Sunday, September 8, 2013

Legend of Zelda

A couple years ago, I read a nostalgia-based article, written by someone about ten years my junior, recounting the halcyon days of his youth playing Nintendo 64.

Prior to reading this article, I’d only ever owned two gaming systems--the Nintendo and the Super Nintendo. I had a brief love affair with video games--a period when I drew paper-and-pencil sketches of my own top-down point-of-view games; a period when I wrote my first short stories with folks like Link and Simon Belmont as protagonists; a period when I subscribed to Nintendo Power magazine; and a period, when, yes, I more often than not spent multiple hours a day actually playing video games.

Those days faded by degrees as I got older, and stopped altogether around the time I entered high school. The combination of homework, extracurriculars, writing, and some semblance of a social life left time for nothing more than the occasional game of Tetris. Thus, I missed the craze of Nintendo 64 (initially released in 1996), all of its contemporaries, and all of the systems and games to follow.

But then I read this article. The piece culminated in a list of the top ten greatest games for Nintendo 64 and the columnist awarded his highest marks to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and WWF No Mercy.

It’s been established: I’m a wrestling fan.

Moreover, the original Legend of Zelda was my bread and butter as an up and coming video game enthusiast—a puzzle-infused role-playing game that I’ve probably played start to finish more than any other title. I recall dusting off the game and playing it with a girlfriend over a winter break during college. She marveled at the fact that her directionally challenged boyfriend who struggled to navigate his own hometown could effortlessly recall the exact locations of the Master Sword, Death Mountain, and more in the 8-bit land of Hyrule.

I read this column. I read this list. And I went on eBay.

Two weeks and seventy-five dollars later, I had my very own Nintendo 64 and a dozen or so games that had come bundled together, including Zelda and No Mercy. A month or so later, I had a free Saturday afternoon and I set to playing.

I didn’t get it.

Within my first minute with Ocarina of Time I was having flashes from late in my high school career, when my friends tried to introduce me to Duke Nukem. The sex and gun violence were a turn off, but more so, the first-person-shooter style of play was so disorienting that I simply could not master the game. Each attempt to do so ended with a mild case of motion sickness from trying to follow the herky-jerky motion of the graphics.

While my experience with Nintendo 64 didn’t give me motion sickness, the extra buttons and joystick proved too much for me to manipulate. Thinking further back than Duke Nukem, I recalled trying to teach my grandmother how to play Super Mario Bros. when I was six years old and how the entire experience was so alien that she simply couldn’t comprehend it.

Had I grown so out of touch? So ancient?

I told myself that one day I’d play Nintendo 64 again. That my schedule would settle and I would dedicate the time to acclimating myself to these new controls.

I told myself these things, but I didn’t believe them.

Six months after I procured my Nintendo 64, I had my wisdom teeth out. What better time for some video game indulgence?

But I did not play Nintendo 64.

Rather, in addition to reading Philip Roth and watching a ridiculous amount of Friday Night Lights I ultimately broke out the original Nintendo and revisited games like Trog, The Guardian Legend, and, of course, the good old original Zelda. Games that still played the way they were supposed to. Not as burdens. As fun.

I stabbed Ganon--the final, ultimate villain of Zelda--for what might have been thousandth time. I watched him turn from green to red. I fired a silver arrow into the heart of the beast and watched him shatter.

As I did so, I recalled my very first run through with this game.

I recalled that my father killed Ganon first. That I cried because I didn’t think I’d ever beat the game.

In a rare moment of compassion, rather than yelling at me to stop crying, my old man sat me down and said I could and should beat the game right then.

I wiped my eyes clean and I played.

Though it was hard, though my adrenaline raced, and though, until the last, I wasn’t sure I could do it, I played. And in that very first battle with Ganon, I slew the beast. I rescued the princess and the screen brightened in a polychromic explosion--just the same as it had when my dad beat the game a half hour earlier, and yet fundamentally different.

This time, the screen shone for me.

I recalled the first time I beat The Legend of Zelda. I felt like I could do anything.

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