The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo's many well-known franchises. Most of the games are fantasy action-adventure games, usually in an top-down view or third-person. The franchise was created by Shigeru Miyamoto (of Mario fame) and Takashi Tezuka.
The games are developed and published under Nintendo, but a few are developed by Capcom's in-house development studios, and there were three titles on the Philips CD-i. Most of the games share gameplay, with puzzle-solving, action, adventure, some RPG elements, and sometimes some other aspects.
All games in the franchise center around Link (although it is rarely the same Link) saving the Princess Zelda (again, rarely the same Zelda), and fighting a menace, usually Ganondorf/Ganon or another monster akin to him. The games also typically take place in the fictional land of Hyrule, although it has been in other lands too. The Triforce is a key object that appears in nearly every Legend of Zelda game, which is an object that is built by the gods of Hyrule.
The Legend of Zelda franchise has sold around 52 million copies since the release of the original The Legend of Zelda. The series has fourteen games in all in the main series, although there have been various spin-offs and Japanese-only games, as well as some unofficial games on the CD-i (which are infamous for their bad quality). In addition, there was an animated series that ran for thirteen episodes in North America. The Legend of Zelda has also had various manga adaptions, but none of them have been produced in North America.
Nintendo Entertainment System
The Legend of Zelda franchise started in 1987 when The Legend of Zelda was released by Nintendo for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The Legend of Zelda was a revolutionary game, not only with a new save system (unheard of in a console at the time), but also with the gameplay. The gameplay was structured within a large open world, with no explicit path to follow.
The player could go and explore the land of Hyrule, without any restrictions (unlike the many linear games on the NES). Although, in classic Nintendo fashion, this game had a main quest, which was save the Princess Zelda from the evil king Ganon, and to restore the Triforce. An updated version of the game, titled BS Zelda no Densetsu, was later released only in Japan on the Satellaview (an attachment for the Super Famicom).
In the following year the game Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was released which is the only game to date that was in side-scrolling style 2D, and this game is considered by many Zelda fans to be the black sheep of the franchise.
However, the game did add several features that would become mainstays for the rest of the series, including the magic meter and the hammer. Zelda II also introduced some RPG elements, including experience points and leveling up.
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Only one Zelda game was released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (not counting Japanese only titles), The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, in 1991. This game was a return to the gameplay of the original Legend of Zelda. This game expanded upon as well as refined the original in many ways. A Dark World was implemented, which Link could travel to and from. In this Dark World, everything in Hyrule was corrupted by Ganon's influence and monsters roamed the land, making Link's quest even more difficult. The iconic Pieces of Heart were introduced and scattered across Hyrule to spread out the rewards for exploration across the much larger game world. Pieces of Heart have been in every Legend of Zelda title since A Link to the Past.
A Link to the Past is widely recognized as one of the greatest games of all time, and is considered one of the high points of the series. A Japanese loose "sequel" was released on the Satellaview, titled BS Zelda no Densetsu Kodai no Sekiban. Later, A Link to the Past was released on the Game Boy Advance as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past & Four Swords. It also included another an entirely new game, Four Swords, which was a multiplayer-focused game.
The Nintendo 64 was Nintendo's first console with full polygonal capabilities, and Nintendo fans was first treated with the amazing Super Mario 64 as a preview of what was to come for the green clothed hero. In 1998, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released, and fans were treated to ground-breaking 3D graphics and a massive adventure previously unseen in a 3D environment.
Even though it looked like something totally new, the core gameplay was nearly identical to previous entries. The most notable addition was the eponymous Ocarina of Time (which had been in A Link to the Past), which, when coupled with the Master Sword in the Temple of Time, allowed Link to travel in time a span of seven years, subsequently giving rise to Adult Link.
The Ocarina allowed the player to alter Hyrule in many ways (time of day, weather, etc.). Koji Kondo (a longtime composer for Nintendo) had composed ten songs specifically to be played on the Ocarina.
An important innovation was the revolutionary "Z-targeting" system which allowed Link to lock on to a single target and focus on fighting him, dedicating sword swipes and enabling evasive maneuvering. This proved to be the way to control third-person action games in 3D; the system was simple and easy to get into, and every 3D Legend of Zelda game since has contained the Z-targeting system.
Ocarina of Time is often considered to be the greatest game in the series, and places among the greatest of all time. It received the "Game of the Year" award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, the only Japanese game to do so. IGN, Famitsu, GameSpot, and Edge Magazine awarded their first perfect scores to Ocarina. Jeff Gerstmann stated that Ocarina "can't be called anything other than flawless." Nintendo Power considered it to be the second greatest games to appear on a Nintendo console, behind Super Mario Bros. and surpassing Super Mario Galaxy. It also holds the top spot on GameRankings.com and MetaCritic.com, a position it has held since its release. It was the last Zelda game Miyamoto directed, while simulatenous being Eiji Aonuma's directing debut, the latter describing Ocarina as the best game in the series, as well as the one to beat.
Ocarina of Time has been re-released four times. First for the Nintendo GameCube as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time / Master Quest, then for the iQue Player--a Chinese game system based on the GameCube--in 2003, then on Virtual Console for Wii in 2007, and finally, a fourth remake was released on the Nintendo 3DS in June 2011, which featured enhanced stereoscopic graphics, and touch controls.
Ocarina of Time was later re-released as a pre-order incentive for 2003's, The Wind Waker. This version comes with the previously unreleased Ura Zelda and Ocarina of Time / Master Quest. Ocarina of Time was also included in The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition on the GameCube.
Two years after the first release of Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask was released. This game is one of few that features the same Link as another game, a continuation of the adventures of Ocarina of Time's hero. In Majora's Mask, Link must fight Skull Kid, a child who happens upon a mask of ultimate power, going as far as making the moon fall from the sky.
The biggest change, however, was the fact that there was a three day time limit to finish the game. On the third day, the moon would collide with Termina (the main world in Majora's Mask) and the game would end. To prevent this, the Ocarina can be played to move from day to day. The game did not feature either Ganondorf or Zelda, which is rare for a Legend of Zelda game, but overall the game was well-received by fans and critics alike.
At Nintendo's Spaceworld Expo 2000, the Nintendo GameCube was revealed, and along with it came a technical tease of a fight between Link and Ganondorf. The style was realistic, like Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask.
However, the following year a new trailer was released. This time the trailer was cel-shaded and stylized. The game featured perhaps the youngest Link yet, and a new world where Hyrule is covered in water, and the land is scattered across the Great Sea.
Along with the cel-shaded graphics came new changes. Instead of Epona, Link's trusty horse in previous games, Wind Waker features a talking boat which Link uses to sail to the game's many islands. Wind Waker was well-received upon release, with critics and fans alike praising the game as one of the best Zelda games to date.
The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures was the next game to be released in the franchise. It was based on the handheld game Four Swords on the Game Boy Advance. This was more of a spin-off game than an actual game in the Legend of Zelda series, with gameplay being level based and primarily multiplayer. To play in multiplayer, the players must connect to the Nintendo GameCube with a Game Boy Advance connect cable.
In 2006, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was released simultaneously with the Wii launch on November 19th. Twilight Princess returned to the light and dark world mechanic featured in A Link to the Past, and also starred a new companion and a new form for Link. Much of the game was played in Link's wolf form, with the companion (a small imp named Midna) riding on his back.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was formally announced at E3 2010, during a Nintendo Press Conference held on June 17th, 2010. Although Twilight Princess was released on Wii alongside the Gamecube version, Skyward Sword was the first proper Zelda game made exclusively for the console. Chronologically, it is the first game in the series, detailing the origin of the Master Sword. The game required the MotionPlus accessory to play, similar to how Majora's Mask required the N64 "Expansion Pak," as the core mechanics of the game were based around 1:1 swordplay. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was released on November 20th 2011.
Nearly as many core Legend of Zelda games have been released on handheld systems as on home consoles. The first handheld Legend of Zelda game was released on June 6, 1993, in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening on the Game Boy. The game featured traditional top-down Legend of Zelda gameplay. This time around, Link was shipwrecked on Koholint Island (marking the first time a Legend of Zelda game took place outside of Hyrule).
It introduced several new abilities for Link, including the ability to jump (which was utilized in side-scrolling portions akin to Zelda II). This was one of the few games to not have Princess Zelda, the Triforce, or Ganon in it. Link's Awakening was later released on the Game Boy Color as an enhanced version titled The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX, which, aside from being in full-color, included an extra dungeon that relied specifically on the use of color.
The next two Legend of Zelda handheld games were released simultaneously for the Game Boy Color. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and were both released in 2001. They were built to interact uniquely by passwords, making it so that in the respective game the player could unlock the true ending.
It is notable that these two games were developed by Capcom's in-house development team, Flagship. Originally, there were going to be three games, but the password system proved to be too complex, so they scrapped the third title. Oracle of Ages is the more puzzle-oriented of the two, while Oracle of Seasons is more action-based (although Oracle of Ages is generally considered the better of the two).
In 2005, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap was released. This was the last Zelda game to be developed by Capcom. The game explains the origins of not only Link's trademark green cap, but also the Four Swords. Ganon (or Ganondorf) does not appear in this game; a new villain by the name of Vaati is introduced.
The gameplay is quite traditional, with the main exception being that Link can shrink down to the miniscule size of Picori (incredibly small intelligent creatures). While shrunk, Link can do pretty much the same things as when he is normal sized, but the enemies and environments are different.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass was released in 2007 for the Nintendo DS. It is a direct sequel to Wind Waker, so naturally it has the same cel-shaded visuals. Phantom Hourglass is the same top-down view as other Legend of Zelda games, but there is a catch.
Phantom Hourglass is controlled completely with the touch screen. For this, it was commended, making it not only one of the best handheld Legend of Zelda games, but one of the best handheld titles of 2007. Phantom Hourglass also attempts to make the controversial sailing from Wind Waker more interesting, by making islands closer together and making enemies more common.
A direct sequel to Phantom Hourglass, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks was released in 2009 for the Nintendo DS. The game maintained the same basic gameplay and graphical style of its predecessor, though players now navigate the overworld by steam train instead of the previous game's steam boat. Players also get to take control of a ghostly version of Zelda at several points during the game, allowing possession of the Phantoms that roam certain dungeons.
In 2013, Nintendo released the first Zelda game on the Nintendo 3DS in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. The game takes direct inspiration from A Link to the Past, but also adds many entirely new features. For one, players can complete dungeons in flexible order. Players can also rent or purchase any of Link's signature items from an early point in the game. Additionally, Link's has a new ability to stick to and move along walls as a flat 2D image, which opens up new exploration and puzzle possibilities.
In Game Chronology
A recent development has been the release of Hyrule Historia a book by Nintendo which revealed stories behind the development of the series and most notably officially canonized the long fan theorized timeline connecting all the core Zelda games. Zelda, Link and Ganondorf are revealed to be reincarnations of same people over and over and the series consists of a single timeline that branches into three branches after the events of Ocarina of Time. All Zelda titles except the Cdi games, The Satellaview remakes, Link's Crossbow training and the Tingle games have been inserted into the same chronology as follows...
The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia is published by Dark Horse Comics. Its MRSP price is $34.99. In addition to featuring the timeline, the book has 276 pages that are filled with tons of artwork, concept art, backstories of games, staff commentary, and more. It has a short manga illustrated by Akira Himekawa.
Three Legend of Zelda games were released on the Philips CD-i. Philips and Nintendo had a deal to create a CD peripheral for the SNES, and as part of the deal, Nintendo gave Philips access to their first-party titles. When the deal fell apart, Philips still had these licenses, and so they created several CD-i games based on Nintendo's franchises. For the Legend of Zelda series Philips released Link: The Faces of Evil, Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, and Zelda's Adventure.
These games are all considered to be the worst of the franchise, are not even considered canon, and many fans disregard the fact that they are in the series. The Faces of Evil and The Wand of Gamelon was a side-scrolling adventure and platformer. Zelda's Adventure was more traditional to the Legend of Zelda gameplay, but didn't execute it as well as other games in the franchise. The games are infamous for their incredibly cheesy and over-acted cut scenes.
Link's Crossbow Training is a spin-off in the Twilight Princess world. It was packaged with the Wii Zapper. There are various modes and gameplay options, including a multiplayer mode. In all, there are nine playable levels, each based off an environment from Twilight Princess (and filled with enemies from that particular area). The player is ranked on the performance in the level with a letter grade. Some levels are nothing but a boss battle, while others have Link facing off against waves of enemies, and yet others have Link shooting targets.
Tingle, a minor character in the Zelda series, is unusually popular in Japan, causing him to star in a few of his own games. Freshly-Picked: Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland is an RPG starring Tingle for the Nintendo DS. It was also released in Europe. The game is based all around money, and is known for being punishingly difficult. A sequel was later released in 2009, titled Color-Changing: Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love.
Tingle's Balloon Fight DS is another title starring Tingle. It is only available to Japanese Platinum Club Nintendo members, and is essentially a remake of Balloon Fight, except with Tingle as the main character.
From its first installment, the Super Smash Bros. series has featured characters, stages, items, and trophies from the Zelda series. The character's move set is lifted from various abilities or story points from Zelda games, including bombs, arrows, as well as costumes and stages based on popular locations. Link is a starting character, while extra characters like Zelda, Ganon, and a younger version of Link are available for unlocking as the player progresses through the game.
The Legend of Zelda in Other Media
The Legend of Zelda TV Show
The Legend of Zelda was a TV show loosely based off of the games (more specifically, the first two games on the NES). The TV show was produced by DiC Entertainment and ran for thirteen episodes on Fox through September 8, 1989 and December 1, 1989. The show was not very well-received, with IGN giving the DVD release of the show a three, citing poor acting and dialogue, and general repetitiveness. This bad quality is come to be somewhat of a joke among fans, especially Link's catchphrase in the show, "Excuuuuuuse me, princess," which he repeats 49 times during the thirteen episodes.
The show's premise involved Link and Princess Zelda defending the Triforce of Wisdom from the evil wizard Ganon. Each episode is some evil plot that Ganon has cooked up to try and capture the Triforce (for the ultimate goal of conquering all of Hyrule). Other minor characters included a fairy named Sprite and the king (Zelda's father). Throughout the series, there is a minor sub-plot of Link trying to get a kiss from Zelda, and always failing (usually because the two are interrupted). Several other characters and enemies from the game appear, including Moblins, Octoroks, Gohma, Aquamentus, Keese, and Ropes. In addition, weapons from the game make appearances, including boomerangs, bows, and Link's sword and shield.
- The Ringer (September 8, 1989)
- Cold Spells (September 15, 1989)
- The White Knight (September 22, 1989)
- Kiss 'n' Tell (September 29, 1989)
- Sing for the Unicorn (October 6, 1989)
- That Sinking Feeling (October 13, 1989)
- Doppelganger (October 20, 1989)
- Underworld Connections (October 27, 1989)
- Stinging a Stinger (November 3, 1989)
- A Hitch in the Works (November 10, 1989)
- Fairies in the Spring (November 17, 1989)
- The Missing Link (November 24, 1989)
- The Moblins Are Revolting (December 1, 1989)
Manga and Comics
The Legend of Zelda has had a considerable amount of manga and comic books. Games that have had manga adaptations include The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Seasons, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Of note in these adaptations are a possible origin for the Majora's Mask, a plot revealing Agahnim (from A Link to the Past) as a friend of Link's father, but otherwise the manga adaptations generally followed the plot of the games.
In North America, Valiant Comics did a comic book adaptation of the series. The comic series expanded the land of Hyrule, and didn't cover a specific game. The comic ran for two volumes with five issues in each volume. The comic book introduced one character (Captain Krin), and named a previously unnamed character (King Harkinian, named in The Wind Waker as King Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, but known as merely the King of Hyrule in other games).
- The Wii version of Twilight Princess was a mirror of the GameCube version. Because Link is traditionally left-handed, everything in the Wii version was reflected in order for Link to hold his sword in his right hand, corresponding to the right handedness of the majority of people who would play the game, which was the first in the series to use motion sensing.
- The franchise shares a common timeline which splits to form three possible futures. This occurs as a result of the ending to The Ocarina of Time.