In 1986, on February 21st, a game unlike any other was released to the Japanese public. With its sprawling world and labyrinthine dungeons, that game would break the mold of traditional console games forever. The first cartridge game to sport an internal battery for saving data, it gave players a one-of-a-kind adventure and spawned one of the most critically acclaimed franchises in video game history.
I’m talking, of course, about The Legend of Zelda. Any kid who grew up with Link, Zelda and Ganon has a set of shared memories: using the recorder, trying to find the Magic Sword, and tackling the Second Quest. For many of us, exploring the land of Hyrule ranks the same as exploring our neighborhoods. Oftentimes we did it together, gathering around a friend’s NES and working through the puzzles, fighting the bosses, and cursing in confusion about what it meant that the Pols Voices hated loud noise.
My first exposure to Zelda was confusing, to say the least. Read on to see why.
While watching TV one night, I saw this advertisement for the game:
This has to be one of the worst commercials ever made. My dad, sitting beside me, muttered, “What the heck?” Even with my five year-old attention span, I couldn’t give him an answer. I certainly don’t remember rushing to the store to buy the game.
Thankfully, one of my friends had, and I was introduced to the game through sleepovers spent wandering across its vast overworld. Nonlinear gameplay was perfected with The Legend of Zelda and while it wasn’t a role-playing game in the strictest sense, its success had a huge hand in shaping the future of that nascent genre.
The franchise has always held strong. When I wanted a SNES, I wanted it for A Link to the Past, which, to this day, remains my favorite game of all time. I bought an N64 specifically for Ocarina of Time. And I actually enjoying sailing around a waterlogged Hyrule in The Wind Waker. A new title for the Wii, Skyward Sword, is in the works.
It’s not difficult to see why the Zelda series has captivated us for 25 years. I can still remember descending into a dungeon for the first time, the music changing, the color palette swapping out for something darker. That feeling I got, of not knowing what lay beyond the door ahead but knowing I wanted to see and experience whatever it was… it was exhilarating. And as long as Shigeru Miyamoto and the Zelda team keep recreating that feeling as they have, the Zelda series will go on.