Random Musings: The Legend of Zelda
On December 8, 2014, a young man took his own life. To those of us within the SydLexia.com community, he was known as Hacker, zelda_god, and Mr. Scott. To those who knew him in real life, his name was Raymond Scott Bishop. He was 21 years old. When Hacker first joined my forums as zelda_god in 2008, he was 15 and he was very annoying. And he was banned. He quickly rejoined the forums as Hacker, apparently assuming I couldn't do an IP trace, or that I wouldn't notice that "Hacker" and "zelda_god" had the exact same posting style. Despite this rough start, Hacker was allowed to stick around, and matured into a well-liked and respected member of the forums. He was a constant fixture of the message boards and our IRC channel. He was an intelligent, compassionate individual, who was always willing to help others. But when he was in his own hour of need, the community was unable to help him. He gave only brief notice of his plans, and he ignored attempts to contact him. I never even got a chance to try. By the time I saw his goodbye post, it was too late. I feel incredibly fucking shitty about this. Hacker loved this site, and was always offering to aid me in revamping parts of it. As recently as May 2014, we were discussing ideas for updating the site's forum software, an endeavor which he was going to undertake solely on a volunteer basis. A personal phone call from me might have been enough to talk him out of his plans. Then again, it might not have. But I would have liked to have tried, and I missed my chance to do so. Hacker, I don't know why you made the choice you did, but please know this: you are missed. You were a great guy, and I hope wherever you may be now, you have found tranquility and happiness. Rest in peace, my friend.
Hacker's self-proclaimed favorite video game series was the Legend of Zelda. In his memory, I have decided to share some selected thoughts on the original Legend of Zelda for the NES. Writing about video games is the last thing I feel like doing right now, but I can think of no better way to honor my fallen friend than to write something new for a site I haven't generated content for in almost 18 months. I don't know if I even KNOW how to write anymore, but I'm willing to give it a try. Hopefully this doesn't suck.
One of the common praises you might have heard about the first Zelda game is that it doesn't hold your hand. Forced tutorials have become a mainstay of modern video games, but this game had no such crutches. You are mercilessly plopped into the game world and expected to figure things out yourself. You don't even start with a fucking sword! Now, this where is some people take it a bit too far. I have seen multiple reviewers claim that a first-time player could march right off the starting screen without finding the sword. And yes, that is hypothetically possible. But I mean... really? REALLY? There's an obvious fucking cave right in the fucking middle of the screen! If that's not enough, the game manual flatout tells you to go into the damn cave. What the hell do you want, a giant blinking arrow? YOU ARE THE FUCKING REASON THAT NAVI EXISTS. A new player's failure to attain a weapon within moments of starting the game doesn't attest to its open-ended nature; it's a test for mental retardation. At the very least, it's a test for surliness. Oh, look at you, not going where the game wants you to go. You're such a rebel! I bet you didn't stay inside the lines in coloring books either. Think of the conspicuously placed sword as a metaphor for reasonable societal expectations. You don't have to follow the path set forth for you. You can rush off into the danger-filled woods, woefully free of the so-called "restrictions" that others have given you. But success is tedious and prohibitively expensive on the road you've chosen, and you're probably going to die a thousand deaths. Also, this is a video game. Video game designers rarely go out of their way to trick you with obnoxious counterintuitive bullshit. If they did, people wouldn't still be complaining about the Psycho Mantis battle from Metal Gear Solid or gushing about how brilliant The Stanley Parable was.
I am not what you'd call an efficient gamer. I play games to have fun, not beat them in a timely manner. I could start off a Zelda playthrough by going to the first dungeon. By the time I finish it, I'd probably have close to 60 Rupees, enough to buy the Blue Candle. Or, instead of earning Rupees naturally, I could wander around aimlessly and farm them. I always choose this latter option. By the time I've bought the candle, I have plenty of bombs too. So instead of heading to the first dungeon, I run around burning and bombing stuff, paying door repair charges and getting extra Heart Containers. And then MAYBE after I did all that, I finally decided to beat the first dungeon. On an unrelated note, Link looks like he's having a fucking stroke anytime he picks something up in this game, an actual honest-to-goodness stroke. In fact, he is exhibiting two real-life warning signs of a stroke: his face looks a little bit uneven and one arm droops down.
Oh look, it's a stopwatch. I hate the goddam stopwatch. Not only is it an anachronistic inclusion in a high fantasy game, it's not even good against those annoying fucking Peahats that fly about in the overworld. Peahats can only be hit in certain states, and if they're frozen in an invulnerable state, you're simply out of luck. Also, it's a luck-based enemy treasure drop, so you never get one in those rare instances where it might actually help you. No, instead you always gets for killing the last fucking enemy on the screen. You know, just like how you only seem to find fairies when your life gauge is already full.
There is a lot of stuff in the first Zelda game that those of us who first played it in the 80s just kind of take for granted, but that neither the game nor the instruction manual actually spells out for you. For example, here are some of things the game never tells you:
1) Some blocks can be pushed to reveal secret passages, open closed doors, or simply just to get them out of you way.
2) The candle can be used to burn trees in the overworld, revealing secrets.
3) Bombs can be used to reveal secret passages in dungeons and the overworld.
4) You can walk through some walls.
Anyone who played these games back in the day knew those first three things. The fourth point only comes into play in the second quest, so that was somewhat less well-known. We may not have had GameFAQs in 1987, but you know what we did have? Word of mouth. Once one person figured something in a game, especially a popular game, everybody knew about it. And since everyone was playing Zelda, the information wasn't hard to come by. And if for some reason you didn't like talking to other people, there was no shortage of hint books you could order from the Troll Book Club and Arrow Scholastic brochures that your elementary school teachers were always shamelessly hawking. If you were really lucky, you might even find one with pictures!
The screenshots above show the Bow, which can be obtained in the first dungeon by pushing a block to access an otherwise inaccessible staircase. To those of us who have played Zelda games, this seems like a very basic puzzle with a very obvious solution. I mean, why WOULDN'T you think to push that specific block? But if you were playing the game in a vacuum, you might not find it as intuitive as those of us who grew up playing it do. This is a game about a guy with a sword, why would pushing stuff come into play? It's totally reasonable for the game to spring this on you. After all, it's not like this is the very first dungeon, and it's not like you need this Bow to defeat Ganon and save Hyrule. OH WAIT.
I intentionally omitted this above, but Nintendo apparently realized that maybe Legend of Zelda was a bit too esoteric, because the game came packaged with a special insert called Shit We Didn't Think Was Important Enough To Put In The Instruction Manual. Aside from a couple dungeon maps and a partial overworld map, most of the hints they dispense to you are kind of fucking important. Most of these top secret tips, I addressed above. You can bomb walls, for example. That's not necessarily important early on, but the fifth dungeon is actually unbeatable without that information. And let's be clear: this guide doesn't give you any hints as to where you might want to bomb, or which trees you might want to burn, it just lets you know those are options; you still have to find the correct places to bomb and burn through your own experimentation. And when you have a very finite bomb supply and a Blue Candle that can only be used once per screen per visit, that knowledge is more of a curse than a blessing. The hours I originally wasted checking every inch of every screen for secrets are moments of my life that I'll never get back. Still, I feel like it was time well spent.
Of the first three bosses in the game, Aquamentus is the hardest. Dodongo dies in two hits and doesn't fight back at all, while the ludicrously-named Manhandla can be killed with a single bomb. But let's say you decided to rush into the first dungeon, possibly because the game's instruction manual tells you that you should. You have three hearts. You have a Wooden Shield that doesn't block this dragicorn douchebag's fireballs. You can find the Bow in the dungeon, but it doesn't come with any arrows. You can find the Wooden Boomerang as well, but it's completely useless against him. You can kill Aquamentus quickly with two bombs, but bombs are a random item drop, so you might not have any of those, either. That leaves your shitty sword, which kills him in six hits. But since the attacks of Aquamentus do half a heart of damage to you, he can kill YOU in six hits too. That's a fair fight, and who wants that? So guess what? My strategy of roaming around aimlessly rather than going to the first dungeon straight away is actually correct. Or it would be, if I had grabbed the arrows or the Magical Shield. I tend to undervalue the shield though, because I think blocking is stupid; if I'm not dodging or attacking, I'm bored. Needless to say, I am not very good at fighting games.
Look, it's everybody's favorite part of the Zelda franchise: the death counter! Except not. If I had a dollar for every Ocarina of Time hoax about how to get the Triforce that started by saying you had to beat the game without dying once, I'd have more money than Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and that sketchy Mexican cellphone guy combined. What purpose does the death counter serve, other than to gestate obnoxious fucking urban legends? When this game first came out in 1986, I guess that was a pretty cool little feature. Not only could the game save your progress, it could keep track of how many times you died! Now though? Not so cool. Sooner or later, Nintendo is going to have actually include some sort of reward for completing a deathless run in a Zelda game. Until then, it's only in there to mess with people like me who have serious OCD issues.
I don't know how to feel about the Blue Ring. On the one hand, I always grab it as soon as possible because the damage reduction it provides is super useful. On the other hand, Link is supposed to be FUCKING GREEN, dammit. He is not supposed to be cyan, and he is DEFINITELY not supposed to be red; red is the color of the "Oops, You're Dead" screen. Seriously, Red Link is fucking hideous. A Link To The Past and its recent spirtual sequel pulled this bullshit too, and I didn't like it there, either. I much prefer the Ocarina of Time system, where colored tunics provide more niche benefits, and can be removed at will. So if any of you out there have ever secretly wished that I was your neighbor so that we could play Four Swords all day, you'd best revise that dream to include the part where I always get to play as Green Link. Otherwise fuck you, I don't want to be your neighbor. Oh hey, I just noticed that donning a ring also changes your color on the map. I imagine I never noticed this before because the map is fucking useless.
For all its learning curve issues, the first Zelda game is actually extremely fair in some regards. For example, you can buy keys. See, in later games, keys are only useable in the dungeons you find them in. But in this game, a key is a key; you can take keys from one dungeon and use them in another. The fact that you can do this really adds to the nonlinear feel of the game. But theoretically, you could get yourself into a position where you've used all the keys you've found organically and there are no more left in the dungeons that you can get at, because you don't have the ladder. So, you can buy keys. It's a really cool feature that I have never once had to take advantage of; when I start a dungeon, I finish it. Or sometimes, if I'm feeling salty, I go straight for the Magic Key. Start a new game, go straight to Level 3, grab the Raft. Go to Level 4, get the Ladder. Buy the Blue Candle, go to Level 8, grab the Magic Key. Go back to Level 1, work your way forward, never worry about keys again. But generally I play through the game in a mostly straightforward fashion. Nearly all of the secrets in the game can be acquired with bombs or a candle, making grabbing quest items out of sequence less appealing than it is in a later game like Ocarina of Time or Link to the Past that has actual sidequests. While I didn't ever buy keys in this game, I wish this feature would have returned in later games. Imagine how much less frustrating Ocarina's Water Temple would have been if you could just buy a key or two, instead of spending an extra hour trying to find THAT LAST FUCKING KEY because you didn't unlock the doors in the most economical order. Also, it would have given you something useful to spend Rupees on.
We all have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to various video games. One of my weaknesses is that I can never find the entrance to the second dungeon in Zelda without using a goddam map. I can always see it in my mind, surrounded by those stupid green rocks. But I always think it's way closer to the start of the game than it is. And then every time I find some green rocks, I think I'm close. What I can't ever seem to remember any fucking time I play this game is that Level 2 is in the middle of a fucking forest, and the green rocks that immediately surround it are by no means a reliable landmark that can be used to find it. Maybe now that I've written down this confession, I'll finally remember this. But I probably won't play this game again for at least a year, so maybe not.
As a kid, I never quite understood how to procure the White Sword. All I knew was that I really wanted it, and the game wouldn't always let me have it. Sometimes I only had to beat one dungeon to get it, other times I had to beat two dungeons. And then a couple times, I was able able to wield it without having completed ANY dungeons. Now, thanks to GameFAQs, I know the exact criteria for grabbing it: you need to have a total of five hearts in your life gauge. That's it. You can literally secure it within five minutes of starting a new game if you so desire. Knowing this secret is super useful, but it's also somewhat disappointing; I liked it better when I thought the old man was a cantankerous douchebag and his acceptance of you as the sword's master was completely arbitrary.
I don't fully understand how the NES hardware works, but I do know this: its palette is divided into subsets of four, and only a limited amount of colors can be used for sprites and backgrounds at any given time. Sprites and backgrounds are never assigned colors directly, they are assigned color values. So basically, the game will assign a tincture to Color 5, and then everything that gets assigned Color 5 will appear in that color. So when Link gets the Blue Ring, it doesn't only change the color of his clothes, it also changes the string of his Bow, the handle of his Wooden Sword, and the color of the merchant's clothes to blue as well; this happens again when Link gets the Red Ring. This is because all those objects are assigned the same color value, so changing the color assigned to that value for one object changes it for all of them. This also why the normally brown Goombas in the first Super Mario game turn blue in subterranean levels and gray in castle levels. Now again, I don't understand the finer points of this shit. My explanation is extremely simplistic and possibly not completely correct. But anyway, let's move on to the actual thing I wanted to talk about. In the third dungeon, due to palette limitations, Link's normally orange skin turns a whiter shade of pale. This is only dungeon in the game's primary quest where this happens; it also happens to be the only dungeon shaped like a swastika. White supremacy, just one of many cool easter eggs hidden throughout the Zelda franchise!
E-MAIL SOME FUCK WHO APPARENTLY THINKS I'M DUMB WILL INEVITABLY SEND ME: Syd, did you know that's actually a manji? It's a manji, it's not a swastika. Also, it's called a manji.
For some reason, Aquamentus reappears as the boss of the seventh dungeon. He has no new attacks, nor does he take anymore damage to kill than last time. In fact, the Magical Sword will dispatch him in a measly two hits. I don't understand why such a weak boss is charge of such a high-level dungeon. Maybe it's because this labyrinth is particularly rife with mini-bosses, featuring no less than three Digdoggers and six Dodongos. Then again, those baddies aren't especially tough either. Maybe it's just to show you how strong you've gotten? Look at this guy you fought in the first dungeon. He was kind of annoying then, but now he ain't shit! Except, you've already fought demoted bosses, as recently as EARLIER IN THIS SAME FUCKING DUNGEON. So, I don't know. Maybe Ganon's running low on minions at this point and he just didn't have any other options.
Moblin: Ganon, my lord, Link is tearing through your soldiers like tissue paper! We need someone to guard the seventh Triforce shard!
Ganon: Send Aquamentus back out there, he's due for a win.
Moblin: But Link beat him handily in the FIRST dungeon! Now he's way stronger!
Ganon: Okay, then why don't you go guard it?
Moblin: Um... Aquamentus it is!
Ganon: Oink oink oink, I'm a piggy!
That dialogue is actually from a super hot erotic fanfiction I wrote based on the DIC cartoon. Immediately following this exchange, they totally bone Princess Zelda in the following sequence: oral, anal, vaginal, anal, oral, anal, anal, anal, anal, nasal, anal. The Moblin finishes, but Link decapitates Ganon right as he's about to climax. I want to stress that all the sexual acts that occur in my story, fictitious though they may be, are also all completely consenual. Ganon is a lot of things, but he is most certainly not a rapist. #NotAllMonsters
WHY DOES THE RED POTION COST 68 RUPEES? In virtually every other transaction in the game, money is won, lost, or spent in multiples of ten. But for some reason the Red Potion costs 68 Rupees. Not 60, not 70, not even 65... 68. Sixty-eight. Sixty. Eight. I just don't get it. I also don't get why you would ever buy the Blue Potion. A single Red Potion is as effective as two Blue Potions, it but only costs 85% of what those same two Blue Potions would cost you. Sometimes though, you don't have 68 Rupees and you really need a potion. You know what you do in those situations? You fucking wait until you have enough cash to get the Red Potion. Imaginary money is still money. Develop responsible spending habits in video games, and you'll develop responsible spending habits in real life.
The final bosses in 8-bit video games used to be shrouded in mystery. Often times they weren't depicted in the instruction booklet, so the only way to see what they looked like was to fight your way to them. Even the original Castlevania manual, which makes it very fucking clear that you're headed towards a showdown with Dracula, refuses to depict him in the manual. You know, in case you're the only person in the entire damn world who doesn't know what Dracula looks like. In their defense, the Count does turn into a giant gargoyle monster for no particular reason once you beat his first form. I guess that's probably something you wouldn't want to advertise in the game's packaging... or ever. Ganon, too, was a part of this fine tradition of super secret end bosses. I remember the first time I made it to Ganon. I entered a pitch black room, a room which according to the map was the only thing standing between me and the imprisoned Princess Zelda. I held aloft my mighty Triforce, casting away the darkness with its innate radiance. The magic talisman also revealed that I was not alone in the room. Its light revealed my ultimate foe, the being responsible for so much suffering in the land of Hyrule... a bunny rabbit in a Christmas sweater? Where the fuck did he even get that sweater? Was it a present from Freddy Krueger? Through concept art and games with superior graphics, we all know that Ganon is actually some sort of horrible boar-like demon. But look at that sprite and tell me that doesn't look a fucking rabbit in a fucking sweater. You can't. Also, it would be have been nice if Tezuka and Miyamoto had picked a slightly more threatening color for Ganon. Like say, pretty much anything besides sky blue.
And that's all I've got. I know this isn't a eulogy in the most traditional sense of the word; eulogies typically aren't filled with curse words and anal sex. But as I said, Hacker loved this site, so the best way I could think of to celebrate his memory was to do what made our paths cross in the first place: to write about random pop culture shit. I know this article most certainly would have made Hacker smile... I just wish I could have given him that smile a week ago. Rest easy, Scotty. I miss you.
Posted by: Syd Lexia
REST IN PEACE, RAYMOND SCOTT BISHOP, 1993-2014