The Legend of Zelda is one of the most iconic names in video games. It’s a multimedia juggernaut that has spawned comic books, television shows, podcasts, lists debating which game in the franchise is best, and of course, sequels. Even people who don’t play video games will recognize the name. It’s a part of the pop culture lexicon. There’s nothing that can be said about it that already hasn’t been.
That won’t stop me from trying.
At the end of 1986, The Legend of Zelda changed my life. I was too young to get caught up in the Atari craze and didn’t care much for video games up until I got a Nintendo for Christmas that year. Along with the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt cartridge that came with the system, my mom got me Zelda. My guess is she didn’t know the NES came with a game and Zelda’s gold cartridge stood out.
Whatever the reason, that decision got me hooked on video games. Up until then, video games were bland. In retrospect, I appreciate how much imagination is required from the player to make them more immersive, but as a child I just thought they were something to do when I couldn’t go outside. Pac-Man and Pole Position are all well and good, but they were also so repetitive. Plus, what was the deal with starting all over every single time I turned on the Atari?
The Legend of Zelda changed all that. I was able to give my character a name and go and do whatever I wanted. The vast map offered many different locations, challenges, and enemies. Best of all, it saved my progress! I could play for hours, go to bed, then wake up the next morning and start right where I left off. It amazed me.
I was now all about video games and constantly bugging my mom to buy or let me rent another one. I would trade games (Zelda was off limits, of course) with my friends hoping to find the next Zelda. Everything was compared to my adventures in Hyrule. Nothing ever lived up, but I had fun and discovered other really cool video games.
This stuck with me for years. The Legend of Zelda had set a bar that every video game I played for the rest of my life would be compared to. It was not so much the graphics, story, or level design. Time and technology saw these improve (though Zelda’s dungeons are some of the best made ever and still hold up today). For me, it was all about how it made me feel. There was a wonder and excitement that no game could replicate.
Obviously, some things can never be recaptured. For example, no game can ever again make me realize, “Wow! Video games are a fun way to spend your free time.” I was looking for a game that would make me smile and give me chills. It has happened on occasion. I love the death of the American Dream story of GTA IV and Persona 5 seems to bring something new and exciting every time I play. Zelda now hangs out in the background of my mind more than looking over my shoulder and judging everything.
Over the years, The Legend of Zelda has improved since the original first came out. There have been better entries (A Link to the Past is my personal favorite), greater challenges (the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time is a beast), and just as fond memories (I vividly remember me and my friend screaming for joy when we beat “Gannondork” in Wind Waker). Still, nothing has captured my imagination the way the original did.
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