This page is about the history of The Legend of Zelda series.
Third generation games
The Legend of Zelda, the first game of the series, was first released in Japan in 1986, and in the United States and Europe in 1987. It used the cartridge's ability to save progress via battery-backed memory. The game features a "Second Quest", accessible upon completing the game, where dungeons and the placement of items are different, and enemies are stronger. In 1994, during the last years of the Famicom, the game was re-released in cartridge format. A modified version known as BS The Legend of Zelda was released for the Super Famicom's satellite-based expansion, Satellaview, in the mid-1990s in Japan. BS Zelda was then re-released for the Satellaview again a year later, with re-arranged dungeons and a rearranged overworld.
The second game, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, was released in July 1988 and exchanged the top-down perspective for side-scrolling (though the top-down point of view was retained for times that Link is wandering the overworld), and introduced RPG elements (e.g., experience points) not found in other Zelda installments. It is also the only Zelda title excluding Four Swords Adventures in which Link does not collect Rupees. Both this game and its predecessor had gold-colored game cartridges, instead of the system's usual gray cartridges. Both games were later re-released in the final years of the Nintendo Entertainment System, with gray cartridges.
Fourth generation games
Four years later, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past returned to the top-down view (under a 3/4 perspective), and added the concept of an alternate dimension to explore — a land known as the Dark World. The game was released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991. It was later re-released for the Game Boy Advance on December 9, 2002 in North America, on a cartridge with The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, the first multiplayer Zelda, and then on the Wii's Virtual Console on January 22, 2007. In addition, both this game (unchanged, except for being converted into a downloadable format) and an exclusive "loosely-based" sequel which used the same game engine called BS The Legend of Zelda: Ancient Stone Tablets were released on the Satellaview in Japan.
The next game, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, was the first Zelda game for Nintendo's Game Boy, and the first to take place outside of Hyrule, and not to include Princess Zelda. It was re-released for the Game Boy Color in 1998 as Link's Awakening DX with some additional features, including an extra color-based dungeon and a Camera Shop that allowed interaction with the Game Boy Printer.
Fifth generation games
After another hiatus, the series made the transition to 3D with the installment Ocarina of Time, which was released in November 1998. This game, initially known as Zelda 64, retained the core gameplay of the previous 2D games, and became one of the most successful games of all time, in both commercial and critical terms. It is considered by some to be the best video game ever made, and scored perfect scores in several video game publications, including the first 40/40 score in Famitsu, a prestigious Japanese gaming magazine. In 2006, it was ranked by Nintendo Power as the best game to ever appear on a Nintendo console. As of October 2007, it holds the number one spot for the best reviewed game in video game history on the Gamerankings and Metacritic review aggregators. The title was originally slated for the ill-fated, Japanese-only Nintendo 64DD, but was ported to a cartridge when the hardware was delayed. Innovations include the use of lock-on targeting, a new gameplay mechanic that focuses the camera on a nearby target, and alters the player's actions to be relative to that target. Such mechanics allow precision-based sword fighting in a 3D space, and were a revolutionary development for the time. Like its Nintendo Entertainment System predecessors, Ocarina of Time is notable for being released on a limited-edition gold cartridge, which was available mainly to those who pre-ordered the game, as well as a regular gray cartridge.
Ocarina of Time was re-released on the Nintendo GameCube in 2002, when it was offered as a pre-order incentive for The Wind Waker in the US, Canada, and Japan. Europe continues to receive it free in every copy of The Wind Waker, except for the discounted Player's Choice version. It included a previously unreleased Nintendo 64DD expansion known as Ura Zelda in Japan and Ocarina of Time Master Quest in North America. Ocarina of Time was included as part of Collector's Edition for the GameCube in 2003. It is now available on the Wii's Virtual Console.
The follow-up title, Majora's Mask, which was released in November 2000, used the same 3D game engine as Ocarina of Time, but added a novel time-based concept, leading to somewhat mixed reactions from series fans. It was originally called Zelda Gaiden, a Japanese title that translates as Zelda Side Story. Gameplay changed significantly; in addition to a form of time-limit, Link could use masks to transform into different creatures with unique skills. While Majora's Mask retained the graphical style of the landmark Ocarina of Time, it was also a departure, particularly in terms of its overall atmosphere. It also featured motion-blur, unlike its predecessor, Ocarina of Time. The game is much darker, dealing with death and tragedy in a manner not previously seen in the series, and has a sense of impending doom, as a large moon slowly descends upon the land of Termina. All copies of Majora's Mask are gold cartridges. A "Limited Collector's Edition" lenticular cartridge label was offered as the pre-order incentive. Copies of the game that weren't collector's editions featured a more traditional sticker cartridge label.
The next two games, The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, were released simultaneously for the Game Boy Color, and interact using passwords or a Game Link Cable. After one game has been completed, the player is given a password that allows the other game to be played as a sequel. They were developed by Flagship in conjunction with Nintendo, with supervision from Shigeru Miyamoto. After the team experimented with porting the original Legend of Zelda to the Game Boy Color, they decided to make an original trilogy to be called the "Triforce Series". When the password system linking the three games proved too troublesome, the concept was reduced to two titles at Miyamoto's suggestion. These two titles became Oracle of Ages, which is more puzzle-based, and Oracle of Seasons, which is more action-oriented.
Sixth and seventh generation gamesWhen Nintendo revealed the Nintendo GameCube on August 24, 2000, a software demonstration showed a realistically-styled real-time duel between Ganondorf and Link. Fans and the media speculated that the battle might be from a Zelda game under development. At Spaceworld 2001, Nintendo showed a cel-shaded Zelda title, later released as The Wind Waker, which Miyamoto felt would "extend Zelda's reach to all ages". To Miyamoto's surprise, the media reported that Zelda was shifting to a younger audience. Nothing further was shown until a playable demonstration was ready, which was well-received. The gameplay centers on controlling wind with a baton called the "Wind Waker", and sailing a small boat around a massive, island-filled ocean.
Next in the series came Four Swords Adventures for the GameCube, which was released in the first half of 2004 in Japan and America and in January 2005 in Europe. Based on the handheld Four Swords, Four Swords Adventures was another deviation from previous Zelda gameplay, focusing on multiplayer gameplay and "level-based" action. The game contains 24 individual stages and a map screen; there is no connecting overworld. For the multiplayer features of the game, each player is required to use a Game Boy Advance system linked to the Nintendo GameCube via a special cable. Although it focuses on multiplayer, the game also features a single-player campaign, in which using a Game Boy Advance is optional.
Four Swords Adventures is really two games in one: Hyrulean Adventure (with a storyline and action somewhat similar to a traditional Zelda adventure) and Shadow Battle (a free-for-all mêlée "battle mode", which pits Links against each other as the players struggle for dominance in Hyrulean arenas). The Japanese version includes a third segment, known as Navi Trackers (originally designed as the stand-alone game Tetra's Trackers), which is not included in any other incarnation of the title. Navi Trackers contains spoken dialogue for most of the characters, a first for the Zelda series.
In November 2004 in Japan and Europe, and in January 2005 in America, Nintendo released a new game for the Game Boy Advance, The Minish Cap. The central concept of The Minish Cap is Link's ability to shrink in size with the aid of a mystical sentient hat named Ezlo. While tiny, Link can see previously-explored parts of a dungeon from a new perspective, and enter new areas through otherwise-impassable openings. Link is able to switch from big to small at special portals throughout the land, once again giving Link two "worlds" to play in.
In November 2006, Twilight Princess arrived as the first Zelda game on the Wii, and later, in December 2006, on the Nintendo GameCube, the system for which it was originally developed. The game once again strives for a realistic look, improved even beyond the aforementioned SpaceWorld demo. It chronicles the struggle of a more mature Link to rid Hyrule of the "Twilight Realm", a mysterious force plaguing the land. When he enters this realm, he is transformed into a wolf, and the gameplay shifts radically. Twilight Princess also relies heavily on horseback transportation and mounted battle scenarios, including boss battles.
"Zelda DS" was once rumored to be a new Four Swords game, but Nintendo later retracted those statements. Instead, at the 2006 Game Developers Conference, a trailer for Phantom Hourglass for the Nintendo DS was shown. The trailer revealed traditional top-down Zelda gameplay optimized for the DS' features, with a cel-shaded graphical style similar to The Wind Waker. At the 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo, Nintendo confirmed its status as a direct sequel to The Wind Waker, and debuted an extensive playable demo, including a multiplayer mode reminiscent of Pac-Man Vs. with "capture the flag" elements. Phantom Hourglass was released on June 23, 2007, in Japan; October 1, 2007, in North America; and October 19, 2007, in Europe.
On September 10, 2007, Nintendo announced a new spin-off game in The Legend of Zelda series, Link's Crossbow Training. It was packed in with Nintendo's Wii Zapper peripheral, and released on November 19, 2007 in North America.
On March 25, at the 2009 Game Developers Conference, Satoru Iwata announced a new Zelda game for the Nintendo DS, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. The game was released on December 7th, 2009 in North America, and on December 23rd, 2009 in Japan. The basic premise of the game takes place on railroad, and as a new addition to the series, in certain areas Princess Zelda's actions can also be controlled.
In November 2011, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was released worldwide. This game passed to be, according to its plot, the first in the Legend of Zelda timeline.