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Overview

The gold cartridge version of the game.
The gold cartridge version of the game.

The Legend of Zelda is an action-adventure game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, The Legend of Zelda was released in August 1987 in North America. The game was developed by Nintendo EAD and published by Nintendo, and was highly influential to the console action-adventure genre.

The game is the first in the Legend of Zelda franchise, starring a young boy named Link on his quest to rescue Princess Zelda from the evil wizard Ganon. In this game, Link must collect the pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom to reforge it and defeat Ganon.

The Legend of Zelda was both a critical and commercial success. It was renowned for its innovative gameplay, non-linearity, and ability to save games via its battery powered RAM.

Regional Differences

Pols Voice
Pols Voice

Unlike the other worldwide releases, the original Japanese Famicom Disk System version of The Legend of Zelda took advantage of a notable piece of hardware which was absent in the Nintendo Entertainment System in Europe and North America: a microphone built into the controller. If a microphone was included in the controller wired to the first slot, players could yell into it to defeat Pols Voices in the game.

Although the feature itself is still included in the coding in European and North American versions of the game, the lack of a microphone for those controllers prevented players in those regions from accessing that aspect of the gameplay directly.

Story

The Legend of Zelda takes place in the land of Hyrule. The evil sorcerer, Ganon, has ravaged the land with his armies in searching for and acquiring the Triforce of Power. In order to keep Ganon from also gaining the Triforce of Wisdom, Princess Zelda divided it into eight pieces and scattered them in hidden dungeons throughout Hyrule.

Zelda’s assistant, Impa, escaped to seek out one who may rescue Zelda from Ganon. However, Impa was hunted down and surrounded by Ganon’s henchmen but was saved by a young boy named Link. Impa told Link all that had happened, and Link resolved to find the Triforce, defeat Ganon, and rescue Princess Zelda.

Gameplay

A dungeon.
A dungeon.

In The Legend of Zelda, the player controls Link from a top-down perspective. The A button is dedicated to the sword, and the B button can be assigned to any other item in Link’s inventory. At the start of the game, Link starts with only a small shield, but throughout the game, he is able to gather many items including: three different swords, two boomerangs, a large shield, a ladder, a raft, a bow and arrow, bombs, candles, potions, a power bracelet, a magic wand, a flute, two rings, a magic key, and the silver arrow. Items may be gathered from dungeons as well as purchased from merchants.

Link starts the game in the overworld where he must search for eight secret dungeons, each holding a piece of the Triforce. The overworld is varied and contains many environments including mountains, lakes, deserts, forests, caves, coastal regions, and a graveyard. The overworld is filled with many creatures which often drop rupees (the in-game currency) or hearts when defeated. There are also living-restoring fairies scattered throughout the overworld.

The overworld.
The overworld.

The dungeons are underground labyrinths containing secret passages, locked doors, special items, and many enemies. Each dungeon has a unique shape (eagle, lion’s head, snake, etc.) to make them easier to navigate.

Each dungeon also contains special items which are used to assist Link with his quest including a map and compass which help Link find his way to the dungeon’s final boss. Upon defeating the boss, Link receives a heart container and a piece of the Triforce. There are a total of nine dungeons: eight containing Triforce pieces plus Ganon’s fortress.

The game is also notable for its non-linearity. “Clues” are given sporadically by shopkeepers and other non-player characters, though the incredibly poor translation means these clues are rarely useful in the English version. For example, the cryptic “Dodongo dislikes smoke” is meant to be a hint to use bombs on the Dodongo boss in the second dungeon.

Second Quest

The “Second Quest” is one of the first times that a New Game Plus feature was accessible in a game. After one completion of the game, the player has the option to start over a more difficult game, where enemies are tougher, item placement is different, and dungeons are reworked. Additionally, the Second Quest can be accessed at any time by naming the character ZELDA when starting a new file.

Dungeons

The overworld for The Legend of Zelda.
The overworld for The Legend of Zelda.
  • The Eagle – The game’s first dungeon is hidden in a tree on an island in the center of the overworld. This particular dungeon contains the bow and the boomerang, and its boss is Aquamentus, a green dragon-like creature.
  • The Moon – The second dungeon is hidden inside a forest in the eastern portion of the world. The only item found in The Moon is the magical boomerang, which can be thrown further than the boomerang. The boss of The Moon is Dodongo.
  • The Manji – Like The Moon, The Manji is also hidden in a forest, but to the southwestern portion of the world. This dungeon contains the raft, which allows Link to traverse water. The dungeon is guarded by the Manhandla, a large, multi-headed plant creature.
  • The Snake – The fourth dungeon in the game is located directly west to the first dungeon in the game, on another small island. Here, Link finds the ladder, which gives the player the ability to cross gaps inside dungeons. The boss of “The Snake” is Gleeok, a multi-headed dragon.
  • The Lizard – The Lizard is located to the northeast, on top of a mountain, only accessible with the previous dungeon’s ladder. Here, the player finds the whistle, which gives Link the ability to warp between dungeons, as well as killing some types of enemies. The boss of The Lizard is Digdogger, a circular, heavily armored creature.
  • The Dragon – Legend of Zelda’s sixth dungeon is located to the far west of the map. In this dungeon, Link finds the magic wand, an equally powerful attack as the boomerang, but one that doesn’t require Rupees to use. The boss of The Dragon is Gohma, one of the easiest bosses of the game, and one of few who has resurfaced in future games.
  • The Demon – The Demon is where the whistle comes into play, an item required to open up a secret passageway beneath a lake to the west. In The Demon, the player finds the red candle, an improvement over the blue candle (found outside of dungeons), allowing Link to burn bushes and enemies indefinitely.
  • The Lion – Two items are found in the game’s eighth dungeon: the magic book and the magic key. The book improves the wand, which makes it shoot fireballs as well, while the magical key is able to open any door in any dungeon.
  • Death Mountain – Death Mountain is the final location in the game, and thus, is the largest dungeon in the game. There are two items found in Death Mountain: silver arrows and the red ring. The red ring massively improves the player’s defense, while the silver arrow is needed to defeat Ganon, the boss of this dungeon, and the game.

Releases

The Legend of Zelda was originally released for the Famicom Disk System in Japan on February 21, 1986. The game was later featured on the Nintendo Entertainment System with a North American release on August 22, 1987 and a PAL version released on November 15, 1987.

BS Zelda no Densetsu.
BS Zelda no Densetsu.

There have been several re-releases of this classic. In 1994, it was put into cartridge form for the Famicom. In 2002, it was hidden in the GameCube title Animal Crossing, but could only be accessed using the Action Replay cheat device. In 2003, it was released as part of the The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition. On February 14th 2004, it was re-released as part of the first series of Classic NES Series featured on the Game Boy Advance.

In 2006, it was made available on the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console.

On September 1st, 2011, it was made available on the Nintendo 3DS as part of the “ambassador program”. Currently it is only available to customers who bought a 3DS before the first price drop.

In 1995, a version of the game was broadcasted to Japanese Satellaview owners. Known as BS Zelda no Densetsu, the game featured updated graphics, reworked overworld and dungeons, as well as streaming audio in the form of vocal commentary that gave gameplay tips and plot points live as the game was streamed. It was streamed in four episodes over a month from August 6, 1995 to September 2, 1995. From December 30, 1995 to January 6, 1996, a second version of the game was broadcasted, titled BS Zelda no Densetsu MAP 2, which was the “Second Quest” version of the game.

Latest On The Legend of Zelda

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All game data on this page is sourced via Giant Bomb.

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