Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Legend Of Zelda: A Rambling, Pointless Playthrough (Part 1)

It does not take much to sweep me off my feet, and the Legend of Zelda Retrospective did just that last October, without any resistance on my part. Now when I say "sweep me off my feet" I'm not trying to be clever or anything, I'm referring to a shift in interests pure and simple, because this is exactly what it was. At this point in my life I hadn't thought about the Legend of Zelda much at all recently, at least give or take in the last couple years, when I lazily finished my game of Ocarina of Time more out of an obligation to the incomplete save file than anything else (I love - LOVE - Ocarina of Time so this may not have been the best sign of my personal state at the time). I didn't finish the game because Wind Waker was released, back in March 2003, and of course Wind Waker was so beautiful and fulfilling in its own way that I didn't need to use Ocarina of Time as a Zelda-stopgap anymore. It honestly didn't matter much at the time, though; I loved Wind Waker but not enough to stem the Final Fantasy wave I was shamelessly riding, something I'd been guilty of since I was 12 years old and buggered out over the cool-smooth FMV graphics of Final Fantasy VIII. Man, that blew me out.

I can talk about Final Fantasy later on (you'll have to wait, I promise it'll be real interesting though!). I'm not gonna rag on FF, you know, it's just that it's gonna be the counterpoint of this whole little memoir and it will be important, I promise. But BACK to the retrospective. The truth is that, before I actually started watching these videos, I was still riding that same Final Fantasy wave, to the point where Final Fantasies VII and VIII were the only games I was bothering to re-play by around late 2006. I also fell in love with Metal Gear, which lasted half the summer until my house burned to the ground, which could be called a "setback" in gamer terms. After my father decided to salvage everything he could from our 'ol burnt crisp of a house, my video games came with him, which was... well, nice, if not the first thing on my mind (the second, if you must know). I had Final Fantasy VII back, which I was playing through before the fire, and while I did end up finishing that one right up into October '06, it just didn't feel right. It was fucking DEPRESSING, if you must know. I did everything right - got all my character shit-crazy powerful, 9999 holy-grail HP and all that, killed that fucker Emerald Weapon who'd eluded me ever since I deleted my earliest playthrough back in '00 and cried myself to sleep, knowing his green slimy machine body was still sludging through the waters of The Planet or wherever Cloud 'n Friends happened to live.

Shit, you know, Final Fantasy is pretty important in relation to Zelda. For me, at least; I got sucked into the FFVIII turbine right around the time I first finished Link to the Past for the first time. In all truth, my entire early love for Zelda can almost totally be quarantined in a single year: 1999, a decent enough candidate for my personal Best Year To Be Alive. I bought Link's Awakening, the super-upgraded colorized version, and fell in love; borrowed Ocarina from a friend of mine, and fell DEEPLY in love; bought Link to the Past secondhand at my local (now defunct/Gamestop) Funcoland and fell reprehensibly in love until I decided not to even finish the final dungeon and buy a Playstation (oh, the fickle whims of youth... redundant, I know, but it sounds writerly). Wind Waker had a wonderful intervention in '03, during one of my favorite Springtimes (capitalized for Importance), but I haven't played it since due to a lousy kid from high school who I lent it to and who never gave it back (if you're reading, Stephen Callahan - HEY HEY, you're not lousy, just unreliable). Bad luck and broken dreams have come hand in hand between Zelda and myself, and when I saw this six-video Zelda Retrospective on in celebration of Twilight Princess's eventual release, all of that 1999-2003 love I had locked away in some obscure brain cell was cut loose, like some great chemical; to call it a drug would be cheapening it. Only two videos were around when I first saw them, but they were enough; here was Legend of Zelda (never played), Zelda 2 (never played, looks a little hard), Link to the Past (two-dimensional video gaming at its peak) and Link's Awakening (ocean of memory) in all of its retroactive glory, being spoken of in near-philosophical terms by the nameless GT narrator, who sounded like he was reading off of slightly-blurred cue cards (or maybe he just hadn't been reading these "game review video" things for very long). The narrator worked, though, because you could see he loved these games, and the game footage spoke for itself; hearing him call Ocarina of Time "one of the finest achievements in gaming" over a video of the Sages of Time swirling together to seal away Ultimate Evil - leading into a great Master Sword shot with bells chiming - just shook my bones. Call it pathetic or nerdy if you want - honestly, you're not even scratching the surface of my great Zelda Spirit. Yeah, part of it is cheap nostalgia, my need to reconnect with my 6th-grade self. I've come to terms with that, and I don't care anymore. It's beyond nostalgia; it's something that I don't want to bother trying to explain. Watching these videos, I just kind of stopped, stared, and said to myself - "Man, I love The Legend of Zelda."

And that's when this whole "playthrough" thing started. I borrowed the Game Boy Advance version of Link to the Past from a friend of mine before my school year started, and there it was, sitting there on my desk, waiting to be re-played. At the time I was starting off Chrono Trigger again (another game I love for its core simplicity, but one that I have failed to play through past that dino-level in about four years), but once I started LttP again, I couldn't stop; once I reached that Master Sword sequence, with Link pulling out the sword in the middle of the Lost Woods for the first time (and, for me, the first time in five years), charging his way through Hyrule Castle, breaking through those god-awful annoying electric-ish barriers and giving Agahnim a good old-fashioned one-two. The music, the suspense - everything fit, and I was hooked once again.
So I guess all I can do is write my own retrospective - how I view the Legend of Zelda series, how it fits into my own philosophical bubble (if that sounds pretentious, that's because it is), and why I think it's the goddamned Greatest Video Game Series Ever, going beyond video games themselves to become one of the finest achievements in ANYTHING, beyond even art itself. Fuck art. Art is something I don't understand and feel no need to try and quantify. Zelda's better than most art I've seen anyways. And I mean that.

Of course, I'm not actually finished yet. I'm currently playing through Ocarina of Time, which is drudging up its share of memories. After that I may try my hand a couple more games I haven't played yet until I finally finish up with a long-awaited playthrough of The Wind Waker. So consider this an introduction - I'll eventually go in-depth on almost every Zelda game I've played in the past year (maybe all of them, if I care enough about it). For now, I'll just have to ride the New Wave. Whatever that means.

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