So, given my namesake, it should come as little surprise the original Legend of Zelda is one of my favorite games of all time. So when you tell me there’s an entire engine built from scratch to not only re-create that game, but greatly expand upon it and effectively allow anyone with enough time and patience to make their own Zelda experience? Of course I’m going to be all over it. More after the jump!
GET IT HERE: Zelda Classic’s Official Website
GET QUESTS HERE: Pure ZC
Believe it or not, the Zelda Classic project began over 20 years ago, in 1999. And it’s still going on today with new features and updates, and a massive, and I do mean MASSIVE amount of custom content for players to try out in the form of quests.
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself a bit here. Before we can talk about Zelda Classic, it’s only fair to talk about the game that it’s based on. So let’s look at The Legend of Zelda, and go from there!
The Legend of Zelda released not long after the initial launch of Nintendo’s flagship console: The Nintendo Entertainment System. Said console came out in October 1985, while Legend of Zelda would release a few months later at the end of February 1986. And it was a game changer. While the NES had an impressive launch lineup with classics like Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, and Kung Fu to name a few, no one was prepared for the kind of game we’d see in 1986 with The Legend of Zelda.
While console games were certainly gaining steam in 1985 thanks to the NES, certain genres were notably absent from the console: RPGs and Adventure type games being some of the most notable. If you wanted to roam a fantasy world, slaying dragons and finding treasure in something that was more than an arcade type of game, you had to resort to a personal computer for games like the Ultima series, or The Bard’s Tale. Games of this scope were incredibly rare on consoles, with Dragonstomper on the Atari 2600 being one of the only examples of a console RPG I could even track down for the time period. With console based cartridges typically sporting less storage than a computer based floppy disk or disk drive, limited space to hold all the needed graphics and code for an RPG were probably a major reason for a lack of them on consumer consoles at the time. For reference, the original Super Mario Brothers is around 32kb in size, whereas IBM was putting out floppy disks that could hold more than a megabyte of space by comparison, which comes out to about 1024kb.
Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto would change all of this in 1986 with The Legend of Zelda. The game that brought the magic of fantasy adventure to mainstream audiences on the NES.
The Legend of Zelda was truly a game like no other when it hit the NES in 1986. It tasked its hero, Link, with finding 8 pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom in order to enter the lair of the evil wizard Ganon, slay him, and save Hyrule’s kidnapped princess Zelda from his evil clutches. What made Zelda stand apart from other games was that this wasn’t linear, level to level adventure. The land of Hyrule is presented as a vast, openly explorable map full of caves, dungeons, and secrets to find using a vast array of tools you would discover. All along the way, you would encounter a variety of creatures with their own movement and attacks, and often their own weaknesses to exploit. Throughout the adventure, you would become stronger by finding Heart Containers to increase the limit of your life meter, and new tools to help in combat such as Bombs, a Bow, and Boomerang to name a few. Exploration was key, as you had to check every nook and cranny of the land to find what you needed, and eventually conquer the 8 Dungeons that each hide a Triforce piece. The dungeons themselves were full of their own enemies, and some would even require specific tools to navigate: A Candle to light dark rooms, a Stepladder to cross gaps of water and lava, meaning you might come to an obstacle you have to come back to later once you have the item to deal with it. This non linear adventure was like nothing anyone had played on the NES or other game consoles before, and it was something special. It introduced a game genre to consoles that had hardly been seen in the past, and would spawn plenty of games inspired by it, Golden Axe Warrior on the Sega Master System and Neutopia on the Turbo Grafx 16 being two major examples.
Zelda Classic was born of a love for the original Legend of Zelda, and the goal of it was relatively simple (So to speak) in scope at the time: Re-create the original Zelda on PC. While emulation was certainly an option at the time as even low end PCs could reliably emulate the NES at 60 FPS in 1999, the idea of making one’s own world maps or dungeons was far more limited at the time due to romhacking still being a relatively new thing that required a certain degree of technical knowledge.
Zelda Classic looked to change that with its included editor, ZQuest, which came out shortly after the original ZC engine was completed. With ZQuest, anyone with time and patience could make their own quest with its own map layouts. But that was only the beginning. While the goal of re-creating the original Legend of Zelda from scratch was completed fairly quickly, new developers and new goals would result in Zelda Classic greatly expanding beyond the original scope of being an unofficial PC port of the NES original, with new features being added.
A thing to note, because it needs to be said. Other articles have claimed ZC was created by using or reverse-engineering the original source code: THIS IS 100% COMPLETELY WRONG. Zelda Classic was built from the ground up using original code, trying to re-create the original game as accurately as possible using a more “PC friendly” form of code rather than the Assembly language most console games were made with at the time. And as someone who has been trying to do a similar “Remake an NES game from the ground up” thing? This is NOT AN EASY THING TO DO. It is in fact time consuming, and at times borderline maddening. So I have nothing but the utmost respect for the original programmer Phantom Menace for pulling off such an accurate port of the game to PC, though I use “port” as a VERY loose term here considering it was, again, built from the ground up as opposed to using any of the original’s code. He did move onto other projects after V1.84 of the engine, but it was his work that paved the way for the future. And what a future it is.
New items. New mechanics like a Link to the Past style magic meter, new things for items to interact with like “Pegs” for the Hammer, and Hookshot targets to zip across large pits. This was just the beginning of what Zelda Classic’s new features would be. But already we were seeing the engine being used to create plenty of new quests for players to experience, with the userbase growing as ZC found its way to popular download sites.
One of the biggest updates that truly expanded on Zelda Classic’s capabilities though? Scripting. The ability for users to write their own custom code! This could allow for custom enemies, bosses, items, greatly expanding what one could do with their Quest creations!
To say there’s a lot of different types of quests out there is a very gross understatement. You’ve got everything from simple Zelda 1 Style “find the triforce pieces and kill Ganon” runs to bigger, more involved quests with optional dungeons or more things to find, to puzzle focused headscratchers, and even some complete genre changes like sidescrolling and platformers, not to mention a few “metroidvania” esque quests. There’s a little bit of everything, so to say you can’t find a single quest you enjoy would probably be a flat out lie.
One of my personal favorite quest authors, HeroOfFire, does a great job of showing what one can do with custom scripts. His quests feature a ton of custom items and bosses, on top of being randomizers! Randomizer Omega and Mirage Island are two of my favorite quests of his, and of all time due to the sheer number of toys to play with on top of some top notch map design.
So what we basically have here at the end of the day is a love letter to the original Legend of Zelda that stands tall and proud by taking what made it so great, adding new features that expand upon it, and allows its community to create and share tons of great custom content for others to experience.
If you are any kind of fan of the original Legend of Zelda, you absolutely owe it to yourself to check Zelda Classic out, as well as the many, many great quests made by its community. I might highlight a few of them in the future, but for the time being, the ones I can absolutely recommend right off the bat are:
There’s plenty more out there to see and play, just keep in mind that as Zelda Classic has updated, compatibility issues have arisen for quests that rely on older builds of the engine. You may end up needing to have multiple versions set up for different quests, IE, a 2.10 build for quests that run on that, and a 2.5x one for anything running on that much more recent framework. If you have any trouble with any of this, just hop by the official discord’s help channel, they’ll make sure you’re set up and ready to play.
…What’re you still reading for? Go and do some adventuring in Zelda Classic already!