The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

New Fan Fiction: The Village Under Shadow (Zelda: Breath of the Wild)

breath of the wild landscape sunset

Sorry, it’s not erotica this time. Just a one-shot adventure I got inspired to write after seeing “The Witcher” on Netflix. I wrote it just for fun, and I hope you have fun too.

As Hyrule recovers from the Great Calamity, Link is given an old mystery. A hundred years ago, a giant golden colossus appeared over a distant village. What is it? What does it want? Is it a blessing or a curse? Is it even still there? Link is tasked to find out, but will the village even let him?

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Zelda: You Can’t Save Them All

link zelda sad

I’ve noticed a recurring theme in The Legend of Zelda that I’m not sure anyone else has picked up on. The fantasy genre and the dichotomy around the world of heroics and sword-and-sorcery and fairy tales and the like often uses this trope, but for Zelda, it’s a little unusual.

You can’t save everyone.

More to the point, you aren’t allowed to save everyone. The game won’t let you. It’s teaching you a harsh lesson that not everyone gets a happy ending.

As the games became more complex, it became easier to bake this story point into each plot, be it either a sidequest or a main twist. It might have started all the way back with Mr. Error.

Now, it’s widely believed that it’s a mistranslation, but it’s sort of not. The man’s real name is Erā, which phonetically is “Error”. I believe this is the unfortunate “meaningful” naming of a character that works in Japanese but not so much in English (see also Aeris/Aerith/”Earth”). He was meant to pair with a guy named “Bagu” which is phonetically “Bug”. So we’ve got “Error” and “Bug”, both programmer in-jokes. But Bagu’s name was left untouched. That left poor Error out there, all alone, with a confusing name and no purpose*.

Perhaps this was the impetus for Shigeru Miyamoto to put a character like this into all his games. For the next edition, we have a small side quest character known only as Flute Boy. When you enter the Dark World version of the Haunted Grove, you encounter a humanoid tapir sitting on a stump. (Everyone in the Dark World becomes something that reflects who they were in the Light World — Link is a bunny!) He asks you to find the flute he buried in the Light World. But returning his flute is all for naught. As soon as you give it to him, he says he is “fading” and asks to hear it one last time. After you play it, he becomes a vaguely tapir-shaped tree.

That’s pretty sad for a light-hearted game with cute smiley dwarves, a fat fairy princess, and lumberjacks with buck teeth. The ending shows that the flute boy recovers, but you don’t know that while you’re playing.

This sentimental downturn has been wildly successful because in the next game, Link’s Awakening, you can’t save ANYONE, because everyone is a dream. The only character to make it out alive is the Wind Fish. Everyone else wisps away like so much Thanos snap fodder. This includes one of my favorite characters, Marin, who seems to know her fate, but keeps singing as the world fades around her.

Ocarina of Time follows A Link to the Past. At the end of the first dungeon, the Great Deku Tree tells you that he can’t be saved and grays away. For this, you are kicked out of the Kokiri village. But later on, when you revisit the tree, a Deku Sprout erupts. Telling us that no one ever really dies, because life goes on.

Majora’s Mask follows suit, being the bleakest of the bleak Zelda’s. Your mission is to make sure Termina doesn’t become another Koholint Island, with everyone wiped out. But even so, not all of Majora’s black magic can be erased. When the game ends, the Deku Butler’s son remains as it was when you first encountered him.

And who knows if any of the events you accomplish in the game get erased when you travel through time.

In The Wind Waker, our sacrificial lamb is Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule a.k.a. King of Red Lions a.k.a. the guy whose beard looks like it’s a Roman column. But it’s actually a touching and poignant and significant to the plot. He sacrifices himself so that Hyrule can have a future. It’s an ode to the existing generation making the sacrifice for the young people.

Twilight Princess pulls a kind of bait-and-switch “unrecoverable” moment centered around Zelda. First, you see her surrender when Zant invades her empire, which is rather heart-breaking — Hyrule had never given up before. Then in the middle of the game, Zelda does… something to help an injured Midna can live which makes her disappear. The next time we see her, she’s a zombie in Ganon’s power, and you have to fight her. (But she gets better… once you beat her ass.)

There’s the one sage who’s killed during the “Imprisoning Ganondorf” cutscene, which is a bit distracting. The sages, in this game, are weird monochromatic uniformed entities. They kinda look like techno-angels. But you can’t see, according to the Arbiter’s Grounds, the one with the broken pedestal was the sage of water — Ruto.

At the end of it all, Midna returns to her kingdom, but then destroys the only way to do that — the Mirror of Twilight. Why does she do that? You had a real bond together. Not like Navi or King of Red Lions.

And there’s other scary moments too. What are the Interlopers? Why are they Dark Links? Why is possessed Link screaming? Why does Ilia want to stab me? WTF are those cucco-man things for real? Why does that song in City of the Sky creep me out?

In Skyward Sword, Fi makes a heartfelt goodbye when she is resealed inside the Master Sword and begins a long slumber. Although at this point I was wishing she was slumbering in a bathtub with a toaster. Nonetheless, she is a loss the hero experiences. And maybe Impa and the old woman. I don’t know. Honestly, I almost gave up on Zelda after this game.

Finally, in Breath of the Wild, our big loss is Hyrule itself. And by the end of the game, you may have banished the evil, but the kingdom is still in ruins. When you first saw the Temple of Time ruins, didn’t you have a reaction? Didn’t you feel something when you saw your first human after hours of gameplay? Know that lives were lost at Fort Hateno? Become acutely aware that, although the “wild” is vast and beautiful, it’s missing people? Missing that “lived in” feel?

There’s a little ink spot in each Zelda game. An indication that although this is a game about fighting monsters and saving princesses, not everyone gets a happy ending.

*He does have a purpose, though it’s unrelated to his name. In Mido, someone there says “Ask Error of Ruto about the Palace”. After that, Error tells you how to get to the third dungeon. But who remembers that?

Fairies in Legend of Zelda

zelda link fan art great fairy breath of the wild

I might be writing a story involving fairies soon, so I was doing some research (i.e. putzing on Wikipedia). Got to thinking about how fairies are portrayed in Legend of Zelda. What is Nintendo doing thinking? They’re not a large part of the mythos, but Nintendo’s letting you do things to them that are… weird.

Let’s take a look.

The Legend of Zelda (the first one)

The game that introduced us to all the base tropes. Fairies appear two ways. They drop from defeated enemies or defeated bushes. If Link touches them, three hearts will be refilled. I don’t think any Zelda game really explains this healing magic, but if it gets rid of that obnoxious beeping, I won’t complain. They move so fast and erratically, catching one is a challenge in itself.

The second way is hovering around pools of water, where a single fairy floats out of reach. Though not named, these look really close to “fairy fountains”, which start in Link to the Past and onward. If you approach the water, she (I’m assuming “she” — they have dresses and long hair), will surround you with a circle of hearts that refills all your hearts. Only two of these areas exist in the game. But at least they never run out.

Fairies are probably the most helpful entity in this game, making them perhaps divine. The sprite looks a little bug-like, but they help the woodland fantasy theming.

The Adventure of Link

Fairies cease to be enemy drops in this game. The way enemies show up is kind of RPG style, where you’re wandering the overworld map, then some dark enemy sprites appear in front if you. If you can’t avoid them, you go into a short side-scrolling level to fight them. But sometimes, instead of dark enemy sprites, it’s white fairies. Then the side-scrolling level provides the floating buggers. There are also “fairy stations” (sans water) in seven places around the world.

But here’s a twist: Link can shapeshift into a fairy by using a magic spell. This doesn’t give him healing powers, but it does let him buzz by enemies and reach high places. Even fly through keyholes. It’s more of a mobility thing than health. Especially since he can’t attack enemies, but they can attack him. To get this spell, Link has to give the “Water of Life” to an old woman (a macguffin for her sick daughter) and the old man in the house teaches him the spell as a reward.

The sprites are almost the same as the first game. Now, instead of antennae, she has a crown, and there’s some kind of white belt or jewel in her middle. This makes her look a little less like a wood nymph. No tiny shoes either.

I think this is the last time fairies aren’t mistreated in some way.

A Link to the Past

After getting the 16-bit upgrade, fairies now have some distinct features. The antennae are back, along with a cute blue dress. You can’t quite see their eyes, but they have a little wand that they can sprinkle fairy dust with.

And you can stuff them in a bottle.

This is the first game that lets you catch fairies (with a bug-catching net) and save them for later. As a result, they’re nearly a “must-have”, since they become a “get out of death free” card. If a bottled fairy is in your inventory when you die, it will come out and sprinkle its dust on you. This restores seven hearts and keeps you out of that Game Over screen. Unless you’re an expert, you’d be stupid not to keep at least one “just in case” fairy with you. Meaning “catch-and-release” is no longer an option.

Although they live in bushes, these fairies are most reliably found in fairy fountains (really puddles). But these fountains come in different flavors now. One is the same as the first game, where a hovering blond fairy encircles you with love.

This game also introduces Great Fairies. But instead of healing, they bless you with upgraded items or capacity. The one in the Dark World is fat and ugly, “cursed” as she calls it. But she’s unavoidable–you have to visit her to get the silver arrows needed to defeat Ganon.

So far, these fairies still act like woodland nymphs and capricious entities, incapable of malice. I’d love to find out who’s idea it was to put fairies in bottles and how he came up with it. Probably from the bug-catcher net. If not for that, what follows might not have happened.

Ocarina of Time/Majora’s Mask

Fairies play a huge role in these games. Particularly in the beginning, when Navi comes to Link, the only boy in Kokiri Forest without a fairy. In fact, the plot starts when Navi summons him to the Deku tree about it. Gamewise she has two purposes–give the player hints/direction and as a targeting reticule to make combat easier.

Navi is the only named fairy we see, and the only one (besides great fairies) that vocalize (actual English words too — the first presence of voice acting). She’s a little childish but responsible and loyal. Not too different from the typical fairy you think of (which is probably a lot like Tinkerbell).

Besides being the first example of an in-game pop-up ad, her role in the final part is remarkable. When you confront Ganondorf, his magic forces her away, meaning you can’t use her for the tennis battle. But when Ganondorf gets hit, she briefly returns to showcase his vulnerability. And there’s an especially cute moment when the bestial Ganon arrives and she says “There’s no way he’s going to hold me back again! This time, we fight together!” (meaning you get your z-targeting back).

In Majora’s Mask, we’ve got Tatl & Tael — fairy siblings. Tatl seems to be the negative of Tael, but she’s the one that becomes your companion in “Ocarina of Time: Through the Looking Glass”. I like her because she’s sarcastic and bratty (compare Navi: “Watch out for its fiery breath! Use Z Targeting techniques!” to Tatl: “What?! Don’t you know about the Dodongo? It moves slowly, so you can circle around to its backside. Got that?”). And she gets your attention through a ringing bell sound, instead of the notorious “hey! listen!”

In terms of catchables, I don’t think they drop from enemies, but they do hide in bushes and grass. They have the same restorative powers. You can find pools of them in those manholes around the overworld. And they can be caught in bottles.

What’s peculiar is that fairies lost their shapely definition. Due to N64 constraints, they had to be simplified into balls of light with wings. So they become little lights in those glass jars? I wonder what’s Navi’s take on it? There’s got to be a comic somewhere that shows horrified Navi at Link’s “collection”.

But then, in Majora’s Mask, there are Stray Fairies.

This is not a fairy. It’s an abomination.

They don’t heal you and don’t go in a bottle. Storywise, they’re parts of a Great Fairy that were split up by Skull Kid. In gameplay, they’re essentially collectibles for each dungeon. Find all fifteen and you can restore the Great Fairy (who’ll reward you with an upgrade).

What I want to know is what the hell am I looking at? It’s got a huge head like an ice cream scoop and thick lips? They hang like their skull is full of air. And the wings are on the curly cue that is decidedly not their hair. I hate these things. They’re as creepy as Tingle.

The Wind Waker

wind waker great fairy zelda

Great fairies get a strange ghostly kind of look. They look like photo-negatives of sanctum nurses from the middle ages. The Queen of the Fairies especially, like a little girl version of the T-1000. And they blow petals at you.

The ones you catch in bottles get better definition thanks to the system upgrade. They have cute little white dresses and short blond hair in double-buns.

wind waker fairy zelda

But put one in a jar and holy crap!

wind waker fairy bottle zelda

Look how sad it is. That’s awful. Makes you wonder how sentient these fairies are. And they disappear after they heal you. Does that mean they… die? Like lightning bugs?

Twilight Princess

Okay, first thing to note: there’s only one great fairy this time around. And she’s nekkid! Naked, naked, naked. Her gift is a bottle of Great Fairy’s Tears. That is not a promising name. I can’t think of what else they could be but exactly what it says on the tin. They’re a hearty drink though–refilling all hearts and doubling strength, just like Grandma’s Soup. In Japan, they were called “Great Fairy Drops”, which doesn’t make much sense. Is that drops in the sense of rain? Or cough drops? Or eye drops?

The fairies act more bug-like, but at least they’re smarter. If Link is at full health, the fairy won’t be wasted. It’ll ignore him, or rest on his hat or sword. Their appearance has reverted to the N64 style, but higher-res. (As hi-res as a ball of light can get.)

Skyward Sword

The most unique thing about fairies here is that you can summon them by drawing a Triforce on the wall. So they willingly come to you to get captured. Timeline-wise, this is the first game, so maybe they don’t know how Link treats his winged friends yet. Otherwise, they restore six hearts instead of seven.

Breath of the Wild

No bottles this time, but you can catch them just the same. Got some pretty stained glass dragonfly wings too. Otherwise, it’s much the same ocarina song and dance. Except for one crucial thing…

There’s a cooking mechanic in this game — combine 1-5 ingredients and throw ’em in a cookpot. Well, fairies are an ingredient.

zelda cookpot animated breath of the wild

It’s fairies! The dubious food is made out of fairies! You’ve gotta tell them!

Actually, it looks like they liquified the fairy in a blender. For Christ’s sake, even the bottle is fairy shaped. Mm, fried, boiled, or poached, them’s good eating. It’s not spirits, it’s sprites… distilled into a delicious tonic.

This is technically a meal, but you make it like an elixir: combine 1-4 fairies with at least one monster part. The Zeldapedia says that you don’t actually cook the fairy–it flies off, leaving the dust behind. But I’ve never seen it. It just disappears in a poof like the rest of the stuff. Besides, what is that dust? Is it fairy skin flakes? Does that mean you make it from scratch?

Is nothing sacred anymore? What’s going to happen in the next game? Do you shove them up your butt?

gamercat zelda fairy cook breath of the wildP.S. By the way, is anyone going to talk about how the Great Fairies sexually assault you to upgrade your clothes?

Late to the Game: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild cover

So when I got my Switch for my birthday, I also got Super Mario Odyssey, Kirby: Star Allies, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. When I finished Skyward Sword, I had said no more to Zelda. I was sick of them getting the big new stuff right, but getting the old little things wrong. Like forcing obnoxious motion controls, repetitious & dumbass messages like “you got a red rupee! It’s worth (20) rupees!” for the hundredth time, weird-ass characters like Groose and Ghirahim (as unpleasant as he is unpronounceable). But everyone’s declared Breath of the Wild the bestest game on the Switch, nay, mayhaps the world, 10/10, four stars. Also I didn’t buy it, my wife did (at this point she’s more into Zelda than I am). So it’s not my fault–I had this Zelda forced upon me.

So sure, let’s boot it up. The whole family is gathered in front of the TV like it’s one of Roosevelt’s fireside chats. And the first thing we see is a light (go towards the light, Link!) Then … words! Holy schneikes, someone’s actually speaking to me. Using dialogue! In English! (with a slight British twang.) That’s never happened in a Zelda game. You’re always having to fill in the voices with whatever they provide from occasional chirps and grunts.

Link wakes up Breath of the Wild

Okay, then Link wakes up as water drains from the sarcophagus he’s lying in. Looks like he’s been in some cryonic sleep, like Han Solo out of carbonite. There’s some huge pillar above him, and then a console lights up. Isn’t this how Alien started?

Ripley in cryo chamber

It sure as hell looks like a spaceship. (If it walks like a cuccoo, swims like a cuccoo…)

So you get the Wii U Gamepad Sheikah Slate from the console, then head into another room. Could be storage, could be a hallway. There’s some rotten barrels and chests containing shoddy clothes (not the traditional green garb). My youngest comments that the aesthetic is just like Black Panther, which I enthusiastically agree with. Zelda’s been trending this way ever since the Tingle Tuner in TWW. It blossomed in Skyward Sword with the robots and time travel and companion who speaks like C-3PO. It’s going from swords-and-sorcery to this quasi-technological design closer to science fiction tropes. (BTW, my youngest also chooses not to equip Link’s shirt, because she likes him bare-chested.)

Then the real door opens up and we see the vast, vast, VAST land of Hyrule.

Mr. Burns Vast Fortune field simpsons

Wow, it’s beautiful. There’s Death Mountain. And there’s Hyrule Castle. It all looks so far away. A thousand times bigger than Hyrule field in Ocarina of Time. And it’s all one piece, not broken up into “lands” like Skyward Sword. You can walk from one end to the other without interruption, like Grand Theft Auto, but no buildings or people. And my kids are weirded out because the only Zelda they’ve ever played is The Wind Waker. So they’re not used to a Hyrule not underwater.

Speaking of people, there’s a figure down the slope to the left. And we discover that it’s… Old Man! He’s back! I have to explain to my kids “No, you don’t understand. This guy is from the very first Zelda game. He’s the first person you meet. And he hasn’t really shown up since.”

old man from breath of the wild zelda
“Hey man, it’s great to see you. Where have you been the past thirty-five years? I’ve missed you. What have you been up to? Sorry I ate your apple.”

Time for a little exploring. We go to the ruined temple further down (is this the Temple of Time? hm…) and see the first enemy. Not a hundred percent sure what it is, but definitely a blin of some kind. Stands out like a sore thumb–cartoony pink against green. Luckily, we found an axe. Not a sword, an axe. So this means we’ll get to have different weapons? Cool. We also get a bow a little later. Whoa, this is WAY earlier than you should be getting the bow. No Zelda game before it has had it this early. Usually it comes midway through, because a long-range weapon is just too powerful early in the game, before you’ve mastered swordplay.

In fact, no other Zelda game has started like this, with complete access to a giant world. Usually you have to tool around your home village for half an hour. Gotta talk to everyone, read block after block of text. Maybe do some stupid mini-game. Someone asks you to “Press B” to show how high you can jump. But here… everything’s so empty. Why? Where is everybody? I know Smoky Snake Ganon is sinewing around the castle. Maybe that’s affecting someone. But there’s not even the sign of an occasional hotspot. Or regions with other sentient species like Koroks or Mogmas. Not even an obnoxious fairy that hides in your sword and reminds you your Wiimote batteries are low.

vast field empty

There’s no towns. No passerbys. Barely any animals–just butterflies and an occasional bird. No man-made structures. No rupees or hearts when you break a bush. Not even a running mailman. It’s all nature. Even lacks the bright snappy colors–everything is doused grass-green. I feel like the last man on Earth. With the breakable weapons, crafting recipes, and health from food instead of hearts, it feels more like Skyrim (author’s note: I’ve never played Skyrim).

P.S. One of the last things we did was get the Sheikah Tower activated (warping early too? Damn, son.) My eldest daughter is controlling it, and we’re supposed to find a way down. She looks over the side, wondering what to do. “Should I jump?” she asks. Mom says “No, don’t jump”, but me and youngest say “Jump! Jump!” We all know full well what’s going to happen. She jumps and of course, dies. And we all laugh. No one’s going to find her body either, having dropped into a little nest of boulders out of line of sight.

sheikah tower
Oh come on, don’t tell me you wouldn’t jump off of this too. Just once.

My Most Annoying Thing in Each Zelda Game

zelda logo triforce splatter

This sort of relates to my Skyward Sword review, in that I’m done with Zelda. I’m not expecting every game to be perfect, but a lot of these are just so simple to remove, it’s like they did no play testing.

The Legend of Zelda
Peahats

These damn things fly all over the screen randomly for what feels like five minutes. Then when they finally do land, you only have about two seconds to attack it before it flies off again. And God help you if it lands on the other side of the screen, or behind a wall. And double-screw to you if its one of those “kill all monsters to open the door” rooms. Time for a bathroom break.

The Adventures of Link
Random Encounters

The sequel tried to integrate more RPG elements into Zelda. Occasionally, while walking on the overworld, little black enemy silhouettes appear, frantically raving in blacklight. If you make contact with one of them, you get forced into a side-scrolling stage where you do nothing but fight enemies. Yeah, you might get a little experience, a little gold. But you’re more likely to lose a ton of life.

A Link to the Past
Tossing Rupees into the Magic Fountain

I was going to say using the Magic Mirror to get places you want to go, especially trying to find the Lost Woods dungeon or using the duck. But this just takes forever and it’s so asinine. First you gotta choose how many rupees to throw them in, wait for the fairy to s-l-o-w-l-y fade in and wish you good luck, scroll through dialogues, repeat the process. Can’t the computer figure out I’ve got all my hearts and magic and I’m chucking in my life savings on purpose?

Link’s Awakening
Item Switching

I blame the limited nature of the Game Boy on this, but still, it could have been programmed around. You have to frequently switch your main items around from arrows to bombs to Roc’s feather to shovel to powder to hookshot. And couldn’t they have made some of this innate? Like the Power Bracelet and Shield?

The Ocarina of Time
Navi

Nothing new here. Moving on.

Majora’s Mask
Playing The Same Songs Over and Over

Due to the cyclical nature of Majora’s Mask, you’re going to end up doing the same things over and over again.  The mini-quests havea lot of try-fail cycles. And to do some of these takes trial and error, spanning multiple days and pinpoint timing. That means a lot of waiting, a lot of mask switching, and a lot of ocarina songs.

And the only ones you really use are the “Song of Time” (plus its variations to slow down time or skip ahead) and the “Song of Soaring”. Epona’s useless since it’s a hub world, and all the rest are quest-related. You’re going to get pretty sick of selecting the ocarina, playing the song, playing it again because you messed it up, pausing to check the item screen to see how it’s played, going back and playing it again, then warping, then unselecting the ocarina and reselecting whatever was there in the first place.

The Wind Waker
Interruptions in Sailing

It takes long enough to get from Point A to Point B as it is, even with warps. Between the barrel jumping and the tornadoes and attacks and futzing with the Wind Waker to get you in the right direction, I’m surprised you end up anywhere. They’re probably meant to provide variety in the monotonous ocean, but they end up making the journey longer, so you end up avoiding them all, if you can help it. It’s especially obnoxious during the Triforce fetch quests.

Twilight Princess
“You got a red (20) Rupee!”

Thanks, jackass. I know what a red rupee looks like.  I just ran over it, or plucked it out of the treasure chest. I’ve only gotten a hundred of these before. I can see my wallet went from 0 to 20. I think it only does this once every time you turn on the console, but still, why you gotta be a hand-holder, Zelda?

Skyward Sword (a.k.a. Zelda: the anime)
Lotsa stuff

For some reason, the constant rupee prompting got worse, not better, in the next iteration. And as a fun bonus, it also now applies to the sixteen treasures, twelve bugs, and all the ammunition. Combine that with lectures about falling off Skyloft (except in designated areas), the repeated dialogue from shopkeepers, and the game hand-holds you more than a pedophile at an amusement park.

But combine that with Fi, and you’ve got a recipe for turn-off. There is nothing redeemable about this character. They try and give him/her/it an emotional farewell at the end, but it’s unearned. I felt more emotions when Navi flew out the Temple of Time window. Is there anything Fi won’t remind you about? Christ, it even tells you when the batteries are low in your wiimote. Talk about ludonarrative dissonance. And everything’s got a “percentage of chance” — it’s like a goddamn robot, but the game never explains this quirk of personality.

Anita Sarkeesian and the Adventures in Video Land

anita sarkeesian video games

I feel like I gotta get this off my chest, because it’s been on my mind lately. (Don’t you love blog posts about stuff that happened weeks ago?)

First some backstory you already know. Anita Sarkeesian has done a lot of YouTube videos, most notably stuff relating to feminism. I respected her views — I learned a lot about the Bechdel test, on how it’s best applied (as in not per movie, but on a less-than-scientific global/informal level). She made sound points. She seemed intelligent.

She made a Kickstarter to do a series about women and/in video games. For some reason, this drew down the thunder of the Internet gods, a pantheon of good and evil alike. Some gnashed their teeth, some jumped to her defense. Both sides went to battle. The result brought her campaign to front-page notoriety. In the end, she made her goal quite quickly.

Eight months later…

The first video comes out: “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games-Damsel in Distress“. The Internet watches with hungry eyes, eager to see what she’s done in the aftermath of the hoopla. And those eyes are even more hungry because she’s going to talk about video games, a subject near and dear to many of our hearts.

I wonder why she chose to single out video games for her topic. It’s a medium that’s got a long sordid history of misogyny, true. But it’s getting better. And movies, TV, literature, web comics, comic books, RPGs can be just as bad.

First, a prologue. If I’m going to discuss this, I’ve got to make sure I criticize the right things: the content. I’m not going to talk about her appearance, her legitimacy as a video gamer based on a photo. The point of feminism is allowing females to do whatever they want to do(1). If they want to wear big hoopy earrings, who cares. And I won’t talk about contradictions in her thesis. It does concern me, but she has the right to change her mind. And I’m only concerned about the information presented in this single video.

(1) Patrick Rothfuss, a declared feminist and world’s nicest guy, has an excellent post where even he has trouble defining what feminism is.

Second, I don’t want to have to talk about this, but it bugs me: the Kickstarter. Sarkeesian needed $6,000 to make these videos. She got $159,000 — almost 400% more than what she needed. And during the time between the end of her Kickstarter and the beginning of March, there was very little word.

Some people think she took the money and ran. Some people thought she could do whatever she wanted with the money. Some people thought she didn’t need a Kickstarter for doing what she’s been doing for free all this time. Some people said that there’s nothing wrong with getting paid for your work.

I fall somewhere in the middle. A contribution is just that. If you give money to a homeless guy, you have no say in what he does with the money. You hope that he uses it to get back on his feet, or get something to eat. But it’s just as likely he spends it on crack. I like to think Sarkeesian is more professional than that.

I think when you contribute to a Kickstarter — one with a particular goal — that money should be used just towards that goal (plus or minus expenses). It’s a bit of a contract: I give you money with the expectation of seeing the final product you produce. Not to feed your family or fund your lecturing tours (I’m not saying that Sarkeesian is doing this).

But I wonder what she did during those eight months, because this video doesn’t seem very different from her others. I wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t made her goal — could she have made the videos anyway?

I wish Kickstarter would set a cap on funds you receive, some kind of max cut-off. Because I think getting over-funded tends to backfire, and creates controversy where there is none (case in point). I think if she was more transparent with her plans — more updates, a video schedule, topics — it would go further towards legitimizing this project (not that she isn’t legitimate already). In fact, I wasn’t going to make this post until her second video, but it’s been so long…

Okay, now to the video proper. As one should do in any criticism, let’s start with the good points. I like how she explains the roots of the trope in video games. I knew about Greek myths and the monkey-kidnapping trope and Popeye leading to Donkey Kong and princesses in peril, but I never put it all together. Especially with how Donkey Kong served as the granddaddy for protagonist-antagonist driven video games.

I like her disclaimer that you can still like something while still being critical of it. No work is perfect. That’s something even I have trouble reconciling. However, I think if you’re going to present something in a critical light, you need to admit when things are both good and bad. Even Spoony admitted that the concert scene in FFX-2 was really good.

All right, that’s all I can think of. Now on to the negative.

1) THE TITLE: The first thing I see is that the actual title is “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games”. First, why “versus”? Why is Sarkeesian pitting tropes against women? Tropes are simply story-telling elements that appear with enough frequency to be identified. They’re not inherently bad. A better title might be “Tropes AND Women” or “Tropes WITH Women” or “Tropes OF Women”. By using “vs.”, she’s creating conflict where there is none. It’s unnecessarily incendiary.

2) THE LAUNDRY LIST: My main complaint with the video, as a whole, is that this is just a laundry list. Most of the time, she’s iterating through the many video games that feature a damsel in distress, concentrating on the Mario and Zelda series. A series that comes from one company, one creator (Shigeru Miyamoto).

If she’s not doing that, she’s listing off games from the ’80’s and 90’s with the all the in-depthness of Wikipedia. I feel like she just went to TvTropes.com for her information. This makes me uncertain of her level of expertise in this medium, as well as her knowledge of the games she selected. Which leads into…

3) CHERRY-PICKING INFORMATION: The very first point she opens with is Star Fox Adventures. Sarkeesian complains that Nintendo took out a “strong female character” (her opinion) and replaced it with a boy.

No. They replaced it with Star Fox, a recognizable name, a recognizable license. Licensing is Nintendo’s bread-and-butter, and they change things all the time. Kirby’s Epic Yarn had Prince Fluff as the main character. Doki Doki Panic became Super Mario Bros. 2 for internationalization (more on that later).

Sarkeesian says that this “strong female character”‘s game, Dinosaur Planet (N64), never got released. No. It got changed, then released, as Star Fox Adventures, a launch game for the GameCube.

Sarkeesian implies that they changed the main character because she was a woman. Does she think the developers said “This game is great, but no one will play a game with a woman as the main character” or “We can get more sales, especially for a launch title, if we change the main character into someone recognizable.” I guess we’ll never know. (To close the history, the game scored moderately well, especially in Japan, but got criticized for not being a true Star Fox game. All subsequent sequels did not Star Fox Adventure‘s format.)(2).

(2) I never played Star Fox Adventures so take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Every other game she talks about are accompanied by fleeting screenshots, many of which I couldn’t recognize. There’s no discourse beyond “this game has a damsel in distress”. She makes a point of mentioning Dragon’s Lair with its “ditzy Princess Daphne” being ported to so many systems. Dude, just because it gets ported to every system doesn’t mean it’s a popular game. It means the company wants money. It also doesn’t mean it was a good game.

When she talks about Mario, she makes sure to specify the problems with the CORE SERIES. Well, duh, of course the core series isn’t going to deviate from a traditional formula. That’s why it’s called the core series. Star Trek 11 isn’t going to take place with the Klingons, where Kirk and Spock are bit characters. And furthermore, why don’t the Spin-Offs count? Many of those games are just as popular, if not more, than some of the core series games (Super Mario RPG, Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, Mario Party).

Sarkeesian calls Peach “accidentally playable” in Super Mario Bros. 2, because it was a conversion of Doki Doki Panic. So she calls that “not a good example” of averting the Damsel in Distress trope. Except that Doki Doki Panic originally featured two female characters, so that completely contradicts your point, Anita. And no, they could not just have easily had Bowser in that role, because the sprites wouldn’t have matched. Part of video game design is working with your limitations. Heck, the reason Mario has a mustache was because there wasn’t enough pixels to show a mouth.

When she talks about the Zelda series, there are some points I have to concede to (see my review of Skyward Sword) about Zelda’s history of portrayals. But she completely neglects Twilight Princess. Zelda may have been trapped in a tower for most of the plot, but she does demonstrate some instrumentality. When the forces of the Twilight Realm invade her hall, and she sees the awesome power of King Zant wipe her soldiers out, she surrenders her kingdom. That takes balls.

Sarkeesian also conveniently forgets to mention all the other female characters in the Zelda series: Malon, Ruto, Saria, Nabooru, Impa, Romani and Cremia, Anju, Medli, Midna, Telma, Agitha. I think the LoZ games have been very diverse in gender.

Last, she completely neglects any positive portrayals of females in video games, ones who aren’t damsels. She seems to be keeping to the SNES era and prior, so the examples are few and far between. But they are there, like Metroid, Final Fantasy, Street Fighter II, Chrono Trigger, Castlevania, Ms. Pac-Man. She says there’ll be more in part 2, but I don’t see why they can’t be mentioned now.

4) NO INVESTIGATION: All throughout this laundry list, Sarkeesian never mentions once WHY the “princess in peril” is so common in video games, especially early ones. Maybe because it’s so simple, she didn’t feel the need to mention it, but I will.

Video games are targeted at white male adolescents.

They always have been, they always will (to some degree). And especially during the ’80’s and ’90’s. They have the most disposable income. And any video game aimed directly at girls is ill-fated (e.g., Barbie games and Purple Moon). When it comes down to it, video games are a commerical venture, just like movies and books.

Companies create these works of entertainment to make money, not art. Art doesn’t make a profit. Sure some games are exploring new visual mediums, experimental styles, but to paraphrase John Scalzi “If you’re not a commercial [creator] to some extent, very few people will know whether your [creation] is any good or not.”

There are secondary reasons too. Most games in this era were made in Japan, where females have been extremely disenfranchised until recent years. Also, early video games had limited resources. Stories were written out in the accompanying manual.

Before Donkey Kong, games were like Defender, Space Invaders, and Asteroids. They didn’t even have characters. (Although Extra Credits had a nice analysis of the Missile Command “narrative”.) If you could push in a storyline, you automatically received kudos. And the best games never eschewed gameplay for story.

So what’s the simplest storyline to put in without a lot of hoopla? Damsel in distress. Same reason most games are combat-based and contain amnesia: it’s easy and exciting.

Sarkeesian’s statements imply that the purpose of these video games is to shut women down. They keep getting kidnapped, and that removes the power from them. When men are kidnapped or imprisoned, it’s a brief change in gameplay or storyline. That’s the insidious thing in that, no matter how powerful these women, they always get put in a place of disempowerment where the man needs to save them.

Video games only have three types of gameplay: growth, exploration, or puzzle-solving. Most games fall under growth: getting stronger, achieving a sense of power. When Anita talks about women becoming disempowered, she neglects to mention that most often, the men are stuck in the same way. Hero Protagonist’s love has been kidnapped or the bad guy has a doomsday device or attempts some form of conquest. In any case, the bad guy has all the power, and the good guy has none. Even the underlings are stronger than you, from the bulky Abobo to the untouchable Goomba.

Oh hai Jimmy Lee

Until the hero sets out, and slowly gains experience and abilities over the course of his journey, until he is at a point where he can face the big bad.

5) NO QUANTITATIVE DATA: “I’ve heard it said that in the game of patriarchy, women are not the other team. They are the ball.”

Who said that, Anita? Where is your source for that quote? Where are your sources for anything? Where are you getting your data from? What are you using for research? What is your criteria? (Fun note: this quote featured a clip from Mario Sports Mix, where Peach is a playable character. See “cherry-picking”.)

Like her famous videos about the Bechdel test, this analysis employs unscientific, unmeasurable data (she even admits this). If you don’t have numbers, can you call it an analysis? It’s more of an exploration, or an editorial.

She seemed to be focusing on old school games, even though she never explicitly said so. I didn’t see a game mentioned that was past 1992, except when it was convenient, like the Mario and Zelda series. She’s missing lots of post SNES-era games, even though she mentioned those would be in the next video (what’s the over-under on how soon she mentions God of War?). Culture changes over years. This is like saying movies are racist by examining Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song (hope that’s the right amount of S‘s).

So pick a date range, Anita. And then tell me how many games had plot lines. How many games had a damsel in distress? How many featured a female playable character? How many games had no male protagonist? How many games had no protagonist at all?

6) WHAT IS YOUR POINT, ANITA?: The first thing she says is that this video series will explore the role of women in video games. It will offer critical analysis and so forth. All I learned at the end of the video was there was a lot of pre-1992 games that featured a kidnapped woman as the main objective/bad guy motivation. I feel like she’s standing in front of a video screen, doing the shame-shame finger at us. She’s indicating that the video game culture is wrong for works they did 30 years ago.

I think when Sarkeesian keeps saying “disempowerment”, she really means “agency”. The boys are the ones who get to do stuff. The boys get to beat people up or jump on Goombas. Girls hardly show any power in operation or opportunity for choice. Yes, that’s a problem. But refer to my point above — games are aimed at male adolescents. Know thy audience.

Also, games don’t need to feature a female to gain female audience, and vice versa. Look at IMDB’s Top 50 Titles as rated by women. Not one succeeds the Bechdel Test until number 17 (ironically, a movie from Japan). So really, the question is, even though a lot of games don’t let you be a woman, does anyone care?

CONCLUSION:

Maybe I’m not the right audience for this video. Maybe she’s aiming at an older crowd that’s not terribly savvy about video games. That might make her selection of criteria all the more devious — an attempt to misinform an ill-informed crowd — but I have no evidence of that.

And at the end of the video, I feel like I didn’t gain anything from it. It feels as vapid as Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games”. Chaffing and sardonic. Full of sound of fury, but at the end, signifying nothing. I would not want to show this video to my daughters, because it’s full of misleading data and trickiness.

Now, I don’t mind that she closed comments on her YouTube video. That’s fine. I would have done that too, if I’d gotten the hate she had. And YouTube has some of the worst scum the Internet has to offer (case in point). But to give no avenue for feedback? No forum or web page? I hope she’s receiving these responses in some form. Use all that money you got to hire a comment moderator. If she doesn’t offer an opportunity for discourse, I have a hard time accepting that Anita Sarkeesian is not just a rabble-rouser pushing an agenda, no better than Michael Moore or Ann Coulter.

So like it or not, Anita Sarkeesian, you have become a figurehead for feminism. You may have come into the Internet with the same amount of power as the rest of us, but that’s changed. That means people will be shaping their beliefs based on what you do, just as a writer shapes his craft by the other writers he/she admires. That means it’s time to step up to the plate.

Oh, and here’s an excellent video about female characters in games. One that has a thesis, and provides some solutions, instead of just shaming.

Late to the Game: Skyward Sword: The Wrap-Up

zelda skyward sword logo

After 53 hours and about a year of playing with my wife, trading back and forth, we finally finished The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword this Friday. And as I promised, I will give you my opinion on the full experience.

Now remember, I am a big Zelda fan. I’ve played just about every game multiple times. The only ones I’ve missed are some of the portable ones (Spirit Tracks, Phantom Hourglass, and Four Swords w/ Link’s Awakening DX), and the CD-I games (which no one counts anyway). That’s a total of twelve Zelda games. Not to mention some of the best fan fiction I’ve written has been from Zelda. When I was writing Gatecrash, I read the Link to the Past instruction manual over and over, and kept a stack of reference material by my bed.  So now that you’ve got that in mind, you’re ready to hear my opinion on Skyward Sword.

Fuck this game. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it.  Fuck it right in its cold hard ass.

This game’s been a thorn in my side all year. Simply put: it is not fun. At least not the kind of fun a Zelda game should be. A Zelda game should be about exploration, about neat items, solving puzzles. It should not be about time-filling busy work and dull characters. I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s just break it down to the two major components.

Gameplay

First off, everything is beeping at me. My stamina meter is in a constant state of depletion. Navi Fi’s poking me about some obvious hint. My hearts are low because the game is the stingiest I’ve ever seen with grass and pots. My tracking sonar is pointing to the next maguffin. And my wiimote batteries are dying for the umpteenth time.

The difference between enemies is pretty limited. You’ve got bats, blobs, and bokoblins. There is no Ganon, so I don’t know where these guys came from or who they’re working for. Are they just wildlife? But thank god there aren’t many of them, because this obnoxious “Simon Says” game is way too picky.

There is a huge disparity in difficulty. Some enemies take one hit to kill. Some need a ridiculous amount of timing and accuracy, like the piranha plants that can only be killed a certain way, or those yellow assholes with the electric swords that paralyze you. You have never seen such frantic swinging in a game, trying to get a hit somewhere.

Here’s the problem. Say I approach a monster, with my arm centered.  The monster opens its mouth horizontally. I shift my arm to the left so I can backhand swipe. But I have to do it slowly or the game’ll think I’m slashing and the monster’ll parry and I have to start over. But by the time I’m ready to attack, the monster switches to vertical. But now my arm is nowhere close to where it needs to be. Repeat process while some other monster is killing you. Some bosses are ridiculously easy and need no strategy, like the big scorpion.  And some are ridiculously hard, like Ghirahim, who is as difficult as he is unpronounceable.

Must use fancy swordplay *swings wildly*

This is the big problem with the game — the Zelda name and art style deceive you into thinking it’s a family adventure, playable by all ages. But it’s not. You can have as many heart containers and potions as you want. But the boss will still be too fast, too picky, to get past.  So your game gets stuck. Is that fun? No. My wife was bored during the entire ending because she couldn’t do anything.

You can’t aim your sword precisely enough in the chaos of battle. The game moves too fast for you to think about what you’re doing because you’re too busy getting out of the way. And you’re always fighting the camera, so expect to get stuck in a wall, and then get clobbered. I’m constantly in threat of dying, but I get no hearts. 

You can’t just set a potion to a button.  You’ve got to click minus, hold it down, then press the A button to drink it. Then if you need another, you need to repeat the process. Good luck with that in the middle of a boss battle. And you don’t get the bow until late in the game, so no taking them out from a distance.

Me in every battle

But oh, yes, we will interrupt your ten minute fight with the four-armed Stalfos to let you know you’ve got some monster goo. Then it s-l-o-w-l-y slides to the menu screen to show me the grand event of its addition to my trove. This was a thing about Twilight Princess I hated — it constantly prompts when you pick up a rupee and tells you how much it’s worth. Even if you’re in the last castle. Like I never saw a rupee before in my life.

They fixed that in Skyward Sword, but then they repeated the same damn mistake with the treasure. I can’t believe after twenty-five years and sixteen games the programmers and designers are still getting little things like this wrong. I can’t believe they are so merciless with the temples and bosses (no hints, no indicators), but they still handhold you with bullshit like gossip stones and highlighted text.

Speaking of treasure, let’s talk about game length, because it’s my biggest beef re: gameplay. The box boasts fifty hours of gameplay, the longest Zelda game yet. And it achieves that, but you know how? Bullshit side quests. As bad as any MMORPG.

Every game since Wind Waker has had some kind of time-filling scavenger hunt. All you do is go from point to point.  There is no challenge or effort.  You can turn your brain off, because you won’t need it. In Wind Waker, it was filling out the map and Triforce charts. In Twilight Princess it was golden bugs and Poe souls. In Skyward Sword, you get both treasure and bugs. Twenty-eight types.  And you need them both to have a decent chance, because they upgrade your items and potions.

Team Rocket blasting off again!

That doesn’t sound like much, but this is a huge land, and bugs are pixel sized. And then once you have them, you gotta go all the way back up to Skyloft, all the way back to the bazaar, scroll through dialogue you’ve seen a hundred times, and then all the way back to wherever you were before.

You want a red potion? Fine, it fills eight hearts. You want to fill all your hearts? You can’t just spend a little more.  No, you’ve got to get three kinds of bugs in certain quantities. Bull shit. Most of our gameplay time was spent searching for upgrade components because we kept dying or needed improved equipment, lest our shield break.

Long story short, the game puts unnecessary obstacles and busywork in the way to make the game feel longer. But longer is not better. Not by a long shot.

Story and Characters

I talked in my earlier review about some of the characters. Zelda is a generic anime girl. Groose is the generic anime bully. And there are other stereotypes like the wise ruler, the old mysterious lady. None of these characters have any relation to each other.  They exist in their own schism. Everything feels disconnected.

Let’s take the big bad, Ghirahim. What is he trying to do. You get nothing of his character or back story, except that he’s working for someone. Who? Why is he following me around? Or am I following him? Is he trying to get magic? Why do I see him sometimes in the temples? And what is he doing when I don’t? Plus he’s so foppish and dandy he acts like the Volturi in Twilight: Breaking Dawn. How can I take a villain seriously with hair like that, that sneaks up behind me and licks my ear?

I need an adult!

Then the big reveal is that he’s working for Demise. Who is that? Is he the big black spiky thing with the marshmallow toes? Why do I care? He’s got no relation to me. His beef is with the goddess who exiled us all to the sky in the first place. Hey, maybe I’ll lend him a hand.

Everything’s got a different theme.  There’s no connection to the sky or the loftwing or the ancient factory or the volcano or the Gorons or Mogmas or any of the characters you meet. Impa is this skinny thing who comes out of nowhere. Groose is the only character who has any development. Not even Link goes through a transformation. The bird you’re supposed to have a bond with becomes another vehicle. Another slow transport through a vast expanse of time filling space.

faron skyward sword zelda
Anyone know who this guy is?  I don’t.

The other characters are as obnoxious as the ones in Wind Waker. They’re constantly bugging you with their pitiful problems, like needing their house dusted or a stamina potion. And what do these rewards get you? Depends. There’s so many currency items — treasure, bugs, rupees, seeds, hearts, gratitude crystals — it takes forever to save up enough to be useful.

I want to get some items from the item check, but I have to click through dialogue after dialogue after dialogue of inane chatter about how she’s in love with me or her baby keeps her up. Bitch, just let me get my shit. I don’t even know your name. I don’t care about your hang-up. I’ve got better things to do.

I hate Zelda. She’s a complete wuss. All she does is float there and whine and whimper and be all girly. In Ocarina of Time, she was the badass Sheik. Wind Waker, she was a tuff-talking pirate. She wasn’t in much of Twilight Princess, but at least we saw her surrender her kingdom to King Zant, which takes balls. Plus we had Midna to fill in the gap of sassy-talking navigator/assistant. Not like Fi.

Oh, Fi. Fuck this guy. Fuck her right in her ass. (If she is a she. I’m not quite sure.)  How do you even pronounce that name? Is it Fee or Fye? And why does Fi talk like a computer?! We never find out. She’s not a robot or a microchip or a hologram. At least she’s never revealed as such, even though there are robots in this world.

He/she is constantly interrupting me to tell me some bullshit information that we already know. Yes, I’m pretty sure there’s more than a 60% chance of the Triforce being here. Maybe because it’s on the fucking map. And if she’s not yapping about your latest obvious mission, you’ve accidentally pressed the button that summons her, because the buttons on the wiimote are so damn small.

She was a thorn in my side from day on and twice as useless. Half the ending is supposed to be this tearful farewell between the two of them, when Link replaces the sword. I couldn’t say goodbye to her fast enough.

Ugh, the ending. First off, the final boss battle (spoilers ahead) is ridiculous. Just like the rest of the game, there’s no clues how to defeat anyone. No strategy that you can deduce — you gotta suffer and die. We had to look up YouTube videos to find out. And unlike any knowledge you might have gained from the previous two battles with Ghirahim, none of it matters.

And then the battle with Not-Ganon Demise is ridiculous. Once again, it’s a sword battle. The items you spent years searching for don’t matter. And when you think you’ve killed him, that you’re going to make the fatal blow, he rolls out of the way. Then you go through the procedure again. Again, you get the prompt for the fatal blow. He rolls out of the way again.

What the fuck? You’re not supposed to be able to avoid that. No one ever has before. If we hadn’t looked online and saw that “on the third time, Demise will be too weak to roll away.” There’s no indication that he’s getting weaker. I would have thought I was using the wrong strategy. Then I would have tried doing something different, fail to kill the boss, and get stuck.

I’m cosplaying

And after that, nothing is resolved. Not-Ganon Demise doesn’t even know your name, but he curses you to fight his incarnation over and over again. Then it turns out Impa and the old lady, both of whom have no backstory, are the same person. But none of that matters, because as soon as this is revealed, she disappears into the ether.

Then what happens? I sure as hell don’t know. Do they come down from the sky? Do they repopulate the earth? Why is there only one goddess instead of three? Because if there’s no Din, Farore, or Nayru, then the Triforce shouldn’t be exist, and every game’s history is now in contradiction.

But it is. You can even get the Triforce. That should be the end — it grants you the power to make infinite wishes.  But when we last we see it, it’s floating above the statue of the goddess, where anyone can grab it. Shouldn’t it go to the sacred realm? Isn’t it called the ultimate power for a reason? The Triforce is the leitmotif of EVERY SINGLE FUCKING ZELDA GAME, and it’s become some little quest item.

legend of zelda skyward sword
I’m not sure what this picture means, but it seemed amusing.

That’s it. After this, I’m done with the Zelda series. I’ve been too uninterested in the history of Hyrule for a while. Wind Waker had some good parts, but lots of empty time gaps. Twilight Princess felt too samey — no new innovations, no risk-taking. The stuff that was new, like being a wolf, had little impact on the game. And the characters, like “The Group”, were underdeveloped and soulless.

See, in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, it felt like what you did mattered to someone. You didn’t just get a mark on your map, go to its coordinates. You had to explore and uncover. You had to do things like blast the rocks from Milk Road, or find out why a princess was missing (and that she was in a giant fish). You had to deliver some eye drops to a giant Goron or make a guy in a windmill go crazy or unfreeze a realm of Zoras. They felt like people, not obnoxious extras. You didn’t need to go on the Internet, if you paid attention. But in Skyward Sword, it’s a necessity.

The game feels like the programmers and designers were in an orchestra with no conductor. Even the lands are disconnected — everything is set into three tight areas with no rewards for exploration or curiosity. When you’re not fighting the MotionPlus controls, you’re accidentally summoning Fi as you’re frantically hitting buttons. If you’re not taking out insignificant bats, you’re stuck in a tiny room with a bad camera and an overpowered boss. The game goes out of its way to stop you from playing it at the speed you want.

I don’t care if this is the best game for the Wii, the aggravation outweighs the fun. And by the end of it, you just don’t care about helping Zelda, beating the bad guy, or doing anything other than finishing it so you can play a different game.

My Top Ten Hottest Women Who Aren’t Real (4 through 1)

4. Naru

Naru Narusegawa (such a cute name) is the main character in Love Hina. Love Hina is a “harem” anime where one geeky guy, Keitaro Urashima, is forced to landlord five nubile young women who may or may not be trying to seduce him. It’s a typical sitcom if it was written by every high school boy. Naru Narusegawa is the center of this harem — a driven student with no time for the Keitaro’s accidental perversion or romantic interests. Except when she starts to realize that he’s a nice guy. Which is what we all want out of a girl — to see that after our nervousness and ineptitude, we are caring and devoted.

Her main rival is Mutsumi Otohime, who may or may not be someone that Keitaro made a childhood marriage promise to. She’s fun to watch because she has anemia and is constantly falling asleep in compromising positions (it also doesn’t hurt that she’s got huge… tracts of land). You see, 90% of Love Hina is fan service. They have a hot tub/hot springs out back and they are constantly jumping in for a relaxing dip. Almost every episode has a character in a loosely-wrapped towel, a little sweaty, just waiting for someone to fall on them and accidentally tear the towel off (Also see Theiss Titillation Theory). Naru is the unfortunate victim most of the time.

She’s one of the most fleshed-out women on this list (no pun intended). She acts like a girl, but not like a standard anime cardboard cut-out. She’s driven to succeed but can collapse in a heap of tears when things get too overwhelming. I love the little self-referential jokes in the series (“This isn’t antennae, this is my hair!”) and the way Naru responds to her trials and tribulations with equal parts sadness, anger, and fear. All this leads to a believable relationship with a boy she may or may not hate.

3. Malon

All right, I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for red hair. What can I say? It doesn’t hurt that Malon is utterly charming. You first encounter her in Ocarina of Time, at either the Lon Lon Ranch or, if it’s night, outside Hyrule Castle, singing what later becomes Epona’s Song. But that’s all storyline stuff. She represents the “what if” for Link, or the one that got away.

I’m not sure why she gets so much fan-worship — she wasn’t that particularly important to the plot. Her personality is a little too chirpy and bubbly, and she’s looking for a “knight in shining armor to sweep her off her feet”. How droll. But somehow she enraptures you. It might be that she’s one of the few characters that grows up with you in your seven-year-leap. She has the most bad stuff happen to her — Ganondorf takes the ranch and promotes the lazy, money-obsessed, selfish Ingo to CEO. This allows him to use/abuse the horses for gambling while the good-hearted Malon works like a slave. A Cinderella story if I ever saw one. Malon is like Batman’s Alfred — she represents the people Link is fighting for. She brings a face to the stakes.

And what a fanbase she has. Look at all the fan art. Look at all the fan fiction. Look at all the cosplay. Look at her Hyspace page. I think there’s something about girls identifying with Malon – a sweet, responsible farm girl with an unrequited crush. I identify with that too.

The interesting thing is that most people don’t realize Malon started life as Marin, the girl in Link’s Awakening. I loved Link’s Awakening, but I think because of its B&W Game Boy console and insignificant storyline (it all takes place in a dream, so none of it really happened), it doesn’t get the love it deserves. Marin’s quite the cutie too — she loves to sing, she has an idle mind, she has some comic misadventures following Link around — and her romance with Link is just as heart-wrenching. They share some touching moments, and near the end, she’s about to admit something to him but gets interrupted.

I find this interesting because the whole game is Link’s shared dream with the Wind Fish. In that dream, Marin represents Princess Zelda (admitted conjecture, but in the Oracle series, Marin and Zelda’s sprite look very similar), but she’s also her own person. And a romantic interest who’s really a dream is all the more tragic. So Marin is kind of a cross between Zelda and Malon. Which means Malon is an evolution of Zelda.

Yeah, if Milk & Honey is any indication, I’m a Malon fan. But I’m not a LinkXMalon shipper.

2. and 1. AerisTifa

I apologize for the tie, but the fact is, I can’t decide between these two. They both represent the ideal woman, the fun one or the motherly one. The one that will keep you from trouble or the one that will get you into trouble. Let’s take them one at a time.

First off, I just love Aeris’s hair. I love Tifa’s hair too, but Aeris’s really communicates what she’s about — a simple braid, worn down the back and flowing in the wind, with two little twisties going down the sides of her head and two, crimped “antennae” out the top. It looks natural and ludicrous at the same time. Her eyes are great too — that vital, luminous green. Not sure about the rest of her outfit though. But all points to her earth allegory.

Tifa seems to represent water. She knows martial arts, many of which involve the concept of “flow” at a base level. Two of her moves are named “Waterkick” and “Dolphin Blow”. Her hair, in contrast to Aeris’s textured look, is a smooth, thick dolphin tail. And this fits with Cloud’s name — an entity rising above the planet, looking down on water and earth. Like a triforce.

Okay, let’s talk about personalities. Aeris is the motherly one. She’s positive, loyal, and has a hint of mystery. Despite her tragic birth and being raised in the slums, she’s optimistic and encouraging. She’s flirty, stubborn, caring, idealistic. She’s timid in combat, but not when it comes to people.

Tifa is shyer about expressing personal feelings, but she’ll kick your ass all over Midgar. She’s complex, mature, proud, self-assertive, and reflective. She’s the one who tries to make connections, like I mentioned in my “writing women” post, probably because of her personal tragedy. Unlike Aeris’s, Tifa loses her family and town at fifteen The post-game Tifa adopts Marlene, Denzel, and contacts the group because she’s trying to keep the family. She’s the badass action girl, but also the girl next door.

I guess that’s the reason I can’t pick between these two. Aeris seems like she’d be the reserved one, the serious one, the motherly one. Tifa should be the flirty one, the plucky one, the funny one. They mix up the stereotypes so much that each seems like they’ve both missed and gained something. Like the perfect woman split into two.

And that’s probably the reason even the fanbase can’t pick one. There is no one right choice because both are good. The creators of Final Fantasy VII really nailed it when they created these two characters. They are exactly what people are looking for.

There. I got through a whole article about Tifa without mentioning her boobs. Oh, DAMMIT.

Late to the Game: Skyward Sword: First Impressions

skyward sword legend of zelda wallpaper

I got The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for Christmas and last night was the first opportunity I had to play it. I’ve made it up to where you start searching for your bird, and here are some impressions.

The first fifteen minutes of a video game are the most important, and probably one of the hardest things to get right, because you have to do so much in a short amount of time. You have to engage the player, establish the world, teach the user how to play, and set the tone. For more information, Extra Credits has some great editorials on this, including Pacing, Cutscenes, Tutorials 101, Narrative Mechanics, but I highly recommend Skyrim’s Opening for a detailed look at what makes/breaks a video game’s introduction.

This is important to me because it’s not dissimilar to writing. You only have a few pages to entice the reader, establish your world and characters, and all without bogging the reader down in jargon or back story. Luckily, Zelda has an advantage, since they already have an established history.  And it’s pretty simple.

Hyrule has been taken over by a MotionPlus attachment. To add the MotionPlus to the controller, pull open the WiiMote sleeve, and, gripping the two side tabs, gently insert the MotionPlus into the bottom of the controller. Wrap the sleeve back around the device, making sure the WiiMote strap is free…

Wait, that’s not Zelda, that’s the unskippable three-minute instructional video that only a three-year-old with Down’s Syndrome would need to watch. Come on guys, the Wii’s been out for five years. It’s full of peripherals. I know how to put the damn thing in.

Then there’s an opening cutscene that lifts its style straight from Wind Waker — a medieval story scroll with watercolor paints and written text. Not that exciting, especially since the story gives nothing more than “evil things came out of the ground.  Ultimate power at threat. Humans are in trouble.  Everybody panic.”  Every Zelda game ever.

The difference comes from the “goddess” (who does not appear to be related to the Goddesses that created the world and the Triforce — Din, Nayru, and Farore). She protects the humans by lifting them above the land onto a floating island. So now everyone lives in a castle in the sky.  That’s all you really needed to say.

Then there’s a shot or two of what looks like a giant Deku Baba pulsing with darkness, towering over a forest. I expect we’ll be fighting that eventually, but it falls flat because A) I don’t know where this is or what this is B) It doesn’t show up or get mentioned again in the next hour. It’s a classic failure of using an action-packed prologue that doesn’t have anything to do with the central story or characters.

And that central story starts when we see a blond girl (come on, we know its Zelda, no reason to hide her) sending a message via giant bird to Link, who’s resting in a dorm. Past Zelda games have also done this where our first sight of Link is waking up: Link to the Past, Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, Ocarina of Time.  In writing, they also tell you one of the worst, most overused ways to start a story is to have the character waking up, but I got a kick out of the homage.  I’m not sure if it’s cliche or convention at this point.

And now we get to control Link. He looks a little weird with lips, but otherwise, he moves nice. This is my first time controlling it on the Wii, so there’s a few things to get used to. One is the forward roll, which is hard to execute. It’s one of my go-to moves in combat, but if you have to Press A, get a running start, then shake the nunchuck to do it?  But the room looks great. It’s realistic — with a bed, a desk, bookshelves, so I know he’s in some kind of dorm. And this delights me because school is something new for Link.

The other new things are the stamina meter, which is a bit surprising. But your run is pretty decent now — even better than the bunny hood. And you can do a little dash up walls a la Prince of Persia. I’m hoping that gets enhanced with some kind of item to do a full-on run across.

A little exploring, a little tutorial, and a little setting establishment later we now get to see Zelda. Some games introduce her right away, like Minish Cap or Link to the Past. Some wait quite a long time like Ocarina of Time. Some barely have her at all like Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker. But every game features a unique take on her character, and this one is no different.

In a bad way.

She giggles. She holds a hand to her mouth. She looks away shyly.  She holds her hands behind her back, twisting ever so slightly. She leans into your face with wide eyes. Oh my god, they turned Zelda into every cutesy, giggling girl from every generic JP anime or video game. At first, I thought I was playing Final Fantasy or watching Ah! My Goddess.

And this is compounded by Groose — the world’s most generic anime school bully (even down to the two sidekicks) whose role is to harass Link because of Zelda’s attention to him. I’d say that he was an incarnation of Mido if he didn’t fit the stereotype to a T (and if he actually looked something like Mido and not a creepy, gold-eyed extra from Elite Beat Agents).

This is not my Zelda. Zelda, in whatever incarnation she comes in, is a strong woman. In Twilight Princess, she surrendered Hyrule to the evil King Zant, something I never thought would happen. Then sacrificed her power to Midna so she could continue her quest and, as a result, became a puppet of Ganon. In Wind Waker, she’s the tough-talking, take-no-guff pirate Tetra. Ocarina of Time?  One word — Sheik.

I really hope there’s a severe character arc change for her — I hope everything about the characters change — because if this Zelda is going to be crying over every tektite that I kill, Ganon can sleep over at my house. We’ve even got a toilet and a bath.

link toilet skyward sword

Everybody poops. Even Link.