Released: July 1987
US Cartridge ID: NES-ZL-USA
Genre: Action RPG
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 1 megabit
Mapper: MMC1 (128k PRG)
Shigeru Miyamoto, the legendary producer and designer of many of Nintendo’s biggest hits, is easily one of the most important and influential creative forces the industry has ever seen, almost single-handedly building Nintendo into the empire it became virtually overnight. Following the creation of some of gaming’s most beloved and enduring classics, including Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., and Kid Icarus, Miyamoto went on to create the first in yet another iconic franchise that would help to shape the video gaming landscape for generations to come, as well as Nintendo’s first million-seller: The Legend of Zelda.
The Legend of Zelda introduces gamers to the beloved princess (named after the wife of The Great Gatsby’s author, F. Scott Fitzgerald), who feared for the future of her kingdom. Hyrule, having been invaded by the prince of darkness, Ganon, cowered under the might of this tyrant. Stealing the Triforce of Power, Ganon unleashed his nightmarish armies across the once peaceful lands, inflicting horror and havoc on its innocent people. Fearing that all would be lost if Ganon took hold of the Triforce of Wisdom, Princess Zelda split it into eight pieces and carefully concealed the fragments under the deepest shadows of Hyrule’s underworld. Upon sending her nursemaid, Impa, in search of help, Zelda is kidnapped by the Prince of Darkness, and quietly awaits the coming of a hero that would rescue her, her people, and the world from the approaching darkness.
Link, Impa’s champion, sets out for Death Mountain, the stronghold from which Ganon, patiently lying in wait for any who’d dare challenge his dominion, cruelly smiles at the misfortune he has so masterfully wrought. Knowing nothing of how to proceed or his surroundings, Link begins his adventure in an entirely unremarkable field, the landscape interrupted solely by the mouth of a mysterious cave. Marking Miyamoto’s desire to create a game based on the youthful, innate desire to explore, Link enters and finds an old man. The stranger, placing his faith and hopes in the young boy, gives Link a wooden sword. With this modest weapon as his only means of protection, Link must seek out the eight pieces of the fractured Triforce and, providing he is able, wield its power against Ganon’s might.
Viewed from an overhead perspective, The Legend of Zelda styles itself as an action role-playing game. As he explores the lands of Hyrule, Link must defeat monsters, solve puzzles with the numerous items that he will come across, and conquer the masters of Hyrule’s fabled underground mazes in order to obtain the pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom. Spanning one-hundred and twenty-eight screens, Hyrule’s expansive countryside is filled with secret areas housing (usually) helpful residents that offer advice, items, and upgrades, as well as proprietors of shops, gambling dens, and more. The locals often provide cryptic clues with a huge dose of unintentional humor, thanks in large part to the hilariously poor translation from the game’s native Japanese (including gems like, “It’s a secret to everybody,” and, “Eastmost peninsula is the secret”).
There are eight dungeons that Link must seek out and overcome to triumph over the pervading evil. The dungeons serve as The Legend of Zelda‘s reimagining of the tradition “level” structure, filled with the most powerful enemies that guard important quest items, heart containers, and the all important Triforce fragments. Within these dungeons, keys must be found for each locked door that Link encounters, and the levels’ labyrinthine layouts (which grow in complexity and size over the course of the adventure) will challenge the most seasoned of gamers, even if Link succeeds in finding a map (providing a rough sketch of the dungeon’s layout) and a compass (showing the location of the dungeon’s boss) in each. In many of the dungeons, well concealed allies can provide Link with clues on how to progress, if he can locate their obscure dens.
The graphics and sound in The Legend of Zelda, though primitive by the standards set by later NES games, were inspiring at the time of the game’s initial 1987 release. For a game released so early in the NES’ life, the cartridge was quite impressive technically. It featured the ability to save, thanks in large part to it being one of the first US games containing Nintendo’s newly developed memory management controller, the MMC1, allowing the game to retain 8k worth of data that wouldn’t clear if the power to the control deck had been turned off. When released in Japan in February of 1986, the Japanese version was a launch game for Nintendo’s Famicom Disk System hardware add-on, using a proprietary 2.8″ floppy disk format. This decision was made due to the higher storage capacity and lower production costs that the disks offered over cartridges at the time, as the disks were the only media capable of hosting the sheer amount of data needed to render the land of Hyrule as Miyamoto had envisioned it.
The US cartridge version, initially released in a special gold color cartridge shell, did not run into these issues thanks to the MMC1, though the sound suffered in the conversion; the Famicom Disk System contained additional sound hardware that allowed for FM-synthesis and added sound channels that the MMC1 did not support, thus requiring a slight simplification of the game’s sound effects and music when ported over. Despite being technically inferior, many gamers still prefer the rougher sound of the US NES’ audio, though the rousing themes sound excellent in both. The graphics are equal in quality, the most notable change being the English font used. The game also does not suffer from load times like the disk version did, though they were surprisingly short and infrequent given the scope of the world. There were also minor gameplay differences due to the difference in platforms; for example, there was an enemy in the Japanese version that could only be killed by shouting into the microphone on the second player’s controller. Since the NES controller lacked this feature, these enemies had to be killed with standard weapons, rendering some of the translated clues red herrings in the English version.
The defining feature of The Legend of Zelda was its nonlinear gameplay. In an era dominated by unidirectional platforming and shooting games, the amount of freedom that Zelda gave its players was unprecedented. It relied on the intrepid spirit of the adventurous gamer, rewarding (or, at times, punishing) those that searched every corner, bombing everything in sight, in hopes of revealing a hidden door or staircase. The game didn’t ever force the player into a singular course of action; rather, it allowed the adventure to progress, or stall, based on the whims of the person holding the controller. The game even featured a second quest, which radically altered the layout of the world and increased the difficulty level, effectively providing a brand new adventure for those that hadn’t had enough after completing the first (though this second quest could be accessed at anytime from naming the hero ZELDA at the character select screen).
It is difficult to understate the importance of The Legend of Zelda, both for Nintendo and the gaming industry as a whole. With so many innovations packed into such a singularly well-realized world, The Legend of Zelda is due every shred of praise heaped upon it, and is a must play for all gamers, modern and retro.
|The Legend of Zelda
|The Legend of Zelda
|The Hyrule Fantasy ゼルダの伝説 (The Hyrule Fantasy-Zeruda no Densetsu)
The Hyrule Fantasy: Zelda’s Legend (Famicom Disk System)
|The Hyrule Fantasy ゼルダの伝説1 (The Hyrule Fantasy-Zeruda no Densetsu Wan)
The Hyrule Fantasy: Zelda’s Legend 1 (Cartridge Format)