The franchise that keeps going on,and on, and on... eat your heart out Energizer Bunny!
The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises, right up there with Super Mario Bros. The fantasy realm of Hyrule has been around since 1986, and with the latest release just a couple months ago, it’s still going strong.
The Legend of Zelda – Origins
The Legend of Zelda was originally going to be a new game for the Famicom Disk System, which was an add-on to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). However, the Famicom didn’t do too well so it was never released outside of Japan. The game was later released for the NES anyway.
In the game’s prototype stages, its goal was to allow players to make their own dungeons and then allow other players to explore their creations. Designer Shigeru Miyamoto (also the guy behind Mario) found the exploration to be a lot of fun. So much so that they just scrapped the whole creation thing and made their own world for players to explore. If you haven’t guessed already, they named the world Hyrule. Lo and behold, a legend was born (pun not intended).
The Legend of Zelda is often considered a cornerstone in the world of gaming. We have a lot to thank this franchise for, since a lot of the mechanics we see in games on similar genres are based on and adapted from this very franchise. There are easily well over 30 titles where Link or Zelda make an appearance, otherwise there are seventeen main Legend of Zelda titles, including Breath of the Wild.
The basic premise of all Zelda games is pretty much the same. Link saves Princess Zelda from evil monster-person-mage thing named Ganondorf/Ganon. Sometimes it’s some other monster but it’s usually just Ganondorf. The bad guy is usually obsessed with an object called the Triforce, which is a big deal apparently. Created by the Gods of Hyrule, the Triforce can grant wishes and stuff. It’s also what’s keeping the evil/chaos at bay so the bad guy needs to get it out of the way if he wants to do his thing. The Triforce makes an appearance in just about every Zelda game.
Since its debut back in 1986, The Legend of Zelda has sold almost 80 million units worldwide, making it one of the best selling franchises of all time.
All the main Legend of Zelda titles are connected and take place over a single timeline. The timeline splits into three timelines after the events of The Ocarina of Time.
Wait that can’t be right… There’s a Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf in almost all the Zelda games, are they immortal or something?! Kind of? Nintendo released a book called ‘Hyrule Historia’ which revealed that Link, Zelda and Ganondorf are indeed the same people, who just keep reincarnating over and over again for your entertainment. You’re the reason Princess Zelda keeps getting kidnapped every hundred odd years.
The first Legend of Zelda released for the NES in 1986. It was the first game to let you explore the world without restrictions. There was no fixed path to follow, you were free to explore Hyrule as you saw fit. It was also the first to implement a new save system, a first for console games.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link came the next year, and was the only Zelda title to be a 2D side-scroller. It’s the only “sequel” to the original – all the others are prequels or just from an alternate timeline. The magic meter and experience points to level up used in Zelda II are still used today.
For the SNES, 1991 saw the release of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. After the 2D side-scroller approach flopped, they returned to the original style. They improved a lot on the original formula as well, implementing a corrupted dark world for Link to explore. It was the first Legend of Zelda game to introduce the iconic Pieces of Heart as well, which could be found scattered all across Hyrule.
A Link to Past was widely considered to be the best Legend of Zelda game, that is, until in 1998, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time released for the Nintendo 64. You got to explore the massive world of Hyrule in 3D for an adventure on a scale that had never been done before. The core gameplay remained the same, but the game looked totally new. Ocarina of Time allowed Link to time travel and alter the world of Hyrule in many ways. Long time Nintendo composer Koji Kondo even composed ten songs specifically for the Ocarina of Time. Ocarina of Time was the first to implement the ‘Z-targeting system’, which basically allowed Link to lock onto a single target when in combat. This would continue to be implemented in all 3D Zelda games to follow. Ocarina of Time was widely (still is sometimes) considered to be the best game in the franchise and is included in pretty much every ‘greatest of all time’ lists. The Ocarina of Time is also a key part of the entire Legend of Zelda timeline as the storyline splits into three different timelines depending on the ending of Ocarina of Time.
Two years after Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was released. It was a direct follow up to one of the timelines from the Ocarina of Time. It featured the same Link as the one in Ocarina of Time, which is pretty rare in Legend of Zelda games. Also, it didn’t feature Zelda or Ganondorf, another rarity in a Zelda game. Despite that, the game was well-appreciated by both fans and critics.
In 2002, Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker would release for the Nintendo Gamecube, using a unique cel-shaded art style. Everything about the game looked vibrant and cartoonish. It was set in a world where Hyrule is submerged under the Great Sea and instead of his trusty horse, Link travels in a talking boat!
The next title, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, would release in 2006 alongside the launch of the Nintendo Wii. Twilight Princess brought back the dual world concept seen in A Link to the Past and also featured a new companion and a mechanic which let Link turn into a wolf.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword would release in 2011, and would be the first Zelda game to be truly exclusive to the Nintendo Wii. Skyward Sword explored the origins of the iconic Master Sword, chronologically, making it the first game of the entire series.
Other than the titles we’ve mentioned so far, which released for mainstream consoles, there are Zelda games from the main timeline that released for Nintendo’s handheld consoles as well. Some of the noteworthy ones are Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy. Which is the first Zelda game to take place outside of Hyrule, also, no Ganon, Zelda, or Triforce in this one.
In 2005, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap was released for the Game Boy Advance, and told of the origins of Link’s iconic green cap.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass released in 2007 on the Nintendo DS as a direct sequel to the Wind Waker, making use of the same unique cel-shaded art style. It made very good use of the touch screen, for which it was commended as not only a good Zelda game, but one of the best handheld games of the time in general.
Happily Ever After
The Legend of Zelda is without a doubt one of the greatest gaming franchises out there. And love for the franchise has only been revitalised with the latest addition to the franchise – Breath of the Wild. It is already being considered the next ‘best Zelda game’, and if reviews for the game are to be believed, it’s eff-ing amazing! Unfortunately, there are no Zelda games for PC. Please, Nintendo. Make one!
* begging with puppy dog eyes
Manish "Trigger-Happy" Rajesh
If he's not gaming, he's... no wait he's always gaming.