Getting The Ball Rolling: Timing Zelda’s Lengthy Introductions
A new Zelda game is nearly within our grasp. As excited as we are to explore The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, we have to remember that every Zelda game has a required introduction that seems to get longer, and longer with each release.
There is a point in every Zelda game where you feel like you are finally on your way. That moment changes from game to game, but usually, it’s the moment that you are finally making your way to the game’s first official dungeon. You’ve got your sword and shield, for the most part you know what you are doing with them, and you are ready to see where the game takes you.
For the purpose of this feature, we looked at all of Zelda’s big console releases to see at what point this moment occurs, and see how long it took to get there from the moment you hit the start button. These times are general approximations based on my recent personal experiments, as there is always plenty to get you off track in Zelda, even in each of the game’s opening scenarios.
The Legend of Zelda (NES, 1987) – 50 seconds
Hardly a minute passes in the The Legend of Zelda from the moment you hit the start button, create your save file, and begin exploring the open world. There is one requirement before setting off into the world, which is into enter the cave and endure the dialogue, “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.”
It actually may have taken even less time, but I lost a few seconds realizing that in order to select your save file, you have to use the select button instead of the d-pad.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES, 1988) – 27 seconds
Thanks in part to my renewed understanding of how to use the select button to create a save file, Zelda II proved to be the quickest game to get moving. You begin with a sword and shield in hand, see a sleeping princess in the background, quietly mutter to yourself, “Okay, I got it,” and start heading either right or left. It doesn’t matter which, because you’re immediately outside and your journey has begun.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES, 1992) – 22 minutes 14 seconds
A Link to the Past was the first Zelda game to have something resembling the proper Zelda introduction that we recognize today. Link is asleep in bed hearing the distant call of a troubled princess in his dreams. Link’s uncle wakes him up to tell him not to follow him, so that’s the first thing you do. You meet your uncle in the castle as he mutters his final words. A quick survey reveals that there are no enemies or traps in the immediate vicinity so you are confused as to what killed him, but you move on borrowing his sword and shield.
What follows is what some might consider the game’s first dungeon, as you find the boomerang and use a map to navigate. The game truly doesn’t feel like it has begun however, until you save Zelda, drop her off with a man you trust for no particular reason, and venture out into the world.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64, 1998) – 17 Minutes 27 seconds
Ocarina of Time offered Zelda’s first fully-realized 3D world, and it teases it to you during the game’s start screen. You see a fully grown Link riding a horse through an open field, but it takes quite a while to get there. Exploring the game’s open field requires beating the game’s first dungeon, and becoming an adult requires beating the game’s first three dungeons.
Upon revisiting Ocarina of Time, I was surprised it took me less time to make my way to the game’s first true dungeon than Link to the Past’s. There is a lot to learn when jumping into Zelda’s first 3D outing, but all you need to make it to the first dungeon is a sword and a shield, which requires collecting some rupees, and outrunning a boulder. If you’re unfamiliar, I actually explain the whole process (and the rest of the game) to my child in this video.
Read on for Majora's Mask, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (N64, 2000) – 1 hour 8 minutes
Majora’s Mask breaks the hour mark for Zelda starts. The main reason Link doesn’t get to run into the field, sword and shield in hand, is because he’s not even human for the game’s introduction – something that Nintendo returns to with Link’s wolf form in Twilight Princess.
In the three days that transpire in Majora’s Mask’s world before you go out exploring, you join a club, meet Tingle for the first time ever, buy property, visit an observatory, outrun a dog, and get your hands on your trusty ocarina – all before you even become human again. And then you play a tune to start the sequence all over again, regaining your human form, and the ability to get out of town.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GameCube, 2003) – 1 Hour 16 minutes
Wind Waker’s time is padded somewhat thanks to an atypical prologue that details some of the world’s backstory. Once you dive in it doesn’t take too long to wrangle some pigs, get a weapon, and watch Tetra fall to the sky. At around the seven minute, you’ve changed out of blue and into green, which is when things start getting weird.
Similar to Link to the Past, Wind Waker has an early dungeon with the Forsaken Fortress that just doesn’t feel like the game’s first official dungeon. You’ll be peeking at your map, but you don’t get any items, and you lose your sword. It’s not until Ganon’s bird grabs you and flings you to Windfall Island that the starting line for the game is in your sights. Here, over the course of a complicated series of events (and an assortment of other distractions) you acquire a camera, meet Tingle, and purchase a sail. It’s at this point that you are officially able to make your way to the first dungeon by way of the open seas.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii, 2007) – 2 hours 40 minutes
It takes just under three hours to get started in Twilight Princess. You could watch almost three episodes of Breaking Bad before Link is even wearing his green stocking cap.
You know you’re in for a winded introduction when the game opens on a leisurely conversation near the water. Link begins walking (not riding) Epona back to his home, and the camera changes three times to show Link walking with Epona from three different angles. After that it’s time to herd goats, jump some fences with Epona, talk to some kids about a slingshot, use a hawk to knock over a beehive, use the same hawk to knock a bassinet out of a monkey’s hands for a pregnant woman, and stop a goat from running lose. Did I mention this is supposed to be Link’s day off? After that you meet the depressed lady who misses her cat, so you catch a fish for that cat to bring home to its owner, which took a handful of conversations to get the fishing rod to begin with.
Things start heating up a bit about an hour in when you get a wooden sword, and a child runs off with a dangerous monkey. You finally get to show off some expert hero-ing by beating up some goblins with your wooden sword. I’m surprised Link didn’t stop and start yelling, “I am not even supposed to be here today!”
After the opposite of a relaxing day off, Link dives right into another round of goat herding the next day. After rounding up goats for a few minutes, it’s finally time to head to Hyrule. But not before turning into a wolf, meeting Midna, escaping a prison, meeting Zelda, meeting antagonist Zant, and returning to town to start collecting weapons. Congratulations, you’ve hit the two-hour mark, and you still haven’t donned your iconic tunic, or attacked with a real sword.
After some exploration in Link’s wolf form, and a healthy does of required collecting, Link finally returns to human form, wearing the outfit he will wear for the rest of the game, he has a sword, he’s finally ready for the first dungeon, and you’ve almost been playing for three hours.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii, 2011) - 1 hour 38 minutes
After Twilight Princess’s impressive feat of opening its game with an introduction that is only about 10 minutes shy of the first Lord of the Rings film, Nintendo smartly reigned in the length as best it could while still establishing the origin story of the Legend of Zelda universe.
You still have your fair share of menial tasks, including putting up with the bully Groose, retrieving a cat from a roof, and relocating large barrels. Things get interesting when you go after your kidnapped bird, offering some early combat, which leads into getting into the sky to begin the Wing Ceremony.
Much of your time (or my time anyway) is spent trying to pull off a perfect skydive after getting the Sailcloth from Zelda. At around the 1 hour and 6 minute mark, when you and Zelda are going off on a breezy Sunday flight, she gets sucked into a mysterious vortex, and you resolve to go track her down. Fi shows up, and talks to you… a lot. She gives you a sword, and you change your clothes at around the 1 hour 12 mark. From there you just have to gather up a few odds and ends, acquire the adventure pouch and the wooden shield, and take a flying leap to the surface below to truly begin the adventure.
In retrospect, the beginning of Twilight Princess does do a good job of establishing Link’s life before donning the tunic – even if it is too long. Looking back on the original Zeldas, maybe it would have been nice to get a little more direction. The line between effective training, and too much is a line Nintendo has been known to struggle with. Where do you think the sweet spot is? And where do you think the Zelda games truly begin? Is it when you enter the open world? Is it when Link becomes an adult in Ocarina of Time? Is it when you get the bow and arrow? Or maybe it's simply when you hit the start button.