E3 2014 is rapidly approaching, and the scuttlebutt is that a new entry in the Zelda series will be unveiled at the show, so before Zelda-mania hits a fever pitch, let’s take a look back at the original The Legend of Zelda.
Shigeru Miyamoto may be most known for Mario today, but Zelda is his most personal series. Here are a few things you might not know about the game that would invent the action-adventure genre and spawn the most acclaimed video game franchise of all time…
1) The Legend of Zelda wouldn’t exist if Miyamoto’s parents had kept a closer eye on him. Shigeru Miyamoto grew up in Sonobe, a small town located around a half-hour south of Kyoto. Miyamoto didn’t have many toys, and the family didn’t own a TV, so little Shigeru spent most of his days roving the countryside unsupervised. During his wandering he would often get lost and stumble onto unexpected things — including, on one portentous day, a deep dark hole. Now, most parents tend to try and keep their kids away from deep, dark pits, but Miyamoto’s weren’t around, so he grabbed a lantern, crawled in and discovered an entire miniature cave system.
The sense of wonder and discovery Miyamoto experienced on his childhood adventures formed the spiritual basis of The Legend of Zelda. If Miyamoto’s parents had been just a little more worried about his daily whereabouts (or had owned a TV) there’s a good chance we wouldn’t have Link’s many adventures.
2) The game had a more sensible name in Japan. The Legend of Zelda has never made much sense as a title, has it? What exactly does Zelda do in the game? Mario isn’t called Super Princess Toadstool Adventures, is it?
Well, in Japan the game was called The Hyrule Fantasy, with Legend of Zelda being the subtitle. The Hyrule Fantasy makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it? The game is about exploring the world of Hyrule more than it’s about Zelda, Link or any one character. Ultimately though, perhaps because it had a slightly more mysterious, enticing quality, The Legend of Zelda was chosen as the title in North America, and eventually phased out The Hyrule Fantasy in Japan as well.
3) The Triforce was originally going to be made of microchips? According to Miyamoto, The Legend of Zelda was going to have a much more ambitious storyline that took place in both present-day Hyrule and the fuuuuture. That meant some staples of Zelda series were initially technological in nature — for instance, instead of collecting magical Triforce pieces, you were originally rounding up special microchips.Oh, and Link got his somewhat unique name from the fact that he was supposed to be the link between the past and future. Very clever.
Interestingly, Nintendo may have considered reviving the idea of a futuristic Hyrule on the SNES if this sassy sci-fi Zelda concept art for A Link to the Past is any indication…
Rawr — you know what 80s hair and shoulderpads do to me Zelda.
4) Zelda borrows elements from Super Mario Bros. As mentioned in our Super Mario Bros. fact-a-thon, Mario and Zelda were actually developed at the same time, with Miyamoto deciding on a case-by-case basis whether a new idea or element was more of a Mario or Zelda thing. This led to some crossover, such as the firebar, which was created for Zelda, making it’s way into Mario Bros. It went the other way too though — Mario’s piranha plant enemies ended up in Zelda as the enemies known as “Manhandla”.
What they hell did piranha plants ever do to Miyamoto?
5) The game started as a dungeon building sim. The Legend of Zelda was the big launch title for The Famicom Disk System, Nintendo’s upgraded version of the Japanese NES than stored games on rewritable floppy disks. Nintendo really wanted to take advantage of the rewritable aspect of the disks, so early on Zelda was essentially a creation tool that let you make and share your own dungeons. Somewhere along the way Miyamoto and company decided they could make better dungeons than us lowly gamers, and dropped the “do it yourself” angle.
6) You originally started with the sword. It’s one of the most indelible sequences in gaming — Link tromps into the first cave he sees and encounters an old man who tells him “It’s dangerous to go alone!” then gives him his first sword. Well, up until fairly late in development you started with that sword in your inventory.
So, why was the sword given to the weird old man instead? To make the game just a little more confusing! Nintendo focus tested The Legend of Zelda before release, and most players complained that the game was confusing or that they kept getting lost. Rather than “fix” the game, a cranky Miyamoto insisted on changes that made the game even more complex and confusing, including starting the player off without any means to defend themselves.
Miyamoto’s logic was that making Zelda perplexing would force kids to share information with their friends and foster a sense of community around the game, and it worked! Anyone who spent any time on playgrounds during the 80s knows The Legend of Zelda was consistently one of the most discussed games.
Oh, and by the way, no matter what your friends told you as a kid, you can’t beat the game without the sword. You can get almost to the end of the game without a sword, but you’ll have wasted your time because you need a blade to kill Ganon.
Out there? Totally dangerous. Talking to creepy old weapon hoarding men in caves? That’s fine.