A few weeks ago I kind of randomly decided that I wanted to play all of the Zelda games from start to finish. I don’t remember exactly why. Some of it has to do with a feeling of guilt over never finishing Zelda 2. I don’t remember why I never finished, but I have some ideas. That’s getting ahead of myself though.
So a few weeks ago I decided to start playing. I had originally intended to buy one of those NES / Super NES combo systems and buy the games and start there. Then Courtney pointed out that I was being stupid. The Wii, which we have, has basically every Zelda game ever in it’s Virtual Console. I did a little reading to make sure that people felt that they were good and authentic feeling ports and then dug in.
The Legend of Zelda is the first Zelda game. It’s a NES game and was released in the US in the summer of 1987. I am pretty sure I got the game for Christmas that year, along with a badass GT Performer BMX bike. Baby blue with white mags! I was 10 that year. I think I got my NES for Christmas the year before along with Super Mario Brothers and, for some reason, Top Gun. I spent endless hours trying to land that stupid plane on the carrier deck.
I say “pretty sure” because I don’t actually remember. As part of this Zelda vision quest I decided to sit down and try to nail down some dates from my childhood. Harder than it seems! My parents have passed, I have very few pictures from that time and my memory just sucks. So I took what I had and started putting it all out on a timeline and those are the dates I came up with.
Anyway, back to Zelda. I fired it up and started playing. I was shocked at how much I had forgotten. I mean, I knew where to find the sword and that was about it. I racked my brain for the location of the first dungeon but it wouldn’t come to me. This was somewhat distressing! As a kid I had played Zelda competitively with other kids from around my town. I was one of two kids (that I knew of) that could play the game from start to finish with no Continues. And now, just… 25 short years later I couldn’t even remember how to get started.
I decided that I would try to play the game as I played it as a kid. I didn’t immediately run to the nearest walkthrough and list of cheats. Instead, I downloaded a copy of the original instruction manual. It’s funny how big those manuals were back then. There wasn’t enough space in the ROM on the cartridge to include a bunch of tutorials and text, so it all went into the manual. There’s a bunch of tips and tricks, a few little maps, hints at maps of the later dungeons (including that scary, misunderstood swastika!) and a tutorial on getting to the first dungeon!
That was enough to get things rolling. After I knocked out the dungeon I did some wandering and I had a revelation. I used to draw maps! I noticed as I ran around that I was finding entrances to other dungeons, so I started writing down approximately where they were, still avoiding using the web to look it up. I realized that as a kid we used to draw maps of the world and the dungeons on graph paper. It was the only way to keep it all straight.
I quickly had another revelation as I started working through more of the dungeons. My game playing reflexes were gone. I used to be *good* at this stuff but now I was slow. I felt like the signals were taking too long to get from my eyes to my fingers. I would see something starting to happen on the screen but I felt like I couldn’t respond to it fast enough. Happily, this has started to come back. Practice, I guess.
The final revelation I had, while playing that game, is that I missed having a partner. When I played these games as a kid I almost always played with a buddy. Even though these were single player games, we would take turns. When you died it passed on to the other player. In the mean time, the person not holding the controller could map, research (Nintendo Power!), keep an eye out for incoming enemies or provide vocal assistance and suggestions during tough fights. This was important. I was never the most skilled twitch player. I had other skills. Like being able to grind for 24 hours straight and not getting frustrated. The benefit of having a parter was that when you had been killed for the 50th time by 10 blue Darknuts in a room you could hand off the controller and for some reason your buddy would do it in one try. That’s how it worked.
All that withstanding, I did eventually finish the game. I played a few hours during the week after work and quite a bit over the course of two weekends. I won’t bother to give a rundown of the whole game. There’s walkthroughs for that. But I finished it, and it felt great. It stirred up a lot of lost memories and got me to the point where I needed to be. Ready to take on Zelda 2 and my childhood guilt. As I write this post, I am almost finished with The Adventure of Link, but that will have to wait for the next post.