Mention the word “Zelda” and everybody will know what you’re talking about. Yes, even those who don’t know much about video games. It’s the franchise that helped bring adventure video games to the forefront, the franchise that incorporated music in the most clever of fashions, and the franchise that’s secretly made some of the most complex puzzle games. (I’m also pretty sure it’s the only franchise whose name comes from the name of a great American novelist’s socialite wife.) Its legacy is one that is only paralleled by the Mario franchise in notability. Maybe the Final Fantasy franchise, too.
When you look at these games, the first thing that comes to mind– after gushing about the awesome music– usually is along the lines of “how in the blue hell did Miyamoto come up with this idea?!” (Then you begin to wonder if Miyamoto was a stoner.) However, the idea of the series came from his own imagination running wild during his childhood.
The story of how Miyamoto was inspired to make the original Legend of Zelda is that it came to him from those childhood memories. As a child, he grew up along the countrysides of Kyoto, Japan. He’d venture out into the woods, just taking in everything and having a wide-eyed approach to the whole experience. Through this experience came the basic foundation of the franchise that we know and love to this day. One particular story, as reported by an excellent piece in the New Yorker, involved approaching a cave in the middle of the forest. This influence can be seen with the dungeons that were present in the original game.
It was this foundation that the makers of the game were able to build upon, though of course they also used influences of RPGs when it came to collecting items, potions, and the interactions with other people. Usually, you’d never see such a thing in anything that wasn’t an RPG, but the Zelda series decided that it would make the story far more fascinating and much more engrossing to the player. Or at least this is my silly assumption.
And there was also the usage of puzzles within the game, which made players use their head a little bit more. In the dungeons for example, you’re told by the map that there’s a room to the right but there’s no evidence. There’s only blocks. This could be confusing in some aspects, but Miyamoto and his band of developers decided to challenge the gamer at the controller. They never quite revealed the answer, and sometimes it could get frustrating to a point even today (sometimes I do find myself having to look at a walkthrough every so often), but there’s no greater satisfaction than figuring out the puzzle yourself. Usually by mentally engaging someone, you can get people even more invested in the adventure at hand.
And then sometimes they’ll make you go through mazes. Eck.
Once all these elements came together to usher in The Legend of Zelda in 1986, a new franchise was born. The franchise that has captivated and enchanted people from all around the globe by its somewhat mundane but always challenging gameplay. Who knew that it took the imagination of a developer, the fusion of RPG and puzzle aspects, and a totally fantastic soundtrack to help make it possible? Actually, I’m pretty sure most of them knew they had something great on their hands. The series has gone through its fair share of ups and downs (CD-i Link anybody?), its fandom whinings (cel-shading vs. realistic looking), and even shipping wars (oh dear god, the shipping wars– Link is paired up with everybody under the sun– and, hell, probably even the sun itself). And yet, throughout the years, the Legend of Zelda has survived and prospered throughout its entire time.
Will the franchise continue on forever? While I’d love to see that happen, even I know there’ll come a time when they will have to pack it up and put on a grand finale of a game. I can only imagine how grand that finale could be. (Actually, that sounds like a good idea for another article, but I digress.) Let’s face it: the birth of The Legend of Zelda was pretty much the birth of the modern adventure/fantasy video game.