By C.T. Hutt
Hey! Listen! Does that annoy you? Hey! Listen! Do you find it distracting? Hey! Listen! Do you find yourself losing interest in the article and instead fantasizing about how you could track me down and bludgeon me to death with my keyboard? Then it’s probably time to stop.
The Legend of Zelda was more than just another series to me, it was a staple of my early gaming experience. I have loved stories about swordplay and magic since I was old enough to read, and the original Zelda put me right in the driver’s seat. I faithfully played each new incarnation of my boyhood favorite, even that confused side scroller with the golden cartridge Zelda 2. Zelda for the SNES remains one of my all-time favorites and when Ocarina of Time came out for the Nintendo 64 I was positively giddy. Sadly, along with another dimension the Zelda series acquired a terrible disease: Navi.
Navi the fairy was your little guide to the world of Hyrule, constantly dispensing advice about how to overcome obstacles, no matter how banal. She was like Jiminy Cricket, only instead of guiding you through situations of moral turpitude she gave you detailed instructions on how to accomplish every task in the game. She fit right in your pocket so she was always right there, always watching, always advising. No matter how many times she repeated her advice, it was never quite enough for her. Apparently she just didn’t trust Link to get the job done, as per the example below:
Hey, listen. The spider web is in your way! You need to find a way to get past.
Hey, listen. You need to set the spider web on fire.
Hey, listen. Use a stick like a torch and set the spider web on fire.
Hey , listen. You set the stick on fire, now it is like a torch you can use to set fires.
Hey, Listen. Fire is very hot because it is flame and you can use it now to burn down things like spider webs because they are flammable.
Hey, listen. Good job, you burned down the spider web and can now progress forward past it because it is no longer in your way, because you burned it down.
Hey, listen. There’s a door. You can’t get through the door because it is locked. You need a key to unlock the door otherwise it will remain shut stopping you from passing through it.
As you can see this kind of advice goes well beyond good intentions and strays into the realm of mental abuse. I can only surmise that Navi in Zelda 64 was employed by Ganon to drive our hero insane. But Nintendo wasn’t finished defiling the series, oh no, not by a hook shot. After a lengthy hiatus I returned to my beloved series to see how it had changed during the years I was in an asylum, so a few months ago I popped in Zelda Twilight Princess for a test run. I was in sheer joy for a while; there was not a fairy in sight. My happiness was to be short lived. Enter a new side kick: Midna, who not only feels the need to vomit up unsolicited advice like her fey forbearer, but gets right into the action as well, making her abominable presence inseparable from the game play. With a sigh I set my controller down and turned away.
The Zelda series is not the only one where side characters seem to have a compulsive need to wax verbose about the obvious or the irrelevant. The Metal Gear Solid series is so thick with distractions and lengthy blather on the part of secondary and even tertiary characters that I often forget that I am playing an action game. The player cannot simply turn off their radio to ignore these chatterboxes; they make a special point of noting that the communication system in the game is wired directly to the avatar’s jaw bone. Like Zelda, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Metal Gear series, and I genuinely appreciate any game that makes an effort at adding some dialogue and plot into the mix, but when game play stops entirely to deliver dozens of communicator chats it becomes a burden rather than an enhancement.
In Okami, Capcom’s 2006 release where your avatar is a god-wolf named Amaterasu, you are accompanied by Issun, a tiny artist/sprite/insect. Issun is so tiny that he can hide on your person at all times, like a flea in Amaterasu’s divine fur, but not so tiny that he can be ignored. The otherwise beautiful game is punctuated by commentary from this miniscule vermin whose contributions to the title are limited to ham-fisted comic relief and constant re-iteration of what other characters have already said once before.
All of these side “helper” characters follow a standard formula. They are difficult to ignore and are a constant auditory distraction. They are either extremely small or incorporeal so that they cannot be thrown away, turned off, or destroyed. Without treatment I fear that these characters will find their way into other decent games like an infestation of talking pubic crabs.
I think I know why they may have originally been put into games. Developers grew so weary of people not being able to figure out and complete their games that they felt the need to over-compensate. They dropped these pint-sized nannies into the mix to spoon feed the gaming experience to us, not because we need it, not because it improves the games, but because they underestimate our ability to reason our way through their worlds. It’s a lazy, stop gap solution, and it has got to end.
Developers take note. Being interrupted every few seconds by an obnoxious talking flea, fairy, ghost, demon, air traffic controller, or whatever is not a fun time for us. It breaks the pacing of a game and reduces otherwise playable titles into exercises in madness. Part of the fun of being immersed in an interactive world is finding out what we are supposed to do by trial and error rather than having it constantly dripped on us like water torture. At least provide us the option of turning these annoying little helpers off.