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A look back at Nintendo’s most prominent franchise!

The Legend of Zelda - August 1987

the legend of zeldazelda 1 for nintendo entertainment systemzelda gannon gold nes



And with those words that rival the works of Dickens, our hero set out on his first adventure ever. The Legend of Zelda, to date, remains in my top ten games of all time (and my favorite NES game). I’ve got so many great memories of playing this game and exploring every nook and cranny....when you’re five, there’s truly nothing else like it. The scope and sense of adventure is unparalleled on the system, with arguably the most nonlinearity of the series (honestly, how many Zelda games let you hit the dungeons in ANY order you want?), and hidden caves and items everywhere.

Zelda was one of the first games to have three save files instead of a clunky password system (that would require you to have a pen and pad sitting near your NES, and risk writing an O instead of a 0 or an I instead of an l and losing all your, I hated when that happened!). Additionally, after spending hours maximizing your equipment, assembling the Triforce, and sticking it to “Gannon,” the game suddenly opened up into a second quest. And this wasn’t just some tacked-on bonus feature--this was a living, breathing expansion of the original game. While the overworld was relatively unchanged, the nine dungeons were entirely new. Entirely different, super-challenging bonus dungeons. Can you imagine how amazing a feature like that would be today?

Best moment: That inexplicable feeling as a kid that you’ve discovered something that no one else in the world knows about. YOU were the one that found that heart container!

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link - September 1988
Zelda II: The Adventure of LinkZelda II: The Adventure of LinkZelda II: The Adventure of Link

Behold...the “Celda” of the eighties! I’m glad the internet wasn’t mainstream back then, because the backlash for this unconventional title would be deafening. “OMG this Life Medicine fetch quest suxxors!” “Link using magic is stupid, way to rip off Dragon Warrior Nintendo!!1” “WHY DOESn’T EROR TELL ME ABOUT THE PALAC!1/1?”

Anyway, Zelda II is one of the few instances of a game that would’ve been improved if Nintendo simply stuck with the formula. I know that statement will anger some people, but most will agree--AoL’s lack of useable items, need to shoehorn in flimsy RPG elements, and much weaker sense of exploration all gave the feel of a step back from Zelda 1. It’s still a quality game, though. The battle system is done well, and the MP micro-management keeps the title difficult and entertaining.

Best moment: Stumbling upon the hidden town of Kasuto and racking up on special items and abilities. Also, getting the downward thrust the first time so Link can go all Mario on the enemies.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - April 1992/ Dec 2002 (Four Swords GBA)

Zelda: A Link to the PastZelda: A Link to the PastZelda: A Link to the Past

Nintendo fans were stunned when Link’s return to form arrived on the SNES in 1992. After the brief departure from the top-down action of the original title, ALttP upped the ante from the original Zelda in every way possible. The game was vibrant, alive, majestic, atmospheric, and absolutely enormous. It was packed with new, soon-to-be-classic items like the Hookshot, Heart Pieces and the Magic Bottles, as well as two worlds that held plenty of secrets within.

The storyline became more dynamic as well--taking place long before the original Zelda, ALttP describes Ganon’s success in breaking the seal that the Seven Sages placed on him, reaching the Triforce, and morphing the world into his own twisted vision. It was up to Link to save the seven corresponding maidens, break the barrier on Ganon’s Tower, and plug that pig with Silver Arrows once again. ALttP is still considered by many fans to be the definitive Zelda game, and by some to be the greatest game of all time. Indeed, I have extremely fond memories of staying up all night, playing this at my cousin’s house, basking in the television’s comforting glow while everyone else was fast asleep.

Best moment: The atmospheric, stormy, dramatic beginning, which jump-starts the game at a very tense pace. Additionally, the moment you finally pull out the Master Sword for the first time in the series.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening - November 1993/October 1998 (DX)

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s AwakeningThe Legend of Zelda: Link’s AwakeningThe Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

The Game Boy had never seen a game quite like Link’s Awakening. In true Zelda tradition, the game was absolutely huge compared to everything else on the system, and really set the bar for the level of quality a handheld title should have. Link’s Awakening added spiffy new gameplay elements, such as the ability to jump, and it was the first game to feature an Ocarina with selectable songs.

LA is also arguably one of the most emotionally charged Zelda games out there, with a rather poignant ending and message that has surprising depth to it. It truly is a game with a lot of heart. If you haven’t played this gem of a handheld title yet, you owe it to yourself to pick it up--to date, it’s still very likely the best handheld game ever (though personally, I think Band Bros and Mother 3 are up there!).

Best moment: The seaside chat with Marin, followed by her “joining your party” briefly.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - Nov 1998/Feb 2003 (Master Quest)
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of TimeThe Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of TimeThe Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

It’s almost cliche at this point, but Ocarina of Time is, in my opinion, the best game ever. The visual style is great, the music is well-written, the story is masterfully told, and the whole thing is wonderfully captivating. The game redefined “epic,” and rocked the gaming industry when it hit. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past eight years, you probably know that OoT is chronologically the first of the series, and is about a young Hylian named Link who doesn’t have a fairy, was raised by the Kokiri, etc. etc. You know the story. You’ve probably relived it dozens of times. In fact, it’s very likely that you think OoT is also the greatest game ever, so let’s just leave it at that and move on...

(Malon is hot)

Best moment: Where to start? Walking across Hyrule Field for the first time. Becoming an adult. Shiek’s revelation. The final battle.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask - October 2000
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

“And now for something completely different!” While Majora’s Mask had a very similar look to Ocarina of Time, the heart of the game spoke of something much deeper and more involved. MM felt like an artistic opportunity for the developers to stretch their legs and really deliver a new experience. To be honest, I thought they succeeded with flying colors. MM IS the most emotional Zelda game out there, but it’s handled in such a subtle way that most players will never see it all unless they’re extremely thorough. The way the townspeople react to the end of the world can be interesting, funny, frightening, and even touching.

Additionally, MM was packed with things to do. The game’s sidequests (notably the massive Bomber’s Notebook) were addictive and incredibly rewarding, while the four dungeons are among the most thorough, intimidating, and well-designed in the series’ history. If you missed out on this wonderful gem, I implore you to give it a second chance. The first few hours of the game can be frustrating and confusing if you’re expecting OoT Part 2, but once you realize the game is doing it’s own thing, it quickly becomes an obsession.

Best moment: The atmosphere of the final countdown, reuniting Anju and Kafei during the final hours.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons - May 2001
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of SeasonsThe Legend of Zelda: Oracle of SeasonsThe Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
- May 2001
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of AgesThe Legend of Zelda: Oracle of AgesThe Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages

The Oracle games came right at the end of the GBC’s lifecycle and at were playable on the brand new GBA system (hm, not unlike a certain game releasing very soon). While they both released on the same day, each Oracle title is a full-fledged game, with eight dungeons, a large overworld, and plenty of things to do. Together, they make up one of the best joint-ventures on a handheld (even if, IMO, they’re probably the weakest traditional Zelda games).

Seasons involved Link trying to rescue Din from armor-clad villain Onox, and our pointy-eared hero utilized the Rod of Seasons to change the land’s climate so he could progress. It was quite an original gameplay element, and honestly a lot of fun. Ages, meanwhile, was about Link aiming to rescue Nayru from body-possessing villain Veran, while utilizing the Harp of Ages to traverse 100 years in the past. The game used this element well, where in some cases, your actions in the past affected the present. I’d really like to see a more in-depth, console version of this concept (OoT touched on it in spots), but both OoA and OoS succeeded well in what they did.

Best moment: Reaping the sweet rewards of linking both games. Also, the devilishly difficult Jabu-Jabu dungeon.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker - March 2003

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind WakerThe Legend of Zelda: The Wind WakerThe Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

“TEH KIDDIE!!!1” “WTF HAS NINTENDO DONE!?!” “That’s it, I’m getting a PS2 instead.” “Nintendo has ruined the series forever.” “Miyamoto has lost his mind.” “THIS IS THE WORST DAY OF MY LIFE!!”

On that day, fire rained from the heavens, and all the message boards of the earth erupted in flame.

But let me tell you, Nintendo’s controversial decision was for the best. Not only was it a breath of fresh air, but it made TP’s revealing all the sweeter and more surprising. And just LOOK at those screenshots! The game is beautiful, and will likely age better than any other 3-D Zelda to date.

Anyway, cel-shading discussion aside, TWW introduced some spiffy new elements to the Zelda series, such as a large, oceanic overworld (which was another hotbed of controversy), a history-rich storyline with more twists than ever, and some great new tools for Link to try out for the first time. The game also introduced the first-ever instance of co-op play in a Zelda adventure, with the always-quirky Tingle being controlled by the second player (sort of) with a GBA. All things considered, TWW was shocking. Whether it’s the good kind of shocking or the bad kind depends on who you ask. (Personally, I thought it was awesome)

Best moment:Descending under the sea and coming upon a revelation that turns the series legacy on its side. Also, the phenomenal ending sequence.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures - June 2004
The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords AdventuresThe Legend of Zelda: Four Swords AdventuresThe Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures

After TWW had a hint of connectivity, FSA went the whole nine yards. Based on the previous “bonus” game in the LttP GBA port, Four Swords Adventures has you controlling four Links in formation. In the multiplayer mode, your buddies (or rather, your soon-to-be-enemies) will each control one of the Links, using the GBA to enter caves and split up from the rest of the group. The game’s design is quite ingenious, both in the ways the four Links have to cooperate to proceed, and also in how many different ways the game completely tempts you to kill your buddies.

This game will make you hate your friends, no question. You will yell, scream, swear, and possibly even punch. It’s a total blast, which is why it’s a shame that it’s such a hassle to get everything together. I can’t wait for a new Four Swords on the Wii, with possible DS connectivity, as the game is simply one of the best, rowdiest multiplayer games I’ve ever played.

Best moment: Having your friend open up a path for you, then thanking him by throwing him off a cliff and stealing his Force Gems.

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap - January 2005
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

Capcom released their third Zelda title alongside their soon-to-be-classic GCN action title, Resident Evil 4. The Minish Cap is a quality, beefy GBA title that I’d say is somewhere between the Oracle games and Link’s Awakening in overall quality. Link’s hat-like pal Ezlo, turned into a cap form due to a curse from the villainous Vaati, has the ability to shrink Link down to the size of an ant, making for some very unique and clever scenarios in the game.

TMC is a fairly large game, with a great number of sidequests. The main town is chock full of things to do, and the addictive Kinstone fusing encourages exploration. All things considered, it’s a fine addition to the series, even if it feels a tad stale at times.

Best moment: Reaching the Wind Tribe’s domain, complete with some great music.

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