A new year brings a sense of excitement and discovery as we look forward to new adventures. Sometimes, though, we should reflect on our past experiences and journeys to appreciate our progress. As many people eagerly await news on upcoming video games, a few of us wanted to wax nostalgic and share our first exposure to The Legend of Zelda series.
Who else remembers Slick Sam’s/Movie Gallery video rental shops? My childhood self never thought the day would come when these video rental services would be obsolete! Nearly every Friday after school, my parents would take my sisters and me to our local store, and we could pick two Super Nintendo games to share for the weekend. We often picked Super Mario Kart, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, and some random, lesser-known titles. During one visit in about 1997 or 1998, my dad held up a new-to-me game, saying, “This looks like something you would like.” I took the empty box from him, studying the brass background covered with a sword, shield, and the words The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The back of the box featured a pink-haired, elf-like character holding a sword and apparently having a grand adventure. I decided to give the game a try.
When we returned home, I inserted the cartridge into our SNES and slid the Power button up to turn on the game. After the copyright dates appeared on the screen, three golden triangles trickled to the middle of the display, a twinkling, music box-style melody accompanying them. Once they formed a whole triangle--save the empty middle space--a trumpet sounded, and the game’s title manifested with a regal fanfare. A sword fell from the top of the screen, piercing the “Z” in Zelda. What seemed to be a castle or a fortress was engulfed in a moat, and mountains and their reflections stood in the distance.
I could not wait to start this game.
A dark, stormy night. A faceless voice telling me she is a princess and is in danger. An older man going out into the rain and instructing me to stay home. I had nothing but a lantern in my inventory, and the princess asked me to infiltrate a castle through a hidden passage. I was fascinated and determined to do whatever I needed to for the kingdom’s damsel in distress.
Exploring the castle with Princess Zelda following me made me feel as though I were in a virtual storybook. I had read tales of knights and royals, but I had never had the opportunity to actively participate in the action. I found myself in a building resembling a church, and then I journeyed to a village where the townsfolk, upon seeing me, alerted soldiers, all thanks to various “Wanted” signs placed throughout the kingdom. This game wasn’t a side-scroller; it was a digital page-turner.
I would not complete this installment of the Zelda series until I owned the Game Boy Advance port about five years later, but my love for Link and the legends continued with Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and The Wind Waker in between, each game increasing my love for the lore.
My first encounter with The Legend of Zelda series was in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s when I went over to my aunt and uncle’s house. They had recently bought an NES for my cousins, and they had, of course, the classics we know today, such as Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, and even Gauntlet, which had the add-on controller bar for 4-player mode. All great games, right? Well, I saw something that grabbed my attention, something shiny that beckoned me to try a taste. While some things may be edible, that doesn’t mean they taste good to everyone.
I reached for it and unsheathed it from its plastic prison to reveal a picture of a sword and a title known as The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Now, being around the age of 4 or 5 at the time, anything shiny had influential powers over me. Who am I kidding--30 years later, shiny things still have the same effect, but I digress. I put the game into the console, turned it on, and was welcomed by a lovely tune, one that is played to sway you as if it were the Pied Piper putting you under a spell and luring you into the depths of this adventure. That hypnotic tune didn’t keep me in the trance too long once I started to play.
I started roaming around in the game, not knowing what to do, how to read, or how to fight. I felt helpless. I walked through towns not knowing the rules of this game. When I ventured out into the field and saw a cave, I entered it. I remember being attacked by bat-like creatures, trying to jump and avoid them and not fully understanding how to attack. I got lost in that cave that day, and since then, I haven’t gone back to this game.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link will forever be ingrained in my memory as my first and worst Zelda experience. I do want to eventually try this game again and take it off my unbeaten bucket list, just like Majora's Mask. For now, I’m content with letting this one stay on the list.
Follow Shane on Twitter @StillsaneShane.
I was 8 years old and living in Southern California when the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was first purchased for my home. I remember having a small library of games: Super Mario Bros., Dragon Warrior, Ultima Exodus, and Gauntlet 2, among others. One game seemed to catch my eye immediately; this game, unlike the drab grey of the others, was in the form of a shiny gold cartridge. I knew this meant it was special and that no other game I owned would be like it.
My feelings were justified the moment the title screen appeared: the inverted piece of Triforce surrounded in what appeared to be vines and a lone sword held horizontally below, offering a hint of the battles to come. This whole design seemed to float over a waterfall, and I found myself instantly wondering what lay just beyond. The words The Legend of Zelda captured my attention. My young mind was awash with the budding curiosity that only a child could have. The word “legend” in the title alluded to a story of the grandest scale.
I just had to be a part of it.
I recall vividly the pinprick of chills that danced across my skin as the title screen darkened and the music tempo became desperate. Words that appeared on the blackened background slowly ascended up the screen with purpose. These words described Princess Zelda’s plight and made my mission clear; I had to save her.
Despite my early optimism at that young age, I didn’t really have an idea of how to beat the game. Instead I enjoyed the aspect of traveling across the magical world of Hyrule, a place filled with deserts, mountains, and forests. I marveled when I would bomb open a cave or burn a tree to reveal a hidden passage. Whether I found a fairy fountain or a heart piece, it felt as if every screen held a secret waiting to be discovered. I could not be happier now to relive that nostalgia through the eyes of my 7-year-old son as he plays Breath of the Wild.
For me, the original game was my escape. Today, a player may find the 8-bit designs lacking; however, 8-year-old me easily filled in cracks with my own imagination, creating a vivid world. Of course, this was aided by the included booklet and colored map, features that are sorely lacking in games of today. Even when not playing the game, I would look at these items and fantasize about the world that had captured my mind.
The original Legend of Zelda is the single greatest factor in creating my love of fantasy today. I’m sure as you read through the other authors’ contributions you will find more of the same. You will find a band of daydreamers who found their home in Hyrule, each one of us perhaps having a different game that was our first but all tied together by the spirit of this franchise, a spirit that has burned bright for over 34 years.
My first memory of being exposed to The Legend of Zelda franchise stems back to when it was barely a franchise at all. I was in Duluth, Iowa, where my family was spending a week with my grandparents and we were making a grocery run to a small-town store. I spotted a cereal box that was labeled with a large red Nintendo logo on it, and below was Mario running through the Mushroom Kingdom! I remember thinking, “Wow, this Mario guy has really made it… he’s a cereal!” I begged my parents to buy it. They mentioned that it was nothing but sugar, but because we were on vacation, they’d allow it.
I, literally, held the box of cereal in my lap as we drove back to my grandparents’ place.
While driving back, I saw that, really, Mario was only on half of the box. The other half was dark and scary and had a man with a sword attacking a monster! “Zelda… I don’t know what that game is all about, but it looks scary,” I recall thinking. I, truly, even avoided eating that half of the cereal box out of fear...until after a couple of mornings passed and I had exhausted all of the fruity Mario Bros. side. Even though it scared me, I poured the purple and orange Zelda side into my cereal bowl... ...it still tasted pretty good.
Fast forward to the mid ‘80s. My father worked at the Snap-On Tools corporate headquarters, which happened to be located in my hometown. When my sister and I were really young, he and my mother would often design little field trips for us to take in the form of a visit to his office and engineering lab. He’d have a soldering gun set up ahead of time and, after our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, he'd teach us how to connect circuits. I specifically recall one time soldering a star to be used on our Christmas tree the following holiday. One time, my sister and I were having our lunch at Dad’s desk, and he pulled out a Nintendo Power magazine. Apparently, it had been getting passed around the office. “Look at this,” he said. “A whole magazine just about video games!” It seemed like a crazy concept at the time. “What’s even more exciting is… look at this… the magazine mapped out some of the levels to this game called Zelda.”
Of course, it was Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. I’ll never forget the photo on the cover of the magazine: a man dressed as Link--with a very ‘80s hairstyle--faced away from the camera to look upon a sleeping princess. My sister and I looked at the layout of the dungeons, and I started to imagine what it would be like to live in that world. I had still never played a Zelda game. In fact, I spent most of my young life thinking that the Zelda games were side scrollers because my main exposure to the series was Zelda II.
Finally, in middle school, I was aware that A Link to the Past had come out for Super Nintendo. My family, however, didn’t get a Super Nintendo until the mid-’90s, years into the Super Nintendo’s life cycle, so I missed the hype. I had a friend who would constantly talk about the fetch quest in Link’s Awakening, but I still hadn’t had any direct exposure to that game, either. One day, I rented a game called Chrono Trigger from a local rental shop. A strange place called Blockbuster had just opened on the other side of town, but it was more than a bike’s ride away, so I frequented the local (and slightly smelly) 4 Star Video for all of my rental needs instead. I was old enough to realize that I was starting to get excited about RPGs and games with large storylines...and Chrono Trigger delivered.
That year, my parents spoke to my (now two) sisters and me, and told us that they wanted to get us gifts for Easter. They asked what we might like. Gifts for Easter had never happened before (and they never happened again), but something struck them that year, and I’m grateful. I had a Game Boy by now, and I knew that asking for a full home console game, like Chrono Trigger, would be a little too pricey of a request for an Easter gift. I decided to ask for a Game Boy game, and after a quick (but actually slow) search on dial-up Internet, I discovered that Link’s Awakening had dropped in price due to the fact that it had been out for a couple of years. I told my folks that I was curious about this Zelda series, which I had never played, and that I expected that I would enjoy playing the Game Boy version.
So that Easter I was introduced to the land of Hyrule (actually, not Hyrule yet but Koholint Island!). I loved the game and played it non-stop. It's funny, looking back, that at the time I didn’t realize that many of the staples of a Zelda game were missing. Nevertheless, Link’s Awakening was my first Zelda game, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I played Link’s Awakening only a year or so before Ocarina of Time was released, and having Ocarina of Time as my second Zelda game… well… the hook was set after that, and I anticipated every Zelda release thereafter. I bought Oracle of Ages on day one of its release and loved going back to a slightly upgraded version of the engine that I first experienced the series on in Link's Awakening.
I never would have guessed, more than 20 years ago, that it would all lead to producing and sharing a podcast about this series with so many other fans.