Death in The Legend of Zelda — Part 1
Death— the very word may just send a faint chill down your spine. However, in the context of the virtual world, most of us don’t give it a second thought (Unless, of course, by “death”, you mean the deletion of your Facebook account). What I mean by this is that in real life, the power of death is a great adversary— one that you and I are unable to conquer. However, when you’re gunned down by an enemy combatant in Call of Duty or have your last heart stabbed by a Moblin in Link’s Awakening, do you really give it much thought? Assuming you’re not on a speed run, and are reasonably sane, chances are that the answer is “no”. In 95% of video games, you can either load your last save point, restart the level, or simply be self-revived and lose a few points.
For some odd reason, game developers have no problem with adding endless blood and gore into death scenes, whether it be the protagonist’s or an NPC’s death. However, they seem to neglect actually making death meaningful. It carries no weight, meaning or purpose, other than to show that you failed. Nothing is either permanent nor difficult to reclaim. At the moment, the only game that I can think of where death has real meaning is Tom Clancy’s The Sum of All Fears, where if one of your squad members is killed, they’re gone for good, along with their awards, etc. Despite this fact, it wasn’t too important. All that happened was that your squadmate’s name was changed; no different sprites, or anything of that calibur.
So to get this centered on The Legend of Zelda, we should at least ponder the question “If Link dies, why aren’t there more severe consequences?” I mean, shouldn’t something powerful happen? If Link didn’t often die (assuming it’s an easy game when it comes to the matter of running out of health), I think it would make for a more powerful experience to have something that displays to players the physical pain, anguish and defeat and that Link is experiencing. One of the things that the developers behind the series often talk about is how they want the player to not just play as Link, but feel as though they are him. One of the best ways to connect to a person other than yourself is to experience their pain. In this situation, though, the first step is to make Link’s feelings and failures real. The second is to convey them onto the player. I doubt that this could be done within one game, but maybe two or three. I think that if Nintendo, as well as the Zelda team are able to master the emotional connection of responses from the gamers to the players, every series they touch will be improved.
Now let’s be clear; I’m not suggesting that when Link dies, you have to restart your entire quest. Maybe that’s an idea for an unlockable “super hard” mode, but not for normal gameplay. Also, I’d like to see something more creative than “punishment” (as in taking away an important item that needs to be reclaimed. This isn’t Runescape). A possible idea (coming to my head as I’m writing this) would be having a skeletal Link walk around until he’s able to reach someone or somewhere where he can be restored to himself. That’s just one fleeting idea in a single facet of this topic; there are so many other thoughts and issues that could be covered here, and some of them will be in the next part of this article.