Can holding a stylus cause carpal tunnel syndrome? Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for a few days now; the controls are purely-stylus driven so my wrist aches a bit after a few hours of play. Of course the game has been consuming a good number of my waking hours (I didn’t even play any Magic this weekend), but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the original Legend of Zelda.
The first time I played the game, I was able to borrow some sort of faulty and/or bootleg copy that wasn’t able to save games. Stupid right? Well, it could save as long as the console wasn’t powered off, so you could still progress a bit. So in theory, with a single marathon gaming session, I could’ve finished the game. The thing is, during those days my dad didn’t like having us play too much video games. At most he’d let us play maybe 1-2 hours at a time. On weekends. I’m sure there’s some sort of speed run where some hardcore dude finished the Legend of Zelda in like fifteen minutes, but no way I would’ve been able to do that as a kid.
Still, that limitation became a sort of challenge. We tried getting as far ahead in the game as we could within what time we had. As kids that day were wont to do, my brother and I memorized the heck out of the Zelda world map. Up to this day, from muscle memory alone, looking at a random overworld Zelda screen I could point if any trees or cliff walls could be burned or blasted to reveal a secret. (The dungeons were another matter, since 90% of the game time was spent in the overworld, I was far more familiar with it.)
Later, we were able to borrow a decent (read: able to save!) copy, and the quest to beat the game began in earnest. Of course, given our previous time-limited trials, we were well familiar with the game, and I don’t know how long it took us to defeat the mad sorcerer Gannon and free Princess Zelda, but I have no memory of it being particularly difficult, so I suppose it was not a long period. Besides, we would have needed to return the cartridge eventually.
Despite beating the game, we didn’t seem to grow tired of it. Sometimes I felt like we craved the dungeon-crawling even more. Through friends who actually had money to buy gaming magazines, we found out about the second quest. We would borrow the cartridge again, and eventually beat the second quest as well. Bored but still immersed in the game, we would then proceed to try various challenges.
“I wonder if we can beat the game without getting the sword?” Well, no. The fourth dungeon boss (two-headed dragon) requires a sword to defeat. Of course we just did the next best thing – we beat the first three dungeons without getting the wooden sword; Boomerangs, Bombs and Candles were enough for us!
“I wonder if we can beat the game without getting additional Heart Containers?” This one was far more difficult than the other one, as staying at three hearts meant instant death if you took a hit in the later dungeons. Eventually we realized it was theoretically possible to finish the game with less than three hearts, given that there were rooms that could take away a Heart Container. My memories are fuzzy on this one, so I don’t know if we actually fulfilled this challenge. I’m sure we whiled away a few hours trying it out though.
I’m not sure when we eventually grew tired of the game and stopped borrowing it. But the Zelda overworld theme music was pretty much burned into our memories. The music is familiar even to my second youngest brother, who could not have been more than three years old at the time we were playing the game.
After the original Zelda, I eventually finished Link to the Past on the SNES, then skipping out on the N64/Gamecube/Game Boy generation of Zelda games since I didn’t have those consoles. Of course I could play those games on an emulator, but it wasn’t really the same thing. An emulator’s save/load game state was far too powerful for one to enjoy the game. Holding the NDS in my hands and playing the Phantom Hourglass brings back childhood memories of walking through unforgiving dungeons and defeating vicious bosses with just enough life to stay alive; a single misstep or badly timed sword thrust would destroy hours of progress  . A boy dressed in green traveling across a vast land filled with dangerous monsters to stop a great evil and save a princess. So very cliche. One that an entire generation of gamers has kept coming back to…
-  Phantom Hourglass is a lot more forgiving of course, which is good considering I no longer have the hand-eye coordination of a twelve-year old.