The Legend of Zelda is a series of fantasy Action-Adventure games by Nintendo. They star the hero Link, who often has to save the Princess Zelda and the land of Hyrule from the villainous Ganondorf. Since its debut on February 21, 1986, it has become one of the company's chief franchises, with every new platform the company makes receiving at least one game in the franchise.
The Zelda series, as it is often called, features a mixture of action, puzzle, and exploration-based gameplay. Each game in the series contains these elements, with new mechanics and additions being added throughout the series history. Although games have a main quest, much of the content is often found in side-quests, which can contain anything from in-game money-making opportunities to ways to improve stats to even entirely new pieces of equipment.
Zelda games tend to focus on an assortment of items and equipment, which are distinct and perform different roles in the game's action, puzzle, and exploration-based components. The primary weapon is always a sword, often magical in nature, with a shield of various effectiveness backing it up. Other common items include bombs, which can be laid down or thrown, bows and arrows, and boomerangs that return to the player's character, Link.
Navigation is typically broken into three parts. There is a vast overworld to explore, peaceful areas like towns to talk to NPC's in, and dungeons that must be conquered to defeat enemies and gain equipment.
Although Zelda games have RPG-like elements, they are, with the exception of the second game, not RPGs in any way, shape, or form.
Zelda's inspiration came from creator Shigeru Miyamoto's childhood, in which he would explore the countryside in his home province of Kyoto.
The first game in the series was the eponymous The Legend of Zelda, released in 1986 for the Famicom. The game introduced many revolutionary concepts to games, such as a true save-system, open-world exploration, and a wide assortment of items and abilities. It was followed up a year later by Zelda II, the series's sole action-RPG, which featured sidescrolling elements. Although by no means a failure, the second game was soon seen as a curious footnote in the series history, overshadowed by its more successful predecessor and sequels.
After Ohga Shrugs
A Link to the Past, the third game in the series and first game to confuse the chronology by being a prequel, was released for the SNES in November 1991. This game was considered by many to be the "classical" 2D entry in the series, helping to establish the series mythos and expand the scope of the series. However, despite the game's success, it would be the last console Zelda title for about seven years.
In the meantime, Link's Awakening was released for the Game Boy. It was the first of several games to not feature Hyrule, Princess Zelda, or Ganon. However, it still starred Link, who has appeared in every entry in the series. Link's Awakening was in many ways on par with A Link to the Past, with one element added to the series for every one taken away. The game would be remade in color for the Game Boy Color in 1998.
The Zelda series reached its high point with 1998's Ocarina of Time for the N64. The game not only brought the series into the third dimension, but also revolutionized how games were explored in a 3D space. It was the first, and thus far only, game in the series to sell ten million units worldwide. The other N64 game in the series, Majora's Mask, was a lesser success, in part due to the mandatory RAM add-on, but still added new elements to the series, such as character transformations and more developed time-based mechanics.
The only main GameCube game in the franchise, was The Wind Waker. This game focused on sailing, while featuring a new cell-shaded art style. In 2006, the Revolution launched with Twilight Princess, a game stylistically reminiscent of Ocarina of Time. Unlike most entries in the Zelda series, this game introduced few new concepts, instead focusing on expanding what was made possible in prior installments of the series.
In between Twilight Princess and the next console Zelda game, two handheld iterations were made: Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. These games, released in late 2007 and late 2009 respectively, used the same engine and shared the same cell-shaded art style as Wind Waker. The games used stylus-based touch controls, and were more puzzle-oriented than the series norm.
The latest Zelda game, Skyward Sword, was released in early 2011. This game's main innovation was its new combat system, which relies heavily on paying attention to enemy actions and reacting accordingly, using an appropriate movement, attack, or item. It also featured an art style that combined the colors of Wind Waker with the realism of entries like Twilight Princess.
In other Games
Zelda characters have appeared in a variety of games, mostly made by Nintendo. The most notable instance is in the Super Smash Bros series, where various incarnations of Link, Princess Zelda, and Ganondorf battle alongside other Nintendo mascots. Link also appears as a playable character in Soul Calibur II, and was often described as one of the game's main selling points on the GameCube.
The Legend of Zelda is one of the best received series in video game history, with no entry made by Nintendo receiving anything less than good reviews. Many Zelda games are considered to be among the best games on their respective systems. Ocarina of Time in particular is possibly the most acclaimed game ever created.
The Zelda series has also been a major commercial success, with over sixty million units of retail software sold over series history.