Hyrule Haeresis 9
And so it begins once again. And so it ends.
The stargazers tell us that when we look deep into the Night Sky, were are looking back in Time. Even at the speed of light, we can only see the stars as they once were, not as they are now. Hence, when we cast our gaze Skyward, we peer into our past.
It is always in Faroff Heaven where we seek our Origin. The foundational myth any state tells itself is of the separation between Earth and Heaven, because those in power cannot maintain it through divine right if the divine is accessible to anyone. And the Origin Story is always the tale which explains to us why the world is the way that it is. Our Natural Order issued to us from an aloof and distant land in a time so long ago it cannot be changed any longer. When Heaven is removed from us Heaven becomes banal. Or perhaps another Lament for a lost Golden Age, lost so long ago it might as well have been in Heaven? Some stories tell us how to get along with each other or how we might learn something of the nature of other living things. Some stories are alive themselves, giving us advice befitting our joint lives right now. What is the lesson you take from the story of your own creation?
Sometimes the entire world changes in a single moment, like the shifting winds, and a new Reality is born.
This is the real story of what happened with the Nintendo Wii. Although not created explicitly to compete with the Microsoft XBOX, its closest analog, the Nintendo GameCube had sat comfortably alongside it and the Sony PlayStation 2 for half a generation (Factor 5, Nintendo’s shield-sister, had in fact requested the GameCube to be a more competitively powerful console, and helped co-develop it). And this had been the tradition: While the Famicom had been more or less in a class of its own, the Super Famicom had been created as a direct response to the SEGA Mega Drive (or rather, the Genesis, as North America was the true stage for that conflict) and there was much more parity between the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation than people wanted to admit. And while the GameCube had struggled, the larger concern was that video games were becoming far too exclusive. Fewer people played video games overall than in decades past, and many people who used to play played no longer. So it was decided by both former president of Nintendo Hiroshi Yamauchi and then-current president Satoru Iwata that the GameCube’s successor would push inclusivity, approachability and accessibility above all else.
Nintendo decided to cut costs for both them and their users by effectively recycling and updating the technology used in the Nintendo GameCube and, after seeing a promising pitch for motion-sensitive video game controllers inspired by flight simulation from Gryration, Inc., the Wii’s final design and ethos was crystallized. Gyration had tried to pitch the concept to Nintendo’s competitors first, but had been literally laughed at. In contrast to Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony were actively pursuing a campaign of making video games even more expensive and exclusive, with Microsoft attempting to invent an entirely new niche for consumer electronics, the “home media entertainment centre” to sell the XBOX 360, which was otherwise designed for digital, flat-panel “high definition” displays that, in 2005, almost nobody owned. Sony, meanwhile, revealed the PlayStation 3 by actively insulting its userbase, proudly announcing that it would cost $599 and smugly stating that fans were going to buy it anyway (and in the process forgetting its own history, as the original PlayStation was in part a success in the United States because it was $100 cheaper than the $399 SEGA Saturn, a fact which Sony had even mocked at the time in PR). Furthermore, they created a development environment that was so unfathomably complicated it crippled third-party developers, driving them away, and led to the PS3 struggling in sales against the XBOX 360 throughout the entire generation. A generation which also saw a cull of development studios shutting down and the redistribution of assets and power into the hands of a select few elite AAA publishers thanks to skyrocketing development costs against a collapsing global economy.
Upon launch, the Nintendo Wii became an instant success and went on to become one of the highest selling and most iconic video game consoles of all time.
It took until almost the end of the Wii’s life for The Legend of Zelda to incarnate once again. Sure, a version of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess had been a launch title and managed to see some success, but that was still at heart a game told for another time and place. Twilight Princess‘ unfulfilled promise to Wii owners had been 1:1 accurate motion controls for Link’s sword and fishing pole, a new manifestation of the old “Link between the player and game” mantra. But as impressive as the Wii’s motion control technology was in 2006, that was still something that was beyond its scope, and it would not be until 2010, when some claim the console was at the absolute height of its massive popularity, when that would become truly within the range of possibility thanks to the establishment of the Wii Motion Plus add-on. So Zelda is once more reset and reimagined, becoming a Legend that an entire generation would come to grow up with. Not since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time had she ever been so loved.
For the first time, The Legend of Zelda; Skyward Sword is a story about Zelda herself, but true to form she still remains passive and supporting. This, we are told, is the True First Zelda, who is All Zeldas and the Goddess Hylia. This Goddess was a New Goddess, born into the world upon the departure of the Original Three Golden Goddesses, Din, Nayru and Farore. Hylia was not one of the Old Gods, but was instead, in the stories, marked as their Successor, who guarded the Triforce alongside the Chosen Hero against the forces of Demise, who coveted it and the new land for his own. It was at this time, we are told, Hylia willingly sacrificed her divinity to become mortal in order to wield the Triforce which, while divine, could not be used by the gods. For of course gods are no good to us once they create the Before Times and depart our plane to return to Parts Unknown. Hylia thus incarnated as Princess Zelda, and does so again into all her descendants who bear that name. And thus, the cyclical, oral history of The Legend of Zelda is given a canon mythological justification.
The original meaning of “incarnation” translated out to “entering the flesh”. There are many ways one might “enter the flesh”-Who said divinity had to be sacrificed first in order to do it? No wonder gods don’t want to talk to us if they have to stop being gods first. But for the Divine Feminine to exist within a Masculine story, she has to be fallen and tragic somehow. The other primary female agent in this story is Fi, a sword spirit Hylia forged to help the Chosen Hero. Literally a sentient tool to be manhandled by male arms, who even makes a Tragic Sacrifice of her own at the end (though granting she and her equal-and-opposite Ghirahim are based on a Japanese conception of spirituality, whereby swords and other relics have a divine kami essence of their own: In an animist view, everything has a soul). And naturally, Skyward Sword is the first Legend of Zelda in which Link and Zelda have an overtly romantic relationship, the main thrust of the story involves him winning her back and she cannot fulfill her Destiny without him. The Autonomous Woman is allowed to weep for her former glories and powers (or not, as the case may be), but never return to them. But even here, even in these New Celtic Sagas, those past glories and powers are never in dispute.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is not the first beginning, and it will not be the last. Another Legend of Zelda began in 2005 on the Game Boy Advance, and it was called The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. And it was a Legend told by a different set of voices: The Minish Cap was developed in house by Capcom in a collaboration with Nintendo, making them the only third-party developer to work on Legend of Zelda games (not counting Phillips, which nobody does). The Minish Cap is the Missing Third to a trilogy it itself just invented, being the third of three such Zelda games designed by Capcom, and as such it is also a beginning. A story cannot close unless a beginning is written to tie into it. The titular Minish are tiny creatures the size of a thumb, often pictured holding a leaf and who live unseen in a miniature world unseen by the Hylians (for whom they are colloquially known as Picori) going about their rounds above. Link can visit the land of the Minish by shrinking down in size so that he might see them.
In much the same way Fi and Ghirahim are syncretic, so are the Minish. Some Minish live in villages where they do good deeds for the Hylian people in secret, but do not like to be seen doing so. In this way they resemble the Brownies of England and Scotland, but in other respects they resemble the equally fairylike koro-pok-guru, a miniature race of supernatural beings who, in Ainu folklore, were said to be the original inhabitants of Hokkaido before the Ainu arrived. The two people used to be friendly, and the koro-pok-guru used to bring the Ainu goods and presents. But, like the Brownies, they hated to be seen, and one day a young man took advantage of their generosity and captured one in his hand, and it is said that, after this, the koro-pok-guru were never heard from again.
As an ending, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap reveals the origins of Vaati, the antagonist of The Minish Cap, Capcom’s Four Swords and the Nintendo-developed Four Swords Adventures, who is revealed to have once been a Minish. Vaati turned evil because he became fascinated by power and the ability to sway and control the hearts and desires of men, so pursued the art of magic to do what he wished and dominate. As an origin, the game also reveals the story of another Minish, a wise sage named Ezlo. He was once Vaati’s mentor, cursed by his traitorous student to become a living hat. Ezlo becomes Link’s mentor and companion, and the Hero dutifully wears him as such. It is said that this is why the Hero of Legend always wears a green tipped hat.
In the Happy Hearth Inn on the east of Hyrule Castle Town in The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Link can meet a sisterhood of three mysterious and beautiful young women with very curious names: Din, Nayru and Farore. Din is a fiery and seductive dancer, Nayru is an elegant and lovely singer, and Farore is a passionate student and keeper of arcane secrets. They have just recently moved to Hyrule and are homeless, so they are staying at the Inn until a kind person comes to give them shelter. Link can choose to help the troupe out, but there are only two houses available in town, so Link must choose which two of the three to gift them to. Emigration is the end of one story and the beginning of another: By moving to Hyrule, Din, Nayru and Farore must leave their old lands behind. The lands of Capcom’s very first Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons.
Aside from being the first fully-sanctioned Legend of Zelda developed by a third party, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, released in 2000 on the Game Boy Color, also broke Zelda tradition by taking its primary cues from Pokémon, which, it could be argued, was at that point at the peak of its early global popularity. A key defining feature of Pokémon from the start was that there were two versions of the game, neither of which were fully “complete”. Each version only had a select number of the 150 (plus one) monsters (though by 2000 the first sequel was out, increasing that total to 251). The idea was that one person would buy one version of Pokémon Red and Blue (for example, Pokémon Blue), while their friend would buy the other (Pokémon Red). The two friends would have to connect their Game Boys with the Game Boy Link Cable to trade the Pokémon that were exclusive to their respective versions, so both would end up with a complete game. The guiding philosophy was that video gaming was becoming too solitary and isolationist by the 1990s, especially role-playing video games such as Pokémon. It was hoped this strategy would encourage players to become more social and get out in the real world to make friends, doubly so as this was a game designed to simulate a child’s thrill of insect collecting and being in nature for those deprived of such experiences growing up in urban modernity.
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons syncretizes this system with the Zelda Myth (or perhaps assimilates it, depending on the reader’s perspective): The naming convention ought to say it all, and the two games are even colour-coded Red and Blue for good measure. However while the story in Pokémon Red and Blue (or indeed Pokémon Gold and Silver) was effectively identical between versions, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons tell a completely different tale depending on the title, with even the land Link visits being different. The titular Oracles are Din, Nayru and Farore, and while Farore does not get her own game due to technical limitations, Nayru and Din are the central characters of Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, respectively.
Nayru has the power to shift between past and present, and indeed her very existence seems to evoke other realities and possipoints: Nayru’s in-game sprite is a repurposed and barely altered version of Marin’s sprite from The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (she’s even a singer who plays a harp) while her ability to control time cannot help but echo The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (or perhaps The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, which came out the same year on the Nintendo 64. And perhaps the very act of releasing a Game Boy Zelda and a Nintendo 64 Zelda at the same time is an echo of what Nintendo had done two years prior in 1998, especially as both games are supposedly sequels in their own right). Din, meanwhile, can control the very flow of the planet’s seasons with her dancing. Naturally, this means Link has to rescue them both. Nayru even gets possessed (though, perhaps she’s uniquely susceptible for her own personal reasons). Farore only appears when the two games are linked via the Game Boy Link Cable, which combines the two stories into one and adds an extra chapter that both connects and concludes them.
But as Farore would know, there are arcane secrets buried deep within the Architecture of Names.
Din. Nayru. Farore. The Three Sisters. The Three Oracles. The Three Golden Goddesses. What if the true heresy, the true, terrible secret that would unmake the world, was that they were always one and the same all along?
Was this the way it had always been? Was this the way it all truly Began? Why not?
Oracles speak the voice of god. A medium is a channel, and therefore passive, But speaking is an act of agency. The voice and the speaker join in sexual union, sublimating the Higher and True Self into outward projection. It is rumoured (only, of course, in hushed, heretical tones) that there was once a time where Oracles were worshiped as divine themselves. That there was, in fact, no difference between the the “frenzied” woman “from whose lips the god speaks” and the god itself. It is the point of singularity at the realisation of the Self-Not-Self that triggers sublimation, transcendence and apotheosis.
In the old tales, it was said the Oracles needed a male intermediary to interpret their prophecies, and the Shaman-Queens needed male attendants to safeguard them from negative energy and manage the affairs of the material world in her stead. Nowadays, it is he who is the Hero, his deeds that make the Legend, and hers which are downplayed and pushed to the margins of sight. But they are never out of sight, and there is True Heroism in pledging your spear to a Queen’s cause. The Autonomous Woman will never be able to shine her brightest in a masculine world of war, brutality and oppression, but know that the sacrifices she has made were a survival mechanism. She is diminished, but not destroyed. She endures still. She is gone, but never quite: All you need do is listen for her Voice.
This I have Foreseen. And this I Decree.
And so it begins once again. And so it ends.
John G. Wood
December 14, 2017 @ 8:38 am
I’m guessing this is the final instalment? If not it should be, with that final line! I’ve found Hyrule Haeresis surprisingly engaging, even though I’ve never played any Zelda games (or indeed had non-trivial contact with any of the consoles mentioned except the GameCube, which I’ve played one game on with my son). So thanks!
December 14, 2017 @ 6:21 pm
This is actually a bonus essay. The 9th was intended to be the final entry, but then I found a way to one more, so I shunted the final essay ahead up one and took on these three games instead. Which ended up being nice as it makes it an even 10. There are still two more Zeldas left to cover.
The problem I now have is that this essay ended up far more conclusive than I had intended and makes a perfectly definitive ending all on its own, so I now have a fairly monumental task following this up with what was planned to be the (far more modest) original ending.
Thank you very much for reading, commenting and enjoying. This has been a somewhat fraught and tumultuous journey, but it’s reassuring to know at least some people enjoyed it.
December 20, 2017 @ 9:30 pm
I’ll just chime in here that I’ve found these really engaging. I grew up playing the Zelda games and being born in 96 I grew up playing Ocarina of Time on the N64 because my family couldn’t afford to buy me a GameCube and the N64 was my cousins hand me down.
The first one that I remember coming out was Twilight Princess (my favourite) but I haven’t kept up in recent years.
I haven’t posted before but I’m here quietly waiting and reading.
December 23, 2017 @ 9:21 pm
I love this series of essays, Josh. It’d be great to have them compiled in a book, or maybe as part of an anthology with Phil’s Nintendo and Super Nintendo writings. I know a few people I’d send that to as a gift.