2021 marks a big year for several video game franchises. All across the spectrum from PlayStation to Nintendo, series that gamers grew up with are celebrating anniversaries of their creation. Metroid turns 35 this year, Sonic the Hedgehog hits 30, the Pokémon Franchise turns 25 along with Resident Evil, Crash Bandicoot, and Persona.

But there is one franchise that stands out in the month of February. A game series responsible for changing the face of the fantasy genre over the past 35 years. That game is The Legend of Zelda, an action-adventure game released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1986. It’s a game that has spanned multiple generations and touched gamers of all types. We asked around the offices at CheckpointXP to learn what everyone’s first experience was with the Legend of Zelda series.

From the Beginning

My first Zelda game was the first one. When I was a wee lad, I had to go to my aunt’s house after school until my mom got off work and during the summers I stayed there most of the day. It was at this time that I discovered Zelda and by proxy how much I love video games. 

My cousin and I dropped HOURS into Zelda and I don’t recall us ever beating it. But it wasn’t ever about that. It was the first game where the journey itself was a collective experience, and that was worth so much more. We joined together to explore Hyrule and save Princess Zelda, and that was enough. That first game is responsible for some of my first memories, period. Not just of video games. – Norris Howard, host of CheckpointXP On Campus and CheckpointXP Daily.

A Portable Hero

My first Zelda game also happens to double as my first video game ever. When I was 4 years old, my mom bribed me to get my shots with a Gameboy and with it, a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. My journey into Koholint Island was the first time I ever found myself getting lost in another world.

For years, I struggled through trying to learn the game, but couldn’t find the entrance to third dungeon. When I finally completed the game at 8 years old, it was my first time experiencing a game fully to the conclusion of the story. All these years later, and espcially with the remake out, it’s still one of my favorite video games ever. – Kali Scales, Head of Content for CheckpointXP.

A Symphony of Players

I was definitely late to the party when it comes to The Legend of Zelda games. My first experience with Link and the Kingdom of Hyrule was with the Nintendo 64 and the Ocarina of Time. Growing up between two families, video games served a weird dual purpose for me. At my mom’s, with only two sisters who were into horses, I stayed cooped up in my room with my PlayStation, playing alone. But at my days, with 4 sisters and a brother, the Nintendo 64 was a community activity.

Link receiving Saria's Ocarina.
Link receiving Saria’s Ocarina. (The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time by Nintendo)

We would play the Ocarina of Time for hours on end, exploring every nook and cranny of Hyrule. We had to find every fairy, every heart container, learn every song by heart. In a time before the internet was at our fingertips and printers weren’t a common thing, we would bike an hour to the public library, print 10 pages of FAQs and Guides each, then bike back home. We’d do this every chance we could.

Eventually, by the time we had finished the game we had a two-inch-thick manila folder of everything you needed to know about the game. It was an encyclopedia dedication to The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. – Robbie Landis, CheckpointXP On Demand, and host of The Other Identity.

A Different Kind Of Adventure

Link’s Awakening was weird. Like, upon reflection, it’s messed my expectations of Zelda up for a long, long time. This is a game where you had animal companions, Link had the ability to jump, and you even had the ocarina that only had three songs on it.

I loved this game for a myriad of reasons, including one of the characters being a blatant ripoff of Mario that you were able to rescue from being a raccoon by sprinkling him with magic powder. But really, what sold me the most on Link’s Awakening and why it was such a good first Zelda game to play, was its ability to be something out of the standard tropes of Zelda games, something that I wouldn’t realize until later in life when I had played most of the other ones out there.

Link’s Awakening isn’t a story about the “Hero of Light” coming to save Zelda (in fact, Zelda isn’t even in this game!) from Ganon and everything that seems to be consistent in other Zelda games. This one had you grappling with whether it was worth waking the Wind Fish if it meant that all of your friends on the island would disappear. Deep stuff. I would like to think that Link’s Awakening is the reason I always start a new Zelda game hoping that it will be the weirdest one yet. – Ric “Weird Beard” Hogerheide, CheckpointXP On-Demand, and Host of The Breakdown.

Late To The Game – Literally

I’ve learned everything I knew about Legend of Zelda second-hand. I grew up a PlayStation kid, so Nintendo games weren’t something I played or gravitated to. However, I did succumb to the Wii hysteria and though it was a bit of a gimmick I did enjoy that console. That’s where I had my first interaction involving Legend of Zelda with the Twilight Princess. The Wii controls did feel a bit goofy, but I do remember the gameplay was pretty fun and the story was solid. The fact that it was a Wii game does feel like the only thing that makes many people forget about it and not add it into the top Zelda games. If you have never played Twilight Princess, go back and play it. I believe it will still hold up over a decade later. – Chadd Callahan, CheckpointXP Digital

A Spring Break To Remember

The first time I actually sat down and played a Legend of Zelda game wasn’t until my sophomore year of college. I remember my dorm neighbor talking up Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as one of the best games to ever grace the planet. I didn’t even own a Nintendo Switch, but he was so excited for someone to share the experience with him that he lent me his over spring break. So I decided to play it just to humor him, but after the first couple of minutes of gameplay, I was completely hooked.

I was blown away by everything the game had to offer. We spent hours messing around with the mechanics of the game, laughing to ourselves as we found more and more complex ways to dunk on unsuspecting bokoblins. Even after my neighbor would leave, I would stay up way too late just wandering around, enjoying the unique atmosphere created by the minimalist soundtrack and cell-shaded Hyrule. I ended up beating the game by the end of that break, and I was sad once I had to give that Switchback. It’s definitely one of my top 5 gaming moments. – Dane Simpkins, Intern Contributor.

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