It’s been twenty-seven years since the inception of The Legend of Zelda franchise when the first Nintendo gaming system first took off in 1986 (White). As Matt White states in his article, “few video game franchises are as beloved as Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda” and that seems to remain true today.
On the onset of its 25th Anniversary, Nintendo and Shogakukan Co. published the highly anticipated, “Hyrule Historia” in Japan just before the new game The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, was released in 2011 (White). It included all the jaw dropping, unexpected connections as well as twists and turns that fans were not expecting in attempting to tie the series together. Finally, long-time players of the game, could make sense of the seemingly disjointed timelines of the games. They even made a contract with the Dark Horse Comics publishers from Oregon to print the book here in the United States last January (White). The only thing that was missing was the inspiration from which The Legend of Zelda itself had sprung.
Most avid video gamers who have played the game and have remained loyal to the series, seem to be inexplicably drawn by the plot and storyline. People are intrigued because it includes many elements of history and culture that aren’t just secluded to one era or people. There is a diversity of history and myth that build up this particular “legend.” In fact the more specific meaning to legend in this series, as defined by Dictionary.com, actually means, “originally denoting a story concerning the life of a saint, is applied to any fictitious story, sometimes involving the supernatural, and usually concerned with a real person, place, or other subject” (“Legend”).
From Japan, to Africa, and back to Europe again, the Legend of Zelda takes many elements from people of the past, although there are many speculations over whether certain ideas or objects were intentional or coincidental. Some people believe that the creators took the Christian concept of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and incorporated that into what would become the Triforce: Courage, Power, and Wisdom (Mainville). The Legend of Zelda games are also heavily influenced by music, mostly orchestral and ceremonial. In The Ocarina of Time Link, the main character, plays the ocarina and learns new songs throughout the game (Mainville). In Wind Waker, the theme music is heavily influenced by Irish rhythm and beats, in the intro scene you can hear the characteristic Irish drums beating in the background and fiddles carry the tune throughout (Axle the Beast).
Much of Link’s appearance seems to be rooted in medieval culture (Mainville). His tunic, chainmail, arm braces, shield and sword are characteristic to knights of the legend of King Arthur (Mainville). Even though the shield wields its own unique crest, and the sword carries its own name, the “Master Sword” or “the Blade of Evil’s Bane,” the concept of chivalry and saving a damsel in distress seems to have heavily influenced the plot of these games (Mainville). This is not even mentioning the castles, and dungeons that also seems to share relevance to Medieval Europe. His horse Epona, even though knights in medieval times did own horses, the name “Epona” is actually taken from Celtic myths speaking of the patron goddess of mares and foals (“Epona”).
The Gerudo of the desert valley could be considered vaguely like the Amazonian warriors from Greek mythology (Jim). After all, they are a tribe of women who are trained for battle and the only male that is said to belong to their tribe is revealed only every one hundred years. One could even say that their dress is similar to that of Arab nomads in India (Zelda Wiki). The characters in towns and villages if not sporting medieval styled clothing often fashion more simplistic Native American style dress. The pottery in the games, with geometric design could even be considered inspired by Native American, Incan, Mesopotamian or even Greek artifacts. The wind gods of Wind Waker or the Deku Tree in both Wind Waker and Ocarina of Time represent what might be considered closely related to the Japanese Kami (“Kami”). Kami are Japanese deities, worshipped in Shintoism, that both live and die humans do.
The goddesses present themselves as deities of the “Watchmaker” category (Mainville). They created this world of Hyrule, wound it up, set it in motion then stepped back to watch in spin. From Skyward Sword and on they don’t receive major attention except for a few honorable mentions and a role in the origin story of Hyrule. Princess Zelda, the reincarnation of the goddess Hylia, was in fact named after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda Fitzgerald (Gombos et al. 2). The senior executive director of the franchise, Shigeru Miyamoto, stated that his PR director introduced the idea of making a storybook for the game where Link rescues a princess, and suggested that he use the name Zelda, the wife of a famous American author, for the princess (Gombos et al. 2). Miyamoto, “really like the name Zelda, but couldn’t get behind the book idea” (Gombos et al. 2).
While the game was developed in Japan, it’s obvious that many cultural elements and ideas inspired many of the aspects of The Legend of Zelda franchise. The list can go on from just the few examples listed above. Fairies, dragons, floods, and temples are also features of myths and history that are fundamental to the game. All of these diverse traits are what keep people enthralled with the storyline. Although not everything from the beginning of time could be included, it’s varied enough that people from all around the world can relate to these central concepts. Influenced by culture, The Legend of Zelda is now influencing culture itself. From the late eighties onward, children of two different generations have grown up with the games as an integral part of their childhood and popular culture. Children of the 2000s are even playing as parents watch on and give pointers on how to beat the next boss or navigate the temples. It appears that as the creators at Nintendo keep churning out games, the world will always continue to await the next gem in the series.