Looking back at this year’s E3 coverage, it’s hard to pick any one single winner. Plenty of games and software were showcased at the event, both for hardcore gamers and for casual newcomers of every genre. I’m always up for checking out games I wouldn’t usually explore, but I already had some clear interests in mind. From seeing the new combat style and classic humour in South Park: The Fractured But Whole, absorbing the story of Ever Oasis, and watching a chibi version of Cloud Strife running around in Final Fantasy Worlds, to marvelling at the heroine in Horizon: Zero Dawn, laughing at C3-PO’s complaining in Lego Star Wars, and hearing about next year’s localisation of the addictive and adorable Story of Seasons sequel, there was no end of interesting displays in amongst the numerous reboots of old classics.
However, one game still sticks in my mind, and naturally, as a Nintendo fan, that is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Despite it pretty much consisting only of our old friend Link running around a virtually barren field, with nothing more than a lone old man for company, Nintendo’s showcase was one to remember. While I was excited to see some game play from Pokemon Sun and Moon as a die-hard supporter of the series, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wind was the game that completely blew me away. Link wakes up after years of sleep and finds his way outside, only to be faced with a cliff edge overlooking a visually stunning landscape of sprawling plains and dazzling castles. The beauty and tranquillity of the land as Link runs around, alone and wearing only his underwear, brandishing an old stick as a weapon, had me mesmerised. But despite its immaculate presentation and updated graphics, and its different, survival-style game play, the most awe-inspiring moment was when I realised that what was being shown was such a small percentage of the game. I was sceptical about the sole focus on this one title in the Treehouse, but now I’ve seen it, it was 100% the right move. This is a game that drew me in and had me glued to my computer screen. This is a game that made me consider buying a whole new console simply to play it and nothing else on. This is one of those rare times where, in my mind, the hype for a game is not completely overrated. This is the power of The Legend of Zelda.
Link has accompanied me through several stages of my life, and it makes me happy that he’s still reigning strong today, so in honour of his potentially most innovative chapter yet coming in 2017, here is our look back at this magical journey through the kingdom of Hyrule….
1987 saw the release of the original Legend of Zelda, that would forever change the face of Nintendo, and was branded the number one video game of all time in the 200th issue of Game Informer. Princess Zelda broke the legendary Triforce of Wisdom into eight pieces to protect it from the evil Ganon, who later kidnapped her, leaving our hero Link to save the day. Incorporating action and adventure with intricate puzzles you found yourself travelling through a series of dungeons. There was no set order in which to do things, a concept which has been reborn for the new release, making it a pretty different experience.
A few years later in 1991, A Link to the Past was released for the SNES. I never played this version, but I did play the re-release on Gameboy Advance, and to this day this is one of my most memorable gaming experiences, travelling between the light and dark worlds. Not to mention the Gameboy version also featured a bonus multiplayer game called Four Swords, where you could battle with your friends via a link cable.
1998’s Link’s Awakening DX (a remake of the Gameboy’s Link’s Awakening in 1993) is still at the bottom of a drawer somewhere in my house, and this one literally claimed hours of my life. Even before I got anywhere I would run around the village hacking at grass and chickens with my sword like a murderous psychopath. While it could be very frustrating at times, the story was still a good one, working to obtain the eight instruments required to awaken the Wind Fish and escape from the island.
Then, in 1998 in Japan, came perhaps the most popular instalment of all – Ocarina of Time. We finally got to see Zelda in 3D, with much more fluid movements and puzzles. The Hyrule field grants access to many diverse locations, and with your horse Epona for company, you can gallop across the plain for faster travel, playing various new tunes on your ocarina as you go. It was certainly a game amongst games and it quickly became the pioneer for subsequent titles.
Majora’s Mask reached the N64 in 2000, and while it followed the same conventions and initial plotlines as Ocarina of Time, this title took a much darker approach to the story of link, who now wears different masks giving him different abilities, which he can use to eventually save parallel world Termina. Both of these games have been remastered for 3DS, so if you missed out on them before, they would definitely be good picks now.
Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages came next, following the form of the Pokemon games where two similar games would be released around the same time. These games did have more significant differences than Pokemon, however, and neither took place in Hyrule. In Seasons, the Triforce has sent link to the land of Holodrum, where Link must save the Oracle of Seasons, Din. This game focuses on a more prominent action approach. In Ages, he is instead sent to the land of Labrynna, where he must obtain eight essences to restore the memory of the Maku Tree. This game focuses more on the puzzle element of Zelda.
2002 saw the introduction of The Wind Waker for Gamecube, one of my personal favourite titles in the whole series. The story follows a young link exploring Hyrule and fighting the evil Ganondorf over the legendary Triforce. The different art style was an interesting choice, and it was refreshing to be able to cruise across the ocean on a talking ship. While it’s not the most innovative and dynamic instalment, its beauty resides elsewhere in the presentation and overall feel of the game.
The idea for Four Swords was initially released along with A Link to the Past on the Gameboy Advance. It was later made into a full game for the Gamecube, and is to this day still the only episodic game in the series, as you lost everything you collected when you finished a specific dungeon. It was never considered one of the greats, but this didn’t mean Zelda was dead for good.
Enter The Twilight Princess, released for both the Gamecube and the Wii. This game broke away from Wind Waker’s cute charm for the most graphically realistic instalment they’d ever had. Epona makes a return to Hyrule as link navigates his way across the vast landscape between the game’s 9 dungeons. Ambushed on a delivery job to Hyrule Castle, Link was knocked unconscious while his companions were kidnapped, and this leads to him eventually tailing them to the elusive Twilight Realm. One of the great things about this game was the ability to turn into a wolf, an aspect not yet explored. The story was also darker and more mature than in the past, making it feel like a much more grown up game.
2004’s The Minish Cap for Gameboy advance reverted to the game’s cartoony roots, with this Link gaining the ability to transform and shrink down to the size of a new creature, Minish, to solve various puzzles on his quest to defeat Vaati and revive Princess Zelda.
The Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks were the series’ DS releases, and these were just great fun little games, carrying on with the story after The Wind Waker, but in handheld form. Phantom Hourglass was the first Zelda game to utilise touch screen controls and an internal microphone, which could be used to alert certain enemies by shouting into it in real life. Once again, the world features a vast ocean. Set 100 years after Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks follows a similar style of graphics and gameplay, only this time for the first time Link and Princess Zelda actually get to team up to save Hyrule together from a brand new threat.
Skyward Sword aimed to make good use of the Wii’s motion plus controls, meaning you suddenly became more immersed in the gameplay by having to physically swing your remote as if it was the sword while you fight off your enemies. It was innovative and fascinating to play, and although it had beautiful graphics, dynamic environments and a great story, it could also be pretty frustrating at times. Still, the game was a great one, and really showcased how far The Legend of Zelda has come.
A Link Between Worlds came to 3DS back in 2013, the first original Zelda game for the console after a re-release of Ocarina of Time. This too offered a solid story, and though it is completely unrelated it takes place in the same version of Hyrule as A Link to the Past. Link is working as a blacksmith, and the classic dungeon-crawling we’ve come to know and love starts almost straight away, as he tries to escape the sanctuary he and several others become trapped in. Certain items can be rented and switched out throughout and different dungeons require different abilities, much like in previous titles, and now link can merge himself with walls to travel between worlds, making it a great addition to an already great series.
Triforce Heroes was only released last autumn, and has a large focus on co-operative play with friends, as you take control of three different links to solve various puzzles in a range of dungeons. It could be played alone, but it was much better with friends, encouraging players to interact with one another and work together.
Which leads to the present day, as we reminisce about almost 20 years of our beloved green hero and his Hylian princess, and eagerly await Breath of the Wild, set to be another game changer and a new classic for years to come.