Yup. It's been a quarter of a century since The Legend of Zelda was debuted to the world, on February 21, 1986 (1987 in North America). Congratulations, Link. If you were a real dude, you could vote, drink, smoke, gamble and even rent a car by now - of course, you'd never do any of those things anyway. You've got no vices, you don't live in a democracy, and why drive when you you've got a horse, a boat, and a magical flute that can warp you just about anywhere? In the twenty five years since Nintendo introduced you to our world, yours has gotten cooler and cooler, and more and more of us are hooked on you. (...did you see your Twilight Princess sales numbers?)
So, dear readers, to celebrate Link's twenty-fifth trip around the sun, GayGamer is going to lay aside journalistic objectivity and revel in some Legend of Zelda nostalgia. After all, in the quarter of a decade it's been around, the series has touched a lot of gamers - never mind the impact the franchise has had on the industry it comes from.
In order to celebrate this milestone, we have assembled the thoughts and memories of many of our writers, and we encourage you to post your comments as well. What are your first memories of The Legend of Zelda? How long has it been in your life, and how has it affected you?
Please join us after the jump!
In a time before Gamefly and emulation, the only way to try a game before buying was to approach the worn wooden shelves of a location known as a 'rental outlet,' and hope that the title you wanted was in stock. More often than not, there was no in-stock tag below The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but when there was, boy I jumped on it. One could almost say I was addicted. One could almost say I had a problem.
The fact that I had a problem was indisputable - for, you see, I could only get as far as the second dungeon, and I would always reach the same place, and I could progress no further. For those whose memories aren't haunted as are mine, the second dungeon was in the southwest corner of the map, the desert, and required maybe four to five good hours to reach. By the sixth time I'd saved my allowance and rented the game from the market, I had streamlined the beginning experience to a mere two hours.
Two hours, and I'd be stuck. You see, just a few rooms in, Link has to grab a small key which is perched upon a pillar. No amount of hitting it with a sword, throwing a boomerang at odd angles, or wishing it down would help. I think that my young, eager mind had already bored with the idea of trying the most obvious solution: hitting 'A' and dashing into the pillar to knock the key into range. Maybe I had tried it, once, and gotten the wrong angle. Maybe I had canceled the dash a touch too early.
In any case, if there's one thing Zelda has taught me, it's that the solution is supposed to be obvious unless you don't have a clue about it. I'd assumed I was sitting firmly in the latter category, since I had convinced myself that the dash-slam-key technique was ineffective and not to be tried again. Months went by and I would keep renting Zelda, keep conquering the prologue and first dungeon, and then wander around while the rental period expired.
It got to the point where I was making up my own goals, my own endings to Zelda III. Link couldn't be bothered with getting that key down from the pillar--he was too busy mowing every square of grass in Kakariko village! Wait, there's a princess to be saved?! Not while I've yet to cut down all the bushes in the Lost Woods! This was a game so rich with detail and hidden prizes that - even if I never saw the last ten dungeons in the game, or the Dark World, or indeed the ending... I was still able to have fun poking trees and hitting rocks.
Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me, and I saved my money and convinced my reluctant parents to let me call the 1-900 Nintendo Power Pro hint line, in the hopes of finally conquering this puzzle that had been my undoing since my first rental.
If it had been anyone else--anyone else in the world--I would have scoffed at that Game Counselor's instructions. 'Dash into the pillar?! I've done that already!' But my young self was cowed by the idea of talking to a paid professional, and someone who worked for Nintendo. At $1.95 a minute I was determined to get the most out of my money for this call, and so I listened, and I obeyed.
I hit the 'A' button just like I swore I'd done dozens of times before, and the key fell. I thanked the Game Counselor, then proceeded to blow through Zelda in that rental period, only stalling once more during the ice temple.
I sure remember the first time I plugged in a shiny, golden Zelda cart. My friend Patrick and I would spend hours playing, using his dad's Commodore 64 screen because we could plug the NES in using the AV cables. Man, back then that felt like the future. It's hard to believe that my under-10 self managed to get to the end of the game, but it happened - probably achieving in weeks what would now take me days, but that's beside the point. I remember trading tips with friends on the playground; on heady spring days outside tawny portables, while other students played handball and 7-Up, we plotted and planned amongst ourselves the resistance against Ganon...and the race was on to see who would get to him first. In fact, this was the first time my fervour for video games exceeded even that of my brother's, whose loyalty had always been with the then-necrotic Atari brand. If sibling rivalry introduced me to gaming, The Legend of Zelda is the chrysalis in which I metamorphosed in to a gamer - a title which I've never sought to shake off.
Though I loved the franchise throughout my formative years, like so many others I rediscovered Hyrule with The Ocarina of Time. How could I fail to, with such a game-changing (pardon the pun) experience; the industry was forever altered after that game. But on a more personal level, at that time I was in the midst of high school and, as many of our readers can likely relate, that was a time when I wished I could wave a wand and change my life. Isolated and dismayed by the real world, in the plains of Hyrule I found somewhere where I was a hero and where I wasn't trapped with people who were more than happy to express in word and action how much they hated people like me. Whatever arguments can be made about the drawbacks of escapism, teleporting around Hyrule and Termina helped keep me going until I could fly away in real life.
Then a funny thing happened to me - again, as I'm sure many of our readers can relate. As real life asserted itself on me, I grew tired with video games. The graphics changed, but not much else did...at least, not enough to keep me interested. And, of course, boyfriends, university and jobs came calling. And I was happy. Video games began to feel like a release that I had not only out-grown, but didn't really need any more. And then The Twilight Princess happened. I had been playing video games on autopilot for years at that point, but suddenly I felt like I had come home. Twilight Princess was everything I always loved about The Legend of Zelda, and though the motion control wasn't perfect, it told me that developers were looking for new ways to connect with gamers - and I was hooked again, in love, again, with Hyrule. I felt as though the pendulum had swung as hard as it could in both directions, first into the virtual world, and then out to the real world...and now it was coming to rest in the middle. Balance found, evil conquered, our hero returns home.
Henshin A Go Joe writes:
Once a long time ago I thought Zelda was the star of the game. I thought her game was only on Game Boy, the beppy little one the older kid Kyle brought into the After School program one sunny afternoon. I was enamored with the game from the first strains of the speaker I heard across the room. Link's Awakening was a landmark in the development of my game greed. Unlike other games, this one looked huge to me, with characters that moved in interesting way, with interesting goals. I promptly stole the game from Kyle's lunchbox while he was on the playground, huddling in a corner of the coat room to squeeze in a few minutes. Well, Kyle returned and I was treated to a rollicking chase across the school yard, ending with me perched atop the jungle gym to avoid his angry taunts and promises of annihilation.
But my thirst had only just begun. Soon after I realized this game was popping up all over my life. I've known two friends who both performed expert speed runs of the game before my eyes, I've known more girls with tri-force tattoos than you'd expect, I still hear "Yeah, I remember the Water Temple was a pain in the ass" from people I hardly expected to remember...much less have played games at all. It's not just another of Miyamoto's knock-out-of-the-park games that seemed to appear every year or so; Zelda, as much as or more than most other high-profile games, is the kind of myth a generation takes to its grave: A valiant battle of unbeatable good standing up against insurmountable evil. Each time the story is told there we are, huddled around our little screen or whipping our Wiimotes through the air. It's the same Link, the same story...but we're not in it for the twists. After that first experience with Link's Awakening I knew that it felt right: the controls, the music, the quests, the extras began it...and eventually the culture, the history and the fandom became what we now recognize as one of the finest examples of our art: The Legends Of Zelda, in all their forms.
Growing up in a household with a Sega Genesis, I didn't learn of Link's earlier adventures until much later in life. My first experience with the Legend of Zelda franchise came at the age 10 when I spied a friend playing Link's Awakening on his Gameboy. He let me try the game and I was instantly captivated. No, it wasn't the sprawling world or puzzle-filled dungeons that caught my attention. In fact, I never even entered a dungeon on that first introduction. At first, I was entranced by mowing grass with my sword for rupees. Not only were my actions shaping the in-game world, but having discovered a love for games like Shining Force 2 on my Genesis, I knew all too well the importance of money for buying vital equipment. But then my friend showed me something beyond even my wildest imagination: I could steal from the shop. Not that my young self was prone to theft; the idea had never even occurred to me. But the fact that a game could give me such freedom, both in altering the landscape (though I realized cutting grass wasn't permanent) and in acquiring goods through unlawful means, this was a revelation to my ten-year-old mind.
That summer my family moved from our home in Maine to the suburbs of Chicago. We drove to our new home and my parents bought me a Gameboy and Super Return of the Jedi to keep me well-behaved in the back seat of the car. The game kept me occupied, but I kept thinking back to Zelda. And when I was asked what I wanted for Chanukah, Zelda is what I asked for. My parents, however, had other plans, with a shiny new N64 greeting me and my brother on the first night of Chanukah along with Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Anger was my first reaction, for this was not the game I had wanted. But that anger was quickly replaced with excitement as I plugged in the cartridge and immersed myself into the lush Kokiri Forest, then fell in awe of the expansive 3D overworld of Hyrule. Back at school, I overheard two boys talking about Zelda on the playground. They were stuck in the Dodongo's cavern, a dungeon I had just completed the previous night. I piped in that I knew how to beat it, and was instantly invited to one of their houses after school. This was my first genuine invitation to play (I never counted those play-dates arranged by my mother) after moving to my new school. Word quickly spread that I could beat Dodongo's cavern, and I was suddenly inundated with new friends asking for help. And when another kid discovered the secret to escaping Jabu Jabu's belly, we all flocked to his house for help. But it was "we" who flocked, not "them." There were six of us, and we became close friends. I was a part of the group. I was, dare I say, popular. That feeling of inclusion, of friendship, was something I hadn't really felt since starting fourth grade at my new school. And it was through Link and his magical ocarina that I found friendship, a camaraderie that continued as we moved to new games, with Magic: The Gathering, Harvest Moon 64, Pokemon, and Majora's Mask. If I had to make a choice, Majora's Mask is probably my favorite game of the Zelda series, but I still owe so much to Ocarina of Time for making me feel included at a time when I needed it most, and for helping me form friendships that have still lasted to this day.
I was very young when I got my first Zelda game, The Legend of Zelda for my NES. And while I hate to admit it, it often went unplayed for many years as I didn't quite understand it at first! I remember booting it up for the first time and was instantly enchanted by the introduction music and I struggled my best to read the opening to the story. A few years later, while older I played through the majority of it and loved it and knew this was going to be a lasting series in the gaming world.
I dabbled in the other Zelda titles, but most of my early gaming career was dominated by more classic Japanese RPGs, Super Mario titles, and various other platformers. I liked and respected Zelda, but none of the titles really hooked me well enough like it seemed to for other gamers. I remember enjoying Ocarina of Time some, but not overly so, and fell in love with the Oracle of Seasons while on vacation with family in high school, which still remains my favorite portable Zelda and second favorite Zelda title overall. But overall, despite loving Seasons I was not ready to commit the series as one of my favorites until a more controversial Zelda title hit.
A controversial trailer was shown at Nintendo's Space World 2001 when the often dubbed first look at "Celda" premiered. A cartoony looking young Link was fighting enemies with a much more goofy appearance than any other previous look at Link had. As a student who was really flourishing in art and graphic design classes in high school, I often found myself in a struggle to make art that pleased a teacher's desire for realism, or my own approaches to visual arts that were not as interested in drawing fruit in realism. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker solidified my desire to make my own personal art something unique and visually interesting. I instantly fell in love with the stylistic choice in visuals that went against the grain that gaming was building up to. Many hated the style, but I found the fluid movement of Link and the his eyes that captured emotions in a cute style that reflected what was going on in the game was a huge step! I also felt, and still feel, that this approach better captured the feel of the spirit of Zelda, the game I had known since being a child.
It still stands as the only game I have ever pre-ordered. With beautiful graphics, a youthful charm, and great pre-order bonuses (still proudly own that Ocarina of Time/Master Quest GCN disc), I could not resist but to make sure I would have a copy on day 1. It was the first Zelda game that had me hooked enough to beat more than once and despite, yes, being a chore to sail through various parts of. However, I thought the game captured that feeling of a small boy being forced to handle a big world that is not always kind. This coming of age type of feel may be typical in the book and movie world, but I don't think a game captured that feeling nearly as well as Wind Waker up until that point. Throw in beautiful, yet simple music like the wonderfully done opening "The Legend of the Hero" theme and the pieces, "Makars Awakening" and "Dragon Roost Island" still remain as some of my favorite video game songs of all time. This title, in my mind, is an unquestionable masterpiece in the gaming world. You just need a little patience in the earlier stages of the game and understand the context of the story to enjoy it fully. This is a game that always assured me that going against conventional thinking can lead to some spectacular results, even if others do not always see or respect it.
The first Zelda game I ever played was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time back when it first came out in 1998. I didn't know anything Zelda, so I didn't even bother to pre-order the game to get the nice gold colored cartridge all my other friends got. After playing and falling in love with Ocarina, I backtracked and played Link's Awakening DX, followed by Majora's Mask and then all the other classic Zelda games. I pre-ordered Majora's Mask to get the gold cartridge and I even stole a strategy guide from the store since I wanted to discover everything in the game. Yes, Majora's Mask made me steal, and I regret using a guide since it ruined my playing experience and made the game way too easy. I vowed to never use strategy guides again.
Shortly after playing Majora's Mask, I went online to find out all I could about the Zelda universe - especially all the rumors concerning the secret Triforce that supposedly lay hidden in Ocarina of Time. I remember websites claimed you could melt Zora's Domain and enter the cave below that led you the Unicorn Fountain. Others believed you could learn the a song from Kaepora Gaebora that took you to the Temple of Light. I then read theories that made me wonder why there was a random hole above Darunia's throne room, and why light shined only on the Shadow Medallion's symbol in the Temple of Time. Could the entrance to the Triforce lie in the Shadow Temple? I also learned all about the Hylian language that appears in several Zelda games and how it has changed over the course of Hyrule's history. I don't usually like history, but each Zelda game I play takes place in a different time period in Hyrule. There is something about exploring the past or future in one game and then playing a totally different game that somehow has ties to the first that really makes me want to get more involved with it. Zelda does this for me every time.
This is what I like so much about Zelda games. There are so many of them and so many different versions of Link, and yet there are still so many questions left unanswered. Each new game gives rise to brand new theories, evidence, and data which fans analyze to try to answer these questions. Sure, the world of Hyrule exists only in a video game, but I've been playing Zelda games for so long that I just can't help but get sucked into its history.
I was a little late to the Zelda party. I had a Genesis instead of a NES or SNES, so I missed out on the earlier games. I have vague memories of playing Link's Awakening on my Game Boy, but the first Zelda game I really remember diving into is Ocarina of Time. It was a big deal at the time, and I admit that it was an impressive achievement... although I never finished it, either. The Water Temple crushed my spirits.
The first Zelda game I actually played all the way through was Wind Waker, but that's not why it remains one of my favorites in the series. No, for that, you need look no further than the awesomely cute cell-shaded graphics style. Anyone who insists that Toon Link is an abomination has no heart. Seriously, that little guy was so adorable that I didn't even mind all the sailing around. I even enjoyed it again in Phantom Hourglass on my DS. Although turns out that driving a train wasn't nearly as much fun in Spirit Tracks, and that added another one to the list of the unfinished.
Twilight Princess was my other favorite, mostly because of the Wii controls that added a new, immersive element to the swordplay. And it's because of that I'm looking forward to Skyward Sword, as the Wii Motion Plus will add some finesse to the battles. Because other than that and some new gadgets, it's kind of the same game, it seems. Of course, I guess that's kind of the charm of the series, really. You're going to be playing a little boy named Link who dresses in green and journeys around the land in a quest to save it (and probably a princess) by traversing deadly dungeons, solving puzzles and strategically battling bosses. They're all just variations on a theme, sometimes dark, sometimes cartoony, with different ways of getting around. But somehow they're all magical (yes, even the ones I never finished, either because I lost interest or got frustrated/stuck).
Come on you can't tell me your heart doesn't swell a little when you hear that traditional opening-the-treasure-chest theme play!
So once again, happy birthday Link, from everyone at GayGamer. To our readers, we hope you enjoyed this look back at one of the industry's most beloved franchises. Please, share your thoughts, memories and comments below.