Editor's note: Andrew's story of finally beating the original Zelda without FAQs or guides more than 10 years after first playing it warmed my heart. Score one for perseverance! -Brett
Strategy guides have been around since I started gaming 24 years ago, and in that time they've proven themselves indispensable to gamers. Completionists cherish them for detailing every last important objective, quest, or item. Impatient types turn to them after running down the wrong corridor or struggling with a near-impossible boss fight one too many times.
While I can understand why those gamers go for the path of least resistance, I've never identified with them. Doing things myself strikes me as being the most rewarding way to play games.
Resisting the urge to consult a guide hasn't always been easy for me. Loading the original Legend of Zelda into my NES for the first time, for example, I was somewhat disappointed with the experience. I became exasperated as I struggled to divine where exactly I was supposed to go next on my quest.
Granted, I was four years old then. But things didn't change as I got older. I repeatedly went back to the game, and each time I started my quest, exploring Hyrule in all its 8-bit glory would at first bring a smile to my face. Then irritation would set in and I'd walk away.
After several years I moved on, keeping from my friends my dirty gamer secret: I had never beaten the Legend of Zelda. Yet I played through every other title in the series, loving and beating them all.
And so, after completing Ocarina of Time on the N64, I finally decided it was time to go back and beat the original, no matter how frustrated I got.
Sitting down with just a controller, a bag of Doritos, and two 2-liter bottles of Mountain Dew, I inserted that gleaming golden cartridge. Going through the title screen I had seen a hundred times before, I entered my name and pressed start. Hyrule lay before me as the familiar music began. Taking a deep breath, I set forth to beat Gannon once and for all.
Playing Link in his 8-bit form felt new all over again, and I felt unstoppable — that is, until I didn't. As the later dungeons grew tougher and more confusing, I could feel the anger creeping through my muscles. But I pressed on, downing the last of my Mountain Dew in one gulp. To give up then and fully consult a FAQ seemed as insane as climbing Mount Everest only to fly the last hundred feet to the peak in a helicopter.
Before long I faced Gannon in the final battle of the last dungeon. As the silver arrow slammed home, I realized I had done it. It had taken more than 10 years, but I had beaten Legend of Zelda without ever having glanced at a guide.
On my aging Nintendo, no achievement unlocked as I watched the credits roll. No one else was in the room to witness my victory. But I didn't need any reinforcement. I simply sat there with my hands in my lap, smiling. The sense of accomplishment I felt that day can never be taken away from me.
That's why I don't use strategy guides. After all, gaming isn’t about the destination so much as it is about the journey. An unfinished game is always going to be there for me to beat when I'm ready.
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