For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with the video games and, more importantly, the stories told in Nintendo’s long-running Zelda franchise. Like most kids, I was probably enchanted by the tale of a young boy tasked with saving a kingdom and its princess, and as Link grew or his adventures changed I simply became more and more captivated by Nintendo’s journeys to Hyrule. For my money, the Zelda franchise was always a far better time than the Super Mario Bros. games, too. Of course, the one glaring difference between using Mario and Luigi to battle Bowser and other dark forces and assuming the role of Link in trying to stop the evil Ganon was that I could beat the Mario games. Sadly, I never defeated any of the Zelda games that I always loved so much.
Growing up, I owned a Nintendo Entertainment System and eventually a Super Nintendo, but truth be told, I’ve never been very good at video games. I’m grateful for Excitebike teaching me early on that falling off my bike would cause me to run with agonizing slowness and therefore lose every race, and Duck Hunt was always a blast until the late stages, when I had to stick the gun right up to the screen to get those birds that were obviously hopped up on PCP. It wasn’t all a huge bundle of failure, though, as I defeated Bowser countless times, finished Contra with and without the cheat code, and I even watched Samus Aran remove her helmet and flip the macho gaming world on its head.
But I never defeated Ganon and rescued Zelda in The Legend of Zelda, just as I’d never defeated Dark Link to awaken the other Zelda, since every girl born to Hyrule’s royal family was apparently named Zelda. (How there aren’t several hundred thousand Zeldas in their late 20s today still amazes me, but at least Robin Williams named his daughter after the iconic princess.) I also can’t remember if I beat A Link to the Past or Link’s Awakening, but I do recall having a hissy fit when Ocarina of Time simply got too tough for me. Alas, these are all different tales for a different time.
Today, with this great burden off my chest and shame out in the open, I can proudly say that I finally sat down recently and, with the help of one of those cheap Retron NES Systems and an old gold Zelda cartridge that I grabbed off eBay for $5 (all of the people selling them for $100 or more need to get a f*cking grip), I finally defeated The Legend of Zelda.
Thank you, thank you. I can tell without even scrolling down to the comments that you’re all genuinely happy for me and have nothing insulting to say about this. To me, this was downright therapeutic to finally expel this demon from my home and make something right from so many years ago.
In honor of Nintendo’s 125th birthday, as the company was created on September 23, 1889 by Fusajiro Yamauchi, I decided to share my adventure as a 30-something bro trying to make up for the failures of his past in taking on this franchise with such an interesting history. That said, won’t you travel with me through the ancient land of Hyrule, so I can talk about the things that bothered, annoyed and drove me mad after all these years?
Soooooooo, where the hell do I even start?
Thanks, strange old man who gives weapons to children!
For the sake of full disclosure, this isn’t the first time that I’ve tried to go back and defeat The Legend of Zelda. Thanks to sites like Nintendo8.com and Free80sarcade.com, among others, I’ve wasted plenty of cubicle time over the years trying to take down Ganon, but unless you’re playing those Flash versions straight through, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll never be able to save your progress. So the only way to do this was to buckle down and play it on the knock-off version of the old system. That said, during those times, I may have used a little guidance from online walkthroughs – just like back in the day, I had my trusty Nintendo Power at my side (a lot of good that did, obviously) – but I wanted to make sure that this time, I did it all by myself, with the only assistance being a memory that barely remembers last week.
Naturally, with no jumping off point, a guy is left to do a lot of exploring, especially when the most helpful hint that he recalls is something about burning random bushes and moving rocks. For your sake, I’m going to leave out the details about how often I threatened to give up and the more than colorful phrases I invented, mostly calling into question the purity of Link’s birth mother. I’m sure she was actually quite the lovely lady.
After several dozen horrible deaths that occurred as the result of me simply trying to sight-see and remember where the hell anything was – and raise some gems, because you know the cost of living in Hyrule is outrageous – I ventured to the right, because I vaguely remembered the spiders hopping all over the rocks, and how sometimes they die on top of a rock, and unless you have a boomerang, you can’t get whatever they leave behind. That’s pretty unfair, because sometimes they leave the gems worth 10, and a young kid on his own could really use that kind of coin. Link’s financial woes aside, wanna know which bad guys are pretty big dicks?
Between fish dude and the helicopters, this is not a very fun game to start playing after years of video game indifference. Just as I remembered that Link’s crappy wooden shield could deflect one of the fish dude’s mouth blasts, the helicopters would pop up and hit me, which was frustrating as all hell, because then you lose the sword magic and it’s enough to make a kid say, “You’re on your own princess, maybe stop letting the pig dude kidnap you.”
The basic premise of The Legend of Zelda that I’ve gathered from reading after the fact is that Hyrule has been conquered by Ganon, the princess kidnapped and the world ultimately in a dystopian state as a result. So why the hell are there so many old people in caves waiting to give things away to Link? I’m not knocking them for the free swag and weapons, although the merchants could benefit from lowering their prices since presumably no one else is buying their potions and meat sticks (more on that one later). In the meantime, once I finally got to the first dungeon some things really started to come back to me, like how I’m supposed to blow random walls up to find the compass and map. See? You can teach an old dog old tricks that he already once knew.
I realize it has less to do with how I eventually conquered this game that gave me such fits when I was a child and more with the nitpickings of a cynical adult, but it’s pretty impressive that Link, a child, can just walk into a dark dungeon, see some skeletons that used to be living men and kick their asses. If this happened to me in real life, I’d probably soil myself and run far away. The funny thing about these bad guys, though, is that they were incredibly easy to beat. When it came to the dungeon bosses, I only remembered the triceratops, Dondongo, because I recalled how all you had to do was get him to walk over a bomb. So when I saw the fire-breathing dragon, I was immediately concerned that this was going to be harder than I thought, except…
Holy crap, this was easy. Step 1) Don’t get hit by fire. Step 2) Kill the dragon. It was at this point that I thought, “If this thing turns out to be a breeze after I spent a couple hours getting my ass kicked for no reason, I’m going to be really mad.” Fortunately, it got a little tougher along the way. It also got a little tougher not to laugh about things that really weren’t funny, like how these menacing snakes looked like mean yellow sperms.
A fun thing about facing off against the triceratops guy is that if you don’t have bombs when you enter his room, like I did two times, because I was overly excited about trying to find hidden rooms, he’s a royal pain in the ass to beat. By fun, I mean that it really F-ing sucks. In fact, I’m not even sure if you can beat him without bombs, so I had to go back and make sure I had enough bombs to take care of business, because a lot of times when I was trying to get through this game, I just really wanted to go to bed, and repetition is not a bedfellow of my patience.
What was really the most interesting thing about playing The Legend of Zelda again was how I remembered every boss being so tough and sometimes impossible to beat, and then I’d sit and stare in astonishment as they folded like the Jacksonville Jaguars (pre-Bortles, obviously). Take this four-headed Audrey plant monster for example…
Maybe it’s because I’m a simpler man who prefers his bad guys to stand in one place and predictably toss barrels at the good guy, but as this plant monster got faster and faster, he became a colossal pain in the ass. Of course, once I’ve defeated him by slashing and running, a friend tells me, “Oh yeah, you’re just supposed to drop a bomb down and that blows all of his plant heads off.” Great, because I should have just immediately known that then and now, because it’s all so simple. The deeper I got into this game, and especially writing my thoughts after the fact, the more I realized that I might have been a fool for doing this.
Alas, overcoming nonexistent adversity in the name of personal triumph sometimes leads to embarrassment, so just as I defeated the plant monster, I had to keep my head down and press forward so I could just finish this and move on to either The Adventures of Link or Dragon Warrior, because I got both of them on eBay, too, and as much as I want to tackle the entire Zelda series, I also wanted to play Dragon Warrior again, because that series was also one of my favorites (how they have Final Fantasy games on the iPad now and not these old Nintendo games is f*cking ridiculous, by the way).
As far as the next dungeon, while the bosses have been pretty easy, not a single character in this game pissed me off quite like the poorly-named “Like-Like,” which should have been called the Hate-Hate, because these tube bastards kept taking my magic shields. And what makes it all so much worse is that I didn’t even realize it, so I’d be standing there with a fireball or whatever flying at me, and sometimes I like to talk out loud while I’m playing video games, so I was mocking the monsters that were shooting at me. Of course, after I’d been swallowed up by one of these Like-Likes, my shield was gone, and the fireballs would take my health away. That was some pretty scandalous nonsense.
These bad guys, on the other hand…
I really felt bad killing all of these little rabbit dudes over and over, but in the end it was my duty to rescue the princess, and I can’t do that if I’m busy being devoured by evil hares. But the good thing about The Legend of Zelda is that just as I felt bad about rubbing and petting and squishing the bunny rabbits, I was attacked by a giant spider, which is like the complete opposite of a cuddly bunny rabbit.
There are some nonsensical aspects of a video game that I can suspend disbelief for, like how the hell is Link supposed to carry around his sword, shield, bow and arrow, boomerang, bracelets, amulets, a ton of coins, giant meat bones, a raft, and even a stepladder without having to stop somewhere and move one of the magical bushes for a place to store it all? Better yet, why does Link need the stepladder when he could just use the raft to step from the land to the first and second floating platforms in order to grab the heart container? It seems like kind of a redundancy to me, but then it’s Link that has to risk it all while I simply direct him from the comfort of my ergonomic office chair.
Beyond the gadgets and weapons, though, what really amazed me about playing The Legend of Zelda again was how many hidden items there were and how much searching I was required to do to find certain things, because this stuff was not easy. Like, who on Earth rolled up to this dry pond the first time around with no guide or help and thought, “Oh I know, I’ll use the whistle”?
And then there’s the giant meat stick that doesn’t make any sense at any point, but the guy is selling it so you know that you’re going to need it eventually. That point comes when you head into the dungeon that is protected by the same green dragon from the first dungeon, who is just as easy to defeat the second time around (how did I never beat this game?), and once you reach this cranky guard and don’t have the meat stick, you have to go all the way back to buy it. What a pain in the toosh.
Meanwhile, the old people are just hanging out in dungeons the entire time, because that’s the safest place for them to be. Why is this guy risking his life by sitting in an empty room like that old knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? He’s basically Hyrule’s version of a bouncer at an adult book store, giving people the approving nod as they go into the peep booths. Not that I know from experience or anything.
Finally, after a little more searching, some backtracking to make sure that I got everything I needed and calling my friend to ask him where the final sword was located, it was time to head to the Booby Mountains and open the door to Ganon’s final dungeon. Yes, friends, it’s true – after all of these years, the one thing that I remembered better than anything else were the two rocks that are supposed to be eyes, but totally look like boobs. What can I say? I’m an adult.
Beyond some tough matchups with bigger, stronger enemies and getting lost for easily an hour, while dying at least four times, I reached my destination. Sure, I’d seen Ganon before in videos and pictures, but never on my TV screen with my own two eyeballs. He’s an ugly pig-man, as fat as he is filled with evil, and looking like he’s taking a poop as he tries to attack me (once I expose him from the darkness with the magical Clapper) is really the most appropriate vision for this ultimate video game villain.
In the end, I wish that I could share an amazing lesson that I learned or even a great feeling of satisfaction that I had for finally defeating the game after 20+ years, not to mention the hours spread out over several weeks this time around. But I just kind of sat there and watched Link introduce himself to Zelda, and I thought to myself, “Cool, I guess.” After all, that void that I had been living with was finally filled, but the moment wasn’t as sweet as I had hoped it would be. Ultimately, I think that the only solution might be to keep knocking out the rest of the Zelda games in a row, with Adventures of Link already sitting in my Retron and Skyward Sword collecting dust in a box somewhere in my house with the Wii that I keep swearing I’m going to hook up.
Only time shall tell, but I vow to Princess Zelda, wherever she may be and whichever version in whatever time, that I will rescue her. It just might take a little longer, because I have other things to do, like go outside and catch up on Game of Thrones.
(Special thanks to Zelda Dungeon for the screen caps. That website is an amazing treasury of information about the entire collection of Link’s adventures that I swear I did not use to help myself along in this quest. Not going to lie, I may use it a little next time, though.)