After attending the San Francisco performance of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, I couldn’t help but walk away from the event with a strange sensation buzzing around in the back of my brain. Yes, the series made an immeasurable impact on game design, with the original NES game and Ocarina of Time each establishing the rules for their respective formats, but the pomposity now exhibited by the Zelda property as a whole comes off as grating — and with the last two console installments not bothering to change the formula much, a bit unearned. Of course, I can’t deny the goosebumps populating my body during some of the more stirring (and nostalgic) pieces played during the concert, but since the marvelously cartoony The Wind Waker, The Legend of Zelda seems to have completely lost its sense of humor. And by attempting to establish the story’s epic beginning, Skyward Sword in particular sold itself on the sheer importance of Zelda, without really doing much to prove why the series abducted our hearts and minds over the past quarter-century.
Though The Wind Waker displayed some of Nintendo’s most unrestrained goofiness, within Link’s sole Gamecube adventure, one of the biggest problems of the series emerged. The restructuring of Zelda as a monomyth might have made for a cute way to explain away the impossibility of laying out Link’s actions in a chronological order — uh, until Nintendo did that themselves — but it also, perhaps unintentionally, gave the series an overly dignified, nearly religious presence that belies its simple roots of exploding octopi and dog-people in the face with bombs lifted straight out of the ’60s Batman movie. Nintendo tried to instill some wackiness into the series with character of Tingle, but his Peter Pan syndrome and snug singlet didn’t go over well with American gamers; we never saw the dark and bizarre Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland, a rare Zelda side-story that didn’t feature Link himself. Since this game’s release, Nintendo has continued their efforts to transform Zelda into a hallowed institution, causing the series to hold an irritating sense of self-importance that only seems to grow larger by the day.
Since we as a people have the universal Zelda structure memorized by this point, why not shake things up like Intelligent Systems did with the Paper Mario series? I’m not saying that the series needs to be transformed into an RPG, but Paper Mario took the standard assortment of Mario items, characters, and settings, and presented them in a new and equally fun format. And though the Mario series never took itself very seriously, his trio of console RPGs comprised some of the funniest (and best written) moments in Nintendo history. Now that each and every of Link’s actions have been recorded to a tedious and unnecessary timeline, why not take the opportunity to parody or comment on the established decades’ worth of material? It’s clear at this point Nintendo wants Zelda to be their Lord of the Rings: an epic, sweeping tale with vast vistas and stirring symphonies. But the earnest and goofy Wind Waker moved me far more than the self-seriousness of Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, since it let me decide for myself the importance of the story beats, rather than pummeling me with prescribed awe and wonder. At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next motion-based Zelda required the player to perpetually genuflect over the course of 40 hours.
Jeremy Parish, Editor-in-Chief
Really? “Genuflect?” Don’t you think you’re laying it on a little thick there? The existence of a timeline has almost zero impact on the games themselves; any nods between games are either subtle (the ghost of the legendary sword instructor in Twilight Princess) or frankly awesome (pretty much the entire second half of Wind Waker). Your seething fury over the fact that Nintendo put together some internal continuity documents for the series is one step removed from hipster angst about a favorite band that became popular:
I liked Zelda before it sold out to the stuffed shirts of continuity! [STAGE DIRECTIONS: chug PBR; weep; exeunt]
The Zelda franchise isn’t without its hang-ups these days, but I don’t think loosely indicated connections that only super-fans care about are the culprit. The problem isn’t its narrative continuity but rather the sameness of the series’ mechanics. More than any other factor, the one thing that can make playing a Zelda game feel like a chore to me is the fact that, ultimately, I’m going through the same steps to do the same things every time. I appreciate that Skyward Sword tried to mask this over by dressing up the series’ formula in the appearance of different steps, but beneath that façade it was all essentially the same as any other game in the series.