It seems like it was just yesterday that he was wielding his first sword... they grow up so fast!

Good day Zelda Universe! The day has finally come: today is a historic day in the world of video games. What day is it, you ask? It is the day that The Legend of Zelda was released for the NES 25 years ago! This year alone is already huge for the Zelda franchise . IGN has been calling it “The Year of Zelda,” and 2011 will be home to two new releases for the Zelda series – Ocarina of Time: 3D for the Nintendo 3DS, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for the Wii.

We don’t know about you, but we couldn’t be more excited about the year ahead of us. So please join us in celebrating and reflecting back on the Zelda series – and let us know about your own experiences with Zelda over the years in the comments!

Before we talk about anything else, we thought it appropriate to just have a quick look back at the origins of Zelda.

Here we have Link from the original Legend of Zelda for the NES. As the Hero of the Land of Hyrule, this elfin boy clad in green from head to toe – or more like head to knee as his boots are brown –  has been the main protagonist and playable character for every single game in the Legend of Zelda series, with the exception of several spin-off projects. Although many of the Links featured in the newer games have technically been different characters – ancestors or what have you – the basic, established look and feel of our legendary hero is laid down right here.

He has a green cap, green tunic, boots, a belt that can hold his many weapons, and his famous pointy ears. He wields his sword in his left hand, which is a characteristic that later becomes standard for most appearances of future Links – and he’s carrying his shield in his right hand, with a solid stance ready to strike his enemies to top it off. The Cross emblem sported on Link’s original shield was eventually replaced with less religiously relavent designs. Link was a strong, capable character design that has proven timeless now for 25 years. He is the original Zelda game’s first major accomplishment.

And here we have our beloved princess of Hyrule, Zelda! Link, however, is not the character featured in the title of the game – that honor goes to our little-seen heroine, Princess Zelda. Here in Zelda 1, she’s only featured at the very end of the quest, after Link has won the final battle and arrived to rescue her. As it should be. She’s the focus of the adventure, and her heartfelt thanks and message of congratulations before the credits roll is all the role she needed to fill.

But this Zelda, of course, inspired an entire line of other characters to bear the same name in the years that followed – most of whom have been more active, and more visible, princesses. Zelda even became a playable character herself in a couple of spin-off games and the Super Smash Bros. fighting series, showing that she’s one dangerous damsel who can get herself out of her own distress, when need be. Zelda 1’s first edition of the young lady might not have done too much, but she set the precedent – and held the name – that’s been reverberating since ’86.

Of course, The Legend of Zelda has gone through a plethora of changes and evolutions since then, and each release has been game-changing in some way. If you’ve been around, you’ve watch Zelda change and evolve – in style and gameplay, in portability, in realism, in the sheer number of large objects that Link somehow fits in his pocket.

Ocarina of Time – considered by many to be the greatest game of all time – revolutionized the genre upon its release and brought Zelda into the 3D era. Games such as The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess expanded and improved upon the mechanic that Ocarina of Time invented. And now we’ve come to an incredible time in Zelda’s history, where – for the first time in years – we’re seeing the release of two major Zelda titles in one year.

Skyward Sword promises to be the next evolution of the Zelda franchise

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, unveiled at last year’s E3 press conference, at first glance looks like it fits perfectly well inside the Zelda mold we’ve come to know and love. But Miyamoto assures us that this is not the case – that Skyward Sword makes several drastic changes to the formula, and for the better. Could he be right?

Only time will tell, but one thing is clear: Zelda has a bright future ahead of it. Perhaps in another 25 years Zelda will be something completely different – but equally recognized, just as fun, just as genre-defining.

How are you celebrating Zelda‘s 25th anniversary? We’ve already got enough cake to last us a lifetime – and some of us have even started new save files on our favorite Zelda game. So please, share with us your Zelda experiences from throughout your years – and your hopes and dreams for Zelda‘s future!