30 Years in 30 Days: A year by year history of the Zelda franchise
by on February 22, 2016

In the lead up to the 30th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda we have been exploring its history with a series of articles that cover the major things that happened each year in the world of Zelda: game releases, merchandise, and even notable events in the fandom. We remember the highs, the lows, and the moments that Nintendo would rather forget.

For convenience and easy reading or catch-up, here is a list of all of the articles in one place. Note that in most of these articles we go by the date when games were first released. For the early games especially, they were usually released in Japan a year before the rest of the world saw them.

1986: The year of The Legend of Zelda

1986

This is where it all began. The original Legend of Zelda was released in Japan on the NES (called the Famicom in Japan) with the subtitle The Hyrule Fantasy, which was dropped from the Western localization.

Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto drew inspiration for the game from his childhood days of exploring the forests, caves and lakes around his hometown near Kyoto, Japan. The game was initially developed under the working title “Adventure”, with Miyamoto wanting to capture his childhood adventures in the game. Read the full article…

1987: The year of The Adventure of Link

1987In 1987, the first Zelda would be released outside of Japan. In Japan it had been so successful that a sequel was demanded by the masses and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was what Nintendo created. In hindsight, Zelda II as a game was far different than many of the other games in the Zelda series. But at the time, there was no real standard formula for what a Zelda game should be. Read the full article…

1988: The year of official Zelda merchandise

1988The late 1980s was when Nintendo really latched onto the popularity of The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros., causing them to make tons and tons of merchandise for those two series.

We take a look back at some of the best merchandise from this era: bedroom swag, board games, and even cereal. Read the full article…

1989: The year of Zelda Game & Watch and the animated series

1989Contrary to what you may believe, Link’s Awakening was not the first portable Zelda game. 1989 saw the release of Zelda games for both Game & Watch and Game Watch. The first Zelda book that wasn’t a strategy guide was also released this year – Molblin’s Magic Spear – along with the infamous animated series: “Well, excuuuuuse me princess!” Read the full article…

1990: The year of Valiant’s Zelda comic book series

1990The Legend of Zelda series didn’t have a new game released in 1990, but despite this Zelda fans were not left with nothing to hold them over. The Zelda cartoon series had already lived its short 13-episode life in 1989, however Link, Zelda, and Ganon would return in two mediums: television and comic books.

Captain N: The Game Master was an American cartoon series about a boy named Kevin who was transported to a world called Videoland, Four episodes featured Link and Zelda, looking a little older and stronger than their 1989 animated series counterparts. Valiant Comics struck a licensing deal with Nintendo, and began releasing the Nintendo Comics System, or comic books based on Nintendo’s products. Among the games they produced comics for was The Legend of Zelda. Read the full article…

1991: The year of A Link to the Past

1991Zelda made the leap to the Super Nintendo with A Link to the Past in 1991. It was a big game, especially in its day and age: big in the size of the world, big in the complexity of the dungeons, and big in terms of story. It introduced a lot of elements that would become regular features in the Zelda series, and also introduced the “Zelda Formula” with a plot structure that would be reused in many Zelda games that followed. Read the full article…

1992: The year of Zelda-themed Nintendo Adventure Books

1992The Legend of Zelda continued in book form in 1992. Two Nintendo Adventure Books, Choose Your Own Adventure-style stories that allowed the reader to direct the action, were based on Zelda. A new comic series about A Link to the Past was published monthly from January to December in Nintendo Power magazine. It didn’t follow the game strictly but introduced new characters and other changes in order to make the story more dramatic. Read the full article…

1993: The year of Link’s Awakening

1993In 1993, three brand new Zelda titles were released. Even today, three Zelda games in one year would be pretty remarkable. However the three games that came out in 1993 are memorable for different reasons. One of those games was the highly-acclaimed Link’s Awakening on the Game Boy. The other two aren’t so fondly remembered; they were two of the three Zelda games that weren’t made by Nintendo: Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon and Link: The Faces of Evil on the Philips CD-i. Read the full article…

1994: The year of Zelda’s Adventure for the CD-i

19941994, at least for gamers outside of Japan, was the beginning of what would be the longest drought of Zelda games so far in the history of the entire franchise. Even worse is the fact that, unlike the three-and-a-half-year gap between The Adventure of Link and A Link to the Past, the five-year drought of Zelda games had none of the comics, cartoons, or other non-game media to tide us over in the interim.

Okay, technically there was a Zelda game released in 1994, though it really wasn’t the sort of Zelda game that we really wanted. Or at least, it’s not a game that Zelda fans now appreciate. Yes, that’s right, the last of the three infamous Zelda CD-i titles Zelda’s Adventure was released. Read the full article…

1995: The year of BS Zelda

1995In 1995, tech-savvy Japan got a satellite radio receiver add-on for the Super Nintendo. This allowed games to be downloaded to the console via satellite radio. This add-on was known as the BS-X.

The first Zelda game to be delivered over the BS-X was creatively titled BS Zelda. The game was a clone of the original Legend of Zelda game, albeit with a few very notable differences. Read the full article…

1996: The year of the Legend of Zelda fourth quest and Player’s Guides

19961996 was an extremely slow year for Zelda for both Japan and the rest of the world. The second map of BS Zelda was made available for download in Japan, and Link made a few cameo appearances in other Nintendo games.

This article also explores Nintendo’s Zelda guidebooks. Before the Internet there was no quick way to find out how to overcome that difficult boss or tricky puzzle. However these books weren’t just walkthroughs. They were riddled with maps, tons of official artwork, and occasional snippets and quips about the characters and the worlds of each game in addition to all of the secrets that they would reveal. Read the full article…

1997: The year of The Ancient Stone Tablets

19971997 was the final year of the drought between Zelda games and might possible be the more boring year in the entire history of the franchise. Two more BS Zelda games were broadcast in Japan this year: The Legend of Zelda: The Ancient Stone Tablets and The Legend of Zelda: Triforce of the Gods. The Ancient Stone Tablets featured a hero from the ‘City Whose Name Has Been Stolen’ on a quest to gather the eight stone tablets to save Hyrule.  Read the full article…

1998: The year of Ocarina of Time

19981998 saw the first remake of a Zelda game: Link’s Awakening DX for the Game Boy Color. It had color graphics and featured a secret extra dungeon.

It was also the year when the game that is perhaps the most loved Zelda game of all time was released: Ocarina of Time. Read the full article…

1999: The year of Super Smash Bros.

19991999 saw the release of the original Super Smash Bros. game on the Nintendo 64, a fighting game that pits Nintendo’s most popular characters against each other. You couldn’t have a line-up of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises without including someone from Zelda. With only twelve fighters in the original Smash Bros., Link was the only Zelda character to appear. Read the full article…

2000: The year of Majora’s Mask

20002000 was the year when the long-awaited sequel to the highly successful Ocarina of Time would come out: Majora’s Mask. Yet, despite the fact that the two games were built using the same engine and employed many of the same character models, textures and physics, Majora’s Mask was no Ocarina of Time; in fact, the two games were as different as night and day. Read the full article…

2001: The year of Oracle of Ages & Seasons

20012001 was a tumultuous year, and a watershed moment for the Zelda franchise and the game industry. It saw the release of not one, but two Zelda games – two Zelda games developed by Capcom, with Nintendo’s blessing. It was a year that polarized and divided the Zelda fanbase more than any other, when the first footage of The Wind Waker surfaced at the final Spaceworld. We also saw the launch of the Game Boy Advance, the GameCube, and Super Smash Bros Melee. Read the full article…

2002: The year of Four Swords

2002Eleven years after A Link to the Past was first released, Nintendo remade the game for the Game Boy, complete with a new script, new sound effects, new controls, and even a new dungeon. It also came bundled with Four Swords, the first multiplayer Zelda game. The problem was that it was a difficult game to play, because everyone playing it needed to have their own copy of the game plus a link cable. Read the full article…

2003: The year of The Wind Waker

20032003 was the release year of The Wind Waker, a game that saw a lot of controversy when it was first announced but ultimately ended up becoming one of the most popular titles in the Zelda series. It was also the year when The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition and Ocarina of Time Master Quest were released. Read the full article…

2004: The year of Four Swords Adventures

2004Nintendo’s press conference at E3 2004 is arguably the best they ever had. The Nintendo DS was unveiled, they talked about the revolution that we now know as the Wii, and finished off with a breathtaking trailer for a new, realistic Zelda game for the GameCube.

Nintendo revisited Vaati and the Four Sword in Four Swords Adventures, but the game was difficult to play with multiple people. Fortunately, there was a single-player mode.  Read the full article…

2005: The year of The Minish Cap

2005In 2005, North America and Australia received The Minish Cap, which concluded the story of Vaati and the Four Sword. The Minish Cap started a new direction for items in the Zelda series and had several other unique featurs.

2005 also continued the hype for the game we now know as Twilight Princess, expected to be released that year until Nintendo suddenly delayed it for another year. Read the full article…

2006: The year of Twilight Princess

2006It doesn’t take much effort on the part of any Zelda fan to remember 2006. It was a milestone for an assortment of reasons. Twilight Princess was released, the Nintendo Wii debuted, and we as fans finally got the first chance to feel the sensation of holding that Master Sword and murdering scores of Bobokins. Read the full article…

2007: The year of Phantom Hourglass

20072007 brought the first Zelda game to the Nintendo DS. Phantom Hourglass was a direct sequel to The Wind Waker that fully utilized the DS’s hardware and introduced new gameplay mechanics that included a central hub dungeon, enemies that couldn’t be killed, and stylus controls.

It was also the year when Tingle, a Zelda character wildly popular in Japan, had his first spin-off game: Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland. Read the full article…

2008: The year of Super Smash Bros. Brawl

20082008 was the only year during the entire 2000s decade that didn’t see a Zelda or Zelda spin-off game released. The year wasn’t a loss for Zelda fans though, because Super Smash Bros. Brawl came out, with several Zelda characters on the roster.

This was also the year when Zelda-related productions began appearing online and Zelda started to become a true part of pop culture. IGN pranked the community on April Fools’ Day with a Zelda movie trailer, and The Legend of Neil and There will be Brawl web series debuted. Read the full article…

2009: The year of Spirit Tracks

2009In 2009 it was time for yet again another Zelda controversy. At the Game Developers Conference, Nintendo announced the next Zelda game for the Nintendo DS: Spirit Tracks. While most people seemed to be excited for Link’s upcoming adventure, there was a fair share of fans that were concerned about the fact that this game would be about… trains. Read the full article…

2010: The year of rumors and references

20102010 was a rebuilding year — a year “in-between” Zelda games for both theportable and console titles. That’s not to say nothing happened, mind, but Zelda was much more under the covers, getting ready for its 25th anniversary the next year. The Nintendo 3DS was announced and there was plenty of speculation about Skyward Sword. Read the full article…

2011: The year of Skyward Sword

2011You could probably say that 2011 was the best year in the history of the Zelda franchise so far. The series celebrated its 25th anniversary, and Nintendo made sure that the fans received all the gifts. There was the Zelda Symphony, re-releases of games including Ocarina of Time 3D, and of course the newest game for the Wii, Skyward Sword. Read the full article…

2012: The year of Battle Quest

20122012 was a year that saw a new Nintendo console launch: the Wii U with its innovative Game Pad. One of the launch titles was Nintendo Land, a series of mini-games themed around Nintendo franchises designed to show off the new console’s capabilities. Naturally, there was a Zelda-themed game: Battle Quest in which one player controls the bow and is accompanied by other players wielding swords. Read the full article… 

2013: The year of A Link Between Worlds

2013One really special moment from 2013 was the release of an English version of Hyrule Historia, the special book released in Japan for the series’ 25th anniversary.

A sequel to A Link to the Past was released on the 3DS: A Link Between Worlds which had a very non-linear style and a new dimension with Link able to transform into a painting. The Wii U also had its share of Zelda action with The Wind Waker re-released in HD. Read the full article…

2014: The year of Hyrule Warriors

2014In an unexpected move, Nintendo allowed another studio access to Zelda. The result was Hyrule Warriors,Dynasty Warriors-like hack-and-slash action game. Link also made a guest appearance in Mario Kart 8 complete with motorcycle and a circuit that goes through Hyrule Castle, and the Smash Bros. franchise returned. Read the full article…

2015: The year of Tri Force Heroes

2015Multiplayer Zelda returned on the 3DS in 2015 with Tri Force Heroes, an unlikely yet stylish sequel to A Link Between Worlds. It was also the year when the long-demanded 3D remake of Majora’s Mask would also hit the 3DS. Read the full article…

2016: The year of Zelda Wii U

2016It’s only early into 2016, so we don’t know the full extent of what the year will bring. However it’s clear that this is going to be a good year for Zelda fans: the series is celebrating its 30th anniversary, Twilight Princess HD and Hyrule Warriors Legends are just around the corner and later in the year we’ll have a new Zelda on the Wii U which promises to be huge. Read the full article…

Shona Johnson
Shona is one of Zelda Universe's leaders. She ran her own Zelda site from 2001 until 2011, when she merged it with ZU. She works as an engineer and is also an avid writer, cosplayer and adventurer.