The Legend of Zelda is a fantasy action-adventure franchise created by Japanese game designers Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka with music by composer Koji Kondo. Set in the expansive world of Hyrule, its gameplay incorporates elements of action, adventure, and puzzle-solving games and consists of exploration, dungeon crawling, and a plethora of side quests. The franchise puts players in the role of Link, a hero chosen by the goddesses to defeat the evil Ganondorf and save the kidnapped Princess Zelda and the Kingdom of Hyrule. The franchise has seen 18 console games on all of Nintendo’s major consoles starting with the original Famicom plus a number of spin-offs including Hyrule Warriors by Capcom. Aside from its series of video games, the franchise was also adapted into an American animated TV show that aired in 1989 and into a manga adaptation by artist duo Akira Himekawa that started in 1997 and has more than 62 million copies in print.
For most of the games, The Legend of Zelda takes place in the Kingdom of Hyrule, a land rich in lore with a long and storied history. In ancient times, Hyrule was created by the three Golden Goddesses, with Din creating the earth, Nayru creating law and order, and Farore creating all life. The geography of Hyrule changes from game to game, sometimes drastically as in the flooded world of The Wind Waker, but it is usually depicted as a beautiful and prosperous land rich in diverse landscapes and hidden temples to explore. Familiar locales in Hyrule include Lake Hylia, the Lost Woods, Zora’s Waterfall, Hyrule Castle, Kakariko Village, Death Mountain, Gerudo Valley, Lon Lon Ranch, Kokiri Forest, Hyrule Field, Temple of Time, Sacred Grove, and Skyloft. Hyrule is also home to a diverse number of races including Hylians, Gerudo, Kokiri, Sheikah, the Wind Tribe, Zoras, Gorons, Deku, Zuna, Minish, Fairies, Oocca, and Humans. Several games have also featured parallel versions of Hyrule including the Dark World in A Link to the Past and A Link Between Worlds and Termina in Majora’s Mask.
The franchise’s chronology was the subject of much debate among fans until an official timeline was released in the collector’s book Hyrule Historia when it was published in Japan in December 2011. According to the timeline, the first game in the story, chronologically speaking, is Skyward Sword followed by The Minish Cap, Four Swords, and Ocarina of Time. Following Ocarina of Time, the story’s timeline splits into three alternate routes. In one, Link fails to defeat Ganon which creates the Decline of Hyrule timeline in which A Link to the Past, Oracle of Seasons & Ages, Link’s Awakening, A Link Between Worlds, Tri Force Heroes, The Legend of Zelda, and The Adventure of Link all take place in. In the second and third timelines, Link is successful in defeating Ganon, leading to a timeline split between his childhood and adulthood. His childhood timeline, called The Twilight Realm, includes Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess, and Four Swords: Adventures. His adult timeline, called A New World, includes The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks.
The Legend of Zelda - NES, 1986
The Adventure of Link - NES, 1987
A Link to the Past - SNES, 1991
Link’s Awakening - Game Boy, 1993
Ocarina of Time - N64, 1998
Majora’s Mask - N64, 2000
Oracle of Seasons / Oracle of Ages - Game Boy Color, 2001
A Link to the Past (remake) / Four Swords - Game Boy Advance, 2003
The Wind Waker - GameCube, 2002
Four Swords Adventures - GameCube, 2004
The Minish Cap - Game Boy Advance, 2005
Twilight Princess - Wii, 2006
Phantom Hourglass - Nintendo DS, 2007
Spirit Tracks - Nintendo DS, 2009
Skyward Sword - Wii U, 2011
A Link Between Worlds - Nintendo 3DS, 2013
Tri Force Heroes - Nintendo 3DS, 2015
Breath of the Wild - Wii U / NX, 2017
The hero and protagonist of the series who holds the Triforce of Courage. Though a different character in each game, Link is always depicted as a humble and brave child, teenager, or adult Hylian with pointed ears who characteristically wears a green tunic and pointed cap and hardly ever speaks. Each iteration of Link holds a different special title, like “Hero of Time” for Ocarina of Time’s Link, “Hero of the Winds” for The Wind Waker’s Link, and “Hero of the Skies” for Skyward Sword’s Link. Throughout his journey he relies on a number of gadgets and useful items, some of the most favorite among fans including the Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Hylian Shield, Slingshot, Hero’s Bow, Hover Boots, Hookshot/Clawshot, Fire Arrow, Water Bomb, Flute, Red Tunic, Bombchu, Beetle, and, of course, the Master Sword, a powerful magical sword said to be the bane of all evil. In several games he is also accompanied on his journey by his trusty horse Epona and a companion who acts as a guide and offers tips, including fairy Navi in Ocarina of Time, Twilight Realm inhabitant Midna in Twilight Princess, and sword spirit Fi in Skyward Sword. Link also appears in a number of other Nintendo games including Mario Kart 8 and the Super Smash Bros. series.
The Princess of the Hyrule Kingdom whose role is often damsel in distress, usually being kidnapped or imprisoned by Ganondorf. Zelda holds the Triforce of Wisdom and is the reincarnation of the goddess Hylia who was entrusted with the Triforce by the three goddesses who created Hyrule: Farore, Din, and Nayru. She is also the true ancestor to the Royal Family of Hyrule and takes precautions to conceal her identity as alter ego Sheik in Ocarina of Time and Tetra in The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass.
Ganondorf aka Ganon is the central villain in the franchise and serves as the final boss in most of the games. He is Link’s archenemy and holds the Triforce of Power, making him unimaginably strong and granting him mystical powers, as well as leads a race of desert bandits called the Gerudo. He often kidnaps Princess Zelda in his plans to seek out the other pieces of the Triforce in order to dominate the kingdom of Hyrule. Like Link and Zelda, a different iteration of Ganon appears in each game, with the character Ganon being the physical personification of the hatred of Demon King Demise, who is destined to be reincarnated eternally if killed.
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