Tevis Thompson’s “Saving Zelda” Article is Garbage: The Dangers of Nostalgia and Entitlement

I feel like I’m in a good position to criticize Thompson. We’re both of the same generation. We grew up enjoying the original Zelda. Of the 3d Zeldas, Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker are the ‘exceptions’ and we both deeply enjoyed Demon’s Souls and difficulty in general. I’m also ‘barely’ a Zelda fan at this point. I have no fandom defensiveness going on. I can barely tolerate to play any of the new games. Regardless, his conclusions, to me, seem utterly bogus. When I first saw his article, I ignored it because it seemed poorly reasoned within the first few paragraphs. He wrote well — better than I ever do — but I’ll take a good argument over good prose any day. I only come to it now because I keep seeing it pop up here and there and I’ve finally come to read it.

Occasionally someone will say to me “You only like old games because of Nostalgia” and I’ve used the same answer for awhile. “Not quite. I like Castlevania or Contra because they’re good. I like Dinowarz because of Nostalgia”. If you look at kids going back and playing NES games now, none of them are playing Dinowarz, or Festers Quest or Karate Kid, or a huge amount awful games we learned to like. There are two games that are rarely enjoyed by the younger generation though that are, to many of us who grew up with NESs are thought of as sacred. They’re Metroid and A Legend of Zelda. Both innovative games in their time that have been ravaged by time and are almost unplayable to most people now.

Tevis Thompson is both a victim of Nostalgia and seems to have an over inflated sense of entitlement. No game is going to live up to the child like wonder you had when you first played it and youth makes for the rosiest of tinted glasses. Now, appreciating something due to nostalgia is no crime in it’s self. The problem comes when you assume your fond memories mean that something is inherently better and even worse to assume that is the solution for everyone’s ills. The fanbase for Zelda is not built on old men anymore. The series is no longer about what it was about once, in it’s first incarnation. We should be asking our self what Zelda should be for the people who love it, not for a few old men. Even among old men, the original Zelda is rarely considered the “best’ (LTTP and Links Awakening get that honor from the old guard in my experience).

So first thing that hit me was his comments on difficultly. Zelda should not be harder. Zelda should be EASIER. Zelda was not Demon’s Souls even during it’s time. Every game on the NES was hard, but Zelda was one of the few you could beat, with time, due to it’s save system. Even if it was a Contra, or a Castlevania, its original incarnation is not important at this point. Also it shouldn’t be easier because just because I say it should be easier. I like hard games! I wouldn’t even enjoy Zelda more if they were easier. This decision is contrary to my own personal desires of tastes. It should be easier because Zelda has teetered on the edge of accessibility for so long, but has never committed. The stealth segment at the beginning of Wind Waker means I can’t have any of my younger relatives get through the game. They also tend to have a ‘difficulty’ ramp up at certain points (such as the water temple) that are mostly invisible to experienced gamers, but significant to new players. The games have been, since LTTP, adventure games more than Action games and I think it benefits from dancing in that direction. I think making the game easier is the best way to grow the player base while not bothering the majority of pre-existing fans (who no longer have the idea in their head that Zelda is supposed to be ‘hard’). Now I could be wrong in my assessment, but i am -not- making it off of my personal preferences. If more games were like Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, I would personally be happier, but I don’t think gaming would be better off for it. Tevis should be less selfish. If Demon’s Souls is what he thinks Zelda should be, he’s fortunate because Form Software will probably have more games to give him! Now, I’ve said that I think Castlevania should emulate Dark Souls and that the soul games are the true Castlevania successors, but modern non-metroidvania Castlevanias never found their voice like Zelda has. Zelda has a voice — a flawed, unpolished voice that is often abused (in many ways that Tevis was right about, but also mostly stuff most people already knew). The answer isn’t to scrap everything and go back to Zelda 1 (if you want that, there is also 3d Dot Game Heroes which I ALSO enjoyed, but also suffered from being painfully obtuse), it’s to make it good at what it’s trying to be. I don’t have the answers to how (and really, I don’t like Zelda enough to care), but I know that Evis is coming from the wrong place. His blindness to his own nostalgia makes him as guilty as the people who say that Zelda needs to go back to being more like Ocarina of Time. For all Tevis has to say about his feeling of loneliness and isolation and a mysterious world, kids who grew up with OoT could match his praise. They would talk about how mystified and amazed they were when Link first traveled through time, or talk about the bleakness of the town in his adult form or how Epic fighting Ganondorf felt. The praise will be very different, but will still be bathed in childlike wonder.

This isn’t to say that this means the two are equal games. What it means is Tevis and the young fans who mindlessly defend OoT are equally wrong in their approach. When Tevis insults Aonuma for taking the ‘teeth’ out of a hardcore series, he fails to realize that, at the time Ocarina game out, that Zelda had already been a not-hard-core series for longer than it’d been hardcore. But no, since Demon’s Souls panged some Zelda Nostalgia in his head, THAT must be the answer! It’s embarrassingly “id” based thinking.

It’s unfortunate because he is right about many of the symptoms. Zelda IS too caught up in its own conventions. It’s content to stew on its big name and mediocre design. Most of this was already somewhat well-known and having a well written repository for that information would have been good… But the solution stinks. Even if some of it could work (reducing story, for one!), it comes from such a wrong place that for any of his suggestions to be taken seriously they have to be decoupled from Zelda 1. If the plot should be reduced it’s not because that’s how Zelda 1 did it, or to get back to its roots. It should be done because most games could deal with having their plots reduced! Zelda needs to change to truly thrive again, but the last thing it needs to do is be slave to the old ways. Mr Thompson’s fond memories are not the same fond memories shared by most of the current fanbase or even my self.

Tevis’s hubris would sooner betray the fanbase than save the series. Don’t let your own tastes or nostalgia get the best of you.