So I am going to do something ubernerdy and voice an opinion on a video game franchise.
The Legend of Zelda is — by far — my favorite video game series, and part of the appeal is its longevity; it is stunning to see how this game has evolved from the 2D bitmapped scroller that was introduced in 1987 to the breathtaking 3D world of Breath of the Wild, which people were recently able to see for the first time, but will have to wait until 2017 to play.
Along the way The Legend of Zelda has had 20 installments, at least three of which were, well, game changers for their era: the original game, A Link to the Past, and Ocarina of Time. Having played the games out of order, I’m fascinated by how well the earlier games anticipate the direction video games are going — the narratives, the open exploratory worlds, and the side-quests are there even in 1991’s A Link to the Past. The characters and settings I’ve come to know and expect are already imagined in a 16-bit format, ready to be reinvented and re-imagined for each generation of games.
OK, so I’m a fan.
The newest game had teaser images like the one above, suggesting that Link — the hero of every game — might be a girl in the next installment. Conversations and buzz and anxiety abounded among fans, so much that it was almost assumed that we would, indeed, see a lady Link. But Nintendo dispelled that rumor this week when they finally announced a release date and whetted our appetites with some sample footage from the game.
I’m disappointed and a bit annoyed with the official explanation that the triad of Link (hero), Zelda (damsel to be rescued), and Ganon (evil overlord) is unmutable. After all, mutability is one of the most constant elements of these games, both in how they have evolved over the decades and within each game. Link himself has been a wolf, a fish-man (aka Zora), a rock-man (aka Goron), and whatever the heck a deku is, among other incarnations. He has transformed into a giant and has transformed into a tiny little bug-sized creature. Moreover, alternative worlds that overlay with the “real” one is another constant: the darkworld, the twilight realm, etc. A realm of a Linka heroine saving Prince Zeld would fit just fine into the franchise formula, even if it meant switching back and forth between worlds where Link is a male and a world where players guide his female counterpart.
I mean, it wouldn’t kill a guy to play as a girl character for a while, and it would give girls (and longtime women fans) a chance to drive the game a little more.
Based on the earlier teaser material, I’m concerned that the brilliant team behind the franchise really did mean to give the world a female Link, but got scared off by the tiny but vocal slice of the gaming community that hate, hate, hates feminism, anything smacking of feminism, and would disparage the game at the outset as a feminist plot to corrupt the minds of boys and ruin everything because… you know… somehow it would. I dunno. I’ve tried following the logic of those guys and can’t.
It’s too bad. I’m still excited by the new game, but Nintendo obviously blew a big opportunity to be a game changer once again, and I suspect that fear had more to do with that than fealty to formula. But I hold out hope that they’re pulling a fast one to avoid spoilers.