Video games! Love them, hate them, there is no denying that the videogame industry is huge and thriving and crossing over into other mediums like never before. You might have heard that there is a new Mario Brothers movie, opens a new window out, as well as a new Tetris movie, opens a new window.
With its own awards ceremony, opens a new window and how far graphics and storytelling have come, the videogame, as art form and entertainment, has really come a long way.
Look, I am not what you would call a “gamer”. The only time I ever played video games was when I inherited my older sister’s Gameboy games and I played Frogger and Tetris on my Gameboy Color. So, when I heard that everyone was excited about the new Legend of Zelda game Tears of the Kingdom, I asked Leif and LeeAnn, esteemed members of the Harris County Public Library team, for their perspective on the game, experiences growing up playing Zelda, and what kind of impact the game had on them.
Sarah: First of all, what is Zelda?
LeeAnn: The game itself is a Role Playing Game - meaning it follows a character(s) that you the player directly control through a story of some kind. Link, the main character of the Legend of Zelda series, actually got his name from the fact that he is the “link” between the player and the game.
The basic premise of all Zelda games is Link must go on a mission/adventure to save the medieval kingdom of Hyrule from the big baddie guy (villains change based on the game though usually it's 1 of about 3). The gameplay usually focuses on Link solving puzzles to unlock the next stage of the adventure, along with some fairly simple combat (swing sword, hold up shield, use special item unique to this dungeon, rinse and repeat. And remember, always aim for the big glowing eye.) you must unlock area one before you can move onto area 2, and so on and so on.
Sarah: What was your experience growing up, playing Zelda?
LeeAnn: The Legend of Zelda is one of the first games I remember playing as a child. My neighbor, Taylor, and I would spend hours upon hours in her living room, on a tiny old square TV with rabbit ears playing Ocarina of Time on Nintendo 64.
Leif: Some of my earliest videogame-related memories (and in general) were about the Legend of Zelda series. In 1992, my parents made the unwise decision to buy my sister and me a Super Nintendo Entertainment system for Christmas. I was four, so I was young enough that any of the many, many classic video games released for the system during that period were bound to imprint a permanent obsession with the medium inside the recently creasing folds of my childhood brain.
Sarah: How has playing the Zelda games impacted you?
LeeAnn: For me personally, I feel like all the Zelda games I played growing up really helped my problem-solving skills- more so than anything in school. I was so invested in the game that if I wanted to know what happened next, I had to think outside the box and figure out the puzzle that is placed at our feet every 15 minutes. Whether it's rotating blocks around so they fit into a specific design, timing jumps to clear the ever-moving platforms, or finding a way to launch a bucket over a wall with only a plank and a boulder - Zelda games are all about being aware of your surroundings, creative thinking, and patience.
Leif: 1991’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the third and often considered best entry in the 37-year-old, 18 game series, was special. While the first two games in the series were revolutionary in the scope of their explorable worlds and the sophistication of their game design, A Link to The Past brought a level of artistry and inspiration to every detail of the game's graphics, music, environmental design, storytelling, and controls that it still feels more polished and immersive than most games released in the 30 years since its release. While I'm pretty sure I would have continued to love and play video games through the rest of my life if A Link to the Past had never crossed my path, it makes me unembarrassed to mention video games in the same breath as films, novels, paintings, and music when espousing the positive influence different works art have made on my life and others, even to those who are indifferent to or skeptical of the medium. There is a reason there are many folks out there who do not play many video games in general but still lose their dang mind when a new Zelda comes out.
Sarah: Tell me about the new Zelda games.
LeeAnn: Breath of the Wild (BotW) and Tears of the Kingdom (TotK) have an open world design, meaning that once you go through the tutorial area to learn the controls, the game does not care where you go, how you do it, or when. They removed the usual “beat this dungeon to get this cool item!” and instead replaced it with a “here are all the tools in the tutorial, play around with them now, then go nuts and have fun” style.
BotW left a lot of Zelda fans feeling conflicted. It was a huge deviation from the classic game structure fans knew and loved, as well as making the story of the game entirely optional-something Zelda games focused heavily on in the past. While some loved this new change, others felt like BotW was lacking that special spark that made it a true Legend of Zelda game, myself included. It would seem that with the release of TotK, a direct sequel to BotW and not something Nintendo does often, Nintendo has increased the amount of story and lore in the game while keeping the feeling of total freedom BotW gave us.
Leif: If I were trying to convince someone of the value of The Legend of Zelda series, it would be tempting to me to tell them to start off with A Link to the Past. It holds up miraculously well and is available to play on Nintendo’s newest console, the Nintendo Switch. It may even give you extra appreciation for the way that the newest entry in the series, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, reintroduces so many traditional elements back to the series that were missing in Breath of the Wild while keeping everything that was refreshing about that game intact. Yet, I would not be surprised if your favorite entry in the series ends up being the first one that you play. There is something magical about the series, and I bet that magic is going to work on you no matter when you first experience it.
Did you have a special experience with playing the Zelda games growing up or is this all new to you? Maybe another video game had a huge impact on your life? Tell us about it in the comments! Not into video games, but interested in the lore and fantasy stories? Check out some of these books about Zelda and in the fantasy genre.