Is it really 25 years since the first Legend of Zelda hit the NES? It only seems like yesterday I was exploring Hyrule for the very first time, taking this little green elf-like chap on a fantastical adventure; Shigeru Miyamoto’s epic quest indeed looks dated now, but it still plays magnificently, even if it’s a little difficult compared to today’s vastly easier experiences.
It was a delight to play through the first Zelda back in 1986 and it still is today, although I, like most Zelda fans, prefer to think of a couple of the later games as the series’ highlights.
I’m not going to do down the route of listing and detailing every last game in the series, there are Zelda fansites out there that would do that infinitely better than I could ever hope to, but it’s worth picking up the history of the games even if it’s just in passing. From the top-down simplicity of the first NES game 25 years ago through to the stunning, rich and expansive SNES version, the pixel perfect portable versions and the simply astounding three-dimensional console versions, Nintendo rarely put a foot wrong with this, one of their truly flagship IPs.
Even the much derided Wind Waker turned out to be brilliant (an assumption I always held true to), the unique visual style meaning that, even today, it looks as fresh as the day it was released. And yes, whilst Nintendo often try to shoehorn in as many features of the host platform as possible (I’m looking at you, DS duo and Wii title Skyward Sword) for fans it never really seems to matter – the endless retelling of the same story comes with its own expectations and charm, and never fails to win the hearts of its followers from start to finish, whatever the console.
But whilst later games expand on the core principles and flesh out the characters, it’s in the level design and puzzle structure that any Zelda game remains true to the original, and looking back at some of the elements: the Triforce, Ganon, underground temples and a huge overworld, it’s surprising how many of them still remain present and unchanged. Of course, the exemplary level design still shines through, but these games are always more than the sum of their parts, a consistent, enriching tale that never grows old, even as its players sadly do.
I still have my gold Ocarina of Time; I still have my sea chart; I still remember the distinct melodies of Koholint island. I always will.