“Spell out your name,” my friend tells me.
“What’s with the heart?!” I ask with eager curiosity.
“The number of hearts matches your health.”
“So one heart, I’m not healthy?” I’m a little disappointed.
This is me not even beginning to play Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past.
“It was originally called Triforce of the Gods,” my friend explains, “but in 1991, in Canada, it was considered too religious for the general public, so the name and part of the storyline was changed.”
My friend is a super nerd. And she will be my guide through the uncertainty of the next couple hours.
Also, I had to ask whether or not I use the A button to choose the letters of my name.
This will not go well.
The game starts. “Help me… Please help me…” Which, of course, I say out loud in desperate tones because I am not a gamer. You may have learned this from my inability to even use the buttons to spell out my own name—which thankfully I got right—but to be honest, I’m a little terrified. I’m going to be playing in front of an audience of one nerd gamer and I suck.
The text explains the premise of the game and I find it incredibly creepy. A wizard has a bunch of girls held captive in a dungeon and Zelda is the only one to remain.
So…I guess that means Zelda is the girl.
The wizard is Agahnim, a name I can’t pronounce and therefore will not be able to remember. It took me years to even begin to remember Lord of the Rings characters whose names, as mentioned by Honest Trailers on YouTube, require a linguist to even begin to remember.
“Amy, I’m going out for a while…” the screen tells me. Who is talking to me? Why is this blue-haired person talking to me while I’m in bed? That is if I’m the one in the bed. Apparently, this man is my uncle. Okey doke. This blue-haired uncle is warning me not to leave the house. If there’s one thing I know about my character, it’s that this game won’t happen until I break that rule. I hate breaking rules.
“What do I do with those pots?” I ask my friend.
“You pick them up, press A, and then smash them, same button,” she patiently explains.
“Okay ...” I say uncertainly. I do it and laugh out loud. I feel like I’m in a Greek restaurant celebrating and I wish I could make my character scream, “OPA!”
Zelda is nagging me because apparently stopping to type this article means she is spending an awful long time in that ol’ dungeon.
Also, those guards would have totally seen me cross the bridge and drunkenly swagger back and forth until I found the hidden path. I call foul.
My uncle tells me, “AMY, you can do it!” and I foolishly believe him. And Zelda nags me again.
So I’m in the castle and it’s terrifying. I just keep hitting guards’ swords before I was told that if I moved up half a step I could actually kill them. And if this was a real person I would look like a manic swordsman who needs to be committed for being both a danger to himself and to others.
Where are you Jack Nicholson? Will you be my friend in the asylum?
“So you can push these guys off the cliff,” my friend says. Apparently that did not register with me that I could also fall off the cliff.
Long story short, I got stabbed by freaking out and jumping into the arms of a sword-wielding guard.
I barely got a map. I guess I can try again. I know which button to push to kill now, so there’s a slightly better chance for me.
Good news—that is, it’s news to me—I don’t have to go all the way back to bed. Just to the front doors of the castle. And I’m not as manic this time. More calculated in my swordsmanship. I feel like Zorro slowly learning to be more like a Hispanic Anthony Hopkins.
I make it to another chest, excited off the kill of so many guards (who are clearly too easy to kill if I can slay them). “You got a…” my voice raises with excitement and drops with disappointment, “boomerang.” A boomerang? Really, Zelda? I feel like a tourist in Australia, but I guess I have no choice but to go with it.
I got to Zelda! And she keeps nagging me and then condescendingly asks if I do in fact understand everything I just read. Yeah, bitch. I understand. And now the chick will not get off my tail! She’s a little clingy and I want out. is it too early to tell her it’s not her, it’s me?
Here’s the thing about walking through doors when I don’t know where they lead – it doesn’t feel like a good idea. It feels like I’m the stupid girl in a horror movie who goes outside in her underwear to see if that really is a chainsaw she hears.
Case in point, I enter a dark room, my friend calmly tells me, “There are snakes in this room,” and of course I panic and run around in circles and we die. My bad.
The more dark caverns I walk through, the more terrified I am. Why, Amy? They’re virtual, poorly animated snakes and mice and rats and bats, oh wait – I just answered my own question. As I wade through the water so the rodents can’t get me, my friend tells me I’m not very adventurous.
No, I am not. I would be the first one dead in any action flick – a fact I have always known.
I got the key from a rat, screaming every time I enter a room and throwing my sword like a manic person again, and I realize something. I do not like the pre-game over screen where I’m lying face down in a sea of my own blood. It does not inspire confidence.
And, I’m back in the throne room which means there are a lot of dark caverns to get through again to even begin to start where I last died. Thankfully, my friend takes the controller from me so she can speed through at an embarrassingly faster rate. I blink and she’s through.
I’ve entered a fancy room with stained glass windows and I see a man.
“So, I shouldn’t kill this man right now?”
A message of praise for me comes up for keeping Zelda safe.
“Yeah. I should not kill this man right now.”
I really don’t know if I can trust Zelda. I’m not sure she’s a good judge of character. She followed a manic swordsman out of a dungeon and now thinks he can do anything even though he’s died three times in one level.
Good news is I have four hearts. That’s double a Time Lord, so I’m doing all right.
I’m just strolling through a garden, killing crappy guards and stealing their hearts when I can and my friend offers a piece of advice.
“The thing about Zelda, don’t hit the chickens too many times otherwise a flock of angry chickens will attempt to kill you.”
What weird world have I gotten myself into?
After entering a house, I check again with my friend, “Do I kill this person?”
“No,” she says knowingly, “you typically don’t kill villagers.”
But Annie and Shirley in Community certainly did slaughter the blacksmith and his wife and take all their weapons, so I suppose it is possible.
Although instead of murdering her, I do take all treasure chests and smash all pottery, so I’m not sure why the villagers are wanting to help this ass-hat anyways. Link just walks into homes, demands information, smashes their pots, opens their treasures chests and steals all magic, money and hearts. Good to know.
Also, it’s nice to know the villagers are crazy ladies, thieves who stand in rooms and repeat themselves and infomercial bottle salesmen. I’m starting to feel like the only sane one.
Also, this whole “beware of the chickens” scenario is a little frightening when one chicken is standing on the head of a boy I’m talking to and another chicken pops out of a broken pot. I feel like a Bluth family chicken dance will at any moment have me fleeing in terror.
I went into a cave, as advised by my friend, and met a faerie who seductively healed my wounds – as seductively as this animation can be.
(Also, how is a person supposed to play video games without an expert telling them what to do and when to blow up cracks in the walls of villagers’ homes? Oh right. I guess I did collect some maps and a compass at one point. Still.)
As I came out of the cave, I saw two guards who I seem to be getting worse at defeating, so I screamed and ran back into the cave and now I’m hanging out in what I call a Faerie Spa and I’m okay with it. Can I get a cucumber water, darling?
As I run away faster than the guards can walk—instead of fighting them—I enter a cave and my friend tells me, “Okay. You’re going to catch some faeries. Get your butterfly net.”
Right. This is happening. I can’t stop it from sounding logical. I’m in too deep. Here we go.
(Although, I’m not really in too deep. I’m still in the prologue. How many levels are there? Ten dungeons, one tower, one pyramid and a castle revisit. I’m pathetic.)
There are new guards, apparently called Beamos, who look a lot like Daleks – the feared enemy of The Doctor in Doctor Who, so, you know, it was terrifying.
And now I meet an old man who asks a trick question. “Do you really want to find it?” “Yeah!” or “Of Course!” Unnecessary capitalization aside, this feels like a dumb trap, old man.
After much coaching and terror and pitiful screaming that I judged myself for, I finally made it to a level.
Additional note: A previous version originally appeared in issue 15 of The Cascade on May 22, 2013.