by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 20th December, 2019
The Legend of Zelda games have a rich history teeming with interesting anecdotes. Find out the most interesting facts about one of the most popular video game series of all time.
The first Legend of Zelda game came out in 1986 and since then Zelda games became one of the most popular gaming franchises in the world.
Rich storytelling, intricate world, a plethora of excellent titles, complex history that includes reincarnation, time travel, and the eternal battle between good and evil mesmerizes fans for decades now.
More than three decades after the first game the series includes almost 20 mainline entries along with many spin-off and unofficial titles (like the three titles for the Philips CD-I console).
The plethora of Zelda games generated tons of fascinating anecdotes and a huge collection of interesting facts. Today we'll share with you 20 awesome facts about the Legend of Zelda game series and will also explain the Legend of Zelda complex history.
Shigeru Miyamoto is a genius and probably the best proof of his genius personality is the fact he developed the first Legend of Zelda and the first Super Mario Bros. - two cult classic titles that will define platformers and action adventures in the decades to come - at the same time!
He somehow managed to work on both games in parallel and results were two games that made NES the best console of the time and that become probably the two best games from the 80s.
While Super Mario Bros. was imagined as a reflex-heavy game with lots of difficult platforming and with zero exploration the Legend of Zelda was a complete opposite. It was designed as a game with a sprawling world that was free to explore, filled with monsters and puzzles.
Both games succeeded in their goals and today both series are the best at what they do. Super Mario games are superb platformers that always bring something new to the table while the Legend of Zelda titles are incredible action adventures that steer the genre's direction for more than three decades.
The world of Hyrule lived through many incarnations. And games that took place in it take place in different timelines. Some of those timelines see Hyrule as a post-apocalyptic wasteland, others see the land flooded and turned into a huge sea, and some take place in parallel dimensions. The only common thing in each game is the name of the main protagonist, Link.
Remember that Link isn't the same person in each game; in most titles, he's an incarnation of the hero from the first game in the timeline, Skyward Sword.
Also, remember that games aren't following each other based on release dates. This why the 2011's Skyward Sword is considered as the first game in chronological order.
It was followed by The Minish Cap, Four Swords, and Ocarina of Time, After Ocarina of Time Hyrule history branches into three separate timelines, depending on the ending of Ocarina of Time.
If Gannon managed to defeat the Hero of Time (alias of Link in Ocarina of Time) we have the Downfall Timeline that includes A Link to the Past, Link's Awakening, Oracle of Seasons & Ages, A Link Between Worlds, Tri Force Heroes, The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link.
In case Link defeats Gannon, the timeline is split into two separate branches. The first one is called Child Era and it takes place after Zelda sends Link to the past and transforms him into a child.
The games that take place in this timeline include Majora's Mask, Twilight Princess, and Four Swords Adventures. The parallel timeline called the Adult Era that takes place in the same world of Hyrule Ocarina of Time took place.
The world is without Link (who was sent back in time) and after many eons, called the Era without a Hero, Gannon escapes his imprisonment. Inhabitants of Hyrule plead gods for salvation and they respond by submerging whole Hyrule and trapping Gannon on the bottom of the sea, creating The Great Sea that is the place where The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks take place.
As you can see the timeline of Zelda games is quite complex. We tried to explain it the best we could without digging into too many details because to explain it all we would need to write a whole book.
Which is exactly what Nintendo did. The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia is the official book of the history of Hyrule and all three timelines. You can find one and read it or you can visit the excellent Zelda Timeline page on the Zelda Wiki that explains Hyrule history in detail without being as long as the Hyrule Historia.
Since Hyrule Historia got released years before the Breath of the Wild developers had to put the game somewhere into the Hyrule timeline. They decided to put the game at the very end of a timeline (which one is left for players to pick).
Eons passed since Link fought Gannon and those battles turned into myths. Gannon somehow returned but was defeated and sealed for ten thousand years. Ultimately, he broke from his imprisonment one hundred years before the events of Breath of the Wild.
As Hyrule Historia showed, the history of Hyrule isn't set in stone. It took Nintendo almost three decades after the release of the first game to create an official timeline for the series. And then came Breath of the Wild and again affected Hyrule history.
Series producer Eiji Aonuma stated that the history of the land was changed many times. He also hinted that the official timeline might change with the release of future Zelda games.
While they don't look like that with their colorful visuals and innocent design, the first two Zelda games are pretty dark when it comes to their stories. They take place in Hyrule ravaged by Gannon's forces.
Lots of people are dead, towns are reduced to ruins, and the kingdom of Hyrule is no more. This is where Link appears and embarks on a quest to defeat Gannon and return Hyrule to its former glory. He travels across the wasteland and meets horrible scenes but ultimately succeeds in his quests.
The first game, released in 1986 for the NES, has enough fascinating facts about it for a whole book but we'll talk only about the most interesting ones.
For instance, the original plan was for the game to start with players having the sword equipped but then game testers complained to Miyamoto about the game being too hard and complicated, without clear objectives. He responded by adding the introductory dungeon with the sword being the prize at the end, giving the game a clear early objective.
The game also had the option for players to construct their own dungeons but developers decided to scrap the feature since the game already had enough content. The "build your own Zelda dungeon" option was finally enabled in the recent remake of Link's Awakening. Each dungeon in The Legend of Zelda has a distinct shape, reminiscent of its name. And they all fit together to form a perfect rectangle.
The famous Second Quest was the first of its kind. It offers players another challenge after they beat the game (the Second Quest also unlocks if players name their save file "Zelda") that contains different levels than the original quest. The second game world was added after developers saw they have plenty of space left on the cartridge once they were finished designing the game.
The Japanese edition features microphone controls since the NES gamepads came with microphones in Japan. The microphone was used to defeat Pols Voice and was one of the earliest examples of Nintendo always coming up with original control systems. Finally, instead of being credited under their real names, developers were being credited under pseudonyms.
It was a way for companies to protect their creative talents and to prevent other companies from trying to hire them. Miyamoto is credited as "S. Miyahon," Tezuka (main designer alongside Miyamoto) as "Ten Ten," and Kondo (main composer) as "Konchan."
The Adventure of Link, the second game in the series, was massively different from its predecessor and fans were calling it the weird Zelda game for a decade until Majora's Mask came along and took over the throne.
It's because The Adventure of Link featured top-down Overworld where you traveled between levels but levels themselves were designed in a side-scrolling fashion. The game also features leveling up and upgrades to the attacks and spells, something that didn't find its way into future titles. The game was also very hard, one of the hardest titles of the era.
Miyamoto called the princess Zelda after Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of the famous author of "The Great Gatsby," F. Scott Fitzgerald. As for Link, he was called that way because he's the link between the game and the player since players control him. Originally, he was named Link because the game's prototype story included Sci-Fi elements like time travel and the hero was a link between Hyrule of the past, present, and future.
Game & Watch was Game Boy predecessor. It was a portable gaming system without cartridge support and many models had just one or maybe a couple of games preinstalled. Nintendo made two Game & Watch models containing Zelda games and they're now very hard to come by.
The first was called simply Zelda Game & Watch and it was a quite complex game for Game & Watch standards. While it featured simple gameplay, it pushed the system to its limits and made Nintendo consider developing a more powerful portable console that ultimately led to the release of Game Boy.
The second game came on a literal wristwatch (called Game Watch) and it was far below the quality of the Game & Watch title. While the first one can be unlocked and played as part of the Game & Watch Gallery 4 for the Game Boy Advance, the wristwatch game is extremely rare and considered a collector piece.
Kazuaki Morita was responsible for designing bosses in Ocarina of Time. But the dude got sidetracked a bit after finishing work designing Morpha, one of the bosses in the game. The boss was the ultimate enemy at the Water Temple so after finishing the work Morita thought about adding fish to the nearby pond.
After adding fish, he thought about creating a fishing pole so he can have some fun catching fish while bored. Once other developers noticed what he did they decided to keep the fishing mini-game thus making one of the best side activities in Ocarina of Time.
Yes, you heard it right. Ocarina can basically play any song; all you need is lots of time for practice and knowledge of button combinations for each note. The in-game instrument has a one-and-a-half octave range and each note has its own button combination. The analog stick is also used for some notes.
So, if you have lots of free time you can learn to play Ocarina in the game and then spend your time recording YouTube videos of Link playing various popular songs. That's actually a pretty good idea for a YouTube channel.
Giving Zelda games rights to Philips was probably one of the worst moves by Nintendo, ever. It wasn't as bad a going with the Wii U but it was close. Back in the 90s, Philips was meant to create a CD-ROM peripheral for the Super NES console.
The deal failed and as a result of compromise, Philips decided to release the add-on as a standalone console called Philips CD-i. The company received rights to Zelda games from Nintendo as a sort of reimbursement for the failed project.
And those games were bad. Really bad. Three games were released called Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, and Zelda's Adventure.
The first was a side scroller in the vein of the Adventure of Link and the third one made you play as Zelda, for the first time in history. Nintendo didn't have any involvement in the production of these games and they ended up as massive failures. The games were so bad Nintendo decided not to include them in the official series canon.
Breath of the Wild was supposed to have a world inside the world that was tiny and populated by Picori, a race of tiny creates from the Minish Cap. The idea was scrapped later in the development cycle because the game already had a massive world filled with quests and other stuff to do.
Developers thought that adding the Minish Realm would be too much for the game and that the realm would be overshadowed by all other things found in the game. So, ultimately, the idea was scrapped but maybe we'll be able to walk among the Minish in the Breath of the Wild 2.
In every Zelda game, Link uses his sword with his left hand. But when Twilight Princess was in development developers realized they had a bit of a problem.
Since the game used Wii's motion controls making Link left-handed meant most players would have to hold the WiiMote in their weaker hand, making controls feel uncomfortable and unnatural. The solution was simple - mane Twilight's Princess Link right-handed!
Shigeru Miyamoto grew up in a small village in Japan and his childhood was filled with adventures he had in the local woods. One time he even discovered a cave and decided to explore it with only a lantern in his hand. He recalls these adventures as magical moments filled with excitement and a sense of exploration.
So when he worked on the first Legend of Zelda title he decided to make the game all about the same feelings he had during his childhood adventures. This is why the series has dungeons and is filled with interesting areas made to evoke the same feelings of exploration and excitement derived from discovering new things.
If you didn't hear about Satellaview that's okay because that piece of hardware was an add-on for the SNES that sold only in Japan and it was used to receive broadcasts from a satellite TV station called WOWOW.
These broadcasts were time-limited and contained signals that included video games. For instance, games would be downloaded to a game cartridge (that shipped with the Satellaview) and then owners could hook to a daily and weekly broadcast to receive new parts of a certain game such as new levels and new areas to explore.
One of these games was a remaster of the first Legend of Zelda game for the NES called BS Zelda no Densetsu. It didn't feature Link as a playable character. Instead, it features BS-X, which was sort of a mascot of the Satellaview service. The game was quite similar to the original Legend of Zelda but it has improved visuals and a bit different story. Officially, the game is considered a spin-off of the main series.
But that's not all because the service offered two other Zelda games via regular weekly broadcasts. Two other games are called BS The Legend of Zelda: Ancient Stone Tablets and The Legend of Zelda: Triforce of the Gods.
Since these games were part of satellite broadcasts, they weren't saved on the console permanently but some people managed to take downloads and preserve them. That means you probably can find these games somewhere on the internet but they probably cannot be played on modern PCs.
The first Legend of Zelda was imagined as a combination of high fantasy and Sci-Fi world that included time travel and Triforce (the famous artifact from the series) made of microchips. Link was called Link because he was meant to be a "link" between Hyrule of the past and future, which was later changed.
Sci-Fi elements were ultimately scrapped but years later Breath of the Wild returned Sci-Fi bits of story to the series with the tablet-like Sheikah Slate, giant beasts that were basically robots, "bits" that flow into the Sheikah Slate to reveal parts of the map, and the highly advanced Sheikah technology that is constantly mentioned in the game.
Each Zelda game teems with various mythological and religious references but the most prominent ones are tied to Celtic Mythology. Epona, Link's faithful horse from many games, is named after the Celtic goddess of fertility who's also the protector of horses.
The interesting part is that Epona is also considered as the guide to the afterlife, which can explain how Link exists in each of the versions in Hyrule and in each of the series' three distinct timelines. It's because his steed guides him across different times and different dimensions, keeping his spirit intact while he reincarnates in different places and times.
Next, Minish are similar to fairies in the Celtic myths. The portal to the Minish dimension opens once every 100 years in Hyrule, similar to how the portal to the fairylands opens during Samhain and Bealtaine festivals, two events in the Irish folklore.
We also have the story from the Skyward Sword. It's about Hylians, who were magic wielders during ancient times and who lived in the skies for eons before their return to the surface with the help of the goddess Hylia.
The similar story can be found in the Lebor Gabala Erenn, the Celtic epic about Tuatha De Danann, ancient race of immortals who practiced magic and who ultimately fell from the skies down to Ireland.
The Celtic mythology also has the equivalent to Master Sword. It's the famous Sword in the Stone, which is set in stone until a hero (in Zelda games it's Link while in Celtic mythology it's King Arthur) comes and pulls it out. Finally, Celtic mythology has lots of Otherworlds or parallel dimensions. The same can be said about Zelda games and their parallel worlds such as Termina, Twilight Realm, and others.
Tingle is weird. The character looks creepy, has a bizarrely joyous personality and his behavior can be strange but that didn't stop Nintendo from putting him in almost every Zelda game since Majora's Mask.
But while we, the Westerners, find Tingle weird, gamers in Japan love him! Back in the land of the rising sun Tingle is probably the third most popular character from the games, just below Link and Zelda.
The dude even has his own series of games, but those were only released in Japan. If you want to play them, you need a Nintendo DS and a good friend in Japan who'll be able to scour video game stores in search for Tingle games, because they're pretty rare by now since the last one came in 2009.
Link's Awakening is a strange Zelda game in more ways than one. First of all, it takes place on an island. Next, the island is pretty small for the series' standards (most other games feature interconnected sprawling areas or huge open-world maps). Koholint Island is filled with secrets and interconnected pathways as well as lots of dungeons.
The game also has zero characters from other Zelda games, who usually find their place in every game of the series. The director of the game, Takashi Tezuka explained that Link's Awakening was different from the rest of the series because he wanted for players to feel like Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks.
He arrived at the small town he knows nothing about and kept meeting suspiciously-looking people who were hiding many secrets. And Tezuka succeeded because that's exactly how many Zelda veterans felt when playing Link's Awakening for the first time.