I’ve given this one a bit of thought. I grew up at the end of the Atari age, played Pong, and had an NES. While PacMan was my first game and I love it for introducing me to pixels, it’s not my favorite classic game. I’d have to say my favorite is the original Legend of Zelda for the NES.
This may be a surprise to those of you who know about my love of classic Metroid. Yes, I played it, and played every other Metroid game to come out on all of Nintendo’s systems to date (except for Other M. We do not speak its name here). I haven’t played all of the Zelda games; I’m nowhere near halfway through Ocarina of Time (blasphemy, I know), never played Twilight Princess, and didn’t finish Wind Waker. I didn’t play the SNES Zelda game. And yet, I think the original top-down scrolling Legend of Zelda would stand as my favorite classic game.
If PacMan taught me about pixels and introduced me to a love of video gaming, Zelda introduced me to what it meant to have a fandom and to be a fan (and that it was dangerous to go alone). It was a complex game with a fairly simple, now-stereotypical story, and yet for some reason my 9-year-old self loved it. I loved the land of Hyrule, and the settings around it. I loved Link, the protagonist destined to save the princess from the grip of Ganon. I loved finding the Triforce pieces.
But most of all I loved finding ways to start integrating my creativity into the land of Hyrule and the story of Link and Zelda. Zelda led to my first forays into fanfiction. Every year my elementary school had young author’s day, and we students would write books that would then be on display for our parents and peers. I wrote a book set in the Zeldaverse, involving the original character my Barbie would portray whenever my best friend and I roleplayed Zelda with our toys.
I remember sitting through after school episodes of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show Monday through Thursday, bearing the antics of the Mario Bros. just to get the 30-second clip of Friday’s Zelda cartoon, and then calling my best friend so we could analyze it. Yes, 9 and 10 year old girls analyzing clips of the Zelda cartoon. Not sure if I’m laughing, cringing, or considering going after the brain bleach! But anyway, when Friday rolled around I’d run from the bus stop and get inside and sit down and watch, reveling in every minute of it. And once it was over there was the high of having seen it combined with the letdown of knowing I had to wait another week for the next episode.
Looking back now, the cartoon had little to do with the game; the game wasn’t about story. There was a token story to lend context to why you were traversing all over this map finding items and solving puzzles and gathering items. The cartoon had to fill in, but I think that’s what I liked about it. It filled in what we didn’t yet know, and when it all went off the air, it left questions that couldn’t be answered by anything other than fan speculation.
So in the end the original Legend of Zelda stands as my favorite classic game not because of its merits as a game: but for what it did for me as a fan. It taught me about being a fan, and made fandom a part of my life early on. When fandom became a concept that was real and applicable to me as an adult, I already understood what it meant, thanks to Zelda.
Next up: Day 25, a game I plan on playing.