The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

In the final days of the Game Boy Color’s lifespan, Capcom’s subsidiary, Flagship, and Nintendo collaborated on two installments in the latter’s venerable The Legend of Zelda series: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages. Both games were released simultaneously in 2001 to a warm reception. The ability to access extra content by linking both games was a novel concept that only added to their appeal. With two successes under their belt that were worthy additions to the Zelda franchise, Capcom began work on a sequel for the Game Boy’s newest model – the Game Boy Advance.

However, before they could begin this project in earnest, a new proposition suspended development. Nintendo was interested in bringing A Link to the Past, popularly considered the series’ greatest 2D installment at the time. Once the port was released in 2002, players discovered it came bundled with a new title: Four Swords. Though more of a bonus feature than a full-fledged game in its own right, Four Swords marked the series’ first foray in multiplayer gameplay. Indeed, in its original form, it could not be played alone. This new feature played a major role in the Game Boy Advance port of A Link to the Past selling over 1.5 million copies.

With staff members freed up, Flagship resumed their initial project. Taking cues from the art style featured in The Wind Waker, this new installment, entitled The Minish Cap, promised to be a quality, original Zelda installment for the Game Boy Advance. It saw its domestic release in November of 2004, and debuted internationally in the months that followed. Interestingly, despite being touted as the Game Boy Advance’s Christmas “killer app” in Europe, The Minish Cap was released shortly after the launch of the Nintendo DS. This was not unlike how the Oracle installments debuted just before the Game Boy Advance’s launch. Regardless, The Minish Cap, like most games in the Zelda franchise, was highly regarded upon release. It was named GameSpot’s Game of the Year for the console in 2005. Does The Minish Cap stand as one of the final hurrahs of the Game Boy product line?

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The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures

One of the games to coincide with the launch of Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance in 2001 was Super Mario Advance. It wasn’t an original title, but rather a port of the SNES version of Super Mario Bros. 2. In 2002, this was followed up with Super Mario Advance 2 and Super Mario Advance 3, which were ports of Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island respectively. During this time, Nintendo announced a port of the SNES-era’s sole entry in their The Legend of Zelda franchise, A Link to the Past. Not unlike how every Super Mario Advance port came bundled with a remake of the arcade classic Mario Bros., A Link to the Past was to also have a bonus game attached to it in the form of Four Swords – the series’ very first multiplayer campaign. Its mixture of cooperative and competitive gameplay proved highly popular among Zelda fans, and had a role in the Game Boy Advance port of A Link to the Past selling more than 1.5 million copies.

As the Game Boy Advance soared in popularity, Nintendo developed a cable that allowed it to hook up to a GameCube controller port, their then-current home console. This accessory had a precedent in the form of the Transfer Pak, which attached to the back of a Nintendo 64 controller. For certain titles, most famously, Pokémon Stadium, players could plug in a Game Boy or Game Boy Color cartridge into the Transfer Pak to access some form of bonus content in the Nintendo 64 game. During the E3 conference of 2003, Nintendo showcased two Zelda games that would make use of this connectivity: Four Swords and Tetra’s Trackers later renamed Navi Trackers. Later in December, Nintendo announced that both games along with a third dubbed Shadow Battle would be together on a single disc entitled Four Swords +. This compilation saw its domestic release in March of 2004.

As Western fans speculated the release of this new game, it was announced that Four Swords and Navi Trackers would be sold as two separate titles with the retail of Shadow Battle being unknown. The decision was quickly changed, and the compilation saw its release in the United States under the name Four Swords Adventures. It wouldn’t see the light of day in Europe until January of the following year. It is speculated that Nintendo’s reason for delaying Four Swords Adventures was so ensure it wouldn’t compete with another Zelda installment being developed around the same time for the Game Boy Advance called The Minish Cap. Did Four Swords Adventures allow its predecessor to truly bloom into a fully realized, standalone title?

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The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

The year 2001 marked the launch of the Nintendo 64’s successor, the Nintendo GameCube. Fans began waiting with bated breath for their big-name franchises to make an appearance on this new platform. In particular, they couldn’t wait to see a new installment in their venerable The Legend of Zelda series. Expectations were at an all-time high; after all, with Ocarina of Time, the series broke into 3D, allowing it to grasp something it needed to evolve that was always just out of reach in its early days. Ocarina of Time could claim to have been the most acclaimed game in history when it was released. Majora’s Mask did the impossible by surpassing it a mere two years later. With its surrealistically morose setting, Eiji Aonuma and his team achieved a level of greatness a majority of creators go their entire careers without reaching.

Before Majora’s Mask was completed in 2000, Nintendo formed plans for a new installment for their upcoming console. Much of the team returned for this game as well; Eiji Aonuma helmed this project while Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka served as producers. Early concept art followed the aesthetics established by Ocarina of Time. To demonstrate the new system’s capabilities, the team created a brief clip of series protagonist Link facing off against Ganondorf, which was then shown at the 2000 Space World exposition. It resonated with fans, who hoped it was a preview of the new game.

Behind the scenes, however, the team had difficulties incorporating this art style into their project. Mr. Aonuma in particular hated the clip, feeling it was too derivative of the past installments. Production stalled until designer Yoshiki Haruhana created a cartoonish drawing of Link’s younger self from Ocarina of Time. The instant design manager Satoru Takizawa saw it, he saw limitless potential.

“With a character like that, we can give him actions that will look and feel good no matter how he moves!”

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Haruhana drew a Moblin, one of the series’ famous reoccurring monsters, in a similar style. From there, the rest of the team also began to also see the possibilities afforded by the art style. To render it properly, they used a technique known as cel shading, lending the presentation the feel of an interactive cartoon. It proved to be exactly what the team needed, and development began to proceed swiftly.

In the 2001 Space World exposition, Nintendo presented a new clip. Though the franchise had gained many fans thanks to the success of their previous two 3D games, the reception of this clip was deeply mixed. Some enjoyed the new look while others derisively dubbed it “Celda”. More than a few posts on gaming forums mocked the character design, believing it made Link look like a girl. Mr. Miyamoto was surprised at this response, and decided the best course of action would be to not reveal any further information about the game until the team finished a playable demonstration.

Next year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) conference, the game was shown alongside another upcoming GameCube Zelda title. In a case of poor timing, Mr. Miyamoto’s presentation was plagued by numerous glitches as he tried to showcase one of Link’s new abilities. Despite this, the tentative game received more of a positive reception than it did at Space World. Nonetheless, the divided response to the art style hounded the game for the rest of its development cycle. In October of 2002, the game’s full name was finally revealed to the public: The Legend of Zelda: Baton of Wind. Later in December, the game saw its domestic release. In 2003, the game would be released in North America, Europe, and Australia under the name The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

Any negative sentiments lodged toward The Wind Waker during its development did not reflect in its critical reception, as much like Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, it proceeded to win countless “Game of the Year” awards. Even with the evidence right in front of them, many fans refused to play it simply based on its art style, and this adverse reaction affected sales. Years later, many of those same people who thoughtlessly dismissed it began to look upon it more favorably. By the end of the decade, many declared it one of the best games of the decade with some declaring it a superior effort to Ocarina of Time. Just what did those fans choose to mock in the early 2000s?

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The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages

The second of the two games developed by the Capcom-affiliated Flagship under the supervision of Yoshiki Okamoto was released on the exact same day as its counterpart title in February of 2001 under the name The Legend of Zelda: Fruit of the Mysterious Tree – Chapter of Time and Space. When localized and released in other regions later in the year, it was renamed The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages. Both games were released in the final days of the Game Boy Color’s lifespan, as its successor, the Game Boy Advance was slated to launch mere months later. As the first 2D installments since Link’s Awakening, they managed to garner acclaim from critics and fans alike. Did this game alongside its sister title end the Game Boy Color’s run on a high note?

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The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

In the early 1980s, a programmer named Yoshiki Okamoto began his career working for Konami. His most notable works during his tenure with the company were Time Pilot and Gyruss – both of which provided ahead-of-their-time takes on the shoot ‘em up genre. Despite the success he brought to the company, Mr. Okamoto’s employer was not satisfied, as he had allegedly been asked to create a driving game instead. The disagreements that resulted from this eventually resulted in his termination. Mr. Okamoto proceeded to join Capcom in 1984 where he proceeded to direct the creation of more classic arcade games such as 1942, Gun.Smoke, and Hyper Dyne Side Arms. At the end of the decade, he began overseeing development of Capcom’s games as a producer. During this stint, his greatest accomplishment was when he recruited character designer Akira Yasuda. Together, they ended up developing two of Capcom’s biggest hits: the 1989 beat ‘em up, Final Fight, and the 1991 revolutionary fighting game, Street Fighter II.

In 1997, Mr. Okamoto founded an independent company known as Flagship. Two years later, he proposed an idea to Shigeru Miyamoto, one of Nintendo’s most prominent figures. Partially owing to the success of Nintendo’s new Game Boy Color console, which included a port of the original Super Mario Bros., Mr. Okamoto wished to remake The Legend of Zelda for the platform. He was eventually asked to create six games: two based on earlier installments with the remaining four being original entries. However, problems arose when the team led by Hidemaro Fujibayashi wanted to skip developing the remakes and start developing a new Zelda title straight away. Furthermore, The Legend of Zelda was deemed too difficult for a new generation of enthusiasts, and the Game Boy Color’s screen couldn’t scale its resolution; they would need to have rooms scroll in order to display them properly. To accommodate these limitations, they ended up making more and more changes until they inadvertently created an entirely new world map. This led to a fruitless cycle wherein the scenario had to be reworked constantly to match the modifications.

Dismayed by the fact that they had been spending money for a year with no meaningful results, Mr. Okamoto asked Mr. Miyamoto for help. The latter came up with the idea for Flagship and Capcom to develop a trilogy of Zelda games. This hypothetical trilogy would be dubbed the “Triforce series” – named after a relic that fulfills an integral role in the series’ setting and backstory. The artifact is composed of three triangles, representing essences of power, wisdom, and courage, and each installment was to be associated with a component. The first of the three games was unveiled at Nintendo’s SpaceWorld trade show in 1999 under the tentative title of The Legend of Zelda: Fruit of the Mysterious Tree – Chapter of Power (Mystical Seed of Power for the Western release). In this installment, the reoccurring antagonist, Ganon, kidnapped Princess Zelda and stole the Rod of Seasons, throwing Hyrule into disarray. The second of the games, Chapter of Wisdom, was intended by the developers to focus on color-based puzzles. Finally, Chapter of Courage would make players use the times of day to solve puzzles.

This project too hit a stumbling block, and as per Mr. Miyamoto’s suggestion, the team scaled back with the goal of creating a duology instead. The two remaining games were released in February of 2001 – shortly before the launch of the Game Boy Advance. Its Western releases followed later in the year. The first of the two games was released under the name The Legend of Zelda: Fruit of the Mysterious Tree: Chapter of the Earth. Overseas, it was retitled The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons. Did Capcom live up to Nintendo’s high standards and create something worthy of bearing the Zelda banner?

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The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released in 1998 to a reception unlike anything that came before. To a skeptical crowd, Nintendo proved they were still relevant in a gaming scene that was then dominated by Sony, their new rival, by releasing what is considered to this day the medium’s greatest achievement. Even though Nintendo was naturally interested in creating a follow-up to this landmark title, they themselves knew it would be a tough act to follow. As one of the directors of Ocarina of Time, Eiji Aonuma, noticed, they were “faced with the very difficult question of just what kind of game could follow Ocarina of Time and its worldwide sales of seven million units”.

Nonetheless, requests for a sequel ensued, and Nintendo knew it would be for the best to create one soon while members of the gaming sphere were still talking about Ocarina of Time. Shigeru Miyamoto proposed a concept akin to the second quest of The Legend of Zelda wherein the dungeons of Ocarina of Time were rearranged while retaining the same plotline. It was to take the form of an expansion disk entitled Ura Zelda, roughly meaning “Reverse Side Zelda”. The unit was planned to utilize the Nintendo 64DD, a peripheral device intended to be attached to the bottom of the Nintendo 64.

However, Mr. Aonuma believed that the dungeons in Ocarina of Time complemented the story and the gameplay in such a way that replacing them wouldn’t work at all. Without Mr. Miyamoto’s knowledge, Mr. Aonuma began working on dungeons and environments independent from the tentative Ura Zelda. After some time passed, Mr. Aonuma summoned the courage to approach his boss with a proposal of his own. He asked permission to stop work on Ura Zelda to create an original game that would treat audiences to an entirely new experience. Mr. Miyamoto was surprised, but offered Mr. Aonuma a deal; he could direct a brand new Zelda installment, but it had to be completed in one year. Even those not in the industry would realize a problem with this deadline. By this point in gaming history, development cycles lengthened as technology became more sophisticated. For the sake of comparison, Link’s Awakening, the then-newest 2D installment, took eighteen months to create. Ocarina of Time, on the other hand, spent four years in development. The idea of creating another 3D installment in less time than a Game Boy title seemed impossible.

Even with the odds massively stacked against him, Mr. Aonuma accepted the task. Fortunately, Mr. Miyamoto wasn’t going to leave his colleague to his own devices. He allowed Mr. Aonuma to reuse art assets and character models from Ocarina of Time, which by itself significantly cut down on the amount of work they would have to do. Moreover, Yoshiaki Koizumi, who had made a name for himself writing the scenario for Link’s Awakening and serving as one of the five co-directors of Ocarina of Time, was asked by Mr. Miyamoto to aid Mr. Aonuma in this project. Mr. Koizumi approached with a game concept he came up with while daydreaming: the ability to rewind time so the player may revisit the same levels, eventually unlocking new content through their successive experiences. As time travel was a concept featured heavily in Ocarina of Time, this would appear to be a perfect fit for the series.

Despite all of the measures taken to cut development time, Mr. Aonuma was feeling the pressure of the rapidly approaching deadline. At one point, he even had a nightmare wherein he was attacked by characters in the game. Mr. Miyamoto took notice of this and graciously allowed Mr. Aonuma to take extra time to get the project done. To the former’s surprise, Mr. Aonuma expressed his determination to fulfill his promise, and he and his team soldiered onwards. As if to punctuate this, his nightmare even inspired the creation of a cutscene in the final product. The team took all of the emotions they carried throughout this arduous journey, and used them to help craft their work. Finally, as promised, the game was completed after one year, seeing its official release in 2000. Though it began life as Zelda: Gaiden, the game evolved into a full-fledged entry in its own right by the name The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Though it sold millions of copies and garnered a lot of critical acclaim, Majora’s Mask was overshadowed somewhat by its predecessor. However, by the end of the decade, it had gained a dedicated following, allowing it to stand side-by-side with Ocarina of Time as one of the greatest games ever made. Does Majora’s Mask successfully answer the question of what kind of game could possibly follow a work as universally beloved as Ocarina of Time?

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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

In the eighties, a man named Eiji Aonuma took classes at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. He majored in design, primarily working on moving mechanical figures. After graduating in 1988, he interviewed at Nintendo, a company that rose to international fame throughout the decade with their classic arcade games and their successful home console – the Famicom (NES). During the process, Mr. Aonuma met Shigeru Miyamoto, one of the company’s most prominent figures, and he took the opportunity to show him samples of his college work.

His samples impressed the company, and he was given a job. However, there was one minor issue; he had never played a video game before, as he did not grow up with the medium. He then asked his girlfriend about video games, and she in turn introduced him to two of Yuji Horii’s works: the genre-defining JRPG, Dragon Quest, and the title responsible for codifying the visual novel, The Portopia Serial Murder Case. Prior to their respective inceptions, such games by and large did not exist in Japan. It was through experiencing these pioneering games that Mr. Aonuma’s career with Nintendo began in earnest. His first projects involved designing sprites for Famicom games such as the 1991 title Mario Open Golf (retitled NES Open Tournament Golf overseas). Five years later, he found himself in the director’s seat, overseeing the creation of Marvelous: Another Treasure Island for the Super Famicom. Impressed with his work, Mr. Miyamoto recruited Mr. Aonuma for an important development team. They were to bring The Legend of Zelda, one of Nintendo’s most successful franchises – both commercially and critically – to the Nintendo 64.

The origins for a possible Legend of Zelda installment on Nintendo’s first 3D console date back to 1995 when a technical and thematic demonstration video was unveiled at the company’s Shoshinkai trade show of that year. The game was originally slated to be released on the Nintendo 64DD (Dynamic Drive) – a peripheral touted as “the first writable bulk data storage device for a modern video game console”, making full use of its superior storage capabilities. Unfortunately, the device was delayed multiple times, and when it became dubious that it would ever see an international release, the team moved the project to a standard cartridge format.

Shigeru Miyamoto, who had been the principal director of Super Mario 64, was now in charge of several directors as producer and supervisor for this project. The five directors were: Toru Osawa, Yoichi Yamada, Eiji Aonuma, Yoshiaki Koizumi, and Toshio Iwawaki. Mr. Koizumi was notable for having conceived the scenario for Link’s Awakening, the then-newest Zelda installment. Mr. Osawa created the scenario for the new project based on a story idea between Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Miyamoto. It was stated in interviews by Mr. Miyamoto that the real-time rendering engine allowed the three-to-seven-person team in charge of developing cinematics to rapidly adjust the storyline and develop additional gameplay mechanics even up to the final months of development.

Within the first two years of the Nintendo 64’s debut, people criticized the console for a decided lack of hit first-party releases. Though there was a fair bit of variety within the scant games they did create for the console, they needed to aim even higher to avoid being decimated by the Sony PlayStation, their new, powerful rival. Next Generation magazine stated that “Nintendo absolutely [couldn’t] afford another holiday season without a real marquee title”. With Super Mario 64 having been one of the first successful games to feature three-dimensional gameplay, sparking a revolution that would shake the foundation of the entire medium, the prospect of The Legend of Zelda receiving a similar treatment was enough to make the new installment the most anticipated title of the decade.

After much speculation from the press and enthusiasts alike, the game, entitled The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, was at last released in the final two months of 1998. In a series that already had a stellar track record and worldwide fan adoration, the reception Ocarina of Time received seemed to utterly dwarf any of those previous accomplishments. It didn’t just get universal praise or win “Game of the Year” distinctions from every publication; it sold 2.5 million units in 1998 alone, and earned 150 million dollars in United States revenues – higher than any Hollywood film released within the final six weeks of that year. In the game’s lifetime, 7.6 million copies were sold worldwide. The year 1998 provided no shortage of competition, for it happened to be the same year that saw the release of Metal Gear Solid, Grim Fandango, and Half-Life. It stands to reason that something about Ocarina of Time managed outshine all of those efforts. Indeed, the reception this title received can never be said to have faded away; even today, it’s considered by many to be the absolute best game ever made. With all of the various artists who have appeared over the years to challenge the status quo in their own ways, how does Ocarina of Time remain a critical favorite all these years later?

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The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

A few years after the Game Boy’s release in 1989, a programmer from Nintendo by the name of Kazuaki Morita began working on an unsanctioned side project. Using one of the console’s first development kits, the game he created bore many similarities to The Legend of Zelda. His endeavors caught the attention of his peers, who were members of the Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development staff, and they joined him after hours, forming what they themselves described as something akin to an afterschool club. They saw potential in the experiments, and the 1991 release of the series’ third installment, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, prompted its director, Takashi Tezuka, to ask the executives for permission to develop a new entry for the handheld console. It was originally intended to be a port of A Link to the Past, but before too long, it evolved into an original game.

The game used the engine of The Frog for Whom the Bell Tolls, a 1992 title co-developed by Nintendo and Intelligent Systems, and a majority of the staff who worked on A Link to the Past returned for this installment. Entitled The Legend of Zelda: Dreaming Island, it took one and a half years to develop, debuting in June of 1993. The downgrade in visuals and hardware wound up not hampering the game’s reception in any way, as it received positive reviews from critics across the board, and millions of copies were sold. It saw its Western release later in the year under the name The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. The dual success of this game both domestically and overseas were such that it bolstered Game Boy sales by nearly thirteen percent. It also notably remained on bestseller lists for more than ninety months after its release – a feat very few games in the medium’s history have accomplished. From this, it could be extrapolated that Link’s Awakening had an enduring legacy which made people want to play it for themselves years after its debut. To this day, it’s considered one of the greatest games ever made, with some people citing it as a superior effort to even the beloved A Link to the Past. Working with far more restrictive hardware limitations, was Mr. Tezuka and his team truly translate a then-peerless experience to the Game Boy?

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The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, despite providing a radically different experience than its predecessor, nonetheless became a bestselling game, continuing Nintendo’s winning streak. In 1988, they began work on a new Famicom installment for their increasingly popular saga known as The Legend of Zelda. However, as the development cycle continued, Nintendo found themselves face-to-face with unexpected competition. One year prior in 1987, NEC Home Electronics launched the PC Engine, a console with an 8-bit CPU that boasted a 16-bit color encoder and video display controller. Moreover, in 1988, Sega introduced the Mega Drive, the successor to their Master System and a full-fledged 16-bit system. Though Nintendo executives were in no hurry to design a new console, they reconsidered once the success of these consoles caused their industry dominance to weaken. As a result of these developments, the team behind the new Legend of Zelda installment brought their project to this new platform that would be dubbed the Super Famicom in its native Japan and the Super NES overseas.

The creation of this new installment, eventually named The Legend of Zelda: Triforce of the Gods, would continue over the next two years, concluding in 1991 and seeing its release in November. Like the ones that preceded it, this third game received positive reviews from critics and fans alike. When it came time for localization, the game’s name fell victim to Nintendo of America’s draconian censorship policies regarding religious references. It was consequently renamed The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for its international debut in 1992. Western critics then too began to praise the game. According to Nintendo Power’s list of the top selling SNES games, A Link to the Past spent five consecutive years in the number one spot. To this day, it’s considered one of the greatest games ever made. It couldn’t have been easy to create a worthy follow-up to The Legend of Zelda – itself thought of as one of the best games of the eighties. How could Nintendo even begin to accomplish such an insurmountable task?

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Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

When The Legend of Zelda saw its international release in 1987, it quickly became one of the hallmarks of Nintendo’s 8-bit console. The reason for this far surpasses its impressive sales figures; it managed to offer gameplay only a select few had experienced before. It blazed the trail for open-world game design, and the ability to save courtesy of a battery wired in every cartridge changed the industry forever. Slowly but surely, artists began to move away from how they designed their works in the arcade era, instead opting to treat their audiences to epics in an interactive format – the expectation being that they could make progress, quit, and pick up where they last left off.

Because of this success, a sequel was inevitable. Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of The Legend of Zelda had the idea to make a fundamentally different follow-up. A new team was assembled to create this game with key members of the original’s development staff having no involvement. Mr. Miyamoto himself served as the producer of this new title rather than the more proactive role he held during the original’s conception. In January of 1987, a little under one year after the series’ debut, the game was released under the name The Legend of Zelda 2: Link’s Journey. Similar to the case with The Legend of Zelda, the game saw its initial release on the Famicom Disk System, necessitating Nintendo to create a cartridge-based version, as the Famicom’s North American and European counterparts lacked a corresponding peripheral. The game debuted internationally in Europe and North America the following year with the title shortened to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

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