How The Legend of Zelda was (kinda) Its Own Genre

It is about time we talk about The Legend of Zelda and why it was in a genre of its own.


Once upon a time in a land far away, there was a video game named The Legend of Zelda. It was all sorts of awesome, mysterious, and fun. It was also the first game of its kind. And for a while, was its own genre.

Story of The First Game

The Legend of Zelda NES
Let me poke that thing

The Legend of Zelda tells the story of Link, a young boy who volunteered to save Princess Zelda from the evil grasp of Ganon. Princess Zelda split a powerful artifact known as the Triforce and spread the pieces across the lands before The Prince of Darkness, Ganon, finally kidnapped her. Link must gather the fragments, unite them, and use the Triforce to defeat Ganon, saving the princess and the land from evil.


Now, The Legend of Zelda series is one of Nintendo’s most beloved creations. The first game in the series was created in 1986 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). One of the key development members was Shigeru Miyamoto. Miyamoto designed and produced the game with the concept of open-world exploration. He looked to his childhood memories of exploring fields, forests, and caves as inspirations.

Zelda Overworld Map Q2
Zelda Overworld Map Q2 (from

The result is a giant map full of mysterious places you can explore. Really, quite a gigantic map for the time. Above is the much smaller version of the full map assembled by Rick N. Bruns. For the full size, enter this virtual cave here.

Legacy of Zelda

The first game was successful enough that the second game in the series, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, came out the next year. Of course, Nintendo brought the game to the States where it was received enthusiastically. It has since received many praises and has been placed on the lists of the greatest and most influential games of all time. In case you forget, there have been many Legend of Zelda spinoffs, sequels, prequels, cross-overs, and what not.

Link Has Changed
Link… Link Has Changed

Link, the titular… oh wait, that is Zelda. I mean, Link, the main hero of the series has also appeared in many other games outside of the series. Even some that are not made by Nintendo. He is also one of the most talked about and cosplayed video game characters to date.

Why It Is Its Own Genre

I consider The Legend of Zelda to be its own genre when it was released because of the combination of game design and genres, and its lasting legacy. Like the best tasting soup, bibimbap, burrito, lasagna, or ramen that you ever had, it is a complete dish that consists of variety of ingredients.

Sure, the game can be pasted with labels like action adventure and RPG (in the sense that you role-play as Link). But at that time, the game was pretty much alone. The game was also designed to be explored and as such there are many hidden things and places waiting to be found. It was, no doubt, very successful at achieving what it was designed to be.

Like an action adventure game, it features a good deal of battles but also the option to avoid them. So players could play with as much or as little action as they want.

Our idea of open-world games nowadays probably involves an expansive world like SkyrimJust CauseGrand Theft Auto, or Minecraft. Zelda is often credited as a very early example of the genre on home consoles.

Smash the Pots
Smash the Pots

In the era before sharing tips, tricks, cheats, and walkthroughs become common over the internet, finding your way in the virtual land of Hyrule is a matter of curiosity and has a sense of exploration. Who knew that there would be things hidden in pots, right?

Aside from exploration, you also need a good deal of puzzle-solving skills as well as the dexterity to defeat the enemies.

Miyamoto counted on the players to brave Hyrule and share secrets they found with other players, essentially forging a community-based play style.

The game was something very different that I think merits its own genre. Just like how some suggest that Nintendo is a genre by itself. Trust me, the previous sentence is a thing.

3D Dot Game Heroes
3D Dot Game Heroes

Coming back to the legacy, there have been many games that are inspired by Zelda. Some of them are successful in their own rights. The Mana-series (also known as Seiken Densetsu or Mystic Quest), Alundra, the indie game Bastion, and 3D Dot Game Heroes are some of them. Fans of the genre often compare games to the Zelda series—a testament of how great of a legacy the first Zelda game has.

That is why for that period of time when no one tried copying the game, there was a genre called The Legend of Zelda.


Sources: Zelda Wikia, Zelda Informer, GameSpot (via Web Archive), RPG Gamer, and Hidden Triforce.

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About the Author

Astra W

I am a Chocobo mug who loves puns and is driven by the thirst for nostalgia. You will usually find me writing about days past like an old person. Other than that, I usually gawk at different visual arts or exercising my fingers on games. Or napping in the kitchen cabinet.

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