I’d been thinking about the Lost Woods in the Zelda series, probably largely because Beth recently played A Link Between Worlds. Since it’s a handheld game, I wasn’t able to watch her play it, which is something I miss doing. I’m not good at most action games myself, and I know I could watch a playthrough online, but it’s somewhat more exciting when it’s in the same room. At least that’s how I feel. She did get me to try to help with the Lost Forest part, though, where you have to see which way a few of a set of identical Poes go in order to advance.
Otherwise, you end up back at the beginning. What’s interesting is that a forest of this name not only appears in multiple Zelda games, but other series as well. At least, they have the same name in Japanese, mayoi no mori, as seen on this Legends of Localization page. Really, it’s so comprehensive that I don’t have that much to add, but I’ll try to anyway. Since the word mayoi doesn’t have one specific English meaning, it’s been translated a variety of ways, but “Lost Woods” seems to be the most popular, quite possibly because of Zelda.
As the page mentions, the place is actually called the Forest of Maze in the game itself, but it’s the Lost Woods in the manual, and in later translations.
It is kind of a weird name, because the woods themselves are pretty easy to find. YOU’RE the one who gets lost. It breaks the game’s usual physics, as the paths through it are straight, but you need to traverse them in a certain pattern to get through. It’s sort of a way to simulate being lost when you only have top-down graphics to work with. Other versions of the Lost Woods in the series have the instant transportation gimmick, but in some it’s a more standard maze. In A Link to the Past, it’s where the Master Sword is located.
By the way, if the sword “sleeps again forever” after the end of that game, how can you use it in Link Between Worlds? Doesn’t that take place afterwards?
Ocarina of Time, in which you have to get through to get out of Kokiri Forest, states that people who are lost there for too long turn into Stalfos and Skull Kids.
In the Mario series, there’s the Forest of Illusion in Super Mario World, Maze Woods in Wario Land II, and Forever Forest in Paper Mario.
There are variations of the idea with the Forest Maze in Super Mario RPG, called Hanachan no Mori, or “Wiggler‘s Woods,” in Japanese; and the Bafflewood, or Mayoeru no Mori in Paper Mario: Sticker Star.
Most of these use the same trick of taking you back to the beginning if you follow the wrong path.
Forever Forest even uses the same basic sort of layout as in Ocarina.
Actually, I think that’s where I last left off playing PM64. The Forest of Illusion has a variety on this, in that many of the stage exits just take you in a loop on the map screen.
The SMW cartoon, which I believe was written before the game was officially translated, calls it the Enchanted Forest.
Final Fantasy VI has the Phantom Forest, with a different perspective than in most of the game, and with the Phantom Train at the end.
In Dragon Quest V, there’s the Neverglade, the way to the Faerie Lea, where kids can see things adults cannot.
DQXI has this forest as one of the Tickington quests, and I didn’t even think of bringing Veronica, the only playable child in the game. I still made it through all right in the end. The Forest Maze in Chrono Trigger, separating human and Reptite segments in the prehistoric era, isn’t of the physics-breaking variety, but just makes it difficult to see anything.
It seems like the two most common kinds of Lost Woods are the one where you have to solve a puzzle or you get sent back to the beginning, and the one where the correct path follows the general rules but is hard to find.
There are obviously a lot of stories outside video games that involve getting lost in the woods, and some of them are magical in nature instead of just the normal forest that’s difficult to navigate. The Orchard Lands in John R. Neill’s The Runaway in Oz come to mind. When the Wogglebug, Jenny Jump, and Jack Pumpkinhead wander into this place, it’s haphazardly arranged and they are totally unable to get out, due to magic to keep the sour quinces from escaping into the rest of Oz.
After the quinces are defeated, it changes back to its normal state, which is well-organized.
I’m also reminded of the Back Woods in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s The Lost King of Oz, where the people talk backwards and the only way to get through is to run away from it and move through in reverse.
The trees have their roots in the air and leaves in the ground. I’m sure this was at least partially inspired by all the spatial anomalies in the Alice books. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, when Alice is unable to get through the tiny door to the Queen’s gardens, she instead floats away in a pool of her own tears and somehow ends up in another place entirely. Then, later on, she uses a door in a tree to get back to the hall with the small door, and finally makes it to the garden. And towards the beginning of Through the Looking-Glass, she has to walk away from where she wants to go in order to get there. This sort of thing fits with how both of her adventures are dreams. It’s not quite the same, but the principle is similar. The wood in Looking-Glass instead made everyone who entered forget their names.