I don't think anyone picks up Nintendo's games to have the pants scared off them. Maybe that's why it's especially memorable when a family-friendly franchise makes your skin crawl.
Sure, Resident Evil 7 is frightening as heck. Sure, it makes you yelp. But after a time, all those frights run together, and the game's individually scary parts don't embed themselves into your memory as thoroughly as that stupid piano that jumps out at you in Super Mario 64.
(Eff that piano.)
The Zelda series has at least one notable urban legend ("creepypasta," as the kids call 'em) by way of "BEN DROWNED," a story about a haunted Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask game cartridge. It's actually far less silly than it sounds, and the supplemental video "footage" of the game's twisted graphics and warped soundtrack aren't the kind of stuff you want popping back into your head when you're lying awake at two in the morning.
It's not as if the legend of BEN DROWNED was born in a vacuum, though. The game it's based on, Majora's Mask, is a notably grim adventure with one individually terrifying moment: The last five minutes of Termina's existence still manage to fill me with the hopeless kind of dread that only comes from utterly inescapable situations.
Like Majora's Mask, Breath of the Wild has a single horror device that does its job well: A murderous moon. But whereas Termina's moon looms above Link and gradually descends to give the land a kiss goodbye, Hyrule's moon is easily ignored until it decides to turn blood-red and ascend with the accompaniment of a bonging piano.
The blood moon is a clever disguise for enemy respawns, an otherwise standard video game mechanic. When the moon reaches its peak, the Moblins, Bokoblins, and Lizalfols you laid to waste across the past few days resurrect and return to their tribes and camps.
The first time you experience a blood moon, you won't have time to change your pants before the disembodied voice of Zelda explains that the creatures you slew possess souls that are too evil and too restless to stay dormant for long. It's a commendable bit of lampshading on Nintendo's part: Most open-world games are content to just let their low-level cannon fodder fade back into existence without fanfare or an explanation.
The buildup to the rise of the blood moon is what really lends the event a creepy aura that chills your core even when you're standing in the middle of the Gerudo Desert. Breath of the Wild is a game that's incredibly easy to get lost in. Days and nights pass without you noticing (both in-game and in the real world), and you'll be minding your own business, scaling a cliff, when those first drawn-out notes hit your ears. Then fragments of Ganon's malice start rising from the ground like embers from a fire. The drawn-out notes deepen and quicken, the clouds start racing, and the air around you turns blood-red.
And you get so wrapped up in the whole spectacle that you forget to watch your stamina meter, so Link automatically lets go of the cliff you're scaling and then dies. Unfortunately, the blood moon doesn't resurrect him. C'mon, Ganon. That's not very sporting.
Seeing my first blood moon isn't the only thing that made me yell "Jesus! What the hell!" at Breath of the Wild, either. During a return trip to the Temple of Time, I happened to spy a dragon undulating slowly on the horizon. When you have four heart containers and a rusty halberd, an undulating dragon is something you want no part of.
Thankfully, the dragon wasn't interested in hurting me. It just minded its own business. That doesn't make its presence OK, though: When you return to a game's tutorial area, which is more or less what the Great Plateau is, you don't want a single damn dragon anywhere in the neighbourhood.
Have you ever walked into your bedroom and seen a huge centipede chilling on the wall? That's what it was like. Sure, the centipede won't hurt you, but you sure as hell don't want it in your sanctuary.
I suppose learning to love Hyrule means learning to love all its creatures. Given my perpetual weakness, I prefer observing them from far away and high, high up.
TOMORROW: Deep into the mountain sound