So Shona emails me a couple weeks back and asks if I could write an article for this “History of Zelda” countdown. Obviously I said yes, since you’re reading it right now. It sounded like a neat idea and, let’s be honest, what else were fans going to do to celebrate the 30th anniversary other than read these articles? Schoolwork? Family? Careers? I suppose some people could spend their time on these priorities, but what about the hardcore fans? The ones glued firmly in their seats, immersing themselves 24/7 with Zelda media, like oil to a donut. Who’s thinking about them? Well I don’t speak for all the writers here, but I think I speak for most of them when I say, “What better way to saturate everyone with Legend of Zelda oil then going though the history of the franchise one year at a time! Let’s do this! Let’s write this article!”
Unfortunately for me, I am terrible when it comes to reading emails in a timely fashion. When I finally got in contact with Shona, there were only two years left to cover. I like to think if the ensuing conversation took place in real life and was then optioned into a blockbuster movie for summer release; it would have gone something like this:
Shona: So we only have two years left: 2007, which saw the release of numerous of games, providing ample content for you to write about.
Shona: And 1997-
Me: I’ll take 1997.
1997 could quite possibly be the most boring year in Zelda history.
Now I don’t know about you, but that would be a pretty boring movie. I can’t imagine what the executives were thinking when they approved this script. It would be much better if the movie was set in a rural community, one where the crops aren’t doing too well and times are tough. Morgan Freeman could play a wandering stranger giving heart-warming advice on choosing the best year to write about and weathering the storms of life. We discover things about ourselves, and in the end we all learn that the best articles aren’t grown on a farm but come from the heart. Anyway we’re getting off topic. This is supposed to be an article about the Legend of Zelda in 1997 dangit, and if we have to put up with a movie starring Morgan Freeman about a theoretical face-to-face conversation with Shona, then that’s a price I’m willing to pay.
1997 could quite possibly be the most boring year in Zelda history. This is debatable, as top Zelda scholars have hypothesized that the years predating the Famicom Disk System when the Legend of Zelda did not exist in any state could possibly be more boring. Nevertheless, 1997 is when the longest drought between major Zelda releases reached its apex. The last game to be released was Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy, taking the series in a portable direction. LA is an excellent game for travelling, but it certainly wasn’t going to tide fans over for five years. It wasn’t even in color. But there would eventually be a color version of LA! Guess when that finally happened? (Hint: It wasn’t 1997 so we aren’t going to talk about this any more).
Likewise Ocarina of Time, the next installment of the Zelda series, was still a year away. There was a fair bit of concern among fans regarding the transition to the third dimension. Before the Nintendo 64, Zelda traditionally had a top-down perspective. Many were not sure how the game would play in a 3D environment and if it would still feel like Zelda when all was said and done. So when the release date finally came about, were those fears assuaged? Did it eventually do well, perhaps even becoming one of the most beloved games of all time? I have no idea. We’re still in the pitch-black, soul-crushing period of waiting that is 1997. All we can do is look at some grainy pictures from the latest Nintendo Power and dream about how this game will eventually turn out.
If I had to guess though, it probably ended up bombing.
So what did happen in 1997? Well, if you were fortunate enough to live in Japan and had a Super Famicon with a Satellaview, you could be part of the slim minority on planet Earth to have played the BS Zelda games. First off, the ‘BS’ in the name stands for “Broadcast Satellite,” not what BS typically stands for. (The offensive term in question obviously being “Beijing Studios” since calling the games “Beijing Studios Zelda” is ignorant as they were made in Japan). BS Zelda were re-releases/spin-offs of previous Zelda games, downloaded through the Satellaview system to be played on the Super Famicom.
BS Zelda gamers were some of the first to experience an online multiplayer component on a console. While only one person at a time could play the downloaded ROM, players’ point scores were ranked against each other, with prizes handed out to the best of the best. On the downside, the window of opportunity was very short to download the game at all. In addition, each download could only be played at predetermined periods of “Zelda time”, typically lasting one hour. Perhaps this was done so no one could rig the online scoreboards or to simply prevent the player from enjoying the games at their own convenience. In any case, I’m sure this limited download/playing time was agonizing for eager children not in control of their own schedules and family electronics.
While the first BS Zelda was released in 1995, two games were broadcast in 1997: 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’ (that is not a joke, look it up) on a quest to gather the eight stone tablets to save Hyrule. Essentially this was like a second quest for A Link to the Past, as it featured the same sprite art and overworld. This game was split into four parts and broadcast throughout March and April of 1997.
Triforce of the Gods is a little more familiar, seeing as it’s exactly the same as A Link to the Past. Only in this case, the time limit of one hour was rescinded, allowing the game to be played whenever someone felt like it. It was identical to receiving a free copy of A Link to the Past, only people needed to buy the Satellaview first.
Triforce of the Gods is a little more familiar. It was identical to receiving a free copy of A Link to the Past, only people needed to buy the Satellaview first.
Critically, the BS Zelda games were well received in Japan, but due to the nature of its release, they were pretty much unheard of in North America. No physical copies are around, and Nintendo has not announced any plans of releasing the games on a modern format. So, if you are interested in checking it out, I would recommend visiting the BS Zelda archive over at Zelda Legends and emulating the games on your PC. As far as I can tell, this is the only way to play the games as of today. That or travel back in time, but you’d have to be really precise about it.
I guess that’s it. There wasn’t much going on in 1997 other than BS Zelda, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Sure the waiting sucked, but we all knew around the corner was the next iteration of the series. We all just had to bare down and wait for it to come. Besides, I prefer waiting around for a quality game than when Nintendo pushes out something that attempts to bridge the gap.