The Legend of Zelda debuted for the Nintendo Entertainment System on February 21, 1986. Since then, we've followed Link, Zelda and Ganon on almost 20 unforgettable adventures. From intense swordplay to devious puzzles to wide-open exploration, The Legend of Zelda has always thrilled, delighted and surprised players. With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in 2017, the series arguably came full circle, imbuing Hyrule with a quiet sense of mystery and wonder that players simply had to discover for themselves.
To celebrate 35 years of Zelda, the Tom's Guide staff has put together a series of stories that highlight our personal favorite titles, as well as the impact the series has had on players, game design and even pop culture as a whole. The Legend of Zelda isn't just a series of excellent games, after all; at this point, it's an institution. By presenting a fresh take on age-old fantasy tropes, this ambitious series has always melded cutting-edge technology with rich tradition.
Read on to find out how the Tom's Guide staff is celebrating The Legend of Zelda's 35th anniversary, and what the games have meant to us over the years.
The Legend of Zelda 35th anniversary stories
To celebrate The Legend of Zelda's 35th anniversary, Nintendo announced an HD Switch port of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, as well as some stylish limited edition Skyward Sword Joy-Cons. I discussed why The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD is the perfect choice for a remaster.
Staff writer Rory Mellon discussed how he started the Zelda series with 2017's Breath of the Wild — and how the classic Zelda games now feel dated in comparison. As it turns out, The Legend of Zelda looks very different to someone who started with one of the most experimental games in the franchise.
Roland Moore-Colyer, our UK editor, wrote about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and his years-long quest to finish the game. Even without seeing the ending, Roland argues that the game has more than earned its sterling reputation. Even modern open-world titles can't quite match its many charms.
I took a deep dive into Joseph Campbell's literary theory to discuss why The Legend of Zelda isn't just fun; it's downright mythic. Link follows the archetypal Hero's Journey, which helps explain why Zelda has persisted not just as a fun game series, but as a veritable piece of modern-day mythology.
The Legend of Zelda 35th anniversary reflections
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was the first game to impart upon me a feeling of space. The wide, mysterious ocean pulled me into a world that seemed vast, with genuine unknowns worth uncovering. Those feelings of open adventure, anxiety and trepidation must be how Marco Polo and Ferdinand Magellan felt, sailing out into the open ocean. To compartmentalize that for a 12-year-old kid was design brilliance by Nintendo. Very few games will ever compare. — Imad Khan
Before The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time came out, gaming was something I did just to pass the time. Mario, Mega Man and co. were just sprites on a screen, meant to while away a few hours after school or on the weekends. But Ocarina of Time was so much more. Here was an epic fantasy adventure, with well-developed characters, a huge world to explore and a story that's filled to the brim with drama, humor, romance, excitement and heartbreak. Stepping into Link's Hylian boots wasn't just a way to challenge my gaming skills; it was a whole world, and I felt privileged to live in it for 30 hours, right up until the bittersweet ending. The incredible thing is that since then, the series has only gotten better. — Marshall Honorof
The Legend of Zelda feels synonymous with gaming in a way that only a handful of series are. Even people who have never touched a single title in the series are aware of the franchise’s iconography. Show someone the Hylian Shield, and they’ll likely identify who carries it.
Breath of the Wild was my first Zelda title, and remains one of my fondest gaming experiences. Exploring a vast open Hyrule, uncovering the secrets of the Divine Beasts and the addictive shrines, was a complete joy. Since then, I’ve been able to dive into the back catalog of classic Zelda titles, and I look forward to the upcoming Switch ports, which will give me even greater exposure to this beloved series. — Rory Mellon
My first experience with Link and his puzzle-centric adventures started with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the venerable Nintendo Game Boy. I remember the thrill of solving dungeon puzzles, discovering secret routes, meeting fourth-wall-breaking characters and smashing lots of pots. Despite its rudimentary visuals, the island of Koholint felt like a deeply rich world. I didn't finish the game.
Next up was Ocarina of Time on the N64, offering an open-world experience before the likes of Fable and Skyrim. I still remember the joy of Hyrule Field during the day, and the horror of Hyrule Castle Town after Link draws the Master Sword. I didn't finish the game.
Then came a Link Between Worlds on the 3DS, a seriously smart game that made use of the stereoscopic 3D on Nintendo’s handheld console. I didn't finish the game.
My latest Zelda experience was with Breath of the Wild: not only a stunning entry in the Zelda series but arguably one of the best games of all time. And reader, I finished the game. — Roland Moore-Colyer
I grew up with The Legend of Zelda and I’ve played a lot of the games, but the one I remember the most fondly is Ocarina of Time. I can tell you everything about that game, hum every ocarina tune, and reminisce about how 6-year-old me cried at the end, when Link had to return the Ocarina of Time and the Master Sword. I was terrified of the Well and it still makes me uneasy to this day, despite knowing what’s coming. Having the game rereleased on the 3DS was a wonderful nostalgia trip, and I still play it or the Master Quest redux from time to time. I also loved Twilight Princess, Majora’s Mask and Breath of the Wild, but nothing comes close to matching Ocarina of Time for me. — Jordan Palmer
The only game I’ve played from the Zelda series was The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. That was more than enough to get me hooked. I purchased Link's Awakening when the national lockdown first hit the UK (March 2020), and I couldn’t get enough of it. Apart from the cute cartoony feel, I was really impressed with the clever (though at times head-scratching) puzzles, the adventurous gameplay and the stunning game design. I’ve never played any of the original games, so everything was new and exciting for me. But those who are familiar with the series might find it repetitive, to an extent. At the time, it was one of the very first games I had installed on my Nintendo Switch Lite, and even now, it remains one of my favorites to play on a gloomy day. — Denise Primbet
I had no clue what I was getting into when my dad purchased the Legend of Zelda for me back in the '80s. At the time, Super Mario Bros. and Rad Racer were my preferred style of video game. However, several potions, dungeons and rupees later, The Legend of Zelda wound up becoming one of my favorite video games of all time. Sure, the riddles were frustrating, and the game itself felt borderline repetitive. But nothing was more satisfying than finding the entrance to a secret dungeon after pushing a random boulder in the mountains of Hyrule. Subsequent Zelda/Link games have been fun (and difficult), but tell me that you beat the '80s classic and you’ll get nothing but respect from me. — Louis Ramirez