My Time In Hyrule – A Zelda Retrospective

With the Link’s Awakening remake due in just two months, it got me thinking about my history with The Legend of Zelda. I’ve been playing this incredible series for most of my life, at least 30 years. That’s a long time to spend with a fellow (who’s not your mate). 😛 I’ve grown quite attached to Link, that silent, evergreen hero who always runs to danger, never away from it. (Well, unless I just really don’t feel like taking on that boss right now..If you’re anything like me, sometimes you want to cut down every blade of grass, even when you know it will just respawn.)

My man Link never says much. He only vocalizes with an occasional “hyah!” or a big, echoing yell after I’ve plummeted him into an abyss. I’ve always felt that was just as it should be. I don’t need to hear Link speak to understand him. He conveys a lot with often-expressive eyes, a casual stance, or quizzical tilt of his head. Whether through a warrior battle-cry, a good-natured grin, bemused expression, or a look of solemn determination, Link reveals himself. The rest we get to fill in for ourselves, in our own heads. And for a guy who’s seemingly mute, he still manages lively “dialogue” with the locals. xD

Ahead are some of my personal Zelda highlights over the years. These are games that really left an impression at a certain time, and top my list!

Link and I Go Way Back

Around my 13th birthday, my Dad gave me a dream surprise gift – my own NES. – Shortly thereafter, I received The Legend of Zelda. Little did I know then what a lasting impact that game would have on me! It truly became what I think of as my first love. I remember sneaking into my room and turning it on, risking my grandparents ire. Those micro sessions with it were heaven. I recall my feeling of awe with burning down a random bush and discovering a hidden stairwell underneath. It had such a pure sense of adventure that beckoned you to keep exploring. It can boast being the first home console game to have a save feature. (How cool is that?) The series has come so far since, but that original title cemented a legacy fanbase.

By the time A Link to the Past for the SNES was released, I was about 16. But I didn’t own the SNES, sadly. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I got introduced to this gem, thanks to a good friend. He had the SNES and ALttP, and one summer I played quite a bit of it at his apt. This 16-bit hit was such fun – and a huge leap forward for the series. There was something enchanting about the look of it, the feel, the detailed map, and the new color palette! It also introduced the now-famous Cuccos…and their infamous wrath. 😛

I remember I got so excited when I first ventured into the woods and found a witch standing outside a hut. She brewed up potions in her bubbling cauldron, aided with the proper ingredients. That initial encounter/memory has always stayed with me! To continue the magical theme, Link could now use an Ocarina flute to warp around to different locations. (I loved that!) He could even enter a parallel world called The Dark World. Once in this mirror world landscape, Link transformed into a pink rabbit. Hilarious, but so cute! (A side note: I’m STILL waiting on that pink-haired Link amiibo. Perhaps with his rabbit form “mirroring” him behind his back.)

New Discoveries and Bigger Thrills

In late 2001, I picked up Link’s Awakening DX in a secondhand shop. I knew nothing about the game and I had no idea what to expect. It was, after all, marking Zelda’s first time on a tiny screen. But it surprised me, how much fun I had on it! LA was unusual in the best way. Unlike the previous games, Link wasn’t in Hyrule. In fact, he washes up on a beach at the start, landing on strange Koholint Island. There are some weird & wonderful things here. A Wish Fish plays prominently in the story. You walk a pet Chain Chomp on its chain through the swamp. (They’re called Bow-Wows in this world.)  You meet a musical girl, Marin, who loves singing the Ballad of the Wind Fish. It’s definitely a handheld standout from my past and remains a fan favorite!

For awhile, A Link to the Past reigned as my top Zelda. But Nintendo would outdo themselves again, with the release of Ocarina of Time for the N64. A good buddy of mine blew me away by gifting me both the N64 system and the Ocarina game. This was in late 2001, so the game had been out 3 years by then. I was newly dating a fellow and pretty soon my N64 became a fixture at his place. He, his 2 roommates, and I ventured out on our 3-dimensional Zelda journey together. I can recall each of us trying go further than the other. We took turns having a play, and it was agonizing having to wait. But it was also great fun and friendly competition, as we all watched each other. Those were good times! That Water Temple was almost my undoing, though.

Everyone today knows what a landmark, groundbreaking game Ocarina was. I myself was swept away, seeing Link be able to turn 360 degrees for the first time. I can specifically remember starting Ocarina. How I climbed down from Link’s house in Kokiri Forest, soon to be sent out into the greater world beyond. I recall my sense of wonder, guiding Link in a crawl through a fallen log to leave home. This was never something you could experience in Zelda before. :-O We really were in a whole new world! While the polygonal graphics of the time don’t hold up so well today, that game set the stage for big things to come.

My All-Time Favorite Zeldas (I Think..)

Choosing is hard, especially for someone like me. Harder still when I try to rank my favorite Zelda games. There are just too many that are great, even masterpieces. That word gets overused, but Breath of the Wild is truly a masterpiece. It’s breathtaking to look at, there’s clearly so much care taken in crafting those expansive_detailed vistas. It finally fulfilled that oft-wished-for yearning in veteran players: to actually be able to jump up and grab that ledge – to CLIMB! I loved it.. but it’s not actually a favorite of mine. Not in the top 3 anyway.

For me, the most important aspect of ranking a fave game is how much fun I had in it. Ocarina of Time was awesome. When I got Majora’s Mask, I thought it took what was great in Ocarina and went so much further. (I was in the minority then, as OoT was near-universally beloved. Majora didn’t receive the glowing praise that is lavished on it today. But I fell hard right away.) There was so much to the game, some of it really sad (tear-jerking even), and some of it absurdly funny.. That hand coming out of the inn’s toilet, anyone?

One of the things I love most to do in a game is to collect and do side-quests. Getting the masks in Ocarina was fun. Now there were so many – all with different features – in Majora’s Mask. And getting all the masks proved challenging, but so rewarding. Plus they added to an already-deep story. If there’s something fun to collect, like recipes, figurines, or masks, I gotta get ’em all! In Majora, I tracked down every last mask – and doing so netted me the ultra-cool Fierce Deity Mask. By the final showdown, I literally wiped the floor with the Boss. You’d think that would’ve been unfulfilling, but it wasn’t. I was awestruck.

My hands-down favorite Zelda, though, is the Wind Waker for GameCube. It took everyone by surprise, even me, with its cel-shaded cartoony style. We were expecting something much different, a more mature-looking Link and setting. So, it was a bit jarring when Toon Link emerged as the next version of our pointy-eared hero. Many didn’t give it a chance. But once I played the demo, I was all_in. I immediately returned to that electronics store, a wad of cash in hand. I sprung for a brand-new GameCube and copy of Wind Waker. From then on, I was glued to the tv and my boyfriend didn’t stand a chance. 😛

There’s much to love about this brilliant game. It dazzled me with its bright clean graphics, the expressiveness on Link’s face, the adventuring pirates, a great, well-thought out story. Best of all for an ocean lover like me, exploring on the high seas! While others complained about the tedium of having to travel vast distances by boat, I was anticipating what would be over the next wave. There were so many discoveries to make, new islands to name, and spots to be filled on the map. The ever-changing winds carried Link on to his next destination and I was like a kid waiting to see what would unfold. He_looked like a kid, but acted every bit the brave hero destined to conquer his evil foe. And there were side-quests galore. I loved the statue trading quest and the quest to restore the Korok spirit trees.

Collecting all the character figurines for the “museum” display was great fun. I was obsessed with getting them all. There were so many wonderful moments & surprises in Wind Waker: Idyllic Outset Island where you live with your kindly Grandma and young sister, Aryll. That cinematic cutscene with Link’s sister being snatched away by the huge bird. Visiting colorful, bustling Windfall Island and all its inhabitants. Sneaking around trying to catch a thief in the act with your camera lens. Saving Dragon Roost Island from a tormented dragon named Valoo. Stumbling upon a ghost ship on the ocean one night – later actually getting enter it. Being granted access to Link’s own private oasis island, complete with a door “butler.” Then, playing the slide puzzles that waited inside. Pulling up lots & lots treasure chests. This game had CHARM and whimsy in spades and it radiated joy.

Last, I should mention my favorite handheld Zelda ever, Minish Cap for GBA. To me, it’s the spiritual successor to Wind Waker and the inspiration for my screenname, Picorine. (The Picori, also called the Minish, are a race of very tiny elf-like creatures visible only to children. They live in the Minish Woods or in town, but go unnoticed by grownups.) It’s a brilliant game that is easily accessible to even the most casual adventure fan, even if you don’t play Zelda. I love how it charming and whimsical it is too, and the music is excellent. Capcom and Nintendo did an amazing collaboration here. My only complaint is its short length. It goes by QUICK, but it will have you smiling the entire time.

The unusual items like the gust jar and mole mitts add some fun variety to the usual weapon lineup. Your guide and companion is a quirky talking bird/hat named Ezlo, who can shrink Link down to Minish size. Hyrule Town is the perfect hub to return to for both full- and pint-size errands and quests. And the mechanic of fusing collectible kinstones is inspired and simply FUN to do. I was kinstone-crazy and managed to fuse 100% in my game. I should note, character figurines make a return in Minish Cap! There’s a shop where you can earn a whole variety by trading in seashells.. Now, if only a true sequel (preferably with Capcom) would get made, I’d be beside myself.

If you’ve made it this far into my Zelda reminiscences, I give you a virtual high-five, my friend. Do any of these titles rank as your top picks? Let me know if they make your list, or if you have a different favorite. 😀

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