The Legend of Zelda (Series)
The Legend of Zelda is a video game series that takes place in the fictional medieval-inspired Kingdom of Hyrule, often led by the titular Princess Zelda. The protagonist of the series is Link, a child or young man who is destined, in most of the games, to save Hyrule from the clutches of the evil warlock Ganondorf or his alter-ego, the dark beast Ganon. Some of the games feature additional protagonists such as Navi the fairy, Ezlo the talking cap, or Midna the Twili, who serve as sidekicks throughout the course of the game, or different antagonists, such as Vaati the Wind Mage, the General of Darkness General Onox, or the Usurper King Zant.
Overall, the franchise is highly successful and has sold over 100 million copies; more detailed information on the sales of the series can be found here.
The Beginning (1986-1993)
The Legend of Zelda
The first game, The Legend of Zelda, was first released in Japan in 1986, and in the United States and Europe in 1987. Though simple by today's standards, it was actually advanced for its time. Innovations include the ability to use dozens of different items, a vast world full of secrets to explore, and the cartridge's ability to save progress via battery-backed memory. The game also features a "Second Quest", accessible upon completing the game, where dungeons and the placement of items are different and enemies stronger. Besides the game's technical innovations, the gameplay (finding items and using them to solve puzzles, battling monsters in real-time, and exploring a vast environment) was a successful formula and became widely copied. The game was wildly popular in Japan and North America, and many consider it one of the most important video games ever made. During the last years of the Famicom the game was re-released in cartridge format. A modified version known as BS The Legend of Zelda was released for the Super Famicom's satellite-based peripheral, the Satellaview, in the mid-1990s in Japan. BS Zelda was re-released for the Satellaview a year later with re-arranged dungeons and a re-arranged overworld (more or less a "Second Quest"). This re-release was dubbed BS Zelda ~MAP 2~.
The Adventure of Link
The second game, known as Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was released in July 1988, and was a departure from the concept of the first game. It exchanged the top-down perspective for side-scrolling and introduced RPG elements (e.g., experience points) not found in other Zelda installments. It is also the only Zelda title until Four Swords Adventures in which Link does not collect Rupees. Because of these fundamental changes, many consider it the "black sheep" of the series. Both this and its predecessor were notable for their gold-colored game cartridges, which stood out amongst the system's usual gray cartridges. This is an irony as both games were later re-released in the final years of the Nintendo Entertainment System with normal gray cartridges that happen to be harder to find than their gold-colored counterparts.
A Link to the Past
Four years later, A Link to the Past, returned to the top-down view (under a 3/4 perspective) and added the concept of an alternate dimension to explore, a land known as the Dark World. The game was released for the Super NES in 1991. It was later re-released for the Game Boy Advance on December 9, 2002 in North America, on a cartridge with Four Swords, the first multiplayer Zelda, and then on the Wii's Virtual Console on January 22, 2007. In addition, both this game (unchanged except for being converted into a downloadable format) and an exclusive "loosely based" sequel (which used the same game engine) called BS The Legend of Zelda: Ancient Stone Tablets were released on the Satellaview in Japan. On April 17, 2013, a sequel to A Link To The Past was announced for the Nintendo 3DS. It featured the same Hyrule layout as A Link to the Past with new dungeons as well as a new ability for Link to be turned into a wall drawing, which can be used to go through walls and access different areas. The original SNES version is notable for introducing the Master Sword, a highly important weapon for the rest of the series, and is a cult classic among fans.
The next game, Link's Awakening, was the first Zelda for Nintendo's Game Boy handheld on June 6, 1993 and is the first to take place outside of Hyrule. It was re-released for the Game Boy Color in 1998 as Link's Awakening DX with some additional features, including an extra color-based dungeon and a photo shop that allowed interaction with the Game Boy Printer.
The 3D Era (1998-2002)
Ocarina of Time
After another hiatus, the series made the transition to 3D with the installment Ocarina of Time which was released in November 1998 in Japan and the US and December 1998 in Europe. This game, initially known as Zelda 64, retained the core gameplay of the previous 2D games and became one of the most successful games of all time in both commercial and critical terms. It is widely considered by some to be the best video game ever created, and scored perfect scores in several video game publications, including the first 40/40 score in Famitsu (a prestigious Japanese gaming magazine). In 2006 it was ranked by Nintendo Power as the best game to ever appear on a Nintendo console. The title was originally slated for the ill-fated, Japanese-only Nintendo 64DD, but was ported to a cartridge when the hardware was delayed. Innovations include the use of lock-on targeting, a new gameplay mechanic that focuses the camera on a nearby target and alters the player's actions to be relative to that target. Such mechanics allow precision-based swordfighting in a 3D space and were a revolutionary development at the time. Like its NES predecessors, Ocarina of Time was notable for being released on a limited Collector's Edition gold cartridge (available mainly to those who pre-ordered the game) as well as a more traditional gray cartridge.
Ocarina of Time was re-released on the GameCube in 2002 when it was offered as a pre-order incentive for The Wind Waker in the US and Japan. Europe continues to receive it free in every copy of The Wind Waker, except for the discounted Player's Choice version. It included a previously unreleased 64DD expansion known as Ura Zelda in Japan and Master Quest in North America, however the original Ura Zelda planned for the 64DD at the time was to enhance Ocarina of Time in most aspects, instead of being a dungeon remix, which Master Quest is. Ocarina of Time was included as part of Collector's Edition for the GameCube in 2003.
The follow-up title, Majora's Mask which was released in November 2000, used the same 3D game engine as the previous Nintendo 64 game (dropping the fixed 3D elements), but added a unique novel time-based concept, leading to, although very successful, somewhat mixed reactions from series fans. It was originally called Zelda Gaiden, a Japanese title loosely translating to Zelda, Another Story. Gameplay, though very similar to the previous game, had changed significantly; in addition to a form of time limit, Link could use masks to transform into different creatures with unique skills. While Majora's Mask retained the graphical style of the landmark Ocarina of Time, it was also a departure, particularly in atmosphere. The game is much darker, dealing with death and tragedy in a manner not previously seen in the series, and has a sense of impending doom as a large moon slowly descends upon the land of Termina. All copies of Majora's Mask are gold cartridges, instead of a limited Collector's Edition lenticular cartridge label was offered as the pre-order incentive. Copies of the game that weren't actual Collector's Editions featured the traditional sticker cartridge label rather than a holographic one.
Oracle of Ages & Oracle of Seasons
The next two games, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, were released simultaneously for the Game Boy Color, and interact using passwords or a Game Link Cable. After one game has been completed, the player is given a password that allows the other game to be played as a sequel. They were developed by Capcom in conjunction with Nintendo, with supervision from Miyamoto. After the team experimented with porting the original The Legend of Zelda to the Game Boy Color, they decided to make an original trilogy to be called the "Triforce Series". When the password system linking the three games proved too troublesome, the concept was reduced to two titles at Miyamoto's suggestion. These two titles became Oracle of Ages, which is more puzzle-based, and Oracle of Seasons, which is more action-oriented. The canceled third game was to be called The Legend of Zelda: Mystical Seed of Wisdom.
Four Swords sub-series (2002-2005)
In December 2002, A Link to the Past & Four Swords was released for the Game Boy Advance, comprising a modified port of A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and an original multiplayer-only game titled Four Swords—the first multiplayer Zelda game.
The Link and Princess Zelda featured in this game are childhood friends. This is also the first game in which Vaati and the Four Sword appear. As part of the 25th Anniversary of The Legend of Zelda series, Four Swords Anniversary Edition was briefly made available as a free download for both the Nintendo DSi and Nintendo 3DS. The game was a special edition of Four Swords now featuring a single player mode.
The Wind Waker
When Nintendo revealed the Nintendo GameCube on August 24, 2000, the day before Nintendo's SpaceWorld 2000 exposition, one software demonstration showed a realistically-styled real-time duel between Ganon and Link. Fans and the media speculated that the battle might be from a Zelda game under development. At Spaceworld 2001 Nintendo showed a cel-shaded Zelda title, later released in December 2002 as The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which Miyamoto felt would "extend Zelda's reach to all ages". The media reported that Zelda was shifting to a younger audience, to Miyamoto's surprise. Nothing further was shown until a playable demonstration was ready, which was well-received. The gameplay focused controlling wind with a magical baton called the "Wind Waker" and sailing a small boat around a massive, island-filled ocean. It was initially controversial among fans, but the game was still successful and is now beloved.
Four Swords Adventures
Next in the series came Four Swords Adventures for the GameCube, which was released in the first half of 2004 in Japan and America, and in January 2005 in Europe. Based on the handheld Four Swords, Four Swords Adventures was another deviation from previous Zelda gameplay, focusing on multiplayer gameplay and "level-based" action (like many Super Mario Bros. titles). The game contains 24 individual stages and a map screen; there is no connecting overworld. For the multiplayer features of the game, each player is required to use a Game Boy Advance system linked to the Nintendo GameCube via a GBA-GCN cable. Although it focuses on multiplayer, the game also features a single player campaign in which using a Game Boy Advance is optional.
Four Swords Adventures is really two games in one: Hyrulean Adventure (with a storyline and action somewhat similar to a traditional Zelda adventure) and Shadow Battle (a free-for-all melee "battle mode" which pits Links against each other as the players struggle for dominance in Hyrulean arenas). The Japanese and Korean versions include a third segment, known as Navi Trackers (originally designed as the stand-alone game Tetra's Trackers), which is not included in any other incarnation of the title. Navi Trackers contains an important first for Zelda, as the game has spoken dialogue for most of the characters.
The Minish Cap
In November 2004 in Japan and Europe, and in January 2005 in America, Nintendo released a new game for the Game Boy Advance, The Minish Cap. The central concept of The Minish Cap is Link's ability to shrink in size with the aid of a mystical sentient hat named Ezlo. While tiny, Link can see previously-explored parts of a dungeon from a new perspective, and enter new areas through otherwise impassable openings. Link is able to switch from big to small at special portals throughout the land, once again giving Link two "worlds" to play in. This game was also developed by Capcom under Nintendo's supervision.
The Next Generation (2006-2011)
In November 2006, Twilight Princess arrived as the first Zelda game on the Wii, although it was originally going to be a GameCube-only title. During the following month, December 2006, it was released on the Nintendo GameCube as well. The new game once again strives for a realistic look, improved even beyond the aforementioned SpaceWorld demo. Like, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess is set hundreds of years after the events of Ocarina of Time/Majora's Mask. This game chronicles the struggle of a more mature Link, the descendant of the Hero of Time, to rid Hyrule of the "Twilight Realm", a mysterious force plaguing the land. When Link enters this realm, he transforms into a wolf and the gameplay shifts radically. Twilight Princess also focuses more heavily on horseback transportation and mounted battle scenarios (including boss battles) than previous installments.
Zelda DS was once rumored to be a new Four Swords game, but Nintendo later retracted those statements. Instead, at the 2006 Game Developers Conference a trailer for Phantom Hourglass for the Nintendo DS was shown. The trailer revealed traditional top-down Zelda gameplay optimized for the DS’s features, a cel-shaded graphical style directly recalling The Wind Waker. At E³ 2006, Nintendo confirmed its status as a direct sequel to The Wind Waker. Released on June 23, 2007, Phantom Hourglass features unique new controls making use of the Nintendo DS hardware capabilities, and incorporates a 1-on-1 multiplayer battle mode, supporting play both locally and online through the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.
On March 25, 2009, a trailer for the next Nintendo DS Zelda title: Spirit Tracks, was revealed at GDC 2009. It is set in the new-found Hyrule, a century after the events of Phantom Hourglass. A new Link appears wearing a conductor's outfit and hat. Early on in the game, Link obtains the Hero's Clothes. Spirit Tracks features the same cel-shaded graphics style that was seen in Phantom Hourglass and The Wind Waker. Also, the game features many new songs, with a few select melodies returning from Phantom Hourglass. The game was released towards the end of December around the world, and features the train mechanic, which replaces the steamboat from Phantom Hourglass.
Skyward Sword is the 16th installment in The Legend of Zelda series. On June 2, 2009, IGN talked to Shigeru Miyamoto about the upcoming Zelda game for Wii. He made comments about the changes that the new motion plus would bring to the game, and said "Think of Zelda while you're trying some of the archery and sword play in Wii Sports Resort." At E3 2010, the game was finally unveiled. According to the details given, Link lives in a land known as Skyloft which floats high above Hyrule. He learns that Hyrule is in danger and travels to the ground to save the kingdom. Much of the gameplay focuses heavily on the use of the Wii Motion Plus, allowing the players to have a much greater level of control over Link. At E3 2011, much of the game was unraveled by Miyamoto and Aonuma, including a new flying mechanism in the game. As for characters, a villain under the name Ghirahim causes some controversy in Skyloft, which leads to the kidnapping of Link's friend, Zelda. The game was released on November 18, 2011 in Europe and November 20, 2011 in North America.
Rethinking the Conventions of Zelda (2013-present)
A Link Between Worlds
A Link Between Worlds for the 3DS is the 17th game in the series. It takes place in the same world as A Link to the Past and is a sequel to the much older SNES game. It takes place hundreds of years later, when forces from the parallel universe of Lorule invade Hyrule and turn its sages into paintings. The game is remarkable for its open-ended nature. Link can rent or buy key items from Ravio instead of finding them in dungeons, allowing him to complete dungeons in almost any order. Link can also turn into a painting to slip by obstacles or cross wide chasms. It features StreetPass support, allowing other players to enter the game as Shadow Links that Link can defeat for a large prize. The game was released on November 22, 2013 in North America and December 26 in Japan.
Tri Force Heroes
Tri Force Heroes for the 3DS is the 18th game in the series. It stars the same Link as its predecessor, A Link Between Worlds, who has fled Hyrule and disguised himself in order to avoid recognition. He stumbles across the land of Hytopia, whose princess was cursed to wear ugly clothing by a villainous witch. Link teams up with two similar heroes to journey through the Drablands and stop Lady Maud to free Princess Styla. The game uses an internet connection to allow three players to each control a Link, working together and communicating with icons. They can also stack on top of each other, an ability used throughout the game. The game is also fashion-based, with players being able to craft outfits with Madame Couture to gain special abilities.
Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild is the 19th game in the series. Link awakens from a deep, 100 year long sleep and is tasked with destroying Calamity Ganon before the world is destroyed. The game returns to the original The Legend of Zelda concept of a more open-world adventure, where Link is free to explore the world in any direction at any given moment. Major dungeons found in previous games have been replaced with four smaller Divine Beasts and numerous small Ancient Shrine scattered throughout the land. Several new elements were introduced as well, such as weapon durability, taming and registering wild horses, and abilities like Shield Surfing and Perfect Dodge and Guard. The game was released simultaneously for the Wii U and Nintendo Switch on March 3, 2017.
Tears of the Kingdom
Tears of the Kingdom for the Nintendo Switch is the 20th game in the series. Link and Zelda are investigating Beneath Hyrule Castle to find the source of the Gloom, but they accidentally awaken a mummified Ganondorf and the Gloom corrupts Link's arm as he and Zelda get separated. Link wakes up with a new arm that gives him several new abilities. The game has very similar game-play to Breath of the Wild, but has added features such as Sky islands and Zonai Devices. The game was released on May 12th, 2023.
Remakes and Remasters
Link's Awakening DX
A Link to the Past & Four Swords
Ocarina of Time 3D
Four Swords Anniversary Edition
Four Swords Anniversary Edition is an enhanced port of the GBA title Four Swords, released on DSiWare for the series' 25th anniversary in 2011, and again for Nintendo 3DS in 2014 after the release of A Link Between Worlds. The port features a new single player mode and adds two new stages: The Realm of Memories, which recreates areas from The Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past, and Link's Awakening, and the Hero's Trial, an area that remixes themes from each of the main stages of the game.
The Wind Waker HD
The Wind Waker HD is an enhanced remake of The Wind Waker, released for the Wii U in 2013. This version makes a few quality of life changes including the Swift Sail and a reworked Triforce Shard quest, as well as adding a Hero Mode and Miiverse integration with the Tingle Bottle, replacing the Tingle Tuner
Majora's Mask 3D
Twilight Princess HD
Link's Awakening for Nintendo Switch
Skyward Sword HD
Skyward Sword HD is the switch release of Skyward Sword. It features button-only controls, and the original motion controls; skippable cutscenes and dialog, and names on text boxes.
Link's Crossbow Training
Link's Crossbow Training became the first Wii exclusive title, released on November 19, 2007 in America. This game was bundled with the Wii Zapper instead of being sold as a typical release. The game reuses locales, enemies, and Link himself from Twilight Princess. This title has no overall plot, but includes two bosses near the end stages, Darknut and Stallord. Also unique to this title is the first-person shooter aspect; in place of the typical adventuring game play of the series. A multiplayer mode is offered, but even so, the gameplay remains played in single player phases. While using multiplayer, the Wii Zapper is passed from one player to the next in turns.
Hyrule Warriors is a 2014 Wii U game combining the action of the Dynasty Warriors series with elements of The Legend of Zelda. It was ported to the Nintendo 3DS in 2016 as Hyrule Warriors Legends, now including Tetra and the King of Hyrule as playable characters and new stages from The Wind Waker. Another port of the game was released for the Nintendo Switch on May 18, 2018 as Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, which combines content from both the original Hyrule Warriors and Hyrule Warriors Legends.
Cadence of Hyrule
Cadence of Hyrule is a 2019 Nintendo Switch game that combines the rhythm-based gameplay of Crypt of the NecroDancer with the world and characters of The Legend of Zelda. It features the character Cadence from Crypt of the Necrodancer, who is mysteriously thrust into the land of Hyrule. With the aid of Link and Zelda, Cadence attempts to stop Octavo's quest to take over Hyrule. Towards the end of the game, it is revealed that the true antagonist is Ganon, and Octavo was trying to stop him the whole time. On December 18, 2019, a free update was released for the game, called Octavo's Ode, which featured a new story mode revolving around Octavo and his quest. A Season Pass containing another three DLC packs and extra costumes for Link and Zelda was made available for purchase on July 20, 2020.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a 2020 Nintendo Switch game with the Dynasty Warriors gameplay of its predecessor set as an indirect prequel to Breath of the Wild. The story revolves around an alternate war set in motion when Terrako, a small Guardian, travels back in time seeking to change the cataclysmic outcome of the Great Calamity. Conversely, Astor, the Prophet of Doom, tries to stabilize events to ensure the return of Calamity Ganon. The game features local co-op multiplayer.
Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy RupeelandIn November 2006, Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland was released in Japan. One year later, it was released in an English European version. The story begins when Tingle, a middle-aged man, is offered a life in Rupeeland, a Rupee paradise, by a mysterious character known as Uncle Rupee. Uncle Rupee guides Tingle, who goes on many quests and ventures into several Dungeons to gather Rupees. Tingle is told that when he gathers enough rupees and throws them into a magic spring, a tower will shoot fourth and take him to Rupeeland. This game was developed by Vanpool using Nintendo's permission.
Tingle's Balloon Fight DS
Tingle's Balloon Fight DS is a game that was only made available to Club Nintendo members in Japan. It was released in 2007, supposedly as a sequel to Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland. It's very similar to the original Balloon Fight game for the NES, but it has several differences as well. It stars Tingle as the main character, and adds music from Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland. It also has 20 pieces of artwork which can be "unlocked" by completing various tasks. The game has three different modes of play. The first is similar to the original Balloon Fight, in which the player must advance through all 99 levels. The second is a multiplayer version of the first game type. The third mode is Balloon Trip, in which Tingle must advance from level to level while crossing to sea. He must dodge lightning bolts while collecting "gifts".
Ripened Tingle's Balloon Trip of LoveRipened Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love was released in Japan in August 2009, and was not released overseas. Similar to Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland, the game starts with an ordinary, 35-year-old man. While he watches a sales program on television, the man learns of a book that is deemed to make its readers popular amongst the ladies. He orders the book, but he gets sucked into the world of a picture book when he opens it and transforms into Tingle. He learns that the only way to get out of the book is to dance with the princess of this world, which is the main goal of the game. The game is a parody of the The Wizard of Oz, where Tingle meets three friends, Kakashi, the scarecrow, Buriki, the tin-woman, and Lion, the lion. Together, they follow the yellow-brick road, and advance from page to page. Unlike the previous installation of this series, this is a point-and-click game. This game was also developed by Vanpool using Nintendo's permission.
After aborting a partnership with Sony to make a CD add-on for the Super Nintendo, Nintendo signed a deal with Sony's rival Philips. After this deal also fell through, part of the compromise between Nintendo and Philips was allowing Philips to produce Zelda games for their CD-i console.
The Faces of Evil
The Wand of Gamelon
is the third in a series of Famicom Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks published on August 1, 1986 by Futabasha. Link and Princess Zelda are now playable characters, but both are played alternately. There are also original gamebook characters such as Fairy Fanny and Ganon's Younger Brother, Demon General Gaia and Princess Zelda's father King Graham II.
|Names in Other Regions
|ゼルダの伝説 (Zeruda no Densetsu)
-  , Zelda.com, retrieved April 23, 2020.
- Iwata Asks: A Sword & Sorcery Tale Admired Worldwide "And I was really happy that we here in Japan could make a medieval tale of sword and sorcery liked by the people of the world." Shigeru Miyamoto
-  , playnintendo.com, retrieved April 5, 2021.