- May 9, 2019
The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo's cornerstone franchises, but back in 1986, it was anything but a sure thing. To think there was a time when Mario and Zelda were new IPs that could have been total flops is almost unimaginable. In the case of The Legend of Zelda, there was the added caveat that the game would release on the Famicom Disk System in Japan, a new $80 peripheral for the Famicom. Despite this, The Legend of Zelda marked its place in history on February 21, 1986, quickly establishing itself as one of Nintendo's most influential titles.
The first entry in the franchise was developed side-by-side with Super Mario Bros., with Shigeru Miyamoto famously splitting concepts into two categories: "Mario ideas" and "Zelda ideas." According to interviews with Miyamoto, the majority of the ideas that would make their way into The Legend of Zelda came from Miyamoto's own adventures as a child, exploring his rural hometown of Sonobe, near Kyoto. That element of exploration hasn't been lost, with that sense of adventure alive and well in Breath of the Wild, proving the roots of the series haven't been forgotten.
A Whole New World
The most striking part of The Legend of Zelda is how open the world is for an early NES title. While a number of early video games were light on narrative, they still had a linear nature to them, so while a player might not know why they were doing something, they went where the game told them. Dropping the player into Hyrule with no set destination was a bold choice. The introductory text in the game gives the player the ultimate goal: collect the 8 pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom and defeat Ganon who has stolen the Triforce of Power" and kidnapped Princess Zelda.
Moving through Hyrule, Link encounters a number of enemies that would become staples of the Zelda franchise, including Moblins, Lynels, and the Zora, among many others. In fact, almost every enemy seen in The Legend of Zelda has made an appearance in a future installment of the franchise. The same also applies to the tools at Link's disposal. While Link's arsenal has grown since his days on the NES/Famicom, so many of the pieces that are still here today were around back then. Classics like the boomerang, the bow, or bombs can be found, as well as the flute, establishing Link's love of woodwind instruments early on.
The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
While Hyrule itself feels quite open in The Legend of Zelda, its dungeons feel claustrophobic by comparison. Miyamoto has said that the labyrinth-like dungeons of the game were inspired by his own house growing up. The sliding doors between rooms, and complicated floorplan (at least, in a child's mind) gave Miyamoto the feeling of being in a maze. He wanted that to translate to the dungeon design of The Legend of Zelda. That players come up against difficult puzzles in Legend of Zelda games to this day show that this bit of design philosophy has not changed since 1986.
On that note, it is worth pointing out that so much of what is on display in The Legend of Zelda is still prevalent in the newer entries in the franchise. The dynamic between Link and Ganon is one of the greatest protagonist-antagonist relationships in the medium, even when players might feel like the series needs to move on. It is such a core dynamic to the franchise, and the way in which it continues to be successfully reimagined shows that the original game put in place a mythos that could endure. There are so many beats to a Zelda game that feel familiar at this point, and so many of them have their origins in the very first game in the franchise.
With this being Zelda's 35th anniversary, many fans wonder if there are some big plans for the franchise this year. While no new Breath of the Wild 2 information was announced at the recent Nintendo Direct, a Skyward Sword HD Switch port is on the way. Mario received quite a grand year of celebration for his 35th, so it stands to reason that Link and the Legend of Zelda franchise would receive a similarly festive 35th anniversary celebration. Fans will have to wait and see if Nintendo has any big plans to announce for the coming year.
The Legend of Zelda is available now as part of the Nintendo Switch Online NES Library.
It was February 21st, 1986 when The Legend of Zelda made its debut on the Famicom Disk System, and 35 years later, the game is still a classic.
What are your memories of having played the original The Legend of Zelda, GAF?