Matt Gemmell

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An action-thriller novel — book 2 in the KESTREL series.

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The Lessons of Zelda

gaming 9 min read

Valuable life-lessons I’ve learned from playing the Legend of Zelda games.

I’ve actually written little pieces of this in spare moments over the past two years or so, but never published it anywhere. There were quite a few more points originally, but I lost the file and had to start again from scratch.

In any case, I came across the list today, and thought it worthy of inclusion in my blog. I’ll no doubt add to it from time to time.

  1. Firstly, and most importantly, no matter where you might find yourself, you can always obtain a sword nearby.
  2. No matter where you go, somewhere within a two-mile radius there are at least two better swords than the one you have.
  3. Despite the ready availability of large, padlocked chests, most people prefer to keep their valuables in clay pots.
  4. Breaking such pots and stealing their contents does not enrage their owner, even if the owner is watching you at the time.
  5. Regardless of what is happening around them, people always close doors behind them.
  6. Bushes and long grass are littered with valuable items, including jewels, arrows and bombs. Happily, it is impossible to accidentally collide with these items; they only appear after the greenery is cut down.
  7. Whilst on a horse, riding over items which are hidden in grass or bushes picks up those items. Riding over arrows doesn't impale your horse, nor does riding over bombs kill you instantly.
  8. Item-rich plant-life has a strange sort of intelligence; when cut down, it often leaves behind the very type of item you need at that moment (or that you'll need in the next area).
  9. You can run and jump and climb, without any breaks, for an unlimited period of time.
  10. If you forward-roll just as you hit the ground, even relatively long vertical drops don't hurt you in the least bit, and certainly don't break your legs or neck.
  11. You don't bleed, ever. When hurt, you flash red all over (including your clothes).
  12. The passage of time is slightly more complex than most people generally believe. In fact, time passes normally only when you're outwith a specific township, dungeon or island. When you enter such an area, dawn or nightfall will not arrive until you leave.
  13. The most powerful item you can possibly possess is not a sword, nor a magical staff, nor flaming arrows - it's a small rustic ocarina.
  14. Playing certain simple melodies can have a gigantic effect on your surroundings and on yourself, achieving such spectacular results as altering your physical form, or transporting you to another place. Despite these melodies being very short and easy to learn, and despite every musical instrument in the world only being able to play the same few notes, no-one ever discovers the melodies by accident. You have to be specifically taught them. Nor will they work until someone has formally told you how to play them. That's magic for you.
  15. You never need to eat or sleep, and drinking things (notably milk) often gives you increased ability to withstand enemy attacks.
  16. Fairies are commonplace, especially amongst the forest folk (the Kokiri). Despite fairies' reputation for being wise and gentle, they very much enjoy dishing out biting sarcasm.
  17. You can carry any amount of bulky, volatile items and still run just as quickly as when you're carrying nothing.
  18. Most people are quite stupid, entirely failing to suspect that tall, black-armour-clad, evil-eyed men with dramatic names might be up to no good. They don't even sense that there's a problem when those men start glowing in strange colours, or laughing maniacally.
  19. Evil masterminds, no matter how many legions of foes or ingenious traps they might place in your path, always make the same fatal mistake: they ensure that there is always a way for you to progress towards a final confrontation with them. Not once in all of recorded history has any final boss ever had the foresight to simply break the Boomerang in half, thus thwarting the young hero's quest at the outset.
  20. It's entirely reasonable to carry 50 arrows in a single small quiver.
  21. It's also entirely reasonable to carry 30 football-sized bombs, and still run and jump and be knocked down by enemies without any risk of detonation.
  22. Conveniently, bombs which are about to detonate flash red, warning you to get out of their immediate vicinity.
  23. Despite each single unit of currency being roughly the size of a prizewinning trout, you can readily carry several thousand of them in a small leather bag.
  24. The second most powerful item you can possess isn't a weapon either; it's a simple child's mask. Wearing a mask can cause all manner of fabulous alterations to your form and identity. However, most masks are good enough to retain just enough of your normal clothing so that you can still be visually identified.
  25. Don't worry: your sword will never dull, even if you spend extended periods whacking it into solid rock walls.
  26. No matter how many generations have prized a unique and powerful gem, the present leader will always be willing to give it to anyone who gets rid of a few invading monsters. This is true even if the gem can be used to attain an even more powerful mythic item, or indeed open a doorway through time itself.
  27. Music plays a large part in life. Every location has its own distinctive background music - you even know when you're crossing from one area to the next, because the current area's music fades. Additionally, an area's music is different at night. No-one knows why this happens.
  28. Some people have their own background music. This becomes particularly important when the person is evil. If you're approaching someone, and suddenly you hear insistent, sinister music, it's a fair bet that the person isn't entirely friendly. In fact, they may well attempt to kill you with all possible haste. If there's no sinister music, the person is utterly harmless, regardless of how they might appear. This is a nice convenience, since otherwise we'd have to judge people based on their actions and general behaviour, which would be much more complicated. I wouldn't want to live in a world where that kind of guesswork was necessary.
  29. If a yellow arrow appears above a person's head, coupled with the sinister music we mentioned, you're in for a fight.
  30. If a green arrow appears above something, it's important that you investigate. A fairy will normally accompany each person, and point out such things.
  31. Even though you'll find plenty of graveyards on your travels, you'll find that most creatures simply disappear into thin air when you kill them, rather than leaving behind any remains.
  32. Though you may frequently hack your way through legions of hideous and deadly creatures, you will be utterly unable to walk past even a small boy until you present him with the rare item he wants. Nor will there be another way around, no matter how far you go.
  33. Most evil creatures try to make a spectacular entrance whenever possible, so you might quickly stop being impressed by their arrivals. However, if an enemy's name appears dramatically in the air in front of them, coupled with blaring trumpet notes, you should know that you're in for a hell of a fight.
  34. No matter how nightmarishly horrible and unbelievably fast and powerful a "boss" enemy is, they absolutely always have a clearly-marked weak point. By some sense of cosmic irony, they're usually particularly vulnerable to the new weapon you picked up just a couple of minutes before. If you're having trouble locating a boss' weak point, look for anything which flashes or changes colour. Apparently evolution didn't see fit to get rid of such personally hazardous indicators.
  35. Don't be naive when it comes to doors. There are many more exotic kinds of doors than you might be aware of. For example, if you encounter a locked door and nearby there are some unlit torches, you can probably open the door by lighting the torches. It's not entirely clear how this can work when the doors are made of solid stone and you're in an era long before electronics or even sophisticated mechanics, but it works nevertheless. What's even more fascinating is the distinctive secretive jingle which will play once you've successfully unlocked such a door. Some people suspect that a small orchestra follows each person around throughout their life, constantly waiting just off-camera. I remain unsure.
  36. There are, however, some normal doors out there, which require ordinary keys. Just keep in mind that even though all door-keys are essentially identical, a key will only work in the general location you found it. Conveniently, if it's at all important that you gain access to a locked room, there will always be a suitable key in the general area (though you may need to really look for it). The concept of locking the door and throwing away the key hasn't reached Hyrule or any of the surrounding lands or parallel dimensions.
  37. You'll encounter switches everywhere, and I don't mean light-switches. Most switches are actually spectacularly large affairs, sometimes being up to half your height. Some switches stay down themselves, but some require a heavy item to be placed on them. Some switches need to be shot with an arrow (and amazingly, you can do this any number of times without damaging the switch or even scratching its paint), and some are even more exotic, needing fire or ice or some magical substance to trigger them. For all of this fabulous magic and technology, the Hylians still haven't mastered the internal combustion engine.
  38. It's quite common for things to be invisible. Happily, you'll almost always be able to find a magical lens which allows you to see nearby invisible items. Invisible creatures are also usually good enough to leave a shadow behind, and to make sinister noises before they attack you.
  39. For reasons which are unclear, once you've found yourself in a strange, new land, you will be utterly unable to leave. You will be able to travel to various diverse locations within the general area, but you will never be able to simply turn around and just leave the kingdom to sort out its own problems.
  40. Thankfully, when someone promises you a reward in exchange for performing a task for them, they will always keep their word. In the worst possible case scenario, they may simply ask you to perform a further task or two before furnishing the promised item.
  41. In all of the history of the world, and despite such things being relatively commonplace, no-one but you has ever realised that joining together four heart-pieces increases your ability to resist enemy attacks.
  42. When crossing from one high-up place to another, it's comparatively rare to find a bridge. After all, why go to all the trouble of building a whole bridge, when you can simply suspend blocks of solid rock in mid-air, hundreds of feet above the ground? For bonus points, make the solid blocks move around, following a specific repeating route.
  43. Doing a forward-roll as an enemy attacks you will usually allow you to escape harm. This works even if the enemy is covered in spikes, electroshock devices, or other such things.
  44. If you find a gap which is only slightly too wide for you to jump across, try to be sensible about how you're going to traverse it. It's really quite ridiculous to think you should build a makeshift bridge of some kind, or use a rope, or any such thing. The rational thing to do is to search for a pair of boots which allow you to defy gravity for brief periods.
  45. Contrary to popular belief, your own physical strength is mostly irrelevant when it comes to determining how much weight you can lift. The important thing is the colour of your gloves, and the material they're made from.
  46. You don't need to lose much sleep about the possibility of being deceived by a liar. All liars not only look decidedly wicked, but they also cackle "heh! heh!" throughout all of their lies, so you can probably spot them without too much trouble.
  47. Learn to have respect for pieces of wood. Even if your sword can slice clean through a six-foot muscular werewolf, it will bounce uselessly off a simple wooden fence. Luckily, the jarring force of the recoil will never tear ligaments in your arm nor dislocate your shoulder or damage your neck.
  48. It really pays to be good. Good people are immune to practically all forms of attack, including detonation of large bombs immediately beside them. However, try as you might, you will never qualify for this righteous invulnerability (even if you save entire kingdoms, or indeed entire planets, single-handedly). Life is truly unfair sometimes.
  49. If you enjoy speaking to mentally subnormal people who have no concept of how to avoid danger, speak to general townsfolk. If, however, you'd like to engage in mature debate with keenly aware and genuinely useful people, speak to the townsfolk's children (particularly female children who live on farms).
  50. Most people are pathologically incapable of solving the daily problems their lives present them with. No matter whether they've misplaced a precious pet, been charged with cutting the grass, fallen ill, been changed into an animal, require to milk a cow, need to deliver a letter, or any of a thousand other things, the solution is the same: ask a complete stranger of pre-teen age who has pointy ears and green clothes.

Got some lessons I’ve missed? Post them in the comments.