Zelda: The History of a Legendary Saga Book Review
- Authors: Nicolas Courcier and Mehdi El Kanafi
- Pages: 223
- Released: Feb 2018 - Note: this book does not cover Breath of the Wild. I am hoping for the next edition to include the latest entry in to the LoZ series.
- Overview: A detailed look into the depths of the Legend of Zelda series focusing on the development of Link as hero and us as players.
- Presentation: It is a beautifully bound hardback book. Plenty of history and discourse, however, presentation could have been improved with photos, artwork, and screen shots of the games. While it didn’t diminish the content of the book, it is unusual to discuss the Legend of Zelda series without its iconic art in immediate view.
- Rereadability: Moderate. After my initial reading, I will be inclined to reread specific chapters again based on whatever Legend of Zelda game I am currently playing at the time.
I remember spending an evening at my aunt’s house in the mid 1980’s. She powered on her NES and handed me the controller. From that moment on, my life changed completely, for I had experienced The Legend of Zelda. Up until then, my gaming world consisted of high score topping Atari 2600 games and platforming to save a princess from the evil King Koopa. The Legend of Zelda was different. I was amazed that I could go in any direction I wanted, baffled that I couldn’t jump, and was awed by the fact that my weapons and power-ups didn’t disappear with damage or time. It was a whole new experience for me. I couldn’t get enough of Zelda.
I know I’m not alone in this experience. Gamers around the world have embraced The Legend of Zelda series as the pinnacle of gaming, poring over every release, replaying, speed-running, and buying consoles just to play the newest game. The series has spawned countless amounts of merchandise, touring orchestra concerts, an animated TV series, and has influenced and inspired gaming as we know it today. Much of the discussion around the 30+ year-old phenomenon that is the LoZ series has revolved around the quality of the game, the revolutionary mechanics, deep stories, and consistently stellar execution by Nintendo. Zelda: The History of a Legendary Saga, dives into this series from a different perspective, one that I believe explains why we are repeatedly drawn back into Hyrule.
Authors Nicolas Courcier and Mehdi El Kanafi explore Link and his personal quest to find himself throughout the series. While the authors visit each game individually, do not expect this to read like so many Top 10 YouTube videos about the Legend of Zelda series. In Zelda: The History of a Legendary Saga, the goal is to look beyond the basics of the game and how it is played, diving deeper into the quest and how it develops Link as a person. In doing so, it sheds a bright light on our silent protagonist as to why he repeatedly marches forth towards danger and offers himself as the hero of Hyrule and Princess Zelda.
They begin each chapter with a summary of the game being discussed, a brief development history, and any notable evolution in the gameplay or controls. While most of this has been available information you’ve probably seen before, it sets the stage as to how Miyamoto, Aonuma, and other series directors were able to develop Link using the technological advances of consoles and gaming to bring greater depth to the hero of Hyrule. With a focus on Link’s development, the authors spend more time in some of LoZ’s lesser-known or reviewed titles. Most fans of the series point to Ocarina of Time and Link to the Past as pinnacles of the cannon, however our authors spend less time on these oft-discussed masterpieces to examine what we learn about our hero in games such as Link’s Awakening, the Oracle of Ages/Seasons, and Majora’s Mask.
Having played through every Legend of Zelda game (minus CD-I of course), I appreciated the attention given to the sometimes forgotten titles. It was in the longer discourses of these games, that I realized that often they are titles that are more about Link than about Hyrule. Our authors dissect these adventures to conclude that the Link of each timeline needs to grow psychologically, emotionally, and in maturity in order to not only save Hyrule and Princess Zelda, but also save himself.
Overall, the book is an incredibly deep read. I wasn’t much for psychology in school, but I’d take a course on Psychology in Video Games with this as a primary text. The authors take on Link’s continuous personal development throughout the series made me reevaluate so many great Legend of Zelda moments beyond their surface presentation. The chapter on Link’s Awakening, a game I beat countless times as a kid, suddenly had me questioning the nature of how our dreams shape our reality and how our subconscious can use dreams to “restore our psychological balance.” The story of Link’s Awakening did not need to be set in this dream world to achieve the gameplay, but it needed to be set here to allow our Hero to center himself before he set off into Hyrule again.
While it may be easy to dismiss such in-depth analysis as overthinking or over complicating, I believe that the authors offer a glimpse into Miyamoto’s and Aonuma’s creative processes that makes this series timeless. Whether we’ve realized it or not: we are the silent hero Link, tackling the obstacles in our lives, gaining skills, collecting tools, evolving as people in the quest to defeat our own Ganons in this world, not just to save Zelda and Hyrule, but to save ourselves. Courcier and Kanafi have taken the Legend of Zelda universe and made it even larger by plumbing the depths of Link’s psyche.
I highly recommend this book as a must buy for all long time Zelda fans. Zelda: The History of a Legendary Saga has given me a greater appreciation of my greatest gaming love. It is an immersive read, the value of the author's analysis and commentary serves as an admirable companion piece to the Legend of Zelda universe we have come to know and love. Now while you go find the Master Sword and rescue Zelda, do not forget save Link and yourself too.