She can vote, but she can’t drink

So, Zelda turns twenty tomorrow. “Zelda who?” you might ask, because perhaps you know nothing of videogames and have just now stumbled upon this website by way of a freak accident. In that case, sorry! I promise we’re generally good people here. We mean you no harm; please do not be frightened by our curious cult-like behavior and inpenetrable nerd jargon.

Everyone else: yes, that’s right, twenty frickin’ years since Zelda hit the geek scene with megaton force. And white boy rap. This is the kind of thing that makes a person feel old, the sort of realization that makes you imagine that you can feel your bone marrow ossifying, hardening, disintegrating into dust. When the game hit the U.S. a year after its Japanese debut — nineteen years ago! — I was already old enough to be in junior high, an unfortunate state of being in which many people reading this posting currently find themselves trapped. (And for you, a message of mixed hope from a future possibly much like your own: no, the world doesn’t get kinder or easier once you escape, but take heart. Eventually you will no longer have to participate in the diabolical state-sponsored gulag program known as “P.E.”)

We would stand around, my friends and I, in the brisk morning chill of a West Texas spring, waiting for the first bell to issue its command to cram our downtrodden selves into sterile classrooms and painful wooden desks, and pass the time by sharing our latest Zelda discoveries. The misery of each long school day was powerfully mitigated by the prospect of going home and exploring a heretofore unknown corner of Hyrule. The first to stumble upon some vital secret would be met with some disbelief by the rest of us; then as now, gamers loved to take bold liberties with truth, and certain people were known to fabricate implausible and unverifiable claims about our current favorite game. But eventually we would stumble upon a dead end and grudgingly put their suggestion to the test — and lo and behold, going north five times while trapped in the Lost Hills really did work.

In an age before widespread Internet usage, years before GameFAQs, there was a real sense of connectedness that developed around games like Zelda, Zelda II, Metroid, Castlevania II. They were dense, daunting, compelling; it took the collective wisdom of J.T. Hutchinson junior high’s sharpest minds and palest bodies to defeat their poorly-translated and sometimes deliberate obtuseness. And that’s what I think of when I think of Zelda, I guess: a single-player game designed for collaboration. The Four Swords series is a full realization of the sometimes cooperative, sometimes competitive experience that the very first game represented for me and my friends: we’d share vital clues with one another, but we weren’t above a little obfuscation to stay just a bit ahead. Our little crew slowly lost interest in Zelda and drifted away as the Second Quest inflicted its attrition upon our nerves. By the time I polished off Ganon for the second time, no one else cared — they’d all moved along to Zelda II. Still, there’s something to be said for moral victories.

Of course, I couldn’t say all of that in 1UP’s Zelda anniversary tribute, because that would cause the site to drift into the dreaded no-man’s-land known as New Games Journalism. Nevertheless, it remains one of the biggest reasons The Legend of Zelda is one of the greatest games ever created. Sorry if you weren’t there for it — you really missed out.

26 thoughts on “She can vote, but she can’t drink

  1. Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I had a group of friends in junior high that did much the same thing. Except instead of the original Zelda it was Link’s Awakening. Also known as the only reason anyone bothered to carry around that massive gray brick known as Gameboy.

  2. Hey, I was there. I was in fourth grade when I got my NES back in 87 (I bought it in Miami) or something like that. I cried when the Super NES was released because I knew something amazing was over. That’s why back in 93 I got a Sega Genesis. After that (1995, 1996), I concentrated more on PC games, the excitement in console gaming seemed to volatile, too fleeting. I can’t fall in love with more than one girl. I’m monogamous. You could say I got afraid to be hurt again, to fall in love again (I say it with a hint of sarcasm, but, maybe I’m going insane, but it feels serious when I write it). So, now I’m a PC gamer. With my first PC, an IBM Aptiva with a Pentium 133 Mhz processor, I discovered several things I wasn’t able to know with my old C64 (used mainly for homework, since my NES provided for much more compelling games, except for the Last Ninja, Ryu Hayabusa is a romantic pussy compared with Armakuni’s badass solitary badassness). I played Ultima VII and VIII, I played Full Throttle, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, The Seventh Guest, Doom, etc. Then I got an ultra badass Athlon XP 2800+ running at 2.0 Ghz with a Geforce 400 MX, and I’m able to play more pirated games you can shake a stick at (bit torrent is awesome), like Morrowind, Star Wars: Empire at War, etc. That doesn’t mean I don’t buy games, I do, but mostly Adventure Games, which have been my passion since I became a PC gamer. Syberia 1 and 2 are sublime experiences console gaming could have never provide me. Tex Murphy is one bad motherfucked who deserves a new game badly, too. And Fallout 2, oh my god, what an amazing RPG. And prince of Quin. Oh, my god I’ve written too much.

    Anyway, I’ve been playing games since I was 6 with an Atari 2600 and a C64, but I fell in love with them thanks to the NES. Now I’m a PC gamer because, thanks to the NES, I love games with depth, detail, fun, mystery and good gameplay. I know, the PS2 and XBOX and stuff have some of that stuff, but it’s amazing how much a keyboard can add to gameplay once you know how to use it, if you know what I mean (if you don’t, fan modifications can be AWESOME).

  3. Also, the SNES was way better than the Genesis. Nintendo’s best system really. Better graphics, better games, and the ability to process CD technology on a cart without forcing me to pay an extra $400 bucks for an add-on. Sure, Mortal Kombat had green blood, but it still looked ten times better than the Genesis version. And when the sequels came out uncut, it was no longer the Genesis version which were being hyped. Although SEGA finally won me over with the DC, but they keep milking Sonic as badly as Capcom milks Mega Man.

  4. Has the internet coined an appropriate term for self-indulgent responses like All tommorrow’s parties’? For a prime example of what I mean, go to any forum and find a thread like “Name your top 10 PC games of all time” or “What was the most immersive game you’ve ever played?”, the specifics aren’t important. They’ll all be exactly the same, and you’ll have the exact same reaction every time. It will be a series of unrelated posts by people who want everyone to know about their meaningful and clever choices or memories or experiences, demonstrating how much geek/gamer/whatever cred they have, and in every case you’ll read the first one, skim the next three to see if anyone is cool enough to mention whatever you’re about to post, then skip to the bottom of the thread to let everyone know just how cool you are. Believe me, I’m just as guilty, I was about to explain what a great time I had with the Sega Genesis and start listing off the games that make me cool cause I played them all the time in my childhood and maybe bought the soundtrack and maybe know they were called Bare Knuckles in Japan and–whoops! See what I mean?
    Arguably they’re more pleasant threads, discussions, or comments, than the merits of Q3 vs UT vs Mario vs Sonic vs nVidia vs whatever ad infinitum, or an inane string of me toos and “QFT”, but they’re ultimately just a bunch of internet fluff when everyone tries to out-nostalgia or out-indie-gamer-cred or out-reminisce each other without ever bothering to care what anyone else has to say.

  5. I notice my blurb didn’t make it into the tribute. To be honest, I can’t remember what I wrote … meaning that it most likely turned out to be irrelevant sludge. Sry.

  6. It wasn’t irrelevant, it was just too late. The feature had already gone into production by the time you responded. When will you kids learn that “ASAP” means “ASAP”?

  7. This news actually makes me feel young–I hadn’t realized I was only 2 when Zelda was released. I think it’s a testament to the game that it still seemed just as big and mysterious when I was exposed to it around 1989 or 90.

  8. I’m cool! Plus, yeah, sorry you all kids are envious. But I’m quite proud of the fact that I SAW IT ALL HAPPENING! :P

    No, really schmidt, go see a psichiatrist. How am I trying to be cool by telling you strangers a bunch of stuff WITHOUT EVEN GIVING MY REAL NAME AND ONLY PARISH KNOWING MY IP ADDRESS! I mean, dude, CHILL! I’m just cooler than you, live with it.

  9. Every child loves the story of the yiffy kitsune and the grapes.

    dude. you just made me spit milk all over my moniter. not cool.

  10. I think I spent most of the ‘Zelda’ era going through Contra for the zillionth time, or submitting myself to the blissful torture that was Castlevania. Took me nearly 20 years to beat that game. I guess that’s why I never got into Zelda? Link’s Awakening was the first one I really enjoyed, Minnish Cap being the 2nd.

    I guess I’m just a portable junkie.

    Side note: Did anyone play Final Fantasy Adventure back in the day? That game was the stuff. It’s like Zelda, except cooler! I must be the only person who loves the GBA remake to death, bad AI aside.

  11. My first memories of Zelda were my friend Tim’s house, where he wouldn’t let me be “Link.” I had to be “Linked.” Maybe if I knew that 15 years later that would be a clever internet joke, I would have been less furious about it. It might have been “Linkd” I don’t remember. Point is, Tim didn’t even know how to play Zelda, and he wouldn’t let ME try until “the next Fun Club comes, so I can figure it out.” What an ass.

    I very much miss the sense of community that sprung up around the NES, and games like Zelda. i didn’t get to actually play Zelda for real on my own until third grade, a year or two after all my friends had played the hell out of it (meaning they could get to Dungeon 7 or input Zelda to start the second quest–I freaking rocked them eventually). Unfortunately, I also discovered my secret power to know every detail about a game from my friends’ stories, even filtering out BS. It was annoying back then, but more recently saved me from ever having to play EverQuest. Hooray for God’s little mutations.

    Long story short, my weirdest Zelda memory is hearing about Level 7 and playing the flute to drain the lake. In my head, having never seen Zelda, I pictured (I swear) a pixel-for-pixel match of Zelda 2’s graphics acting out the scene. Creepy. However, my favorite Zelda memory, like Parish, is that sense of childhood community that might have been so fleeting that it was only around for 4 years or so. It saddens me that my children will just sign online to IM friends and check GameFAQs when they get stuck in a game. Bursting with anticipation until recess when you can start gushing about how, yes, you FINALLY beat 4-headed Gleeok builds character, dammit.

  12. Like Metroid, I didn’t really get into Zelda until the SNES versions. My friend thought Crystalis was better, while I prefered Shadowgate, Deja Vu, and Uninvited.

  13. could it be that video gaming has finally reached the plateu D&D has been sitting at for years now? Where old timers gather together and mourn the loss of the collective history? In the old days of D&D, everyone played with the same rules set, through the same modules and stories, so they could all share war stories about their experiences through the lost caverns of tharizdun or the dragonlance chronicals or whatever. And then, as gaming evolved and branched out, suddenly people weren’t even playing with the same books, let alone the same adventures. Gamers who enter the hobby now with the most recent iterations are handed a toolbox and told to make their own way, instead of following the path that their ancestors blazed together.

    Video gaming today is a lot like that, in that we all have a shared history, remembering when everyone had a NES and read nintendo power and knew how to cheat in blaster master and all that. And then it started diversifying as the field matured, and suddenly, there’s no shared experience anymore. Yes, gaming is better off from the wealth of options available, but the community hurts from not having that unifying bond.

    could make a good editorial, i guess, if you’re into bitter nostalgia.

  14. WOW! I was TWOISH when Zelda dropped! (Well, threeish, and fourish for the US version.)

    Yeah, I kind of missed out on Zelda. Never owned an NES, so I really only connected with the games I could figure out while spending the afternoon at a friend’s house. Zelda was compelling, but I just never figured out how it worked. Wow, check out how not-hardcore I am.

  15. I remember sharing Zelda strategies with my classmates, and my Dad and I exploring Tantagel in Dragon Warrior together, with him playing and I doing my best to be the cartographer. And a kid in my class insisting that in “Mario 3”, in one of the stages where you could fly up into the clouds, you could se the face of Jesus assembled out of coins (he swore up and down this was true).

  16. The myth that lasted all through grade school was that there was a well-hidden old man in a grotto somewhere who could combine the red and blue rings if you brought him both. The resulting combination ring would supposedly make Link a dark-blue color and nigh invulnerable, kind of like The Tiny Elfen Tick.

    I’m as old as Donkey Kong.

  17. R^2:
    I remember that one, too. Weird how myths like this propogated. There was also a kid who said that heard it was possible to clear the -1 World, but you had to have 77 coins and repeat a sequence seven times and fiinish with seven seconds left.

    I won’t mention how long I spent trying to do this so no one will make fun of me.

    Anyhow, thanks for sharing your personal reccolections on the game, Jeremy.

  18. All this reminiscing reminded me of a map of the graveyard a friend of mine had hand drawn to help me (probably find that stinkin bracelet). Construction paper and crayons. It was 4th or 5th grade, and I think it must have been one of those crappy rainy days where they keep everone holed up in the classroom during recess. This was circa 1990 so I was late to the party, but no less absorbed by the quest for the triforce.

  19. Hey All tomorrow’s parties, you just got singled out because you posted early. Look at this thread and tell me I’m wrong. Aside from the grapes.

  20. I got Zelda on a Christmas when I turned seven.

    I notice that the people use the phrase “In case you’ve been living under a rock for X amount of time…” when trying to explain niche things to mainstream people.

  21. Hey, schmidt, while I’m sure some peopl post on such topics for self-glorification, I think it’s also partially to see if they had the same experiences, to establish bonds and reminisce together. You were amusingly dead-on with the style used for reading such topics, but for me at least, the skimming through the topics is usally entirely focused on finding fond memories with games I love that people don’t often have fond memories with… Then empathizing. At any rate, my early childhood is loaded with Zelda II. I saw the oriignal being played quite often, but I was scared of the dungeon music and gameover music. I didn’t actually seriously play the original until around 1995 or so…

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