The Origin of the Legend of Zelda

zeldaThe Legend of Zelda is aptly named, as the series has truly become a legend within the gaming industry. Every new generation of gamers have been given the opportunity to fall in love with it through their current Nintendo console. Or if they’re purists, going back to the original NES game. However, the fundamentals have pretty much always remained – a boy in green whose quest is to stop an evil wizard and save the princess. You don’t mess with perfection.

The question is- where did the inspiration for the Legend of Zelda come from? What inspired Nintendo to create a series that would subsequently exhilarate millions of gamers worldwide, many of whom would engage in a lifelong love affair with the franchise? This may sound familiar, but it really did all start with a young boy…

His name was Shigeru Miyamoto, and if you’re a seasoned gaming fan you more than likely recognize the name. If not, he’s the guy responsible for a couple of small indie franchises you’ve probably never heard of- Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, F-Zero and Star Fox… Yep, one guy. It’s not surprising from this that he’s known as the “father of modern gaming”. He is also responsible for one of my favourite quotes of all time

Video games are bad for you? That’s what they said about rock and roll.

In addition to the aforementioned series that he has under his belt, Miyamoto is also the principal creator of the Legend of Zelda. And I wasn’t joking when I said that his journey towards one of the greatest series of all time began when he was a boy.

Miyamoto himself has stated that his primary inspiration for the character and the game flow was derived from his explorations of the hillsides surrounding his childhood town of Sonobe, Japan. Much like Link himself, Miyamoto would adventure through the forests, caves, lakes and small villages. As he said,

When I was a child, I went hiking and found a lake. It was quite a surprise for me to stumble upon it. When I traveled around the country without a map, trying to find my way, stumbling on amazing things as I went, I realized how it felt to go on an adventure like this.

Yet another memorable moment of adventure for Miyamoto was when he discovered a cave entrance and explored its interior with the aid of a single lantern. There presumably wasn’t an old man inside handing out wooden swords.

As for the titular name, it was derived from none other than the great Zelda Fitzgerald. For those of you unfamiliar, she was the extremely free-spirited and highly publicized (in her day) wife of literary legend F. Scott Fitzgerald, creator of The Great Gatsby, among a myriad of other works.

So why did Miyamoto choose this name for his princess? Apparently he thought it sounded “pleasant” and “significant.” He certainly wasn’t wrong about the latter.

But what about Link? Well, his depiction was inspired by Peter Pan – the other green clad boy that never seems to grow up. Miyamoto said he wanted his protagonist to be recognizable. And what better way to do that than to use a similar depiction to arguably the most well-known boy in children’s entertainment?

As for the name, that came from the series taking place in the past, present and future, with the main character being the “link” between them.

So there you have it, it started with an adventuresome boy who loved exploring, who then became a man who created a game about a boy who in the process of exploring has adventures.  Seems to have worked out.  To date, depending on what source you want to go with, the Zelda franchise has sold somewhere between 70-80 million copies of the various games in the franchise.

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Bonus Facts:

  • Zelda Fitzgerald was quite the remarkable women in her own right. She herself was a novelist, dubbed “the first flapper”. Her father’s position as the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court protected her somewhat, but also got her into the news quite a bit when she was young for her “unladylike” antics, such as wearing a skin-tight flesh coloured bathing suit so it would be reported that she swam in the nude.  As a sort of a snapshot into her philosophy on life, it was essentially “girls just wanna have fun”, but literally, according to her high-school graduation photo, was: “Why should all life be work, when we all can borrow. Let’s think only of today, and not worry about tomorrow.”  That was pretty much her life in a nutshell, only she never really needed to do the borrowing part.
  • As an adult, Zelda was once asked for her favorite recipe to cook to add to Harper & Brothers Favorite Recipes of Famous Women.  Not being the domestic type, she responded with: “See if there is any bacon, and if there is, ask the cook which pan to fry it in. Then ask if there are any eggs, and if so try and persuade the cook to poach two of them. It is better not to attempt toast, as it burns very easily. Also, in the case of bacon, do not turn the fire too high, or you will have to get out of the house for a week. Serve preferably on china plates, though gold or wood will do if handy.”
  • Zelda wasn’t originally too keen on marrying F. Scott Fitzgerald, as she didn’t like his prospects, so she continued allowing others to court her while he went to seek his fortunes as a writer.  F. Scott, however, was enamored with her and was driven to succeed quickly before she accepted someone else’ proposal for marriage.  Towards this end, besides his article writing, he began working on his first book, This Side of Paradise . After it was accepted to be published, F. Scott wrote the publisher stating that he would like the book to be published as quickly as possible as “I have so many things dependent on its success—including of course a girl.”  It worked; after he sent a message to Zelda telling her that he had a book about to be published, she immediately accepted his proposal for marriage and moved to New York to live with him.
  • Back to the gaming world, in the original game, the maps spell out ‘Zelda’.
  • There is a song hidden in Link’s Awakening and if you wait inside Richard’s Villa for two and a half minutes you’ll hear it. This was trademark move for composer Kuzumi Totaka who has done the same with Luigi’s Mansion, Animal Crossing and other games that he’s worked on.
  • There are two Zelda games from the late 90s that many fans are unlikely to have ever played. This is because they were only released as Broadcast Satellite games over a short period of time. Their titles were The Legend of Zelda: The Ancient Stone Tablets and The Legend of Zelda: Triforce of the Gods. The good news is that there are apparently pirated roms for these two games in existence. Not that I would ever encourage that kind of thing…
  • Before signing on with Nintendo, Miyamoto had originally intended to become a manga artist.
  • In the early going, the brass at Nintendo weren’t too happy with the approach for the gameplay of Zelda- where players more or less simply explore without much in the way of real hints as to what they’re supposed to be doing other than assemble the triforce.  And, indeed, test groups who played the initial game tended to get confused as to what to do.  Miyamoto argued, and eventually convinced the executives, that the game’s underlying premise of just exploring and seeing what there was to see in the world created didn’t need to be changed.  Turns out, he was right.
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  • Blane

    Big fan, love the article. Just a friendly editorial assist:

    You wrote “And what better way to do that then to use a similar depiction to arguably the most well-known boy in children’s entertainment?” Shouldn’t that be “THAN to use”?

    Keep up the good work!

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Blane: Yep, thanks for catching that! Fixed 🙂

  • JoJack

    But is it ever explained why it was named “The Legend of Zelda”, even though Link is the protagonist?

  • random

    “Back to the gaming world, in the original game, the maps spell out ‘Zelda’.”

    Only on the second quest.
    the order is 5, 1, 3, 4, 2 (ZELDA)
    In the first quest they are more symbolic. i.e, eagle, moon, manji.

    http://mikesrpgcenter.com/zelda/index.html

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  • Anonymous

    The protagonist “Link” was named this because of Miyamoto’s thoughts of the game and the player. In a basic concept, “Link” was the connection or “link” to from the player to the game.

    • Ivan

      That is true, but I’ve also heard that the game was originally going to take place over multiple times and that the name was also chosen because of it as well.

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  • Ivan

    There is a small error in you notes about the Broadcast Satelliview games. The Ancient Stone Tablets is in fact a unique adventure on it’s own and is based off of the Zelda 3 engine. However, Triforce of the Gods is in fact the enhanced edition of Zelda 3 itself. So pretty much everyone already played it, allbeit without the CD quality music and voice actors. In fact, Triforce of the Gods is the original title of Zelda 3 before it was changed for the western release.
    There is another game that was released for the BS system. BS Legend of Zelda is a remake of the very first Zelda game with upgraded graphics and new BS exclusive features. It is also available through emulation with many of the original features restored and several others added in. It should be noted that the map you play on is not identical to the NES version. It’s a smaller map with many item locations moved around. Because of this change the emulated version has been presented as Legend of Zelda 3rd Quest and another patch as 4th Quest.