What can one say about 1995? Still in the midst of the long Zelda drought with several years to go, and this time even America and Europe wouldn’t get the benefit of crappy Zelda games on the CD-i to tide us over. I’m not honestly sure if that’s better or worse really, but it certainly would give me a lot more to talk about when formulating this article. Ultimately however, the facts are the facts, and we can’t go denying them. 1995 for gamers in the Western world was pretty much a bum deal. No new Zelda games… and no Zelda games on the horizon.
I feel like there’s a movie set up here. “In a world where there was no Zelda… gamers struggle to find hope in a desolate land. Without the joy of Zelda, how could anyone face the tragedy? How could anyone continue to remain sane? As they face the disaster head on, there was only one solution… a solution that would test their very psyches to the absolute limit! They would have to go… outside…”
Well okay, it wasn’t that bad! It’s not like there weren’t other games to play in those days. There were Super Nintendo and Game Boy games aplenty that could keep us afloat until Ocarina of Time’s still unknown arrival. However, they were bitter days, and I awaited any Zelda news with an unquenchable thirst.
The Japanese get all the cool toys
Meanwhile, it was the Japanese who were getting ridiculously spoiled with Zelda this and Zelda that on a near daily basis. We already discussed just how fortunate the Japanese were with all their random assortment of Zelda stuff during 1994, but 1995 actually brought them a brand new game… at least, sort of. But before we get there, we need to cover a brief history lesson.
It’s been widely known that Japan is a VERY tech-savvy nation. We’ve heard the stories about how cell phones and Tamagotchis and everything other gadget takes off like a rocket. In many respects, the technological density of Japan far exceeds that of the United States and Europe. However, taking a look at Japan makes it abundantly clear; you’ve got about one-half the population of the US living in a country the size of California. And because of that, when you need to build power lines or erect cell phone towers or run fiberoptic cable door to door, it’s important to note that… it’s not a very large country; you don’t have to put lay that much cable or connect that many buildings. As a result, it’s much cheaper to interconnect everyone in the country than it is the USA.
And because of this, Japan got to enter the digital age first by being able to have downloadable content far before it was thought of in the modern gaming space. However, this wasn’t DLC in the way that you know it today. This was using a much more interesting… and technologically dorky method: satellite radio. Of all the add-ons to have for the Super Famicom, a satellite radio receiver was not the thing I would have expected to find back in 1995, though I think, had I known about it, the 14 year old in me would have been eager to try out this new space-age technology! The add-on was the BS-X, which stood for “Broadcast System X,” though it often referred to as the Satellaview; it could connect to the St. GIGA satellite radio station from 4pm to 7pm daily in order to download and play games broadcast over the airwaves between 1995 and 2000.
Imagine this: Free games delivered daily to your Super Nintendo during the week, and exactly at the time when you got home from school. I would never have gotten my homework done. And naturally, what’s the first thing we’d like when it comes to downloading free games on a Nintendo console? For those of you who answered to get free Zelda games, you win the prize!
And so came the first volley of Satellaview Zelda games. Specifically, 1995 would bring us two Zelda games, but we’re only going to focus on the first one for the moment as the second spanned the turn of the year into ’96. 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. First, because the game was actually being played on the Super Nintendo, it had 16-bit graphics and music instead of their 8-bit counterparts, thus making the game look and sound much nicer. Second was that you weren’t playing as Link necessarily; you could actually choose your own avatar for the game, choosing between an anonymous male or female character.
As for the actual gameplay, it was essentially The Legend of Zelda as I mentioned but with a few interesting changes. Due to the fact that it was a downloaded game, the overworld’s size was cut by half; whereas The Legend of Zelda had a 16×8 grid for its overworld, BS Zelda simply used an 8×8 square, thus making the dungeons much easier to find. And that was an important and necessary characteristic of the game: BS Zelda was only available for one hour each week over four consecutive weeks. Because of this, and considering that, once you turned off your system, the game was gone, it was imperative to make it easy to both find and explore the dungeons in the game.
Each week, two new dungeons would be added to the game, meaning that in the last week all eight dungeons were available. The goal therefore was to manage to claim both Triforce pieces from the new dungeons each week before shutting off the system. Failure to do so, thankfully, didn’t completely hose you over… but it did make things more difficult by requiring you to constantly play catch up the next week by forcing more than two dungeons upon you in the same go. (Realize that there was a time limit enforced on the game!) Ultimately in the last week, players would have their final showdown with Ganon after the eighth dungeon and reclaim the final piece of the Triforce. The difficulty of these dungeons were toned down considerably from the original Legend of Zelda since there wasn’t much time to download these… and subsequently play them.
Technically speaking, there’s no way to actually play the long-lost BS Zelda in its pristine, original state. There was no way to download the code and the assets for these, and so technically the game has been dumped into the infinite bit bucket of doom. However, due to the fact that some Japanese gamers actually recorded their playthroughs of the game on VHS (and to think, this was even before YouTube!) and then uploaded their videos online, programmers and ROM hackers have managed to replicate a facsimile of the so-called “Third Quest” of The Legend of Zelda, which you can download and play relatively guilt free since I don’t see Nintendo making any effort to profit off of this nowadays.
Technically speaking, there’s no way to actually play BS Zelda in its original state. However, because some Japanese gamers recorded their playthroughs on VHS, programmers have replicated a facsimile.
And with that, that’s 1995 in a nutshell.
I wish I could say 1996 was going to be the end of the Zelda drought, but… I really can’t. However, I happen to know that I’ll be taking a deeper look into one of the many aspects of the Zelda games tomorrow, so don’t go anywhere.