, or people falling into despair, they were never about the characters or NPCs. They were all reactions from the spiritual conflict of the Virtues being overthrown by some evil or some other sinister creature.

Miyamoto says Zelda is about its characters. Is he really sure about that? The main characters of Ganon, Link, and Zelda are all puppets of the grand conflict that is occuring with the Triforce. The disorder that occurs to Hyrule is because something happened with the Triforce. The conflict of the story cannot be character based; it must be spiritual based. If not, then the game loses its magic and the bad guys are nothing more than thugs. But if Ganon is evil not because he is Ganon but because he overthrew the Triforce, then Ganon turns into a sort of Devil if you will with Link becoming a Savior with a sword.

Let’s return to your email for a moment. You mentioned some things like the future elements not being part of the fantasy. But wait a moment. Let me tell you a small little story.

During the NES Era, I was obsessed over Final Fantasy. The game seemed magical. I could not figure out why. The game starts off simple enough of warriors saving a princess from a bad wizard. But the game got increasingly more and more mythical. At Chapter Two, I woke up a sleeping prince who was put to sleep by a Dark Elf. In Chapter Three, I went through a rotting land, full of disease, snakes, and undead, to kill a vampire and then to descend into an abyss to kill the Earth Element type lord. I sail east and travel by canoes into rivers. I descend into a volcano, full of fire and other hell spawn things, to kill the Fire Element lord. And then I enter some ancient ice cave, drop through floors, and acquire something called ‘floater’. I canoe to some forgotten desert that has nothing there and use the ‘floater’. Lo and behold, a ship rises from the sand. It rises because it has propellers. I can now fly across the world.

At this moment, that I have technological stuff, is the myth shattered? To the contrary, I got more immersed. Note that there is no such thing in Western myth about ‘airships’. They are totally something from the East. The fact that Super Mario Brothers 3 uses airships made that game seem even more mythical. (It is technological yet didn’t destroy the myth of Mushroom Land. Why is that?).

As Final Fantasy goes on, I travel my airship to the north continent that has no ports. Apparently, a great civilization once lived here but was destroyed. I eventually acquire a submarine (!) to travel underwater to some sunken shrine/castle full of water monsters to defeat the Water Element guy. Kraken. At one town, I discover a meteor has fallen from the sky and discover that it is a robot (!). Apparently, the robot came from the Floating Castle. I travel to the Floating Castle which is full of nasty air enemies and defeat the Air Element boss (Tiamet or whatever).

Then something really strange happens. I go back through time. I must defeat all four fiends again when they were at a younger age (and more powerful). And then I must defeat ‘Chaos’ who is the end boss. In the story, there is some sort of time loop going on where the Element Monsters send themselves forward and backward through time and to this day I could never get it straight. Apparently, the universe got so fu**ed up that the Universe created the Light Warriors to fix it all. Hell, I don’t know how those Light Warriors appeared.

It is the most amazing fantasy story really ever put in video game form. And it was called ‘Final Fantasy’.

Now, we know why the ‘time travel’ elements worked to make the content epic (for the same reason why it works in Ocarina, in Chrono Trigger, and so on). But why did futuristic technology work? Why did flying castles work?

The nature of myth holds that a Golden Land or Golden Civlization fell in the past. You have heard of the Golden Age and then the Silver Age and then the Bronze Age and so on and so forth. Science Fiction and our more modern sensibilities think that things in the future get better. The further in time we go, the more technological we get. But in myth, it is the opposite. In Final Fantasy, the technological civilization is not in the future but in the past. And the technological civilization of the north has fallen into ruin. It is destroyed. It is a fallen Golden Age.

While shows like Star Trek were science fiction, they often deployed the powers of myth as well. Remember that gateway that if you walk through you could instantly transport yourself through the galaxy? (Federation always blew up these gateways.) Note how it was from a ‘fallen civilization’. The series called ‘Babylon 5’ was only science fiction in its first and second seasons. After that, the show became mythical. And JMS admitted he designed the intros and all to be ‘mythical’ (Note the ‘sword’ that appears in the logo. Out of place. But JMS is a King Arthur nut and was spending thousands of dollars on King Arthur books from Amazon at that time period. He wasn’t writing sci-fi then but fantasy).

Let me mention Final Fantasy IV for a moment. The game’s plot is incredible. The game starts off with airships and an airship empire. But soon you are in the underworld with dwarfs manning tanks. There are ancient towers that are extremely technological. Most incredible of all is summoning up a whale shaped spaceship from the ocean (from prayers) where you fly to the moon to defeat an ancient evil. It is not everyday that I fly a spaceship in the shape of a whale to the moon in a fantasy game. What the hell was going on? And why didn’t these technological elements hurt the fantasy?

What is even more amazing than that is the fact that there are ancient myths in India that detail spaceships having battles on the moon. And there are airships, not unlike SMB 3’s doomships and Final Fantasy’s airships, that fly around. How the hell did this happen? How did these ancients think of this?

The best reason we can assume was their fascination of the celestial sky. They obviously sailed around in boats so it is no great feat of the imagination to think they could travel boats through the nightly sky… even to the moon. But how did Final Fantasy end up with this? How did SMB 3? I assume the developers found it by looking at things around them such as movies and anime and all. And those sources probably found it from Japanese’s own mythology and folklore. And where did Japan get it? It traveled from India. I have noticed most myths originate from there. Did you know Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey originate from there, reader? It’s true! There are almost exactly similar scenes in some India myths too close to be coincidental such as when Odysseus returns to his home. Over time, much of our folklore and myths traveled around.

But back to Zelda, the original games held such gravitas because the ‘story’ wasn’t about a soap opera or about an ‘evil empire’ or ‘evil wizard’. The ‘story’ was really about the heavenly Triforce being corrupted which corrupts the land and corrupts the usurper as well. So powerful was Zelda to children that as they grew up, many would tattoo the Triforce to their body. Someone at Google even placed Triforce images in Google banners. Why would someone do this? It is because the Triforce represents something more than a fictional element in a video game. The Triforce was the source of the conflict, and the actually object you save, in the early Zelda games. The story of Zelda is not the story of Link, it is the story of the Triforce. Link’s appearance on the stage is when he is summoned to save the Triforce. Link’s disappearance off the stage is when the Triforce has been restored. It is about the Triforce, not Link. Not even Zelda. Zelda could be sleeping through the entire game for all we care (like Zelda II).


There is a very interesting geometrical purity about the Triforce design. Pythagoras would have been proud. Human nature is fascinated with yellow triangles (look at the Pyramids for example).

So I disagree that technological elements harm the fantasy. Technological elements work when they come from some ‘GOLDEN AGE’ civilization and not from ‘science’. For example, in Twilight Princess I found the cannons to be annoying. It didn’t fit in the world. All that technological gadgetry was really an NPC knowing science. However, the City in the Sky I thought fit extremely well in Twilight Princess and was a highpoint of the game. It reminded me of entering the flying technology castle near the end of the original Final Fantasy.

The City in the Sky is annoying gameplay-wise, but its atmosphere and eerie feeling it gives is incredible. Come to think of it, Sanctuary Fortress in Metroid Prime 2 also gave similar feelings.

Much of our interest in the ancients is because they were once technological nations that fell. Egypt. Rome. And all the rest. Is it hard to believe our fascination with these dead civilizations as we marvel at their ‘technology’ and ‘engineering’ back could have been mirrored by people way more ancient than either the Egyptians and Romans? While Final Fantasy IV shows a civilization sleeping on the moon, it is not inconceivable that ancients could have thought there were people on the moon in sleep and waiting.

Anyway, I believe young people, especially, and perhaps some old crave the power of the myth. We are attracted to the tales of the Illiad and Odyssey today and will continue to be so thousands of years from now. Young kids are fascinated with dinosaurs, for example. Why? Because they were powerful and they are extinct as if they came from some magical Golden Land in the past.

Novels and Hollywood used to celebrate the power of the myth. They no longer do that. This is why novels and Hollywood are in decline. There are less movies being made today than there used to be. I often wonder how a show like Star Trek could have become so popular (when it had no right to be as it was so freaking cerebral compared to the rest of TV). But would you agree that Star Trek celebrated the power of the myth? It most certainly did. And Hollywood despised Star Trek and science fiction in general. Science fiction and fantasy are today’s modern vehicles to celebrate the myth. But those are in decline.

And then there are video games. Children were obsessed with them. Could it be that part of the power of the myth was harnessed by video games? And analysts wonder why people keep buying games like God of War or Castlevania.

Zelda games don’t seem to be about the Triforce anymore. And they most certainly lack the gravitas that the early Zelda games do (I’m including Ocarina in this group).

If we want to increase the intensity of a game like Zelda, perhaps they should pin the conflict directly on the Triforce. Hyrule then becomes ripped by the evil powers from the Triforce being usurped. Monsters appear not because they are monsters but as consequence to the Triforce being corrupted. Ganon is evil not because he is Ganon but because he screwed up the Natural Order of the Universe.

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