With his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell created a sort of guide by which just about every myth, legend, or story could be rationalized and even certain patterns among them could be revealed. Almost everything ranging from Homer's The Odyssey to George Lucas' moneymaking machine Star Wars to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings would, when broken down, most likely expose common elements that would transcend the cultural barriers separating them.
While Campbell's work has been used to understand many books, plays and even movies from a different perspective, it has still barely, if at all, scratched the surface of the videogame medium of entertainment. But should a videogame narrative be viewed as any different from that of a book? Should it be dismissed solely because it is engraved on a disc or programmed in a cartridge rather than being written on paper? Granted, I'm a bit reluctant myself to elevate games at the same level of classic literature. However, even after considering the popular prejudice of the general public concerning game stories in that little has changed since the mid-eighties' "Sorry Mario, but your princess is in another castle" type of plot, I do not believe games should be thrown at the bottom of the story-telling barrel. In fact, if I were to consider a book's story in its bare form and size it up against a videogame's, I could argue that the latter can, in certain cases, hold its ground very well. Such is the case with Nintendo's GameBoy Advance remake of the 1991 best-selling title The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past. If I were to examine this game using Campbell's concepts, I would most likely discover that many of the elements that have helped make some of the literary classics so famous are also present here, proving that great story-telling is an art that cannot be stopped by technological boundaries.
In its simplest form, A Link To The Past's plot is basic. Find a number of artifacts, destroy the evil, save the princess and restore peace to the land—a formula that's been seen before on numerous occasions. However, if The Legend Of Zelda were nothing more than this, I doubt it would have gone beyond the first installment.It is the meat attached to this skeletal scenario that makes many come back for more with every Zelda title that is released. The gameplay, for example, which remains unchanged from most of the other Legend Of Zelda titles, has players venturing into many dungeons where danger lurks everywhere in order to accomplish two tasks. First, they must find a treasure that holds an item designed to help them in their quest and then defeat the dungeon's evil master in order to gain an artifact that was being held in its clutches. However, this is only one part of the game. Players also have an entire kingdom to explore, as well as many people to talk with—some of whom will give hints concerning the story or various items and how they can be either attained or upgraded, as is the case with the sword. If one wishes to take a break from the adventure, A Link To The Past also has a few mini games that are sure to make any lose track of time and of their money. Hence, players will be hard pressed to find a dull moment when there is seemingly nothing to do.
The background story, which ensures players don't enter the mythical land of Hyrule without having a clue of what is going on, also accounts for the support the "skeletal scenario" receives. In Greek mythology, the hero Theseus was told the story of how the Minotaur came to be in order to understand the problems that plagued the Island of Crete as well as to be given an indication of what had to be done. In A Link To The Past, players are told the legend of the Triforce. It was said that long ago, in a sacred realm known as the "Golden Land," lay three golden triangles symbolizing power, courage and wisdom. Together, these triangles formed the Triforce, an object of infinite might that could grant a mortal any and all of his wishes. From Campbell's point of view, entering this sacred realm and acquiring the Triforce is equivalent to reaching "Apotheosis". This process signifies that the hero achieves the ultimate goal of becoming a God, which is exactly what happens to anyone coming in contact with the Triforce, for they are now gifted with the might of the Gods.
When a gateway leading from Hyrule to the Golden Land was accidentally discovered, people started fighting each other in the hopes that they would be first to get their hands on this legendary artifact. Soon after evil power was said to flow from the Golden Land which prompted the king to order seven sages to seal the gate so to prevent anything from that realm to cross over into the kingdom of Hyrule. This legend not only constitutes the foundation for A Link To The Past's story, but throughout the game, players gradually learn more of it all while forging a legend of their own through the quest they are guiding Link (the protagonist) in.
Although it isn't an essential requirement to success, A Link To The Past, like many well-crafted stories, pulls gamers into the adventure from the very beginning. The Call to Adventure, one of the early concepts discussed in Campbell's book, occurs when, in a dark room where a man and his young nephew are sleeping, a young female voice telepathically breaks the silence, pleading for help. The uncle leaves the house to investigate, ordering Link, the soon-to-be hero, to stay home. Once he leaves however Link's curiosity, much like the player's, is too strong to keep him at bay. Armed only with a lamp and the knowledge of an ancient legend, he ventures outside to find out what is happening. When stepping outside the house, players find themselves under the pouring rain in the middle of the night as guards appear to have been posted everywhere, which just thickens the fog of mystery in which they initially find themselves.
When reading a story, people are granted the freedom of imagination, for they can perceive settings and characters, for example, in their mind as they please. However, in exchange, they must evidently forfeit any form of interaction, for they can in no way influence the actions of the protagonist, or anything else for that matter. Videogame narratives work the other way around, taking away any privileges at mentally perceiving elements of a story since, as far as the auditory and visual senses are concerned, everything is already predetermined. Players see the action unfold before their eyes as well as hear the music and voices or sounds relevant to the game, which takes away any mystery as to what a particular title might look or sound like. On the other hand, interaction is a liberty anyone can experience when playing a videogame. What makes titles such as A Link To The Past stand out amongst the crowd is how they interlace this free will to explore and act with the background story originally created. The Golden Land mentioned earlier wasn't just thrown in to entertain the player for a few minutes prior to the adventure. Instead, it happens to be an entire world in which much of the action takes place. When travelling in this world, Link can witness the evil beings that the ancient legend referred to. He can also converse with some of its inhabitants who, blinded by their own desire to seize the Triforce for themselves, have become trapped in this place now known as the "Dark World."
The "Crossing of the First Threshold" is another one of Campbell's theories, this time describing what occurs when the hero overtakes the "guardian of the threshold" beyond whom lies the zone of magnified power, where danger and the unknown await. Link crosses this threshold when he discovers the Dark World, a nightmarish version of the land of Hyrule where greed, theft and monsters are commonly found around every corner. The charm here lies in the fact that it is somewhat superimposed on Hyrule, reflecting everything in Link's own world in a corrupted and evil way. The concept of cause and effect plays an important role here, as doing something in one world might have direct consequences on the other. This tie between both worlds isn't limited to objects or places however for many people, who have all in some way been affected by the Legend of the Triforce, have stories and tasks for Link that stretch beyond their own realm, strengthening the link between both worlds. In A Link To The Past, Link's mean to travel freely between both worlds comes in a magical mirror with the help of which he can eventually become "Master of the Two Worlds." Campbell explains that this happens when the hero has succeeded in gaining experience and achieving his full potential, which permanently changes him in the upper plane(in this case the Dark World) and being able to freely transit between both realms. Few games have attempted to create such a delicate setting as A Link To The Past has and even fewer have actually managed to pull it off. In creating this alternate reality, this title has emerged players in the legend in a way that even a written story would have a hard time offering.
Being bundled with A Link To The Past is an all-new multiplayer game entitled The Four Swords. In it, Link can, by taking hold of a magical sword and split himself into two, three, or four copies of himself depending on the number of players connected. It should be noted that this adventure wasn't created with the premise of adding to the Zelda mythos. Here, the story was designed to complement the gameplay. Yet it manages to stick to the basic concepts of the monomyth, the name attributed to any myth that describes the quest of a single hero, by making all of the protagonists identical. Hence, while there may be four Links on the screen, in reality, and as the story also points out, there is only one hero all the time. The basic plot then, although a bit thinner than A Link To The Past's, involves much of the same elements. As for the game itself, The Four Swords doesn't just consist of beating the daylights out of either enemies or the other player. Instead, it emphasizes on values such as teamwork and cooperation to a degree rarely, if ever seen before in a multiplayer videogame. Even though the game adapts to whether two, three or four players are present, the various puzzles, some of which I have found to be very original, always require all characters to work together. It might not always be as challenging as one might hope but it promises not to be a letdown. Thumbs up to Capcom, who managed to offer quite a different take on the multiplayer experience then what would usually be expected all while making an effort not to deprive The Four Swords from any narrative aspect (as is the case with many mutliplayer games).
To the untrained eye, the Link To The Past cartridge may well appear to be nothing more than another videogame for kids and others who refuse to grow out of childhood. However, it is much more than that, being as worthy a narrative as many popular books out there can be. Even Joseph Campbell's concepts, of which I have only mentioned a very limited few, can demonstrate that this particular Legend Of Zelda originated from the same primordial pool as many classics or myths found throughout human history. The difference here is that A Link To The Past's pages aren't made of paper; they're made of silicone. The attention to details given for sights and characters aren't read, but seen through a screen; and the various emotions aren't described, but heard in the many different musical themes the game has to offer. Even after all these changes, one thing remains still: A Link To The Past invites players to embark upon an epic adventure they won't soon forget and that they will want to relive over and over again.