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Memory Leaks: The Legend of Zelda

πŸ— You could break my heart apart, I've got the power...

The Legend of Zelda is a top-down fantasy adventure game released by Nintendo in February of 1986 in Japan and over a year later in North America and Europe. It was inspired by designer Shigeru Miyamoto's childhood exploring the woods around his home in Kyoto, and is considered an important forerunner to the action-RPG genre of video games. The series is one of Nintendo's most enduring, having contributed launch titles to both the Wii and the Switch systems. Its protagonist, Link, is among the most popular and recognizable characters in Nintendo's roster, despite his being several different characters across the series. He's behind Mario in that department, but still...

How I Remember It...

I'm about 80% sure I received this game as a Christmas present in 1987. It was wildly popular. It had been touted as "the best video game ever made" and that was undoubtedly true in 1987. At the time I got it, it was probably one of five or six games in my collection, so it got a lot of play in my household. And not just by me--my parents played it while my mom was pregnant with my brother and to this day the music from the game makes her queasy because she associates it with morning sickness.

The game leans hard into exploration over linear progression. It consists of a large overworld map with eight dungeons you'll need to find, explore, and defeat in order to collect the magical mcguffins that will allow you to face Ganon in the ninth and final dungeon in order to rescue the titular princess of legend. Of these nine dungeons, six of them have entrances that are hidden, inaccessible in the early game, or both. Progression was managed by a series of power-ups that you obtained in each dungeon that prevented you from beating future ones out of order. Additionally, the overworld was littered with hidden rooms and power-ups, and finding them became the topic of much playground discussion. This was, to be clear, the point. It was unrealistic for a lone player--especially a child--to be able to find all of the secrets you would need in order to complete the game, so we talked it over with friends, shared our discoveries, and then would go back to the game that evening to "discover" all these things we'd heard about.

Needless to say, this is not a game that you play in one sitting. As such, it was the first Nintendo game to include a battery in the cartridge so it could save data. And in all of my childhood years of playing it, I was never able to defeat it, despite it being one of my absolute favorites. I could get to the last fight, but in order to defeat Ganon you need the red ring and the silver arrow, both of which were hidden in the final dungeon, and I was never able to find both in the same playthrough--and zeldadungeon.net wasn't a thing in those days. Inevitably I would get fed up and start over. And then the SNES came out and I moved on to the bigger and better things.

When I was in college, I came back home for the summer and dug the old Nintendo out of mothballs. I figured I had a better shot at beating the game since I was no longer in elementary school. I got through the fifth dungeon in a sitting, saved the game to eat lunch, came back and my save data was gone. The battery in the now fifteen-year-old cartridge had given out. My hopes of beating one of my favorite childhood games were dashed forever. And by "forever" I mean until 2006 when the Nintendo Wii came out. When we got one, the very first thing I did was connect to the internet and purchase The Legend of Zelda for the Virtual Console and beat it. And you know what? That last dungeon was just as hard as I'd remembered. In fact, I think I did have to look up the route on zeldadungeon.net.

I've had the occasion to go through it more as an adult. Unlike future installments, this one feels big for its era, but it's a very manageable scale of big, which means it's become one of my larger comfort games. The one gift I specifically requested this last Christmas was the Zelda Game and Watch handheld that includes this, the beloved Link's Awakening and the reviled Zelda II. So, unusual for this blog series, I've actually played through the game in the last few months at the time of this writing. And I'm sure I will play it again soon.


In MEMORY LEAKS, Kurt is going through his favorite video games. See more posts.

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