When The Legend of Zelda was released, its gameplay defied categorization. The game incorporated elements from action games, adventure games, role-playing games, and puzzle games. The game begins with the player controlling Link from an overhead perspective, armed with a small shield. A sword becomes available to Link if he ventures into the cave, accessible from the beginning screen. When the game starts, Link spawns in the overworld, a large outdoor map with varied environments. Throughout the game, merchants, gamblers, old ladies, and other people guide Link with cryptic clues. These people are scattered across the overworld and hidden in caves, shrubbery, or behind walls.
Barring Link’s progress are creatures he must battle to locate the entrances to nine underground dungeons. Each dungeon is a unique, maze-like collection of rooms connected by doors and secret passages and guarded by monsters different from those found on the overworld. Link must successfully navigate each dungeon to obtain one of the eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom. Dungeons also hide useful items, such as a boomerang for retrieving items and stunning enemies, and a recorder with magical properties. The first six dungeons have visible entrances, but the entrances to the remaining three dungeons are hidden. Except for the final dungeon, which cannot be entered until the previous eight have been completed, the order of completing dungeons is somewhat arbitrary, but many dungeons can only be reached using items gained in the previous one.
Nonlinearity, the ability to take different paths to complete the game, separated Zelda from its contemporaries. Link can freely wander the overworld, finding and buying items at any point. This flexibility enables unusual ways of playing the game; for example, it is possible to reach the final boss of the game (but not defeat him) without taking a sword.Nintendo of America’s management initially feared that players might become frustrated with the new concept, left wondering what to do next. As a result, the American version of the game’s manual contains many hints, tips, and suggestions for players.
After completing the game, the player has access to a more difficult quest, officially referred to as the Second Quest, where dungeons and the placement of items are different and enemies stronger. Although a more difficult “replay” was not unique to Zelda, few games offered a “second quest” with entirely different levels to complete. Entering “ZELDA” as the player’s name starts the second quest immediately. The Second Quest can be replayed each time it is completed.
Story and characters
The Legend of Zelda’s plot relies heavily on back story given in the short (in-game) prologue and the instruction booklet. Hyrule was engulfed in chaos after an army led by Ganon, the Prince of Darkness, invaded the kingdom and secured the Triforce of Power, a magical artifact bestowing great strength. Hyrule’s Princess Zelda split one of the artifact’s two counterparts, the Triforce of Wisdom, into eight fragments, hiding them in secret dungeons throughout the land to prevent them from falling into Ganon’s hands.
According to the manual, Impa fled for her life, but was overtaken by her pursuers. As Ganon’s henchmen surrounded her, a youth drove the monsters off. The boy’s name was Link, and Impa told him of Hyrule’s plight. Link resolved to save Zelda, but to fight Ganon he had to find and reassemble the scattered fragments of the Triforce. Undeterred, Link set off for Hyrule in an epic adventure.
During the course of the game, Link locates the eight underground labyrinths (or dungeons) and retrieves the Triforce fragments from the clutches of powerful guardian monsters. Along the way, he picks up a variety of useful items and upgrades to aid him in his quest. With the Triforce of Wisdom, Link is able to infiltrate Ganon’s fortress high upon Death Mountain. He confronts the Prince of Darkness, destroying him with a Silver Arrow discovered deep within Ganon’s dungeons. Link picks up the Triforce of Power from Ganon’s ashes and returns both Triforces to Princess Zelda, whom he releases from her nearby cell. According to Zelda’s words, peace would then return to Hyrule.
A “symbol of courage, strength and wisdom”, Link was designed by Miyamoto as a coming-of-age motif for players to identify with: he begins the game an ordinary boy but grows in strength and fortitude to triumph over the ultimate evil.
The name of the princess was inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald: “Zelda was the name of the wife of the famous novelist Francis Scott Fitzgerald. She was a famous and beautiful woman from all accounts, and I liked the sound of her name. So I took the liberty of using her name for the very first Zelda title,” Miyamoto explained.