The Legend of Zelda (NES)
The Legend of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda front cover
General information
 Platform(s)  NES
 Developed by  Nintendo R&D 4
 Published by  Nintendo
 Single Player
 Successor  Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
 Release dates
  Australia  November 15th, 1987
  Europe  November 15th, 1987
  Japan  FDS: February 21st, 1986
 NES: February 19th, 1994
  United States  July 21st, 1987
The Legend of Zelda Title ScreenThe Legend of Zelda on the NES is the first game in the Zelda franchise, an endearing 8 bit classic centering around Link who would not only be the main protagonist of this title, but for the LoZ series in the decades that followed.

The games very first release was not on the NES, but the Famicom Disc System in Japan way back on February 21st, 1986, a year later it was released internationally on the NES, interestingly there wasn't a Japanese NES version until right near the end of the consoles lifespan in 1994.


"A long, long time ago the World was in an age of Chaos.Link with his sword and shield

"In the midst of this chaos, in a little kingdom in the land of Hyrule, a legend was being handed down from generation to generation, the legend of the 'Triforce'; golden triangles possessing mystical powers. One day, an evil army attacked this peaceful little kingdom and stole the Triforce of Power. This army was led by Ganon, the powerful Prince of Darkness who sought to plunge the World into fear and darkness under his rule. Fearing his wicked rule, Zelda, the princess of this kingdom, split up the Triforce of Wisdom into eight fragments and hid them throughout the realm to save the last remaining Triforce from the clutches of the evil Ganon. At the same time, she commanded her most trustworthy nursemaid, Impa, to secretly escape into the land and go find a man with enough courage to destroy the evil Ganon. Upon hearing this, Ganon grew angry, imprisoned the princess, and sent out a party in search of Impa."

"Braving forests and mountains, Impa fled for her life from her pursuers. As she reached the very limit of her energy she found herself surrounded by Ganon's evil henchmen. Cornered! What could she do? ... But wait! All was not lost. A young lad appeared. He skillfully drove off Ganon's henchmen, and saved Impa from a fate worse than death."

"His name was Link. During his travels he had come across Impa and Ganon's henchmen. Impa told Link the whole story of the princess Zelda and the evil Ganon. Burning with a sense of justice, Link resolved to save Zelda, but Ganon was a powerful opponent. He held the Triforce of Power. And so, in order to fight off Ganon, Link had to bring the scattered eight fragments of the Triforce of Wisdom together to rebuild the mystical triangle. If he couldn't do this, there would be no chance Link could fight his way into Death Mountain where Ganon lived."

"Can Link really destroy Ganon and save Princess Zelda?

"Only your skill can answer that question. Good luck. Use the Triforce wisely."

Region / Setting

The Legend of Zelda is set in the Kingdom of Hyrule which is made up of various areas including the Lost Woods, Death Mountain, a large lake, a forest, graveyard and shore - each area has it's own unique theme and feel, its own dangers and items for you to find. The Overworld which makes up Hyrule can be freely explored at the players will. For one of the first times ever in videogames theres practically nowhere the player can't go and explore.

Link gazing across the Kingdom of Hyrule


The Legend of Zelda was the first of it's kind; a hybrid game on the surface a traditional rpg with elements of puzzle/problem solving, adventure and action all in one.

Link must fight his way through a whole host of enemies and dangerous creatures in order to locate the entrances to the games nine dungeons. Each dungeon is a labyrinth of corridors, different doors and secret passageways - it's a challenge to learn to navigate them before you even think about taking on the unique and deadly enemies that dwell within each dungeon.

Hidden within the depths of these Dungeon's are useful items including a boomerang which can retrieve items not within your reach or even to stun enemies and a recorder with magical properties. Succesfully navigating each dungeon will also allow you to obtain one of the missing pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom.

The first six Dungeon's have visible entrances whereas the entrances to the 7th and 8th are hidden, the 9th and final dungeon cannot be accessed until the other 8 are cleared. Dungeons are set up so that you require an item from Dungeon 1 to pass a certain point of Dungeon 2 etc, which somewhat enforces them to be completed in a linear order.

Link looking at an entrance to the Underworld  

Exploring the Overworld
One of the keys to the success of the original LoZ was the ability to freely explore the overworld, to go wherever you wanted in a non linear fashion with the freedom to find hidden items and buy items at your own leisure. This freedom allows players to play the game in their own way and it's even possible to get to the last boss without the use of a sword (For real.).

Because of the freedom and non linear nature of the overworld Nintendo of America had concerns that players might not understand what they were supposed to be doing and may just end up lost wandering the overworld and become frustrated. This is why the U.S version of the manual is comprehensively put together and includes lots of hints and tips to help guide pioneering heroes on their adventures.

Japanese promo version for FDS

The Japanese version of LoZ was first released in Japan and contrary to popular belief that was actually on the Famicom Disk System, not the NES. The FDS enabled not only data saving but increased the number of sound channels available from the 5 that the famicom offered to 6. As such there is quite a notable difference in the audio on the FDS version when compared to the NES version.

Other notable differences in the Japanese version include
  • The Book of Magic was known as the Bible in the FDS version of LoZ. This is likely because of NoA's policy against the referencing of religion or religious materials within games released on their systems. Despite this all depictions of the cross remained in place.
  • You could get the promo version of LoZ for FDS from a promotional package of Ramen from Charumera, or as a prize from contests in Japan and as such these copies are extremely scarce and expensive.

Main characters

The main characters in The Legend of Zelda (NES) include:-
  • Link - the main protagonist, Link is the good guy who is tasked with fighting through dungeons and trying to save Princess Zelda.
  • Zelda - The Princess of Hyrule, she has been kidnapped by Ganon.
  • Ganon - An evil sorcerer who wants Hyrule for his own, and has taken Zelda hostage.

Other characters include: Fairy, Hungry Goriya, Impa, Old Man, Old Woman, Merchant and a rather Generous Moblin.

Although the Legend of Zelda Cartoons are not considered canon (in line with the true story of the main series games) they often portray the above mentioned characters in similar roles to this game, as the LoZ Cartoons were indeed based (loosely) around LoZ NES.

Bosses & Enemies

The bosses of LoZ NES are as below:-

  • Aquamentus: An intimidating looking, powerful, yet easy to defeat foe who is encountered as the main boss in Level-1 and Level-7 in the first quest, and as the boss of Level-1 in the second quest.
  • Dodongo: A giant rhinoceros. It hasn't got much attacking power, but it bounces off attacks with it's thick hide. Dodongos feature as bosses in Level 2, Level 5 and Level 7.
  • Manhandla: The Japanese manual referred to these enemies as "four limbed, jumbo sized Piranha Plants" which surely makes reference to the classic enemies from the Mario series. Manhandla's are encountered as bosses on Level 3, 4 and 8.
  • Gleeok: A multiheaded Dragon, striking at the heads will cause them to eventually detatch, they'll then continue to fight you independently of the main body. Once the main body is defeated so then is the Gleeok. Gleeok's will be encountered as bosses on Level 4, 6 and 8.Gohma
  • Digdogger: The Digdogger is encountered as the loss of level 5, it can be beaten by playing the Recorder which will make it much smaller, it's then a matter of swordsplay to finish him off. You'll also encounter a Digdogger on level 7 and playing the recorder will this time split Digdogger into THREE smaller versions of itself which Link can again defeat using his sword.
  • Gohma - Gohma has a tough exterior including a rugged shell which most attacks will bounce off. It is vulnerable however to attacks on it's single eye using a bow. Gohma tends to keep its eye closed as a defence mechanism and attack with beams from a distance. Gohma is encountered as a boss on Level 6 and 8. There are two versions of Gohma in LoZ NES, a red version which can be beaten with a single arrow to the eye, and a tougher blue version which will take three arrows before it goes down.
  • Patra - Patra is a boss encountered on level 9, it is essentially a giant flying eye flanked by other smaller flying eyes. Patria is vulnerable to physical attacks ie. Sword, or physical strikes from the Magical Rod.
  • Ganon - the main antagonist of not only the NES version, but basically the entire Zelda franchise. Ganon is also known as Ganondorf and is described as a monstrous Prince of Darkness. Ganon is the final boss of the game and is a tricky one to defeat, he'll become invisible and port himself around the room meanwhile casting fireballs at Link, link must swing the magical sword at where the fireballs appear to be coming from in order to get a hit. After hitting Ganon a few times he will be stunned, turn red and Link will have the oppurtunity to finish him with a silver arrow.

Link preparing to fight an enemy


Check out these Legend of Zelda (NES) videos. The videos include TV Commercials, Trailers and more.

Exploring the original game map from The Legend of Zelda

A U.S TV Commercial for The Legend of Zelda on NES

A Japanese TV Commercial for Super Mario Bros & The Legend of Zelda on NES

Trivia & Facts

  • This was one of the first games ever to feature a freely explorable non-linear Overworld.
  • The final dungeon is extremely large, on it's own it takes up the same area as more than half of the Overworld.
  • The NES version of the Legend of Zelda is one of only three Zelda titles where Link can have up to 16 hearts. The other two games are DS titles; The Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks.
  • The vast majority of early release LoZ game cartridges are gold, but the final releases were in grey (Ran out of gold?)
  • The Second Quest was never intended to be part of the game, but after finishing the first quest Nintendo realised there was still lots of space on the cartridge, not wanting that to go to waste they then came up with the idea of the second quest to add an extra layer of challenge as a bonus for players.
  • During the games development, Shigeru Miyamoto was inspired by an Atari 2600 game called Adventure which was one of the first ever graphical adventure games.
  • In early versions of the game the player would've been given a choice of weapons by the old man at the start of the game whereby you'd get to choose either the sword or a boomerang.
  • The recorder, or whistle uses the same sound effect as the Warp Whistle from Super Mario Bros. 3.
  • During an Interview with Gamekult, Shigeru Miyamoto revealed that the game was set to be both in the past and the future with the hero/protagonist as the link between them, and this is how they came up with the name Link.
  • The Triforce pieces that the hero sets out to collect were originally intended to be non descript electronic chips!

Sales Figures

The Legend of Zelda sold 6.5 million units worldwide, not HUGE compared to todays standards but at the time very succesful and positioning itself as the fourth best-selling NES game ever. It's also the second most commercially successful LoZ game behind Ocarina of Time which moved 7.6 million units.

Review Scores & Accolades

The pioneering and unique blend of rpg, action, puzzle and adventure along with the free-to-explore Overworld landed The Legend of Zelda with some excellent review scores and accolades amongst various gaming publications:-Link in the Grass
  • In Nintendo Power's first issue the game placed first in the "Top 30" player's poll, even beating off several top Mario titles, it featured highly in many player's polls to come, for many years after that.
  • Computer Gaming World called The Legend of Zelda a killer app which helped turn hardened CRPG computer players to NES players also hailing it as the best adventure of the year for Nintendo and calling it a "sensational success".
  • In 1993 The Legend of Zelda was reviewed by Sandy Petersen in her Eye of the Monitor Column of Dragon Magazine, Issue 198 where she gave the game 4 out of 5 stars.
  • The Legend of Zelda is featured in a multitude of different 'best of all time' or 'greatest' lists - for example it made Game Informer's Top 100 games of all time in 2001 and then the top 200 games of all time in 2009 - several decades after its release still standing tall against its modern counterparts.
  • The original Legend of Zelda was re-released on the Game Boy Advance many years later and scored well amongst modern review sites with IGN awarding it a formidible 8/10 and GamePro and Nintendo Power each awarding a solid 4.5/5.
  • Other accolades include being acknowledged as "First Game with a Battery Powered Save Feature" by The Guinness Book of World Records, Gamers Edition.

Media & Downloads

Official Artwork Gallery from The Legend of Zelda - Artwork of bosses and enemies, concept art, items, logos and of course images of Link.
Box Art from The Legend of Zelda several different regional variations
Screenshots from The Legend of Zelda

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