A brief history of The Legend of Zelda

Fourscore and loads of years ago, when many of us were but an aroused twinkle in our parents’ eyes, a certain legend was born. Yup, that’s right, 25 years to this very day, Link and The Legend of Zelda were shoved into the ports of our Famicon Disk Systems. Recently, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata has discussed the possibility of releasing a special 25th anniversary collector’s compilation, similar to what was done with Super Mario All Stars last year. While you probably shouldn’t stave off oxygen waiting for that, you’re more than free to accompany us down Recollection Alley, as we look back at a quarter of a century of incredible Zelda games.

The Legend of Zelda (Famicom Disk System, 1986)

Once upon a time when Sigourney Weaver was busy fighting extraterrestrials with severe saliva problems and Betamax tapes were all the rage, Nintendo released its legend. The fugly-ass pixels above may not look like much now, but all the seeds for the dynasty were planted here. Searching for pieces of the fragmented Triforce. Protecting Hyrule from the malevolent Ganondorf. Saving some chick whose name has temporarily abandoned us. It all started here for our beloved tunic-sporting elf boy.

The Adventure of Link (NES, 1988)

Like that weird third cousin your family never talks about, who survives on fish heads while living in an attic, this black sheep of the Zelda herd is rarely discussed in polite company. Unlike its predecessor, and almost every sequel that would follow it, The Adventure of Link mainly focused on side-scrolling levels, rather than traditional open-ended exploration. It’s best just to shove another half-eaten rainbow trout in this one’s mouth and move swiftly along. 

A Link to the Past (SNES, 1991)

One of the high points of the series, even by Zelda’s stupidly lofty standards. Returning to the formula established by the original, the game sees Link putting a 16-bit smackdown on Ganon’s nefarious plans. Designed, directed and written by Miyamoto himself, it’s the title that really put Link’s green PJs on the global map.

Link's Awakening (Game Boy, 1993)

Originally intended to be a handheld spin-off of A link to the Past, what started as an after hours project for a small band of Nintendo staff quickly grew into a new, bespoke project for Game Boy. The first portable title in the series, it is one of the few Zelda games that isn’t set in Hyrule. Hell, it only contains a passing mention of our favourite dainty royalty, too. Instead, the game takes place on Koholint Island. The loss of beloved characters might have stung, but at least Nintendo provided ointment in the form of cameos from Yoshi and Kirby. Oh, and 18 year-old spoiler alert! The whole thing is a dream.

Ocarina of Time (N64, 1998)

Often heralded as the Greatest Game of All Time TM, Ocarina brought Link and co. screaming into the 3D era. With Hyrule now a stunning open world you could explore on your awesome equine Epona, gamers everywhere were left awestruck by the sheer breadth and ambition of the N64 classic. Honestly, if fighting huge spider beastie Gohma wasn’t enough to make your late 90s eye holes weep with excitement, you were clearly deader than deep-fried dodo.

Majora's Mask (N64, 2000)

Perhaps the darkest game in the series, the follow up to Ocarina transported Link to the parallel world of Termina. The twisted adventure was basically Nintendo’s answer to Groundhog Day. Just replace jokes about Bill Murray offing himself with a 72 hour time loop and a seriously pissed off moon that’s going to destroy the world if Link doesn’t keep rewinding time. The ability to transform Link into a Deku Shrub, Goron or Zora was just the delicious blocky polygonal icing on the cake.

Oracle of Ages/Oracle of Seasons (GBC, 2001)

May Jeebus look down on and bless Nintendo, because it’s always willing to try inventive stuff, whether it fully comes off or not. Take these two GBC gems. Essentially damn near identical experiences, the two versions could interact with each other with the use of in-game passwords or the Game Boy Link Cable. At first, the Shigger intended the titles to appear as a brand new trilogy. But this idea was eventually scrapped when the proposed password system that was going to link the titles proved too tricksy.

A Link to the Past & Four Swords (GBA, 2002)

The GBA version of the SNES classic contained an entirely new multiplayer combining four annoyingly adorable Links. This new mode would go onto inspire the co-op-focused Four Swords Adventures on Gamecube.


  • Marcus20 - March 9, 2011 6:17 a.m.

    Greatest hero of all time!
  • VicariousPedro - February 23, 2011 11:04 p.m.

    Dave (the author), Ignoring what I thought of the article itself, I just felt the need to touch on these: Oracle of Ages/Oracle of Seasons - "May Jeebus look down on and bless Nintendo, because it’s always willing to try inventive stuff, whether it fully comes off or not." The Minish Cap - "We don’t know what the folk at Ninty were huffin’ back in 2004, but clearly whatever it was convinced them Link’s latest adventure should involve our hero being shrunk to tiny proportions by a sentient hat called Ezlo." Capcom. A handful of the titles on your list (including those mentioned above) were created (or recreated) by Capcom. Hopefully that explains the crazy ideas and why these games stand out as being a bit different. I'm not bothered by a lack of research... I'm bothered by a lack of knowledge. It's fine of course to not know much about the Zelda series (hell, you called Link an elf when describing the original), but surely GR can find SOMEONE among the staff who is knowledgeable about one of the most popular series in gaming.
  • dalef11 - February 23, 2011 10:17 a.m.

    just gonna say it, go back a page and right click the article and go to 'open link' just to be faithful :D
  • Pruman - February 22, 2011 10:53 p.m.

    @erreip199 and HankVenture: I unapologetically love Zelda 2 (and Wind Waker!). It holds a special source of pride for me because my six-year old self persevered and finished it long after my dad had given up. As long as you don't have the NMA-Fallout attitude and keep an open mind, it's a lot of fun. Also, I know I'll get flamed for this, but I think Ocarina is overrated. Is it a great game? Absolutely...but only because it follows the template set by Link to the Past. Ocarina just kind of grinds to a halt after you get the Master Sword. All of the fun, interesting stuff in that game is in the front half, and the whole fix-the-future-by-changing-the-past thing had been done already (and better) by Chrono Trigger. Heck, the Water Temple alone should be enough to knock it off of its pedestal. I do love Twilight Princess, however, which is surprising because it's practically a remake of OOT. Finally, as these guys mentioned, Link to the Past doesn't look like vomit when you fire it up today.
  • zanthox - February 22, 2011 6:26 p.m.

    *beat Twilight Princess a second time on the 25th anniversary.*
  • EvilChicken - February 22, 2011 5:30 p.m.

    Zelda, the only reason I want a Wii (well a few other games, but Zelda being the main one) Don't care what anyone says, Zelda is amazing
  • MikeT - February 22, 2011 5:02 p.m.

    Great article, the writing is very fluent and somewhat humorous. Oh yeah, Zelda games rule!!
  • KnightDehumidifier - February 22, 2011 4:01 p.m.

    It would all lead up to Link's greatest most beloved adventure, playing the role of Horsemen of the Apocalypse War in the game Darksiders.
  • philipshaw - February 22, 2011 1:13 p.m.

    I love these games and wind waker is still the best for me, fanboys can shut up about Ocarina Of Time. It was amazing at the time but it hasn't aged as well as wind waker imo
  • KidKatana - February 22, 2011 9:41 a.m.

    @ averagegamer Yes! Nobody has enough love for Majora's Mask, it's my favourite! But then it did have a tough act to follow. Looking forward to Skyward Sword... Oh and Meiks, I'm really gonna miss your awesome articles - but not your homonym-confusing ways. Descent = going down something Dissent = disagreeing with something
  • AuthorityFigure - February 22, 2011 8:55 a.m.

    In a Link to the Past, you don't travel to the past at all. This is a glaringly bad error. It's named that way because it is a prequel. The light/dark worlds are parallel. I'm not even a mad Zelda fan and I know this. Can't believe everyone just read past that.
  • Averagegamer18 - February 22, 2011 8:09 a.m.

    :) Zelda is my absolute favorite game and series ever. There isn't any game I love more than The Legend of Zelda. My favorite is Majora's Mask especially Ikana Castle; the music is awesome there; I don't like fighting the king too much *still spooks me lol* but the music is wicked; and no matter how many times I play through the game the Stone Temple gives me the hardest time; I could go on and on about this game
  • Spybreak8 - February 22, 2011 5:47 a.m.

    Man I was 100% positive that Brett wrote this article, color me surprised. lol
  • Ariaka - February 22, 2011 5:47 a.m.

    Zelda fan forever. Happy birthday, and thank you XD
  • BaraChat - February 22, 2011 5:09 a.m.

    The Legend of Zelda ruled my life from 4 to 20 years old (1991 to 2007, LoZ to TP). Skyward Sword will definitely extend that streak to 20 years.
  • GameManiac - February 22, 2011 4:02 a.m.

    Glad I began opening myself up to the series with the best: Ocarina of Time.
  • darkmagshin - February 22, 2011 3:48 a.m.

    "Just replace jokes about Bill Murray offing himself with a 36 hour time loop" "a 36 hour time loop" "36 hour" in majora's mask you had three days. 3 days = 72 hours. i haven't been to England in a while but i'm pretty sure that their hour isn't any longer than ours.
  • IRIsH - February 22, 2011 3:17 a.m.

    Love all the Zelda games and am I the only person who likes OoT's Water Temple?
  • keltar93 - February 22, 2011 3:16 a.m.

    I'm probably just weird, but Link's Awakening is my favorite
  • Dadyo238 - April 7, 2012 2:53 p.m.

    No, Link's Awakening was a masterpiece in my mind.

Showing 1-20 of 54 comments

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