On Ganon and His Big Bird Nose

Ganon from The Legend of Zelda series is one of the most iconic Nintendo villains, despite having undergone a number of redesigns and reimaginings until his current incarnation solidified sometime around Ocarina of Time.

Prior to Ocarina’s wholesale reboot of the Zelda universe*, Ganon had usually been portrayed as an old-school orc pig-man.

ganon nes

Still not exactly kosher. womp womp

When he became a large-nosed, dark-skinned desert nomad, well… here we are in Current Year, with this being considered problematic for reasons. [Seriously, there are arguments that the Gerudo are supposed to be Semitic, and Ganon is an offensive Jewish stereotype].

ganondorf

One of the most recent high-profile examples has been some fan-art that came under criticism because Ganon’s nose was TOO exaggerated:

ganon

ganon 2

Now, the interesting thing about this art that the artist got pilloried for is that it presents Ganon with a more bird-like nose.

The Gerudo don’t have big noses because they’re supposed to be Semitic, they have big noses because they’re based on Hindu bird people.

First, here’s the Garuda, who was a villain in Zelda 2, both in SE Asian art and as Boruba, the Thunderbird in 8-bit.

garudaThunderbird-thumb

The Gerudo tribe, of which Ganon is a king, have bird-like facial features and bear a striking resemblance to icons of Garuda:

geruda

Garuda is known as The King of Birds, and Ganon is shown as both a King of birdlike people and as having command over birds, such as the rocs in Windwaker. There’s also the possibility that the Thunderbird which Link faces at the end of Zelda 2 is just another aspect of Ganon.

So this is a far more likely reason for why Ganon has that big-honking beak than that the Japanese were making a dig at middle-eastern people.

*Pre-Ocarina fanon used to hold that the chronology was Link to the Past, Zelda 1, Zelda 2, then Link’s Awakening, all featuring the same Link.

Ocarina of Time is Bad: 2.8 out of 10

How’s that for a nice trolly title?

Not long ago, I managed to finish Ocarina of Time.  I had played it once or twice before, but never really got to spend any time with it until last year when I picked up a Game Cube and the Legend of Zelda Collector’s Edition (mostly for Zelda 2).

I absolutely hated Ocarina of Time.  It is one of the worst, most obnoxious console games I’ve played and by far my least favorite Zelda game.  I have not played any of the CDi games, but I’d guess that I would find those more favorable than Ocarina.

OoT is one of those games that are beloved and iconic, often pointed to as a favorite or even the pinnacle of the franchise.  Not having ever had an N64 growing up, I can’t look at it through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia.  I don’t buy the “Oh, it’s old” excuse, because the four other Zelda games I’ve played and enjoyed were all older than OoT.  When people would hate on Zelda 2, I would joke that “If Zelda 2 were the worst Zelda, why has every console sequel since Link to the Past been a platformer?” but the platforming there was far less painful than the early forays into 3d platforming.

My gripes with OoT are all writing and gameplay.

Despite being an “open world” game, the bigness of Hyrule seems only to underscore how difficult it is to figure out where you’re supposed to go and do what when.

The Day and Night system was a clever idea but they had yet to figure out how to make it anything more than an annoyance that would require you to either screw around outside of towns or play the time passage song to get to whatever store or person you needed to reach.

The worst offenses of OoT are the poor ways that targeting mechanics jibe with the environment.  This can be written off as being the developers being unused to creating fun and interesting set pieces in a 3D environment, but that doesn’t make it any less bothersome.  Difficult jumps, poor visual angles/perspectives, and enemies lurking out of sight plague many of the dungeons.  Ironically, Kees, the weakest enemies in previous installments, become some of the most dangerous and annoying simply because they are so difficult to target.  Additionally, many of the fights and puzzles rely entirely on being frustratingly repetitive rather than being clever or interesting to inject fake difficulty.  Mistakes are often punished by having to repeat some lengthy and tedious task.  White papers could be written on the Water Temple as a case study in poor game design; let’s just say that the constant need to repeatedly open the menu screen, scroll over a couple pages and equip or unequip the iron boots to solve the flooded room puzzles was enough to make me consider snapping the disc.

Link is also just not a very likeable character in OoT.  I was told by someone on the internet that since he’s a self-insertion character, I must not have a very high opinion of myself to dislike Link in OoT.  While I may engage in a good bit of self-loathing, that doesn’t explain why Link is likeable as a mute protagonist in other titles but not OoT.  In OoT, Link kind of has resting-bitch-face, which makes him seem crass and uncaring when people are telling him something personal and important.  Beyond that, though, and it’s hard to put my finger on it, he just doesn’t seem to actually care about his friends or be able to connect with them on any sort of emotional level.  Scenes with Saria, Malon and Zelda are particularly uncomfortable to watch.  For lack of a better description, Link seems almost autistic in this game and is unable to convey that he understands the feelings of those around him; you want him to act like he cares about the characters that you care about, but the best we get is dialing up Saria for tips on what Dungeon to go to next.  This apparent lack of empathy is exacerbated further by the strongly implied sexual attraction that all women in Hyrule seem to feel for Link.

In short, Ocarina of Time was unfun, tedious, poorly paced and plotted and at times very cringe-worthy.  Despite this, the game garnered many perfect reviews when it came out, much of it likely hinging on the novelty of a 3D Zelda game, and is considered by many to be one of the best Zelda games ever made.  If it was ever actually good to begin with, it did not age well at all.  Frankly, I thought it was terrible.

Oddly enough, I was fully prepared to dislike Majora’s Mask, a game that I’d heard from many people was inferior to OoT.  Indeed, its review scores, while very high, are not what OoT’s were.  Despite this, I found that I totally love it.  It will certainly warrant its own post, and I’m not far in yet, but already I’m finding most of my worst gripes about OoT addressed and solved.  Puzzle/fight designs are much improved, the Day/Night system is implemented in an exciting and meaningful way, Tatl is much less vexing than Navi, and Link manages to be much more likeable.  Not that I don’t have some minor gripes with MM, but unlike OoT, I’m having fun!

This is Comedy Gold

ms_male_link

This is one of those great and clear examples of how some people can’t be please because they don’t want to be pleased so you’re wasting your time to try to please them.  A lot of folks don’t want things to be “better” (better as defined by their worldview), they just want to bitch (like that person who was dumping on Sentinels of the Multiverse because boobs and diversity or something).  But it also got me thinking about how I kind of hate Link now and wonder how he got to be such a popular hero.  I mean, I’d say that he’s coasting off the games where he was genuinely badass, but the N64 Link is probably the most beloved and iconic incarnation.  The problem is, it sucks!

I’ve been playing Ocarina of Time on an off for a while now, and I’ve got a confession to make.  I think that Link is a shit protagonist.  It’s weird, too, because when I was a little kid, I thought he was pretty badass.  Then again, when I was a little kid, I’d only played a few bits here and there of the first NES Zelda at a friend’s house, but I’d seen the cartoon and read the choose your own adventure books, and he seemed pretty cool to small child me.

Somehow, I’d never gotten around to playing Ocarina.  Never had the system.  When a friend at college got the GameCube collection I’m playing now, I was more stoked at the chance to play Zelda 2 again without the emulator bugs from the NESticle version.  Zelda 2* Link was about as close as he ever got to being a “man”.  Before the retcon, it was one of the later games in continuity, so we had something of a tough, brooding and battle hardened Link who was on a quest to drive the darkness from himself while stopping the evil cultists who wanted to resurrect the wizard lord who’d put a curse on his true love.

Now that I’m playing Ocarina, though, I’m seeing a Link who is kind of wuss.  His silence comes across as uncertainty** rather than stoicism.  He is surrounded by friends and beautiful damsels who are clearly into him, but he can’t be arsed to acknowledge them, thank them or really do anything other than briefly scowl and be on his way.  I want to see Link tell the fish girl she’s crazy and needs to back off.  I want to see Link tell Saria he actually appreciates her friendship.  Hell, even if he didn’t tell her he loved her, it would be nice to see Link as anything but indifferent toward Malon.  Nope.  He just sort of scowlingly stumbles his way through the story coming across as unempathetic and extremely unlikable.  I really feel like there needs to be SOME explanation for why he never says anything if he’s got all of these people opening up to him without him ever saying anything.  It’s like that kid from Goodburger; in the movie when they explicitly avoided the implied involvement of copious amounts of pot, the kid goes from being a stoner to a mental defect and it’s more sad than funny.  If Link doesn’t have his tongue cut out, then he’s just an asshole.

So what does this have to do with a gender-flipped Link?  Having a female Link would significantly change our underlying expectations for what a good fantasy hero is.  The silence becomes shyness and reserve rather than uncertainty and unconfidence.  Would it make Link more likable?  I don’t know, but I think it would make me hate him less.

*:Z2 has by far aged the best of any of the Zelda games, is still a ton of fun and I would probably venture to say is the best in the entire series.

**: Yeah, I know he’s supposed to be a ‘kid’, and kids are scared of stuff, stories about overcoming fear, yadda yadda yadda, but from the 2d era to the 3d era, Link goes from being something like Taran from Prydain to someone who is constantly emoting self-doubt and insecurity and grows up without really growing.

Minor update:

I watched this video a long time ago, before I played Ocarina and had totally forgotten about it.  I watched it again today.  This guy is pretty much right about everything.

My Current Distraction: Zelda

I’m trying to squeeze some reading of my massive stack-o-books in between the short fiction I’m reading for the Cirsova mag and have returned to Thomas Burnett Swann with Green Phoenix. Man, any book that begins with “Aeneas must die!” is bound to be pretty solid. It’s a bit rapey-er than the other books of his that I’ve read, but so far it’s done to frame Aeneas’ son as a villaintagonist who is sympathetic from his own perspective but may be a villain from the perspective of the fey. Whether or not Aeneas can convince Ascanius to chill out and not rape fairy women so he can fulfill his destiny remains to be seen; having just accidentally killed the dryad’s best friend(zoned) centaur does not bode well for him.

Unfortunately, I’ve also been distracted by Zelda. I broke down and grabbed a cheap game-cube and the collectors edition a couple weeks ago and have been spending way too much time on it.

Rebeat first quest of the original, and yeah, it totally blows away the ‘women as a prize’ narrative that Sarkeesian tried to attach to it. I lost my magic shield to like-likes 5 times, had nearly 90 continues and Link doesn’t even get a kiss. Link’s quest to restore Zelda is more of an affirmation of the myth of feminine power (that is magic power, not girl power); only the mystic maiden has the power and magic to restore the balance and order to world. Link only has the power to pave the way for her. Sure, he could defeat Ganon, but Hyrule is still screwed without its queen. Zelda and her connection to the triforce of wisdom makes her an obvious analog for Sophia for whom the esoteric seeker must search, because without her, there is only darkness.

But enough about that. I am probably just an old curmudgeon, but I am kind of hating Ocarina of Time. It’s soooo sloooow! And everything is so damn unintuitive. Even though it’s way less sandbox than any of the other Zelda games I’ve played, I can never figure out where I’m supposed to go or do without ages of dicking around and wishing I could carry more than 99 rupees. It took me over an hour to find the sword!? Adventure of Link is probably the best Zelda if for no other reason that it’s the one Zelda game (out of at least the first five) that you don’t have to find a sword; you leave the castle and immediately begin stabbing thing and having epic sword fights. No rounding up chickens, that’s for sure.

Yes, I’m that guy who thinks that Zelda 2 was the best Zelda, with Link’s Awakening as a close second.  Why?  For one thing, great sword fights.  The battles with Darknuts were hard as crap but super rewarding when you finally killed one.  I also liked that it clearly showed that the entire 1st game took place in relatively tiny corner of Hyrule.  And hey, in Z2, Link actually gets a kiss if he saves the world!

But I was trying to look some things up, and man, I miss the old-canon that has since been retconned to oblivion.  Apparently now, Z2 takes place in the distance past, before even Z1!  Old-canon was a pretty simple order of “Link to the Past as prequel to 1, 1, 2, then Link’s Awakening”.  Bah, it’s neither here nor there.  Head-canon is the only tru-canon anyway.

Also, Angry Video Game nerd is totally doing Death Mountain wrong. You ALWAYS cast shield on yourself when you’re about to fight one of those Axe dudes.