There are plenty of great video game designers, but one name stands above them all: Shigeru Miyamoto. The famed Japanese game developer has created some of the most influential video games in history including Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, and, of course, the Legend of Zelda. Since its debut in 1986, gamers the world over have spent countless hours exploring the world of Hyrule and its many secrets. In the end, secrets are at the heart of what makes Zelda such an enduring and fun series. However, it's not just the world of Hyrule that holds secrets, the franchise itself is a treasure trove of trivia and hidden knowledge. From cameos to lost storyboards and ideas left on the cutting room floor, Zelda's real-world history is almost as fascinating as Hyrule's itself. We've sorted through it all to bring you 15 Things You Need To Know About the Legend Of Zelda.
15 The First Two Games Represent The Darkest Timeline
For the most part, Nintendo games have a reputation for being pretty lighthearted. Mario always defeats Bowser, Samus always saves the day, and Link always defeats Ganon and saves Zelda. Right? Well, that last bit isn’t entirely accurate. It might look like Link always defeats Ganon, but there are several games based on the premise that the Hero of Time (the Link from Ocarina of Time) is defeated by Ganon.
In fact, the first two games in the series (Legend of Zelda and Adventures of Link) actually take place in the timeline where the Hero of Time failed to defeat Ganon, thus dooming Hyrule to suffer under his rule. In hindsight, this darker timeline fits the motif of the original game. Playing through it, you’ll notice that, unlike other games in the series, there are very few towns and villages. This is because Hyrule is in decline and humanity has been reduced to hiding out in the wilderness.
14 There Are Three Separate Timelines
In terms of story, The Legend of Zelda is Nintendo’s most complex franchise and the chronology of the series has been debated by fans for decades. In 2011, with the release of the Hyrule Historia, we finally got a definitive breakdown of the game’s timeline.
The game is actually broken up until three separate timelines. They all split from Ocarina of Time. One timeline ends with the Hero of Time’s defeat and leads into a Link to the Past and, eventually, the first two games in the series. In fact, the second game (The Adventure of Link) is actually the last game in the series, chronologically speaking.
Another possible timeline is one where the Hero of Time is victorious and sent back in time as a child. This timeline leads into Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess, and Four Swords Adventure.
The final possible timeline sees the Hero of Time defeating Ganon, but remaining an adult. This is the timeline of Windwaker and its sequels.
13 The Series Was Inspired By Miyamoto's Childhood
Artists always take inspiration from their own lives so it should come as no surprise that many of Shigeru Miyamoto's games draw inspiration from his own life. In the case of Zelda, it actually comes from his childhood spent wandering the countryside. One day, during his travels, he even stumbled upon an entire cave system. Miyamoto, being either braver or more bored than us, grabbed a lantern and started to explore the cave system. Now why Link always carries a lantern.
In fact, the entire series stems from Miyamoto’s desire to recreate that same sense of wonder he felt as a child. Whether it was the joy of discovery or the anxiety of being lost in the woods, Miyamoto wanted to inspire those feelings in his players’ minds.
If you’re a Zelda fan, you probably owe a debt of gratitude to Miyamoto's parents for not keeping a better eye on him.
12 A Copy Of The First Game Sold For $55,000
The original Legend of Zelda was groundbreaking in several ways and paved the way for other action-adventure games, but, it might surprise people to learn that it was breaking records more than two decades after it’s original release in 1986.
In 2012, a yellow prototype copy sold for $55,000 breaking a world-record for an NES game sold on Ebay. The previous record was held by a factory-sealed copy of Stadium Events, which sold for little over $41,000. However, Zelda’s seller, Tom Curtin, said he knew that the prototype of Legend of Zelda would sell for more than the obscure and historically unimportant Stadium Events.
Curtin didn’t get the $150,000 he originally asked for, but $55,000 is still a pretty nice pay day especially considering a store-bought copy of Legend of Zelda only cost about $50. Curtin said he planned to spend the money on his family and donations to charity.
11 Zelda Was Inspired By Zelda FitzGerald
Zelda is one of those names that seems tailor-made for a fantasy series. It’s got this musical, almost magical, quality about it. It’s just strange enough to sound like it comes from a distant land but isn’t so strange that it sounds like alphabet soup. That being said, the name “Zelda” wasn’t something Shigeru Miyamoto pulled out of a hat. It was actually inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald. Miyamoto said he found the name to be “pleasant and significant.”
Just as the character of Zelda was inspired, so did she give inspiration in return. Beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams, enjoyed the Legend of Zelda games so much that he named his daughter after the titular princess. His love of the series was so well-known that, after his death, fans petitioned Nintendo to memorialize him in one of the games. The company refused to comment on future games but said that Williams was beloved at Nintendo and mentioned Zelda Williams by name.
10 There Was A 16-Bit Remake Of The First Game And It Was Weird
Recently, Nintendo has been remaking and releasing a lot of the old Legend of Zelda games on 3DS, but Zelda remakes are nothing new for Nintendo. In 1995, as part of a way to boost sales for the Satellaview add-on, Nintendo released a remake of the original game on the Super Famicom complete with updated graphics and voice acting.
All of that sounds really neat, but honestly, the game was very strange and took a lot of liberties that might displease Zelda purists. For example, Link wasn’t even the main character. Rather, you played as avatar characters created when you set up an account for the Satellaview. The dungeons were also different and the game’s overworld was cut in half. Of course, that might not have been too bad of a thing considering the game had to be beaten in one sitting and was only available for one hour a week during broadcast times.
9 The Series Originally Had A Different Name In Japan
As popular as the Legend of Zelda is, it has always had a bit of an identity crisis with non-gamers. Most people hear the name “Legend of Zelda” and assume that Zelda is the player-character. In reality, of course, the title refers to princess Zelda. Link, himself, is lucky to get a subtitle despite doing most of the heavy lifting.
Despite how frustrating it might be for fans of the series, the confusion is understandable. After all, Mario isn’t called “Princess Peach’s Awesome Adventure.”
Perhaps that’s why, in Japan, the game originally was originally called The Hyrule Fantasy. Honestly, that name does make a bit more sense since the game has is more about exploration and adventure than Zelda, but it’s also a bit boring and generic. That’s probably why, when the game came to the U.S., it was renamed to its current title. Eventually, even the Japanese series was changed to match its American counterpart.
8 The Original Story Was Sci-Fi
We’ve already explained that the Legend of Zelda’s story is a bit more complicated than most Nintendo games, but multiple timelines only scratches the surface of what was meant to be a time-travelling epic. The original game’s storyline was meant to be a mashup of science fiction and high fantasy. The game would jump between Hyrule and the distant future. Nintendo never gave us any hints as to what the future of Hyrule would look like, but it’s a fascinating concept that could be fun to explore one day. Perhaps we’ll see it in another game one day or a comic book adaptation.
While this concept was ultimately scrapped, we do know a few details about the original design. The Triforce, now known as an artifact of the Hyrulian gods, was originally meant to be made up of microchips. Even the main character's name hints at the game’s sci-fi origins because Link was meant to travel time and be the literal “link” between the past and future.
7 The Series Is Full Of Symbolism
In an attempt to avoid controversy, Nintendo of America originally had a ban on any games using religious symbols. The Legend of Zelda flagrantly violated this rule. Link’s shield is usually adorned with the Triforce, but, in the original game, it bore a cross. The book of magic was called the Bible in Japan and even the American version of the book features a cross.
The Triforce itself is a symbol rich with a history dating back to the 13th century. Originally known as the Mitsuuroko, it was adopted as the sigil of the powerful Hojo clan. The Hojos were a powerful family during the 12th and 13th century Japan. They eventually died out, but their symbol was adopted by the Japanese energy giant Mitsuuroko.
In Japan, the Triforce isn’t called a Mitsuuroko, but rather Toraifosu which roughly translates to “three powers.” The name is fitting considering the three gods of Hyrule and the fact that Triforce must be used as whole in order to unlock its full potential.
6 The Orginal Game Was Meant To Be A Dungeon Builder
The Legend of Zelda series is known for its wide array of creative and inventive dungeons. In fact, dungeons have always been at the core of the Zelda experience. However, what you might not know is that gamers would have originally been able to create and share their own dungeons.
Zelda was originally conceived as a way to show off the power of the Famicom Disk System which allowed games to be stored on rewritable floppy disks. Nintendo wanted to take advantage of this new technology and they thought Zelda would be the perfect medium for it.
Eventually, of course, this idea was scrapped, but that doesn’t mean the concept needs to stay dead. We could see a Zelda-themed version of Super Mario Maker being very successful. The ability to create your own Zelda dungeons and share them online could be really fun. Of course, not even the most sadistic of the internet’s denizens could top Ocarina of Time’s water temple.
5 Tingle Is Insanely Popular... Just Not In America
First appearing in 2000’s Majora’s Mask, Tingle is one of the more odd, and controversial, characters in the Zelda franchise. Aside from Twilight Princess, he has appeared in every Zelda game since his debut, but many fans do not like him. For various reasons, many western fans find this character to be annoying. Some fans complain that he is too upbeat for a Zelda game though we don’t necessary agree with that particular argument since Zelda games have always had jokes and humor in them. That being said, we’ll freely admit that Tingle kind of creeps us out. There’s just something about him that unnerves us.
With that in mind, it might surprise you to learn that he’s actually really popular in Japan and even has his own spin-off series. The most recent game was released for Nintendo DS in 2009. So far, none of those games have been released outside of Japan. Given the mixed reaction from fans, it is unlikely they ever will be.
4 Link's Awakening Was Inspired By Twin Peaks
The Legend of Zelda is about a hero named Link and his quest to defeat Ganon, rescue princess Zelda, and save Hyrule from utter destruction. Twin Peaks is about an FBI agent investigating a murder in small-town America surrounded by suspicious townsfolk. The two seem like they have nothing in common, but Twin Peaks actually inspired the creation of Link’s Awakening.
The game originally began as Game Boy port of Link to the Past, but grew into something very different. The game’s designer, Takashi Tezuka, said, “I wanted to make something that, while it would be small enough in scope to easily understand, it would have deep and distinctive characteristics.” During development, Tezuka came up with the idea to have Link end up stranded in a small town surrounded by “suspicious types” like in Twin Peaks.
There’s been no word as to whether the upcoming Twin Peaks mini-series will inspire a re-release of Link’s Awakening, but we can always hope.
3 Testers Complained So Miyamoto Took Away Their Sword
It’s one of the most famous moments in gaming history. Link stumbles into a cave where he finds an old man who tells him “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.” The old man then gives you a wooden sword. In the early builds of the game, you actually started with the sword in your inventory. However, testers still complained that the game was too difficult. In response, Miyamoto took away the sword forcing players to seek out the old man.
Miyamoto’s logic was that by making the game difficult, he would force players to talk to their friends about it and create a community around the game. In his defense, it worked. The Legend of Zelda was one of the most popular games of NES era and it remains one of Nintendo’s flagship franchises. That being said, we can’t help but wonder if Miyamoto's stance ever hindered Nintendo's QA division.
2 The Series Is Referenced Throughout Popular Culture
The Legend of Zelda is one of the most influential games of all time and has inspired everything from Darksiders to the Binding of Isaac, but some game developers take their tribute a bit further and actually have Link appear in their games.
One of the earliest comes from the first Final Fantasy game where you can visit Link’s grave. The American release originally referenced “Edrick,” but that was changed in most re-releases of the game.
Another Zelda reference shows up in Un’Goro Crater in vanilla World of Warcraft. Players can complete a series of quests for Linken who swears by the “holy triforks” and rewards players with “Linken’s Sword of Mastery.” References to the Legend of Zelda also appear in several of the Warcraft RTS titles.
These are just two of the more famous examples, but references to Nintendo’s legendary franchises abound throughout popular culture. It isn’t just video games either; references to Link and Zelda have turned up in South Park, How I met Your Mother, and other TV shows and movies.
1 The Original Game's Second Quest Was A Mistake
As we’ve said previously, the Legend of Zelda series was absolutely groundbreaking when it first released and helped pave the way for the action-adventure genre. One of the things that surprised a lot of players was the fact that, once you beat the game, you would unlock a Second Quest mode. Increased difficulty settings were nothing new, but the Second Quest was an entirely new game complete with tougher enemies, rearranged dungeons, and a slightly different overworld.
One of the interesting things about this mode is that it was never supposed to be there. It came about as result of a programmer discovering that the original game only used about half the of an NES cartridges available data. In order to make use of the remaining space, the programmers created the Second Quest.
In addition to beating the game, this mode could also be unlocked by entering the player name as “Zelda” during character creation.