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The Legend of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda Box Art
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D4
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Family Computer Disk System/NES, GameCube, Game Boy Advance, Virtual Console (Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U)
Release date(s) Famicom Disk System:

JP: February 21, 1986


NA: August 22, 1987

PAL: November 15, 1987

JP: February 19, 1994

Game Boy Advance: JP: February 14, 2004 NA: June 2, 2004

PAL: July 9, 2004

Virtual Console:


NA: November 19, 2006

EU: December 8, 2006

Nintendo 3DS:

INT: September 1, 2011 (Ambassadors) JP: December 22, 2011

PAL: April 12, 2012 NA: July 5, 2012

Wii U:

JP: August 28, 2013 INT: August 29, 2013

Genre(s) Action-adventure
Players 1 player
Rating(s) ESRB: E
Media NES Cartridge
Input NES Controller
Predecessor None
Successor Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
The Legend of Zelda at
The Legend of Zelda is a video game designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and developed and published by Nintendo. This game is the the first game in The Legend of Zelda series released, and the 8th game chronologically when going. Set in the land of Hyrule, the plot centers on a boy named Link, the playable protagonist, who aims to rescue Princess Zelda from the primary antagonist, Ganon, by collecting the eight fragments of the Triforce, a powerful artifact.

As the inaugural game of The Legend of Zelda series, it was first released in Japan as a launch title for the Famicom's Disk System peripheral on February 21, 1986, a year and five months before it was released in North America. Because the Famicom Disk System was not released outside Japan, the game was published internationally on the Nintendo Entertainment System's cartridge format in 1987, with an internal battery to facilitate data saving.


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. Throughout the game, merchants, gamblers, old ladies, and other people guide Link with cryptic clues. These people are scattered across the overworld and hidden in caves, shrubbery, or behind walls.

Barring Link's progress are creatures he must battle to locate the entrances to nine underground dungeons. 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.[1] 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. Unlike any other Zelda games, you can aquire 3 heart peices and a sword upgrade before the first dungeon.

The Second Quest

After completing the game, the player has access to a more difficult quest, officially referred to as the Second Quest,[2] where dungeons and the placement of items are different and enemies stronger.[3] Although a more difficult "replay" was not unique to Zelda, few games offered a "second quest" with entirely different levels to complete.[1] Entering "ZELDA" as the player's name starts the second quest immediately.[4] The Second Quest can be replayed each time it is completed.

BS Zelda no Densetsu

Main article: BS Zelda no Densetsu

BS Zelda no Densetsu, based on the original The Legend of Zelda, was released for download in four episodes on the Satellaview, a satellite modem add-on to Nintendo's Super Famicom system, from August 9, 1995, to August 30, 1995. The first game broadcast on the Satellaview, BS Zelda featured updated graphics, a smaller overworld, and different dungeons. Link and Zelda were replaced by the Satellaview mascots, a boy wearing a backward baseball cap and a girl with red hair. It also featured "Sound Link", where every few minutes players were cautioned to listen carefully as a live narrator, broadcast over the network, gave them play clues.[5] When the game was rebroadcast in December 1996, the layout of the world was changed again. This revision had a smaller broadcast audience and is known as Map 2. Sometimes these two games are known as the Third and Fourth Quest, similar to the Second Quest.

Plot 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.[6] 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.[6]

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.[7] 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.[7]

During the course of the game, Link locates the eight underground 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",[8] Link was designed by Shigeru 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.[9]

The name of the princess was inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald. Miyamoto explained, "Zelda was the name of the wife of the famous novelist F. 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."[10]

Development and release

Designer Shigeru Miyamoto was responsible for the development of Super Mario Bros., which was released for the Famicom and Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985. In Mario, Miyamoto downplayed the value of the high score in favor of a more concrete goal — to "complete" the game. The evolution of games from endurance tests to simple narratives gave players a goal beyond simple continued survival.[11]

Miyamoto's 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 total opposite.[12] Miyamoto himself was 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.[13]

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."[11] 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.[11] "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."[14] The memory of being lost amid the maze of sliding doors in his family's home was recreated in Zelda's labyrinthine dungeons.[15]

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 that "Zelda became the inspiration for something very different: Animal Crossing. This was a game based solely on communication."[16]

In February 1986, Nintendo released the game on the Famicom'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 Famicom Disk System. It made full use of the Disk System’s advantages over the Famicom with a disk size of 128 kilobytes, which was expensive to produce on cartridge format.[11] 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.[17] 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".[18] 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 either the sword or bow and arrow.

Contrary to the fears of Nintendo's management, the game was wildly popular and well received. The game was so popular that within a year Nintendo issued the sequel The Legend of Zelda 2: Link no Bōken for the Famicom Disk System. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, as the second Zelda came to be known in the western markets, would not be released in America for almost two years after its initial release on the Famicon Disc System.

Nintendo published the game close to a year and a half later in North America, with a small portion of the box cut out to display the unique gold-colored cartridge. In 1987, The Legend of Zelda became the first NES title aside from Super Mario Bros. to sell one million copies.[19] In 1988, 7 million more NES units were sold, along with 33 million game cartridges. 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.[20]

From the success of magazines in Japan, Nintendo knew that game tips were an incredibly 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.[20] 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 Nintendo Power magazine.[20]

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.[21] 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.[21]

The Legend of Zelda was a gold mine for Nintendo, which released a slew of Zelda-related merchandise, from toys and guidebooks to watches, apparel, trash cans, and even a breakfast cereal called the Nintendo Cereal System. The game and its sequel, The Adventure of Link were adapted into an animated series, episodes of which were shown each Friday on television's The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!. Link and Zelda appeared in select 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.[22] It was reissued in 1990 as part of Nintendo's "Classic Series", along with Zelda II, Metroid, and other high-profile games. The game placed first in the player's poll "Top 30" in Nintendo Power's first issue[23] and continued to dominate the list into the early 1990s.

The Legend of Zelda places prominently in lists of games considered the greatest or most influential: it placed first in Game Informer's list of the greatest games ever, fifth in Electronic Gaming Monthly's 200th issue listing "The Greatest 200 Videogames of Their Time,"[24] seventh in Nintendo Power's list of the 200 Best Nintendo Games Ever,[25] and 80th among IGN readers' "Top 99 Games."[26] Zelda was inducted into GameSpy's Hall of Fame in August 2000[27] and voted by GameSpy's editors as the tenth best game of all time.[28] Editors of the popular Japanese magazine Famitsu voted the game among the best on the Famicom.[29]

Even in its Game Boy Advance port, created 17 years after its initial release, The Legend of Zelda passes the test of time, scoring 79% on Game Rankings[30] and 84 out of 100 on Metacritic.[31] 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 a 9 out of 10.[30][32]

Impact and legacy

The Legend of Zelda is considered a spiritual forerunner of the console role-playing game genre.[1] Though its gameplay elements are different from those of typical computer or console RPGs, its bright, cartoonish 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, and more recently, Alundra and Brave Fencer Musashi.

The Legend of Zelda spawned numerous sequels and spin-offs and remains one of Nintendo's most popular series. Although the plot of Zelda is simplistic by today's standards, it established important characters and environments of the Zelda universe: Link, Princess Zelda, Ganon, Impa, and the Triforce as the power that binds Hyrule together.[11]

The overworld theme and distinctive "secret found" jingle have appeared in one form or another in nearly every subsequent Zelda title. The theme has also appeared in various other games featuring Zelda series references.


The Legend of Zelda has been re-released on multiple platforms, most recently on the Wii's Virtual Console in 2006. The game was re-released in cartridge format on the Famicom in 1994. The game was also included in The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition for the Nintendo GameCube,[33] and is also obtainable in the GameCube game Animal Crossing using various cheat devices such as the Action Replay. The game was also re-released on the Game Boy Advance in 2004 along with its sequel as part of the Classic NES Series.


The nine dungeons that a player must traverse to complete the game each have the shape of an easily recognizable object (eagle, lion's head, snake, etc.) which make them easier for the astute gamer to navigate. The third labyrinth has the shape of what appears to Western audiences as a left-facing swastika. This shape is actually a "manji", which is a Buddhist symbol of good fortune. In Japan, where this game was initially released, swastikas and similar shapes are relatively benign, which explains why a symbol so offensive to many Western audiences could be included. In the United States, there were surprisingly few complaints about the manji, but years later, when Pokémon became popular in the United States, Nintendo was forced to alter one of the cards due to complaints regarding a manji.

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