Nintendo fans generally happen to also be fans of the Legend of Zelda series. The two don’t necessarily have to go hand in hand, but usually do. What everyone may not know is that not all Zelda games were developed in-house at Nintendo. Yes, I’m sure that your minds are immediately jumping to the CD-i Zeldas and how terrifically terrible they were and still are.
No, I am not talking about those. Get your minds out of the gutter. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
Even excluding those horrific, umm, what’s the opposite of “masterpieces?” Hm. Anyway, even without the aforementioned pieces of trash, there are a few Zelda games that are not developed by the internal Nintendo development teams, perhaps even ones that are among your favorites.
While Link’s Awakening was the first portable Zelda title (not including any Game and Watch versions), turns out most of the single-screened portable Zeldas were in fact all developed by this one studio that used to exist. That studio was Flagship. Flagship Co, Ltd. was a subsidiary of Capcom, which is why if you play The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages, The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to The Past (GBA), or The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, it will say “Capcom” right after “Nintendo” when you start it up.
You may or may not have noticed that before.
What was surprising was how well these games kept up the spirit of the portable and home console Zeldas before them. However, few would argue that any of the Flagship Zeldas are head and shoulders above Link’s Awakening (particularly Link’s Awakening DX), which set the bar for all portable Zeldas to come.
But these Zeldas are no slouch. They started with the tandem games Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, which each borrowed heavily in assets from Link’s Awakening, but each also had its own full-length Zelda quest, including some characters from Ocarina of Time, like Twinrova, Dampe, and the accordion grinder, that had yet to make an appearance outside of their original game. Even though both were built on the same engine, they are not identical, as Ages focuses on puzzle-solving while Seasons focuses on combat.
Plus, the two games could interact with one another via either the Game Link Cable or a complicated password system. Unlike any Nintendo-created series entries, these two games were created by scripting the storyline first, then crafting the gameplay around the event scenarios. This meant that the story also had to change quite a bit as development continued. Ages and Seasons were originally supposed to be two parts of a trilogy of games, dubbed the “Triforce Trilogy” by Shigeru Miyamoto. In theory, a player could start with any of the games and influence the story of the other games by collecting all three Game Paks.
Eventually, due to time constraints, the games were pared down to two entries, and they were released simulatenously, rather than sequentially, as was originally planned. The true story of the game can only be accessed by finishing one game first, then transferring the data to the other, although each game can be played in its entirely separately.
Those two games alone are fantastic, but Flagship didn’t stop there. Responsible for the GBA port of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the company not only successfully ported the Super NES classic to Nintendo’s unstoppable handheld, but also crafted The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, which allowed for the first multiplayer Zelda action ever. The game featured its own unique story and antagonist, and while the tech necessitating three GBA Game Link Cables was a bit cumbersome, the concept allowed for plenty of fun– and is now available gratis on the 3DS eShop, although the port of this game was done by Grezzo, not Flagship, for reasons that should be obvious shortly if they aren’t already.
Finally, Flagship gave us The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, one of the Game Boy Advance’s finest games of all. It used the system intiated in Four Swords, and, indeed, the same villain, although it apparently takes place several millenia prior to the quadruple-sworded edition of Zelda, and invovles a hat, which is only slightly different from Link’s normal hat. Even the shrinking to Minish size was used in Four Swords, and while in a different fashion, it was something we had seen before. Yet, the game was one of the best ever created on the system.
Now, it’s not so much that these games are the pinnacle of all gaming as that they are fantastic examples of how a Zelda game could and should be, at least in two dimensions. It would be nice if we could have seen how Flagship would tackle a three-dimensional game, but alack, the company was scuttled by Capcom, and while the employees were absorbed back into the larger company, it is still a tragedy that the source of all these great Zelda games was cut short after a developer who is clearly so proficient at making them is utterly destroyed.