How would you define The Legend of Zelda? It is difficult to define something that covers such a large number of subjects and genres. The Legend of Zelda is not solely a puzzle game, an adventure game, or a role-playing game, but it contains elements from all of them. The Legend of Zelda series regularly incorporates ideas from other genres as well. In 2004, Shigeru Miyamoto spoke briefly at Nintendo’s E3 press conference. While on stage he made one very important statement: “The Legend of Zelda never stops changing.”

Even so, there are parts of The Legend of Zelda that never change. I’ve heard these constants referred to as the “core Zelda gameplay” in the past, and it’s a subject I’d like to explore in further detail. Exactly what is the “core Zelda gameplay”? 

Examining The Basics

Over the next few months, I’d like to take a closer look at what defines The Legend of Zelda. After we have explored the series as it exists, I’d like to examine what the series could become. Many exciting changes have happened in The Legend of Zelda, and I’d like to explore what might happen as a result of those changes.

For the first part of this series, I’m going to take a look at the absolute basics of The Legend of Zelda.

A World in Distress

Truth be told, there are few games and few stories that don’t begin with some kind of problem. The Legend of Zelda also begins with a problem, but it is important to remember that the troubles in each Legend of Zelda game apply to an entire region or nation. The events of Ocarina of Time are just as important to the citizens of Kakariko Village as they are to Link, Princess Zelda, and Ganondorf. The official timeline, as revealed by Hyrule Historia, does a great job of illustrating this.

When Link fails to defeat Ganondorf, Princess Zelda and the sages devise a new plan to stop the Evil King, but even though their plan suceeds the nation of Hyrule is never the same. Hyrule enters an era of decline.

When Link returns to his own time after defeating Ganondorf, Hyrule is at peace for a while, but when Ganondorf returns they have no choice but to pray to their gods for help. The help they receive saves their lives, but the nation of Hyrule is no more; instead, the Great Sea is born.

The villains of The Legend of Zelda always plunge entire regions into darkness. Fortunately, there is always someone to stop them.

A Legendary Hero

I know the first thing someone is going to say: “What about the prologue of The Wind Waker when it says “no hero appeared?” The next question will be “What about when Link fails during the third split of the timeline?”

For this discussion, I am talking about each Legend of Zelda video game, and in the video games there is always a hero. That hero usually follows a few rules (there are some exceptions):

  • The hero is always the character you control in each Legend of Zelda game.
  • The hero is “chosen by the gods,” and is the only person capable of stopping whatever evil is plaguing the nation.
  • The hero is hand-picked; he is not a descendant of any specific family or bloodline.
  • The hero is a man.
  • The hero is left-handed.

Most importantly, the hero often has an ability that no one else has; sometimes this ability comes from an item in his possession (such as the Harp of Ages or Rod of Seasons) and other times it is a natural ability or ability triggered under certain circumstances (Wolf Link). While important, this ability alone is never capable of saving the nation.

Sacred Weapons and Tools

The legendary hero never starts the job equipped with everything he needs to destroy evil. In The Legend of Zelda, the hero needed the eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom and the silver arrows. In A Link to the Past, the hero needed three pendants, the Master Sword, and seven crystals. The requirements are always different, but the hero always knows what he is looking for.

Hey, listen!

A Guide

The legendary hero is never alone. Even in The Legend of Zelda, Link was told by Impa to find the pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom. In the most recent Legend of Zelda games, the guide is much more obvious. Navi, The King of Red Lions, Midna, and Fi are forever engraved in the minds of most fans (sometimes for good reasons; sometimes for bad reasons).

Without the guide, the hero would have no idea where to go next. In some cases, the hero would have no idea he was the hero! While their roles began small, the guides–or partners–of the legendary heroes are quickly becoming one the most important parts of The Legend of Zelda series. They seem to teach a very important lesson: don’t try to do everything alone.

Just the Beginning

This is just the beginning of what I hope will become a discussion-provoking article series. These four things a simple, but they form part of the foundations of The Legend of Zelda series. In the next portion of this series, I will be exploring the puzzles of The Legend of Zelda–a large topic with much more to discuss than the new paragraphs it took to explain these four basic ideas.

The “core Zelda gameplay” is a topic where there is sure to be some disagreement. What do you think qualifies as part of the “core Zelda gameplay?” Let us know in the comments, and I might cover your topic in a future installment!

  • Zombine

    Swords, shields, items, hearts, rupees, etc.

    There are a lot of little things that every "real" Zelda game cant do without.

  • Gward

    lol you shouldn't have included "The hero is left-handed"
    That's not official enough at all. He was originally ambidextrous and was right handed in his most recent games. He's not solely left handed.

    • KingOfRedLeopards

      he was only right handed in TP because the game was flipped

      • LilGhirahim

        I'm afraid he was right-handed in Skyward Sword as well, my friend.

        However, I find the entire argument over what side of his body is dominant ridiculous.

        • Gward

          Exactly. There are different links. It was never really set that link would always be left handed.

          • Alyssa

            Even though I agree that arguing over which is his dominant hand, the only reason Link was right handed in SS was because most people are dominant with their right hand and therefore would usually hold the wii mote in their right hand to control the sword. Sadly though, I'm left handed and it always made Link look a little awkward by running with his sword straight in front of him or to his left side. I agree there should've been an option to change whether he was left or right handed.

          • Gward

            Yes but just because the reason was motion controls, doesn't mean that link has to be left-handed otherwise. The fact of the matter is that it does not matter which hand he uses.

          • jjb56

            The hand he uses always has the Triforce on it.

  • heroofmasks

    true u should be able to choose what hand he uses if its a motion game atlease if its a press a to use sword button doesnt really matter im right handed tho

    • Banooru

      You're comment made me think that you should be able to wield swords in both hands now. Although the item selection system was changed dramatically with Skyward Sword, I think they could change Zelda up a bit more with how the items are actually equipped (giving more leeway to the player).

      Nintendo, make that possible with the Wii U!

      I think part of Zelda has always been giving a wide range of options to explore. I hope that Nintendo keeps adding to the complexity and degree of freedom, while still placing our "choices" in the game in a meaningful ethical context.

      That's what makes the Zelda series stimulating for me, and I hope they continue to push the boundaries of gaming. I think they could change alot with Zelda, but as long as they continue to do this, it will still have that Zelda Essence I so crave.

      And, Oh Yeah, every Zelda game should have Cuccos in it ! ! ! (or at least a variation like WW did with pigs).

  • Alyssa

    I agree that arguing over which is his dominant hand is a little pointless****

  • somecrazyguy

    he is always a man huh? lol 😛 somehow i think that is… not right. a boy is more like it, or a young man… more cases of boy though.

    • X_factor

      You get the idea.

  • Zelda3607

    defining Zelda? that's easy. EPIC! Defining Mario? EPIC!

  • TheMaverickk

    "The hero is left-handed."

    This is a very trivial and for the most part defunct fact. It really isn't the defining characteristic of Link, or the hero for that matter. There are two reasons why… the first is that there has now been a right handed hero. On top of that Miyamoto has stated that the original reason for the left handed hero was because of the limitations of the original game.

    If you are going to mention something like this why not mention that the Hero is always clad in Green.

    In fact the green part of the hero is a far more defining characteristic as it is how the hero is generally recognized. Zelda's vision in Ocarina of Time shows specifically a green light, and hero in green.

    In Wind Waker the defining trait of the legendary hero was his green outfit.

    In Twilight Princess the green tunic was again a sign of Link being the chosen hero of the goddess;.

    In Spirit Tracks again the guards are dressed in a green tunic similar to the hero's obviously in an attempt to emulate him.

    In Skyward Sword although the colour green comes as a specific year colour, it's even hinted at the fact that it suits Link as the hero.

    Also why not talk about the fact that the Hero has always been one who carried the Triforce of courage, or had courage as his strongest character trait.

    There's also another glaring flaw to this article… the topic of the Hero's lineage, and that he apparently has none. Yet contrary to that the Hero has always been of a certain special lineage for the most part.

    In Link to the Past, the Hero is a part Knights of Hyrule bloodline…. his Uncle serves to protect the Royal Family.

    In Ocarina of Time again the Hero is of a special lineage. He is Hylian… which although a common race in this time period, still singles him out as special amongst the Kokiri.

    In Wind Waker, the Hero comes from Outset island. The only island on the great sea where kids are dressed in green as a coming of age tradition. All in honor of the legendary Hero. Clearly the islands inhabitants must have some direct connection to the Hero and his lineage to carry out a tradition based on him. Also again in Wind Waker Hylian lineage is seen through the pointed ears and the mark of the Triforce on their doors.

    In Twilight Princess, again Link is a Hylian amongst Ordonians. So a special bloodline and lineage is there as well. Not to mention that he seems to share his blood with a previous hero in the form of Hero Shade.

    I could go on… but yeah clearly it's a bit more then just a random occurrence. This also could be contributed and generalized as another key distinguishing feature of the Hero… the Hero is always Hylian.

    It's an early article… but there's a lot more to talk about then what is mentioned. Not to mention there are stronger points to talk about then the ones listed.