The Legend of Zelda

the legend of zelda title screen

The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda is the very first Zelda title released, centering around a boy named Link who becomes the central protagonist of the series. It released in Japan in 1986, coming to Europe and the US in 1987. It has since been re-released several times; the Japanese version of this game on the Famicom is known as The Hyrule Fantasy: The Legend of Zelda.


The following is taken from the English translation of the game’s manual:

“A long, long time ago the World was in an age of Chaos.

In the midst of this chaos, in a little kingdom in the land of Hyrule, a legend was being handed down from generation to generation, the legend of the ‘Triforce’; golden triangles possessing mystical powers. One day, an evil army attacked this peaceful little kingdom and stole the Triforce of Power. This army was led by Ganon, the powerful Prince of Darkness who sought to plunge the World into fear and darkness under his rule. Fearing his wicked rule, Zelda, the princess of this kingdom, split up the Triforce of Wisdom into eight fragments and hid them throughout the realm to save the last remaining Triforce from the clutches of the evil Ganon. At the same time, she commanded her most trustworthy nursemaid, Impa, to secretly escape into the land and go find a man with enough courage to destroy the evil Ganon. Upon hearing this, Ganon grew angry, imprisoned the princess, and sent out a party in search of Impa.

Braving forests and mountains, Impa fled for her life from her pursuers. As she reached the very limit of her energy she found herself surrounded by Ganon’s evil henchmen. Cornered! What could she do? … But wait! All was not lost. A young lad appeared. He skillfully drove off Ganon’s henchmen, and saved Impa from a fate worse than death.

His name was Link. During his travels he had come across Impa and Ganon’s henchmen. Impa told Link the whole story of the princess Zelda and the evil Ganon. Burning with a sense of justice, Link resolved to save Zelda, but Ganon was a powerful opponent. He held the Triforce of Power. And so, in order to fight off Ganon, Link had to bring the scattered eight fragments of the Triforce of Wisdom together to rebuild the mystical triangle. If he couldn’t do this, there would be no chance Link could fight his way into Death Mountain where Ganon lived.

Can Link really destroy Ganon and save Princess Zelda?

Only your skill can answer that question. Good luck. Use the Triforce wisely.”


Dungeon Exploration

Barring Link’s progress are creatures he must defeat to locate the entrances to nine underground dungeons. Each dungeon is a unique, labyrinthine collection of rooms connected by doors and secret passages, being guarded by monsters of a different variety than those found on the overworld. Link must successfully navigate each dungeon to obtain one of the eight fragments of the Triforce of Wisdom. Dungeons also conceal useful items that help Link to advance in his quest. The first six dungeons have visible entrances, but three are hidden; the final dungeon cannot even be entered until the previous eight have been completed. The order in which these can be completed is somewhat arbitrary, but most dungeons can only be reached with items obtained from the previous one.

Overworld Exploration

Non-linearity was a feature of this game that separated it from its contemporaries; Link can freely wander the overworld, finding and buying items at any point. This flexibility allows for multiple and unusual ways of completing the game. Nintendo of America initially had a fear that this new openness would leave players frustrated and confused; due to this, the American version of the game’s manual contains numerous hints, tips, and suggestions for players.

Second Quest

After completing the game, the player can access a more difficult quest, originally referred to as the Second Quest, where dungeons and the placement of items are different, and the enemies are stronger. Although a more difficult replay of games wasn’t unique to the Zelda series, few games offered a “second quest” that gave entirely different levels to complete. Entering ZELDA as the player’s name starts the second quest immediately; it can be replayed each time it’s completed.

Game Information

Japanese Version

The Legend of Zelda was originally released in 1986 as a flagship title for the Famicom Disk System in Japan. The disk drive facilitated save data and had an extra sound channel on top of the Famicom’s original five, causing the sound on the Famicom release to be quite different than on the more widespread cartridge release; this is most notable during the title screen.

The Book of Magic is referred to as the Bible in the Japanese version of the game. This was changed likely due to Nintendo of America’s, at the time, very strict guidelines which restricted any religious content or references within their games. Despite this, all depictions of the cross were kept intact. The legend of the three Golden Goddesses wasn’t mentioned until 1991 in A Link to the Past.

The Japanese FDS version was included in a promotional package of Charumera-brand ramen, and was only given as a contest prize; it is unknown what differences this version has when compared to the original, due to the only available copies being very expensive.

Graphics and Audio

Being a game that was originally designed for storage within a floppy disk, the graphics within the game don’t use too many elements; sprites are given different palettes depending on their overworld location, like trees being orange or green, brick walls in dungeons being blue, green, yellow, white, etc.

The game has three background themes: the overworld theme, the standard dungeon theme, and the final dungeon theme. The first theme became the main theme of the franchise, being used in many other titles in the series. The dungeon theme is used for the Royal Crypt in The Minish Cap as well as the Color Dungeon in Link’s Awakening DX. Sound samples such as the item collection and the new path are often reused in later titles as well.

The Japanese FDS version utilizes the Disk System’s addition frequency-modulation synthesis chip, allowing the music to sound more lifelike.


This game is the first time Hyrule is portrayed, being divided into numerous parts and landscapes, like the Lost Woods, Death Mountain, a central lake, a forest, a graveyard, and a shore. As Link traverses these areas, he manages to find the hidden dungeons where the fragments of the Triforce are hidden; it’s unknown whether or not the unnamed places made appearances later in the series with official names.

Unlike most overworlds in the series, this incarnation of Hyrule is almost completely accessible from the beginning, meaning that Link can go to almost any corner and any space, completely devoid of linearity. The overworld is largely unchanged in the Second Quest, with the only changes being the locations of the labyrinths and special prizes.


The Legend of Zelda is rife with mistranslations, direct word-for-word translations, and odd quotes.
• The intro story is very poorly written, stating for example that Ganon stole the “Triforce with Power” as opposed to Triforce of Power. For the GBA and Wii Virtual Console ports, this has been entirely rewritten.
• This is the first Zelda title in which Ganon was spelled Gannon. This spelling I used in the Famicom Disk System version of The Adventure of Link and the Super Famicom release of A Link to the Past as well.
• The Old Man is famous for his vague messages, such as “DODONGO DISLIKES SMOKE”, referring to their weakness to bombs. Another odd quote from him is, “DIGDOGGER HATES CERTAIN KINDS OF SOUND”.
• The item list is originally titled “all of treasures”. The “of” was removed in subsequent re-releases of the game.
• When the Old Woman behind the waterfall is paid, she will tell him to go “Up, up, up, the mountaintop.” This was corrected to up, the mountain ahead”, in reference to the path to the Lizard dungeon.


The Legend of Zelda was a commercial success, selling 6.5 million copies worldwide, becoming the fourth best-selling Nintendo Entertainment System game of all time. It is also the second best-selling Zelda game to date, falling behind only Ocarina of Time. The game was well received by both consumers and critics, being cited and praised for its innovation in terms of gameplay and puzzle solving, bringing a new depth to the genre of gaming, and its influence on the gaming industry.

BS-X Broadcasting System

A remake of the original game, BS The Legend of Zelda, was broadcast via the BS-X Broadcasting System. The gameplay is similar to the original, though there are some key differences. BS The Legend of Zelda is different from most Zelda titles in the regard that the central hero is actually supposed to be the mascot characters of the system, and are otherwise based off of the player as well as the character’s name and gender being based off of the broadcasting ID. The make character wears a green tunic, though other are later available, and also wears a backwards baseball cap. The female character has long red hair and is otherwise almost exactly the same as the male character.

Nintendo GameCube

In 2003, Nintendo released a bundle for the GameCube which included Collector’s Edition; this was one of four titles available. In that same year, Animal Crossing was released for the GameCube; the game featured many emulated NES games, though some are inaccessible without the use of a cheating device; The Legend of Zelda is one of those titles.

GameBoy Advance and Virtual Console

The GameBoy Advance had this game ported over as part of Nintendo’s “Classic NES Series” re-releases. The game suffers from the same lag that occasionally plagued the original game, as it is an emulated version. When the Wii was launched, The Legend of Zelda was a title within the Virtual Console service. The game was made available in 2011 as a free download to those who bought a 3DS before the price dropped that same year. It was later released to the public in 2012; the 3DS version features the original mistranslations.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl has a feature that allows a player to experience a short demo of a classic game; these were called “Masterpieces” in-game, and a player could only play for up to five minutes, depending on the game. The Legend of Zelda is one of these titles available, though the time is limited to only 2 minutes, enough to explore a small part of the overworld.


1. The Moblin’s quote “It’s a secret to everybody” has become very popular among gamers over the years; it is even referenced in other titles within the series. The games in which it appears are A Link to the Past, wherein Link brings a chest to a man who is standing next to a sign outside of the desert, who will open it in front of Link under the condition that he will “keep it a secret from everybody else”; Ocarina of Time, in which the guard in front of Hyrule Castle gate can be bribed to let Link in, telling him “KEEP IT A SECRET TO EVERYBODY.”; Majora’s Mask, where Link is advised to “keep what we just talked about a secret from everybody,” by Kafei after speaking with him in his home; and Twilight Princess, when in Central Castle Town, Link is able to enter a door and walk up to a balcony where a Goron sees the golden force around Hyrule Castle, admitting that he has kept it “a secret to everybody.”
2. Though very difficult, it is possible to get all the way through the game to the final boss without a Sword; though once Ganon is reached, the player must have a sword to be able to damage him.
3. This is one of the only games where the maximum number of heart containers is sixteen, with the other two being Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks.
4. With this title, most Zelda cartridges are gold, with the rare ones being a very late release of the game in the standard gray cartridges.
5. The last dungeon is over half the size of the entire overworld.