Codex Gamicus

The Legend of Zelda is the first game created in the much lauded The Legend of Zelda series. The game is an Adventure/RPG hybrid created by Shigeru Miyamoto for the Famicom Disk System in Japan and later released on the NES in other areas. The story features a young boy, Link, saving Hyrule and Princess Zelda from the evil Ganon.

As the inaugural game of The Legend of Zelda series, The Legend of Zelda was first released in Japan as a debut title for the Famicom's Disk System peripheral. With its vast world, open-ended gameplay, scrolling capabilities, and save system, The Legend of Zelda featured groundbreaking technological and gameplay advancements. Because the Famicom Disk System was not released outside of Japan, the game was published internationally on the Nintendo Entertainment System's cartridge format in 1987, with an internal battery to facilitate data saving, where it enjoyed even greater critical and financial success. As one of Nintendo's flagship franchises, Zelda is among the most recognized names in video games.

Story and Characters[]

The Legend of Zelda's plot relies heavily on back story given in the short (in-game) prologue and the instruction booklet. Hyrule was engulfed in chaos after an army led by Ganon, the Prince of Darkness, invaded the kingdom and secured the Triforce of Power, a magical artifact bestowing great strength. Hyrule's Princess Zelda split the artifact's counterpart, the Triforce of Wisdom, into eight fragments, hiding them in secret dungeons throughout the land to prevent them from falling into Ganon's hands. She commanded her most trustworthy nursemaid, Impa, to escape and find a man courageous enough to destroy Ganon. Upon hearing this, Ganon grew angry, imprisoned the princess, and sent a party in search of Impa.

According to the manual, Impa fled for her life, but was overtaken by her pursuers. As Ganon's henchmen surrounded her, a youth drove the monsters off. The boy's name was Link, and Impa told him of Hyrule's plight. Link resolved to save Zelda, but to fight Ganon he had to find and reassemble the scattered fragments of the Triforce. Undeterred, Link set off for Hyrule in an epic adventure.

During the course of the game, Link locates the eight underground labyrinths (or, dungeons) and retrieves the Triforce fragments from the clutches of powerful guardian monsters. Along the way, he picks up a variety of useful items and upgrades to aid him in his quest. With the Triforce of Wisdom, Link is able to infiltrate Ganon's fortress high upon Death Mountain. He confronts the Prince of Darkness, destroying him with a Silver Arrow discovered deep within Ganon's dungeons. Link picks up the Triforce of Power from Ganon's ashes and returns both Triforces to Princess Zelda, whom he releases from her nearby cell. According to Zelda's words, peace would then return to Hyrule.

A "symbol of courage, strength and wisdom", Link was designed by Miyamoto as a coming-of-age motif for players to identify with: the silent protagonist begins the game an ordinary boy but grows in strength and fortitude to triumph over the ultimate evil.

The name of the princess was inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald: "Zelda was the name of the wife of the famous novelist Francis Scott Fitzgerald. She was a famous and beautiful woman from all accounts, and I liked the sound of her name. So I took the liberty of using her name for the very first Zelda title," Miyamoto explained.


When The Legend of Zelda was released its gameplay defied categorization, incorporating elements from action games, adventure games, role-playing games, and puzzle games. The game begins with the player controlling Link from an overhead perspective, armed with a small shield. A sword is immediately available in a cave in front of him on the opening screen of the game. To advance, Link must explore the overworld, a large outdoor map with varied environments. Scattered across the overworld (which according to Nintendo Power, was modelled after the state of Washington) and hidden in caves, shrubbery, or behind walls are merchants, gamblers, old ladies, and other people who guide Link with cryptic clues. Barring Link's progress are creatures he must battle to locate the entrances to nine underground dungeons.

A screenshot from The Legend of Zelda

Each dungeon is a unique, maze-like collection of rooms connected by doors and secret passages and guarded by monsters different from those found on the overworld. Link must successfully navigate each dungeon to obtain one of the eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom. Dungeons also hide useful items, such as a boomerang for retrieving items and stunning enemies, and a recorder with magical properties. The first six dungeons have visible entrances, but the remaining three are hidden. Except for the final dungeon, which cannot be entered until the previous eight have been completed, the order of completing dungeons is somewhat arbitrary, but many dungeons can only be reached using items gained in the previous one.

Nonlinearity, the ability to take different paths to complete the game, separated Zelda from its contemporaries. Link can freely wander the overworld, finding and buying items at any point. This flexibility enables unusual ways of playing the game; for example, it is possible to reach the final boss of the game (but not defeat him) without taking a sword. Nintendo of America's management initially feared that players might become frustrated with the new concept, left wondering what to do next. As a result, the American version of the game's manual contains many hints, tips, and suggestions for players.

After completing the game, the player has access to a more difficult quest, officially referred to as the Second Quest, where dungeons and the placement of items are different and enemies stronger. Although a more difficult "replay" was not unique to Zelda, few games offered a "second quest" with entirely different levels to complete. Entering "ZELDA" as the player's name starts the second quest immediately. The Second Quest can be replayed each time it is completed.


Concept and design[]

The Legend of Zelda was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka. His team worked on The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. concurrently, trying to separate the ideas: Super Mario Bros. was to be linear, where the action occurred in a strict sequence, whereas The Legend of Zelda would be the opposite. In Mario, Miyamoto downplayed the importance of the high score in favor of simply completing the game. This concept was carried over to The Legend of Zelda. Miyamoto was also in charge of deciding which concepts were "Zelda ideas" or "Mario ideas." Contrasting with Mario, Zelda was made non-linear and forced the players to think about what they should do next with riddles and puzzles. In the initial game designs, the player would start the game with the sword already in their inventory. According to Miyamoto, those in Japan were confused and had trouble finding their way through the multiple path dungeons. Rather than listening to the complaints, Miyamoto took away the sword, forcing players to communicate with each other and share their ideas to solve puzzles. This was a new form of game communication, and in this way, "Zelda became the inspiration for something very different: Animal Crossing. This was a game based solely on communication." With The Legend of Zelda, Miyamoto wanted to take the idea of a game "world" even further, giving players a "miniature garden that they can put inside their drawer." He drew his inspiration from his experiences as a boy around Kyoto, where he explored nearby fields, woods, and caves, and through the Zelda titles he always tries to impart to players some of the sense of exploration and limitless wonder he felt. "When I was a child," he said, "I went hiking and found a lake. It was quite a surprise for me to stumble upon it. When I traveled around the country without a map, trying to find my way, stumbling on amazing things as I went, I realized how it felt to go on an adventure like this." The memory of being lost amid the maze of sliding doors in his family's home in Sonobe was recreated in Zelda's labyrinth dungeons. A "symbol of courage, strength and wisdom", Link was designed by Miyamoto as a coming-of-age motif for players to identify with: he begins the game an ordinary boy but strengthens to triumph over the ultimate evil. The name of the princess was inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald: "Zelda was the name of the wife of the famous novelist Francis Scott Fitzgerald. She was a famous and beautiful woman from all accounts, and I liked the sound of her name. So I took the liberty of using her name for the very first Zelda title," Miyamoto explained.


In February 1986, Nintendo released the game as the launch title for the Family Computer's new Disk System peripheral. The Legend of Zelda was joined by a re-release of Super Mario Bros. and Tennis, Baseball, Golf, Soccer, and Mahjong in its introduction of the Disk System. It made full use of the "disk card" media's advantages over traditional ROM cartridges with a disk size of 128 kilobytes, which was expensive to produce on cartridge format. Due to the still-limited amount of space on the disk, however, the Japanese version of the game was only in katakana. It used rewritable disks to save the game, rather than passwords. The Japanese version used the extra sound channel provided by the Disk System for certain sound effects; most notable are the sounds of Link's sword when his health is full, and enemy death sounds. The sound effects used the NES's PCM channel in the cartridge version. It also used the microphone built into the Famicom's controller that was not included in the NES. This led to confusion in the U.S. as the instruction manual reads that Pols Voice, a rabbit-like enemy in the game, "hates loud noise". Blowing or shouting into the Famicom's microphone kills these creatures. However, they cannot be killed through use of the flute, and on the NES must be killed with weapons. The cartridge version made use of the Memory Management Controller chip, specifically the MMC1 model. The MMC could use bank-switching, allowing larger games than had been previously possible. They also allowed for battery-powered RAM, which let players save progress for the first time on any system or game.


Contrary to the fears of Nintendo's management, the game was popular and well received. A year later, Nintendo released the sequel, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, for the Disk System. This was not released in North America until almost two years later. The Legend of Zelda had been available a year and a half and Zelda II for six months before Nintendo brought the game to North America. When Nintendo published the game in North America, the packaging design featured a small portion of the box cut away to reveal the unique gold-colored cartridge. In 1988, The Legend of Zelda became the second NES game to sell one million copies. Nintendo of America sought to keep its strong base of fans; anyone who purchased a game and sent in a warranty card became a member of the Fun Club, whose members got a four-, eight- and eventually thirty-two-page newsletter. Seven hundred copies of the first issue were sent out free of charge, but the number grew as the data bank of names got longer. From the success of magazines in Japan, Nintendo knew that game tips were a valued asset. Players enjoyed the bimonthly newsletter's crossword puzzles and jokes, but game secrets were most valued. The Fun Club drew kids in by offering tips for the more complicated games, especially Zelda, with its hidden rooms, secret keys, and passageways. The mailing list grew. By early 1988, there were over 1 million Fun Club members, which led then-Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa to start the Nintendo Power magazine. Since Nintendo did not have many products, it made only a few commercials a year, meaning the quality had to be phenomenal. The budget for a single commercial could reach US $5 million, easily four or five times more than most companies spent. One of the first commercials made under Bill White, director of advertising and public relations, was the market introduction for The Legend of Zelda, which received a great deal of attention in the ad industry. In it, a wiry-haired, nerdy guy (John Kassir) walks through the dark making goofy noises, yelling out the names of some enemies from the game, and screaming for Zelda. Nintendo released a great deal of merchandise related to The Legend of Zelda, including toys, guidebooks, watches, apparel, trash cans, and a breakfast cereal called Nintendo Cereal System. The game and its sequel, The Adventure of Link were adapted into an animated series, episodes of which were shown on television each Friday on The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!. Link and Zelda appeared in several episodes of Captain N: The Game Master that revolved around themes from The Adventure of Link.


The Legend of Zelda was a bestseller for Nintendo, selling over 6.5 million copies. It was reissued in 1990 as part of Nintendo's "Classic Series", along with Zelda II, Metroid, Super Mario Bros., and other games. The game placed first in the player's poll "Top 30" in Nintendo Powers first issue and continued to dominate the list into the early 1990s. The Legend of Zelda was also voted by Nintendo Power readers as the "Best Challenge" in the Nintendo Power Awards '88. They also listed it as the best Nintendo Entertainment System video game ever created, stating that it was fun despite its age and it showed them new ways to do things in the genre such as hidden dungeons and its various weapons. The save game option was highly praised by many as it did not a require a password as many games for the NES did.Zelda was reviewed in 1993 in Dragon #198 by Sandy Petersen in the "Eye of the Monitor" column. Petersen gave the game 4 out of 5 stars. The Legend of Zelda is often featured in lists of games considered the greatest or most influential. It placed first in Game Informers list of "The Top 200 Games of All Time", fifth in Electronic Gaming Monthlys 200th issue listing "The Greatest 200 Videogames of Their Time", seventh in Nintendo Powers list of the 200 Best Nintendo Games Ever, 77th in Official Nintendo Magazine's 100 greatest Nintendo games of all time and 80th among IGN readers' "Top 99 Games". Zelda was inducted into GameSpy's Hall of Fame in August 2000 and voted by GameSpy's editors as the tenth best game of all time. Editors of the popular Japanese magazine Weekly Famitsu voted the game among the best on the Famicom.The Game Boy Advance port of The Legend of Zelda is rated 79% and 87% respectively on Game Rankings' and Game Ratio's rankings compilations. In individual ratings, IGN scored The Legend of Zelda with an 8 out of 10, GamePro a 4.5 out of 5, Nintendo Power a 4.5 out of 5, and an A. Guinness World Records has awarded The Legend of Zelda series five world records in Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition, including "Highest-Rated Game of All Time" and "First Game with a Battery Powered Save Feature".

Impact and legacy[]

The Legend of Zelda is considered a spiritual forerunner of the console role-playing game (RPG) genre. Though its gameplay elements are different from those of typical computer or console RPGs, its bright, anime-like graphics, fantasy setting, and musical style were adopted by many RPGs. Its commercial success helped lay the groundwork for involved, nonlinear games in fantasy settings, such as those found in successful RPGs, including Crystalis, Soul Blazer, Square's Seiken Densetsu series, Alundra and Brave Fencer Musashi. The popularity of the game also spawned several clones trying to emulate the game. The Legend of Zelda spawned numerous sequels and spin-offs and is one of Nintendo's most popular series. It established important characters and environments of the Zelda universe, including Link, Princess Zelda, Ganon, Impa, and the Triforce as the power that binds Hyrule together. The overworld theme and distinctive "secret found" jingle have appeared in nearly every subsequent Zelda game. The theme has also appeared in various other games featuring references to the Zelda series. In 2009, Game Informer called The Legend of Zelda "no less than the greatest game of all time" on their list of "The Top 200 Games of All Time", saying that it was "ahead of its time by years if not decades".


The Legend of Zelda has been re-released on multiple platforms since its original domestic and international releases. The game was first re-released in cartridge format for the Famicom in 1994. The cartridge version slightly modified the title screen of the disk card version of the game, such that it displayed Zelda no Densetsu 1 instead of simply Zelda no Densetsu. In 2001, the original game was re-released in the GameCube game Animal Crossing. The only way to unlock the game is an Action Replay. An official re-release was included in 2003's The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition for the Nintendo GameCube, and the game was again re-released on the Game Boy Advance in 2004 along with its sequel, The Adventure of Link, as part of the Classic NES Series. In 2006, another rerelease was made available to players on the Wii's Virtual Console, and most recently a timed demo of the game was released for the 2008 Wii game Super Smash Bros. Brawl, available in the Vault section. All re-releases of the game are virtually identical to the original, though the GameCube, Game Boy Advance, and Virtual Console versions have been altered slightly to correct several instances of Engrish from the original, most notably in the intro story. A tech demo called Classic Games was shown for the Nintendo 3DS at E3 2010, displaying more than a dozen classic games utilizing 3D effects, including The Legend of Zelda. It was announced by Reggie Fils-Aime that the titles were slated for release on the 3DS, including The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man 2, and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island and would possibly make use of some of the 3DS' features, such as 3D effects, analog control, or camera support.


There have also been a few substantially altered versions of the game that have been released as pseudo-sequels, and ura- or gaiden-versions. As part of a promotional advertisement campaign for their charumera (チャルメラ) noodles, Myojo Foods Co., Ltd. (明星食品, Myoujou Shokuhin) released a version of the original The Legend of Zelda in 1986 entitled The Legend of Zelda: Charumera Version (ゼルダの伝説 チャルメラバージョン). This game is one of the rarest video games available on the second-hand collector's market, and copies have sold for over $1,000 USD. From August 6, 1995, to September 2, 1995, Nintendo, in collaboration with the St.GIGA satellite radio network, began broadcasts of a substantially different version of the original The Legend of Zelda for a Super Famicom subsystem, the Satellaview—a satellite modem add-on. The game, titled BS Zelda no Densetsu (BS ゼルダの伝説), was released for download in four episodic, weekly installments which were rebroadcast at least four times between the game's 1995 premier and January 1997. BS Zelda was the first Satellaview game to feature a "SoundLink" soundtrack—a streaming audio track through which, every few minutes, players were cautioned to listen carefully as a voice actor narrator, broadcasting live from the St.GIGA studio, would give them plot and gameplay clues. In addition to the SoundLink elements, BS Zelda also featured updated 16-bit graphics, a smaller overworld, and different dungeons. Link was replaced by one of the two Satellaview mascots: a boy wearing a backward baseball cap or a girl with red hair. From between December 30, 1995, and January 6, 1996, a second version of the game, BS Zelda no Densetsu MAP 2 (BS ゼルダの伝説MAP2), was broadcast to the Satellaview as the functional equivalent of the original The Legend of Zelda's Second Quest. MAP 2 was rebroadcast only once, in March 1996.

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