On the evening of November 18, 2006, I rolled up to a Toys”R”Us in Gainesville, Florida with two of my college buddies. We had decided, at the last minute, to wait overnight and be one of the first in line to buy Nintendo’s newest console, the Wii - and more importantly, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
I had never waited overnight for a new console release and I have not waited overnight since. But I wasn’t really waiting for the Wii - I was waiting for Twilight Princess. Sure, it would be coming out less than a month later for the Gamecube, but I had already been waiting for years. A month? How could I possibly wait an extra month when there was a way for me to play it now? I literally couldn’t wait any longer. And I was willing to sit outside in the dark and the cold to finally get my hands on it.
A few hours after the sun rose, the store’s employees began to wander past us and through the front doors. By then, about eighty people had formed a line peppered with sleeping bags, blankets and backpacks. We eagerly watched them disappear inside the store, where a limited number of consoles were waiting. I was starting to get worried. We’d made the decision to wait overnight for a Wii relatively late on the previous day. When we showed up to the Toys”R”Us, there was already a line of at least twenty-five people. How many did they have? How many of us would be walking away with a new Wii, and how many of us had wasted our time, sacrificing sleep and comfort for nothing? More importantly, was I really going to have to wait an extra month to play Twilight Princess?
A manager came outside about fifteen minutes before the store opened and started to hand out slips of paper to the people in line, starting at the front. They had “$249.99" printed on them; each one represented a unit currently available in the store for purchase. He got to me and my friends. When I took the scrap of paper, I felt like Charlie pulling a golden ticket out of his Wonka wrapper. The three people behind us also got papers before the manager ran out. For everyone else in line, they would be going home empty-handed.
Those of us with claimed Wiis were ecstatic. Energized, we chit-chatted in line and peacefully walked into the store as an employee ushered us in. We had been in line for more than twelve hours. Everyone I talked to - everyone - told me they were buying Twilight Princess with their console.
My hype for Twilight Princess started in 1998 with the release of Ocarina of Time.
My first experience with Ocarina was at a friend’s house. Our families became friends during the brief time that we lived in the Florida Keys following the destruction wrought by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and once we moved back, we would still visit them from time to time. If I had to guess, this particular visit was during the summer of 1999, the first summer following Ocarina’s release. It was way too hot to do anything outside, so we defaulted to a typical indoor pastime for Florida kids: video games.
My friend turned on his N64 and a guy on a horse ran past the screen. Behind him was a breathtakingly smooth and realistic-looking sunrise. The camera swooped around him dramatically, the kind of camera work you’d see in a movie. I distinctly remember that he was stuck in the Forest Temple at the time. The ivy-covered grey stone walls and carpeted interiors made it feel like an abandoned mansion being reclaimed by nature. It was amazing. I had a Nintendo 64, but I didn’t have this game. I’d never seen anything like it.
I had no idea what was going on, but I only needed to watch him play for five minutes to want the game for myself. In the months that followed, I managed to convince my parents to buy me both the game and its official strategy guide. Thank goodness I had that guide, because twelve year old me would have been so lost without it. I don’t know how I would have figured out that I had to feed a fish to Jabu Jabu, or find the hookshot in the graveyard, or do the entire Water Temple or Bottom of the Well, without it.
As soon as I was done playing it, I wanted more. I replayed it immediately, but the game was only so long.... so I played it again. I probably played through Ocarina from start to finish four times in that first year alone. My strategy guide, which I still have, is being held together by packing tape. Then, less than two years later, something amazing happened.
Again, I remember this moment so vividly: I was at a store with my dad (I want to say it was a Circuit City), and while he was shopping, I’d wandered off to browse the video games section out of boredom. And there it was on the shelf: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. A new Zelda game. A game I had no idea was coming out and had never heard of. I grabbed it off the shelf and ran straight back to my dad to begin the begging ritual. He agreed, even though I’m pretty sure it was like $70 because N64 games were crazy expensive back then. Bless him.
Majora’s Mask looked and played like Ocarina of Time. The title screen was unnerving and unlike anything in Ocarina and the opening cutscenes were even more cinematic than Ocarina’s were. But this time, I didn’t have a strategy guide. I went through the beginning three-day cycle, stuck as a Deku Scrub, twice before finally recovering my Ocarina. I felt stymied by a near-constant time limit, much more difficult dungeons, and a weird, creepy story that wasn’t set in Hyrule and starred child Link.
I did manage to beat Majora’s Mask, and in the years since it has become my personal favorite of the series. But back then, it had a single big problem: it wasn’t Ocarina of Time. It was decidedly different. And for myself and most other Zelda fans at the time, it hadn’t scratched our itch for more Ocarina. We all held out hope that someday, we’d get a true follow-up to the Greatest Game Ever Made.
We all know what happened next.
In 2000, at Nintendo Space World, the company debuted a tech demo featuring a Link modeled off his adult character design in Ocarina. The gaming community speculated wildly that it could be a preview of the next Zelda game on the upcoming new Nintendo console, the “Dolphin.” It featured the adult Link we’d come to love and the “realistic” graphics that we’d interpreted Ocarina of Time as having. For a solid year, gamers wallowed in next-gen Zelda hype.
Then, at Space World 2001, Nintendo shocked us all. They announced the next Zelda, but it didn’t look anything like what we expected. It was cel-shaded and cartoonish. It featured a child Link again. It showed a bunch of monsters chase after him, pause mid-air as they realized they walked off a platform, and fall cartoonishly to the floor - a gag pulled straight out of a Looney Tunes short.
It wasn’t anything like what we’d been teased with a year earlier. Hell, it wasn’t like anything at all. Nobody at the time could have predicted the coming of “Celda.” People would have laughed in your face had you suggested it.
And yet, here it was. It was happening.
By this time, I was in middle school, and I had discovered the internet. Although I had some nerd friends, nobody shared my love for the things I loved like the internet did. Online, I could find websites dedicated to Sailor Moon, Pokemon and Zelda. I loved The Odyssey of Hyrule, especially its plethora of cheats, glitches and Gamesharks codes. Some secrets would set off hot debates before being discovered as fake hoaxes. You could claim that if you talk to every single Gossip Stone, buy a “Black Bean” from Ingo, beat the Running Man, and play a secret song in front of the Master Sword, a T-Rex would appear and chase Link - and people would believe it. Yes, this was during the internet’s early days when most people were unaware of Photoshop.
It’s on fan websites like these that I first heard about Wind Waker. I am 100% certain that when I first read about Wind Waker, the information was already couched in angry, negative bias.
The fan outcry to the 2001 Space World trailer was intense and immediate. If Youtube had existed when this trailer debuted, it would’ve been mass-disliked to the same extent as the recent Infinite Warfare or Ghostbusters trailers. Reportedly, Shigeru Miyamoto was so shocked by the backlash that he chose to say nothing else about it until he had gameplay to show off. A playable demo was at E3 2002, and despite being praised by the gaming press in attendance and picking up the 2002 Game Critics Awards for Best Console Game at E3, fan interest was low.
It wasn’t what we wanted. We wanted more Ocarina and this odd-looking cel-shaded take on the series didn’t match the image that Nintendo had used to hook us in with. Not only that, but it was definitely against the grain of what was popular in games in general. The Bit Wars of the 90's weren’t far behind us, and the degree to which a game console could simulate “realism” was still being used as the hallmark for determining quality. Then along comes Wind Waker, a game that seemed to be an implicit rejection of the “realism” rat race.
Was it ahead of its time? Or did it simply fail to meet the demands of the market and the market responded accordingly? Either way, we weren’t ready for it. And we just didn’t want it.
If you weren’t around then and you’re doubting my generalization of the fandom at the time, the sales numbers support it. Although Wind Waker released to critical acclaim, played almost identically to Ocarina and was embraced by many Zelda fans, it did not achieve the Ocarina-levels of sales that Nintendo had been aiming for. Years later, Eiji Aonuma reflected on the state of the series following Wind Waker:
... I had heard that even Wind Waker, which had reached the million mark in sales, had become sluggish in North America, where the market was much healthier than in Japan. I asked NOA why this was. What I was told was that the toon-shading technique was, in fact, giving the impression that this Zelda was for a younger audience and that, for this reason, it alienated the upper teen audience that had represented the typical Zelda player. [...] That’s when I decided that if we didn’t have an effective and immediate solution, the only thing we could do was to give the healthy North American market the Zelda that they wanted. So, at the end of 2003, I went to Miyamoto and said, “I want to make a realistic Zelda.” [...] We knew that we had to create a Zelda game that would live up to expectations of fans in North America, and that if we didn’t, it could mean the end of the franchise.
I can confirm the above as being quite accurate, not just for American fans generally but for myself as well. By the time Wind Waker was released, I was fifteen years old, and I could not have been more uninterested in its goofy, colorful, childish aesthetic. I wanted to do and associate with things I perceived as being “adult.” I was learning how to drive, taking college-level courses in school, and becoming interested in politics. I didn’t want some cutesy thing for babies. And not only had I personally spent the last 3 years trashing Wind Waker online, but I was part of an enormous online community who had been doing the exact same thing. These people were my people. We were united in our opposition to the cel-shaded enemy.
Wind Waker released in North America in March of 2003 and was met with relative silence. Barely more than a year later, Nintendo confessed its sins.
At E3 2004, Nintendo revealed a surprise trailer for an unannounced game. The camera swept through forests and fields, but it’s when we saw a figure riding a horse that we realized this was the next Zelda. It had adult Link again. It had Moblins and Lizalfos and a giant lava guy. It had wide open fields. It had Link fighting enemies on horseback. And most importantly, it looked “realistic.”
As Kotaku wrote in a retrospective recently, grown men cried, and so did teenage girls like myself. Twilight Princess was a ray of hope. It represented an apology from Nintendo for the insult that was Wind Waker. It was a concession that we, the fans, were right. It was a validation of all of our hate and all of our bitching and all of our fanboyism. It signaled the company’s new commitment to give us exactly what we’d been asking for for so long: more Ocarina.
For two and a half years afterwards, I could not stop thinking, talking, and being excited for Twilight Princess. I remember browsing through the same galleries of trailer screenshots so many times, yearning to have the game in my hands. The fandom was alight with celebration. Those alienated by WW declared that they were returning to the franchise. Even the people who liked and defended Wind Waker were excited. Despite the fandom’s differences, we could all agree one one thing: Twilight Princess was basically the second coming of Jesus.
I graduated high school in 2005 without ever buying or playing Wind Waker. The following autumn, I packed my things into my father’s Jeep Cherokee and moved away to start college at the University of Florida. Within that first semester, I became part of a group of core friends, kicking off the best span of two years in my life. Finally, I was among the kind of people I had only ever been able to talk to online. Everyone watched Adult Swim and brought their old gaming consoles with them to college. We’d go out together for midnight breakfast at the student union as a break from lengthy DDR sessions. For a nerd who felt perpetually alone growing up, it was like heaven.
It’s during this time that I met Danny. Danny was the de facto leader of our little nerd group. He organized weekly pizza and games nights in the dormitory common areas on the weekends and managed to track down enough Gameboy Advances and GC connector cables for our group to play both The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. As big Capcom fan, he’s the person who introduced me to Ace Attorney. And, he happened to love Zelda.
One day, undoubtedly after expressing my excitement for Twilight Princess, he asked me what I thought about Wind Waker. I scoffed and said its art style was kiddie and stupid. Grinning, he asked me if I had ever played it. I was forced to admit that I had not. This was probably my first ever in-person conversation about the game.
Danny loaned me his copy of Wind Waker. Later, alone in my dorm room, I put the tiny disc into my Gamecube, which was hooked up to a small TV sitting on a milk crate on my desk. The game started and the camera swept around the bright, candy-coated island of Outset. The music was immediately catchy, matching the vibrant hues of the title screen. It set an adventurous and swashbuckling mood. I liked the song and I listened to it for a few minutes before starting a new file.
Thirty hours later, I was a believer. Sure, it didn’t look anything like its N64 predecessors, but it felt like them. Windfall Island was reminiscent of Clock Town and its population of colorful characters - mischievous children, gossipy women, working men, rich people, poor people, Tingle. The ocean was nowhere near as barren and boring as I had been lead to believe, even if the sailing became a little excessive towards the end. Most importantly, I was totally blown away by how emotional and nuanced the story was. Ganondorf was in the game, and at the same time, Ganondorf was not in the game. This was a Ganondorf that we’d never seen before. He wasn’t a pig monster or a spoiled prince from a far-off land. He was an old man - tired, full of regret, but too far gone and unable to let go of the past.
When I told Danny that I finished Wind Waker, he asked me what I thought of it. Sheepishly, I told him it “wasn’t bad.” It was clear that I had been wrong about it all along. I’d judged the game purely on appearances and had refused to give it a chance because everyone else had been validating my stubborn attitude. But having hated Wind Waker for so long, I wasn’t prepared to admit how stupid I’d been. I told myself that, alright - maybe it wasn’t that bad - maybe it was even a pretty good game - but I still wasn’t wrong. The Legend of Zelda still shouldn’t look like this. Maybe the cel-shaded graphics were fun and charming in their own right, but the series still had no business looking like that. It didn’t fit. I was still justified in being against it.
I remember telling Danny, “Don’t you think it would have been even better if it looked like Twilight Princess is going to look?”
It was about 10:00 a.m. by the time we got back to our dormitory rooms with our brand new Wiis. Breakfast was unnecessary; someone had walked to a Perkins for muffins and coffee while we were still waiting for the store to open. I was exhausted, sorely in need of a shower, and totally incapable of figuring out how to set-up the newfangled contraption, but I had Twilight Princess in my hands. Nothing was going to stop me from playing it, especially not some silly need for rest.
I unpacked the box, hooked up the console to my TV, put batteries in the controller, and eventually figured out the sensor bar. My curious friends crowded around, watching me set it up. My hands were shaking, but I laughed it off as exhaustion. Nobody could truly understand the real reason.
The game started. Link on Epona, standing before the Bridge of Eldin, was the first thing I saw. It was a familiar image by now - I’d been gazing longingly at similar screenshots from the trailers for years. He galloped across the bridge and the music started. Twilight Princess’s soulful, remorseful opening theme is still one of my favorites. I started a new file, my heart pounding the entire time.
Before I go any further, you gotta understand that the Wii was a brand new console. We’d heard about this “motion control” stuff, but none of us had played a single minute of it yet. It was all new - the controller, the sensor bar, the gestures, the sensitivity of the controller, the need to periodically recalibrate. Plus, we had just taken the thing out of the box - none of us knew just how simplistic the Wii’s controller ended up being. You know how Wii Sports’ tennis minigame only really required you to do some kind of motion, any motion, in order to hit the ball, as long as it was timed right? Twilight Princess’s motion controls for the sword were almost identical: a waggle motion was exactly the same as a button press.
I recall being incredibly disappointed by this. In my mind, I’d imagined valiantly swinging the sword and having Link’s movement on the screen match my movement 1:1. It didn’t work that way at all.
But this was only a mild disappointment. I still had Twilight Princess! So the sword was less the ideal, who cares. No - everything was great until I was tasked with catching a fish.
The game gave me a fishing pole but forgot to tell me how to use it. It can be confusing with a regular controller, but try to imagine how lost I was with the brand-new Wii Remote that I still wasn’t familiar with. I flailed the controller around, unable to figure out how to cast my lure into the pool of water that dominated most of Ordon Village. Backing out and trying again didn’t work. Moving the controller slowly didn’t work. I pushed every button, but still, I did not have a fish.
It probably wasn’t that difficult, but in my exhausted state, a frustrated rage monster started to show its ugly face. My friends laughed nervously as I growled at the TV. Eventually, I got it to work, but in the span of five minutes, my enthusiasm for my shiny new game had been completely sapped. The hype-fueled momentum was gone. I turned the game off before even making it out of Ordon, telling myself that I was tired and I shouldn’t ruin my experience by starting the game when I needed sleep.
As I played through the game in the days that followed, I had a good enough time. The early plot with Colin and Ilia getting kidnapped and Hyrule being taken over was very dramatic and I was excited to see where it went. Why did a bunch of monster henchmen kidnap them and who was this mysterious Zant, the quiet and calm badass who casually walked into Zelda’s throne room and got her to surrender? It was a fantastic hook to start the game off.
But then came the Tears of Light. A Hyrule Field that was divided into segments in order to funnel you through a specific path - basically, a series of large empty linear hallways. The beginning of the game was mired with lengthy cutscenes and pre-dungeon busy work, while the later half of the game was rushed dungeon hopping. There was a dungeon in a giant tree. There was a dungeon in a volcano owned by Gorons. There was a dungeon at the bottom of a lake. There was a dungeon in the desert. Zora’s Domain got frozen by the bad guy. You had to traverse a maze in the woods. Most of the iconic locations and music from Ocarina of Time appeared at least once. Wolf Link was less fun than any of the three different forms in Majora’s Mask, never got any new abilities, and was really only necessary as a substitute for the Lens of Truth.
The story was the biggest let-down. It had great atmosphere, but the actual plot didn’t add up. Supposedly, Hyrule being covered in Twilight was bad because it made people turn into spirits who experienced endless despair. But as I wandered around Twilight-covered Hyrule, spirits went about their lives as normal, completely unaware that anything was different and sucking any meaning or urgency out of lifting the Twilight. In fact, the only thing that gave anyone any “despair” was Twilight monsters being nearby, but if it’s monsters that are the problem, why did we need the extra element of the Twilight and people becoming spirits? All of the interesting plot threads started at the beginning of the game were dropped or disappointing by the halfway point. Ilia and Colin’s kidnapping went nowhere; being able to talk to animals is important for all of two mostly inconsequential parts of the story; Zant was abandoned for a Ganondorf who participates in none of the game’s evil deeds until very end of the game. Princess Zelda only had ten minutes of screen time before sacrificing herself for Midna - a character we care way more about, so sacrifice away, Zelda! - only to reappear later at the very end with no explanation, for the sake of a stylish but emotionally weightless boss battle against a mind-controlled version of her.
When I finished the game, I told myself I liked it. I happily chatted about its best parts with my friends. I didn’t want to admit that once I’d watched the ending credits, I felt unmoved and had no desire to replay it. I got online at my usual haunts and joined the masses in their praise for the game. I think, subconsciously, I was seeking answers... as pathetic as that is to say about a video game, of all things.
But I already knew it, deep down inside. Twilight Princess did everything it had promised me it would do - realistic graphics, a dark story, and a devotion to Ocarina of Time - but somehow, that seemingly foolproof formula had not given me the result I wanted. It hadn’t come close to making me feel the way Ocarina did. Hell, it hadn’t even replicated how my old sworn enemy, Wind Waker, made me feel just a few months earlier.
My ray of hope, my second coming of Jesus, was a soggy flop. After everything that happened, everything that led up to it, I didn’t like Twilight Princess.
Every Zelda game enjoys a period of invincibility following its release - a honeymoon where the fans are happy to have a new entry and everyone is gushing over the story and new beautiful world and fun characters. But eventually, the hype fades and the games can be judged for what they are. The “brown and bloom” era of gaming that gave birth to Twilight Princess fell by the wayside within a few years and a generation of people who grew up with Wind Waker became old enough to start offering their opinions online. In the years that followed Twilight Princess, I learned that I wasn’t the only one who felt betrayed.
I’ve been looking for an excuse to get nostalgic about the Zelda franchise for a while. It’s a series that’s inherently woven into my life and influenced how I became the person I am today. Hopefully you found it interesting, although I’m sure my experience is not particularly unusual.
I thought it was necessary to write all that out first to give my main point the proper context. You see, there’s this new Zelda game coming out soon, Breath of the Wild. Perhaaaps you’ve heard of it.
It was announced two years ago, but its real reveal was a couple weeks ago at E3 2016. It was the talk of the event despite being the only playable Nintendo game. Over two days, the internet was flooded with a rush of details about the demo, fueling an equal rush of excitement and enthusiasm. Zelda is back!, we’ve since declared. Back to the basics that made it big in the first place! And it’s set to be a launch title on Nintendo’s mysterious new console!
...Wait. Doesn’t this feel familiar?
Like... really, REALLY familiar?
Circa 2006: Twilight Princess announced in a trailer with almost no gameplay footage, focusing on the popular iconic image of Link on a horse. It’s promised to us the next year. Ends up getting two large delays.
Right now: Breath of the Wild announced in a trailer with no gameplay footage, focusing on the popular iconic image of Link on a horse. It’s promised to us the next year. Ends up getting two large delays (so far).
Circa 2006: Twilight Princess was delayed partially to port it to Nintendo’s next new console.
Right now: Breath of the Wild was delayed partially to port it to Nintendo’s next new console.
Circa 2006: The combination of Wii hype and TP hype boosts sales of both dramatically. Taking advantage of both the established Gamecube playerbase and Wii early adopters, Twilight Princess becomes the best-selling Zelda ever.
Right now: Analysts are already saying that BotW could help sell 10 million NXes.
Circa 2006: Wind Waker, the predecessor of TP, is hated by fans and seen as a failed experiment.
Right now: Skyward Sword, the predecessor of BotW, is hated by fans and seen as a failed experiment.
Circa 2006: The Twilight Princess trailer was greeted with resounding acceptance and enthusiasm, kickstarting a massive hype train focused on the idea of returning the series to the formula of a previous entry.
Right now: The Breath of the Wild trailer and demo were greeted with resounding acceptance and enthusiasm, kickstarting a massive hype train partially focused on the idea of returning the series to the formula of a previous entry.
Now, I don’t want to jump to conclusions here. There are plenty of things that set apart BotW’s pre-release situation from TP’s, and some of these comparisons apply to other Zelda games too. And I’m also not saying that everyone should be “worried” about this or something. For those who like Twilight Princess, these similarities could be good news.
But this article isn’t about those people. I’m not speaking for anyone but myself here. And I can’t shake the feeling of deja vu. I’m so incredibly excited for Breath of the Wild - but should I be? Are the multiple delays warning signs? Will it be full of half-baked ideas, just like TP? Will the NX version be an awkward attempt to showcase a new console, just like TP? Am I going to get burned again?
Listen - as vocal as I’ve been about how much I despise Twilight Princess, I’ve always acknowledged that it’s entirely my issue. My opinion is very emotionally charged due to the personal history I have with the series and with TP in particular. It’s caused me a lot of personal embarrassment and soul-searching and I harbor resentment towards it for that reason. I felt embarrassed just writing this article because I hate having to admit that I was that kind of fan. I was part of the reactionary hate campaign against Wind Waker. If you think Zelda fans are awful, you’re right, and I’m the perfect example.
I basically ruined Twilight Princess for myself. I was overhyped. And while I doubt that I’ll ever have another Twilight Princess-type of letdown ever again, that doesn’t mean I’ve become immune to getting my hopes up. I’m still as invested in the Zelda series as I ever was.
Is it okay for me to get excited about Breath of the Wild? Could I ruin it for myself, the same way I did with TP?
After I graduated from college in December 2009, I worked at a popular brunch restaurant in Gainesville, paid my rent with the tips I earned, played video games, and eventually decided that the next thing I’d do with my life was law school. I got into my first choice school and threw a tiny party to celebrate. That would be the last shred of good news for several long years. My parents were able to act civil for my graduation and Christmas, but in the following spring, they informed me and my siblings that they were getting divorced. A tidal wave of pent-up resentment was unleashed on my family. It did not recede by the time I started law school.
Law school would have been bad enough without family drama, but without getting into the personal details, let’s just say that putting the two together made my life utterly miserable. Part of the problem was that I had no time to do any of the things that used to give me joy. I’d moved to a new city and lost my circle of friends, and I had no money or time to go to the movies or enjoy local things to do. On top of that, the disintegration of my parents’ marriage forced me to face some things about myself that I’d been spending my whole life covering up. I was cold and impatient towards others, I did a lot of crying, and I started having panic attacks. Sometimes I’d down three or four shots of vodka before bed just to help myself get to sleep.
Video games, my previous big hobby, had become a total non-presence in my life. I completely missed the era of games from 2010-2013, although I did manage to play two games while I was in law school. One of them was Fallout: New Vegas, but it came out during my first semester, the most stressful and difficult part of law school. I never finished it.
The other was The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
I was in my second year, and not only had the divorce drama finally started to die down, but my school-related anguish had turned into something more like unavoidable background noise. I’d started seeing a therapist and was learning to cope with everything going on. You could say, relatively speaking, that I was starting to do better, but life was still pretty miserable and joyless.
I didn’t even know that Skyward Sword was coming out. I found out it’d been released on Facebook, of all places. Sure, I’d previously seen the trailers for it and I thought it looked pretty good - it was pretty cool that the theme song was Zelda’s Lullaby backwards - but I was way too busy to follow the pre-release news any closer than that. So when it came out, it was a little bit like my discovery of Majora’s Mask. A new Zelda game is out?! HOLY SHIT. Did I have time to play it? It was easy to answer yes. I couldn’t pass it up, law school or not. Plus, my therapist was telling me to set aside more time for myself. What could be more deserving of that time than Zelda? I’d make time for it. I could play it during my upcoming Christmas break, or on the weekends. The thought of having a new Zelda adventure was so comforting - old and familiar, like something similar to the family support I’d lost.
When I picked up the game, the store clerk told me that it required this new Wii MotionPlus thing that plugged into the standard Remote. I had no idea what “MotionPlus” was, but I quickly grabbed one from the shelf. When I got home, I ran to my roommate’s dusty Wii in the living room, spent a minute putting in the disc and connecting the new accessory to one of the controllers, and flopped eagerly onto the couch.
Unfortunately, the game took just as long to get going as Twilight Princess did. It felt like the opening cutscenes would never end. As the game started hinting that it would be as story-heavy as TP, I began to worry. Not only had I stopped trusting Nintendo to write good, complex stories, but this point, I had a way better understanding of what it was about previous Zelda stories that I liked so much: they were simple and left plenty for you to fill in with your own imagination. Thankfully, it turned out okay - the story had great characters, fun twists, and a few tear-jerking moments, and most importantly, it never sabotaged itself. The villains had clearly established goals and motivations. There were no glaring plot holes, aside from the usual myriad of time travel paradoxes that Zelda always ignores. And while there were plenty of nods to past games, Skyward Sword didn’t over-rely on them - the game worked as a stand-alone story. Ultimately, it wasn’t the kind of Zelda story I wanted, but I think it succeeded at being the kind of story it was trying to be.
That wasn’t even the best surprise, though. Thanks to the Wii Motion Plus controller, my old dreams of 1:1 motion controls finally came true. Simply flailing the controller around Twilight Princess-style wasn’t going to cut it anymore. It took some time to get used to, but once I’d learned how the game wanted me to do it, I was having actual sword duels with enemies. Gone was Ocarina’s outdated formula of waiting for an enemy’s invisible force field to drop so I could land a hit. Rather, I had to pay attention. I had to learn when to strike and move the controller quickly but deliberately in the desired direction. Suddenly, an element of skill had been injected into Zelda combat again.
Of course, it wasn’t perfect either. The motion controls were often forced into things that didn’t need an unnecessary gimmick. Twice I was met with a challenge that existed purely because of the controls - the sword thrusts needed to kill Beamos and Armos and balancing the mine cart along the tracks in Lanayru Desert. The sky overworld was empty and mostly pointless. It’s probably the game’s biggest missed opportunity. I also hated the fact that there was so little to explore on the surface, too. There was this great big world, but I couldn’t explore beyond tiny, isolated slices of it. The game had a lot of padding - most infamously, the tadtones segment in the flooded Faron Woods. And I really didn’t need to fight the muppet-like Imprisoned three times.
But none of those things made me angry. They were missteps, but they didn’t ruin the game. Skyward Sword did enough right to work for me. Overall, I was really happy with it. No, I loved it. It was like an oasis halfway through a grueling three year long trek across the desert. Skyward Sword became my warm blanket at the end of a cold day. As soon as I watched the final credits roll, I started a new game plus and played it again.
Last year, I had the chance to experience SS again when my boyfriend plucked it out of my games drawer on a whim. Sure enough, when he encountered that first Deku Baba on the upper walkway of the Sealed Grounds, he flailed the Wii Remote around wildly, failed to land a single hit, and died. He glared at the TV screen. I told him to slow down. Stop trying to start another swing before Link had recovered from the last one. Watch what the enemy did and strike in the direction it wasn’t guarding. Move the Wii Remote intentionally. Be deliberate. A horizontal strike is just that - horizontal, not diagonal or with the remote haphazardly tilted to the side.
On his second try, he killed it. By the end of the game, he was deftly attacking around Final Form Ghirahim’s blocks like it was nothing.
In the age of social media, when you’re trying to avoid news about a certain topic, it inevitably ends up in front of you anyway. Maybe it’s on your Twitter feed or maybe someone mentions it in the comments of an unrelated Facebook post. That’s why spoiler warnings have become an accepted courtesy to others and why “filter” or “blacklist” plug-ins for websites like Tumblr are so popular. We try hard to avoid things we aren’t ready to hear about online and it’s easier than ever to curate your own internet experience nowadays.
But what about avoiding hype? Unlike spoilers, hype is about wanting hear about something. The Thing isn’t out yet, but we want every piece of information we can get on The Thing. We want to know how it’s going and when we’ll finally have it in our hands to enjoy and share. We’ll snap at any details thrown our way, speculate about the possibilities, and make 10-minute Youtube videos over-analyzing 30 second trailers. Added into the mix is everyone’s unique opinion on the The Thing and What The Thing Should Be. It’s especially bad with a series as big and old as Legend of Zelda, which has managed to attract an enormously diverse fanbase over the years by constantly reinventing itself. Almost every Zelda fan has a unique personal story to tell about their relationship with the series. I’ll bet that you too, dear reader, played your first Zelda at a young age, at which point it dug its barbs into your brain and never left.
When you have a big popular series like The Legend of Zelda, adoring fans can build something up to be bigger and more meaningful than it is. I know, because I am that fan. When I look back on my life and how I grew up with Zelda, my own enthusiasm has so often been a double-edged sword. On one hand, Zelda brought me into a community that I’m still a part of to this day. It gave me people to talk to and laugh with and debate with. I couldn’t tell you how much Zelda fanart I’ve drawn over the years, or how much the world of Hyrule has taken on a life of its own inside my imagination.
But on the other hand, that love can turn me into a zealot, too. It’s easy to forget that Zelda belongs to Nintendo, not to me, and I don’t get a say in what kind of games they make for the series. Nor should I. Last time Nintendo listened to the fans was Twilight Princess, and they churned out a very safe, underwhelming entry whose appeal was focused mostly on how it looked. As fans, we know what we love, but we rarely know what we want next.
I could do all of that again. I could follow Breath of the Wild over the next year with a magnifying glass if I wanted to. All the Zelda-related websites will be filled to the brim with BotW info and thinkpieces until it gets released. There will be endless discussion on Reddit and Gamefaqs and Tumblr and all my favorite old forums. There’s still dozens of hours of BotW demo footage from E3 that I haven’t watched yet. The fandom is alight with timeline conjecture, our traditional pastime while waiting for new games.
But what if I do that and BotW ends up being a hot mess? Or worse - just kinda average, like Twilight Princess was? Is it possible for me to let myself get excited about something like this again, and then be able to accept it if it falls below expectations? Will I feel betrayed, even though nothing was owed to me in the first place?
I mean, look at what happened with Skyward Sword. Arguably, I have as many reasons to be disappointed by SS as I am with Twilight Princess. But, I didn’t hype myself up for SS like I did with TP. When I bought it, I had an open mind. I was ready to accept whatever it had to offer to me. I was excited because it was Zelda, not because I had bought into any specific promises that Nintendo had made about the game during its marketing blitz. I wasn’t disappointed because I had no expectations.
I was so ignorant of either the hype or the post-honeymoon fan opinion that for years, I didn’t even know that people didn’t like it. Not just that it had its naysayers, but that a substantial segment of the core Zelda fanbase didn’t like it. It wasn’t until I was out of law school and starting to get back into Zelda after BotW’s announcement in 2014 that I discovered how much it has been ripped to shreds in the years since its release. It only gets worse as popular Youtubers like Egoraptor add fuel to the fire.
And unlike the rest of the series, talking about Skyward Sword is easy. When I hear someone say that Twilight Princess is the best game in the franchise, I have this strong impulse to argue and tell them they’re wrong. To a lesser extent, I have a hard time ignoring a good debate over Ocarina, Majora or Wind Waker. Even handheld titles and spin-offs can get my fandom hackles raised. (Spirit Tracks is better than you remember it being!) I have strong, set-in-stone opinions when it comes to Zelda, and for whatever reason, I feel compelled to share them, especially with people with whom I disagree.
Except for Skyward Sword. Sure, the list of typical complaints - the motion controls, the empty sky, linear progress, backtracking, padding, the stamina bar - are understandable. It isn’t perfect. I can see how someone would dislike any of those things about it. Maybe I even agree with some of them. But at the same time, my love of Skyward Sword is completely unburdened by anyone else’s slavish dislike of it. I really don’t care in the slightest if you hate it. I don’t particularly care if you like it, either. Considering the fact that literally every other Zelda game can get me at least a little riled up, Skyward Sword is quite the anomaly.
When I ask myself why SS is so different for me, the only answer I can come up with is that I didn’t get caught up in the hype. Not before it came out and not afterwards. I was not a part of the online community during the Skyward Sword era and I participated in no debates, defenses, or speculation about the game. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to reclaiming the purity of Zelda in my childhood, before the internet.
So I’ve made a decision: I won’t risk Breath of the Wild being my next Twilight Princess. I’m not going to make any effort to follow the game before its release. I won’t click on Kotaku or Nintendo Life headlines about BotW. I’m unfollowing Zelda Universe on Twitter. I’m excusing myself from the excited fan speculation. I’m not going to watch the rest of the demo footage that I haven’t got to yet.
If I can keep myself in the dark, it’ll make it that much more satisfying when I finally light Link’s lantern and discover the Hyrule waiting for me.
I know, I know, there’s nothing mindblowing about “just stop caring so much.” But please, dear reader, humor the confessions of me, an admitted Bad Zelda Fan, and the lessons I’ve learned while riding the damnable hype train.
You’re reading TAY, Kotaku’s reader-run community. You can contact the author on Twitter at @sub_judice.