One of my fondest memories growing up was playing Nintendo games at my babysitter’s house. In fact, one of my earliest gaming memories was of my babysitter’s husband excitedly coming home one day with a brand new game for us to play: The Legend of Zelda. If I remember correctly, we sat down and within 1 or 2 days we had beaten the entire game. I say ‘we’ but really he played and I watched. I was very young. Sometime later, he came home again with Zelda 2 and we did it again. It was magical.
Fast forward a few years and we finally got our own NES and eventually SNES, but I never asked for a Zelda game. Somehow I completely missed A Link to the Past. As I grew up, the magical land of Hyrule faded into distant memory. With the arrival of Super Smash Bros on Nintendo 64, I was reintroduced to Link and Hyrule, but again I missed Ocarina of Time on N64 (I don’t blame you if you want to stop reading now). When I got into college, I began to go back to try and play both Link to the Past and OoT via emulator. This began my failed attempts to play through a 3D Zelda game. 16 years later, I finally completed my first 3D Zelda game: The Windwaker HD. This is the story of that journey.
College was, for me, a kind of gaming renaissance. I missed a lot of RPGs growing up because I was a Sega kid, so I never owned a Playstation product. I finally got a PS2 as a Sophomore and was able to go back and experience Final Fantasy 7-9, Xenogears, and Chrono Cross. Playing those games made me want to go back to the old RPGs I missed, Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and of course A Link to the Past and OoT. I don’t quite remember what happened with A Link to the Past, but somehow I got bored with it and decided to play one of those other games instead. It was about this time that emulators had enough power to emulate N64 games, so I started on OoT and loved it. I got as far as Dodongo’s Cavern and then the emulator failed and I lost my save game. Slightly disappointed, I started over and pushed through the same areas. This time, I got as far as Zora’s Domain before my entire computer crashed (for unrelated reasons) and my save was not backed up. It was at that point that I decided to stop trying and trust my memory cards in my Playstation with my save games.
A couple of years later, I got what is probably my favorite Nintendo console ever: The Nintendo Gamecube and with it, the promise of a realistic Zelda game (you all remember the E3 trailer). However, what we got was a cell shaded “kid’s” game called Windwaker. What a disappointed young man I was, I couldn’t see the simple timeless beauty in the art style, instead I just wanted the realistic Zelda I was promised. Nevertheless, I bought the game anyway because I wanted to jump back into Hyrule. I don’t remember exactly what happened with Windwaker. I know that I played it for a while, but ultimately got bored with having to change the wind direction to travel anywhere. I was also late to the Gamecube, so there were so many other titles that grabbed my attention and I never came back to Windwaker. By the time Twilight Princess came out, I had long since sold my Gamecube and never owned a Wii so I missed it.
I was late to the DS party too, so by the time I finally got a DSXL, I had to try and play some more Zeldas, because why not? So I purchased Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks and played them both pretty heavily (I have a slight case of video game ADD). I was really enjoying the 2D/3D perspective and the very different take on Zelda (where she was a ghost). Well, my wife and I were traveling through Japan at the time and I was playing it a lot on the train. One night, I got back to the hotel and couldn’t find my DS. That’s right, I left it on the damn train. Somewhere in Japan, there is a very happy person with a free DSXL and a ton of games including a half (or more) finished copy of both Zelda games.
After losing my DSXL, it wasn’t hard to justify jumping on the 3DS train immediately. I bought one early enough that I was a member of the Ambassador program. When I heard that OoT was going to be re-released on the 3DS, I got so excited. This was finally my chance to play it to completion and I was determined to do so. I purchased it when it came out and played through it pretty regularly for the first couple of weeks. I made it further in the game than I ever had before and then something came out that distracted me. I can’t remember exactly what or if it was just my Vita that I ended up playing more. Eventually, my 3DS began collecting dust and I decided that I didn’t need two handhelds. So, I chose the Vita and sold my 3DS before I finished OoT. Stupid.
Fast forward a few years, eventually I got another 3DSXL and now own a New 3DSXL and purchased OoT on sale. I’m going to do it…eventually. A couple of years ago, I decided to purchase a WiiU when they were basically giving away games with the Deluxe Digital Promotion and so I chose Windwaker HD as my free game. I was going to do it this time! I was not prepared for how long it would take me.
I played Windwaker quite a bit when I first got it, but found myself trying to rush through everything to finish it and staring at the game time clock thinking that it wasn’t increasing fast enough. I enjoyed it enough, but at this point I just wanted to finish a 3D Zelda. I wasn’t getting enjoyment out of exploring the beautiful world. When Smash Bros came out, my attention shifted to that and Windwaker went on the shelf. Because the WiiU was fully backwards compatible with the Wii, I decided to check out some games I had missed over the years. Enter Skyward Sword. The idea of playing a Zelda game with 1:1 motion tracking for your sword sounded like a blast, and it was for a couple of hours. Then Fi broke me.
You know who I’m talking about, Fi, that spirit of the Master Sword who was more annoying than Navi and decided that every time you loaded a save game she would talk to you like it was the first time you have played the game. Since I wasn’t playing in long spurts because of the birth of my first son, I was subjected to her incessant nagging on a near daily basis. I couldn’t take it. On top of that, the controls for flying that damn bird and the prospect of sinking 20 more hours into the game took its toll. At one point, my wife was watching me play and asked me “Are you having fun with this?” I answered “no”. She then asked me an incredibly profound question “Then why are you playing it?”
Wow. Why did I suffer through games I don’t like? I wanted to play a Zelda game, but I wasn’t having fun. So, I quit and changed my outlook on games in general. I wasn’t going to force myself to play something I don’t enjoy just to finish a story or because I had paid good money for a game. I play games to have fun, to unwind, to relax, why torture myself anymore? Thank you Skyward Sword for that lesson.
After Skyward Sword, I still wanted to play through a Zelda game, but I wanted one that I would like. Twilight Princess was out there and an option, but I really didn’t want to play through it with motion controls. Hello WiiU hacking! I got everything set up and was able to play TP with a Gamecube controller on my WiiU and I loved it. I loved the world, I loved the art direction, the gameplay, the dungeons but I was still rushing to try and finish. Thankfully, when I was about ½ way through, Nintendo announced Twilight Princess HD. I decided that I really wanted to play through that when it released, so I stopped the Gamecube version. I wouldn’t call this a failure, only a pause.
When I was home over the Christmas, my niece came in the room while I was playing Xenoblade Chronicles X. She’s about 2 and I didn’t want to bore her with what was going on screen, so I swapped over to the very cartoony and kid friendly Windwaker HD. She loved watching me play and for the first time, I found myself exploring and taking my time because it was the only truly “kid friendly” game I could play with her and my son around. What an incredible difference that made. I began to truly love the world and love sailing around in it. Windwaker HD is a gorgeous game and guess what? I finished it. I defeated Ganon and saved the Princess and loved the second half of my playthrough. Having a child watch me and being motivated to keep the game going so they could see it forced me to slow down and not worry so much about reaching the end. I was finally able to enjoy the journey.
After completing it, I did not start OoT immediately. I knew that Twilight Princess HD would be my next Zelda game and I waited for it with eager anticipation. This time when I booted it up, I didn’t rush. I am taking my time and enjoying the world that Aonuma and team set up. I am finally enjoying a Zelda game from start to (hopefully) finish and it only took me 16 years to get to this point…