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Essay by Olivier Bouchard (@booboobouchard)
Read by Raphael Bennett (@raphbennett)
Intro l Outro music by The JEM (http://www.twitter.com/@The...
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You got to give it to Nintendo: they know how to set their player on an adventure. They understand that it is often as simple as giving you a sword and a purpose. Then you’re up for anything, any obstacle that comes your way. Countless things will happen before you finally complete your objective, and that is exactly where the adventure lies. The journey is important, not the set-up, and thus it does not need more than a simple premise.
Nintendo’s games tend to be trope-heavy. While this may be problematic from time to time, these game tend to rely on well-worn tropes for simplicity’s sake. At the end of the day this explains their omission of a dense narrative throughline. Nintendo leans towards the basics. Looking back at the last generation of consoles, the biggest disappointment I had with many of the some blockbuster franchises’ stories – I am thinking about Mass Effect (2007-), Assassin’s Creed (2007-), Halo (2001-), etc. – was that they all relied on the same trope in the end: the all-story. Ancient civilization plus a hero of time who is there to save the day by harnessing said civilization’s knowledge. These games take hours of dialog and text entries to get where Nintendo’s games tend to go in a single sentence.
In storytelling, tropes are leverage – not an end goal. Small and simple stories have room to open up whereas big and complex ones can end up constricted. That is not my subject though. Merely the introduction.
Take a sword. There is a princess to save. We are just getting started.
We all know the drill and, frankly, I am always giddy to take part in it. I am very fond of The Legend of Zelda series —I suspect I’m not alone here— so I play these games with great expectations. What will be different this time? What will make this particular one so memorable?
Reading reviews from The Minish Cap’s release, you are bound to find a common theme (and an inordinate amount of puns inspired by said theme). It is all about smallness. The game is small and is about small things. Not only it was released on a portable platform, the Game Boy Advance, but its central mechanic involves our hero Link shrinking down to microscopic size passing between cracks and meeting a civilization of tiny people who live in the nooks and crannies of Hyrule: the Minish. It is also worth pointing out that the Hyrule of Minish Cap itself seems diminutive at first glance. By the series’ standards, it appears to have the smallest landmass of The Legend of Zelda’s main titles. But, in the small world of Minish Cap, grand things happen.
Like how a simple story does not equate a simple narrative, a small world does not equate a small scope. Here, Minish Cap is everything but diminutive. As much as its world is small, its intricacies ensure that it never feels limited. It is instead a complex clockwork system that you, as a player, are tasked to slowly put in motion.
This system of stage progress is most apparent in how Minish Cap treats its shortcuts. Similarly to the Souls series, The Minish Cap rewards you with shortcuts as you deal with the game’s challenges, meaning you can make headway in a zone without repeating tasks you have previously dealt with. There is no empty field, no empty terrain in the game, but with each and every little challenge you complete the lay of the land opens up. These shortcuts often come from pushing rocks into empty holes, but also —in typical Zelda series’ fashion— manifest through items that you acquire which allow you to travel faster and more efficiently through previous areas. It is obviously not as demanding as the Souls games, but it similarly imprints every inch of the land on your mind. Thus, The Minish Cap’s world might not be expansive, but it is absolutely complex.