Friday, May 15, 2009

A Timeless Hero: Part 6- A Link to the Future

The Legend of Zelda first debuted in Japan on February 21, 1986 and after 22 years and over a dozen games later the franchise is still alive and well along with our timeless (and time traveling) hero, Link. The Legend of Zelda has captured the imagination of generations of gamers with its captivating storyline, mind twisting dungeons, and hours of battling the forces of evil as you watch Link transforms from a humble boy into a timeless hero chosen by the gods. But why did they choose Link? What does the future hold for this warrior-prophet? And what does Link represent not only to the people of Hyrule but to us? In this blog series I will analyze the religious and spiritual elements of The Legend of Zelda.

[A depiction of Link in the future. Will this be the new look of the Legend of Zelda Series?]

[Note: I am not a professional religious scholar but these are just my views on some of the symbolism I've noticed in the game series. I've focused on the plots in A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. I apologize if I've left anything out. Enjoy!]

Part 6: A Link to the Future

Over 20 years ago a legend was born in the digital realm of a princess and a kingdom in peril. Since then it has spawned over a dozen titles and has earned an iconic rank in the Nintendo world second only to Mario. But what does the future hold for this timeless hero? Whatever plans Nintendo may have for Zelda, Shigeru Miyamoto, co-creator of The Legend of Zelda, has said that "Twilight Princess will be, without a doubt, the last Zelda game as you know it in its present form." Miyamoto and friends have been pretty quiet about the development of the new Zelda games that have been in development since the release of Twilight Princess. Back in March they did announce a new Zelda game for the Nintendo DS, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, still in development to be released late 2009.

[Screenshot from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, set for a late 2009 release.]

So what will be the big changes for the new Zelda Wii release? Well, there are plenty of rumors floating around with quite a few depicting the Legend of Zelda in a futuristic setting. For example, here's a clip that Wii tv created as an April Fool's joke back in 2007.

All of this got me thinking how the legend in Zelda would survive a transition from the mythical world to a modern scientific world? In the series, Link is surrounded and even communicates with the spiritual realm face to face (unless he's hallucinating, or dreaming, the entire time which actually is the plot to The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening) but how would the legend survive in a technologically advanced world? Most game players probably focus more on the game play than on any religious or philosophical content within the game, but the story is still the heart of the game as it draws and keeps the players hungry for a new Zelda title. It is the story that is timeless regardless of whatever symbols, items, characters, and challenges the game may use in retelling that story. In fact, except for a handful of elements that define the legend almost EVERYTHING changes in every Zelda title from the cast of characters and mode of transportation to your inventory of weapons and the enemies you battle.

At the core of the legend is a hero's journey and struggle from a humble beginning in his transformation into the savior of the world and the bane of evil. As Link begins his quest armed with no more than a puny sword and shield (and sometimes a handy slingshot), he grows stronger in courage, wisdom, and strength as he is molded into a true hero by the very challenges he overcomes. He is never ready from the get go to battle evil until his tests thoroughly transforms him into the representation of ultimate good. Once Link achieves this transformation in mind, body, and spirit he is prepared to battle Ganon. Two warriors strengthen by relics of the gods yet there lies a major difference. Ganon had stolen power his from the gods whereas Link has earned his through a grueling journey. It is this difference that gives Link the advantage to overcome Ganon and bring balance and harmony back to the land and the very reason why Ganon can never win with his ill gotten gain of divine power.

What can we as the player learn from this timeless legend? One interesting bit of information that I've read (but could not find a source to verify) is that the developers named the hero Link because he acts as a "link" between the player and the game. (Although I have also heard that his name is derived from the German word Linkshänder meaning "left-handed" which does make since because Link is prominently left-handed in the series.) The player experiences everything that Link does as he matures in courage, strength, and wisdom. And so the player also matures in these same attributes as he completes the game. Video games, especially role playing games, are just interactive stories where you complete certain tasks to move the story along. The Legend of Zelda is more than just a game, it is a game with a legend that can be told 1000 different ways so those who hear it, now or in the future, can grasp the meaning of the legend no matter how it's told. The legend of a boy from humble origins who defeats ultimate evil and rescues the land from darkness.

Part 1-The Golden Goddesses
Part 2-The Triforce
Part 3-The Warrior Prophet
Part 4-He Who Split Time
Part 5-The Temples of Hyrule
Part 6-A Link to the Future

Or Click here to read them all back to back

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