The Legend of Zelda Original Overview

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The Legend of Zelda is one of the most popular franchises in Nintendo history. It is a series of action-adventure games focusing on the exploits of the hero Link, in his quests to save Princess Zelda.

The original Legend of Zelda was released in 1986 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It came with an offsetting manual that provided clues about accessing certain parts of the game due to a lack of dialogue or explanation in the game. This is familiar to most gamers as a “Nintendo Hard” experience and has become a staple of the Zelda franchise as each new entry in the series features its own unique quirks that must be figured out as one plays through it.

Legend of Zelda Release

The Legend of Zelda is an action-adventure video game developed and published by Nintendo. It was released in Japan on February 21, 1986, for the Famicom Disk System. The game became available in North America when it was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) on the cartridge format in 1987.

It’s also known as The Hyrule Fantasy: The Legend of Zelda 1, in Japan.

The Storyline

The game tells the story of a boy named Link, who must venture out to save Princess Zelda from the evil Ganon. Along his journey, he is assisted by an old man, who gives him clues about where to go next.

Zelda has been kidnapped by the evil Ganon and you have to save her! The manual included with the game was a map of the world you’re in, Hyrule.


The Legend of Zelda is a 2-D action-adventure game, with many RPG elements. The player controls Link as he travels throughout the land, searching for lost pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom in order to defeat Ganon and rescue Princess Zelda.

Link can walk, attack by using his sword and use several items including a boomerang, bombs, and a recorder with magical properties. The game takes place in an overhead perspective (top-down) for the overworld, towns, and dungeons; side-scrolling when inside buildings or tombs.

The Legend of Zelda gameplay is presented in an overhead perspective, although all combat takes place in a side-scrolling view. The player moves Link throughout the game world by clicking on locations shown on the main map. “Zones” are defined on the main map with crosses; enterable areas are defined with a black space with an arrow pointing to it.

The player uses items gained in the dungeons to help Link defeat enemies and uncover secrets in other areas. Dungeons are usually several screens long, and the puzzles within them require the use of logic or specific items.

Link can jump with the aid of boots in order to reach certain areas, such as over a fence. The design of the boots is similar to those from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

Link can find and use various items and weapons, including a boomerang for retrieving items and stunning enemies; bombs can be used to destroy obstacles and cracked walls; a grappling hook that enables him to reach special areas; and a recorder with magical properties that allows him to warp to previously visited locations.

Notable Characters

There are a few notable characters that help Link during his quest:

  • The old man gives you advice and clues.
  • Princess Zelda has been kidnapped by Ganon and you have to save her!
  • The “Old Woman” tells you how many hearts you have left.

When Link enters a new screen or location, he can shoot an arrow at the Old Man and receive a clue as to where to go next. The clues given by the Old Woman allow Link to increase his maximum health. When a certain amount of damage is taken from enemy attacks, she will tell him that now might be a good time to use the “Hint Glasses”. The Old Woman can be found in caves scattered around Hyrule.

Notable Enemies

There are a few notable enemies Link encounters:

  • Bubbles: These creatures bounce around the screen and can be defeated with your sword or boomerang.
  • Goriyas: Little men who run up and throw spears at you. They take two hits to kill and respawn in their respective places after being killed.
  • Moblins: These pig-like creatures take three hits to kill and will also respawn in their respective places after being killed.
  • Stalfos: Skeleton warriors that stand perfectly still until you come near, then they attack. They take four hits to kill and respawn like the other enemies.
  • Ganon: The evil creature Link must defeat at the end of the game.

Themes and Motifs

The original Legend of Zelda game established themes and motifs that would continue throughout the series. The series focuses on the Triforce, a set of three golden triangles representing power, wisdom, and courage.

Each part of the Triforce is held by an ancient race: the Royal Family of Hyrule holds the Triforce of Power, which gives them life; Ganon possesses the Triforce of Wisdom, and the Goddesses of Hyrule have the Triforce of Courage.

Important Elements of the Game

There are some important elements unique to the original Zelda game that helped make it the classic it is today.

Zelda’s Lullaby

Zelda’s Lullaby is a recurring song in the Zelda series, originally serving as the background music for the game’s title screen. It has since become well known in its own right, appearing in other games.

The Minuet of Forest and the Bolero of Fire, both from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, are performed only on the harp. All other songs in those games were performed as singing (except for the Serenade of Water) or as an orchestral arrangement.

Both “Zelda’s Lullaby” and “Epona’s Song” are played on the Ocarina, which is also used to play the game’s twelve melodies (seven main songs and five secret ones).

The music heard in Kokiri Forest near Link’s home is actually the first few notes of “Zelda’s Lullaby.” This song can be heard again at the very end of the game when Zelda sends Link back in time.

The theme heard during all boss battles is an arrangement of the main theme played by the SNES’s FM chip. The notes that follow it are based upon this same theme and also feature heavy use of the SNES’s instruments along with some sound effects used only for this track.

The music heard when Link first meets Zelda and when he is in the castle garden at night is a variation of “Zelda’s Lullaby.” It can also be heard near the end of the game after Ganon has been defeated, as Zelda sends Link back to his own time.


The dungeons are the same as in later games, with a map, compass, and item. This element is important because it laid the groundwork for all future Zelda games in the franchise.

Secret Passages

The game also contains secret passages that were later used in many other Zelda games. This adds to the addictiveness of finding them, as do locked doors and boss-only rooms.

Musical Instruments

The game also made use of three important musical instruments, which remain in most Zelda games to this day. Dotted throughout the land are flutes that serve different purposes, most commonly allowing Link to warp to another location in Hyrule. The Ocarina of Time is used with the “Song of Time” to open the door leading to the alternate land of Termina. The Harp is used in the “Serenade of Water” and “Nocturne of Shadow.” It is also needed to get into the Temple of Time, which holds the Master Sword that Link needs to defeat Ganon.

Indigenous Races

The Deku, Goron, and Zora are indigenous races to Hyrule. They play a large role in the series because of their magical abilities. The Deku Sprout supports Link throughout his quest because he is able to use the Bubble Blast magic move.

Gorons have incredible strength that they can use to curl into balls and roll with immense speed. They also can use their powerful fists to help Link solve puzzles and fight enemies. The Zora are the only race that is not featured in any other game aside from Ocarina of Time. Their ability to manipulate water with their hands has proven vital to many of Link’s quests, including the retrieval of the Triforce of Wisdom and the defeat of Ganondorf.


Locations introduced in the original Zelda game continue to appear throughout the series.

Hyrule Field

The starting location of Hyrule Field has appeared in every game in the franchise. Many of the towns and their corresponding dungeons are easily accessible from here, making it a perfect meeting place for all races.

Death Mountain

Death Mountain stands as one of the most popular settings. The Gorons live at the base of this mountainous region, providing plenty of opportunities for exploration and combat. Kakariko Village is also located here, where the tombstones from the graveyard float on a swirling river of lava.

People of the Zoras Domain

The Kokiri Forest is home to the Elves and serves as a starting area for all new players. Located near Death Mountain, this forest has been visited by many great warriors, including Link and the hero of the Gorons.

Alternative Titles

If you love the original Legend of Zelda game, there are quite a few other games you should try. They’re not all Zelda titles, but they feature some of the same types of gameplay you’ve come to love.

Sid Meier’s Civilization II

Sid Meier’s Civilization II was one of the best turn-based strategy games ever invented. It featured a massive world map that allows for exploration, resource management, and military conquest. Players can choose to be either a civilization or a tribe at the beginning of gameplay, which determines their opponents and allies throughout the game. You can also name your own world, which is a unique feature for this strategy game.

In Civilization II, you must lead a tribe or civilization from the beginning of time to the end of days. It’s up to you whether they become a mighty empire or go extinct due to your poor leadership skills. Either way is completely possible in this expansive turn-based strategy game.

The Wind Waker

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is another action-adventure game that contains many puzzles, combat, and exploration. The player takes on the role of Link as he travels across the vast ocean to settle a personal score with Ganondorf. He must travel between islands by using his trusty boat, setting out on a grand adventure to save his sister and the world from Ganondorf’s evil grasp.

Mega Man X

The Mega Man franchise has been around since 1987. In most of the games, you take on the role of Mega Man as he fights against Dr. Wily and his robots in an attempt to save the world. Mega Man X is one of the spin-off series that carries many of the same mechanics as the original game, but it takes place much later in time. Mega Man X began development 13 years after the first game was released and features an upgraded Mega Man with different weapons.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds carries many of the same mechanics as the original Legend of Zelda. It’s another top-down adventure game where you have to explore a large world, defeat monsters with your sword and shield, find items, and solve puzzles. One unique feature about this entry in the series is that it is a direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Players can also use a new item called the wall merge ability, which allows them to pass through walls and find hidden treasures.


For those who aren’t quite as familiar with the Zelda franchise, here are some frequently asked questions that may help you learn more.

Question: How Many Games are in the Zelda Series?

Answer: The Legend of Zelda is a franchise that wasn’t always as successful as it is now. It began with the original title for the NES and has grown to encompass much more than just an action-adventure game. As of 2017, there have been 19 main titles released and at least 7 spin-offs.

Question: What are Some of the Best Zelda Games?

Answer: The best Legend of Zelda games are spread out across all consoles that have been released. The most popular titles in the franchise include Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and A Link Between Worlds. All three of these games received perfect scores from major video game publications such as Nintendo Power, EGM, and IGN.

Question: Should I Play the Original Legend of Zelda?

Answer: The original game is definitely worth playing if you are interested in the series. It’s not quite as smooth as some of the later entries, but it still holds up very well today. If you enjoy this game, make sure you check out Majora’s Mask, which is another game that takes place in the same world.

Question: What are Some of the Best Zelda Games for Handhelds?

Answer: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Phantom Hourglass both received perfect scores from major publications upon their release. The two games were also rated equally by EGM when they were reviewed side-by-side.

Question: What is the Best Legend of Zelda Game?

Answer: There is no correct answer to this question. The Legend of Zelda games are all very different from one another and appeal to a wide variety of gamers. Some people enjoy action-adventure games, whereas others prefer top-down adventure titles or dungeon crawlers.

Final Thoughts

The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises today. Its unique gameplay for its time proved it to be a classic. The games still remain challenging to gamers today, and each new Zelda game provides unique challenges that must be figured out as the player goes through it.

The Legend of Zelda was groundbreaking for its time. It broke the boundaries of conventional play styles with its non-linear style of gameplay, which was unheard of at the time. This feature helped it become a classic, and has been used by all other games in the Zelda series since.

If you’ve played some of the more recent Zelda games but you’ve never experienced the original, I would highly recommend checking it out. It’s a classic game that still holds up to this day, especially in the face of its sequels and modern entries into the series.

More related overviews:

The Wind Waker Game Overview

Twilight Princess Game Overview

A Link to the Past Game Overview

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