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Nintendo on Zelda 1 – Miyamoto’s inspiration, Kondo’s all-nighter, Molblin’s famous message, original “Hyrule Fantasy” name

Posted on November 23, 2016 by (@NE_Brian) in General Nintendo, News

Nintendo published a new interview in its series of discussions pertaining to the NES Classic Edition. This time, the topic was the very first Zelda. Co-directors Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka plus series composer Koji Kondo all participated.

Like the previous interviews, there’s a whole lot of interesting talk here. Miyamoto talked about his inspiration with the series, Kondo spoke about how he created music just before release by pulling an all-nighter, and we learn about the Molblin’s famous message (“It’s a secret to everybody”) as well as how Nintendo originally intended to name the series “Hyrule Fantasy”.

For the full interview, head past the break.

A World of Swords and Sorcery

Congratulations on 30 years of The Legend of Zelda.

Everyone: Thank you.

Miyamoto: I feel like people say this every year! (laughs wryly)

Last year was the 30th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. (laughs) To jump right in, why did you decide to make The Legend of Zelda, which came out 30 years ago for the Family Computer Disk System? (1)

1. Family Computer Disk System: A peripheral product for the Famicom system released in February 1986. The floppy disks used with the system had greater memory than ROM cartridges, allowing players to save game data.

Miyamoto: The Indiana Jones (2) movies were out around that time.

2. Indiana Jones: A series of adventure movies produced by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. The first movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, was released in 1981.

Adventure films were popular in the Eighties.

Miyamoto: Right, I wanted to bring that sense of adventure to a video game. And people playing computer RPGs back then were bragging about how strong their swordsmen had become and were calling each other at night to exchange information. When I noticed that, I thought it was an interesting milieu.

Since it was so absorbing, you wanted to make something similar yourself.

Miyamoto: Yes. So with a world of swords and sorcery as my theme, I decided to make an adventure game based on treasure-hunting, and that was the beginning of The Legend of Zelda.

Zelda was released five months after Super Mario Bros. (3), but development of The Legend of Zelda began first.

3. Super Mario Bros.: A platform game released for the NES system. Originally released in Japan in September 1985.

Miyamoto: That’s right. First, we started making The Legend of Zelda, and then we started Super Mario Bros. The Legend of Zelda was for the Family Computer Disk System, so we decided to finish up Super Mario Bros. first. (to Tezuka-san) Isn’t that right?

Tezuka: Yes. We have documentation showing how we worked simultaneously on the two games. Kondo-san brought an official request for work.

Kondo: This request was for sound direction for The Legend of Zelda. It bears a seal with Tezuka-san’s name, and the date is September 27.

Super Mario Bros. came out on September 13, so this request is from two weeks later. (looking at the request) It has rough depictions of visual content, so development must have been well underway at this point.

Miyamoto: Yes. It’s a proper request for work.

Tezuka: But if you read it, it’s pretty rough.

It is? (laughs)

Tezuka: For cave music, it just says “short BGM.”

“Life Fountains” must mean the Fairy Fountains.

Tezuka: Yes.

It just says, “fanfare, sparkly.” (laughs) Kondo-san, when you received this request, I suppose you thought, “What kind of music am I supposed to make?!”

Kondo: Yeah. (laughs)

Tezuka: (looking at the request) Interesting… How could he make anything based on this?

But you’re the one who wrote it! (laughs)

Everyone: (laughs)

Pulling an All-Nighter for the Opening Song

After receiving the request from Tezuka-san, did composing the music progress smoothly?

Kondo: I knew I needed completely different music since Super Mario Bros. is a completely different world, so I wasn’t sure what to do. And The Legend of Zelda has an opening crawl, so I wondered about what should play during that too. Tezuka-san’s written request simply says, “title music.” (laughs)

Tezuka: (laughs)

Kondo: For quite a while, it just played Ravel’s Bolero. It really matched the opening crawl!

You used an already existing song?

Kondo: Yes. Classical.

And just played it as is?

Miyamoto: You rearranged it for the NES, right?

Kondo: Right. But immediately before finishing The Legend of Zelda, we learned it was still under copyright.

Tezuka: Uh-huh. (laughs)

Miyamoto: Oh, I remember that! (laughs) The Copyright Incident!

The Copyright Incident? (laughs)

Miyamoto: In Japan, music usually enters the public domain 50 years after the death of the composer.


Miyamoto: And Ravel, who wrote the music we were using for the opening crawl, lived a long time ago, so we thought we were safe. But we looked it up just to be safe and found out it had been something like 49 years and 11 months since Ravel’s passing and the copyright would run out in a month. But we didn’t think we could wait that long. (laughs)

Because the game was practically done. (laughs)

Miyamoto: And we couldn’t delay the release of the Family Computer Disk System.

Kondo: So I pulled an all-nighter to compose the opening song.

You must have really been in a tight spot.

Kondo: Yeah. But it’s just an arrangement of music used in the game.

Miyamoto: He reworked it to sound more like an intro.

Still, that’s impressive work for one night!

Kondo: I was desperate. It was really down to the wire.

Miyamoto: The Legend of Zelda was nearly complete. Perhaps that incident is why I really like that opening song. It’s sort of like music in a spaghetti western film.

Yes, it is. There’s a melancholy air there at the beginning.

Miyamoto: The essence of that type of tune is concentrated in the opening song and, above all, it suggests courage. So I think it’s the perfect song to play when you set out on an adventure.

So it’s a good thing that Kondo-san spent all night composing it.

Kondo: For sure! (laughs)

“Please Look Up the Manual for Details”

The opening crawl shows various treasures and items, and then at the end you see Link holding up a sign that says “Please look up the manual for details.”

Miyamoto: Uh-huh.

Those who play The Legend of Zelda for the first time on the NES Classic Edition may wonder what that means. Would you explain?

Miyamoto: We put in that message because the game included a manual, a sort of booklet. However, some people would use a Famicom Disk Writer Kiosk (4) at game shops to overwrite their games, and we felt they would want some sort of proof that they purchased the game.

4. Famicom Disk Writer Kiosk: A device in game shops for overwriting game data. For 500 yen, players could write a new game to a Disk Card.

They would be happy to get something tangible instead of just overwriting the data on a disk.

Miyamoto: So we decided to make a booklet with gameplay instructions, story elements to serve as hints, and strategic methods for solving puzzles. We wanted players to read it, so we put in that message saying “Please look up the manual for details.”

That booklet is pretty well-made.

Miyamoto: Yes. One function of that booklet was to reinforce the feeling of the game’s epic setting. Back then, mainly package illustrations and arcade game cabinet design conveyed the game’s atmosphere, but with the Family Computer Disk System, we used booklets.

I see.

Miyamoto: Additionally, a lot of people would be playing an adventure game of that sort for the first time, so the booklet would also serve to provide instructions.

And that booklet, just as it was back then, is included with the Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition.

Miyamoto: Yes. On the system’s Home menu you can display a QR Code, which you can read with a smartphone or similar device to view the booklet digitally. And that’s not just for The Legend of Zelda. You can also get the original manual for Super Mario Bros. and all of the other included games.

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