Zelda games have always been about large scale, fantasy-tinged adventures. From directionless dungeon explorations to sky-faring sagas, there’s always been a sense of large and open spaces, which the upcoming Breath of the Wild is wholly embracing. Hyrule’s a big place, after all, so why not go big as can be?
Well, one game decided to go the other way…
Enter The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, where we get to see Hyrule from a whole new perspective. While the game proper plays in the top-down style pioneered by Link to the Past, there are areas dotted all over the overworld where Link can shrink down to a miniature size and interact with a tiny benevolent race known as the Minish. This size shifting is similar in function to things like the Dark World or the shifting mechanics of the Oracle games, but shrinking allowed for some spectacular moments and visuals.
One of the earliest bosses you face is a Wind Waker styled Chu-Chu, something of a weak enemy normally but when you’re Minish sized it becomes a gelatinous behemoth and a serious threat. Moments like this come up frequently and the dungeon design and puzzles that spring to life at this shrunken size are entertaining to behold and to conquer.
The Minish themselves are a charming and pleasant people, so interacting with them, learning about their place in the Zelda world and actively working with them for the good of Hyrule was immensely satisfying. Their presence and the constant size-shifting gives the game a more fairy tale feel and this aspect of is something I wish the series would explore more. That’s not to say Minish Cap is light on danger or intrigue, but it prioritizes wonder and creativity over introducing some grand spectacle that’s unique to that title.
That said, Minish Cap’s own unique elements reach those same heights, with some great boss battles towards the end of the adventure. I wouldn’t want Zelda games to lose their edge, nor its own constantly evolving mythology, but there’s nothing wrong with the occasional dip into whimsy.
Donning the Cap
The whimsy is only strengthened by Link’s companion this time around: his hat. Well, not exactly his hat, but the hat he wears for most of the game. This is no ordinary headwear, rather it’s a sentient bird-like partner named Ezlo. It’s via his power that Link is able to shrink down to Minish size and explore the world as they do. He’s also a source of guidance and exposition, though he’s a bit on the abrasive side. Still, just as he warms up to Link over the course of the game I felt myself growing fonder of him.
Revelations of Ezlo at the end of the game paint him in a slightly different light, though admittedly he can’t hold a candle to the likes of Tatl and Midna. Still, it wouldn’t be The Minish Cap without him and I honestly wish he could come back or simply make a cameo like many other partner characters have. Seriously, imagine this guy in Hyrule Warriors.
Minish Cap didn’t strive to be a world-scouring tale to defeat Ganon and his minions. There wasn’t an ocean to cross or a moon to stop, but it was still a tale that carried plenty of weight for its hero. It begins with Zelda being turned to stone by a sorcerer vying for her innate Light Force. This is another game where Link is on the younger side, with the fact he is a child actually being the reason he’s chosen for the quest in the first place. See, the Picori (as the people of Hyrule call the Minish) can only be seen by children. This sort of justification for Link’s age is nothing new, but it’s used in a way that adds to the game’s tone.
You’re not simply a hero that happens to be a kid, you are a kid hero. I’ve always found that angle appealing, allowing me, the player, to slip into a younger mindset myself to appreciate the game’s lore and story.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Of course that doesn’t mean that the game is childish. Rather, it idealizes the freedom, energy, and innocence of youth while showing the consequences of growing up too fast. That evil sorcerer I mentioned before, Vaati, is one of the only recurring antagonists of the series without “Ganon” in their name and it’s in this game we see his origin. Echoing something I said earlier, he’s my personal most glaring omission from Hyrule Warriors this side of Linebeck, and one of my favorite characters of the entire Zelda history.
A Minish himself, Vaati sought out absolute magical power and understanding, and was granted it by a magical hat. This obsession with knowledge and the fixation on what it means to be human rob him of any compassion. He wants what he wants and nothing can stop him, and the fact it took defying his teacher to get to that point reiterates just how immature he was. It’s a cautionary tale hidden within the game’s fantastical events, another understated link to its fairy tale feel.
These musings on the themes may make the game out to be more tell and less show, but it’s one of my favorite Zelda games for so many more reasons. Minish Cap is a melding of ideas from every Zelda game of the early 2000’s, and when that includes the Oracle games, Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker, you know that has to be good. It was the last Zelda game developed by Capcom with Nintendo’s supervision giving it much of the same DNA as those handheld siblings. Its smaller world size, fewer dungeons and use of sidequests paralleled Majora, while the game used Wind Waker’s art style as well as it could on the handheld platform.
As stated earlier, Minish Cap’s overworld and style are reminiscent of A Link to the Past’s. When all of these connections are put together, Minish Cap comes across as a sort of greatest hits, while also forging its own identity with its original characters, the Minish, and the use of a certain, already established sword.
Another sword of evil’s bane
Those well versed in Zelda history know which sword I’m referring to, as it was essentially the namesake of two other games – The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords and The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures. These were the first multiplayer games in the series, with gameplay made possible via the presence of the titular Four Sword. This weapon could split Link into four copies of himself, ideally controlled by other players. These games also featured a more monstrous and vague version of Vaati.
Minish Cap acted as the chronological origin of these elements, with the Four Sword itself making an appearance, having a gameplay use as well as plot relevance. That said, the Four Sword’s cloning capabilities are more for the sake of puzzle solving rather than combat or multiplayer. While it (and admittedly many, more original elements of this game) hasn’t become a Zelda staple, I still love that time was taken to explain its origins and try to use it in a more traditional, single player game.
If you know anything about me and Zelda games, you should know I love Majora’s Mask. That makes it no surprise that Minish Cap’s side quests are some of my favorite parts of the game. These absorbed plenty of my time when I first played, with standouts being the sword technique scrolls you could find, giving you new ways to approach situations and enhancing your arsenal beyond item acquisition, and the figure collection quest where you could trade Mysterious Shells with an NPC to have a chance at a new figure. It worked similarly to Smash Bros. Melee’s trophy machine and with how obsessed I was with that game it was no surprise I had to have every single one.
More so than the figures, though, I loved the Kinstones. At face value they’re a bit barebones, maybe even arbitrary. Rather than simply interact with an NPC to progress certain elements of the game, you had to have a Kinstone that fit with their own. The plot relevant ones were never an issue, but sometimes you’d have to devote time to get your hands on these randomly spawned items.
While Kinstones can be frustrating to collect, even if there are ways to increase their appearance rates, they’re still thematically one of my favorite collectables. The Minish love Hylians and have brought Kinstones into their world in order to grant them happiness. By finding someone with a Kinstone that matches yours, both parties benefit: the Minish are successful, and happiness is threefold. It may not be as involved as Majora’s NPC focused quests but these combined with the figure collecting gave me plenty of insight and exposure to the people of Minish Cap’s Hyrule, and it let me give them a smile or two.
So there you have it – my thoughts on one of the least talked about (in my experience) Zelda games. If you haven’t given it a chance I strongly recommend it, as while it may not feel important in the grand scheme of things and is referenced infrequently, it still stands as one of the finest titles on the GBA and a game worthy of the title “Legend of Zelda”. Consider the time I’ve put into writing about it the first half of a Kinstone, and now it’s up to you to give the game a try. It’ll make me happy, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, and, best of all, those seldom seen Minish will be ecstatic too.
This article is part of our new Zelda look-back series running up to the release of Breath of the Wild.Leave a Comment