On February 21, 1986 — 25 years ago today — Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Since then, the Zelda series has gone to become as iconic, recognized and truly legendary as its trademark golden cartridges. From Hyrule to Termina and beyond, we’ve gone on some truly ground-breaking adventures with Link as each Zelda installment intricately refined the action-adventure genre with its memorable cast of heroes and villains, challenging and exciting gameplay, unforgettable classic tunes, all set in an enchanting world that recalled the limitless imagination and mischief of a young Miyamoto exploring the forest caves of his childhood home.
Other sites have focused on the oddities of the series and silly Zelda-related merchandise and spin-offs that have sprouted up over the years, but I’d like to take this opportunity to recognize the lasting impact of a series that completely changed my understanding of how magical and immersive a videogame could be. Despite our culture’s tendency to throw the word “epic” around in a cavalier fashion to describe everything in the world, The Legend of Zelda is a franchise that has stood the test of time and truly deserves the accolades it has received. It is our generation’s video Odyssey and a modern masterpiece in every sense of the word.
Everyone has a story about their first encounter with The Legend of Zelda. I am quite certain this will amount to nothing short of Nintendo heresy in most circles, but my first exposure to The Legend of Zelda series was Ocarina of Time. Though I’ve since gone on to play earlier Zelda titles, Ocarina will always stand out in my mind as the game that first drew me into the captivating world of Zelda. When I played the game for the first time, exploring the Deku Tree, solving puzzles and fighting enemies that were a strange mixture of adorable and terrifying, I knew I had found something very special. Though the controls, graphics and audio were all extremely polished, the novelty of simply running around in 3D had worn off after playing Super Mario 64 to death, so it wasn’t just that. Ocarina of Time was simply pure, unadulterated magic. Words fail me as I inadequately attempt to describe that “Zelda feeling”. Whatever it was, I couldn’t get enough of it.
Having once heard Saria’s Song, who could ever forget one of the most delightfully lighthearted, cheerful, and charmingly soothing melodies ever composed? Hearing it now takes me back to an innocent, carefree time when Link’s sprawling adventure in Hyrule first drew me into its world — hearkening to the time traveling powers of the Ocarina itself.
The final battle with Ganon in Ocarina of Time in his beast form was also a thing of beauty. What really struck me about this fight is how you can’t quite make out the features of the monstrous Ganon; only with the occasional illuminating strike of lightning in the distance do we get a glimpse of his true form beyond those evil glowing eyes. After countless boss battles in dozens of games since, beast Ganon is an iconic, chilling visual that stuck with me.
Over the years, Ocarina of Time has secured its place in gaming culture as the highest-reviewed game of all time, and with good reason. Now that it is seeing a re-release on the upcoming 3DS, I sincerely hope that it will be enjoyed and appreciated by new gamers for generations to come.
What are your favorite Zelda games, moments, songs and characters? With a series that has packed a remarkable amount of solid quality into those 25 years, it’s hard to choose among them. Thanks for all the memories, Nintendo. I’ll be there on day 1 for each new Zelda adventure yet in store for us.