Backstory of Conception

Designer Shigeru Miyamoto was responsible for the development of Super Mario Bros., which was released for the Famicom and Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985. In Mario, Miyamoto downplayed the value of the high score in favor of a more concrete goal—to "complete" the game. The evolution of games from endurance tests to simple narratives gave players a goal beyond simple continued survival.

Miyamoto's team worked on The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. concurrently, trying to separate the ideas: Super Mario Bros. was to be linear, where the action occurred in a strict sequence, whereas The Legend of Zelda would be the total opposite. Miyamoto himself was in charge of deciding which concepts were "Zelda ideas" or "Mario ideas." Contrasting with Mario, Zelda was made non-linear and forced the players to think about what they should do next with riddles and puzzles.

Legend of Zelda Famicom DiskWith The Legend of Zelda, Miyamoto wanted to take the idea of a game "world" even further, giving players a "miniature garden that they can put inside their drawer." He drew his inspiration from his experiences as a boy around Kyoto, where he explored nearby fields, woods, and caves, and through the Zelda titles he always tries to impart to players some of the sense of exploration and limitless wonder he felt. "When I was a child," he said, "I went hiking and found a lake. It was quite a surprise for me to stumble upon it. When I traveled around the country without a map, trying to find my way, stumbling on amazing things as I went, I realized how it felt to go on an adventure like this." The memory of being lost amid the maze of sliding doors in his family's home in Sonobe was recreated in Zelda's labyrinthine dungeons.

In the initial game designs, the player would start the game with the sword already in their inventory. According to Miyamoto, those in Japan were confused and had trouble finding their way through the multiple path dungeons. Rather than listening to the complaints, Miyamoto took away the sword, forcing players to communicate with each other and share their ideas to solve puzzles. This was a new form of game communication, and in that "Zelda became the inspiration for something very different: Animal Crossing. This was a game based solely on communication."

In February 1986, Nintendo released the game on the Famicom's new Disk System peripheral. The Legend of Zelda was joined by a rerelease of Super Mario Bros. and Tennis, Baseball, Golf, Soccer, and Mahjong in its introduction of the Famicom Disk System. It made full use of the Disk System’s advantages over the Famicom with a disk size of 128 kilobytes, which was expensive to produce on cartridge format. Due to the still-limited amount of space on the disk, however, the Japanese version of the game was only in katakana. It used rewritable disks to save the game, rather than passwords. It also used the microphone built into the Famicom's controller that was not included in the NES. This led to confusion in the U.S. as the instruction manual reads that Pol's Voice, a rabbit-like enemy in the game, "hates loud noise";. Blowing or shouting into the Famicom's microphone kills these creatures. However, they cannot be killed through use of the flute, and on the NES must be killed with either the sword or bow and arrow.

The Legend of Zelda game cartridge, in its distinctive gold color.Contrary to the fears of Nintendo's management, the game was wildly popular and well received. Nintendo published the game a year later in North America, with a small portion of the box cut out to display the unique gold-colored cartridge. In 1987, The Legend of Zelda became the first NES title aside from Super Mario Bros. to sell one million copies. In 1988, 7 million more NES units were sold, along with 33 million game cartridges. Nintendo of America sought to keep its strong base of fans: anyone who purchased a game and sent in a warranty card became a member of the Fun Club, whose members got a four-, eight-, and eventually thirty-two-page newsletter. Seven hundred copies of the first issue were sent out free of charge, but the number grew as the data bank of names got longer.

From the success of magazines in Japan, Nintendo knew that game tips were an incredibly valued asset. Players enjoyed the bimonthly newsletter's crossword puzzles and jokes, but game secrets were most valued. The Fun Club drew kids in by offering tips for the more complicated games, especially Zelda, with its hidden rooms, secret keys, and passageways. The mailing list grew. By early 1988, there were over 1 million Fun Club members, which led then-Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa to start Nintendo Power magazine.

Since Nintendo did not have many products, it made only a few commercials a year, meaning the quality had to be phenomenal. The budget for a single commercial could reach US $5 million, easily four or five times more than most companies spent. One of the first commercials made under Bill White, director of advertising and public relations, was the market introduction for The Legend of Zelda, which received a great deal of attention in the ad industry. In it, a wiry-haired, nerdy guy (John Kassir) walks through the dark making goofy noises, yelling out the names of some enemies from the game, and screaming for Zelda.

The Legend of Zelda was a gold mine for Nintendo, which released a slew of Zelda-related merchandise, from toys and guidebooks to watches, apparel, trash cans, and even a breakfast cereal called the Nintendo Cereal System. The game and its sequel, The Adventure of Link were adapted into an animated series, episodes of which were shown each Friday on television's The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. Link and Zelda appeared in select episodes of Captain N: The Game Master that revolved around themes from The Adventure of Link.