Thursday, September 29, 2011

Losing The Legend: Too Linked To The Past?

We are at the end of days, my friends. Not in the 'watch out for the Rapture' sort of way, more like the 'sorry I ran your Teddy bear through the wash, you probably shouldn't have left him in the hamper with all of the other clothes perhaps you should just pay more attention to where you're playing pretend so that I do not have to go sorting through these filthy rags that keep you decent' sort of way. We are, in fact, on the cusp of the Nintendo Wii's demise. But in one final gasp for air, an attempt to find relevancy in the zeitgeist, a way to rekindle all those old nostalgic flames of glory before the fire is doused and the Wii-U rises from the remains. And in that final breath we are met with a familiar shield, a green tunic, and a whole lot of waggling. Yet as the November release date of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword draws ever closer, an entry in a franchise that I have been enjoying since I was a child, I struggle to garner any sort of excitement for the game. And there has to be something wrong with that.

I think it's easy to simply blame my reluctance to plug my Wii back in to the television as partially responsible for my aversion to the latest Link adventure, after all that is certainly a lot of dust that I would be responsible for getting out and those cans of compressed air do not come cheap. But the more I hear about the title the less interested I become in actually slapping down the $70 to enter. As a frame of reference, I still do not own a Motion Plus controller. I never finished Twilight Princess because shortly after the fourth dungeon I felt as if I were simply going through the motions.

By nature many video game sequels rehash similar plot structures, but few games rely on repetition as much as the Zelda franchise. Yes, temples are going to be slightly modified. Yes, the puzzles will be different. Maybe we'll even get a few new items for Link to pull out of his magical back of wonder. But where is the innovation? Mechanically it appears to be with the Motion Plus, forcing me to swing the remote either up and down or left and right to cut down enemies. I have played game with Motion Plus before and there is no reason to doubt this will work. What I have trouble accepting is that it will actually improve on the traditional Zelda formula. The least enjoyable bits of Twilight Princess were the portions where I was moving my hands around to swing the sword. In a game without blood, and a series that has never asked me to be great at combat, making that one of the focuses of the latest entry puzzles me.

You know which aspect of Zelda could use improvement? The story. I realize that we still need to work in archetypes because that's what Zelda does, and while I haven't played Metroid: Other M I realize that making any change to a beloved character could theoretically result in a quantum collapse that destroys our beautifully ruined planet, but would it be so bad if Link and the other characters spoke? Or at least if the silent swordsman had some sort of text or agency in his story? This month Game Informer did a series retrospective where they rounded up all of the Zelda titles, and looking it over only Majora's Mask stands out as pushing the franchise in drastically new directions both in terms of mechanics and narrative complexity. I should say that I consider Majora's Mask to be the franchise's best entry, just slightly edging out Link's Awakening for the honor, because in many ways it feels like a Zelda game without being as shackled down by tradition.

And perhaps that has been the larger problem with Nintendo. For a company that is so willing to innovate with their hardware, the game design of many of their franchises has become stagnant. Now I'm not entirely sold that this is actually Nintendo's fault, they are a company after all and need to sell products. No, I am going to place the heft of the blame at the feet of the fans. The people who cry with joy each time a new Zelda trailer is shown, those who snatch up every platformer with the Mario name attached, those who had written off Other M without ever touching the game. The same fans who identify themselves as hardcore, the ones who complain that there are no games to play on the Wii, the ones who feel that the machine is too casual.

Would it be so bad if Link talked? Would it retroactively shatter childhood memories? Or would it, perhaps possibly, allow Nintendo to start making more complex games that synthesize the best of their imagination with modern design? I'll play Skyward Sword out of obligation, but I'm not sure when I'll play the game, and I may not even finish it. Twilight Princess all over again. I'll fight a miniboss that dies in three hits, find a new item, hit a regular boss three times, and gain a heart before cycling that five or six times. And fans will be happy, and gamers will suffer.


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure. Or if video games are more your thing, I have a blog dedicated to all movie news, reviews, and opinions.

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© 2011 Richard James Thorne

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