Zelda: A Retrospective Part 1


Are you ready to hear some memories of the greatest story ever told? Too bad, 'cause here I go!

If there’s any series I love more than Mario, it’s the Legend of Zelda. I’ve been a fan for years now and I’m guaranteed to play each new title as it comes out, regardless of my preference for the art style or any other factors. I just have to play me some Zelda. Well, as predicted, Nintendo showed off the new Zelda title at E3 this year, the Skyward Sword, and I’m pretty excited. So much so that I decided to give my own little Zelda retrospective. So here it is, grab your magic bags and Master Swords and let’s take a trip to Hyrule.

The Legend of Zelda (1986):

It looks so simple these days, doesn't it?

The very first Legend of Zelda game for the NES was a game-changer in terms of how a video game should be played. The world map was huge for its time and the puzzles were complex. You were forced to think and try different solutions in order to advance. I, however, didn’t play this as a kid. I played this much, much later once I had the Zelda Collector’s Edition for the GameCube, and would you like to know my final death count? 187. That’s pathetic. I know I’m better than that, but even worse, there’s no way I can understand how anyone was able to beat this game prior to the internet having world maps and walkthroughs because some things you’re expected to know are stupidly difficult to solve. Still, the music was excellent and had a special power over me. Without realizing it I’d start singing along with actual lyrics whenever I played, but as soon as the game turned off I couldn’t remember the lyrics I’d been singing. It’s a secret to everybody.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1987):

Honestly, I think this was better than the first game.

After the success of the first Zelda title, a sequel was insured, but Miyamoto did what he always seems to do and decided to change the formula completely. Now, instead of a top-down view, Link was placed in a side-scrolling action platformer. Fans were not happy with this one and many consider it the worst game of the series. I, conversely, loved it. This was another one that I first played when I got that awesome Collector’s Edition for the ‘Cube, but when I bought it for the NES I replayed it just because I loved it. Granted, the difficulty spikes near the end, asking players to go through some of the most unreasonable gameplay in any game, especially a Zelda title. I highly recommend this one, especially if you’re not a fan of most Zelda titles.

The Animated Series (1989):

No Link, I will not excuse you. Not now and not ever.

While not a game, The Super Mario Bros Super Show began running animated episodes of The Legend of Zelda every Friday. As expected, the show itself had very little in common with the actual games. For one, Link spoke, and all the time, mostly with horrendous dialogue. Also, he was right-handed, in stark contrast to a running theme in the game series that Link was always left-handed. I could conceivably get past these problems, if not for the main one: The animated series didn’t understand how a Triforce worked. The opening cinematic says that Zelda keeps the Triforce of Wisdom safe and that Ganon has the Triforce of Power. That’s fine, but then Zelda says “If Ganon gets both the Triforce of Wisdom and the Triforce of Power he’ll be unstoppable!” They do realize that a Triforce by nature has THREE pieces, right? What was just described was a Biforce. Utter failure. And every episode, of which there were thankfully only 13, Link said his catchphrase “Well excuuuuuse me princess.” Ugh, makes me shudder just remembering. I don’t even know why they bothered putting this on DVD, or for that reason, why I bothered to purchase it and then watch it in full. Shame on me I suppose.

A Link to the Past (1991):

And then Nintendo reminded everyone that they still knew how to make a damn good Zelda game.

Zelda fans were really itching to get a new game in the style of the first by the early 90’s. Those prayers were answered with gusto once the SNES rolled around and A Link to the Past appeared in the style of the first game. Every single ounce of this game was polished to near perfection. The story was elaborated and fleshed out a bit, Link was given an arsenal of unique weapons and tools to progress, and the game was HUGE. After collecting the three mystical gems I figured the game was pretty much over, but then it sent me to the Dark World and told me there were eight more dungeons to explore. Epic! Sadly, my first memory of this game comes from when I borrowed it from a friend but the cartridge’s battery was dying, so when I turned it on one day all games had been erased, of which he had one at 100% in end game. He didn’t forgive me for quite some time after that, as if it was my fault the game was old.

Link’s Awakening (1993):

I'll never forget Koholint Island, even if it isn't real.

The first Zelda game I ever played, Link’s Awakening is still one of my favorite games of all time, at least in the top 10. It was the first game I got with my Game Boy one year during my birthday, and I was completely clueless how to play a Zelda game. I managed to get to the Bottle Grotto, the second dungeon, but I couldn’t figure out how to proceed any further. I was stuck, and nothing could help me, so I gave up for a few years. Eventually I went back to the game a little older and little wiser, but I still couldn’t get past the second dungeon. And then I accidentally pushed a block and triggered a secret staircase. That block also triggered something in my brain and unlocked a portion known as the “Zelda Mindset” used for all Zelda games or Zelda-like games. Since then I’ve had no problem in a Zelda game save for a few anomalies.

On a side note, this game also gave me my #1 most hilarious Zelda moment where Link speaks with Marin, the girl who found him washed up on he beach, and asks her to come help him with something midway through the game. When she agrees, Link “gets” her just like any other item, causing him to hold her above his head and look up her dress. I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw it happen. Beyond that, I still cry when I hear the ending theme play.

Zelda CD-i (1993):

This is really an image from the game. Isn't that just sad?

These are not Zelda games. Nintendo has even stated that these are not Zelda games. But still, there are three games, The Wand of Gamelon, The Faces of Evil, and Zelda’s Adventure, that contain Link, Zelda, and Ganon. I have not played any of the three, but I’ve seen extensive gameplay footage of people who have, and there’s no reason to punish yourself. However, I’ve claimed to Other Chris that if he finds me a CD-i and one of the Zelda games for it, I promise to play it to completion no matter what. Thankfully he has not yet acquired the needed materials to torture me properly. So to be clear, you can skip these three because they do NOT count. So let’s move on to my favorite game of all time instead.

Ocarina of Time (1998):

And then Nintendo reminded everyone they still knew how to make a damn good Zelda game...again.

As I said, Ocarina of Time is my favorite game of all time. It was my first Games You Should Have Played article and reappeared over and over and over again in one form or another in my various writings. It’s bound to show up again at some point, all because it really is an excellent game.

The tricky thing is, before Ocarina of time there wasn’t really a question of Zelda continuity, at least not for me anyway. The Legend of Zelda went directly into The Adventure of Link, and A Link to the Past had that same Link shipwrecked in Link’s Awakening. But with Ocarina of Time we were hearing what sounded like a complete origin story to everything. We learned where the Triforce came from and how Ganondorf started down the path of evil, plus we saw the world for the first time with 3D graphics, making it all the more impressive and real. But it was clear that the story wasn’t yet over. Navi, while annoying, flew away at the end of the game in a sad moment that I couldn’t help feeling sick about. My real question was: Would Link ever find Navi again?

Majora’s Mask (2000):

How do you follow up the best-reviewed game ever? Like this.

That’s when Majora’s Mask came along. It was a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time, so a lot was expected from it. The premise mentioned that Link was searching for a lost friend, presumably Navi (who else would he be looking for?), and then he gets jumped by the Skull Kid and thrown into the alternate world of Termina where the moon is falling. When I first played Majora’s Mask I enjoyed it, but I was sad that Link wasn’t still an adult. Plus, putting the whole game on a constantly resetting timer was jarring, but eventually you get used to it. It was certainly harder than Ocarina of Time for all the right reasons, but what stood out to me most then and especially now was the story. Majora’s Mask had the best story of any Zelda game and I’d argue still does.

See, Majora’s Mask is incredibly dark. The whole game deals with death and passing on. From the very start you realize that this game’s tone is way darker than any previous Zelda title, but it only gets darker. The big indicator is the means for how Link acquires new masks. There are three main masks he changes between: The Deku Mask, the Goron Mask, and the Zora Mask. When Link places these masks on his face he transforms in a short cutscene that shows him in agony (you can’t deny it), and later you learn that the Goron Mask was made because Daruni, the Goron chief, has died and given his power to you. Next, you find a dying Zora washed up on the beach and ease his pain, allowing him to die and leave you the Zora Mask.

What seems to get missed is that the Deku Mask must also contain the spirit of someone who died. In the first few minutes you’re transformed into a Deku Scrub and while learning the basics of the controls, you stumble upon a short tree that Tatl remarks looks just like you. A bit later, the Deku Butler helps you because you remind him of his son whom he hasn’t seen in quite some time. If you haven’t pieced this together, the ending cutscene shows the Deku Butler on his hands and knees in front of the Deku tree you see at the beginning of the game. That’s beyond dark. That’s intensely macabre, and I applaud the Zelda series for being that mature in story without having to be mature in violence or sex. Unfortunately, this would set a precedence that would cause problems in the series within just a few short years.

Also, I liked Tingle. I thought he was hilarious. Screw everyone that disagrees.

I’ll end part 1 of the Zelda Retrospective here to let you stew over Majora’s Mask’s darker tones. It will be the last time the series manages to rise to a level above most other games, and while my favorite is still Ocarina of Time, I maintain that Majora’s Mask is the best game of the series. But don’t forget to come back tomorrow for the second half where I explain why a bunch of Zelda fans jumped ship, literally, and how some of them came back.

Want more Zelda? Check out these articles:

Zelda: A Retrospective Part 2

Let’s Think Deep: The Virtual Utopia

The Top Ten Best Zelda Items


About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.


  1. I completely know what you’re talking about when you spoke about Link’s Awakening. I got it as my first zelda game with my gameboy for my birthday too, and got stuck in the bottle grotto room where you have to kill the stalfos, pols voice, and keese in the right order to proceed. I gave up for a few years and then figured out the hint from the missing chunk of stone, and I’ve been a Zelda fanatic for all time, playing and owning all the games. Zelda fans unite 🙂

  2. It is actually available on the Virtual Console. If you have a GameCube I’d recommend snagging it in the Zelda Collector’s Edition that includes Zelda 1 and 2, plus Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time. If you can promise not to destroy it I’d even let you borrow the disc.

  3. That’s a shame since Majora’s Mask is exactly the sort of storytelling depth you’d champion for years to come. The timer isn’t all that intimidating once you get used to it. Basically, after the first cycle through the days, you can slow the timer by playing the Song of Reverse Time, giving you significantly more time to do everything in a segment. Once you get the hang of things you’ll really never worry about the Moon falling, save for some tight spots here and there. Really, the heart of the game is all the deviations though. After doing some research I discovered that this is the first Zelda title where Link can murder an NPC. I was shocked by that, but yeah, it’s true.

  4. Loved Ocarina of Time. I’ve always been curious about Majora’s Mask, and I’ve watched my neighbor play through a good portion of it, but I’ve just been way to intimidated by it to attempt it myself. For one, the game just seems massively too complicated and overwhelming, not to mention constantly being on a timer. Confession time, one of my biggest phobias in video games is being on a time limit. I could never relax long enough to actually concentrate on what I need to do. I’m just running around like a Cucco with its head chopped off.

  5. You know, a lot of people just don’t prefer Ocarina of Time, and I can totally see why. Other Chris, for example, has never been able to play it due to his lack of the “Zelda Mindset” and his inability to get past the dated graphics. I can’t bring myself to say I like Twilight Princess better than Ocarina of Time as a point of pride, but I do argue that TP wouldn’t be nearly as good had it not had OoT to play off of.

  6. PuppetDoctor on

    The fold out map came with the original Legend of Zelda game when you bought it. There was also a free help-line that Nintendo set up for the original Zelda game. However, once they got so much demand for the help line and many people kept calling Nintendo changed it to a 1-900 number where you had to pay a $0.99 a minute.

    The reason why they made this help line was because Nintendo was worried that people would be confused with such a game as Zelda since it was the first of its kind in the gaming market. This greatly helped people out with the use of the help line when the game first came out also.

    Good article but I am sorry to say I think that Ocarina of Time is overhyped. It is a GOOD game in my opinion and is not nearly as overhyped as Final Fantasy VII (which I think was mediocre) but honestly I prefer Twilight Princess.

  7. Oh there were cheats around for the first Zelda even pre-internet. I remember having a general Nintendo Guide Book that had first level maps for many games, including Zelda. I’m not sure where I got it, but I also had a huge fold-out map of Hyrule that I used to mark where fire bushes were, where to bomb, etc. That game took me months to complete and then don’t forget about the second quest! Ee gads.

    The original Zelda is about where my RPG skills and interest peaked, however. I’m not one that likes to over micro-manage in games, and Zelda had a great balance of action, exploring, and inventory management.

    As RPGs progressed I quickly gave up when I found I had to take notes during a game. Any game that requires I spend more time tweaking my stats than exploring, and if paying attention to NPC conversations is a requirement, then it’s just too much trouble.

    I think a well-balanced RPG game is a lost art these days. Zelda has maintained a certain consistency over time, which is very impressive. It’s seemingly the only casual RPG franchise out there – others are either too targeted (Pokemon) or too involved (FF).

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