Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past: the milkman cometh

, | Game diaries

In the course of my tomb raiding, Link has recovered all manner of potent artifacts. Completing the Palace of Darkness earned me a magic hammer. Other excursions have netted me gloves which confer the strength of a giant, the miraculous hookshot, and a cloak of invisibility. To get these, I’ve heroically slashed through legions of carnivorous plants, helmeted lizards, and leaping skeletons.

After the jump, it’s all about the milk bottles

Link to the Past bothers with only the thinnest veneer of verisimilitude. Think about any part of the game world for more than five seconds and it breaks down. Like: who built all these incredible dungeons? What are all those pots for? How come perspective doesn’t work like it does in real life? My favorite: why is an empty glass bottle as rare as a magic wand? Four exist in all of Hyrule. These valuable bottles, which can store potions and imprison fairies, are well-hidden across the landscape.

Here’s a tip if you want an extra. When in the Light World, dive into the river just south of the palace. Swim upstream and under the palace bridge. There you’ll find the scene pictured above. Wake up the snoozing fisherman and he will give you a free bottle — the fool. He must not be aware of how precious a commodity these are.

I remember the overworld in Link to the Past as being huge. It’s actually quite small, taking a couple minutes to run from end to end. But secrets like the sleeping man enlarge the world — in this case literally. As you pass under the bridge, the scale shifts. The underside of that bridge is bigger on the inside than the outside.
What excites me about that hidden bottle is how gratuitous it is. Unlike the dungeons’ treasures, you don’t need it to progress in the game. It exists for its own sake, and is just one of many: Link to the Past is full of treasure rooms and hidden grottoes whose existence you are not at all obliged to discover. The knowledge of those secret chambers is what makes every Zelda game feel so expansive. However many you find, you’re never quite sure if there’s one you missed. In some sense, then, Hyrule’s infinitely large, full of these possible rooms.

The simple possibility of a secret makes you approach the game differently. Zelda veterans pay more attention to walls than interior designers. We are, of course, looking for those little hairline cracks which beg for a bomb to be set. Smash one pot, chop down one shrub: if you find so much as a rupee under there, it will become a full-blown compulsion. Every pot may contain a rupee, every sward of grass may hide a grotto. The game doesn’t care if we discover these or not, but it is coy apathy rather than true indifference: it knows we want to know. Every 3×3 patch of bushes must hold the truth. So the player smashes every pot, cuts all the grass, uproots every bush, satisfying an instinct to uncover the unknown. In real life, a good secret is the one no one knows you’re keeping. In Hyrule, it’s those secrets which declare their presence that we relish.

Up next, we step into the mirror…
Click here for the previous Link to the Past entry.

Erik Germani is 23 and has a pretty sparse CV. You may recognize him from such pieces as the one you just read.