I can clearly remember the first time I played the Legend of Zelda. I was about six years old and got the game on Thanksgiving. I played through all nine dungeons over the four day holiday weekend. It was unlike any game I had played before! To a six-year-old, that sense of adventure and exploration was liberating.
When Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Zelda, was asked about his inspiration for creating the game he said:
“There’s a place near Kobe where there’s a mountain, and you climb the mountain, and there’s a big lake near the top of it… And I drew on that inspiration when we were working on the Legend of Zelda game and we were creating this grand outdoor adventure where you go through these narrowed confined spaces and come upon this great lake.”
At that age, you are not allowed out of the house on your own. That original Zelda game filled me with a sense of wonder for exploring. The love I learned for adventuring inspired me well into my teens as I spent the summers walking through the woods near my uncle’s house in Chappaqua.
But when I think back to getting the game, opening the box, and removing that iconic gold cartridge, I can still see the artwork from the manual in my head. I was only beginning to discover an interest in drawing, and the illustrations of Link on his adventure helped explain the essence of the game to a young boy that couldn’t read yet.
Looking at the same artwork after all of these years takes me back to those early moments before I started my 4-day adventure through Hyrule. I eagerly flipped through the pages of the manual, trying to get a sense of the tasks needed to complete the game. The art style of a cartoonish Link, casually interacting with the items in the game, helped make the hero more relatable to a young child who had never even seen a boomerang in person.
In my head, Link was not much older than me. Seeing how he effortlessly fought off monsters with a myriad of weapons showed me how to protect myself in this new world I was about to enter. Even items like the bow and arrows were approachable with their soft edges, bright colors, and cartoonish appearance.
I find it fascinating to think about how iconic this artwork is to me and the influence it had on my drawing style for years to come. One of the things we’ve lost in games today is the necessity of having your imagination fill in the gaps between the blurry pixels on a CRT screen and what the artist had originally intended it to look like.
For the most part, Link’s simplistically illustrated face had just enough detail to be relatable. From the solid black eyes, a small nose, and a straight line of a mouth. It allowed room to project your personality onto him. The artwork in Zelda’s manual helped my young mind fill in expressions not visible in the 64 or so pixels that made up Link’s face in the actual game.
In a lot of the images, Link even poses like a child. You can find him sitting or moving about in exaggerated ways to emphasis his actions. When it’s time for a break, Link is found casually sitting and drinking a potion. These subtle details are something that 33 years later, I can draw a parallel between my boys and how they act when they play around the house.
To this day, the Legend of Zelda is one of my favorite games. And while the graphics and detail have changed with each new console generation, one thing will always be cemented in my mind. Link is me, a 6-year-old boy, quietly exploring a vast and dangerous world trying to find all the tools needed to survive. When I first beat the Legend of Zelda, it wasn’t about saving a princess but proving to an undeveloped sense of self-sufficiency that everything I needed to navigate life’s challenges is there to find if you look hard enough.
What did the Legend of Zelda mean to you? Feel free to leave a comment below to share your own experiences with this fantastic game.