The Missing Link
I threatened with a post about this in the comments section of a previous post. Today, I follow through with my threat.
I’m sure you’ve all been to a family reunion at one point in your life. (I actually missed mine this year thanks to a certain business trip, and I’m not sure if I got the better end of the deal in the end.) Every year, my family gathers together about an hour from my place of residence to once again share news from the farthest reaches of the family tree; remember how everyone looks; or–in my case–hopelessly fail to remember who these people are, what their names are, and just how in the world they’re related to me. (I’ve failed the pop quiz of this five years running, and I’ll be going for the world record next year!)
When I play the more recent Zelda titles, I cannot help but think about our annual family reunions down in the Middle of Nowhere, Ohio. Back in the older days of Zelda, characters were just random pixels that had been spntaneously grouped together to form a sprite that somewhat resembled a human being. Rarely were they given names, and never were they pulled from a previous game into the next game in the series. The likes of Error, Sahasrahla, Marin, Joe NPC, and the ubiquitous Old Man were never to see the likes of Zelda again outside of their original context, and the Goddesses Three declared it good.
But ever since Ocarina, characters have shown this amazing resilienace to death by mass forgetfulness. I need only mention a few of them before you’ll quickly see where I’m going with this:
This, of course, is just a very small list of the repeated characters; if you want more, just play Minish Cap; I think they’ve thrown every character that ever existed save for Saria into that game. Seriously, what gives?
Other than throwing timeline enthusiasts into absolute conniptions, I’ve always found the reappearance of a memorable character in a completely unrelated game… well… not all that exciting. Take Malon, for instance. Sageshipper though I am, I liked and respected Malon for her role in Ocarina of Time. Now while her appearance in Majora’s Mask (as Cremia and Romani) was there largely for convenience in getting the game out quickly, her roles in Seasons, Adventures, and Minish were not. She was merely thrown into the game in order for us to resurrect some sentimentality for her based upon our opinion of her from her original appearances in the series. Yet in each of these last three games, each time she serves merely as a placeholder NPC; all she’s worth is either one step along a trading quest or as a piece in some puzzle for our hero Link to solve. It could have been anybody in that position, but someone on the development team decided upon Malon.
Here we see Malon, a fully developed character from one of the greatest acclaimed Zelda titles of all time, converted to slaving away as just another random NPC, saying perhaps three or four lines each time, and then doing nothing else. (This should cause ranchshippers–you Link/Malon fans out there–some serious ire.) All of this is done simply for the hope that we, the gamers, will draw upon our love of the character from the previous game, associate it with this game, and thus consequentially completely and utterly cherish the new title.
Maybe it’s just me, but this seems a bit artifical. What’s really going on here is the subtle art of distraction. It’s the classic game of Hey-Look-over-There, whereupon we, being naïve cast a passing glance over at something pretty tossed into the game… only to look back and completely miss the glaring weaknesses of the game because it escaped out the back door when we weren’t looking. For the Oracle games, that was the lack of a deep plot; for Four Swords Adventures, to make the stages of the game less boring; for Waker, the Triforce Hunt quest; for Minish Cap, the poorly designed overworld/plot device. Granted, these weaknesses in the titles are by no means enough to say that the game isn’t worth the silicon it’s printed on. They are decent Zelda titles in their own right; at the same time, though, it is an attempt to fool us into thinking the game is better than it is.
At a deeper level, however, the constant reuse of characters in subsequent games prevents new characters from suddenly appearing within the series. Now while I do believe that this will not be a problem in Twilight Princess and, likely, console Zeldas in the future, I don’t believe we’ll ever find a portable Zelda title as rich as Link’s Awakening… at least until this trend reverses itself. Portable Zeldas will seem to be a derivative work off of some previous Zelda title, and while we’ll still like it, they’ll never rise to being our favourite Zelda games of all time, if only because of lack of originality… and creativity, two things which I feel made Zelda the big success it is today.
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the older Zelda titles; maybe I’m just longing for the way Zelda used to be. But when it comes down to it, I just cannot see all the hubbub over Tingle this or Malon that. I believe it’s time to stop obsessing over characters that once were and put some new blood into our characters.
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