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!