Chapter 2: Zelda II builds on game’s initial success
• Adam Wilson is a senior student at Innisdale Secondary School.He became a fan of The Legend of Zelda 11 years ago when he first played the fifth game in the series, Ocarina of Time. Though he has been writing for many years, he only began writing professionally in May 2009. Adam is writing this retrospective of The Legend of Zelda for his co-op at City Scene Barrie, combining his two passions of writing and Zelda. Check back often for Adam’s pieces looking back at the history of the Legend of Zelda series.
By Adam Wilson
Hello and welcome back to Zelda: 25 Years of the Legend. Last time, I talked about the history of the franchise’s creator and about the first game in the series, The Legend of Zelda. With just one game, Zelda had already made its mark on the video game community.
It had opened the gates for non-linear gaming and its innovative saving feature had changed the video game industry forever. Despite not having the basic qualities of a role-playing game itself, Zelda still helped to lay the groundwork for many fantasy-based RPGs, including the famous Final Fantasy series. And while The Legend of Zelda had undeniably provided enough influence and technological enhancement to last any game a lifetime, Nintendo was not ready to bid Hyrule farewell yet.
Following the 1986 release and success of The Legend of Zelda in Japan, Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, producer and writer of the first game, began work on Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Not wanting a simple rehash of the first game, Miyamoto hired a different team to be in charge of the game’s development. Among the new creative team were Tadashi Sugiyama, who took over the director’s position from Miyamoto, and Akito Nakatsuka, who took over the position of composer from Koji Kondo.
While the game did retain many themes from the previous game, such as recurring enemies and the holy relic of the Triforce, many were built upon further, and several new ideas were implemented, many of which would soon become series staples.
The largest change in The Adventure of Link was the gameplay style. While the original game had been primarily from a top-down perspective with brief side-scrolling portions, The Adventure of Link flipped that on its head by mostly making use of the side-scrolling view, previously seen in other Nintendo franchises such as Super Mario and Metroid, while featuring short sequences from a top-down perspective.
In addition to this, The Adventure of Link also implemented experience points that players would receive upon defeating enemies and completing dungeons, or temples and palaces as they were called this time. These points allowed Link to raise his levels, much like in role-playing games, and increase his attack power, life points, and his newly implemented magic spells.
However, the most important new aspect of the game is the presence of a third piece of the Triforce. While the first game contained the Triforce of Power and the Triforce of Wisdom, The Adventure of Link tasked its titular hero with recovering the long-hidden Triforce of Courage in a story much more complex than the first game’s coming-of-age plot.
The story, once again written by Tezuka, was focused on the same Link who had appeared in the first game as he neared his 16th birthday. Following his defeat of Ganon, Link helped to rebuild the kingdom of Hyrule. However, while he did so, the remaining minions of Ganon had begun planning for the resurrection of their master, seeking to sacrifice Link and use his blood to revive Ganon. Link had also noticed that a mark of three triangles had appeared on the back of his hand and immediately showed it to Princess Zelda’s nursemaid, Impa.
She explained to Link that long ago, there was a king who ruled Hyrule and maintained peace through use of the Triforce. However, when he died, the prince only inherited one piece of the Triforce and he furiously tried to seek it out. A nameless magician who claimed to be close to the king told the prince that his sister, Princess Zelda, knew the Triforce’s location.
The prince confronted Zelda, demanding to know the holy relic’s location, but she refused to speak. In a fit of rage, the magician placed an endless sleeping spell on the princess, despite the prince’s pleas and attempts to stop him. The magician’s spell was successful, yet it used up all of his remaining energy and as Zelda fell into an eternal sleep, the magician died.
Grief-stricken, the prince placed Zelda’s sleeping form in a room in the North Castle and decreed that every female born into the royal household would be named Zelda so the great tragedy would never be forgotten. Impa gave Link a scroll that explained that if the three Triforce pieces were united, their wielder would be granted great power.
However, the scroll also explained that it had been hidden away to keep evil from reaching it and that an individual worthy of wielding the full power of the Triforce would be marked with the sacred symbol’s mark upon reaching a certain age.
With this newly gained knowledge, Link took up his sword and shield once again and set out on his most adventurous quest yet. Just like in The Legend of Zelda, the story of The Adventure of Link was not explained in the game, this time appearing partially on the game’s title screen and partially in the game’s manual.
Aside from the game’s side-scrolling viewpoint, the game’s best-known feature is its difficulty. Unlike any other game in the series, The Adventure of Link implemented a life system. Link started out with three lives and, upon losing all of them, it was game over and the player was forced to return to the game’s starting location.
While players could gain extra lives by picking up 1-Ups that were scattered across Hyrule, these items would not reappear after getting a game over and, with a mere six of these Link-shaped dolls to collect, it was generally considered unwise to pick them up early in the game.
In addition to the life system, the game’s difficulty increased due to the large, maze-like, and multi-level palaces which, unlike the dungeons in the first game, lacked maps of any kind which left players stumbling blindly as they attempted to find their way to the chamber of the temple’s boss. And while the bosses themselves were generally no slouches, they were nothing when compared to the final boss, Dark Link.
Now a fan-favourite character, Link’s shadowy doppelgänger made his debut in The Adventure of Link as the hero’s final test before he was deemed ready to receive the Triforce of Courage. Since his initial appearance, Dark Link has grown to become a recurring enemy, whose fans have deemed to be a representation of corruption and hatred, making him visually Link’s reflection, but his opposite in terms of personality and intentions.
The Adventure of Link is also noteworthy for paving the way for a larger incarnation of Hyrule. While the first game’s overworld was not small by any stretch of the imagination, the overworld of the second game absolutely dwarfed it, forcing Link to traverse through mountainous caves and across oceans to reach secluded islands. While future versions of Hyrule have been large, to this day, the kingdom’s layout in The Adventure of Link remains the biggest.
Another pivotal change brought to the table by The Adventure of Link was the heavy presence of non-playable characters. While they did exist in the first game, non-playable characters were mostly limited to either being enemies or hiding in caves and dungeons waiting to give you an incredibly cryptic hint. However, with The Adventure of Link’s addition of towns, the implementation possibilities for friendly non-playable characters increased and it was an opportunity that Nintendo quickly took hold of.
Though most of their remarks were still confusing, these helpful characters now had roles in the game that could help Link on his quest. Some were able to refill his life points and magic bar while others could teach him a new spell or sword technique. Speaking with certain characters in towns could also trigger short quests that were usually unrelated to the game’s main story, making The Adventure of Link noteworthy for being the first game in the series to include side-quests, a facet which would quickly become a recurring element in the series.
Despite the changes and innovation brought forth by The Adventure of Link, it still retained some ideas set out by the first game. For example, while it was altered, beating the second game would unlock a Second Quest, just as it did in The Legend of Zelda. However, unlike the Second Quest in the first game, The Adventure of Link’s post-game adventure didn’t alter dungeons or increase the game’s difficulty. Instead, it simply allowed the player to run through the game again with their experience stats and spells the same as they were in the player’s first file.
Despite its radical departure from the original game’s overall style, The Adventure of Link was generally well received upon release. Many considered the alterations made to be the right step for the fledgling series to take. However, the appreciation for the game was not as universal as it was for its predecessor. While many did enjoy the changes the game brought to the table, others felt that the Zelda series should not be so heavily swamped with role-playing game elements.
And while the game was still commercially successful, selling 4.3 million copies worldwide, it still faltered when compared with the 6.5 million copies that the first game sold. Despite some negative feedback given to the game and often being considered to be one of the black sheep of the Zelda series, The Adventure of Link would still leave its mark on future Zelda games through many of the innovative ideas it brought to the franchise.
The success of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link proved to be more than enough in Nintendo’s eyes and, approximately one year after the game’s Japanese release, work on a third entry in the Zelda series began. Just as with the first two games, Miyamoto and Tezuka were heavily involved in the creation of the franchise’s third entrant. However, neither of them had any idea just how influential The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past would come to be.
I hope you’ll join me again on Zelda: 25 Years of the Legend when I discuss the creation and impact of the third game in greater detail.
Chapter 1: Zelda helped spawn video-game juggernaut
Adam Wilson is a senior student at Innisdale Secondary School. He became a fan of The Legend of Zelda 11 years ago when he first played the fifth game in the series, Ocarina of Time. Though he has been writing for many years, he only began writing professionally in May 2009. Adam is writing this retrospective of The Legend of Zelda for his co-op at City Scene Barrie, combining his two passions of writing and Zelda. Check back often for Adam’s pieces looking back at the history of the Legend of Zelda series.
By Adam Wilson
“Watch Zelda become a legend on your Nintendo Entertainment System” is a phrase with which many of us may not be familiar.
Naturally, the more video-game savvy will be able to pick up key words such as the pieces of a title drop for the Legend of Zelda franchise, as well as the name of video-game juggernaut Nintendo’s very first home console, the Nintendo Entertainment System, but it’s still unlikely they’ve ever heard that particular phrase.
However, 25 years ago, that phrase would have been popping up on every television in North America along with a cringe-worthy Zelda rap song many die-hard fans would like to forget. Though these marketing choices may seem odd now, eliciting cries from long-term fans saying that they would have done more to hinder their interest in Zelda than help it, these advertisements must have spoken to the kids of 1987 because Zelda actually did grow into a legend.
In the past 25 years, The Legend of Zelda series has seen new entrants ranging from 18 new official games, a television series, series of comics, novels, and more fan content than even Link could shake a sword at. But before we talk about any of that, we need to step back to talk about the game that made all this possible: the game that pushed past bizarre marketing and children’s embarrassing attempts at spinning rhymes to become a legend.
Before one can think about talking about a game on a Nintendo console or even modern video gaming in general, one must first talk about Shigeru Miyamoto. Often called one of the fathers of modern video-gaming, Miyamoto is responsible for such famous video game franchises as Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Pikmin, and The Legend of Zelda, among countless others.
Born on Nov. 16, 1952 to Iijake Miyamoto and Hinako Aruha, Miyamoto spent much of his childhood exploring his hometown of Sonobe, Kyoto, Japan and the surrounding countryside. As he grew up, Miyamoto graduated from the Kanazawa Municipal College of Industrial Arts with the intent of becoming a professional manga artist. However, all of that changed when he played the 1978 arcade hit, Space Invaders, a game he believes revolutionised the entire industry.
In 1979, as once popular playing-card company Nintendo was in the process of switching their focus towards electronic games, Miyamoto designed his very first video game, a multi-directional shooter arcade game called Sheriff. Two years later, Nintendo attempted to break into the North American market with a game called Radar Scope, but to little avail. The buzz that had surrounded the game’s Japanese release was all but gone and there were not enough American gamers interested to make a profit of off the large amount of Radar Scope arcade cabinets Nintendo had ordered.
Facing financial collapse, Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo’s CEO at the time, tasked Miyamoto with fixing the game to raise its appeal.
Before he even began converting the cabinets, Miyamoto decided to do something that was entirely new to the video game market and give the game a story before the programming took place. Taking inspiration from Popeye, Beauty and the Beast, and King Kong, he designed a story for a game that would come to be known as Donkey Kong. Deciding on a love triangle theme, Miyamoto created a cast of three characters for the game: a carpenter, his girlfriend, and his rebellious pet ape. When selecting names for the characters, Miyamoto wished to create names that would reflect the characters in ways that graphical and story limitations prevented. The carpenter, given a moustache, a red cap, and a pair of red overalls to make the animating process easier, was named Jumpman, selected to show that he possessed the ability to jump and for its similarity to the popular Walkman and Pac-Man. Jumpman’s girlfriend was simply named the Lady, which, in addition to her pink dress and long hair, told the player that she was female. Finally, Miyamoto wished to convey the ape’s substandard intelligence and, having heard that “donkey” meant “stupid” in America, named him Donkey Kong.
Fearing he would be unable to program the game himself, Miyamoto formed a four-man programming team to assist him. As he explained his ideas and concepts, Miyamoto’s supervisor, Gunpei Yokoi, and the team felt it was too complex and ridiculous. Despite this, the team worked and programmed approximately 20,000 lines of code at Miyamoto’s behest. Following its completion, Donkey Kong was sent to Nintendo of America for testing to poor results. The sales manager felt it was too different and was doomed to failure while American distributors and a lawyer called in to secure a trademark felt the bizarre title would simply harm the game’s appeal. However, Nintendo of American’s president, Minoru Arakawa, refused to believe them and insisted it was going to be a tremendous hit.
Donkey Kong arcade cabinets were shipped out to America in April of 1981 and Nintendo waited breathlessly to see how it would fare with the American gamers they’d struggled so much to grab. After one week had passed, the sales results came in, revealing that, in that week, the game had made approximately $210,000. Once doubtful American markets began requesting more cabinets and 2,000 Radar Scope machines were reprogrammed, Donkey Kong was a hit. But Nintendo’s success was not going to come so easily.
Approximately one year after Nintendo’s success with Donkey Kong, Sid Sheinberg, both president of Universal City Studios and an attorney, noticed Nintendo’s success and, upon examination, deemed it to be infringing on their rights to King Kong. Universal contacted Nintendo and Coleco, a producer of video-game consoles, and gave them two days to stop all Donkey Kong-related marketing, get rid of all related merchandise, and hand over all records of their profits to Universal.
Coleco’s president, Arnold Greenberg, agreed and said that Universal would receive three percent of the game’s profits worth of royalties. At the same time, Tiger Electronics was working on their own King Kong game, having previously acquired the licence. When Robert Hadl, the vice-president of legislative matters, expressed worry that it may damage their agreement with Coleco, Sheinberg contacted Tiger and demanded to see their game. Tiger complied and, after looking it over, Universal deemed the game too similar to Donkey Kong and attempted to revoke Tiger’s licence.
Unlike Coleco, Nintendo was not going to cave in so easily. Howard Lincoln, an attorney who had held initial doubt about Donkey Kong, decided to fight Sheinberg, claiming that this was a sign that Nintendo had made it big. In response, Universal sent Nintendo further demands for royalties, prompting Lincoln to look into the studio’s ownership claims over King Kong. Deeming them unfit, he and Nintendo set up another meeting with Sheinberg who believed they were finally giving in. However, when Lincoln remarked that Universal lacked the legal basis to make any of these threats, Sheinberg left in shock. With a court battle between the two on the horizon, Hadl contacted Tiger Electronics and told them to alter their King Kong game to avoid comparisons between it and Donkey Kong. Tiger did so, giving their main character a fireman’s hat, changing the barrels that Kong threw into bombs, and straightening the crooked game platforms.
Following the alterations to Tiger’s game, Universal sued Nintendo, sending cease-and-desist letters. Nintendo refused, hiring John Kirby to represent them in court. During the case, Universal claimed that people may easily confuse Donkey Kong with King Kong, but Kirby explained and showed key differences between the two.
Kirby also went on to explain that, nine years ago, Universal had successfully sued RKO Pictures after proving that King Kong’s plot was in the public domain, allowing the 1976 remake of the film to move forward. The court ruled in Nintendo’s favour and Judge Robert W. Sweet stated that Universal’s letters to Nintendo gave the latter the right to seek damages.
In addition to this, Sweet declared that Tiger’s King Kong game was an infringement on Nintendo’s Donkey Kong. Nintendo received $56,689.41 in licensing profits and Universal later had to pay Nintendo $1.8 million for “legal fees, photocopying expenses, costs incurred creating graphs and charts, and lost revenues.”
As a thank you gift, Nintendo gave John Kirby both a sailboat christened the Donkey Kong and exclusive worldwide rights to use the name for sailboats. In the years that followed, Nintendo created their own home console, the Nintendo Entertainment System, and went on to create several games that would soon become popular franchises, such as Super Mario Bros., a game which featured a retooled version of Donkey Kong’s Jumpman, Metroid, a science-fiction action-adventure game about a futuristic female bounty hunter, and of course, The Legend of Zelda, a top-down fantasy game with heavy focus on exploration
While Super Mario Bros. was in development, Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka decided to begin work on another game. Wishing to keep the games distinguishable from each other, the development team worked to make them as different as possible.
While Super Mario Bros. was heavily focused on linearity and featured jumping mechanics, power-ups, and a side-scrolling view, the other game, which would come to be known as The Legend of Zelda, was based around exploration, puzzle solving, and had a top-down viewpoint.
When designing Zelda, Miyamoto wanted to give players as much freedom as possible and, to suit the non-linear feel of the game, made it possible for players to beat levels, or dungeons as they were called, in any order they wished. It was even possible to play the entire game, save for the final boss, without picking up the sword you’re offered at the very beginning. The game also placed emphasis on a feeling of discovery which Miyamoto said was inspired by the times he spent exploring the countryside surrounding his hometown.
Miyamoto said that his goal when developing Zelda was to give players that experience, but in a small enough package that they could easily store it inside their own house.
While Miyamoto produced the game, Tezuka was in charge of writing the story and the script. The story settled on for the game was a simple coming-of-age tale that was reflected in the protagonist, Link. Miyamoto described him as a symbol that players could identify with and deemed him a character that would represent courage, strength, and wisdom, three themes that would become very important in the franchise’s future. When naming the princess and the player’s ultimate goal Miyamoto was inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald, while looking for names that sounded regal and beautiful. The game’s straightforward story was built upon the clear statement that Princess Zelda had been kidnapped by the Dark Lord Ganon in his attempt to claim the Triforce of Wisdom from her which, when combined with his own Triforce of Power, would grant him ultimate power.
However, prior to her kidnapping, Zelda split the Triforce of Wisdom into eight pieces and now it’s up to Link to scour the mystical land of Hyrule to claim the eight pieces and reform the Triforce. None of this was actually explained within the game, instead appearing on the game’s title screen, but this is sometimes considered to be one of the game’s strengths as it allows the freedom of exploration to go unhindered by scripted events occurring as the plot progresses.
On a technical front, The Legend of Zelda was and still is considered to be revolutionary for its time. Most notable was its inclusion of something that has since become commonplace in the video game industry: the ability to save your progress in the game. Prior to The Legend of Zelda, players had to remember and enter passwords in order to return to where they were in a game, but it was Zelda that changed all that thanks to the Japanese Famicom’s rewritable discs.
In addition to Zelda’s ground-breaking save feature, the game, having used up only half of its cartridge, gave its audience a second game mode known as the Second Quest. Following the defeat of Ganon and rescue of Princess Zelda, players are informed that they have unlocked the ability to play the game again, though this time with the dungeons hidden in different locations, re-arranged to make puzzles more difficult, and stronger enemies thrown in earlier, giving the Second Quest a more challenging difficulty.
Though The Legend of Zelda became very popular following its Japanese release, Nintendo feared that North American gamers would not appreciate how flexible and non-linear the game was. However, much like with Donkey Kong, their fears were unfounded and The Legend of Zelda became the second best-selling game on the Nintendo Entertainment System in under a year. As a result of the game’s wild success, Nintendo began to create Zelda merchandise that ranged from toys, to breakfast cereals, and even to a full-fledged animated series.
Aired on Fridays as a part of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, The Legend of Zelda television series lasted for a mere 13 episodes prior to cancellation. However, despite its short run and its poor quality, the series has gained a cult following among fans of the games.
In addition to the characters of Link, Zelda, and Ganon, the show featured original characters such as Spryte, a smart-mouthed fairy, and King Harkinian, the loyal, but forgetful ruler of Hyrule. In addition to adding these characters, the series is also notable for being one of the only things related to Zelda in which Link speaks.
Link’s generally childish personality can be easily defined through his catchphrase, “Excuuuuse me, princess.”
Often repeated several times over a single episode, Link managed to say it 29 different times over the course of the entire series. Despite all this, the show did make reference to the game on multiple occasions. All of Ganon’s minions are directly lifted from the game, as are several sound effects and musical piece.
In addition to the merchandise produced, The Legend of Zelda’s popularity also prompted Nintendo to request a sequel that would be the first step towards transforming a well-received game into one of Nintendo’s flagship franchises.
And while the original Legend of Zelda game did introduce many elements that would soon become series staples, such as the central three characters, many items, and the gold cartridge, there was still much innovation to be found.
I hope you’ll join me next week when I’ll discuss the second entry in the franchise in Zelda: 25 Years of the Legend.