Many people credit Mario and Luigi for Nintendo’s success, but true gamers will know that a certain pointy-eared Hyrulian hero has played a huge part, too. The Legend of Zelda is a fantasy action-adventure franchise that is not just one of Nintendo’s most prominent and successful series, but is regarded by gaming critics as one of the greatest video game series of all time. Let’s take a look back at its illustrious history and some of its best titles.
We were first introduced to Link in 1986 on the Famicom Disk System in Japan, which was followed by a release on the NES in 1987 in America and Europe. It sold 6.5 million copies and became the third bestselling title on the NES, behind Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt.
The story followed Link on his quest to save Princess Zelda from the evil Ganon. The game was played from a top-down perspective, and was the first of its kind to implement a save system, allowing players to explore all parts of Hyrule without having to start from the beginning each time they played.
There wasn’t much direction in The Legend of Zelda. A player was simply given a sword by an old man at the start of the game, who said, “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.”.
A Link to the Past (1991)
The release of the Super Famicom and the Super NES consoles marked Link’s return with cooler graphics and new adventures. A Link to the Past was released in 1991 and it sold 4.6 million copies. It was the only Zelda release for the SNES system, reinforcing the idea of quality over quantity for this series to gamers. The game had more storytelling and interactions with non-playable characters, allowing players to experience more of Hyrule. Many older gamers have said A Link to the Past is their favourite Zelda game.
Ocarina of Time (1998)
This was the one game that changed everything for the series, and it is the most recognised Zelda release of all time. The game was released on the Nintendo 64 in 1998, and it sold out as soon as it hit the shelves. It sold 7.5 million copies.
The N64 was a huge step up in the world of gaming, allowing games to be rendered in 3D which meant they felt more immersive than the older, 2D games. Players were encouraged to wander around freely, and to pick up (or skip) missions as and when they pleased. This paved the way for what became known as the open world game genre, which is now one of the most popular genres. The amount of awards and praise Ocarina of Time won is unreal, arguably making it the greatest video game of all time.
A new Nintendo console release generally means a new Zelda game – and the Nintendo GameCube was no different. The Wind Waker was released in 2002, and introduced the world to Toon Link – a more cartoonlike version of the Zelda protagonist.
Nintendo’s attempt to attract a new, younger fan base upset many Zelda purists at first, who had expected a more realistic-looking game (which they got in 2005 in Twilight Princess), and sales of the game suffered as a result. However, the game’s reputation improved over time, resulting in two direct sequels made in the same art style.
Last (but not least), we have the most recent Zelda game – Breath of the Wild, which launched for the Nintendo Switch in 2017. It has sold a whopping 11.6 million copies on both the Nintendo Switch and the Wii U. Everything in this game is near perfect, with great controls, detailed storylines and characters, a world-class physics engine, and high-definition visuals. Breath of the Wild brings together the best of The Legend of Zelda series, and lets the player truly explore an on-screen world however they like, with minimal guidance.
There are many more Zelda titles that are worth mentioning like Majora’s Mask (2000), Phantom Hourglass (2007), and Skyward Sword (2011). However, the five we’ve picked clearly show how Zelda has evolved to become one of the best long-standing game series of all time – not just as a staple at Nintendo, but in the hearts of all gamers.