Saturday, January 21, 2012

WORD OF THE DAY! 1/21/12

sidekick [sahyd-kik]
noun
1. a close friend.
2. a confederate or assistant.

EX. "Legend of Zelda's Link has had many sidekicks assist in his quests over the years."

The Legend of Zelda series has been around for over over 25 years and has ingrained itself as not only one of the flagship franchises of Nintendo or one of the beloved creations of video game creative genius Shigeru Miyamoto (as well as Takashi Tezuka), but as the golden standard of adventure puzzle-platformers for over two decades. To say the Legend of Zelda is legendary is no overstatement. Lately, people have been doing a lot of videogame retrospectives and perhaps I am a little late to dedicating a full essay to one of my favorite franchises...so here goes nothing. Today's subject is Link's Sidekicks: A Retrospective.


LINK'S SIDEKICKS: A RETROSPECTIVE
First things first, the way I'm going about this is in Real-Life Chronology, as in tackling each game based on its release date as opposed to its existence in the clusterf*** that is the Zelda Universe. So, where to begin?  I tried to find someone who matches the bill in earlier titles, but Zelda's caretaker Impa and Link's Uncle (think Uncle Ben with a mustache who literally exists as a way to propel link forward and is never ever mentioned again) did not quite match the criteria necessary. Their roles were too small. Link did not have a constant companion that followed him through the whole game until The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64, 1998).

The first character that can really be called a sidekick was Navi. When Link was a child, in this title, he lived in a forest village where all the other people had their own personal fairy- except for poor Link. Luckily, being the Hero of Time has its perks and he was hooked up with Navi, a fairy, for his quest. She serves several purposes; dropping hints, serving as a navigator and working as an aim interface in  Ocarina (the first 3D LoZ title), and is one of the most quoted characters in video game history. Yet, that is not a good thing. "HERE! LISTEN!" is one of the most annoying soundbites in game history. While some of Navi's advice was welcome, most of the time I think gamers have wanted to turn her off, or worse. Several other fairy companions have been seen in other LoZ titles such as Ciela in Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo DS, 2007) or Tatl in Majora's Mask (Nintendo 64, 2000).
Arguably, Link receives another companion in the title, Epona. Epona is a horse that Link meets in a sidequest in Ocarina. She becomes Link's steed, allowing him to travel faster between places but being restricted in his options of weaponry. She is a loyal companion and makes appearances in Majora's Mask and Twilight Princess (Nintendo Gamecube & Wii, 2006). Some fans are so fond of the horse that when they saw her appearance in a trailer for Twilight Princess they cheered in adoration (some even crying).

In 2002, they rereleased A Link to the Past (originally Super Nintendo, 1991) on the Gameboy Advance with an added epilogue. The epilogue involved Link claiming a sword that made three copies of him. Technically, this could be considered creating sidekicks.

Let's take a short moment to knock out the sidekicks of The Wind Waker series before getting back to the chronology. A couple weeks after the Gameboy Advance release, Nintendo released The Wind Waker (Gamecube, 2002)- one of the most controversial titles in the series. At the time the game was heavily criticized by its cell-animation style and lauded by Zelda fans (at least in America). Ironically, the game created its own sub-series and timeline in the Zelda universe and has had two sequels. In Wind Waker, Link has a lot of companions. Among them, is Tetra, a swashbuckling pirate and the heir apparent to the throne of the long-gone kingdom of Hyrule. Another accomplice in Windwaker is the King of the Red Lions, a talking boat who befriends Link and sails him across the great seas on his adventure, giving him advice and serving as Link's Mentor. In Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo DS, 2007), link befriends the laughable but likeable scoundrel pirate, Captain Linebeck.

In Spirit Tracks (Nintendo DS, 2009) things got even more interesting.In Spirit Tracks, Link's constant companion is, in fact, the ghost of Princess Zelda. After being separated from her body, Princess Zelda is stuck in spirit form, and has to help Link save the kingdom through her ghostly powers. In the title, Zelda uses her powers to go through walls, fly over crevices and possess automaton guardians to assist Link through dungeons. At times, in this title, she can be a little whiny/spoiled sounding, but she is one of the funnest companions thanks to her powers.

Back to the chronology, we can look at The Minish Cap (Gameboy Advance, 2004), Link befriends Ezlo, a Minish transformed into a talking green bird shaped hat. Not only does this give the origin story of Link's goofy cap wearing obsession, but provided Link with a great companion. Ezlo likes to tease Link, but is invaluable. Like other companions he gives Link hints, but he also can make Link smaller or bigger.

Arguably, one of the most interesting and mysterious companions in Link's history is probably Midna. In the title, Twilight Princess (Gamecube & Wii, 2006) Link has to save Hyrule from an invasion from the World of Twilight, a parallel land of shadow. He is assisted by a strange and mischevious imp, Midna, who seems to have strange magic powers, knowledge, and motives that are unclear. She does seem to want to help Link and Zelda, but it is also clear that, as a native of the Twilight, and a Twili, the same race as the game's main villain, that she is more than meets the eye. Unlike Navi, she seems to be a far more rounded character (I never found her annoying) and, although she doesn't give us much information to Link, ultimately she serves a greater role in the story.
I could continue onto Skyward Sword, but I haven't even played it- YET! For now, you'll have to make do with the first 25 years of the series. As we look to a new generation in games, we have to wonder where Link's adventures will take him next and who he will meet. If Link is the video game version of Peter Pan, than characters like Navi are like Tinker Bell, and this means video games continue the traditions of literature. Legend of Zelda excels in a lot of things; from gameplay to innovation of mechanics to story to game and music design, but perhaps nothing sticks with us more than the friends we've met along the way.

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