Short piece about The Legend of Zelda. Originally published on my personal blog.
|The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was the first RPG I ever attempted to play. I say attempt because I never finished the game – in fact, I never got very far into the game at all.
I’ve been playing video games for as long as I can remember, but I really sucked at them until I was a teenager. It seems that most gamers have memories of fighting hard to complete titles when they were a kid. The only game I remember finishing as a kid was Super Mario Bros. on the Super Nintendo. Even then, my older brother probably completed several of those levels for me, even though I don’t really remember now. I just wasn’t good enough to finish them when I was little. I didn’t have the dexterity to finish something straight-forward like a racing game, and I wasn’t patient enough to play through anything long or complex.
Back to Zelda – I played that game for hours; I would run around the starting town throwing turnips at people. I was easily entertained, I guess. The one thing that really held me back from continuing on was fear. I hated dying in games. I don’t mean an annoyance at having to replay sections or bosses - watching my player die stressed me out and sent me into panic mode. I could handle it in games like Super Mario, where you just saw Mario fall into a pit, but death in Zelda seemed infinitely more traumatic. I still remember the first time Link died while I was playing. In the very beginning of the game you have to collect a sword and shield before you’re allowed to leave the starting village. I had already collected the shield when I found the hidden area where the sword was. You had to solve a very simple puzzle to get the sword that involved walking behind a rolling boulder until you found a niche in a circular path.
Of course, I didn’t realize this the first time - I walked in and promptly got killed by an Indiana Jones-style boulder. What made this virtual death so stressful was the sequence you had to watch. The screen started blinking and it made this awful screeching sound. After that moment I set the controller down and didn’t play Zelda again for several months.
Eventually I got it in my head that I had to beat the game. It was, after all, just a game. I knew my fear was irrational and I wanted to overcome it. I had already realized how the boulder area worked (I was timid, not stupid) so I went back to the hidden area with conviction. That sword was as good as mine.
Seeing as it was the simplest puzzle ever devised, I made quick work of retrieving the sword. So I ventured to the town exit, eager to start of my journey. I had taken three steps out of town when a giant plant-vine-monster-thing popped out of the ground and hissed at me. Hissed! It was twice as tall as Link (in my memory at least). I did the only sensible thing for an armed hero to do – I ran away. Back to throwing turnips. About two weeks later I was ready to try again. I had conviction, after all. I was the Hero of Time, dammit, and no hissing vine-thingies were going to stop me.
I walked out of town again – said vine creature popped up – and I swung my sword until it was dead. Three more steps later another creature appeared and this time I didn’t even hesitate before taking it down. It wasn’t hard to do and they were not scary at all. By the time I reached the Great Deku tree I was actually enjoying the whole monster-slaying thing. The tree gave his speech about whatever (he’s dying, a great evil is about to befall the land, etc) and then I was off again. I went inside the tree and ran into the ubiquitous fantasy monster – the giant spider. By now I was really in the swing of things and wasn’t even freaked out. I felt triumphant, but then I ran into a problem. I was lost.
Was there something I needed to do while at the tree? I walked back outside only to be greeted with open plains in every direction. I had the ability to go anywhere, and it was overwhelming. What if I went the wrong way and ran into strong monsters I couldn’t run away from? Did the tree tell me which way I was supposed to go and I just wasn’t paying attention? Eventually conviction gave way to boredom and I stopped playing. Not long after that the N64 was traded in (my older brother just had to have a Dreamcast) and I no longer had the option to continue.
It’s strange because now RPGs are my favorite genre. Exploration and open worlds are something I look for in my games.
Even if I had continued playing Ocarina of Time I never would have been able to complete it when I was 9. I had never played a game like it before and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The game world was larger than I could fathom; the puzzles and dungeons more complex than anything I had dealt with before. Not to sell my younger self short, but unless I had someone sitting beside me telling me what to do I never would have gotten through it. I think a lot of times gamers forget that our knowledge of games is cumulative. If someone had never played a video game before you probably wouldn't recommend Skyrim to them. The reason any of us can pick up a game like that up without trouble is because of the hundred games we have played before it.
Nowadays I have more completionist tendencies. I think that’s why I can’t let the Ocarina of Time go. There are plenty of games out there I never finished, but that was because I made the conscious decision not to. Ocarina is the one title that eludes me. I know that one day I will finish that game, even if I have to buy a 3DS to do it. I hope Hyrule is ready.