The History of The Legend of Zelda – From the Beginning to Breath of the Wild

The History of The Legend of Zelda – From the Beginning to Breath of the Wild

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In 1986 Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda,
directed by the now famous Shigeru Miyamoto and the less renowned Takashi Tezuka. They
didn’t know it at the time, but this series would go on to become one of the most influential
in video game history. As Breath of the Wild is now upon us, let’s take some time to
look back on how The Legend of Zelda became one of the greatest and longest living video
game franchises ever. 1986 was an interesting year for me. For starters,
it was the year I was born. As a side note, it’s also the year that The Legend of Zelda
was released in Japan. The Legend of Zelda and I have grown up together, and as I have
grown up and matured, it has too. The first entry into the Zelda franchise was met with
unprecedented success. Aside from the Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt games, which were
packaged with the NES, no game for the that system sold more copies than The Legend of
Zelda. The first to implement a save system, this game enabled players to try new things.
To make longer journeys. To take their time. To explore the world. It was a risky investment,
by Nintendo. In order to have a save system each cartridge needed to have a small battery
that would power an additional unit of RAM that could write write the file. It was a
bit more expensive to make, but was seen as necessary for the experience. The game was
simply too big for players to be expected to beat it all in one go. Zelda involved a
lot of trial and error. Players didn’t know where to go, right off the bat. There was
a small cave where an old man would give you a sword before disappearing, but after that,
the player was on their own. This was one of the original open world games. A concept
that largely got away from video games until the like of Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim re-popularized
it. The Legend of Zelda sold 6.5 million copies. The very next year, Nintendo followed up the
successful game with a direct sequel. There is one thing most developers do when creating
sequels for things that caught on and sold millions of copies; don’t stray too far
from the original. Nintendo decided to change things up with this game. They incorporated
a level system and other RPG elements. An overworld view that was top down, but a side-scrolling
view for battles and dungeons. Going from a top down view in one game to side-scrolling
in another is a pretty big change. Nintendo also decided to take away some open world
aspects in order to tell more of a story. Zelda 2 was not received as well, and to this
day is regarded as the Zelda game you can just kinda skip over. But it represents an
ideology that still exists in Nintendo to this day; innovation. Nintendo rarely stays
in the same spot for too long with anything. Zelda games, while all being remarkably similar
in tone and story, are drastically different games. Nothing illustrates that better than
the sequel to Legend of Zelda being Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Another characteristic of Nintendo is that
they take their time on things. While certain franchises like Mega Man, Sonic the Hedgehog,
Call of Duty or Assassins Creed are (or, were) able to release new games annually, Nintendo
took a different approach. After 4 years of not having a third Zelda game, Nintendo finally
made one for their new hardware, the Super Nintendo. A Link to the past was released
in Japan in 1991 and was a striking success. It reintroduced the top-down view as more
of a ¾ perspective, and added more story elements and NPC interactions. Considered
one of the greatest games of all time, A Link to the Past sold over 4.6 million copies,
and, get this, was the only Zelda game to be released for the Super Nintendo. Nintendo
was cementing their principles. They weren’t going to dilute their franchises for short-term
financial gain. They were dead set on making great games that inflated the value of their
brands, and that takes time. Another console Zelda game would not be released for 7 years. A Link to the Past enabled players to experience
more of the history of Hyrule. It also introduced us to the concept that Hyrule is changeable.
That there are more than just one Link and Zelda, and that Ganon is the reason for all
the darkness. It also introduced us to the dual world concept. The dark and the light.
This has been a theme that Nintendo has held onto over the years. A Link to the past was
my first Zelda game, and as such, it holds a very special place in my heart. After A Link to the Past, Nintendo decided
to bring a Zelda title to their handheld gaming system, the Game Boy. Link’s awakening was
released in 1993 and had a big impact on the sale of the System. Taking a step backwards
graphically was difficult for people who just wanted a Link to the Past Sequel, but remember?
That’s not how Nintendo works. Link’s awakening sold 3.8 million copies and was
loved by fans, even if they may have had a harder time appreciating the monochromatic
visuals of the Game Boy. Just as 4 years had passed between The Adventures
of Link and A Link to the Past, Nintendo was in no hurry to follow up Link’s Awakening
with a new title. 5 years passed before the release of the next big Zelda game, the one
that would change everything. Ocarina of Time was released on the Nintendo
64 in 1998. It had been in development for a long time and was initially going to be
available only for the N64 Disk Drive. After realising that the Disk Add-on wasn’t going
to catch on, they decided to port the game to a cartridge. A decision to make the game
first-person was altered in order to differentiate between Link’s child and adult states. Upon
release, the game completely sold out, winning awards and being hailed as the greatest video
game of all time; a title many still assign to it today. Taking an already popular franchise
and making it even bigger is something that very few companies are able to pull off. It
takes time and a deep focus on innovation. I fell in love with Zelda through a Link to
the past, but Ocarina of Time is where the true potential of this type of game started
to be realized. The immersion I experienced in Ocarina of Time was unreal, and something
I have rarely known since. The game sold more than 7 and a half million copies on the N64,
making it the highest selling Zelda game at the time and taking the series to new heights
as it transitioned from 2D to 3D. The implementation of lock-on targeting is something we take
for granted today, but was a key innovation that directly lead to the success of Zelda
and many other games that came after it. After Ocarina of Time came out, Nintendo did
something unique. Something they hadn’t done before. They reused the assets of their
previous game and made a brand new one in a similar style. Except, and only Nintendo
can do this… it was, somehow, completely different. Majora’s Mask is as strange a
sequel to Ocarina of time as The Adventures of Link was to the first Legend of Zelda.
It relied on a 3 day system that had to be repeated over and over in order for Link to
progress. The game has a creepy Alice in wonderland vibe to it, and as vague an ending as Link’s
Awakening. It’s tough to describe the game, but as a Legend of Zelda without Zelda, it’s
definitely an outlier in the series. Upon release, it sold less than half of what Ocarina
of time did, but considering the reuse of assets, engine and other mechanics, it was
still considered a great success for Nintendo. This is often listed as one of the better
Zelda games, but fans wanting a Zelda with a new look and updated visuals would have
to wait until the Gamecube came out, and many of them didn’t like where that lead them
either. But before we move on to the next big console game, there are a few handheld
games that came out in a short span. First of all We have oracle of seasons and
oracle of ages. There was supposed to be a third game as well, and all three games were
to be assigned to a part of the triforce, but it became difficult to connect all three
games. When a player finished one game, they were given a code that they could use in order
to to have a different experience in the other game. Adding a 3rd one to the mix would have
complicated things too much, and only 2 games were made in the end. The games were well
received and combined to sell almost 4 million copies. After that we got 4 Swords packaged
with a rerelease of A Link to the Past. 4 Swords brought multiplayer co-op to the legend
of Zelda. People loved it and it helped to show some of the capabilities of the Game
Boy Advance, and being able to play A Link to the Past on a Game Boy was appealing to
lots of people. But the next console game Nintendo had in
mind would challenge many fans of the series. In 2000 Nintendo showed a tech demo that included
Link and Ganondorf fighting in what resembled a more realistic setting. Many people felt
that this would be what the next Zelda title would look like, and there was no shortage
of excitement for what Nintendo might have in store. Wind Waker was unveiled the next
year to… less than thunderous applause. It almost looked like a joke. Link was finally
back in near chibi form in an attempt by Nintendo to rope in more casual fans. The result was
that many just stopped playing. Wind Waker, as a brand new Zelda on brand new hardware,
did not sell quite as well as Nintendo had hoped. In an attempt to bring in more fans,
Nintendo ultimately lost many. Which is a shame, because this is one of the best games
of all time, and personally, my favorite Zelda. I’ll admit, I also had a hard time getting
past the presentation of Wind Waker at first, especially after seeing that tech demo a couple
years earlier. But there is incredible substance to this game. The vast oceans and overall
scale of the world was flooring. Considering the sales of the Gamecube were low, Wind Waker
actually sold quite well in the end. Nintendo had a knee jerk reaction to their
fans that resulted in some pretty realistic imagery, but not before making another handheld
game. Minish Cap came out for the Game Boy Advance in 2004 and sold 1.4 million units,
making it one of the lowest selling games in the Zelda series. This was seen as a trend
from the fan fallout after Wind Waker, and Nintendo had something special being prepared
to help revitalize the franchise. After another 4 years without a console Zelda
game, Nintendo was again ready to release the game Zelda fans had been waiting for,
hoping to win back fans of Ocarina of Time who never played, or plain didn’t like Wind
Waker. Twilight Princess was released for the Wii and Gamecube in 2006 and went on to
become the highest selling Zelda game to date. The feeling of this game was more dark, more
creepy, and more realistic in many ways. According to the sales data, this appears to be exactly
what fans were waiting for. According to Nintendo? Well, to this day, Twilight Princess remains
as the darkest and most visually realistic game in the series. Nintendo decided that,
while Twilight Princess sold well and all, they didn’t want Zelda to become a super
realistic game series (probably in part because Nintendo’s hardware hasn’t been able to
compete in that regard since the Gamecube.) Twilight Princess was an amazing game that
managed to kept the fun familiarity of a Zelda game while engaging in a more dark and dreary
tone. People loved it, and in no time at all Zelda was back on track. For a little while,
at least… Nintendo continued to differentiated between
their handheld games and their console games by using the Wind Waker graphics on the DS.
Wind Waker link has bigger eyes and is better proportioned for a lower resolution, smaller
screen game. Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks both came out for the DS before the
next console Zelda game would be made. They each did very well, with Phantom Hourglass
passing 5 million copies sold, making it the 4th highest selling Zelda game of all time.
Like Majora’s Mask, Spirit Tracks used assets from Phantom Hourglass to make a similar yet
distinct sequel. This enabled them to have the next game out within just 2 years, as
opposed to the usual development cycle. Spirit Tracks also gave Zelda a more engaging role,
where she can actively work with Link to defeat the enemy, as opposed to simply being a captured
princess. Now we come to Skyward Sword, we saw Nintendo
do more unexpected things again. First off, the art style was a mix between Wind Waker
and Twilight Princess. Instead of a Chibi Link, we got a well proportioned character,
but everything looked quite unreal. Some of that was due to their decision to deal with
draw distance by making everything in the distance look like a Cezanne painting. This
was a very creative move, but came about as a way to deal with the Wii’s graphical limitations.
The story was more of a focus for this game, which lead to some pretty linear gameplay.
I think the story of Skyward Sword is great, and was well delivered. But here is where
we get to talk about something else that I haven’t talked much about from the other
games. The controls. Zelda games are well known for being incredibly well polished,
especially for their time. Nintendo pays great attention to ensuring the controls for their
games are as good as they can be, but the Zelda series specifically is on a whole nother
level. Playing these games makes most others feel like unfinished piles of bullocks. Nintendo
tried something new with Twilight Princess for the Wii by enabling the sword controls
to be activated by swinging the Wii remote. This was fun, even though I didn’t always
feel up to swinging my arms when playing games late at night. But with Skyward Sword we got
motion controls in an even greater dose. It was the very center of this entire game. If
you weren’t a fan of motion controls, you probably hated it. I feel like they were implemented
very well, for what it’s worth, though my ultimate opinion is that they shouldn’t
have been implemented at all. As motion controlled games go, Skyward Sword is among the best.
But I could never get past how stupid it made Link look when he was constantly running around
holding his sword in front of himself. The big advancement that came from Skyward Sword
came in the form of its story. A Link Between Worlds came as a surprise to
many, as it’s the first game to revisit a much older one in the franchise. It takes
place in the Hyrule of A Link to the Past, but included the ability for Link to move
around as a wall painting. The game was a successful revisiting of the world from an
former game, fingers crossed they attempt to do more of this! It sold over 3 million
copies and lead right up to the next Zelda game… Oh, no. Not that one. Can we not talk about
this one? Can we just skip it? Perfect! And at last we come to Breath of the Wild.
Once again, Nintendo showed off a Wii U tech demo that involved a very real looking Link
that many felt would resemble the next Zelda game. I think at this point we all now know
not to assume that anymore. This game seems to have combined the aesthetic from Skyward
Sword and Twilight Princess, though it is clearly meant to imitate Japanese Anime from
the likes of Hayao Miyazaki. Motion controls are gone (cheers), except for when aiming
a bow and arrow (more cheers, ‘which is perfect’). Admittedly, I have only played
about 20 minutes of Breath of the Wild at E3, but at the very least, it is a game I
have played. The controls are perfect, the environment is breathtaking and the story
seems to play an important role in this awesome new adventure. Many say that Zelda is taking a page out of
The Elder Scroll’s book; and that may be true to an extent. But the fact is, Zelda
started out as a vast open world game well before the first Elder Scrolls game. Breath
of the Wild is more Zelda going back to its roots than it is anything else. The series
has come full circle. From the figure it out yourself mentality to incessant hand-holding,
we’ve finally returned back to where we started. This was an unexpected move from
Nintendo. Music seems to be minimal, the world is sparse, Link can wear whatever clothes
he wishes, we now have voice acting, our former hand-holding system of linearity is only a
shadow of what it used to be; Nintendo is innovating. Things that have been in Zelda
for decades aren’t making an appearance this game, and other things that haven’t
been in Zelda for decades are coming back. Things are changing, and what this change
will bring has me beyond excited. And there you have it! An incomplete history
of The Legend of Zelda Series! There’s a lot to go over, and I could talk for days
about each one of these entries, but for expediency, I skipped over Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland (despite
its invaluable contributions to Zelda lore). The fact is, there are a lot of Zelda games,
and it’s uncommon for one not to be extremely good. This series has meant so much to me,
and I owe much of what I’ve become in life to Miyamoto-san. The Legend of Zelda has a
remarkable history, and here’s to hoping it continues that way for a long, long time.

25 thoughts on “The History of The Legend of Zelda – From the Beginning to Breath of the Wild”

  1. Which Legend of Zelda game is your favorite? My personal favorite is Wind Waker, though Breath of the Wild is looking to challenge that..

  2. Minish Cap really does seem to be underappreciated. it is a fantastic game and is not just one of my favourite Zelda games but of all games. I wish the Minish would make an appearance in the next zelda

  3. Wind Waker is probably my favorite because it's very nostalgia for me since it was my first Zelda game.
    Though after seeing Breath of the Wild…I have to say it might be the best Zelda game out there.

  4. A lot of fans call the Wind Waker their favorite, and while I do love the game and all, I believe it is far more flawed than many fans give it credit for. My favorite Zelda game is a Link to the Past and my favorite 3D ones are Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time, and considering that I played all 3 of them in similar time periods, what the Wind Waker was lacking really stood out.

    The dungeons are a big part, I loved OoT and TP's dungeons, but the Wind Waker had some really weak one. There are good ones, but the others are either very boring or just a bit tedious. Tedious is one thing that really gets me with the Wind Waker. Going from point A to B was simply a chore. In OoT, the locations where closely packed together, and you also had Epona by the second half. In TP the field was bigger, but you still had Epona and more visual interesting areas. In the Wind Waker, you had to travel across that big blue ocean. Not only is the ocean not a very interesting thing to look at, but it took so long and was so boring. You can set the controller down and use the bathroom in the time it would take. This especially became a problem in the second half of the game, even though the Ballad of the Windfish took away some of the pain.

    Speaking of the second half, the damn Triforce Quest is the bane of my existence. I hate the Tear hunt in Twilight Princess, but that Triforce Quest is far more tedious than that tear hunt can ever be, not to mention that it takes up most of the game's second half. What kind of "professional" thought it would be a good idea to make us pay 201 rupees for 1 chart, to then have to find 8 other charts scattered across the map which can also be cryptic to find(how the hell am I supposed to know that I needed to collect those Joy Pendants, which I need to give 21 of to the teacher on Windfall, who is then supposed to give me what I need to enter the Cabana to then get the chart), to then pay some green asshole 398 rupees for each chart, making this the only Zelda game where a wallet upgrade is needed to complete it, so I can THEN COLLECT THE PIECES of the Triforce of Courage so I can then finish the game.

    That is really where the sailing started get to me, the developers could not make it more clear that this was a rushed game.

    And I still love the Wind Waker and I can understand why others do to, but considering all I had to do to finish it, it not only greatly discourages me to attempt to finish it again, but it makes it the weakest 3D Zelda to me, out of the ones I've played.

  5. Funnily enough, I consider Tri-Force Heroes to be the best Zelda multiplayer experience. Sure, the story is crap and the outfits are gimmicky, but I loved playing though it with my brothers, and I hope they revisit the idea again and perfect it. 2 players on the switch or 4 players with two switches would be a hilarious experience, made even better if you have 4 players on a tv.

  6. Great content, thanks for your unbiased , comprehensive take on the series. I was born well before the first Zelda was released , but for one reason or another never really appreciated the series. Out of all the Zelda games, I have only completed a link to the past(which I still enjoy to this day). But I've only recently started to revisit some of which I've missed out on. ( Windwaker, and Orcarina).

  7. It makes me mad you don't have more views and subs brother. I love your videos. Would love to chill with you an play all these games you review

  8. Even though I already know most of this, the production quality and writing of your videos is so high I just had to watch it.

  9. I was really hoping you'd chronicle the history of Zelda chronologically. As in, where does BotW fit into the overall story. A list of all the games as they were released chronologically is…fair enough but not what I was hoping for.

  10. Is it strange that I've never played a Zelda game in my life, and my friend just gave me Spirit Tracks for the DS and I'm going to be playing it either tonight or tomorrow

  11. I'm pretty new to this…well whole thing, but I played Breath of the Wild, so I don't really get…anything. Like, what's wrong with Triforce heroes, or whatever its called, or why the web says Link is rarely the same Link (WAT?) or how Zelda was a ghost, goddess or whatever. Can someone help my brain to understand, please?

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