Zelda Is at Its Best When It Embraces Horror

When you first visit it as Young Link in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Hyrule Castle Town is a jovial and bustling marketplace. People are dancing, children are playing with each other, and music fills the air. It is so, so full of life.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/d3njam/zelda-is-at-its-best-when-it-embraces-horror-breath-of-the-wild-sequel

My favorite horror detail in all of the franchise is how in Zelda 1 on the NES the red liquid in the dungeons isn’t lava like in Mario but actual rivers of blood.

My other is the entire notion of heart containers. The way they’re shown in the a lot of the early Japanese art as little reliquaries with a bit of blood in them. And how they took that and in-game due to limitations it’s abstracted to just huge hearts that give you more hearts so you’re harder to kill. And then rolled with that as things went on. That fuckin’ rules.

And that also raises the obvious question, look at how in Kid Icarus (and in Castlevania) you use “hearts” as ammunition for your special attacks.

Fear the old blood. :smiley:

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First off, I do think this is a well researched and compelling article. However, as someone who typically dislikes horror, I have to disagree with the fundamental premise. I really don’t think that Zelda is at its best when it embraces horror, and when it does I feel alienated from it. Ocarina’s Forest Temple gave me nightmares as a kid and I still have trepidation about getting through the castle square when it’s filled with zombies. I do think a big reason why Wind Walker remains a favorite of mine is because of its cheery blue-sky aesthetic.

I dunno, I get it that other people would be drawn to the franchise’s creepy side, but it’s definitely not at its best for me when it goes for the scares.

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Wind Waker nailed the feel of the very first game in having equal parts charm and menace. I do agree that “embracing” is probably too strong a word for what the best Zelda games accomplish with their worlds.

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This is all making me want to play Majora’s Mask again. Pre-Breath of the Wild, it wasn’t just my favorite Zelda game but probably my favorite game, not necessarily because of the horror elements it uses but more because of how it uses them to create these really moving moments of pathos. There’s also a more existential kind of horror that comes from seeing your actions undone every loop, and knowing that all the people you try and help (all in rather dire straits) are just going to go back to being in whatever trouble they were in when you rewind the three day clock.

Anyway, that’s to say that the horror in Majora’s Mask feels of a different cloth than say the Shadow Temple in Ocarina of Time, or honestly most horror in games (the closest match might actually fittingly be the recently released Outer Worlds). It’s a pretty crucial factor in creating these intimate moments that set that game apart.

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I was too scared to enter the Great Deku Tree as a kid and didn’t come back to play OoT until around the time of the 3DS version.

On the other hand, I was so into Majora’s Mask when it came out, I must have been the exact right age to embrace that game’s oppressive atmosphere. I still have a huge emotional reaction to the music, particularly the stunningly melancholy track that plays during the final 6 hours.

The key, I think, is in its minimalism and abstraction. Some of the most genuinely haunting and affecting moments came from games with low-fi graphical fidelity (Yume Nikki, Earthbound, Undertale, etc).

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If I could offer a slightly different title. I think Zelda is at its best when it embraces its eerie side. For me, I think of some of the little touches in Minish cap. Just the sort of weirdness from Link being so smol is a good kind of creepy. I love exploring in the King of Red Lions and not knowing what is out there.
I think Zelda handles horror best when it is existential, or at least not the focus. LikeLikes and those guys in Ocarina who scream when they see you and you freeze. Hate that. But Exploring the frozen castle in Wind Waker or figuring out people’s bizarre personal problems in Majora’s mask and knowing that it’s going to be undone in a few minutes is A+ to me.
Honestly, I think Zelda is at it’s tip top best when it is bright and colorful. I love when you get to the point where you feel like you can do whatever you want. I think about a link between worlds and how I felt like the game was inviting me to just have a good time. It pushed me forward because I could be involved with the world in the way I wanted to. I’ve also never been more initially happy than sailing in Wind Waker during daytime.

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I still think back to Redeads and how Smash Bros Melee insisted very hard that they weren’t actually the reanimated corpses of the people of Castle Town. Maybe insisted a bit too hard, if you ask me.

That’s laughable, and of course also classic Nintendo.

That’s still not as great a sin as when the Koopalings stopped being Bowser’s kids.

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I think you’re right on that “eerie” is the more appropriate word here. Or even just “weird.” To me, the best Zelda games are the ones that upend so much of the expected; Breath of the Wild, obviously, but also Link’s Awakening, Majora’s Mask, etc.

I’m so psyched for the Awakening remake it’s ridiculous. It’s probably my favorite Zelda game ever.

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For me, it’s at its best when it splits the difference, embraces both aspects. Finding quiet, cozy moments in the face of abject horror are some of the things Zelda does the best. Wind Waker itself feels very bittersweet and melancholy in this way in a lot of places.

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More a sense of eeriness for me, the feeling of walking through the woods and fog begins to roll in. Being sent to another demension and turning into an anthropomorphic rabbit, or looking up into the sky and a giant grinning moon is looking back at you. Unsettling, in a great way, but not horrifying (mileage may very of course)
I’ve always thought Zelda series was at its best while exploring nature: the forest dungeons have always been my favorites. Breath of the Wild completely embraces this.

Tangentially related, I found the Aliens that steal the cows from the Ranch in Majora’s Mask terrifying as a child.

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One of the darkest sequences in that game imo is failing that quest and seeing Romani’s very clear PTSD if you go back on the third day. It’s stuck with me since playing it the first time.

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That and if you do save her, the final day has her really excited because her big sister said she can drink the milk the ranch makes that on the final night. Which is dark because that milk has been a stand in for alcohol the whole game so the implication is she is getting her little sister drunk so that she doesn’t need to experience the end of the world.

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I remember talking to a guy about Ocarina of Time who was telling me about replaying through it, and I happened to be playing it for the first time around then, too.

He told me that, no matter how old he gets, he can’t handle the Shadow Temple. He just instantly feels like a terrified kid again, alone and wrapped in a blanket in front of the TV, the second the music kicks in.