2020 was a horrible year, but one of the things it taught me was how to appreciate the simple comforts when life gets too overwhelming. A brisk winter’s morning, a hot bowl of pasta, a cuddle sesh with my puppy, and nostalgic Legend of Zelda games from my childhood. Replaying Zelda has become my yearly tradition: last January, I played Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask back to back, and this month, I’ve gone back to Breath of the Wild and A Link Between Worlds. I’ve played almost every game in the series, but they never feel old or predictable. They are the games I can come back to and feel the same way I did when I was eight years old, popping in my N64 cartridge of Ocarina on a cold Christmas morning as snowflakes danced around my sleepy childhood home.
I love all kinds of games, but when I get stressed out, figuring out a new one feels like too much effort. I’m a slow, methodical player, and love to figure out the nitty gritty of a games’ world and story. These days, though, it feels like games ask so much of players that it gets exhausting to complete them. Open-world adventures are the industry standard, offering an epic scale and a sense of unparalleled freedom for players. But many of these games feel bloated, giving you so much to do that it feels like a chore. Combine that with the time it takes to learn each games’ mechanics and immerse myself in its world, and I can easily burn out and stop games before they even start. (I know this is “first world problems” to the nth degree, but bear with me.)
Zelda games are beautiful in their relative simplicity. They don’t have endless sidequests, overly complicated mechanics, or even much story. They’re just wholesome fairy-tale adventure games about a boy trying to save a princess from an evil man/demon/pig monster. You only need a few minutes to get the basics, although true mastery takes much longer. They have a perfect balance of action, puzzle solving, exploration, and lore, without ever feeling too grindy or repetitive. And they rarely overstay their welcome: even in a huge open-world game like Breath of the Wild, the amount of time you spend in Hyrule is completely up to you.
Replaying these games is always a treat. They’re familiar enough for me to jump back in easily, but each new playthrough makes me appreciate something I hadn’t before. In Ocarina of Time, for example, you can choose between playing the Forest Temple or the Fire Temple when you first arrive as Adult Link. Most players start with the Forest Temple, since you need the bow to complete all of the other dungeons, but during my last playthrough I took on the Fire Temple first. Navigating those dark lava-filled corridors with sub-optimal equipment was tough, but it forced me to solve the puzzles in new and creative ways. I haven’t even tried the Master Quest yet, due to not owning the 3DS version until recently, but I’m sure that will make a game I’ve replayed countless times feel fresh and exciting again.
My favorite Zelda game is Majora’s Mask. It’s depressing as hell: the core conceit is you have to repeat the same three-day time-loop over and over again, Groundhog Day-style, to prevent the moon from crashing into the earth. But the game’s eclectic and heartfelt cast of characters makes me want to 100% it every time, just so no one spends their last days on Termina unhappy. Majora’s Mask isn’t just about saving the world: it’s about turning a zombie back into a human so he can hold his only daughter again, helping a wayward spirit pass on without regrets, and bringing two star-crossed lovers back together so they can get married 15 minutes before the world ends. Death is everywhere in this game, but so is life, and that’s what makes it beautiful.
None of these games are perfect, and sure, a lot of my enjoyment of them comes from nostalgia. But really, is that such a bad thing? The Legend of Zelda games make me feel happy. They remind me of my childhood, trekking through the woods in my neighborhood for the sheer joy of discovering what was out there. And they sure beat doomscrolling news articles or staring at my bedroom walls all day! As much as people push the latest and greatest in pop culture, we shouldn’t forget our roots. Maybe your nostalgic comfort food is a classic movie like The Princess Bride, or a pop song that played all the time when you were younger. If it makes you happy, there’s nothing wrong with a low-stress, nostalgic, comforting adventure.