For those of you who count yourselves as Nintendo fans, this past week has been an important one. We’ve seen a lot of information on Mario Kart, Paper Mario, Mario 3D Land and Zelda: Skyward Sword.
It’s the last of those that intrigues me most, so I’ll be taking some time out from analysis to talk about the 25th anniversary of a series many of us grew up with and admire. It is of course The Legend of Zelda.
Zelda was inspired by the adventures of now legendary videogame creator Shigeru Miyamoto, as he explored the caves and forests around his home town of Sonobe, Kyoto, Japan. What followed was one of the most revered and long-running series to ever hit the videogaming world. The titles still ship millions on every platform they reach, and are beloved by gamers around the world.
The original The Legend of Zelda was released for the Japanese Famicom Disk System peripheral on February 21st, 1986 (which just so happens to be my -9th birthday. Just getting that out there.) and was one of a small number of Famicom games that allowed players to save. Interestingly, Zelda was not a cartridge in Japan but a 112KB floppy disk, which allowed parts to be rewritten, enabling the save feature. When the cartridge version was released for the American and European NES in 1987, it instead used a battery-based save system, meaning that the Japanese version is the only one still able to be saved onto (the others more than likely have run down their batteries).
The game was incredibly well received (the first NES game to sell a million copies) and went on to become one of the most famous games of the era. A sequel was produced in 1988 which changed the gameplay to a side-scrolling action-RPG which had awful difficulty and dodgy dialogue. I AM ERROR springs to mind.
Moving on to the next generation, the SNES/Super Famicom brought with it a return to the original form of gameplay from the first Zelda in its 16-bit incarnation, A Link to the Past. Often described as the best Zelda game, it carries a devoted legion of fans with it wherever it dares to tread. I have a copy and it really is very good, to say the least.
This coincided with a Game Boy adventure in the shape of Link’s Awakening, a downright weird incarnation which saw a dream-world Link traveling through a land filled with odd references to Nintendo gaming (particularly Mario) and potentially facing one of the darkest moral choices in any Zelda game. I won’t spoil it for you.
With the dawn of the Nintendo 64 in 1996, speculation was rife over the new Zelda 64 that was being discussed. In 1998, this finally saw the light as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, an epic, sprawling adventure that still holds up today as an example of brilliant game design. Stuffed to the gills with sidequests, items and interesting characters, you’ll be enthralled for hours.
However, much as in sport the underdog is always most interesting, so is the case in gaming, which can only be proved further by Ocarina of Time’s 2000 sequel, Majora’s Mask, in which Link travels to a parallel world to save it from the titular mask and prevent a very creepy moon from obliterating all that Link has worked to achieve. Fortunately, Link has on his side the ability to travel in time to a limited degree and play the same three days over and over. It’s a strange premise but very nearly the best Zelda game ever made and definitely worth a go, even over its older brother. Warning: includes one of the most deep and heartbreaking sidequests you’ll ever play.
Ah, but now we arrive to the very hotly disputed, but personal favourite, Wind Waker. The first Zelda outing for Gamecube, the Wind Waker took Link from his traditional forests and plopped him in a boat to traverse the Great Sea that had engulfed Hyrule. I found the experience to be dazzlingly detailed, brilliantly beautiful even by modern standards, as well as the first example of a game in which I felt I was part of a world that was truly alive. If you own a Gamecube or Wii, you owe it to yourself to play this game. It may be a little costly now, but it’s worth every single penny; get lost in the rich, vibrant world and soak in every last drop of activity. I played this game to 100% completion this summer and I wasn’t the slightest bit bored by the end.
Nintendo followed this up with the odd multiplayer ‘Cube title Four Swords Adventures, in which four players solved puzzles, adventured and competed to grab the most Force Gems. An excuse to bash your friends over the head with a Game Boy Advance. Had a nice soundtrack and bosses though!
Twilight Princess was both the swansong for the Gamecube and the rooster’s call for the Wii. It returned to a rather realistic depiction of Hyrule, adding huge amounts of exploration and a quite detailed plot, as well as Wolf Link and a snarky shadow creature named Midna. It had a somewhat less positive reception from series fans than other games, suffering accusations of copying Ocarina of Time and having too little to do, but it’s still a very beautiful, playable game that will earn some serious play time if you give it a chance.
On an interesting note, the Gamecube and Wii versions of the game are flipped graphically, since in the Gamecube version Link holds his sword in his left hand and the game had to be optimised for Wii. This led to all Hylian text being backwards and a flipped world map which no longer reflected that of Ocarina of Time. One wonders why they couldn’t just flip the character model.
Two Nintendo DS games, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, were released this generation to general approval, as well as a spinoff game built from Twilight Princess’s engine and utilising the Wii Zapper peripheral. This was called Link’s Crossbow Training and was… strange. Though fairly fun, truth be told.
The newest installment is Skyward Sword, which is shaping up to be a worthy successor to Wind Waker’s crown. Just head out and buy it on November 18th!
There we have it. Excluding the three abysmal licensed games for the Philips CD-i, all the important Zelda games so far. Seeing the series turn 25 brings a tear to my eye, since I know just how much this means. It’s more than a celebration of one series. It’s a celebration of the lasting and unlimited appeal of a company that has brought people across the world unbridled joy for years, and which will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It’s a celebration of our art form, distilled to its purest level of brilliance, and I for one am glad to see it thrive. Endlessly playable, beautiful and aurally wonderful, we should be shouting its benefits from the rooftops, because this excellence and commitment to art is the true Legend of Zelda.