I've played a lot of video games over the years, but nothing does it for more so than a good franchise. Be it Mario, Age of Empires, Portal, Mass Effect, Mega Man,or yes... The Legend of Zelda. The reason franchises are so endearing and have big fanbases is largely understandable. If you played one entry in the series and ended up loving it, chances are you are going to at least enjoy the rest of the games in that same franchise. It's sort of a "you know what you're getting" thing, and usually that is enough for fans. I may not know what the art style, story, or direction of Zelda U will be, but because it's a Zelda game I can already guarantee on some level I am going to enjoy the experience.
This isn't always true for all franchises that people like of course. As an example, I am big into RTS games and, as such, the Total War series out of Sega for PC intrigues me greatly. I really enjoyed Shogun: Total War, Medieval: Total War, Rome: Total War, and Medieval: Total War 2. However, I only marginally enjoyed Empire: Total War... and honestly, Shogun: Total War 2 was just a massive letdown. It's amazing to think that even though the core experience in a franchise can be largely the same, sometimes certain aspects are such letdowns that it doesn't enable me to enjoy those mechanics the same way as I did in other iterations.
The Legend of Zelda, of course, can be like that as well. There are people who absolutely love every 3D Zelda game out there, but for one reason or another they can't stomach the 2D Zelda games. For them, it loses something, and sometimes they can't quite place it. Without that 3D world to engross themselves in it just doesn't feel like Zelda. Of course, chances are these same folks didn't grow up with the series from the beginning either, since the Zelda series was 2D to begin with; as such, some even say it makes more sense as a 2D game. Still, that's really not the point I am getting across. We all have our personal tastes in gaming, and within franchises we enjoy. As an example: am I the only person that actually preferred Call of Duty when it was a World War II shooter?
Setting all of that aside, I stated in the title of this piece that I wanted to talk about why The Legend of Zelda will always be my favorite franchise. It's a bold statement to make considering my wide array of video game tastes (which I am sure you got a brief idea of by looking at the games I talked about above). It's also bold because I haven't fully lived out my life yet. I'm only 26, which means I have probably a good 30+ years of gaming life left in me, assuming I value video games as an entertainment medium that long. I have no real bias either in terms of the preferred platform of my games. I play PC game, I play games on Nintendo consoles, and almost always play games on a Microsoft or Sony console. My varied gaming tastes simply requires all of those platforms. Still, with 30+ years to go, I have no idea what new franchises will come along to bring me on board. A more recent franchise, as an example, Assassin's Creed, enthralls me during every entry in the series, so who is to say I won't be playing a new franchise in 15 years that I enjoy more than The Legend of Zelda?
Well, I can say that for myself, because no one truly knows me better I do. The idea here isn't that it's not possible for me to enjoy other franchises or other games more than The Legend of Zelda series, it's that none of those games or franchises can actually replace what The Legend of Zelda has meant to my life. It can't take away the feelings I've already had, or the memories I've already made. I can't really "grow up" with a franchise anymore, because I'm already an adult and as they say, emotionally and impactfully not much is going to change with who I am the rest of my life. Maybe I'll wrap up college (Okay I will, classes start up again on July 8th), and I am sure I'll have a career change or two. I'll be married next year and I am now an all new father to a beautiful one month old son. It's not like there aren't going to be several more meaningful moments in my life ahead.
Still, at 26, I'm pretty much emotionally set as a human being. My opinions may change as more life experience comes my way, but at the end of the day I am who I am, and it's doubtful much will change in how I process the world around me. The Legend of Zelda, nay video games in general, don't always impact people at a base level anymore. This is where the term "mindless" keeps being applied to the video game genre, usually in terms of describing the next FPS on the market. That's not even fair to the FPS players though, because I can argue games like Portal and even the first Borderlands really aimed to further the idea of what an FPS is. Heck, technically Metroid Prime is part FPS, but there is nothing mindless about the story or the gameplay.
Still, video games are not always impactful in the emotional sense anymore, and it can be argued they never were. For some it's strictly entertainment and that's totally fine. At the end of the day, video games are just a multibillion dollar entertainment medium. Still, none of this changes the fact that through all my strife growing up, the one constant was The Legend of Zelda. Oh sure, I had Mario, Sonic, Mega Man... and hell, even Rampart. Age of Empires was a big part of my early PC gaming days. I still buy every new Mario game on the market within the main line in the series, and should a new Age of Empires hit the market some day... I'll be first in line. Yet, when a Zelda game gets announced... it's almost like I'm back to being that 12 year old who rented Ocarina of Time from Blockbuster one weekend and expected it not to be very good since it was a 3D Zelda game... and was blown away 10 minutes in. When a new Zelda title is shown off, I am left in awe every single time. It's an odd feeling, because no other game does that for me.
Sure, I get excited about games I am looking forward to, but nothing excites me more than that new Zelda game feel. Zelda has just been a huge part of my life emotionally. It's entertained me consistently every single time. Sure, maybe some games less than others (Sorry Phantom Hourglass, there was just too much I despised about how your game worked to enjoy it as much as I should have), but at the end of the day I can safely say that I have never played a single Zelda game and not had a good time. Well, the CD-i games I guess were pretty terrible, but, man, I at least enjoyed the super shitty cutscenes. It was one of those "it's so bad... it's actually really funny" type of ordeals. The games sucked, but whatever, it was still a fun ride for at least a little while. Oh, that cartoon series? I don't know why and I have no logical explanation for it, but I've seen the whole series over a dozen times. It's The Legend of Zelda, man, I can watch that shit all day.
I am sure part of my story is unique in the sense I have enthralled myself in the Zelda community since the late 90s. I've been running dedicated Zelda fan sites for 14+ years. That's actually for over half the time I've been on this planet. I've written hundreds of guides, thousands of news posts, and promoted our Zelda content probably more times than I care to admit. I've written, as of this article, 784 Zelda-based editorials. Maybe I wrote even more, but I no longer have backups of my first site, Zelda Domain. I've been following this series like a hawk, breaking the news reports about anything relevant to the series all this time. It's like a ritual for me that never gets old. Even as we expanded this year to a second site that deals with the rest of the industry I enjoy in Gamnesia, the only thing I can guarantee I'll still be doing in a decade is talking about Zelda.
The series is just in a whole different realm for me. It's not just a gaming series to me; rather it's a way of life. I still take off work when new Zelda games come out even if I already beat them because I was privy to a review copy. There is just something about the excitement I get when a new Zelda game hits the market that I have never been able to pinpoint. I've mentioned already that the Zelda series has had an emotional impact on me growing up, but I haven't touched on how.
As the story goes, I was a typical teenager with typical teenage drama. Zelda helped me through tough times in classes, it helped me get over girlfriends who "broke my heart". The Zelda series helped me deal with parents who were constantly fighting, and it was there for me when I got cut from the football team's varsity squad. These all seem like trivial events, but as any teenager knows, everything seems to feel like it's the end of the world in those days. Zelda helped me grow, it helped teach me how to pick myself up off the ground and give it another try. Like when Midna was brought to her death bed and all of Link's progress was made worthless at the turning point in Twilight Princess, that was a turning point for me when I bombed out of college. It helped remind me that hey, just because life has you down doesn't mean you're out just yet. You simply need to step back up to the plate and not be afraid to swing at the next pitch.
I know I often criticize the Zelda series, almost to the point of making it seem like I don't enjoy the series as it stands. It's true there has been some fundamental changes since Eiji Aonuma took over, and it's also true when someone else takes the reigns there will be more changes yet again. That's to be expected, because each producer has their own desires. I don't criticize because I am unhappy with the series - I honestly think this series is potentially the greatest to ever exist. Rather, I love the series so much I want to see it do well. I want it to impact others lives as it has impacted mine. That doesn't mean my ideas are any good, and I am well aware that saying things like having Zelda be a playable character or even the heroine is just not something some of you can support. It's fine, it's not as if I am truly clamoring for that either, but if a Zelda game did exist that starred... Zelda, it's not like I am truly worried it wouldn't be a real Zelda game. Let's be realistic, there is nothing like this series on the market today. Male, Female... Link... Zelda... it doesn't matter who takes the leading role, because it's about the experience. The adventure. The journey.
If you made it to the end of this article, I hope you have come to at least understand just a bit about the impact Zelda has had on me and why it won't be budging anytime soon. It's never necessarily the best game I have played that year, but every time a Zelda game comes out, it's the one game that sticks with me for the rest of my life.