Just a warning, there may be minor spoilers for both Darksiders and a few Zelda games in this blog. Also, this blog is long but hopefully worth a read if the subject material interests you.
Just about every summer I get the urge to play through games in the Legend of Zelda series. This summer has been no different. This time, though, I decided I would try the game that has been almost universally hailed as the dark Zelda game that the older fans of the series had been waiting for: Darksiders. I spent about a week of time playing—and finishing—the game. I really liked it (you can check out my extensive review of it here), but it wasn’t because I thought it was some grand and dark Legend of Zelda replacement.
It’s impossible to talk about Darksiders without drawing the appropriate comparisons to Zelda. The same dungeon-item mechanics exist, you collect heart pieces, magic upgrades, and you defeat bosses with newly acquired items (items that have obvious parallels to LoZ items). This game was clearly inspired in many ways by the Legend of Zelda franchise, despite what the developer claims. These things alone, however, don’t deliver the kind of experience I would want from a dark Zelda game.
If I had to pinpoint where exactly I think Darksiders fails in this respect, it would have to be the atmosphere that the game provides. The game is dark, absolutely. I’m not denying this. The difference is that I don’t really care about why the game is so damned dark. Perhaps part of the reason I don’t care is because I have nothing to compare the dark overworld with. You start the game being thrown into an already pretty messed-up earth. After the game’s short abilitease section, you return to earth to find that it is now even more messed up. If you contrast this with Ocarina of Time’s transition between Link being a child and Link being an adult, there is an absolutely shocking moment when you walk out of the Temple of Time for the first time and see the grim red halo hanging above Death Mountain. It is apparent that Hyrule has taken a turn for the worse since you have been trapped in time. When you juxtapose the condition of town square when you exit the Temple of Time to what it was just moments (in terms of gameplay) ago, the feeling of dread sinks in far deeper than it ever did during my playthrough of Darksiders. I felt like I was to blame for all of this awfulness.
Another potential reason for this disconnect is because I can actually relate in certain ways to Link and his motivations. War is, in all measurable ways, a complete and total badass. He’s a force with deity like powers and that’s a whole hell of a lot more than I can say about myself. Link, on the other hand, starts out as a young boy with no more experience wielding a sword than I do currently. He receives the call to adventure and embarks upon a journey that includes, among other things, huge personal growth. That’s something I can understand and relate to, even in such a fantastical environment. War, on the other hand, undergoes a transformation from badass dude to slightly more badass dude—it just doesn’t feel as meaningful to me. Additionally, the motivations of each main character couldn’t be more different. War’s story can be boiled down to a revenge plot. He has been framed, and he goes through great lengths to right this wrong, and kill the person(s) responsible for it. Everyone can relate in some way to a revenge story, but they aren’t exactly deep. Link’s story, in comparison, is generally a selfless one. He takes on huge responsibility in order to save the world—and, maybe, a bit of a love interest. It’s hard to call Link’s story deep, but it certainly goes further than a simple revenge plot.
All of these things take away a little from what I think Darksiders could have been. However, the last thing that I think really captures what a Zelda game is—to me at least—probably shouldn’t be a part of Darksiders. In general, War is alone on his journey. The only reason War interacts with anyone is because he needs to. War would just as soon kill everyone he meets as he would accept help from them. Samael is a good example of this: A character that needs War just as much as War needs him, but either character has no affinity for each other. I wouldn’t have been surprised if War killed Samael after he was no longer useful, which is saying a lot considering that Samael is one of War’s only allies (besides the other 3 horsmen). It’s War against the world, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. That said, if I’m looking for a Zelda replacement, I want to have a meaningful connection to the world. Majora’s Mask is probably the most involved example of having a connection to the world, one which was often dark and depressing. Majora’s Mask gives out more sidequests than any other Zelda game I can think of. This leads to giving Link a greater connection to many of the characters in the overworld. When you reunite Anju and Kafei, it’s a wonderful feeling of satisfaction (it’s easily the longest sidequest in the game). However that feeling of satisfaction is soon wiped away as you realize that you must reset the flow of time, undoing all good deeds done in your previous three days. After you play the Song of Time, all the connections you have built disappear and you start from square one. In many ways, Majora’s Mask is the sort of dark Zelda game that I want to play, and continues to be my favorite iteration on the series so far.
That said, I loved Darksiders and am very excited for the next release. I’m also looking forward to Skyward Sword, but I don’t think that this game is going to do anything for people looking for a dark Zelda game (not that we know much about the game). Luckily enough, I'm still happy to play through a stock Zelda adventure. A salute to those who made it through this overlong blog. Thanks for reading!