The Legend of Zelda series began in 1986 with its first game, The Legend of Zelda, as one of the first action-adventure games in the genre. Since then, the series has evolved greatly, but common gameplay elements of the series have been retained. As the series is a definer of the genre, similar elements can seen in other action-adventure titles. The major gameplay elements of all games in The Legend of Zelda series are exploration of the in-game world, utilization of various items, and the fulfillment of quests.
There are two kinds of quests: main quests and sidequests.
Link must complete Main quests to finish the game. Even though the story of each game in the series usually becomes more complex follows a trend. Link will often go through a lot of sidetracking to reach these ultimate goals.
First, he must gather important quest items, which could be Fused Shadows, Four Elements, Spiritual Stones, or other key items, depending on the game. These items must be used in some form to stop an evil force, who is usually Ganon, but other primary antagonists have been Bellum and Malladus. Finally, defeating the villain will usually results in saving Princess Zelda or an entire world. This formula is used in many Zelda titles.
- Main article: Sidequest
Sidequests are optional quests that are often rewarding. What is gained from them varies.
Minigames, a type of sidequest, usually cost money to play, but playing successfully will usually be worth the cost, especially if the gain is more. One of the first was the Money Making Game from The Legend of Zelda, and winning could earn Link more Rupees. However, prizes are not limited to Rupees. Other items can be won from Fishing and the Treasure Chest Game.
Trading Sequences are included in numerous Zelda titles. During these sidequests, Link must pass trade items from one person to another. Only certain people will respond to these items and will exchange the items presented to them for another. Link will usually not receive anything particularly useful until the end of a Trading Sequence.
Exploring secret areas will usually yield items. Within them, Link can often find Rupees, Pieces of Heart, or sometimes people with advice. There are many possibilities, and the ventures will be fruitful.
Items are tools Link must collect to succeed on his quest. He must utilize them for their specific purposes to advance. There are many types of items ranging from weapons and tools, to pick-ups, to key items.
Weapons and Tools
All kinds of weapons and tools in The Legend of Zelda series have uses that Link can exploit to his advantage. Many of his items have unique variations, upgrades, and functions.
The most common of these items are the Sword, Shield, and Tunic, which Link is equipped with in every single one of his appearances. These items are primarily used during combat. The mechanics for using these items varies throughout the series. For example, in the first game, Link could only swing his Sword, his Shield defended automatically, and his Tunic gained defense through the Red and Blue Rings. In more recent games, especially with the addition of the Targeting system, Link can use many Sword abilities and defend more actively with his Shield, and his different Tunics could have unique strengths and weakness rather than simply added defense. For example, the Zora Armor can enhance Link's swimming abilities as well as allow him to breathe underwater, but it is vulnerable to ice and fire.
Other regular items Link can usually have in his arsenal are the Bomb, Boomerang, and Bow. The functionality of these items has also changed over the course of the series, especially with the introduction of a 3D environment and the Targeting system. More unique items include the Deku Leaf, Spinner, and Sand Wand among others. Each of these items can be used for either battling or puzzle-solving purposes.
Not all tools are necessarily for combat. Tools such as the Moon Pearl, the Flippers, and sometimes the Power Bracelet are automatically used. Bottles can store certain items. The Map and Compass help with navigation. The Quiver, Bomb Bag, Wallet and similar items increase Link's carrying capacity for pick-ups.
Items that Link can commonly find in open places, in jars, or from defeated enemies are called pick-ups.
Often times, Link can only carry a limited quantity of certain items. He can restock items such as these just about anywhere. If he is in need of Rupees, Bombs, Arrows, or other common pick-ups, he could easily find them in the bushes, sold at shops, and at various other places.
Some pick-ups are more scarce. Dungeons only hold a certain amount of Small Keys, and Link uses one up each time he opens a locked door with one. Heart Containers and Pieces of Heart are often hidden throughout the overworld, but some can only be found through specific actions.
Key items are defined by how using them often causes a certain event to happen, which could only occur when they are used in particular situations.
Quest items are key items specifically needed to continue the adventure. This could be as simple as presenting Zelda's Letter to a guard in Ocarina of Time or as complicated as collecting Triforce Shards to assemble a piece of the Triforce in The Legend of Zelda and The Wind Waker.
Exploration in The Legend of Zelda series consists of the Overworld and Dungeons.
The Overworld is the most vast area that Link must explore in each game of the series. It is through the overworld that he can access other areas of the game. Typically, at the start of Link's adventure, the range of places he can explore is very limited, but by advancing the story via completing the necessary objectives, the world begins to open up to him.
Of course, Link must know where to go to advance the story, and knowing how to find where to go next can come in handy. The most obvious solution is to view the surrounding areas. If Link only has one path to follow, he should take it. It would also be wise to use the Map if Link is in the possession of one, especially if there is a destination marked upon it. It's also helpful to listen to the words of people that Link encounters on his adventure. Their speech may contain vague hints and keywords related to what he should do; since Ocarina of Time, these keywords have regularly been emphasized with text of a different color than the standard text. Not only should Link speak with common people, but he should also listen to his partners. Companions like Navi and Ezlo often give good advice when called upon.
Then, there is the matter of getting from place to place. Link can usually walk, but it is not always necessary or possible. Conveniently, he may have a form of transportation, like his horse, Epona. In games like The Wind Waker and Spirit Tracks, a means of transportation is crucial to get around, but Link can manage this with the aid of the King of Red Lions or the Spirit Train, respectively. Transportation may even come in the unique form of Warping. Using items or magical shortcuts like the Recorder or Twilight Portals, Link can get to where he needs to be in an instant. In some cases, there are times when he must use items to access new areas.
- Main article: Dungeon
Dungeons, or Temples, are like the underworld of The Legend of Zelda. There many of these locations scattered throughout the Overworld, and delving into the deepest corners of these labyrinths is important for Link to complete his quest. Similarly to the Overworld, most the explorable areas are initially closed off.
Exploring Dungeons can be difficult, and getting anywhere may require Link to solve puzzles. While puzzles also exist in the Overworld, they are most prevalent in Dungeons. There are often locked doors and other obstacles which will hinder Link's path or his ability to reach items of value, but conquering these puzzles will unlock the way forward or make a Treasure Chest appear, among other things. Sometimes, Link's companion will give him hints on how to solve them. There are many puzzles that demand Link's natural abilities. For a common example, he may have to push a block to hold down a switch, which will activate something, or he can move the block to give himself a platform he can climb to reach higher ground. More complex puzzles can only be solved with the use of specific items. Link can gather a number of items with unique abilities, and therefore, there are unique puzzles to solve with them.
Certain items can only be found in Dungeons, and some of them only correspond with the Dungeon they are found in. The Dungeon Map shows Link where he has been and where he has yet to go within a Dungeon, so it is especially useful for exploration. This item is attained automatically in Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks and can be drawn on. Another common Dungeon item is the Compass. Originally, it would only show the location of the Dungeon Boss on the Map, but it was later given the additional feature of marking unopened Chests on the Map. In the first three Game Boy titles, having the compass would cause a chime when there was a Key present in an area. Keys are the most important Dungeon items. They can open locked doors. Small keys are found in quantities in most Dungeons and can be dropped by enemies or found under pots and inside Chests. They will open normal door locks. Only one Boss Key is found in a Dungeon, on the other hand, and will open the door to a Dungeon boss' lair. One other special item can be found in Dungeons, and that is the special Inventory Item that a Dungeon will hold. The item can likely be used to solve puzzles in the Dungeon.
At the end of most Dungeons is a boss. Most bosses themselves are like puzzles: Link should never attack them head-on without first devising a strategy. A boss has one or many weakness that Link should figure out. He should carefully observe his environment, watch for patterns in the boss' movement, and examine the boss' appearance closely. An opening for Link to attack could be discovered in this manner. Commonly, the Inventory Item Link finds in a Dungeon can be used in a strategy to fight the boss of that Dungeon. Usually, after a boss is defeated, it will leave behind a Quest Item and a Heart Container. With that, Link can leave the Dungeon and continue adventuring.