The roots of the Legend of Zelda are written with two letters: x and y. The series started off as a 2D game that would eventually set the standards for what 2D adventure games should be about. The sheer brute force of the first Legend of Zelda for the NES is still unparalleled today. When comparing the game to not only other games from today and yesterday, but to other games in the Zelda series, that simple 2D game really defines what a classic is all about.
Following the major success of the first Zelda game, Nintendo finally geared up and made a sequel: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. While still defining what the Legend of Zelda series is all about, it was still but a simple 2D adventure game that is just as classic as it’s predecessor. Don’t worry, friends. The history lesson is far from over.
The Zelda series by this time was cemented in the minds of young and old Nintendo fans. With the coming of the Super Nintendo, Zelda had a chance to evolve once more with a little title called A Link to the Past. This third installment played like the original game after people were not too pleased with the game play mechanics in Zelda II.. A Link to the Past was nothing short of a masterpiece and yet another classic for Nintendo. The game added to the Zelda lore as did every other Zelda title before it.
So, what exactly am I getting at here?
Looking back on these three games, they really set the foundation of what any Zelda game should be about. These three classics, rich with game play mechanics, designs, characters, music, and heart that no other game series has yet to match. Here’s the twist, though:
They are all 2D games.
However, 2D Zelda games weren’t tackled down after A Link to the Past. With the advent of Nintendo’s first portable video game system, the Game Boy, Zelda made the jump to this newer platform of gaming and made yet another evolutionary jump that added much more to the Zelda universe with Link’s Awakening.
With every new Zelda game from the beginning of the series to the first 3D installment, Ocarina of Time, everything was set in place to make yet another evolutionary jump for the series, and everything that was needed was in these simple 2D games.
All of the 2D games up to and including Link’s Awakening contain all the classic elements that make Zelda into the masterpiece it is. When these elements are either maintained or changed up a bit, Zelda always comes through stronger than ever. This was to be the case with the birth of Ocarina of Time.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was the first 3D game for the Zelda series. Not only did it define what an entire generation of 3D adventures should be about, it redefined what the Zelda series is about. It did this only through the elements that the first four 2D Zelda titles showed off.
With four 2D titles spanning across 4 Nintendo systems, the Legend of Zelda has now become a gaming phenomenon. Ocarina of Time easily became one of the best-selling games of all time and introduced even the younger children of today and yesterday to the Legend of Zelda. Obviously, the next move would be to continue Zelda’s tradition. But, with what?
A 3D game.
Nintendo, with the next installment to the series, Majora’s Mask, obviously wanted to cash in on Ocarina of Time’s success and wanted more money as soon as they could get it. Created from the framework that powered Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask was published in the year 2000, only two years after Ocarina of Time had blown everyone out of the water.
People up to this very minute debate whether or not Majora’s Mask outdoes Ocarina of Time. The fan base is actually quite divided over this topic. Back then, they were, too. With the huge success of Ocarina and the new world that Majora’s Mask introduced, Zelda fans were lost in 3D madness.
Finally, in the year 2001, just a year after another successful 3D installment to the series, a set of 2D Zelda games would be released for the Game Boy Color. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages were released finally released. While still retaining the classic Zelda elements of the first four 2D Zelda titles, the Oracles proved to be a mild success, while barely selling a million copies. Not many Zelda fans picked up these titles back in the day, but now, finally, they’ve become set in stone and tried and true Zelda titles.
But, the main focus of the Oracles and mediocre they did, sales-wise, shows how people and Zelda fans in general were slowly losing interest in the 2D Zelda games, the games that are truest to the Zelda franchise.
One of the most pivotal points in Zelda’s long, 20-year history was when the next 3D installment was announced. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, with sleek 3D cartoon graphics, displayed beautifully on Nintendo’s next 3D console, the Gamecube, caused a massive jolt in the Zelda community in the year 2002.
Once more, fans were divided over something: The Wind Waker’s graphic style. Many people praised the game’s cartoon style, screaming that it’s adding to the series, while the rest either didn’t care or hated it to no end. Finally, when the Wind Waker hit store shelves in March of 2003, it scored a tremendous three million copies sold, still not out-selling Ocarina of Time. However, it still had much more hype behind it than the recent 2D titles before the Wind Waker, and the sales show it.
Next up in this history lesson is a little 2D game titled The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords. Released with a Game Boy Advance re-release of A Link to the Past, Four Swords ultimately became the most-overlooked Zelda title in the franchise’s history. This was due in part not only because it had The Wind Waker-style graphics, but it was a multiplayer title. You needed people to play the game with. This was an automatic turn-off for fans of the series.
With no new 3D Zelda games in the forecast, Nintendo put out a 2D title…for the Gamecube. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures was released in 2004. This time, a Zelda game could be played alone or with friends. Ultimately, the game failed to spark anything for the series or it’s fan like Ocarina of Time or The Wind Waker could.
In most recent Zelda history, all the way back at E3 2004, a new 3D Zelda game was announced. Only a 3D Zelda game could cause a huge spark for Zelda fans now. This new installment, with even more realistic Ocarina of Time graphics, seemed to be the ‘savior’ for the series since fans paid almost no attention to any of the Four Swords games, or the graphic style of The Wind Waker, which was eventually used again in yet another over-looked title released in 2005 called The Minish Cap.
With a new 3D Zelda game on the rise and the popularity of 2D Zelda games decreasing, all Zelda fans saw was the new 3D game, soon to be titled ‘Twilight Princess’.
Almost inevitably, Twilight Princess was delayed on August 16th, 2005, more than a year after the game was announced. After this initial delay, Zelda fans would not see the game for more than a year, when it was finally transferred to the Nintendo Wii from the Gamecube.
However, throughout the course of the long wait for Twilight Princess, Nintendo released the DS, the successor to the Game Boy franchise. The DS was capable of doing 3D on the go, so to speak. Inevitably, a Zelda title was announced for the Nintendo DS. Since the DS was the successor the Game Boy, you’d think this would be a 2D Zelda title, right? WRONG!
It’s happened, folks. Even on a handheld system, Zelda is no longer 2D. Also, finally, I’ve come to the main point of this article. 2D Zelda games are no longer a mainstay for the series, and the Zelda title for the DS, Phantom Hourglass, proves it.
Perhaps it’s just the trend of the video game industry, or perhaps it’s because of declining sales, this article makes a point. It shows that Zelda, through every form it’s gone through, has it’s roots in 2D. But, could it really have been diminished? The hype for 2D Zelda games? Let’s face it, though, all 2D Zelda games after Ocarina of Time were either shadowed by a 3D release or not cared about because of graphics, or the hype of another Zelda game overshadowed it.
For Phantom Hourglass, this is the case. Right now, it’s being shadowed by Twilight Princess hype-wise and graphics wise, since the game has The Wind Waker’s controversial graphic style. And, get this, Phantom Hourglass is not even 2D!
So, what am I trying to say? What Zelda actually is, a collection of 2D masterpieces, is finally being shifted and cemented into the world of 3D. It’s being shown on Nintendo’s newest and best consoles to date. But, these handheld titles are proving to be underdogs, almost.
What road might 2D Zelda games and Zelda handhelds take? Well, Phantom Hourglass could either make or break the 2D aspect of the franchise, believe it or not. How? For the past 6 years, 2D Zelda games have been released on handheld systems. If Phantom Hourglass proves to be yet another possible failure like some of the other 2D titles were, Nintendo may even do away with them. Nintendo is still a company and they need to make some profit off whatever they make or publish, you know.
Only time can tell what becomes of 2D Zelda games. Of course all of them have been some of the best experience when it comes to the Legend of Zelda, they still need to generate money. Making games isn’t cheap and Nintendo definitely knows that. The popularity of the 2D titles has declined over the years, thanks to 3D titles. Perhaps this is why Phantom Hourglass is in 3D, the first 3D Zelda on a handheld. Maybe Nintendo is trying to appeal to more people with new 3D graphics instead of the older, 2D look of the NES, SNES, and Gameboys.
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