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A quick history of Legend of Zelda

August 3, 2010

If you haven’t played a Legend of Zelda game before, you’re deprived.  But you might also want to know what you’re missing out on, so here’s my attempt to fill you in.

Legend of Zelda is arguably Nintendo’s second-biggest series, behind Mario.  They’re adventure games (or maybe action RPGs depending on who you ask) in which the main character, Link, sets out on a journey in order to save whichever world he’s currently in.  Typical game flow involves exploring the area around you until finding a dungeon or temple, which will generally have some new weapon or item Link can use and end with a boss fight, who will drop a heart container (which extends your maximum life) and some other plot significant artifact.  Link fights using a sword and shield, but many other items can be equipped on the side, frequently including a bow and arrow, boomerang, bombs, a hookshot (think trigger activated grappling hook), some form of magic, and much more.

Our marathon will feature 14 games from the series, and here’s a brief description of them:

Legend of Zelda (NES)
The game that started it all. The evil beast Ganon, having one piece of the sacred wish-giving artifact, the Triforce, attempts to steal another one from princess Zelda, but anticipating this she splits it into multiple pieces, and it’s up to Link to rescue her, reassemble the broken Triforce piece, and confront Ganon. Compared to later games in the series, the game is much more open-ended, allowing a large majority of the game to be finished out of order. It also emphasizes exploration more, as many parts are only vaguely hinted at within the game. Link, Zelda, Ganon, the kingdom Hyrule, the Triforce, and many different items are all introduced, and stayed throughout most of the series from this point forward.

Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link (NES)
Some time after the original adventure, a mysterious sleeping spell is cast on Zelda, and Link sets out on a journey to reawaken her and prevent Ganon’s resurrection. This game completely shifts genres to a platforming/RPG hybrid, as the game takes place from a sidescrolling perspective, while Link can also learn magic spells within towns and improve his attack, magic, and defense capabilities through an experience point system. Not surprisingly, it’s considered a bit of a black sheep compared to the rest of the series, but certainly has its fans. Link being able to use magic is one gameplay aspect that carried over to later games.

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)
This game takes place some time before the previous two games, and explores Ganon’s backstory a little more, claiming he used to be a thief named Ganondorf who became too power hungry. This game is the first to use a parallel world, as the second half of the game takes place primarily in the Dark World, a twisted version of Hyrule that’s said to be the resting place of the Triforce. The game is much deeper in complexity than the previous two games, having many more locations and items than before (and, depending on your viewpoint, after).

Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (GB)
Link becomes shipwrecked on a faraway island, and seeks the aid of its guardian diety, the Wind Fish, in order to return home. The game manages to use several elements from all three of the previous games. It’s also the first game where Link can learn to play multiple songs on a musical instrument, each with different effects.

Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
This game fleshes out the backstory of Hyrule even further, managing to explain how Hyrule was created and introduces its many different races. While the first half of the game is fairly traditional – Link and Zelda work together to help make the world a little more peaceful – the second half takes place seven years later, when Ganondorf has conquered Hyrule already (though the option exists to return back to the previous era). This is the first 3D game in the series, and is generally considered one of the first to have a game world this immersive. Another recurring character, Epona the horse, makes her debut here. A full 10 years later, it’s still considered to be one of the greatest games ever made.

Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (N64)
Some time after Ocarina of Time, Link wanders into an alternate universe and tries to stop its moon from crashing into the world. The game, using almost the same engine from Ocarina of Time, features a constant 3 day time cycle that must be repeated, with only some aspects carrying over to the next cycle. It also features a large number of collectible masks, many of which have special effects. In particular, three of them allow Link to transform races into the treelike Deku, the hulking Goron, or the aquatic Zora. Another recurring character first appears here – Tingle, a man who thinks he’s a fairy (and a character we all love to hate).

Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons (GBC)
These two games, released at the same time for the same system using the same engine (which in turn is heavily based on Link’s Awakening), are linked together in an unusual way that manages to make one game the sequel to the other and pass along some items and information. Both games feature Link in a different world stopping a different villain. Oracle of Ages has a past and present version of its world, and is generally has more emphasis on puzzles than Oracle of Seasons, which is more action-based and has a theme based around the changing of seasons. Both games also feature a ring system, where Link can find and equip these to provide some special effects.

Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker (GC)
Link goes out to save his sister Arryll from a mysterious villain, eventually joining forces with pirate captain Tetra. The world of Hyrule has been flooded and reduced to a large sea with several islands, with an emphasis on sailing and exploring a generally uncharted world. The game is also known for its visual style, throwing out realistic graphics in favor of looking more like a cartoon. Link’s physical abilities are more varied in this game as well, providing him with the ability to counter and parry many different attacks and the ability to pick up weapons dropped by enemies.

Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (GC)
Link has claimed the Four Sword, which splits him into four separate selves, in order to save the day this time. This game returns to the 2D overhead perspective of before, but its biggest draw is that it’s a multiplayer Zelda game, where up to four players can assist each other (with some friendly rivalry) to defeat enemies. It also has a more linear structure, with the game being split into sequential stages, giving the game a more arcade-like feel.

Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap (GBA)
This game goes deeper into the backstory of the Four Sword and its resident villain, Vaati, who has started abducting random girls around Hyrule. The Minish Cap itself is a cap that shrinks its wearer to the size of the rodentlike Minish race, a theme used throughout the game to explore many areas Link would otherwise be unable to reach. Beyond this, it manages to provide a great selection of the favorite features of both the 2D and 3D games to this point.

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (WII or GC)
Link sets out to explore a mysterious other realm, the Twilight realm, from engulfing the rest of Hyrule. While in this other realm, Link takes the form of a wolf (which is faster and can sense different things than his natural form) and assists one of its residents, Midna, with helping to restore order to it. While the game was originally planned for the Gamecube, it also became a launch title for the Wii, where it used motion control and pointing to the fullest extent it could, and serves as a textbook example on how to effectively use the Wii’s capabilities.

Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)
Continuing on from Wind Waker, Link sets out to save Tetra from a mysterious ghost ship that abducts its victims. In order to explore further, Link will need to explore previously uncharted seas and go progressively further into the Temple of the Ocean King, a large temple that effectively puts a time limit on how long the player can spend in there. This game is for the DS and uses one screen for the main game and another for the map (which can be marked for notes). It’s entirely stylus controlled (menu access aside), but manages to include many other functions of the DS without coming off as overly gimmicky.

Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (DS)
Continuing even further after Phantom Hourglass, Link’s quest this time is to rejoin Zelda’s body and spirit, having become separated as to provide a vessel for an evil being. The game engine is largely copied from Phantom Hourglass, but tries to improve on the details. Rather than taking place on the seas and using boats to get around, Link operates a train to move between locations, with railways slowly being restored between lands. There is also a recurring dungeon here, the Spirit Temple, where Zelda’s spirit can inhabit phantoms, allowing her to directly assist Link in reaching new locations.

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