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'Zelda' holds its original magic after 25 years

Nintendo’s “Zelda” franchise has hit all the right notes in its illustrious history to make it a long-lasting epic adventure.

By Lucia Lee | March 9, 2012

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“The Legend of Zelda” franchise has accompanied gamers through the early years of video games, starting its debut on the Nintendo Entertainment System with “The Legend of Zelda” and making its way toward the revolutionizing Wii with “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.” There’s a reason (or many) why the “Zelda” franchise has been able to create successful games that still capture the hearts of fans 25 years later.

When the original “The Legend of Zelda” hit the market, the basic structure was set. Players had to rescue a princess (perhaps with a slight love interest) from the bad guy Ganon while harnessing the power necessary for the final battle by restoring the shattered Triforce that could only be found by braving puzzling and dangerous dungeons.

With such a hit foundation, “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link” released within the next year. However, this title included a side-scrolling adventure, a voice for Link and a jump button, betraying all that “Zelda” fans had come to expect. While these unpopular additions were quickly nixed, what was added to the series were towns and magic, a “Zelda” staple.

“The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” is the title that most think of when they look upon the 2D age of “Zelda,” and for good reason. “A Link to the Past” took the idea of towns and created a massive (for the era) world for Link to explore further than just to get to the next dungeon. The key element of side quests to receive bottles, pieces of heart and unique items was implemented to add more depth to the game. Link also now owned an arsenal of weapons, such as the iconic Hookshot and traveled between two dimensions (a light and dark world) to further add a complex level of gameplay.

The 3D era dawned with “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” at its back, introducing the last of the iconic devices we now see in modern “Zelda” titles as well as implementing the successes of the past. The new features included your trusty steed Epona, a lock-on button, a musical instrument, a 3D world in which to fight and the Zora and Gorons races.

These early games created the cornerstones of “Zelda.” Now with a title like “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker,” “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” or “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword,” you expect to see the core mechanics as well as improvements to the foundation as technology improves, whether that be a new art style or motion controls.

Some of the most important features that makes “Zelda” still lovable after 25 years and a dozen or so titles are the expected gameplay elements that are both timely and innovative. Another important element is the story.

You embark on an epic quest as a hero out to save his maiden from a bad guy. Is there any more relatable or timeless topic than that? This simple story line has allowed the gameplay to be the main focus of the games while still allowing for creativity. You know you will be embarking on an adventure to save Zelda, but why and how you will go about that always changes (think “Wind Waker” and the open pirating world versus the darker, more realistic “Twilight Princess”).

Further, “Zelda” has benefited from its lack of sequels. Each “Zelda” game can stand alone as its own story because no event in one game directly impacts what has to happen in the next. This allows for endless spins on the traditional story that allows for a welcomed number of takes on the formula, and thus increases the number of plausible “Zelda” games that have been released.

Sure, the “Zelda” games link together on an ambiguous timeline. However, that was not the goal of the franchise, but rather a by-product. Games with a linear story suffer from a game that inevitably has to end due to lack of believable content and a fan base that wants a conclusion to a story.

Nintendo has hit on a franchise that capitalizes on its unique and constantly improving formula while portraying a timeless tale that can be reiterated in countless fashions. These two combinations of elements have led the “Zelda” franchise to become one of the most successful that the gaming industry has seen to date, and that I’m positive that it will continue well on into the future.

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