By Marshall Garvey
Being born in 1989, I wasn’t introduced to the Zelda franchise until the blockbuster release of Ocarina of Time in 1998. Even when it came out, I had no personal interest in playing it, and only did so upon the insistence of my uncle Tim. With an N64 for Christmas that year and a fresh gallery of the console’s other standards like Starfox 64, Goldeneye, Banjo Kazooie and NFL Quarterback Club ’99, I quickly became a died-in-the-wool Nintendo kid, spending way too much time after school in front of the TV and refusing to ever, ever get a Playstation (a promise rescinded in 2006). And while I had many favorite games, Ocarina easily led the pack, filling my afternoons and sleepovers with hours of exploration, strategy, imagination, great music, unforgettable characters, and pure joy.
It also filled my childhood with terrifying, long-lasting trauma. A trauma that lurks in the dark, moaning endlessly. A trauma so terrifying it literally has black holes for eyes. A trauma that lets out an ear-piercing scream upon seeing you. A trauma that jumps on your back and sucks your brains out. I am of course talking about the trauma of ReDeads, an enemy so terrifying it not only kept myself and many others awake at night in the late 90’s, but has stuck with me even to this day.
For those who somehow haven’t played Ocarina of Time (in which case you should stop reading and go experience it), ReDeads are a recurring common enemy throughout the game. They mostly show up in the scarier levels, like the Shadow Temple and cemetery chambers. (Although surely enough, when your character Link wakes up from a seven-year slumber, the first town square you come to is crawling with them.) They’re basically zombies, with slender brown bodies, pale faces, and hollowed-out black holes for eyes. They crouch in the shadows, mumbling endlessly in a zombie-like voice. The moment they see you, the game’s soundtrack emits a horrifying scream as Link is frozen in his tracks from fear, while the ReDead slowly walks towards you. If you don’t button-mash enough to escape its gaze, it will quickly mount your back and begin sucking health through your head, and even if you manage to button-mash to your quickest extent, it’ll likely take at least a few hearts.
With that description alone, it should be clear why these things scared me as a kid. And by scared I mean “absolutely flat-out horrified.” I would only confront them out of absolute necessity to progress in the story, freezing them with the Sun’s Song and swinging away with my heaviest sword, all while my eyes were closed. And that was if I was pushed hard enough, as 90% of the time I had my friends clear them out before I continued with the rest of the level. For sheer self-torture, I would go a room filled with them and just stand right out of their view, inching ever closer and switching to first person to look at them. One time, as I lobbed all of my weapons at one, I foolishly decided to fire my grappling hookshot at it. I was pulled right to it, and before I knew it the ReDead had mounted my back. In shock, I paused, turned the game off, and silently walked away from the TV.
And the worst part was, even with the console shut off, ReDeads were very much omnipresent for me. At night, I would lie awake in bed, hearing their droning mumbles and envisioning one walking through my bedroom door. Strangely enough, they weren’t even the reason I put the game down for 2-3 years. (That can be chalked up to a dispiriting “Game Over” at the hands of Bongo Bongo.) But even when I finally beat the entire game in 2001, I had to psychologically prepare myself for the fact that, as Link and Zelda are running across the last bridge of the last level, the one thing standing in my way was…a ReDead.
Reading all this, one might think, “Sure, they scared you senseless when you were nine or ten. But isn’t that nothing more than a transient childhood fright?” Well, I assumed just as much for a long time. Then, in 2006, at the age of 16, I decided to take Ocarina of Time for another spin on my main file from when I was a kid. I assumed that, with a decent passage of time, ReDeads no longer scared me. In the Bottom of the Well, a level long since beaten, I traipsed to the very depths where one of my old adversaries lay in plain sight. All I had to do was freeze it with the Sun’s Song on my Ocarina, get behind it, and hack away with my sword until it dropped dead. A foolproof plan, no doubt.
But as I walked near it, I froze. And not because it had seen me. I was feeling the fear once again. I couldn’t even just freeze it for fun with the Sun’s Song. I stood there, hoping no one else in the room would notice my timidity. Then, as I quipped in a MySpace blog from that time, I “hightailed it out of there like Epona on barrels of crack.”
As I play Ocarina of Time today yet again with my little sister Kira, I can honestly say that ReDeads don’t scare me quite as much as they even still did in 2006. The tried and true strategy of “freeze ’em and slash away” is probably why, perhaps also due to exposure to even scarier creatures in games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil. But that doesn’t change the fact that, no matter what your age or what year the calendar reads, ReDeads are among the most terrifying enemies in gaming history. They traumatized, at least to some extent, generations of gamers, and even the most skilled Zelda player has to stop and think how to handle them in a given situation. And I still feel a little fear when I face them, although I’m more than ready to take them out, even just for fun.
That is, unless you’d like to take the controller. Just for a moment. I’ll be right back, just gonna get a Mountain Dew, I’ll finish the level when I get back…