The Legend of Zelda is a legend in and of itself. From its humble beginnings in 1986 as a simple 8-bit game for the NES, it grew into a franchise that has more games that you can count. You got Link, the lovable elf… thing, who goes on a quest to save Zelda from a rather nasty individual called Ganon and uncovers world upon world of amazement and fantasy. It spawned a franchise that that’s still been going strong for over 30 years and has a dedicated multigenerational fanbase that has dissected, analyzed, and thoroughly played every square micrometer of the games to reveal every single bit of fantasy goodness inside it.
It’s also one of the most best rated fantasy series of all time and Ocarina of Time is the highest rated RPG of all time. Just about every Zelda game released has been a hit or so highly rated that some people have a very hard time grasping the concept that there might be something off about any of them, or that even exists such a thing as a bad Zelda game.
But the Zelda series is not immune to having flaws. There are bad Zelda games and even the best do have flaws that would make for nice arguments. Some of these flaws are due to mistranslations that caused massive confusion, others are just bizarre content issues, and some make you wonder just what the creators were thinking.
There are, of course, the aspects of the Zelda games that Nintendo would just like you to forget about. These are the really weird ones that, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think either the series was a hack, or it was really weird. The positive aspects of the games and series overall do well to conceal these problems that the creators want to pretend never existed or hoped you wouldn’t notice. So I present to you the 15 facts that Nintendo wants you to forget about The Legend of Zelda games.
15 Link Is Based On Peter Pan
Did you ever think that Link’s design seemed a little familiar? I mean he’s dressed in this medieval style green tunic and a smurf hat, which people in ye olde days did put on (since Hugo Boss wasn’t invented yet). Thanks to the pointy little ears and outfit, you'd think he’d be a Keebler elf or something, or just a plain simple old-timey elf, except with a sword that shoots fire and a penchant for breaking into people’s home, taking whatever he wants, and getting away. Hey don’t laugh, the police haven’t been invented yet, which is why they need a hero in the form of Mr. Greeny shorts.
That being said, Link’s design looks suspiciously like Walt Disney’s version of Peter Pan. In fact, it actually is (and are you ready? Navi was supposed to be the stand-in for Tinkerbell). Shigeru Miyamoto was even surprised that anyone seemed confused by it. Originally, he wanted it to be something recognizable for worldwide audiences, but I’m pretty sure that ever since Link became a massive worldwide hit, they wished people would forget that…
14 It Was Supposed To Be Science Fiction
Yeah, this is one is strange. The Legend of Zelda is as straight fantasy as it gets. You've got your swords, magic, weird fantasy creatures, a princess, an elven hero that refuses to grow up (he’s a kid almost all the time… they Peter Panned him pretty bad!), a giant pig-headed villain and a whole bunch of other stuff that just screams fantasy so loud that J. R. R. Tolkien is asking for a cheque...
But that’s not what it was originally intended to be. While time traveling and time alteration did become a theme after the first game, it was originally intended to have a sci-fi twist. Link was called Link because he was supposed to be a ‘Link’ between the future and the past, and the pieces of the Triforce were originally intended to be microchips. Concept art exists of this, even showing Zelda in a rather sexy 80s sci-fi outfit. It seems like they’re starting to dabble with the concept now, but I wonder how the whole series would have been if it they went with it from the get-go. Maybe they would have made Link’s Master Sword a lightsaber that shoots blaster bolts…
13 The Terrible Translations
Okay, this is probably a little unfair. I was born in the early 80s and I’ve been playing video games all my life, and I never once paid much heed to the hilariously butchered English that was found in many of the video games of my childhood. I’ll be honest, it was because those games were mostly arcade games where mistranslations meant nothing other than stuff you can point and laugh at. I mean, come on, ‘a winner is you!’ would be completely hilarious in hindsight.
Old time fans of the Zelda series (and the young-bloods playing) are going to remember these beautifully constructed phrases in English: ‘10th enemy has the bomb’ and ‘East most peninsula is the secret’, which just make absolutely no sense.
Not to bother with the details, the first one basically meant you need to A: have a bomb in your possession, B: Kill 9 enemies without getting hit, and C: Kill the 10th enemy with said bomb you carry… and then the game would reward you with another bomb. This might be the most confusing and bizarre hint ever given.
They might have improved their English for worldwide releases, but those early ones will always irritate people… unless you get some hacks that correct them, but you didn’t hear that from me.
12 It Was Originally A Dungeon Building Sim
One of the more aspects in Zelda is its intricate dungeon designs. However, the dungeons have an odd design to them. Now I’m not saying this as a gamer, I’m saying this as someone who knows a thing or two about game development. The looked like they came up with a specific program that just allows you to drag and drop things onto to streamline development, like how SimCity allows you make an entire city by using simple options and tools.
This was exactly how they made the dungeons and, indeed, the entire world in Zelda. But somewhere down the line, they discovered it was much more fun to play the dungeons instead of creating them, so they ditched the idea and just kept it as is.
Of course, North American and European gamers would never have gotten a taste of this. Since saving the data would have required a disk system of some sort, and only the Japanese NES had that ability.
11 Miyamoto Made The Gamer Harder On Purpose
Older games are generally difficult and Zelda is obviously no exception.
Once again focusing on the original game (and I promise I won’t keep mashing it too hard), do you remember that most famous opening scene (you know that one: it involves an old man giving you a long-winded lecture about the dangers of venturing out into the cold, unforgiving wilderness alone and without a means of protection. Henceforth he gives you a finely crafted blade made of tempered steel)?
But why start out without a weapon? It makes no sense. As it turns out, the real reason why you need to seek it out was a way of Mr. Miyamoto getting back at all the play testers who complained that the game was too complicated. His response was to make it even harder, to the extent that it is nearly impossible to finish unless you visited that first cave.
I say nearly impossible because of the few blessed gamers out there who actually managed to finish the first game without using the sword at all. Wow.
10 Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland
This… just this. Seriously, who or WHAT is this guy? He looks like a Santa’s elf rejectee. When he appeared in Majora’s Mask, he did everything he could to pester the player and make the game more difficult, like overcharging for items he knows you need.
While I might be a little too hard on this guy, since it seems like the only reason why he’s doing what he’s doing is because he was cursed or something, that didn’t make him any more sympathetic since the game he was supposed to be in (Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland) was never released in North America due to just how much he was hated by players. I don’t think anyone with a face like that can belong to anyone other than a con artist.
9 The Timeline
This has probably been said many, many times before, but the timeline of the Zelda Games is utterly bizarre. Even the Angry Video Game Nerd made a fairly lengthy video about it nearly 10 years ago. More Zelda games have been released since then to make matters even more confusing.
For one thing, the first game seems to take place towards the END of the timeline, while the sequels and others in the franchise are basically prequels. It’s the strangest video game timeline in existence. They even have a fork that takes place with Ganon winning… and that’s the timeline the series starts with. The Adventures of Link is the ONLY game in the series to be officially a sequel, as in, something that just goes forward in the series instead of back.
8 Terrible Commercials
In 1986, Nintendo of America wanted to advertise their new console and their new games on TV. They did it by making the single most 80s commercial out there. They marvel at the graphics (which to be fair, in 1986 were quite impressive). But, even at the time, it was so cringeworthy that it’s amazing that the game ended up selling 6.5 million cartridges. I seriously wonder what has become of the two teenagers (who would be in their 40s now) that were in this debacle. We must find out and send them requests to remake this as adults. Hey I’ll get the beer, beer makes everything better… or more bearable at least!
To be honest, it isn’t even the worst commercial they made. Their 1991 TV ad for A Link To the Past featured Link and the cast all dancing (and desperately trying to ape Michael Jackson's style) and rapping in Japanese. It’s just too whack to handle!
7 The CD-i Games
You knew it was coming. There’s a reason why the Nintendo Stamp of Approval exists. It wasn’t just made to help the original NES become what it was (the video game crash of 1983 made people terrified of the very concept of video games), but it also helped make sure that there was some level of quality assurance for the games. The CD-i games were something else though.
Remember the Sega CD? Well Nintendo wanted something similar to it, so they contacted both Sony and Philips to make something like that. They gave Philips the right to produce something with their licenses, such as Hotel Mario and the Zelda games we all know and hate. Both companies ended up getting shafted but they both went ahead and released their products anyway as stand-alone systems (Sony’s product was equally unremarkable. I think it was called the PlayStation or something…)
The games themselves are frustrating to play due to poor controls, but what really irks people about them are the cutscenes. They looked like rejects from late 80s cartoons.
6 I Am Error
In the sequel to The Legend of Zelda, there is a character who introduces himself as an error message, which has been the butt of many jokes. However, most people don't realize that this error message guy was named that way intentionally. It was another one of those butchered translations. His name in the Japanese version was ‘Bug’, but in the process, someone thought that ‘Bug’ meant ‘Computer bug’ and that’s how his name stuck.
It’s actually hilarious how this became a massive legend and even mentioned in many magazines. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but we think that this is something they would rather sweep under the rug.
5 Their Best Game Was An Attempt To Salvage A Failure
Ocarina Of Time is one of the best RPGs ever made. There is little bad that could be said about the game and even the bad that can be mentioned would easily be drowned out by the sheer awesomeness of it. It turned the ocarina from a rather obscure musical instrument to a must-have musical. So much so that the makers of these instruments were forced to make plastic knockoffs instead of the handcrafted originals.
That being said, this game was actually intended as a remake of Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link since that game was considered flop. Nintendo HATES having flops, so they went on to make one of the best games of all times in hopes that the original game would disappear. News Flash… the internet never forgets and it doesn’t matter if your game was made well before the internet existed as we know it.
4 Ganon's Origins
Stereotypes aren’t uncommon in Nintendo games. They’re used for comedic effect and Nintendo normally knows how to handle them without being too offensive. Of course, they do have their moments. In the original 1984 arcade game Punch Out!!, the famous Russian boxer Soda Popinski first showed up as Vodka Drunkenski. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why they had to change that fast. It wasn’t just that it was offensive to Russians, it also made fun of people with drinking problems, and there’s nothing funny about alcoholism.
However, then there’s Ganon. Ganon is known as the King of Thieves, is also the king of the Gerudo race… and he’s kinda, sorta obviously based on the Romani people (A.K.A Gypsies if you didn’t know) who are also stereotyped as being thieves and cutpurses, among other things.
3 It Was Originally Called Something Else
The Legend of Zelda is an awesome name for a game. It had Zelda, which is an uncommon but real name (also pretty cool) and it has an awesome fantasy ring to it.
That being said, The Legend of Zelda had that name only when it came to the US. In Japan, it was called The Hyrule Fantasy, which seemed to have less of a fantasy game touch and more sheer blandness. Nintendo clearly thought so too, since they swept it away even in Japan after the game became a massive success. Another fact they put under the carpet for us to discover.
2 They Had An Online Game In 95
Nintendo has always been an innovative company. They brought gaming back from the dead in the 1980s after the video game crash and they were the first to seriously consider motion control with their power glove. Let’s not forget about the Virtual Boy which, cashed in on the mid-90s virtual reality craze (which has since returned with a vengeance). While most flopped due to the primitive state of the technology, their early attempts paved the way for future gaming technology.
For all these attempts, you’ve probably never heard of the most interesting one, BS The Legend of Zelda. Let’s get make this clear, BS did not stand for what you think it is (even if the game was that bad), as it stood for Broadcasting System. The game was available only with the Satellaview add on for the SNES, making it one of the first ever online versions of the game. This is another Japan-only thing that didn’t make it big. This wasn’t the fault of the game or Nintendo, since very, very few online gaming platforms from the 90s still exist today, and it was dependent entirely on one broadcasting channel in Japan. Not being able to play at your convenience is not something highly desired by gamers.
1 The Game's Inspiration
Back in the day, Shigeru Miyamoto's parents in rural Japan generally didn’t have time to keep a close eye on their son and trusted him not to get himself killed when he went out to wander the countryside and see it for himself.
He explored forests around his village and found some pretty cool stuff. One of the most awesome things he did was discover a dark hole in the ground that actually led him to a small cavern that he explored quite thoroughly. This experience was what inspired him to make The Legend of Zelda with its overworld/dungeon combination. I know it seems a cliché setting, but the passion he had for it was the thing that differentiated his game from the other cookie-cutter fantasies that came out at the time (and still do today).
And all of this was possible because his parents didn’t keep a close eye on him. If they did, we likely would never have had this wondrous series…