The Legend of Zelda Explained

Posted by | October 01, 2013 | Game Library | 25 Comments
Zelda Various LinksThe Legend of Zelda games provide endless hours of fun in the magical kingdom of Hyrule.

The Legend of Zelda is a critically acclaimed Nintendo fantasy adventure franchise, spanning over 20 games and a television series. The Zelda universe has a wide and complex mythos, numerous maps, and even a few alternate realities. In 2011, a 274-page book titled “Hyrule Historia” was published, detailing the history of the Zelda universe and its people.

Games in the Series

ESRB Ratings

Most Zelda titles are rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and up. Twilight Princess and Hyrule Warriors are rated T for Teen. Click here to see detailed ratings for the Zelda games.

Sex, Drugs & Rock n’ Roll

Violence: The games all involve violence (usually with swords), but there is almost zero blood. Once defeated, enemies either blow up or vanish in a puff of smoke.

Scary Imagery: While there are very dramatic aspects of each game, there is also always a good amount of comic relief and silliness. Most of the games are perfectly fine for young kids to watch (though anyone under 10 will probably have a hard time finishing simply due to difficulty level).

Twilight Princess and Hyrule Warriors, the only Zelda games rated T for Teen, are the exception. Twilight Princess has some pretty creepy imagery such as realistic spiders and floating, disembodied hands, at a level equivalent to a PG-13 movie. If you think your child might be bothered by this, I would recommend searching on Youtube for some of the scarier cut scenes and watching them yourself.

Nudity and Costuming: Occasionally you’ll see some cleavage or an exposed midriff. Hyrule Warriors is the most guilty of this.

Savepoints

There are both good and bad stopping points for any Zelda game. The dungeons are much like chapters in a book, and saving partway through often loses progress. The game works well in one- or two-hour chunks, but not for 15 minutes of fun.

Story & Themes

In the beginning, three goddesses created the land of Hyrule. And when they were done with that, they created the sacred Triforce, the most powerful object in the world. It grants wishes, and it looks like this:

Triforce Zelda

The three golden triangles represent human qualities: Wisdom, Power, and Courage. Together, they represent balance.

Since the Triforce is just so darn powerful, evil-doers are always trying to steal it. However, if someone who is not balanced in Wisdom, Power, and Courage tries to take the Triforce, it will split into its three component triangles, and they will each manifest within the nearest person who embodies their trait. When the pieces are united again, whoever controls them can do basically whatever he or she wants. End the world. Build a totally sick castle. Whatever.

While each game has a unique story, they all have a few important similarities. The main character is (usually) a green-clad hero named Link, who is (usually) on a journey to rescue the Princess Zelda, who has (usually) been kidnapped by the evil Ganondorf.

Now, this is interesting: each game stars a different Link and a different Zelda (it’s unclear if there are multiple Ganondorfs, or only one). Naturally, this led to a lot of confusion, even after Nintendo released the Official Zelda Timeline. Are the characters being reincarnated? Is it just a coincidence that, in every generation, a kid named Zelda and a kid named Link are born and then play out the same plot over and over again? Who knows.

In any case, most Links possess the Triforce of Courage, most Zeldas possess the Triforce of Wisdom, and Ganondorf always has the Triforce of Power. Ganondorf is constantly after the other two thirds, which is why he keeps kidnapping Zelda and forcing Link to come and rescue her.

With the help of a useful sidekick (usually), Link travels through a number of puzzling dungeons (sometimes called temples), each culminating in a boss battle and some piece of treasure to help him proceed with the plot.

While the games often risk becoming too repetitive or archetypical, the writers usually manage to pull it out of the fire by creating distinct side plots and settings. In the game Ocarina of Time, Link has the ability to travel backwards and forwards exactly seven years in time. The difference between the future and past worlds is stark. In the past, the castle marketplace is cheerful and bustling, but in the future it is overrun with zombies and other monsters. Meeting the same people in the past and the future is often creepy, and brings gravitas to the gameplay.

Conversation Starters

Some of the main questions you might bring up with kids are:

  • How does Link earn his Triforce of Courage?
  • When is it okay to use violence? What motivates the violence in the Zelda games?
  • What characters in the game can be thought of as heroes? Why?
  • Why is Zelda kidnapped so often, and why might this be part of a bigger issue in the gaming community?
  • How does this Zelda game relate to any others you have played?
  • How does this game use time travel to make a statement about its plot or characters?

Jargon

Hyrule is the land where most of the games take place. It’s typically depicted with a volcano, a forest, a desert, a lake, and a castle.

The Triforce is a sacred relic with wish-granting abilities. It looks like three golden triangles, and each triangle represents a different human trait: Wisdom, Courage, or Power. This symbol is repeated across all of the Zelda games and often signifies the Royal Family of Hyrule. It’s a very popular symbol in Zelda gamer culture for t-shirts, tattoos, hats, etc.

Zelda Triforce

Navi is Link’s much-hated fairy sidekick from the game Ocarina of Time. Her annoying catchphrase, “Hey, Listen!” is often printed on t-shirts, turned into ringtones, or repeated ironically by fans of the game.

The Master Sword is a sacred sword, sometimes with magical abilities. It is usually required to win the game.

Master Sword

Artwork from A Link to the Past. Note the Excalibur reference.

The Zora are water-dwelling fish people. They’re good guys, but a little uptight.

The Goron are big, friendly mountain people who curl into balls and roll around. They like to dance.

Courtney Holmes

About Courtney Holmes

Courtney is Pixelkin's Associate Managing Editor. While working with the Girl Scouts of Northern California, she mentored young girls in teamwork, leadership, personal responsibility, and safety. Today, she spends her time studying adolescent development and using literary analysis techniques to examine video games.