Thirty years ago, the video game series The Legend of Zelda debuted on the Nintendo Famicom in Japan, coming West in 1987. The original Legend of Zelda was the first game to feature cartridge saves, doing away with passwords and progress-erasing Game Overs. As the first open-world game, its wild land of Hyrule had labyrinthine dungeons, tricky enemies, and more secrets than you can shake a controller at. It didn't hold your hand. It made you earn the title of "hero," even if the epic main theme—often considered the best video game song of all time—convinced you of it.
Zelda is... the most wondrous and enrapturing work of art I've ever experienced in my life. While I've only been a fan for half its history, it almost instantly became not only my favorite video game franchise, but a treasure map of games that I just had to find some way to play and beat over several years. After a decade and a half, I've played every core title, finished all but three, and own eight.
My first contact with Zelda occurred at age 9 with Oracle of Ages on a friend's Game Boy Color. It was so engrossing to wander around a vibrant, dangerous world that I never thought twice about accomplishing essentially nothing before my friend had to go. Years later, my best friend in junior high shared his thoughts on Zelda and convinced me to play one all the way through. Upon discovering a now-defunct site with hundreds of NES games playable in-browser, I beat the first game on my own. I felt like a champion for overcoming such difficulty.
I wanted more. For my birthday, I asked my mom for "a Zelda game," so we went to a shop and were recommended a used N64 cartridge... Ocarina of Time. I went home, put it in, and was so hooked that I played nothing else until it was done. Ocarina is a piece of art so full of life and purpose, it might as well be human. For the first time, Link the hero, Princess Zelda, and the evil Ganon had character, emotion, and fierce determination. The story and themes are equal parts down-to-earth and mythically epic. Its soundtrack and the role music itself plays in the game are phenomenal. The dungeons, items, enemies, the variety of things you can do and accomplish surpass classification. In my opinion, Ocarina of Time is the magnum opus of adventure games. Routinely topping "best video games" lists since its 1998 debut, it is one of a select few masterpiece games everyone must play in their lifetime.
Not long afterward, little me blossomed into a Zelda fan to the core. Zelda has evolved since that era, visually, thematically, and mechanically. Over fifteen years, I enjoyed the foundational A Link to the Past, the creative, back-to-basics fun of Link's Awakening, the Oracles, The Minish Cap, and A Link Between Worlds, and the gripping story and emotion of Majora's Mask, Spirit Tracks, and Skyward Sword. I challenged my purist side with The Adventure of Link, Four Swords, Adventures, Phantom Hourglass, and Tri Force Heroes with mixed but worthwhile results. Finally, The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess proved to be much deeper games than I took them for, so they will be played again sometime this year to properly absorb. To me, that is a beautiful thing, an indicator of true art.
The Legend of Zelda has spawned a loving fanbase, a plethora of official and fanmade projects, and countless discussions, experiences, and feelings, each deeply affecting the person harboring them. Its canon is a complex web of near-religious legend, changing history, and decisive clashes of good and evil. Happy birthday, Zeruda no Densetsu. Thank you Shigeru Miyamoto, Eiji Aonuma, and all of Nintendo for creating a world I still fantasize about all these years later. I now await your next adventure, your next legend come to life.