QFor old-soul video gamers, the evolution of a franchise is a way to unite the past with the present and, with some hope, with the future. One of the most loved by consoles of all generations, the one that has unreleased a huge amount of merchandise ranging from posters and collectible figures to backpacks, notebooks, and umbrellas, and that has touched board games like Monopoly, Clue, ONE and a special edition of chess is The Legend of Zelda.
Shigeru Miyamoto: Link’s Awakening
The seed of the game was proposed by a collaborator of Shigeru Miyamoto, whose idea was to make a classic-themed game: a young hero must rescue a princess.
That mysterious collaborator also came by the name of the princess, which she obtained from Zelda Sayre, who would later be known by her married name: Zelda Fitzgerald, writer, and dancer, also called “America’s first flapper,” a popular icon of the 1920s who would later become recognized as a precursor to feminism.
However, Shigeru Miyamoto and his team were currently working on Super Mario Bros. for Japanese Famicom, the sequel to the platform jumping game Mario Bros. in which a story had been raised in which the character had to rescue precisely one princess. The challenge for Miyamoto was to avoid self-plagiarism, so Zelda’s game had to be different, even if the essence was similar.
The first distinction the creator decided to make was that Mario’s universe was intended to be linear, that is, one story precedes the next, while the new game could be independent of the successor even if the plot and characters were similar.
Now the internet forums are filled with theories and questions about the existence of a “real” chronology in the Zelda universe, when in fact, it was not even contemplated by the creator. One of the biggest jokes Shigeru Miyamoto has ever played for us.
Next up was the movement. With Super Mario Bros. the world of platforms that arcades had accustomed us to had expanded.
In this way, the aerial view screen was created, or top-down, a two-dimensional plane that, at the same time, gives us the feeling of depth: although the distribution of the screen allows us to control the character up, down, left, and right, it also creates the feeling of advancing north, south, east and west.
A very new type of plane by the mid-1980s that was replicated countless times even on consoles from later generations. The next thing was to think about the story. Miyamoto relied, as in many other games, on his youthful experiences:
In this way, he thought that to give the player the feeling of an adventure, he had to offer him a world to explore, a map that he should record in his memory, where he could hide secrets to discover for which he could use different objects.
That was the germ to create the worlds and dungeons of The Legend of Zelda.
It’s dangerous to go alone…
Of course, the player needed a way to defend himself from the dangers of this adventure world. Miyamoto thought the hero would carry a sword with him, but almost immediately dismissed the idea by thinking that it would be best for the hero to have to obtain it in some way. That might ask him that, to complete the missions, he needed to do “something” rather than just follow a stage linearly (as was the case in Super Mario Bros.)
The first scenario of The Legend of Zelda is an open ground with a cave visible to the player. When he enters it, an old man utters the legendary words: “Itis dangerous to go alone, take this” to offer him the first sword.
It may seem to us that programmers were able to save this element and simply give us the sword from the beginning, but in 1986 this made it clear that caves led to secrets, that talking to other characters was necessary and that every exploration offers a reward. With such a simple start, Miyamoto had explained, without the need for a tutorial, all the dynamics of his game.
Originally, the game was intended to help promote the Famicom Disk System peripheral, an addition to the Famicom that could be used to read discs that would function as appendices to the main game.
In these primal ideas, the intention was for the player not only to explore the dungeons but also to create them to take advantage of the new peripheral’s ability to rewrite data in the game’s memory.
However, the dungeon design was so good that they formed, in Miyamoto’s words, the best part of the game.
Thus, after much planning and deep care of the game, In February 1986 The Legend of Zelda premiered.
Famicom Disk System: The Disk of Time
Even with the success achieved in Japan, the rest of the world would have to wait until 1987 to get to know it, only in cartridge format for the Nintendo Entertainment System, NES.
Because the Famicom Disk System was not produced for other countries, Zelda’s first cartridge included a memory battery to store three different game games, which was another innovation, because so far no other game possessed this element, so when you lost a game you had to start from the beginning.
For the ability to choose your hero name (although the character is originally called ‘Link’), object collection, and map exploration, The Legend of Zelda is considered a direct precursor to the RPG video game genre.
It was not initially regarded by Nintendo as a possible success, and they thought it would not have much impact on the Japanese market. But it wasn’t long before they understood the jewel they had on their hands.
By 1987, The Legend of Zelda had managed to sell one million copies, so for distribution in other countries, there were three million more. The game helped increase SALES sales and consolidate Nintendo as an electronic entertainment giant.
The success of the initial game caused such a stir that on January 14, 1987, Nintendo celebrated the release of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Even in a hurry for development, Zelda II is a complete and well-thought-out game that still arouses discussions among fans about its quality, as Nintendo opted for a new game dynamic to avoid repeating itself.
The top-down screen mode in the outside world alternates with a side view inside the dungeons, which for some fans of the game was very disappointing. However, magic, life, and attack power meters were included, as well as a variant of experience points to increase character level, a fundamental quality in role-playing games.
Although the new gameplay dynamics were not exactly bad, Nintendo attended to fan reviews, and the next installment of the game reused the top-down screen view. As a new console was on its way, the game had to wait four years for the NES’s successor to appear.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was released in Japan in November 1991. However, the saga had not rested on that period of transition between consoles.
By 1989, Nintendo had entered into an agreement with Sony to develop a peripheral for the Super NES that would allow it to read Compact Discs to increase the gaming experience, the Super Nintendo CD. Two years later, in 1991, Sony announced its own video game console, called PlayStation, which would be compatible with all Nintendo games produced up to that point, as well as new titles in CD format.
But because of licensing and copyright issues, instead of continuing its alliance with Sony, Nintendo turned to Phillips, its direct competitor, and with this company planned its new peripheral.
Sony did not overcome the snub and invested to such an extent in the development of the PlayStation that it was the only company at the time that it managed to create a console whose games were of sufficient quality to become Nintendo’s biggest competition.
The next hit came when Phillips failed to develop the desired peripheral, but did get a license to use the characters Nintendo wanted to use on it, so Phillips was able to develop three games from the Zelda franchise for his unattractive console, the CD-i.
Between 1993 and 1994, three Zelda games were produced that Nintendo does not consider canonical (surely because of its quality): The Wand of Gamelon, Link: The Faces of Evil, and Zelda’s Adventure.
According to EGM magazine in Spanish, Phillips’ Zelda series is the worst of all time in the industry, even though the first two games had a budget of $600,000.
A connection to the past
From here, all that would remain would be to list the list of hits that Zelda published on the consoles to come, but there is so much to say about them, that it may be the subject for another article.
To date, there is no portable or home console for which a game in the franchise has not been planned. Since its first title, 113 million copies have been counted, of which The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the Nintendo Switch is the best-selling, with 16.34 million copies, followed by the N64’s Ocarina of Time with 7.6 million and Twilight Princess, for the Wii with 7.26 million.
In total we have seen 34 different games including re-edits and spin-offs, not counting others where the characters have made appearances, such as Super Smash Bros., Soul Calibur, and Mario Kart. Each title has made the most of the graphics, gameplay, layout of the controllers and has been experimented with with the plot and design of the characters at extreme levels, without directly affecting the value of the franchise.
And beyond marketing, or fashion and trends, there’s a reason why the game has existed in the homes of video gamers around the world for more than 3 decades: we’re talking about a fantastic world created to interact with it, a world with its own cosmology and cosmogony, a universe as vast as The Lord of The Rings Middle-earth or the Star Wars Galaxy, a complex yet the easy-to-understand world, in which we can become heroes of the past, the present, and the future.