The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has generated a lot of excitement.
But what are the hallmarks of the Legend of Zelda series?
Let’s go back 30 years to revisit the very first game in the series ‘The Legend of Zelda,’ released on the original NES in 1987. It’s here that we first meet the 3 most crucial characters in the series. Link, the hero, Zelda, the princess and Ganon, the villain. Link’s quest, which is generally repeated throughout many of the following games, is to save the princess and the rest of the world as well.
This game also introduces us to the Triforce, another recurring element in the series described as ‘golden triangles possessing mystical power.’ Ganon has stolen the Triforce of Power and is after Princess Zelda’s Triforce of Wisdom. To protect the world, she splits her Triforce into 8 segments before being kidnapped by Ganon. Link must now find the eight pieces, rebuild the triangle and use it to save the princess and the world. Even though it is limited to 8 bit, we also get our first taste of the iconic Zelda music theme.
The structure of all future The Legend of Zelda games is developed right in the very first game.
It consists of two elements: an overworld that Link can travel across to access the various areas of the game and the dungeons, where the main action takes place. Each dungeon features a boss for Link to defeat at the end as well a new weapon that he will pick up somewhere along the way. These dungeons contain iconic Zelda items like the map, the compass (which shows where the various items that exist in the dungeon are) and the boss key, which opens the final room.
Whilst Link is free to roam the overworld as he likes, each dungeon entrance must be uncovered sequentially, usually with aid from the items he has picked up from the previous dungeons. The overworld is set in the Kingdom of Hyrule, which features areas that will be repeated and revisited in the games to come such as the Lost Woods, Death Mountain, a graveyard, a forest and a central lake.
The Triforce of Courage is introduced, having been found imprinted on Link’s hand.
The theme that Ganon can be resurrected also came into play for the first time. Link now had the ability to use magic as well a few new moves and sword techniques aside from the forward stab. Villages and towns would also make their first appearance here. Link could now now interact with various town members to either learn information that could help solve later puzzles, upgrade his health and abilities, as well as take on side quests, also a first for the series.Whereas the first game in the series was played from a top down perspective, the second game, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, experimented with a side-scrolling field of play. Despite coming out only a year after the first game, this new Zelda game introduced a number of new concepts that would also become traditional Zelda elements.
Whilst some consider this Zelda game to be the black sheep of the franchise, due to the unusual side scrolling gameplay, 3 life limit and music that didn’t quite have the usual Zelda feel, it was still an excellent game for it’s time that did a lot to advance the series. It also introduced another iconic enemy that continues to be a fan favourite: Dark Link.
A Link to the Past is the first Zelda game that gives us one of the coolest elements of the Zelda series – the concept of two different worlds.
In this game they are differentiated as a light world and a dark world – two maps of Hyrule, which are related to each other in several ways. Link can only access the dark world halfway through the game and travel between the two worlds opens up access to new areas and secret items.Four years later we would be treated to the only Zelda game on the Super Nintendo – A Link to the Past. Returning to its roots, this game abandoned the side scrolling of the second Zelda game and returned to the overhead view and gameplay mechanics of the original Legend of Zelda. We also get introduced to the most famous weapon of the series: The Master Sword. Link’s journey to and the moments he obtains the Master Sword are some of the most iconic of the entire series.
This is the first game to have Pieces of Heart. When enough are collected, Link’s total health is increased. We also get our first visit to Lake Hylia and Kakariko village. Once again, there are villages and towns with people for Link to interact with, although this is the first time that there are sages for Link to find to advance the storyline.
Instead of hunting for pieces of the Triforce, Link must first gather three Pendants of Virtue that allow him to claim the Master Sword and then save seven imprisoned maidens that will help him defeat the final boss. Despite the game seeming to have a new antagonist in Aghanim, he turns out to be just another pawn for our usual bad guy, Ganon.
Whilst the 4th game in the series was a critically acclaimed Gameboy exclusive that featured a non-Hyrule setting and non-Princess Zelda storyline, it would be another 7 years (a familiar wait) until the release of the next significant game of the series. But boy was it sure worth the wait. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is widely considered among the greatest video games of all time; some people consider it number 1 on their list.
Epona. Source: Nintendo
Instead of a dark and light world, Link must travel between the past and future, between being an adult and a child.
This opens the door to a number of clever puzzles and mechanics that keep the game gripping and interesting throughout. This is also the first time that we are introduced to Link’s horse, Epona. Many of the elements of the original Zelda games are brought to life here and the imagining of the Zelda universe from a 2D to a 3D universe obtained spectacular results.Ocarina of Time, first released on the N64, is the first 3D game of the series. Its influence extends beyond the Zelda series, influencing the gameplay style of a number of other games. We are given the first character models of a number of characters and species. Link, Zelda, Ganondorf (the human version of Ganon), the Kokiri, Gorons, Zoras Gerudo, Hylians, Deku scrubs and Sheikah were all introduced or re-introduced into the series in fully fleshed out 3D form. Music is more important than ever before as there is a list of songs that must be learnt and played on the Ocarina to advance throughout the game.
Two years later saw the release of Majora’s Mask, the darkest game of the Zelda universe.
Running on the mechanics of the previous game, we were introduced to the concept of time. The game runs over a 3-day cycle and Link must constantly travel back to the start of the 3 days to gradually influence the world he has arrived in. Whilst it didn’t have the same influence as Ocarina of Time, it is still a brilliant game in its own right.
The Wind Waker. Source: Nintendo
Though a number of Gameboy games would come out in the meanwhile, the next significant entrance to the Zelda series was The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker on the Gamecube.
Whilst many of the traditional Zelda elements would appear in this game, it is most notable for the change in art direction and style. The Wind Waker employed cel-shading in an attempt to give the game more of a cartoonish/anime feel. Whilst still full of battles, kidnappings and death, the tone was a lot lighter than previous games.
A number of Zelda games have come out since the Wind Waker, most notably The Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. Whilst these games included the novelty of the motion controller, they were by and large extensions of the established Zelda universe. With improved graphics and more mature themes, they continued to give us engaging dungeons filled with brilliant puzzles and huge overlands for us to explore whilst listening to fully orchestrated music that both gave us nostalgia and inspired us to new feats.
A number of brilliant games have also appeared on the DS and 3DS that give us new content in settings similar to some of the original few games.Instead of the usual land overworld, we were given a number of small islands with a huge amount of ocean to explore. Instead of featuring Link and Zelda themselves, we were introduced to the concept of them having multiple incarnations over time. Link was a hero in time that would emerge in every generation. Not all fans were won over by the new styling of this Zelda game and it continues to be a point of contention between fans.
Breath of the Wild gives us a whole new experience of the Zelda universe. It will undoubtedly be the biggest game ever made in the series. We have been waiting for this game for a long time, but if it continues the tradition of epically great and superbly high standard games that we are used to, it will be well worth the wait.