I’m not quite old enough to remember when the first The Legend of Zelda game was released, but I still have many fond memories of the series. The Legend of Zelda series was one of the first video games that really showed me how much adventure and story could be packed into one “little” game. No matter which game I played, there was always something new to explore, and I fell in love with the each game’s world and its characters.
Yesterday (February 21, 2021) marked the 35th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda franchise. Nintendo’s popular adventure series made its debut in 1986 on the Famicom in Japan, before coming to the United States a year later on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). In celebration, I’ve collected a list of my favorite Zelda-related memories to share, in no particular order.
1) Leaving the Shrine of Resurrection (Breath of the Wild)
When you first start Breath of the Wild, you (as Link) find yourself slowly waking up in a dark room. A mysterious voice comes to you and guides you to the exit. When you finally see daylight coming through the doorway, the game briefly takes your control away as Link rushes to the edge of a cliff to gaze out on the world below.
I remember this opening moment vividly. I knew going in to BOTW that it was a fantastic game. Still, nothing prepared me for the sheer awe of seeing the whole world laid out in front of me for the first time. I couldn’t wait to explore it.
2) The Fire Temple (Ocarina of Time)
Confession: I never finished Ocarina of Time, widely considered one of the best Zelda games. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t have fond memories of playing it, and one of my favorites is from the Fire Temple dungeon. I don’t recall much of the dungeon itself, but I clearly remember playing it with one of my friends at the time by my side, offering tips, tricks, and snarky commentary along the way. He showed me how to defeat two bats with one arrow, told me that the final boss was “just like Whack-A-Mole,” and showed me how to play the “Bolero of Fire” ocarina song super fast. That friend and I have since lost touch, but I still look back on those days with a smile.
3) The Sandship (Skyward Sword)
Say what you will about Skyward Sword, but there’s no doubt that it had a major impact on the series as a whole. Many of the mechanics (such as collectible items and upgrading weapons) introduced here went on to play a bigger role in Breath of the Wild, and this game also has one of my favorite art styles.
Skyward Sword also had its fair share of fun, creative dungeons, but my favorite was the Sandship. Many Zelda dungeons follow a basic formula, but the Sandship is what Game Maker’s Toolkit calls a “Puzzle Box” dungeon, where the player makes changes to the actual physical dungeon in order to progress. The Sandship features Tiemshift stones that, when struck, switch the ship between the past and present and cause various changes throughout the ship. Figuring out when and how to switch time periods made the Sandship a unique challenge, and it’s still one of my favorite Zelda dungeons I’ve played.
4) Finding the Master Sword (The Wind Waker)
Any moment where Link reclaims his legendary weapon is always a treat, no matter what game you’re playing. Something about The Wind Waker just takes the cake for me though – maybe it’s the Tower of the Gods dungeon you go through right before, or maybe it’s visiting what remains of Hyrule, frozen in time underwater, or maybe it’s the challenge of defeating a horde of powerful enemies right after, but this is the one that sticks out to me above the rest.
5) Creating my Link cosplay
This is a little self-indulgent, but HEY, it’s my list!
I’d always wanted to try cosplay, but it always seemed very intimidating and complicated. Eventually, though, I took the plunge and created a costume based on Link’s outfit in Breath of the Wild, complete with all of the tools (well, the important ones) he needs for his quest. I had a really fun time putting all of the pieces together and then later debuting it a local comic con, so it’s definitely one of my favorite Zelda-related memories.
6) “It’s dangerous to go alone!” (The Legend of Zelda)
It would be an injustice to write a list of my favorite Zelda moments and memories without including this iconic line from the beginning of the original Zelda game. It’s not much – just a stranger giving you a sword – but it’s a line that kicks off an incredible series of adventures, in this game and beyond.
7) Zelda seals herself away (Skyward Sword)
Towards the end of the second act of Skyward Sword, Link is finally reunited with Zelda, who he’s been trying to find for the entire game. Zelda catches Link up to speed and informs him that in order to prevent a terrible, evil monster from breaking free of its prison, she must “seal herself away” in a magical crystal (listen, just suspend your disbelief a little longer, ok?).
What follows is probably the most emotional cutscene of the game – after all the trials you’ve gone through, your goal of rescuing Zelda is finally within reach, only to lose her again. I think this scene does a really good job of pulling at your heartstrings without making you feel like all hope is lost – it’s a “dark night of the soul,” sure, but you also know that you’ll be reunited again. You just have to keep fighting a little longer.
8) Hyrule Historia
For Zelda‘s 25th anniversary, Nintendo released a massive book titled Hyrule Historia, which includes some of the franchise’s history, as well as concept art and sketches for various games throughout the series. Most importantly, Hyrule Historia included the official Zelda timeline, which had always been theorized but never officially published until that book. For a long time, it seemed like Hyrule Historia would be exclusive to Japan, but when it finally received an English release two years later, I was overjoyed.
9) The Final Memory (Breath of the Wild)
Aside from the main quest of defeating Calamity Ganon and saving Zelda (the typical series fare), Breath of the Wild has another major quest. After being asleep for 100 years, Link has lost most of his memories of his life before, but using some images left behind by Zelda, he can slowly remember what he’s forgotten. Once all of the memories are recovered, the last one is finally revealed.
In it, we learn what exactly happened to Link and how he got into this situation. I won’t spoil it (though you can watch it if you like), so I’ll just say this – this cutscene does an excellent job of making you feel the desperation of the characters, and it wraps up Zelda’s character arc perfectly.
10) Defeating Ganon (The Wind Waker)
I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’ve decided that, despite all my love for Breath of the Wild, the final boss battle in The Wind Waker is still my favorite. Not so much because the battle is all that exciting (although it’s nice to see Zelda fight alongside you), but because the final blow against Ganondorf just feels GOOD. You feel powerful and victorious. I’m not sure how else to describe it, but it’s the reason why I still dig out my GameCube from time to time and play it this game again.