How The Wind Waker Navigated Fan Expectations

I’m excited to have published an essay titled “How Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Navigated Fan Expectations on one of my favorite video game sites, Sidequest.

I’ve been studying fan interpretations of the Legend of Zelda games for about five years, but I’ve mainly focused on fancomics. In this essay, I finally ventured into the stormy territory of IGN forums to try to understand why people disliked The Wind Waker when it came out twenty years ago. Here’s an excerpt:

For better or worse, gamers have grown up, and video games have developed as an artistic medium alongside us. In the case of The Wind Waker, the Legend of Zelda fandom has matured enough to appreciate the depth of the game’s story and design, as well as the unique character of its graphic style. Meanwhile, the challenge Tears of the Kingdom will face is that many of the younger players who embraced Breath of the Wild are now seven years older, and they expect the game’s sequel to reflect the seven years of cultural progression they experienced alongside gaming fandom on social media.

If you’re interested, the full essay is available to read online here:

Hyrule Apocrypha Zine Preorders

I’m excited to share the premise of the piece I wrote for Hyrule Apocrypha, an illustrated fiction anthology exploring the myth and lore of the Legend of Zelda series. Everyone knows the tale of Hylia’s chosen hero, but myriad other stories hide in the shadows…

Hyrule Apocrypha is a substantial full-color book that weighs in at 120 pages, and preorders are open until June 11.

🌿 Preorder page on BigCartel:
🌿 Hyrule Apocrypha on Twitter:

She Came from the Stars

She Came from the Stars is a speculative minicomic fanzine that reimagines the myths and lore surrounding gods and mortals in the Legend of Zelda games.

Hyrule is dystopian, and its goddess Hylia is more than a little scary. In a country ruled by a hierophant queen, what does it mean to be an outsider? Perhaps, before he became a demon, Ganondorf may have once seen himself as a hero…

The digital zine is free to download from Itchio:

The Minish Cap

Nintendo recently released The Minish Cap on the Game Boy Advance virtual console included with its Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack subscription service. This service costs $50 a year, and you have to pay the annual fee all at once. As a reminder: It is always morally correct to pirate Nintendo games.

The Minish Cap came out around the same time as The Wind Waker, and it translates a lot of The Wind Waker’s characters and enemy designs into a 16-bit pixel aesthetic modeled on A Link to the Past. As a Zelda game, the structure of The Minish Cap is very conventional: There are five themed dungeons in five themed zones. You must beat these dungeons in order, as the item you find in each dungeon allows you to access more of the world. All of the dungeons are well-designed, and it’s fun to navigate each of the five zones.

To me, there are three things that make The Minish Cap special. The first is a core game mechanic that’s brilliant and magical; the second is a minor game mechanic I hate; and the third is the game’s lighthearted tone.

The main conceit of The Minish Cap is that Link is able to shrink down to the size of the Minish, tiny little mouse-elves who live in adorable mushroom houses, hollowed-out books, and so on. The Minish spaces in the game are a Studio Ghibli fantasy on par with The Secret World of Arrietty, and there are a number of fun navigation puzzles that require Link to alternate between human size and Minish size. This is especially enjoyable during an item quest that requires you to return three books to the library, which necessitates navigating the central hub of Hyrule Castle Town at Minish size.

Unfortunately, the Minish are obsessed with fusing kinstones. A kinstone is a broken medallion, and several dozen NPCs are willing to connect their half of a kinstone with a matching half in your possession. A successful fusion will result in a small change somewhere in the world – a merchant will come to Castle Town, a treasure chest will appear in a cave, or a special golden monster will appear in the field. These fusions are mostly random, as are the kinstones you find. All of the game’s sidequests (if you can even call them that) are connected to kinstone fusions, and the randomness of the fusions can make these sidequests infuriating. Thankfully, none of the sidequests is necessary, as The Minish Cap is easy enough to play with just the bare minimum of resources.

I imagine that most players will probably think of successful kinstone fusions as fun bonuses, but a Zelda game without sidequests can feel a little empty. In addition, because many of these fusions are made with random NPCs at seemingly random points in the game, none of the sidequests is connected to a narrative.

This lack of substance and specificity is tied to the lighthearted tone of The Minish Cap, which doesn’t have much of a story. The King of Hyrule has been possessed by an evil Minish wizard named Vaati, who turns Princess Zelda to stone during the first ten minutes of the game. Because only children are pure-hearted enough to see the Minish, only Link can save Zelda. Meanwhile, none of the adults care about any of this.

Aside from Zelda and your trusty talking hat Ezlo (who has also been transformed by Vaati), nothing bad happens to anyone in the game. In fact, everyone is quite happy.

In The Wind Waker, the disconnect between the carefree world of the Great Sea and the importance of Link’s quest is a major thematic element of the story. The only person living on the Great Sea who cares about Hyrule is Ganondorf, and the only reason he cares is because he’s been woefully displaced in time. The fact that no one except the King of Red Lions understands Link’s quest emphasizes The Wind Waker’s tone of loneliness, and this is why it’s so emotionally impactful when Link finds someone who appreciates the stakes of what he’s trying to accomplish and volunteers to help.

Meanwhile, in The Minish Cap, Hyrule is densely populated by Hylians and Minish who seem to be doing just fine, even without a government. Aside from poor Zelda, everyone is living their best life, and no one needs your help. I can’t overemphasize that there is not a single element of darkness in this game, which has no narrative tension and very little forward momentum.

A fandom friend who recently played The Minish Cap for the first time said that this is the game they’d recommend to first-time Legend of Zelda players, and I can understand where they’re coming from. The Minish Cap is about as conventional as you can get. Overall, it’s really fun, and neither its combat nor its puzzles are difficult.

Unfortunately, the kinstone fusion sidequests can be hideously annoying, and the game’s “safe for children” cutesy tone makes the world and its story seem unimportant and forgettable. The Minish Cap feels like it was created for casual players, and your mileage may vary on how much you appreciate this.

In the end, The Minish Cap is still a great 8/10 game that’s very much worth playing, but it’s on an entirely different level than A Link Between Worlds, which perfected the top-down 2D Zelda formula while also featuring excellent writing and interesting design work. Given its limitations, I think The Minish Cap will probably appeal most strongly to 16-bit retro game fans, as well as its actual target demographic of ten-year-old kids.

Tears of the Kingdom Leaks and Spoiler Culture

This past Sunday, someone on Reddit posted a link to a page-by-page series of photos of the (original Japanese) artbook that comes included with the special edition of Tears of the Kingdom. Since then, a lot of big-name fandom artists have been sharing public pledges that they won’t post any art that contains spoilers. I appreciate their stance, but I’d like to offer my own take – not on the spoilers themselves, but on the culture of corporate secrecy surrounding “spoilers.”

Before anything, I should admit that I looked at the leaked pages. They’re neat! There are a few new interesting character designs, but no story spoilers. The text is little more than design notes. “This clasp connects the two sides of her hairband,” that sort of thing.

I actually wasn’t all that impressed by the Tears of the Kingdom trailers, which make the game seem like a hot mess of heterogeneous elements that don’t fit together. That being said, some of the new character designs are really exciting! I’m not a fan of video game trailers to begin with, as they tend to target action-oriented fourteen-year-old boys. Meanwhile, the Tears of the Kingdom concept artwork is much more specific and interesting, and I think it invites a much broader and more diverse range of people who play games.

To put it bluntly: I didn’t like the trailers, but the leaked concept art sold me on this game.

I think it’s important to keep in mind that the refusal of media companies to put out nothing more than one or two teaser trailers in advance of a big release is a relatively recent practice. Before Disney bought Marvel in 2009, it was common to share all sorts of concept art, cast interviews, behind-the-scenes set photos, and so on. One of the most enjoyable aspects of being a video game fan in the 1990s and 2000s was checking out all the cool pre-release content in magazines and on official websites. In my experience, these little teaser “spoilers” aren’t going to diminish anyone’s enjoyment. Quite the opposite, in fact!

In addition, I think it’s important to put this leak into the context of Nintendo posting a major Direct video saying that they would open preorders for a special edition, only for the extremely limited stock to be almost instantaneously bought out by scalper bots, as Nintendo’s marketing people must have known it would be. Putting the $130 special edition aside, just a regular download of Tears of the Kingdom costs $70, which is quite hefty. I’m not inclined to take Nintendo’s side in any of this, nor am I amused by their weird Disneyesque attempts to create a kind of sacred space around a video game release to inspire “fear of missing out” anxieties.

Of course, I can understand the mindset of someone who wants to go into a game completely “unspoiled,” but you have to wonder. How good can a game (or movie) be if the entire experience of enjoying it would be ruined by knowing more about it?

My final reaction to the conversation surrounding this leak is rooted in my frustration with the prevailing culture of image-based social media. It makes sense for big-name professional artists with large followings to say that they’re not going to post “spoilers.” I understand that having an active online audience of tens of thousands of people necessitates certain precautions against discourse and harassment! Still, that experience is limited to a relatively tiny percentage of creatives.

The tail of social media interest in any given media release is a week at most. If you’re an artist with a low-to-mid-range following, and you can post your work within the first three to five days of a release, this translates to a difference between your post getting 3,000 notes and it getting maybe 300 if you’re lucky. If you’re an absolute amateur like me, this is a difference between getting 3,000 notes and maybe getting 30.

I can’t even begin to explain how intense the pressure to drop everything and produce work quickly is. Intense, and unpleasant. It’s disheartening to see work that was posted maybe two days earlier get an exponentially higher amount of positive feedback simply because of the timing of the post. Essentially: if you’re unable to produce quality work within a magic window, it can feel as though your work doesn’t matter.

( By the way, if your response is “you should create art for yourself,” please go sit in the corner and think about why an aspiring or early-career artist might need or appreciate support. )

Meanwhile, if an artist has more concept art and other development material to work with, they can take their time and create good work on their own schedule so that it’s ready to go when the magic window opens. Personally speaking, I think being able to enjoy the process of making art instead of operating on an unhinged crunch schedule is much healthier, much more sustainable, and a lot more fun.

So, all things considered, maybe being able to access a wider range of information about a game before it releases is kind of nice, actually.

The Eyes of Hyrule Zine Preview

I’m excited to announce that preorders are open for The Eyes of Hyrule, a Legend of Zelda fanzine devoted to the Sheikah. The zine’s Carrd is (here), and you can check out more previews on its Twitter account (here).

There’s a lot of talent involved in this project, and the mods have been totally on the ball at keeping everything organized for the zine, which is expected to ship out this summer. It’s always a pleasure to be part of a project where everything clicks and comes together so well. Also, I might be biased, but I think the stories (and comics!) in this zine are especially interesting and unique.  

My own piece, “The Only Come Out at Night,” is a soft horror story about Kakariko Village in Ocarina of Time. It’s narrated from the perspective of Grog, the punk kid who hangs out near the entrance of the village at night. During the trading sequence necessary to acquire Biggoron’s Sword, the player can pick up hints that Grog’s story is much darker and more complicated than his initial appearance would suggest. I therefore wanted to use this character to explore the darker side of the Sheikah through the medium of a Stephen King style “peculiar little town” story. I had a lot of fun writing this piece, and I can’t wait to share it.

If you’re interested, you can preorder a copy of The Eyes of Hyrule via Bigcartel (here).

The Museum of Hyrule

I was recently thinking about what a modern version of Hyrule would look like, and I was imagining how fun it would be for Link to encounter the Master Sword during a class trip to a museum. When I started sketching, however, what I ended up drawing is a reincarnation of Ganon seeing his crown from Ocarina of Time. The moment I wanted to capture is the calm immediately before a terrible storm.

Also, as someone who loves art and history, I tend to dislike museums, but that’s another story entirely.

The Best Witch of Her Generation

I’m excited to share another short story I wrote for Goddess Reborn, fanzine celebrating the female (and nonbinary!) characters of the Legend of Zelda series. You can download a free digital copy of the zine on Itchio (here), and you can read my full story on AO3 (here).

A Link Between Worlds is one of my favorite games in the Zelda series, mainly because I find the characters so charming. I’m especially fascinated by the figure of “someone who wants to be a hero but isn’t the fated Chosen One,” a character trope the series plays with but never fully explores. Groose from Skyward Sword is a good example, as is Ganondorf from The Wind Waker. There are several such characters in A Link Between Worlds, and Irene is my favorite.

Irene is the granddaughter of the Potion Witch, and she serves as the game’s fast-travel mechanic by flying Link around on her broom. She seems to be modeled half on Hermione Granger – she calls proudly herself “the best witch of her generation,” a play on Hermione’s famous epithet – and half on Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service. Like Hermione, Irene sees herself as a hero; but, like Kiki, her character arc involves her journey to understand and acknowledge her own specific set of talents.

What I wanted to capture was a moment of Irene’s life in which she’s happy and confident of herself as the protagonist of her own adventure. Irene understands that what she’s doing is just as important as Link’s quest, and she’s absolutely correct. Although the player may see Hyrule through Link’s eyes, the female characters who surround and support him are absolutely vital to Hyrule’s history.

While writing this short story, I wanted to get as close to the tone of “early-reader fiction” as I could. I’m not used to this style of writing, so it was a fun challenge. I was aided immensely by the story’s illustrator, Leh Latte. Leh helped me with the diction and rhythm, as well as with structure and balance. She also showed me what it means to work with page formatting in mind. Although the story itself is short and simple, it’s the product of a few good conversations during a collaboration between me, Leh, and Aven Wildsmith, the zine editor.

Leh and Aven are both fantastically talented and creative people who work in a variety of media. You can find links to all of Leh’s social media accounts on her Carrd (here). Aven’s website is (here), and you can find links to all their socials on Linktree (here). And again, Goddess Reborn is free to download on Itchio (here). There’s a lot of love on every page, and this zine is really something special.

A Legend of Shadows, Part Three

This is the third and final section of a speculative comic about gods and mortals in Legend of Zelda lore and mythology. The first part is (here), and the second part is (here). This is a continuation of the ideas I expressed in a short collaboration comic called Hylia’s Chosen Knight.

The goddess Hylia is more than a little scary, and it’s interesting to think of Ganondorf as being the hero of another story. I’m fascinated by the theme of “the failed or corrupted hero,” and I think it would be interesting if Ganondorf went on a quest that paralleled Link’s journey. Maybe young Ganondorf saw Hylia as the villain, but the power he needed to stand against Hyrule ended up overwhelming him. To me, that’s much more compelling than the idea of power only being “good” when it’s wielded by the “chosen” person.