Take an in-depth look at Zelda's American debut
...and where it all fits in the grand scheme of video gaming.
This week's NES Works video touches on one of the "big ones": The Legend of Zelda, which hit the U.S. market with megaton force. Nintendo pushed this game hard back in the day, dressing it in special packaging and promoting it with TV ads and print coverage. And, honestly, American kids had never really played anything like it before.
However, Zelda didn't come into existence out of nowhere. This episode devotes a healthy amount of its running time to exploring the Japanese side of gaming that served as Zelda's incubator. When Zelda arrived, it did so on the heels of a number of games that attempted to combine role-playing and action concepts in a single hybrid format. Zelda follows in that tradition, and it does a remarkable job of it—it was, without question, the most successful and fully realized effort to date. But since there wasn't really an action-RPG continuity for American gamers to have been immersed in, Zelda seemed all the more remarkable over here.
This episode also has a few choice words for people who get bent out of shape when people refer to Zelda as an RPG. As you can see here, Nintendo dismantled the RPG and reassembled it in order to create Zelda. It may not be a pure take on the concept, but it's absolutely a distillation of role-playing games into something friendlier to a two-button controller, like Atari's Adventure before it. It's very much a precursor to the modern approach to game design, which bolts random RPG elements onto totally unrelated styles of game.