When I was a child, one of my favorite games was the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Anyone who's played it can probably figure out why, even if they don't particularly find it their favorite. Naturally, as a very popular game, it spawned a lot of rumors and legends - especially back in the day when communication through the internet wasn't as common. Most of these legends are false, but sometimes a surprising amount of truth can be found in them.
A while ago, I had read an article about early versions of Zelda 64 (as it was called in development). Apparently, these early versions were incredibly different than the released version. It was modeled after the original Legend of Zelda, rather than a Link to the Past, and as such was a lot freer roaming and adventurous than the one we got. At the time, it sounded awesome; I even found myself wondering why they had abandoned the project.
I concluded that it was probaby due to the technical requirements of such a feat. Still, one thing that expecially struck me were the pictures. Some were nondescript - nothing special. However, one showed a large expansive desert environment. There was just a palm tree and a small oasis near a much more primitive looking Link, as well as some enemies. Past that, however, was just sand stretching to the horizon. The thoughts of what might lay behond that desert seemed to stick the image to my mind.
Skip several years. The article was only a vague recollection. Nothing important. I was hanging out at the local game shop with one of my friends. He's telling me about his day and gets into a story about how some guy came to sell his missing son's old video games. He got them out and showed them to me; they looked like normal games, actually. There were a few Wii games, some Gamecube games, and a lot of Nintendo 64 games. The only one that really caught my eye was a red cartridge with no label except for a piece of tape with the word "ZELDA??" written over it in marker.
Naturally, this got me curious. My friend didn't share my curiosity and mentioned that he didn't think he could sell the game, so he let me take it home for free so I could indulge myself. Excitedly, I took it and went home as soon as I could.
The moment the game started, I realized this wasn't the same Zelda I was used to. The title screen was comprised of nondescript text that said, "The Legend of Zelda." There were no subtitles or fancy font - not even music. It was just those words in black-bordered, white text. The background wasn't from Ocarina of Time or Majora's Mask, either. It was an overhead view of what could only be called ancient ruins. They looked very sinister and grotesque - similar to something from Majora's Mask, only without any hint of the mystical atmosphere that usually accompanied Zelda games. They were really unnerving.
Still, this didn't stop me. It only kept me going. As soon as I pressed start, the game began. It skipped over any file screens and dumped a blocky-looking Link into an empty black environment. Though, when I say black, I mean BLACK. There was nothing separating the ground and the sky. There was only blackness. The only thing that let me know the game even worked was what looked like a temple in the distance. From what I could tell, it was similar to the one in the opening. Moving still seemed to work fine, suggesting that something glitched with the textures of the environment. Still, it seemed strange that nothing happened to any other textures. Entering the "temple" was my only choice, since I couldn't see to get anywhere else, so I took it.
One thing worth mentioning is that the game started with no music, only deathly silence. The closer I came to the temple, however, the more music was availble to hear. It wasn't really music, though. It sounded like moaning, similar to the ReDeads in Ocarina of Time, but tinnier and badly recorded. Every once in a while, some sobs could be heard, but they were quickly stifled.
Entering the temple made everything seem more like a Zelda game, but something strange caught my eye. Rather than the textures being worse than those in Ocarina of Time or Majora's Mask, they were better. There was more detail in everything, but it was all dingy and rotten-looking. Extra polygons only served to make things look more grotesque. The random blood spatters didn't help anything, either.
It didn't take long for me to realize that the entire "dungeon" could hardly be called Zelda-like. Puzzles usually only consisted of pulling a lever or pressing a switch. In fact, there weren't even any sliding blocks. There were no enemies, either, but the blood spatters on the floor and walls soon served to be warnings of traps. Some became inescapable and sent you back to the darkness again. Others were escapable, but were extremely creepy and depressing.
The dungeon was riddled with low-polygon remains of old adventurers, and sometimes they even had items on them. The items could be picked up, but the game only auto-equipped the first three items picked up since there was no accessible inventory screen.
After several gruesome deaths and retries, I found my way to a door marked with a scratched-on eye similar to the ones on the Lens of Truth and various other objects. Entering this door reveals a boss battle. The music, by this point, as changed; I only realized it by the last room. The moaning had never looped once, but seemed to change according to the mood. A discordant violin melody began to play, but the res to fthe sound remained nothing but moans, sobs, yells, and strange scratching. It was never enough to rise past the level of background noise, but it still remained unnerving. It was almost as if it wasn't music at all, but monsters that were wandering somewhere in the temple.
You know, when I said entering the door revealed a boss battle, I was not entirely honest. It could only be called a boss battle by the most generous standards. It featured an empty room that looked similar to the rest of the temple in every way. The only out-of-place aspect was a giant face on the other side of the room that was about the same color as the surrounding walls. Its skin seemed stretched over its head and lined up with the wall, so it looked as if the wall was growing a face. Moss seemed to be growing over its closed eyes and cracks were apparent everywhere on it.
The door to go back was locked, so the only thing I could do was approach it. I did so, carefully, making sure nothing was waiting for a surprise attack. I walked up to the point where I was nearly in contact with the face. Nothing. It was still there, with its sunken eyes and cracked lips. I attacked it with my sword. The sword went through and made an incredibly vulgar flesh-ripping sound, but nothing else happened. The face remained there. I attacked some more, then more, and still more.
Soon, the cacophony of violin music became even louder and the moans started up even stronger. After that, the face's eyes opened, staring at me with its dry, soulless gaze, and then...nothing. I continued to attack the face with no reaction until it had enough. It went to shreds before falling away in fire - the typical Zelda fashion - and revealing a door. The music had stopped. There were no more moans or screams...nothing at all. I went through the door.
What a fool I was. That was only the tutorial.
The screen turned white, followed by a moment of extremely loud static. I jumped, but it was over almost instantly. What faded in was an endless desert - the one from that image from so long ago. I was in shock. By that point, I was creeped out enough to turn the game off. That respite didn't last long. I had dreams about the game...sometimes even nightmares. They showed me what I hadn't even realized while playing the game, something that scared me: the game changed each time I started over. When I tried to take the same path through the labyrinth, I always ended up lost and confused. By the time I got to the end, I was relying only on instinct.
I kept playing the next day, stopping only to eat and to go to the bathroom. When I turned the game on, I was still at the desert despite the lack of a file screen. This time, it was night. I walked. Sometimes I would walk for twenty minutes, only to find a half-sunken obelisk or the ruins of what looked like some village hut. Other times, I would see great expanses of oases and tropical forests.
This is where I found the first enemies I had seen in the game. They were similar to Tektites, with larger bodies that mostly contained their large eye. They had thin, long legs and would still attack by leaping, but if they hit you they would pin you to the ground.
Soon, the sun rose and I continued on. Sometimes, I would find small tombs. These were almost always similar in style to the first dungeon, only without the moaning and with no bosses. However, I would also find information. Runes were scribbled ono the walls and could be read. The descriptions were always vague, with phrases like "...and knowledge shall guide...way to heavens..." Sometimes they would be followed by other comments, but most writing seemed glitched and unintelligible. However, it seemed to be a sort of history. The maps I'd sometimes find confirmed it.
I simply explored and, after a while, I learned to let instinct guide my way. I soon found the next dungeon: a large pyramid rising out of the desert...upside-down. Over it, straight to the sky, was another large upside-down temple. It stretched so far I couldn't see to the top, but I couldn't keep going. I needed sleep again.
The next day came and I entered the dungeon. It was like all the small tombs I would find, just a bit more perilous. There were more bottomless pits, chasms, spike traps, and monsters this time. Long arms would grab you from out of the wall, similar to Wallmasters; these simply threw you into traps and killed you, though. They were probably what used to be ReDeads and Skeletons.
At the end of this dungeon, I found a large spiral staircase. I followed it up and up until I reached what seemed to be the top. It took two hours of climbing, but the time seemed to fly by. The top was merely a platform with a large ornate arrow pointing off an edge. Since there was nowhere else to go, I jumped off. The screen flashed white again and I was in a new area.
This routine went on for the next few weeks. There were many places to visit and, at times, I could find the borders of where one locale met another. I started to name the locations I had been to but, although I started knowing all the places intimately, there never seemed to be an end for new locations. There were even times where I would go through one door and come out on the other side of the world.
Places didn't behave by constant rules of space, but it became easier to find my way regardless. Each time I revisited a place, it was rearranged in a different, more navigable setup. From every corner, however, I could see the tower in the distance. I quickly realized that I had not reached the top, only fallen into one of the many traps. To this day, I still have not reached the top.
In the few times I took a break from the game and went about the real world, I could tell the game was different. It changed itself. It seemed to react to me. I was sure that a game like this should not - COULD NOT - be able to be created, but they WERE going for a free-roaming experience more similar to the original Legend of Zelda. What if they succeeded? What if they created a world one could always roam? I think they really did create that world.
I had learned of the many gods in that land: the three goddesses, who had created such a perverted physical world, and the the god He Who Sees, who decided to cleanse it. I still did not know my own role, but I felt that if I simply followed my instincts, I could find my goal.
This is why I'm writing this now. My instincts still tell me where to go, but not here. It's not in the game. I have to leave, and I will, but before I go, I feel that I have to leave this message for someone to find.
I should warn you. It may be a game, but it knows you are playing.