It came to my attention today that it is the 30th anniversary of the Japanese release of the Legend of Zelda. I've documented in the past how influential this game has been on my life, so in celebration I'm going to take a little look back to my childhood and try to tell the story in greater detail.
Though the Legend of Zelda was released in 1986, it was a couple of years before I first played it. I was only four at the time of its release, and not Japanese. Of course, it was eventually released in the US in the famous golden cartridge for the NES. Up until about 1988, I didn't know anything about the NES or video games in general. I had dabbled in them at various restaurants which had arcades. I was a little bit familiar with pinball games in particular, and I also remember playing Hogan's Alley at Max & Erma's, and Castlevania at Pizza Hut. When I was in first grade, I remember it being around Christmas time. We had to write down our Christmas list as part of an assignment, and a lot kids said they were asking for a Nintendo. I had no idea what they were talking about.
I got my first glimpse of one at my friend Brandon's house a few weeks later. I thought is strange, because I was an outside kid, but all he wanted to do that day was stay inside and play the Nintendo. I didn't know much about video games, so I declined to participate, and instead just sat down and watched him play. The three games he played that day were The Goonies II, Excitebike, and The Legend of Zelda. I found myself growing more and more fascinated as I watched him play Zelda, though I initially misunderstood to the concept of the health bar. I thought he was intending to lose hearts. Toward the end of my time there, I finally relented and Zelda was the first NES game I ever played. It was enough to hook me to the point where I couldn't get it out of my head. I felt like it was too close to Christmas to change my list, so I started saving up for a Nintendo myself. I got it from someone that an NES cost $100, and my dad said he would pay for half of it if I could save up the other half.
It took a while with a meager $1 per week allowance, though birthday money from my grandparents helped out a bit, but I eventually managed to save up the $50. I came home from school one day and my dad already had the NES set up, and was playing Duck Hunt when I walked in. He explained that you couldn't just pick any game you wanted with the system, as it came with Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt, but he had rented the Legend of Zelda, which I didn't even know was something you could do. The novelty of video games wore off quick with my parents, but for a while they were as into it as I was.
The story premise is simple, as it tended to be in games of that time. One day, a young boy named Link encounters an old woman named Impa being attacked by the minions of Ganon. He saves her, and she tells him that Ganon has invaded the land of Hyrle and stolen the Triforce of Power. He has also kidnapped Princess Zelda, but before she was captures, she was able to break the Triforce of Wisdom into eight fragments and hide them away in secret dungeons, as well as task Impa with finding someone courageous enough to find the eight pieces and defeat Ganon. Impa implores Link to find them and save Zelda, and he vows to do so. The classic stuff of fantasy.
Zelda was kind of unique for its time, as there really wasn't another game like it. It was sort of the original sandbox game. Instead of going from Point A to Point B, it was a lot less linear, encouraging exploration of an open world, with plenty of secrets to discover along the way. Instead of being limited to one weapon, there were a total of nine items you could use, each with their own effect. You had a sword, of course, but also bombs that could blow up enemies and uncover secret passages, a want that shot magic energy, a candle that could light up rooms or burn down trees to uncover more secret areas, and others. There sub-items which you couldn't use directly, but had more passive effects. A book of spells that enhanced your wand so that whatever it hit caught fire, a ladder to get you across chasms, and a master key that would unlock any dungeon door. You didn't necessarily have to complete every dungeon in order, and you were able to travel freely in on the overworld map. It even had a gambling mini-game, one of the first to appear in a video game. It was deeper than any anything else at the time.
Though I didn't realize it then, the game was my first foray into the world of epic fantasy. I had been into other things with fantasy elements, such as Masters of the Universe, but this was my first time encountering what I would consider purely a fantasy story. That led to getting into games like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy a few years later, all before I even knew fantasy literature existed. Of course, my love for the genre did eventually find its way to books and that led me to what I do today.
Years later, I read that Miyamoto's inspiration from the game came from his own childhood, exploring the caves, fields, and forests around Kyoto. He wanted to impart the same sense of exploration and wonder into the game. Considering I spent my childhood exploring the woods around my homes, it's not a secret to everyone why I enjoyed it so much.
Believe it or not, this helped me practice as I was learning how to read.
Happy birthday, Legend of Zelda. It makes me glad that the franchise survives to this day and is hopefully as inspiring to today's generation as it was to mine.