25th Anniversary of The Legend of Zelda: Gaming’s Gold Standard

On February 21, 1986 — 25 years ago today — Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Since then, the Zelda series has gone to become as iconic, recognized and truly legendary as its trademark golden cartridges. From Hyrule to Termina and beyond, we’ve gone on some truly ground-breaking adventures with Link as each Zelda installment intricately refined the action-adventure genre with its memorable cast of heroes and villains, challenging and exciting gameplay, unforgettable classic tunes, all set in an enchanting world that recalled the limitless imagination and mischief of a young Miyamoto exploring the forest caves of his childhood home.

Other sites have focused on the oddities of the series and silly Zelda-related merchandise and spin-offs that have sprouted up over the years, but I’d like to take this opportunity to recognize the lasting impact of a series that completely changed my understanding of how magical and immersive a videogame could be. Despite our culture’s tendency to throw the word “epic” around in a cavalier fashion to describe everything in the world, The Legend of Zelda is a franchise that has stood the test of time and truly deserves the accolades it has received. It is our generation’s video Odyssey and a modern masterpiece in every sense of the word.

Everyone has a story about their first encounter with The Legend of Zelda. I am quite certain this will amount to nothing short of Nintendo heresy in most circles, but my first exposure to The Legend of Zelda series was Ocarina of Time. Though I’ve since gone on to play earlier Zelda titles, Ocarina will always stand out in my mind as the game that first drew me into the captivating world of Zelda. When I played the game for the first time, exploring the Deku Tree, solving puzzles and fighting enemies that were a strange mixture of adorable and terrifying, I knew I had found something very special. Though the controls, graphics and audio were all extremely polished, the novelty of simply running around in 3D had worn off after playing Super Mario 64 to death, so it wasn’t just that. Ocarina of Time was simply pure, unadulterated magic. Words fail me as I inadequately attempt to describe that “Zelda feeling”. Whatever it was, I couldn’t get enough of it.

Having once heard Saria’s Song, who could ever forget one of the most delightfully lighthearted, cheerful, and charmingly soothing melodies ever composed? Hearing it now takes me back to an innocent, carefree time when Link’s sprawling adventure in Hyrule first drew me into its world — hearkening to the time traveling powers of the Ocarina itself.

The final battle with Ganon in Ocarina of Time in his beast form was also a thing of beauty. What really struck me about this fight is how you can’t quite make out the features of the monstrous Ganon; only with the occasional illuminating strike of lightning in the distance do we get a glimpse of his true form beyond those evil glowing eyes. After countless boss battles in dozens of games since, beast Ganon is an iconic, chilling visual that stuck with me.

Over the years, Ocarina of Time has secured its place in gaming culture as the highest-reviewed game of all time, and with good reason. Now that it is seeing a re-release on the upcoming 3DS, I sincerely hope that it will be enjoyed and appreciated by new gamers for generations to come.

What are your favorite Zelda games, moments, songs and characters? With a series that has packed a remarkable amount of solid quality into those 25 years, it’s hard to choose among them. Thanks for all the memories, Nintendo. I’ll be there on day 1 for each new Zelda adventure yet in store for us.

15 Responses to 25th Anniversary of The Legend of Zelda: Gaming’s Gold Standard

  1. Hitokiri_Ace says:

    Zelda.. What an awesome series.. If I am a Nintendo fanboy (which I am ;)..) It is because of this magnificent series.

    I started on Zelda 2, though not old enough to truly comprehend what it was I was doing. After that I played A Link to the Past.. Dear me.. Was that a great game or what?? The music.. dungeons.. weapons.. and story. Wow.. I was hooked.. So much so that I had to go back and beat the early installments of Zelda. They were great games too, and I have to praise Zelda 2 for the RPG elements to it.. loved that.. Though.. LttP was so expansive.. so deep.. it was truly where the Zelda series picked up many parts of the formula.

    Zelda was/is/will continue to be my favorite games. Here’s to the remaking of OoT for the 3ds! Oh.. and btw Nintendo.. Please make a 25 yr anniversary game for Zelda.. I’ll totally buy it.. Thanks

  2. David says:

    Top photo: me on Christmas Day 1987 with my brand new copy of the original Zelda
    Bottom photo: me on Christmas Day 1987 playing Rad Racer with 3D glasses (and optional basset hound backrest)
    http://i.imgur.com/WsmI3.jpg

  3. sam says:

    my first zelda game was the original and then i played the 2nd one on NEs but i never could get into a link to the past. to this day, i just dont like it. i kind of hate myself for that

  4. gamecollector44 says:

    My first Zelda game ever? Majora’s Mask. I was drawn to the holographic label, and I’d always wanted to try a Zelda game. It was purely amazing. 🙂

  5. Mohan says:

    TwilightPrincess was my first ever Zelda game that I played 100% (as Wind Waker I stopped about 40% into the game, need to pick it back up), and I am going to buy OoT as I have never played (I never owned an N64 as I skipped that whole generation), and very much looking forward to Skyward Sword. Also I am not fan of the Zelda games on the DS…hated visiting the damn temple over and over again in the first DS Zelda game. Well anyway, happy 25th birthday Zelda franchise.

  6. Streex says:

    First Zelda I played was the original but the first I owned was A Link to the Past. That was where I truly was a fan for life. You can throw me in the bus with all the others that feel Ocarina is the best game ever. Reading back at old Nintendo Power Magazines you could tell Nintendo knew OoT was going to be huge. They previewed it several months before it came out and basically said it was going to be the biggest game ever.

    Thanks for sharing the photos David. lol. You still have those sweet 3D glasses?

  7. bananaoomarang says:

    My maiden Zelda voyage? Wind waker, (still my favourite), followed by Ocarina of time and, well, the rest…

  8. Drahken says:

    My first experience with Zelda (unless you count seeing and not knowing Link in the NES Tetris) was in 1997 and I was ten years old. It was Christmas time and I was trying to write up a Christmas list. I was looking through the toy circulars and came upon the one for KB Toys (which isn’t even around anymore) and they were advertising a deal on video games. I circled a couple of the cheap Gameboy games they had pictured. I had never heard of this “Zelda”, but it was one of the ones I’d picked. I got it, played it, and was blown away. (Coincidentally, another one was Metroid II. I beat it and didn’t think much more of it until two or three years later when a friend told me how he was stuck in this SNES game called “Super Metroid” and I made the connection.)

    As for favorite moments? I don’t know, any first time with a new Zelda is pretty special. Maybe when you first see Gannondorf in Wind Waker. Such a fantastic moment. My all time favorite is WW, hands down. The story telling in it is second to none.

  9. Drahken says:

    @ Streex.

    I still have my old Nintendo Powers. One of my favorites is the one that has the banner across the top of the cover proudly proclaiming “Zelda 64: The First 100 Photos!” and the screenshots are all of an early beta and contain things that either aren’t in or vastly changed in the final game.

  10. Lance says:

    I was only a toddler when I played the first three console zelda games. I didn’t know they were zelda games at the time. I just liked the gold. Found out it was a long running franchise when I got link’s awakening and rented OoT which I fell in love with and had to have it.

    My all time favorite is still Majora’s Mask and Links Awakening. Already got Skyward Sword preordered!

  11. frstOne says:

    Favorite game: Wind Waker. It looks beautiful, even today.
    Favorite song: Hmm, so many. But if I have to pick one, it could be the one from Majora’s intro. What a haunting, melancholic and beautiful song.

  12. Caleb says:

    My first REAL Zelda experience was with Ocarina of Time. A friend brought it over and I fell in love with it. I got my own copy for my birthday shortly after that and have played through it several times.

    Before that, I’d tried the original Legend of Zelda and hadn’t liked it. I’d unwittingly started a new game with the name ‘Zelda’ and thus increased the difficulty. Since discovering OoT, I’ve gone back and revisited this and the other Zelda games before OoT and own just about all of them in one form or another.

  13. CrusherX says:

    The fist time I saw and found out about Ledgend of Zelda was when a friend brought over Ocarina of Time. I watched my friend play through a lot of the game and beat Ganon. The same with Majora’s Mask. I didn’t play the games until the Zelda Collectors Edition GameCube bundle came out.
    I’m still working on playing every Zelda game.

  14. Streex says:

    @ Drahken :: I remember that one. I thumbed through it not too long ago. They really changed things up for the final build. Kudos on the NP collection. I have all of them too!

  15. raindog469 says:

    I tried the original Zelda back in the late 80s, but never got into it. I was still really into arcade games at that point, and Zelda just seemed a little rough to me compared to the scrolling, fast-moving stuff I was used to. I tried Link to the Past briefly in a store in the 90s, and while it seemed cooler, it didn’t make me buy a SNES.

    I skipped the N64/PS1 generation entirely, since I was a PC gamer at that point, and bought a Gamecube for Super Mario Sunshine after playing it in a Toys-R-Us. I heard about a deal where you could pre-order Wind Waker and get a disc with Ocarina of Time on it, supposedly the greatest game ever made. So I got the disc, and immediately got sucked into Ocarina of Time.

    To this day, I’ve never gotten the sense of being in a different world the way I did when I stepped out into Hyrule Field. Total suspension of disbelief. Super Mario Sunshine gave me a sense of place that nothing else has matched, but for being less than a tenth of the size, Zelda created a whole, believable world. I still play it now and then, and I look forward to playing it again on the 3DS.

    When I finally got Wind Waker, it was fun, but for me it didn’t compare to the blocky, angular, slightly washed-out world of Link and his ocarina. Neither did Twilight Princess with its segmented Hyrule Field preventing a seamless sense of vast space. Ocarina of Time was a perfect storm of gaming, and it still floors me that they fit all that into 32 megabytes.

Leave a Reply