In 1986, Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of the Mario and Donkey Kong franchises, decided that he would try something a bit more unique. As a result, the Legend of Zelda franchise was born.
Shigeru Miyamoto, deciding that Mario and Donkey Kong didn't quite fill Nintendo's money swimming pool deep enough, set out to create a new Nintendo franchise. It was an extroardinarily unique game for two main reasons. The first was the cartridge's internal battery, which allowed you to save your game at almost any point. Things would stay how you left them once you turned the console off. The second unique feature of the game was the gameplay itself. The game borrowed several things from the budding RPG genre, such as a monetary system (the rupees) and a leveling system (Heart Containers). On top of that, while other games had you running through straight levels, the Legend of Zelda plopped you down in a huge overworld with no directions other than "Here is your sword. Someone has kidnapped the princess. Have fun." And thus, the Sandbox genre was born, a game genre where, apart from a few plot-based restrictions, you can pretty much go wherever you want, a brilliant little gameplay method that the Legend of Zelda franchise employs to this day.
While many were initially confused by this new form of gameplay, everyone caught on quickly. In fact, this confusion may actually have helped Nintendo's marketing. Because Al Gore hadn't invented the Internet yet, gamers had to consult each other. With everyone talking about the game, those left out had no choice but to check it out. Because, you know, peer pressure.
The Legend of Zelda, as previously mentioned, was essentially the first Sandbox game. The game plopped you down in the middle of the map without a sword. Er, until you entered the cave that was plainly visible from the starting place. This was where you met an old man (whose name, incidentally, seems to actually be Old Man) who would appear occasionally throughout the game, dispensing extremely helpful information.
Uh, bombs create smoke when they explode, so I probably have to use bombs.
Looks like the whistle I just managed to obtain is the only thing I have that makes noise!
Okay, I'm sure this was just a translation error of some sort....
So you're saying that I have to play a flute at an overlookable pond distinguished only by the fact that it's identical to other ponds save the healing fairy, and only then will I be able to enter the 7th dungeon? Thanks, Old Man!
...Okay, so he really isn't that helpful at all.
The game's protagonist was named Link, because he was intended to be a "link" between the player and the game. His task was to reasemble the Triforce of Wisdom (there were only two parts of the Triforce in this game, incidentally) from the shards hidden in eight dungeons around the world. Once he had done that, he could rescue the bland princess he didn't know from a giant blue pig-man named Gannon. Funnily enough, this first game was the only one where it was spelled "Gannon" rather than "Ganon," a fact that puzzles many fans to this day. Did they misspell the name of their own antagonist? Did they like the new spelling better? Either way, a Game Boy Advance port of the game changed it to "Ganon," and anyone who still spelled it with three N's was labeled an idiot. Either way, in the end, Gannon/Ganon dies and explodes in one of the coolest deaths the NES could handle, and Link saves Zelda, who rewards your hard work by saying "Thank you."
The game's translation was not, perhaps, the best. Phrases like "IT'S A SECRET TO EVERYBODY" and "GRUMBLE, GRUMBLE...." and absolutely everything Old Man said became classics due entirely to the fact that they didn't sound quite right.
Anyway, the first dungeon was relatively easy, and the second wasn't all that bad. The third was shaped like a Swastika, and appropriately enough, that's when the game started to get difficult. For one thing, it introduced Darknuts (an unfortunate name that was probably an unfortunate typo--"Dark Knights" makes so much more sense). Darknuts were knights that were invincible from the front, moved quickly and randomly, had good defense, and hit hard. Dodongo was the second dungeon's boss, and he was a pushover compared to just one of these guys. Oh, yeah, speaking of which, good luck of encountering just one...the game had a habit of dropping you into a room with up to eight of the fuckers. In the next few dungeons, you also encounter Wizrobes (ghost-like creatures who would randomly appear and disappear, shooting magic beams at you), Gibdos (mummies with a huge ammount of health), and Like Likes.
In Soviet Russia, pancake eats you! And also steals your invaluable shield.
In addition to harder enemies, old bosses would show up again in later levels, only harder, in larger numbers, or both. Entrances to the dungeons became harder and harder to find. The seventh dungeon was hidden "where fairies don't live" (see above). The eighth was under a random bush. That's right. You had to burn down a fairly inconspicuous bush. Granted, while you probably found a shop or something by doing that earlier in the game, you might still be wary to enter, because that bastard of an Old Man seems to have about fifty houses spread out through the game, and if you destroy his "front door," he'll make you pay for it. Which sucks, because this is one of those games where your wallet is more often closer to empty than maxed out.
Once you beat the game, you were rewarded with the even more difficult "Second Quest," which was the first quest for all the people who thought that they were actually playing as "Zelda" and put that as their name. It had all the difficulty of the end of the First Quest, only at the beginning. Also, if you accidentally stumbled into certain locations, Old Man would demand that you either pay up or permanantly lose a Heart Container.
Of course, the game can't be that bad, as some people have managed to beat the game without using the sword (except on Gan(n)on, who it's required for). Before attempting it yourself, please note that these people will most likely die virgins.