The Legend of Zelda is one of the most influential video games of all time, and has created a series of games that includes 18 core titles (not including remakes or non-canon games). That’s more than core Assassins Creed or Call of Duty, and as many core titles as Pokemon.
Note: I don’t talk about every Zelda game, but I do mention most.
How did we get from the one of the first Nintendo titles, to a game that practically sold the Switch on it’s own? Let’s take a look!
Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Zelda and Mario grew up in Sonobe, Kyoto, Japan, and as a child enjoyed exploring the rural area around his hometown, where he would find caves, secluded lakes, and beautiful forests. His clear memories of the area as a child, as well as his habit to get lost in his own home, would later inspire a hero who traveled the world in exploration, and work through labyrinthine dungeons.
One of the biggest focuses for Miyamoto when it came to game design, was to focus not on high scores of never ending games (which were the standard at the time), and instead focus on a storyline with a beginning, middle, and end that you could win. With the success of Mario, Miyamoto decided to look back on his childhood and create the hero Link, in the first The Legend of Zelda. The game rose to massive popularity, being the first NES game to sell over one million copies, selling 6.5 million.
Less than a year later, the direct sequel Zelda II: The Adventure of Link came out, and featured some aspects that haven’t been included in any other games, like experience points, which are very common in most role-playing games.
Shortly after this, an animated show, lasting for only one season, ran that was based primarily on the original game, wherein Link and Zelda work together to try to get the Triforce of Power back from the games antagonist, Ganon. The show was not very linear, with episodes about Ganon ruining romantic picnics, Link skipping out on spring cleaning, and monsters attacking a water park.
A Link to the Past
With the obvious popularity, Nintendo got to work on the next masterpiece, A Link to the Past. Many mainstays of the Zelda world were introduced in this game, particularly the Hookshot and the Master Sword. Most NES games at the time had 512KB, but this game nearly doubled it with 1MB, allowing the team to create a much more expansive world for Link to explore.
Ocarina of Time
In 1998, the first 3D styled game came out, Ocarina of Time, for the Nintendo 64, and has fought with Link to the Past and the original title for “Best Game Ever,” depending on what publication you read. This was also the first game to feature Epona, Link’s horse that allows him to travel much faster.
Majora’s Mask was the next game, released in 2000, was a very unique gameplay style, with a “Groundhog Day” element to it. The story only lasts for three in-game days (54 minutes of real time). In only three days, the world ends, unless Link plays the Ocarina of Time, allowing him to go back to the beginning of the three days with anything he’s collected in that time. This story was a trick to allow the creators to make the game in a years time, instead of the five years players waited between the previous two games. Majora’s Mask is known to also be one of the darkest and saddest of all Zelda games.
Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages are sister-games, not unlike many Pokemon game releases, which were released in 2001. While each game has it’s own story, it is only when you complete both that you can understand the full narrative. What’s interesting, is that you don’t necessarily have to complete one game before the other, as they each have a secret passcode that they give you when you complete the game, and then the other game acts as a sequel.
The Wind Waker
In 2002 we got The Wind Waker, seemed fairly standard, with the unique aspect being that you traveled from one island to another by boat, and your ability to go to the island of your choice was either assisted, or deterred, by the wind, which could blow in one of eight directions. The other interesting part of this game was the animation, which used cell shading, and a very cartoonish design.
Twilight Princess was a launch game for the Wii, meaning it was one of the few games that you could buy the day you could buy a Wii for the first time as well. There were three major aspects that made this game unique. Firstly was the fact that you could control Link swinging his weapon with the Wii Controller, an aspect that made many Wii games fun. Secondly was the ability to turn into a wolf during the game, allowing for a unique gameplay. Lastly was the advanced artificial intelligence of the NPCs, where they react to fallen comrades, as well as arrows that fly by without hitting them. Twilight Princess quickly joined the list of Greatest Games of All Time by many publications.
2001s Skyward Sword is notable for a couple of reasons. Primarily is that the game is set at the beginning of the timeline (which we’ll explain later), so Link and Zelda, who live in a city in the clouds, don’t even believe that there is land under the clouds, and they discover the “Surface” for the first time. The other cool part of this game is that the Wii Controller got a new add-on called the Wii MotionPlus peripheral, allowing for greater control over Link’s weapons.
Breath of the Wild
The last major game is, of course, Breath of the Wild on the Switch, which incorporates all the storylines in all the games. This game has major departures in the gameplay, specifically in the dungeons, puzzles, and the fact that it is very “Open World.” In fact, while the creators of the games aren’t big gamers themselves, they said they researched Skyrim more than any other game, in terms of how to prepare for such a large scale attempt. While I don’t think it would be accurate to say that Breath of the Wild took anything from Skyrim, it’s impossible not to play both and not see the similarities between the two.
In short, there are five phases of the story, told out of order as games were made. The first phase leads up to Link and Ganon fighting in Ocarina of Time. At the end of the game, the universe splits into three separate storylines. In one, Ganon wins against Link, and rules over the world. In another, Link wins, and Zelda sends him back in time with the knowledge he now has about the fall of Hyrule, so that he can hopefully save it. In the last, Link wins against Ganon, but doesn’t go back in time, and instead Link and Zelda lead their lives, hoping to restore Hyrule that had been destroyed by Ganon’s power.
I know that that seems like an oversimplification, and that’s because it is. This article is already longer than most on The Nerdd, so come back soon, as I dedicate an entire article to understanding the storyline of The Legend of Zelda.
Or, if you want a fun video explanation, go check out Polygon’s YouTube channel, where Brian David Gilbert breaks it all down in his series Unraveled.