Here is the latest game that captures the classic magic of Zelda

There is almost no feeling like touching a Zelda game—almost. The density of the forest, the expanse of the field, the anthemic quality of the score, the thrill of adventure, the sense of courage that comes from being told that you, Link, are going to save the world, over and over again, and again. The same, but different, every time.

The current indie landscape is populated by games that seem to be looking for this feeling and recreating it, or something similar; games created by developers who came of age playing video games and who presumably grew up in Hyrule, in Termina, on Wind Fish Island. The games they play are part of a long, ongoing conversation. They ask us, have we been to those places too? If the player of one of these new titles has never picked up a Zelda, it won’t cost them anything: but if they have, there will be a golden edge to things. A familiarity. In saying this, the likes of Zelda we see today are not, I think, the result of direct imitation, or any aspiration to surpass Zelda in any sense. I think it’s about how Zelda makes people feel

the newly released Blossom Tales II: The Minotaur Prince it is, first, a love song. Not a love song for its predecessor, 2017 flower tales: the sleeping king, which played many of the same notes. Rather, both games are in a chorus, and the theme of her ballad is The legend of Zelda. I just finished flower tales 2having spent a few heady nights lost in the familiar world, wondering what exactly makes a game a In the style of Zelda. It’s an unmistakable feel, created in part by the inclusion of specific mechanics that we’ve come to associate with Nintendo’s storied series. But it’s not that simple: you can’t just stick a sword in the hand of a silent young hero and a fate on his shoulders and end up with a Zelda. A legend like this is more than the sum of its parts.

BT2 uses the device of a grandfather who tells a story to his grandchildren Chrys and Lily, as he did in BT1 where, in the tale the old man weaves, Lily is a heroine in a distant land. This time, Chrys is driven away by a great, ancient evil, and it’s up to Lily to get him back. At the beginning of this story, Chrys and Lily wake up in a house that is so reminiscent of the houses of Link’s various uncles and grandmothers in different games that we immediately realize we’re somewhere we’ve been before. As of this moment, we feel that the narrator of this game is telling Lily and Chrys a version of The legend of Zelda, and so, we are playing it. This is how legends work, surely; as stories told so often, they become part of the fabric of a culture. Sometimes Grandpa’s narration becomes intrinsic to the gameplay: he sometimes gives Chrys and Lily (who listen intently) the choice of what kind of monster Lily should fight, or at one notable point, whether her loyal steed should be a horse, or a pig. (A pig is the right call, clearly.) We’re getting this legend spun, as we play.

All this in mind, flower tales 2 it is full of nostalgia. not only for Zeldacertainly there are little narrative winks here and there to The endless story (including saving a horse from a deep swamp, which made me gasp aloud at the recognition), as well as some delightful dialogue that speaks heavily to the work of Jim Henson. Labyrinth-but these decorative elements never exceed the central tone of the work. I read it as a success: sometimes a game can have all the Zelda ingredients and not conjure up any of that magic: but crucially, that magic is entirely subjective and will feel different to each player. Many people will pick a title that sounds too much like a classic game and call it a spinoff, a copy, a clone. I’m not really interested in this approach: I’m more concerned with what makes these games part of the legend, what exactly a game must contain to be part of that legacy.

First of all, I understand that almost always, when I’m controlling a figure in a green robe, they’re dressed as Link. I understand that the costume is part of a story outside of the one I’m playing, that this choice is hinting at something specific to me: a little wink, a little nudge, a little “it’s dangerous to go alone, take this.” The cemetery, the forest, the presence of pots that you can break without consequences. The presence of bombs that you throw with your hands. A postal service in the world where you moonlight as a postman. There are clues that go far beyond the sword, the dungeon, the big bad, destiny, the neutralized medieval environment, the rescue, the princess. When I think about how a game feels ZeldaI think of bottles almost as much as I think of swords. I think about fishing. Chickens, running free in the village.

All these signals and more together form a sensitivity, a state of mind. Games like Greg Lobanov Chicory Y wandering songAnalgesic Productions’ Anodyne games, games ranging from okami All the way up Sayoand even the dumb (but surprisingly deep) Turnip Boy commits tax evasionthey all directly and indirectly incorporate characteristics that lead to that. Zelda feel. On a very technical level, we could discuss this in terms of action, input, buffs, closed ability access, camera placement. But it’s as much about the tone as it is about the structure, although undeniably the structure is what holds everything together. Three hearts in the corner. A bar of green below them. Green is magical, like the clothing of the original hero.

In Chicorya masterpiece, for example, where the hero is an unnamed puppy wielding a magic paintbrush, many of the earlier cues are missing. The game is inherently non-violent, for example, and relies on the use of the paintbrush rather than a weapon. Chicory is also definitely a Zelda-as, as is Lobanov’s previous game, wandering song. wandering song features a protagonist notably dressed in green, but he too is unarmed save for the power of his voice. No bombs, no bottles, no fire arrows. However, there is an entire exuberant and hilarious chapter in this game that serves as a playful and loving reference to The wake of the wind.

A screenshot from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, with Link in bed and his uncle saying: "Link, I'm going out for a bit.  I'll be back in the morning.  Do not leave home."

A time and a place that, for many of us, is part of our shared history.
Screenshot: Nintendo

In fact, the presence of music in wandering songwhose story revolves around the holistic, world-saving power of a song, is something that could place him in the Zelda lineage. Link, after all, in almost all of his adventures, spends much of his time helping people, even healing them, as well as killing unknown amounts of Moblins and other beasts. Both Chicory Y wandering song I think getting to the heart of what that Zelda feeling is, even though they only employ some aspects of their mechanics: they talk about what it means to be a hero, what it means to help people and heal people, what it means to explore and change the world.

In Anodynea game about a protagonist named Young who makes his way through a strange and desolate world, we see the dark and strange edges of Link’s Awakening (which director Takashi Tezuka approached using the style of David Lynch twin peaks as inspiration) taken to a much more extreme destination. It feels like a shadow-Link’s Awakening. Though Anodyne Initially comforting and familiar, this feeling is an illusion, becoming more unsettling and much stranger as the game ventures into more meditative and ambitious territory than one might expect. Our protagonist here wields a sweeping brush, rather than a sword, and unlike Link, he can’t heal everyone.

The sequel, Anodyne 2: Return to Dust, takes place primarily on a 3D plane and continues this theme of a protagonist set to heal the citizens of the world, from the inside out. The intoxicating 64-bit landscapes in which the story takes place gave me the sense of scale that I felt the first time I played the ocarina of time, that feeling of getting lost in the immensity of the field. The colors of the sunsets feel like they came from evenings in Hyrule, or perhaps Termina, but the creatures and people that populate this world are unlike anything I’ve seen before. They are often quite terrifying, but our young heroine Nova must do her best to cure them. The moral simplicity of Link’s journey is absent here: a more experimental and challenging story is at play. the Anodyne games are disturbing and beautiful: the corruptions of a Zeldainstead of clones.

SayoThe protagonist’s little fox in a green robe evokes Link, and the world filled with ruins, shrines, and lush forests certainly reflects the early iterations of Hyrule. Still, the heavy combat game owes more to Dark souls of what it does to Zelda. The persistence of the monsters, the relentlessness of the fight, the steep and punitive difficulty curve set it apart – standard ZeldaThe s are largely more forgiving of the player than this, although the original game was, in its own way, quite difficult. On the other hand, Turnip Boy commits tax evasion it’s surreal and silly and tonally it couldn’t be further from the utter sincerity of the narrative in the various legends of zelda, but the gameplay is unmistakable, familiar. Cozy, almost.

And this is the core of it, really. That familiarity. That feeling that these games, although all very different from each other, incorporate notes from a song that we know well. This could be seen as video games becoming a truly postmodern medium: they tell stories about themselves, featuring pastiche and irony. They are playing with their own cultural history, and they invite us to participate in that too, in addition to the story they are telling, the adventure they are promising.

Again in flower tales, Lily and Chrys sit at their grandfather’s feet by the campfire as he tells them a story about a boy dressed in green and a faraway land and a sword and a ransom. That is all. That’s the feeling. Being told a very old story that somehow feels like it belongs to you or where you are from. Putting on a green robe and discovering that it suits you. Picking up a musical instrument, an ocarina, a lyre, or, in Lily’s case, a guitar or accordion, and somehow knowing exactly how to play.

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