We are living in a wonderful time where video game adaptations for television are working as a scandal. We are not only saying this for works like The Last of Us on HBO, but also for others like Arcane from League of Legends or Edgerunners from Cyberpunk 2077 (which even managed to break the player record for the game, which had gone so badly).
But to get this far we have had to swallow a lot, with fictions from hell. And one of them had the video game Zelda as the protagonist at the end of the 80s.
The essence and the spice
It’s the year 1989. Video games are increasingly sneaking into the homes of millions of people around the world. These still have a component associated with the “little ones”, hence the advertising messages are focused for that audience. Based on this, companies try to appeal to everything possible so that this sale is generated. And yes, that is where television series also come into play.
Speaking in the past, Nintendo wanted one of its most powerful franchises, The Legend of Zelda, to have a series of weight (it was not the first, it must be said, since before they had the Super Mario Bros. show, for example). The Japanese, with this idea under the arm, commissioned DiC Entertainment to make the series… and the result was a failure.
Premiering on September 8, 1989 in the United States, the series had a total of 13 episodes that aired until December 1 of the same year. At one per week, Viacom’s adaptation did not work with audiences and ran for only one season, but what made it so bad?
A recent report published by Polygon investigated why this series enjoys such a low rating (3.6 out of 10 on Metacritic). “The series was going to be a little appendage to Super Mario Bros. Show, which was the star in that time slot,” says Bob Forward, writer and editor of the Zelda series. “DiC needed someone who would ask to do it without a lot of supervision. After some initial discussions, they gave me a VHS tape of the game, since I didn’t play video games […] My son was fascinated. That was my research.
As you can see, the screenwriter had no idea what Zelda was, something he shares with John Grusd, the director: “Nintendo wanted us to base it on the new game (Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link) because, you know, it’s great marketing. They gave me a Japanese version of the game, because it hadn’t come out here. I had no idea about the game. I wasn’t a gamer.”
Together with the rest of the team, the series began to be created, but the simple fact that they did not know what The Legend of Zelda was ended up condemning them. The story itself was not wrong. After all, we talked about Link and Princess Zelda being the stars of the show. Both had to defend the kingdom of Hyrule and Ganon’s Triforce. On paper, the story fit (although Zelda had more prominence than in the games), but its application was disastrous.
If this series has become a meme is because of those dialogues that are not correlated with the attitudes of their characters. Perhaps the most famous is when Link keeps repeating to Zelda his already mythical: “Well! Excuse me, princess“, a phrase he utters every time Zelda rejects him. Moreover, he always says it with such a humorous tone that it’s impossible to take it seriously. It’s the meme of ’89
The main problem that the Zelda series encountered for its failure not only had to do with these phrases taken out of context, but also that the script itself, regardless of its bases, took too many licenses for its adaptation.
Its creators confirmed that Nintendo did not provide them with more information for the show, nor did they know very well what they could or could not do. “Link has a sword, but can he use it to cut off someone’s head? It can’t do what it does in the game. Nintendo wanted us to do the game thing, but we can’t kill someone in a children’s series“says Grusd.
Despite this quality, the series has endured in the collective imagination with a certain fondness, more for the meme than for other aspects. Jonathan Potts, voice of Link, attests: “I get letters from all over the world. I was teaching voice acting at Second City, and the class is people in their thirties. The engineer looked at me like, ‘Come on, say it.’ And I was like, ‘I was the voice of Link.'”
Seeing the success of the current series, maybe it’s time for Nintendo to think about making a new one. But a good one, of course.