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 3D (as it was called in development), and 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 more free roaming and adventurous than the one we got. At the time, it sounded awesome, and I even found myself wondering why they had abandoned the project. I concluded that it was probably due to the technical requirements of such a feat. Still, one thing that especially stuck with me were the pictures. Some were nondescript, nothing special, but one showed a large expansive desert environment. There was 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 beyond that desert seemed to stick the image to my mind.
After that we 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 tells me how some guy came to sell his missing son's old video games. He showed me them and they were all normal games. A few Wii games, a few Gamecube games, and a lot of Nintendo 64 games. Still, the only one that really caught my eye was a red cartridge with no label, except 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, but he didn't think he could sell the game and just let me take it home for free and indulge myself. Naturally, I did.
The moment the game started, I realized it wasn't the Zelda I was used to. The title screen was nothing but a nondescript "The Legend of Zelda." No subtitles, no fancy font, no music, just those words in black bordered lettering. The background wasn't from OoT or MM 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 accompanied any Zelda game. They were simply unnerving. Still, this didn't stop my curiousity, it only kept me going.
As soon as I press start, the game begins. It skips over any file screens and dumps a blocky-looking Link into an empty black environment. And when I say black, I mean black. There was nothing separating ground and sky. Just blackness. The only thing that let me notice that the game even worked was a temple in the distance, similar to the one in the opening. Moving still seemed to work fine, suggesting that something probably glitched with the textures of the ground and sky. Still, it seemed strange that nothing happend to any other textures. Entering the temple was my only choice, so I took it.
One thing that is worth mentioning is that the game started with no music, just deathly silence. However, the closer you came to the temple, the more music was available to hear. Well, it wasn't really music. It sounded like moaning, similar to the ReDeads in OoT, but more tinny 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 caught me eye. Rather than the textures being worse than those in OoT, 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 splatters 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 splatters on the walls soon served to be warnings of booby traps. Some become inescapable, and simply send you back into the darkness again. Others are escapable, but still extremely creepy and...depressing. The dungeon was riddled with the low-poly remains of dead adventurers. and sometimes they even gad items on them. The items could be picked up, but the inventory screen seemed unfinished, and 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 find 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 had changed, and I only realized it by the last room. The moaning had never looped once, but still seemed to change according to the mood. A discordant violin melody started playing, but the rest of the sound remained nothing but moans, sobs, yells, and weird scratching. It was never enough to rise past the level of "background noise" but it still remained unnerving, almost as if it wasn't music at all, but monsters that were wandering somewhere in the temple.
When I said "entering the room 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 with the same textures on the walls as the rest of the temple. The only out-of-place aspect was a giant face on the other side of the room, colored as gray as the walls surrounding it. Its skin seemed stretched over its head and lined 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. Still, the door I came in was locked, and the only thing to do was approach. I did so, carefully, making sure nothing was waiting for a surprise attack. I went 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 happened. It remained there. I attacked some more, and still more, until eventually the music stopped. Soon the cacophony of violin music became even louder and the moans started up even stronger, and then something happened. In one movement, its eyes opened, staring at me with dry, souless eyeballs. And then...nothing. The music was still louder, but I continued to attack the face with no reaction, until it simply had enough, ripped to shreds, and fell away in a fire, in typical Zelda fashion, revealing a door. The music had stopped. There were no more moans, screams, anything. I went through the door.
What a fool I was. That was only the tutorial.
The screen was replaced by a white screen, followed by a moment of extremely loud static. I jumped, but it was over almost instantly. The white screen was replaced by endless desert. The one from the image. I was in shock. By that point, I was creeped out enough to turn the game off. Still, that respite didn't last long, I had nightmares of the game. Normal nightmares, nothing weird about them (it was, after all, a pretty creepy game). However, what frightened me the most was something I skimmed over while I played and realized afterwards. The game chamged 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 finished, I was relying on instinct.
I kept going the next day, stopping only to eat and go to the bathroom. When I turned it on, I was still at the desert, even though there was no file screen. This time it was night, I walked. Sometimes I would walk for 20 minutes only to find a half-sunken obelisk, or the ruins of what looked like some village hut. Other times there would be a skull or a few bones, but nothing more noticeable than that. Other times I would see great expanses of oasis and tropical forests. I found my first enemies here. They were similar to tektites, only with larger bodies, mostly containing their large eye. They had thin, long legs and would still attack by leaping. only when they hit you, they would pin you to the ground and attack. Soon the sun rose, and I continued walking. Sometimes I would find small tombs. These were almost always similar in style to the first dungeon, only without the moaning and no bosses.
What I did find was information. Runes scribbled onto the walls that could be read. The description would almost always be 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. It seemed to be a history, though. The maps I'd sometimes find confirmed it. I simply explored, and after a while, I learned to let instinct guide my way. Soon I found the next dungeon, a large pyramid rising out of the desert...upside-down. Over it, straight up to the sky, was another large upside-down temple. It stretched so far I couldn't see 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, only a bit more perilous. More bottomless pits. chasms, spike traps, and monsters this time. Long arms that would grab you from out of the wall like wallmasters, only these simply threw you into the traps, killing you. What probably 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. The screen again flashed white, and I was in a new area.
This went on for the next few weeks. There were many places to visit, and at times I could find the borders 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 to new locations. Sometimes 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 though, I could see the tower in the distance. I quickly realized that I had no reached the top, only fallen into one of many traps. In fact, I still have not reached the top.
In the few times I went about the real world, I could feel that the game was different. It changed itself. It seemed to react to me. I was sure that a game like this should not have been able to be created. But then, they were going fot a free-roaming experience more similar to the original Zelda. What if they succeeded? They created a world one could always roam. And they really did create a world. I had learned of many gods in that land. The three goddesses who had created such a perverted, physical world. The god He Who Sees, who decided to cleanse it. I still don't know my own route, but I felt that if I simply followed my instincts, I could find my goal.
That's why I'm writing this now. My instincts still tell me where to go. But it's not here. It's not in the game. I have to leave, and I will do it. But before I go, I feel I have to leave this message for someone to find. I should warn you though, it may be a game, but it knows you are playing.