Today, almost everyone refers to all of the Zelda games by their subtitle, but that wasn’t necessarily so in the earlier days. To this day, I still think of “A Link to the Past” as “Zelda III” and always have to pause and say the subtitle instead when talking to a fellow gamer or streaming for an audience.
After hearing the name “Zelda III” out loud, I sometimes get laughs or confusion from other players, so I thought I’d explain it all briefly in a handy article for easy reference.
I’m not alone, actually – many other gamers my age still refer to A Link to the Past as “Zelda III” out of habit. A large part of it is that magazines at the time called it “Zelda III” even though it had a subtitle. This led everyone to call it that on playgrounds, in homes, at workplaces, etc. Basically, for a short period, “Zelda III” was what almost everyone called it, at least for short.
A similar thing happened with “Link’s Awakening” and “Zelda IV”. My recollection is that this numerated title didn’t stick around nearly as long, so it’s rarer to hear anyone refer it to as “Zelda IV” these days.
Zelda V and Zelda 64
Lastly, the same thing happened with “Ocarina of Time” and “Zelda 64”. At first, a few places actually called it “Zelda V”, but I don’t think that lasted very long at all. I never heard anyone call it that either.
If anything, though, the game was known widely as “Zelda 64”, probably because so many other games had “64” in the title: Super Mario 64, Star Fox 64, Mario Kart 64, etc. But once Majora’s Mask was released on the Nintendo 64 too, “Zelda 64” probably didn’t make as much sense to use anymore.
In the late 1990s, I recall Majora’s Mask being called “Zelda 64 Gaiden”. Some fans and at least one magazine even called it “Zelda 2”, as if no other games had existed before Ocarina of Times release.
I feel that around 2000 is when all the subtitles started to really take hold, because it was hard to keep count anymore and the games weren’t being numbered anyway. It makes me wonder what number the latest game would be now if we kept the numbering scheme.
Anyway, I just thought I’d share these little snippets of player history for easy sharing and reference. If you have any memories to share or any other scans, let me know. I’d like to add to the above image galleries from time to time!
Fun and interesting read. I imagine in a lot of cases that magazines were just aiming for the snappiest and most instantly attention-grabbing way to describe the games? I’ll have to go back to what remains of my video game magazine collection someday and see what random placeholder titles games were given.
Interesting to hear your theory on the why numbering system lost steam over time, because the Fire Emblem fandom has actually done the same thing since… I think Shadow Dragon/FE11 was released; every title before that I and many other older members of the fandom still refer to with either their number or title depending on how fast I need to type, but every title after is solely their title (some stopped at new mystery/12, but I’ve never seen awakening called 13 in casual conversation). And the reason was purely that people stopped being able to easily hold the number-title association in their heads after that point. These days the only title I see referred to numerically is the one released as Fire Emblem outside Japan, since a lot of newcomers confuse the subtitles for the first two games (Binding Blade/Blazing Blade is, uh, not immediately obvious) and many people only know 7 as Fire Emblem.
I’m a newer Fire Emblem fan and I have found it very frustrating trying to read message boards, fan sites, and wikis that all use the fan invented numbering system. It’s pretty exclusive to use code names when actual names exist, even if “Fire Emblem” is a pretty confusing name.
Given that a lot of those titles are incredibly long and many aren’t easily shortened (Genealogy is a pretty damn long word, FE1’s title is a similar length even abbreviated, I will use the abbreviation of Sacred Stones when I am dead, how should you abbreviate a title that for a very long time had no official translation (remember, for a long time the closest thing we had to an English title for genealogy was “Descendants of Jihad”), among others), it’s surely easy to see how having to type things is less a secret code and more shorthand in an environment that asks for those kinds of concessions. It’s not deliberate exclusion, every person I’ve seen ask has been given the full title and I’ve never seen mockery about it (even back when mockery was the usual response to newcomers not knowing things), it’s a limitation borne of the fact that this is a series with way too long subtitles that mostly lacked English translations until Heroes was released.
It’s understandable to me, though it definitely threw me off looking at discussion of some of the older games. At one point I made a chart to get it straight for myself. I also find it strange that Echoes has been adopted into this ordering, since it’s a remake of the second game (for an officially-numbered series, “FE15 is a remake of FE2” probably wouldn’t happen). Though I suppose precedent has been set by the previous remakes/semi-remakes?
Definitely agreed on Sacred Stones; I similarly find myself avoiding an abbreviation for one of the FE Three Houses routes.
God, same hat with Silver Snow. The explanation for the remakes is as you suspect; something that had been settled way earlier… by the devs saying that they considered Shadow Dragon to be the eleventh game in the series and fans followed suit when numbering (I think this is the only time dev and fan numbering match up, considering that nobody in the fandom gives Heroes or the Satellaview titles a number and fans use release order rather than the internal working titles for PoR and Sacred Stones). At the time I thought it was really weird myself, but that’s what people settled on so you got used to it.
Fire emblem gets even worse because, much like Final Fantasy, not all the games were released in the US, so there’s some severe confusion around the GBA era… except, unlike Final Fantasy, they’re not actually numbered. I find myself constantly thinking, “Okay, which one is Fire Emblem 7 again? Is it Sacred Stones? Or is it the other GBA one? I thought the other GBA one was FE6?”
The Oracle games seem to be the last time the Zelda series was referred to numerically, at least internally, since the Product ID for Oracle of Seasons starts with “CGB-AZ7” and the Product ID for Oracle of Ages starts with “CGB-AZ8”. That probably explains why they are chronologically listed that way in Hyrule Historia, despite the other way around arguably making more sense. I don’t recall any magazines referring to them as such however. Also a fun fact: Miyamoto himself apparently referred to A Link to the Past as “Zelda 3” during development (https://www.glitterberri.com/developer-interviews/miyamoto-horii-discussion/), so maybe Zelda 3 was replaced by a subtitle when the story was refined to make it a prequel to the NES games?
Castlevania 3 retained that number when it was a prequel, and many years later so did Metal Gear Solid 3. What is it about the number 3 and prequels, anyway?
There’s also Dragon Quest III.
That interview is pretty interesting regarding the development of Zelda 3. According to Shigeru Miyamoto, the game was “more or less” finished by 1989 (although he mentions progress is still going “little by little” – is that a mistake?), despite releasing a year after the Super Famicom’s launch. Miyamoto describes the game as returning to the style of the original game, which sounds about right, but also describes his old plans for two more “party members” that sounds suspiciously like the setup of Secret of Mana. Probably more interesting is that he then goes on a tangent about Shigesato Itoi(!), which strongly implies that Itoi was involved with A Link to the Past. It seems something just didn’t pan out since Itoi isn’t even credited with a special thanks, which gives the impression that the game was delayed with alterations to the storyline and possibly gameplay. I wonder what Mato makes of this, and if he has any potential leads.
Oh, I remember that Club Nintendo Christmas issue and that N-Zone issue. I also do remember those games being called Zelda 3,4 and 64, but I don’t think I ever really used those names much myself.
That Super Play “we strip Zelda III bare” cover is very real! The cover artist was legend Wil Overton. He brought manga/anime styling to a UK magazine market that didn’t have anything like it in 1992.
“Zelda V” was used by Zelda Headquarters, the main Zelda fansite in Web 1.0 days, so it still sticks in my mind. Here’s a sample: https://web.archive.org/web/19990220175615/http://www.zhq.com/entry/news/february98.htm
Before much was known about Majora’s Mask, it was sometimes conflated with “Ura Zelda,” a planned 64DD expansion for Ocarina of Time. After it was understood that it was a different game but before its title had been announced, I remember magazines referring to it as just “Zelda Gaiden.”
I love to point out that Zelda games were uncontroversially called RPGs for a long time, as can be seen in some of these scans. I’m not sure when it ended, but it was around Majora’s Mask or Wind Waker.
I was confused by the designation for some time, likely because Nintendo of America anointed the genre “adventure”, likely after the Atari 2600 game of the same name. That said, Clyde previously posted Japanese marketing material for either the original Legend of Zelda or Zelda III where “RPG” was present, so I think the confusion is due to regional differences in terminology from the very beginning of the franchise.
If I recall correctly, Nintendo lists most Zelda games as “Action Adventure” in Japan. It was just Zelda 2 and Ocarina of Time that got called something different: “Action RPG”. Those two games definately had RPG elements in them. Zelda 2 had experience points, and Zelda 64 had equipment, albeit very limited.
Found the article. It was Zelda III, and, you’re right, it was “ARPG”: https://legendsoflocalization.com/localization-roundup-2/
It’s “Zelda III” to me, too. I’ve probably acclimated more to “A Link to the Past” over time, but at the time of release it was definitely “Zelda III”. Same goes for its predecessor. Nowadays I’m used to “Adventure of Link” but originally it was “Zelda II”. In fact, I think I’ve probably called the original “Zelda I” more often than I have “Legend of Zelda”. You’re also right about Link’s Awakening. I never called it Zelda IV. That was definitely the transition point. From then on games were described by their subtitles. I can’t even recall people calling “Ocarina of Time” anything but that.
I like that Nintendo Power was straight up about Super Ghouls and Ghosts being hard. That and Gradius III. I remember Darius Twin being a lot softer, though, like the kind of game you could easily beat during the rental period.
I’m a little too young to remember A Link to the Past being called Zelda III, but I remember Zelda 64 so well you could refer to Ocarina of Time that way today and I probably wouldn’t even notice you said anything weird. Same with Majora’s Mask and Zelda Gaiden.
Now that you mention it, “Zelda 64” sounds familiar. Do you remember how common this nomenclature was compared to “Ocarina of Time”?
Agree 100% about Zelda 3. It’s still Zelda 3 to me and everyone I know.
“Zelda 64” was used almost exclusively in print and all media reporting, official and otherwise, up to launch, and colloquially for long after.
I think one of my early memories of being a pedantic nerd was seeing “Zelda 2: Majora’s Mask” in a retail store and getting annoyed at it.
Now there’s some magazine nostalgia. I don’t own those issues of EGM anymore, but back when I did, I would read them constantly. They were like gaming bibles to me.
Oh wow, Super Play and N64 Magazine!
They changed names a bunch of times over the years (NGC Magazine, NGamer, Nintendo Gamer), but they were very well-known in the UK for three main reasons:
– JP and US import reviews / hardware guides (very essential in the pre-2000 UK market!)
– *Brutal* honesty (used a full 1% – 100% scoring scale, held nothing back when it came to bad games)
– Wil Overton’s artwork (front covers, mascots, inserts, jokes on the back page, etc.)
Most of their early issues are on Archive.org, so give them a look sometime!
In fact, here’s the Zelda one in question: https://archive.org/details/Superplay_Issue_02_1992-12_Future_Publishing_GB
There are a lot of UK and European magazines on archive.org, it’s pretty interesting. Very good for nerds who like to pore over old video game magazines for fun.
Definitely remember Majora’s Mask being Zelda II, and Link to the Past being Zelda 3 (and by extention Ocarina of Time being Zelda 1). At the time I rationalised that the whole naming scheme was like the Star Wars episodes (with the prequels having the lower numbers)
I remember asking my brother to download “Zelda 1”, and being incredibly weirded out to find out that he downloaded this strange NES thing (It wasn’t even Super NES. The concept of a “NES” was unheard of)
that’s odd, as a diehard Zelda fanboy myself I’ve never heard of LA or OoT being called “Zelda 4” and “Zelda 5”
“Zelda 64”? Sure, all the time. Even after the subtitle was revealed, but never “Zelda 5”
One of the bigger cases where people still call it Zelda 3, that I’ve seen, is in the Super Metroid/Link to the Past combined randomizer. People often call it “SMZ3”. Which is kind of double weird, when you think about it, because Super Metroid is also Metroid 3, but nobody calls it M3Z3 rando.
To Clyde, “EVERYONE talked about Zelda LTTP?”, I call BS. Over 90 percent of Americans have never played ANY Zelda game ever. Over 95 percent of Americans have never played Zelda Link to the Past ever. I am dead serious ,please remove ‘everyone was talking about it’ nonsense, they weren’t. Most of my friends from childhood never even played any Zelda games ever .
Your quote is fabricated. What is actually written clearly refers to the context of how people refered to Zelda games once they knew about them. There is no reference to or suggestion of 95 percent of America playing Zelda games.
But obviously the percentage of Americans that have never played a Zelda game is obviously over 77 percent. The game series has sold 90+ million copies worldwide and many if not most of those sales were repeat customers. It’s as popular also in Japan as in America so Japanese buyers would make up a decent amount of that 90 million people who have bought a Zelda game
I think we found the kid that grew up in a Genesis-only neighborhood.
Either that or someone who’s still bitter about their parents not getting them an SNES.
Seriously, “Today, almost everyone refers to all of the Zelda games by their subtitle” clearly means “whenever people reference Zelda games, they use the subtitle.” He’s not suggesting that somehow every conversation everywhere includes the Legend of Zelda. If I say “everybody calls my friend Michael, not Mike,” no one would assume that I mean that literally all humans everywhere call him that. Billions of humans aren’t even aware of his existence and as such don’t call him anything at all.
This is interesting to read, as this article reminded me that I have downloaded several tracks from OCReMix, and the name scheme for the Zelda games is interesting, to say the least. I definitely remember Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time getting named ‘Zelda 3/III’ and ‘Zelda 64’ in remixes from those games. But I don’t think I’ve seen Link’s Awakening ever get called ‘Zelda 4’ or Ocarina of Time ‘Zelda 5’ in any of the remixes I’ve downloaded.
I never expected either Mario or Zelda to last as long as they did. I was told repeatedly by the adults in my life back then that Mario is a “fad” like pet rocks and I’d “understand someday”, so I started to see patterns. I assumed that like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, that after Mario 3 that was it, no more Mario. The shock on my face when Super Mario Bros 4 was announced on the news (as Super Mario World was called back then, and still is in Japan apparently), oh yes, and that goes for the surprise announcement of Megaman IV. “ANOTHER?!” It wasn’t until Mario 64 that I fully accepted that yes, Mario was here to stay, an institution like Mickey Mouse or Superman.
Then there’s Zelda. Zelda was always considered a core pillar of Nintendo. From the very first game it took off like mad. I attribute this to the simple perfection that is Zelda 1’s box art. Just a simple logo, a promise of “endless adventure”, and a hole showing off a gold cartridge. GOLD! Who, wha- it’s GOLD it must be good! Still, when Link’s Awakening came along after Zelda III, I was surprised to see it too was outliving my simple “rule of three”.
In retrospect, it’s kind of funny that I used Star Wars and Indiana Jones to make that rule. Nowadays no movie series is allowed to die and they’re going to make new Star Wars movies every single year until we’re all dead, and beyond.
Aha, I don’t think Zelda 3 is an issue, because it’s the third game of Zelda series~