The Adventure of Zelda

(Scroll down halfway for new 2019 art.)
(But I've also updated the other art a bit.)

Zelda relationships

I think my sweetest gaming memory, though now faded, is playing Zelda 1 for the first time. The game offered a living world to explore, and because I didn't understand the limitations of games back then it felt like anything could be beyond the next corner. I still remember walking into the first dungeon by chance (No, I didn't actually use the guide in the manual). It was such a strange and atmospheric place to stumble into.

When people hear that I still prefer Zelda 1 over the sequels, they probably figure that I'm wearing nostalgia googles. I won't deny that there's an element of nostalgia present, but the truth is that Zelda 1 is fundamentally different from its sequels (the same is true for Metroid 1). I see it more as liking a completely different type of game which just happens to look like a Zelda game. The game is certainly not without flaws, but let's leave those for another time.

Some time ago I took the time to research some of Zelda's possible precursors, like Adventure, Ultima (which seems to have been hugely influential on the RPG genre so it has to be mentioned), Dragon Slayer/Xanadu, Tower of Druaga and Hydlide. Upon playing Zelda 1 again, I got this funny next-gen feeling, because Zelda felt so polished in comparison. It felt like it was 1987 and the future!

I'm not sure what to think of Zelda 2. As a kid I thought something wasn't right about it, but I forced myself to play it anyways. It really felt like a chore to play through - a quality which grew stronger in the games following. Talk, errands, and a set path. The combat was quite enjoyable though, especially duelling the knights and skeletons.

2011 art (edited 2019)

I decided to draw some Zelda creatures because I hadn't done that in years. The Zelda games change the story, style and monster designs a lot in every game (and the manuals have their own style too), so I decided to just use the sprites from the original games as a base and ignore the newer games. I drew these roughs over the course of a few days, taking it somewhat easy due to lingering RSI (wrist) problems.

A lot of the Zelda 2 monsters are sort of based on the ones in Zelda 1. Because I like Zelda 1 more I gave it override priority in the case of say, Octoroks and Moblins. In some cases I mixed and merged, but there are some confusing designs like... Scorpion = Ghoma? Fire Lizard = Zora? I don't know why the mono eye looks so similar to the... other floating eye, so I made its eye-white into teeth instead, just to separate the designs.

It would be cool with some idle behavior and equipment differences to make the creatures seem more like living characters. Zelda 2 did this a bit with the skeletons and lizard guys if I'm not mistaken. It's an aspect which I want to explore more in the future.

Not sure what to do about the slime. The Z1 slimes are tall with no eyes. In the manual they're coated with slimy drippings, and in Z2 they are closer to the DQ slimes with eyes.

I found notes by Miyamoto, suggesting that Zelda 2 was supposed to be a "Mario Adventure" game. Thinking about it now... there are the boomerang guys and the red hammer brother flail throwing beast... In Link's Awakening there are some enemies right out of the Marioverse. It feels like a violation, but I can't say no to Chain Chomp.

Zelda concepts

I'm not happy with all of these designs, but I'm beginning to feel like I've "solved" some of them after many years of trying. I made some progress editing these in 2019 to better match the other new art. Some are depreciated and should be removed.

Manhandla has some vulnerable bits underneath which reflects the game mechanics. I like the eye peeking out. I had a sideview presentation in mind when I made the original concept so it became a walker.

Some Dodongos could be armoured. I'm reusing, or rather, morphing my established Tektite anatomy where appropriate as a way to suggest that some creatures may be related. In addition, there are some radial lifeforms like the Like-like, Peahat, Roper, Leever.

Zelda concepts

Exploring poses/frames to make the figures more lively. I had a platforming game like Zelda 2 in mind when doing these.

This is "chibi" proportions by the way, unlike on later images. The designs change a bit when targeting more realistic proportions, (smaller head, more detail/grit) but I think both states can inform a design about it's strengths and weaknesses when exploring/iterating.

Zelda concepts

Enemy designs. The Deeler is has that Unira style face which could have one or two eyes. I opted for a single eye to make it more alien. The Zelda 2 "Wizrobe" has a... problematic look so I changed it into a new kind of hattifnatt finger creature.

Zelda Moblin concepts

I like the chunky-boar-fish feel of the Zelda 1 Moblins. I call my female link Meld after Zelda. Eld is fire in Swedish. Z and A joined/averaged is M). Meld is sort of a synonym to Link. She unites/mends/welds Hyrule with a fiery spirit!

Hobbit Goblin Moblin Sprites from Zelda 1

I'm thinking the Moblin design might have come from the old Hobbit cartoon movie, and/or Disney's Sleeping Beauty cartoon movie (the Goons). There's a 1999 PC game called Drakan which has nice Moblin-like reptiles so I kept those in mind too working on mine (There's some Bonner Ork influence too).

Zelda Ganon and company (bosses)

Ganon. G face on E body would be the best I think. Bosses are starting to feel pretty close to the sprites. My wizrobe design here is a miss. I wanted to do the blue knights from aLttP as it's one of the few enemy designs I like from that game... but this sheet is a bit older and I've explored the design much since. I think the terrain is actually the most impressive aspect of aLttP. Somewhat unrelated: Clu Clu land and Devil World had a few proto-Zelda sprites.

Characters (2019)

I did these with a game in mind.

Not-Bikini Zelda

One way to lessen the monotony of a game is to offer multiple playable characters. In Psycho Fox you can switch in and out at any time (using a consumable), whilst in SMB2 you select character during intermissions. In both cases, which character that you choose has more to do with play-style than solving puzzles, and I like that. In TMNT, the turtles act as lives, making you use all of them.

Three characters seems right for a Zelda game, of course. They could each embody a triforce piece - Wisdom, Bravery, Strength. You'd start the game as any of the characters, setting out to find the others in the early game. Like in Zelda 2, you'd level them up, but they each have slightly different proficiencies (Diablo 1 style?).

Left to right: Wisdom, White Mage, Rogue - I wanted to draw something more "girly" to balance the other characters which I had already drawn. The outfit is based on traditional white-pink/purple-gold Zelda from the "newer" games (anything >Z2 is newer games to me).

Bravery, Warrior - Started out as a redesign of the old future/bikini Zelda concept art piece, but I ended up putting some more clothes on for some reason. The design is a nod to 80's hair and pauldrons (e.g. Leda's Yohko).

Strength, Brute/Barbarian/Ogre - Fuzelchomp. Influence should be obvious, but there's a little Sheik in there too.

"Hey, Fuzelchomp, how'd you lose your arm?"

*Chain Chomp's eyes widens with a jerk*

Uh... so, I added a figure and now it's a trio of four? Three princesses representing the three pieces, but, surprise twist, it's actually a 3D Tetrahedron, which has four faces. Maybe the characters are from South, West, East and North? Or perhaps from different worlds altogether. There are a bunch of fan theories about a fourth triforce piece. Some say the 4th piece is the negative space and the origin of shadow Link.

I'm thinking people use fake triforce gems/stones as good luck charms on their armour.

Not-Bikini Zelda

Me thinks that sabre in the Zelda 1 logo is actually Zelda's sabre. Here I'm portraying Zelda as some kind of commander, maybe somewhat influenced by the triforce of power, hence the horned diadem. Perhaps she and her army of shining knights were betrayed by someone on their way to the final battle with Ganon (long ago). Before she could run the traitor through, it triggered something using an magical item and they were all pulled into some massive dimensional trap on the battlefield. When the player frees the army using a macguffin, we see the traitor just slain by Zelda, establishing that little or no time has passed. Like furies (or rather, a Deus ex machina) the once lost army charges into the final battle where they're sorely needed.

World building (2019)

Eventually I wanted to just do some world building, maybe for a comic which is a better way to explore and define than getting lost thinking about possible game mechanics.

Zelda concepts

Zelda 1 dungeon elements... scale-up test. This makes the blocks a real obstacle and I think it creates a more monumental atmosphere. I believe one of Z1's gargoyle statues is a Loftwing from SS. I like the sci-fi shutter doors in Z1.

Zelda concepts

Maybe an Ooccan face could take the place of the more generic easter island face (artwork from Z1 manual). I don't think it should be a very human face anyways, as the dungeons are quite alien otherwise. The 6-legged Z2 tektite might be part Gohma because most tektites only have 4 legs.


I waned some Elder-things & sci-fi influence, the of Oocca (sky-folk) came to mind. They look weird, were once larger, more advanced (god-like to some?), and the created stuff (the Hyrule landscape afaik). I often felt Z1 looked a bit like a built garden & not organic like other games. I can imagine a scene where Ooccans are in a lab working consoles and working on creatures.

Oocca and Hylia, Godesses.

I think... later, the work of the gods got corrupted... the dungeons, creatures... and floor plate levitation controls. Debiru (from Devil World) is the grand-dad of elaborate dungeons so there's a suspect.

If I need my own Hyrule for some reason, a parallel Hyrule, or Parule might work. There was some "quarrel" in ancient times and certain problematic Ooccans were forced into exodus. Perhaps they had some dangerous plan which was rejected. They ended up creating Parule (by stealing a lot of material), but eventually they perished, leaving the automated garden world to it's own fate.

The Ooccans we see today in Hyrule have degenerated into chicken form. Perhaps they did so on purpose to avoid being corrupted/detected/caught by something?

I want to avoid plain or typical creatures/monsters, like rats and manticores. Some of the creature designs in Zelda are kinda alien looking already, so I'm pushing that aspect with my design interpretations. It's especially true for the radial ones I mentioned previously. I want to use the Like-like for something special (already used them for my Metroid project actually). The sword spirit in Skyward has a techy feel so I might build on that... it fits with the sci-fi -> fantasy post-apocalypse theme. Could also use the clay dolls from Zelda 1's sprite sheet planning doodles. Then there's the unused bikini-sci-fi Zelda concept.

Unrelated, I like Skyward's Impa. Maybe my fav design from that game. Otherwise, I think the 3D zeldas have too much... uh... "cultural appropriation theme idea at design meeting" smell. I don't really care for an identity/theme which feels... applied. Rather than promoting cultural style strongly, I think the identity and atmosphere of the world can be sufficiently defined by the plot and monster/antagonist designs. Unfortunately that's where the games have been the least consistent.

Then there's the wacky Crash Bandicoot designs, freakshow humans and immersion breaking puzzles. Who'd build a dungeon like that? It just pulls me right out every time. I'd rather have dungeons which are just rooms with monsters and a few things to do.

Dungeon entry and props.

Misc props. Always liked the Dungeon entries in Z1... I think a shutter door might be more appropriate, if any. I don't think I'll pursue the Z3/OoT jumpy armos type though. Minish Cap had some neat armos-like designs iirc.


Knight... these come in a lot of variants in Z3. I've always liked the sprite of this horned one.

I had an idea for a story that's more focused on a regiment of soldiers wearing the iconic armours and stuff. Skyward sword did something like that with the tunics. Maybe it would be interesting to see a story centered more on an evenly fought war and the drama around it.

comic panels

Paraphrases of some of the scenes from the Z1 art, and a few panels for the soldier idea. My story might be set centuries after Z2, but in the Z1/2/3 map area.


Wizrobe.... Wizzrobe? Strange how this design changes. Maybe if a Zol absorbs a skeleton it'd look like the BotW design. These... "Stal-zol" might be my bad-guys.

Not quite happy with this wizrobe design though... too much detail? Also, I'm getting strange Adeptus Mechanics (40K) vibes from it. Could be the colour and grit. Slightly related, A Canticle for Leibowitz is an interesting book about lost technology. Slightly related again, I started watching a Breath of the Wild let's-play and it seems right up my alley with the free-roaming and lost tech stuff. However, I'm still sceptic about those Crash Bandicoot type creature designs. I may be repeating myself here because I'm writing some of these paragraphs years apart but I'm still grumpy about the same old things.

I had some idea that some factions/creatures can share outfits (in this case the wizrobe gear.)

A link to the past locations.

Just getting some faces down for practice... haven't decided on a style at this point, but I'm thinking smaller eyes and pupils. My Gibdos has blue skin (like Mr. Bump!) so it's not just a generic mummy.

Story theme: The Headless Machine

Usually for these kind of projects I think about game design, but perhaps I'm more interested in world design nowadays. I had a vague initial idea to set a comic/manga story in an interim period where there is no Ganon, or Link & Zelda incarnations. This way I can explore other conflicts. Eventually I came up with a theme - The Headless Machine.

I want to divide the comic into two segments, one focusing on the normal life in a world filled with monsters (Man-vs-Nature), and the other more on a greater conflict (Man-vs-Man) and the ascension of a hero.

The theme of a Headless Machine is repeated many times. There's no Ganon so but monsters are still out there doing something. The protagonists are the blue soldiers, who still carry on with their patrols, perhaps protecting something out of tradition. The triforce of wisdom is lost (though fragments of the other might be present).

It has to be noted, that unlike Link, regular people aren't that powerful (plus they only have one life) so it makes sense that they don't try to solo dungeons and take on bosses. I'm going to say... a random sword hit (not always a precise killing strike) is 1 heart of damage and a normal person has 1-3 hearts, mostly 1.5. With partial plate armour, damage is halved. I fudged these values from aLttP where the blue soldier deals half a heart of damage, and dies on 3 hits from Link's basic sword. The lore is a bit fuzzy on whether normal people can fully utilise the powerups and triforces, but I'm thinking this type of story would be more about the life of a normal person who knows of these magical items only by rumour.

I have some ideas for a title besides "The Headless Machine". Zelda 1 is called ゼルダの伝説 in Japanese. The kanji 伝説 (densetsu) means "legend" but can possibly also mean "tradition" or "going along with (old) doctrine", which is sort of "headless". Hyrule is called ハイラル (high or hairaru?), but rule (as in govern) is spelled ルール... Perhaps something like アソルールの伝説 (Asorule no densetsu). Aso means simpleton/fool. Tradition of foolish rule?

I also discovered the colloquialism バカが移る (bakagautsuru), "to catch 'the stupid' (e.g. from talking to stupid people, watching mindless TV, etc.)​". Can I just smack rule on that to make it a form of government? バカが移るルール? I don't really know enough Japanese. Baka means idiot, Utsu in this context is about catching something infectious. Ga points to the subject (that stupid person). Ru makes it "to catch". Rurule at the end sounds a bit like hyrule.

Part 1 : Man vs Nature

At the outskirts of Hyrule, beyond the reach of "the fallen kingdom", people still remember how things used to be a century ago.

Our protagonists are a group of regular blue sword soldiers (剣兵士,青) who mostly deal with monster incursions, border protection and scouting. (They're not corrupted as there's no Ganon.) We get to see Hyrule's flora and fauna through short excursions. It begins with them out on a patrol, running into a headless Armos* sort of dumbly trapped in a simple patrol pattern. They chuckle at the situation, but engaging the thing could still be unwise. Hyrule is a dangerous place if you only have 1.5 hearts.

* Of course, the Armos here is almost literally an example of a headless machine and a way to introduce the theme.

After returning from the patrol we follow their daily chores, cleaning armours and such. There's a small civilian population but most grow up to be soldiers. One man is cleaning/polishing a headless statue of a king carrying a sceptre and sword. He was probably important to them once. They never did find the head. Perhaps they are looking for it. It's dangerous outside so they live in the "Dangerous to Go Alone" cave which is actually quite expansive past the two fires (magical warding) in the entry hall. The might be trainees sparring with wooden/brown swords here. Maybe practicing with shields against "octorok" (softball) attacks.

Eventually, for some reason, a scouting party (with some characters from earlier) is sent to venture into "the fallen kingdom" to the north-east... They use a magical raft? I think it might be too dangerous travelling on foot for long.

A link to the past locations.

Location sketches for patrol. Judging by the map in the encyclopedia book, it seems the (aLttP) northern river road leads roughly to the (Z1) wooden sword cave. I've removed the grass and added some ageing. My timeline is SS-OoT-(branch)-aLttP-OoS/A-Z1-Z2-(1-2 centuries)-Present. Because Zelda 1 has no large trees other than the dead ones (level-1 entry), and no grass, I think there was a disaster in this region (south-west) which killed off vegetation, though the trees have been replanted (very structurally). There is grass and trees in Z2, but even on that map the Z1 sub-region is wasteland/desert. My story might be set quite some time after Z2 though. I never liked the Goron design (or know where and when they are) but those breast'y cliffs just reminded me of them.

Oh... Maybe the Oocca built the dungeons (it's said they made Hyrule) and because of Z1's tile graphics, maybe the dungeons are modular in some way and were repurposed by the time my story takes place (by a rogue Oocca or automated system?). However, the Oocca are gone and now the dungeons are just running by themselves (and there's the headless theme again).

Part 2 : Man vs Man

The second part is about the journey into the fallen kingdom, and is a bit darker.

The party enters a small village under guise of travelling merchants and make contact with a man wearing "the finest of rags". The man knows little about the outside world, but shows off their most prized possession, a 200 page living tome titled "Book of Stalzol". Every village owns one, they are very rich and fortunate, much unlike those lazy slaves and foul outlanders of course. Soon they could be even richer, planning to send a good fighter to something called the 25th annual melee. Stalzols will be arriving soon with new pages for the tome and the villagers are quite excited. The scouting party decides to risk staying to have a look at these Stalzols, which they have not seen in their region. Meanwhile, they read from the book.


The rest is paraphrased by one of the party members (the scholar woman) who skimmed through it with a pained expression.


The book states that the land suffered for 70 years after old Link went missing (they never did find his grave). Then the entire royal family succumbed to sudden illness (a divine punishment no doubt, as those were dark days). Following this, there was a sort of quarrel about how to choose a new ruler. Various corrupt noblemen saw themselves as the obvious choice. Out of this chaos, a most wise Stalzol appeared, gained popularity, and was ultimately elected ruler.

Three decades later, people live in great happiness under Stalzolean rule. Stalzoland! Stalzoland! Proud Stalzoland!

hya hya hya

There's some symbolism here. It might seem like the rupees are being generously handed out, but they have no clear trajectory. The people think are doing the laughing chant with the Stalzol. The moon phase is off, so not much scientific literacy in this culture. The holy triforce symbol has been distorted and new elements (tenets?) have been added. Yet, to most, this is a very positive image where one can see happy people, chanting, wealth, and the sun and the moon radiating their blessings.


When the Stalzols arrive (they're Stalfos-Zol hybrids), the villagers help them to capture the "border devil spies", having suspected the scout party from the start (too unfamiliar with the book). The scouting party is put in shackles and carted off to the mines (as slaves). Until they part way, the village's fighter sits atop the caged cart, taunting them. He will be returning from the capital with such riches.

In the mines the group befriend some of the slaves. Some were just unlucky, others were political dissidents, heretics or scholars. One after another they describe the baffling nature of the Stalzol regime.

A transcriptionist who once worked with the Stalzol (before getting "fired") discovered that they actually barely qualify as intelligent, but have somehow managed to create a hierarchical system which drags the general population down to their level and now the whole mess just sort of maintains itself.

But what are they up to? For decades now, the Stalzol (or rather, their power structure) has been putting people to work in the mines (or on one of their strange construction projects) by using engineered economical pressure or force. There are rumours of "strange things buried long ago" being brought up from the deep mines. Some say the whole operation just a way to whittle down the population. Perhaps there's simply no plan at all.

Many citizens look forward to the 25th annual melee, a form of gladiatorial combat. The victor of each match gets to choose a sealed prize urn with unknown contents. Most of these are looted from the graveyards and contain garbage, but one is always packed with red rupees (enormous riches for these people). However, the game is rigged by the Stalzols in power. In select games, their sponsored, well equipped champions (not Stalzols) always win the great prize (which is probably recycled). They know beforehand which urn to pick and fight mostly poor slaves and prisoners who have been made presentable for the occasion. Nevertheless, the opportunity to climb over corpses using any and all means available and emerging victorious (slim as the chance may be) with legendary riches, is seen as a form of equality in this strange society. Gambling is also fairly common.

And of course, people also believe that if it wasn't for the savage, decadent devils at the borders, they could live in a true Utopia under the most generous Stalzol!

The scouting party members, being new arrivals, bring a certain energy to the community of slaves, and the slaves begin to dream of a life in this distant old Hyrule they're being told about. So they begin to train for a daring escape. One of the notable slaves is a poor young woman (to be new protag.) in a miserable situation, but she turns out to be quite the fighter. An older big man who was perhaps once a soldier sings to a mystery child... "Ne dashebu... nobe shundu...".

The plan of escape collapses when guards suddenly appear, and cackle that some of them (not the scouts who can probably fight) have been given the "great honour" to participate in the 25th annual melee.

A young woman (protag. from earlier) lays on the ground in a rusty old armour, looking up at the sky... or through it. She closes her eyes, as if to see something. Narrative panels follow.

1: A battle against a terrible shadowed figure. A resurrection prevented. (So, this is set after Zelda 2.)


Weird idea, but if the Zelda 1 gargoyle (dungeon) statues are Loftwings, maybe Z2's Thunderbird boss could be a corrupted one. Bit of a stretch. That sprite is such a mess and I don't really know what to make of it.

2: A magnificent bearded old Link lies on a funeral pyre. The death of a hero.

End of visions. Stalzol city is buzzling. The 25th annual melee is drawing to a close.

In the arena dungeons there's a line of slaves being outfitted with old rusty armours usually worn by the border devils. A big man tells a young woman (protag.) to survive this.

It's time for the final match and the crowd is in a frenzy. All hail the wise robes!

Enter the main attraction. Link, Stalzoland's great hero, will take on a group of border devils! Link has always been a Stalzol by the way, and recently reappeared to help build Stalzoland. Anyways, the slave fighters are quickly being disposed of by the menacing Link. The big man (wearing old Darknut armour) gets furious when the young woman is seemingly slayed, and manages to land a hit on Link before finally being decapitated.

Stalzol Link

The battle appears to be over. The crowd cheers and the ruling class Stalzols on their elevated balconies lets out a sigh of relief as a dazed Link makes his way towards the prize urns revealed at the middle of the arena. Moments later a spear impales the oblivious Link through the back of the head. Ghaakt! A slave, heavily wounded stands half-slumped (panel might show 0.5 out of 1.5 hearts left). It's the young woman. The crowd boos and the Stalzols on the balconies panic. How could this happen?


A barrage of boos. Guards appear and begin to encircle her, but she has already rushed to her choice of urn and dug through it. She collapses, and out of her hand falls a single green rupee. The crowd laughs in glee. Serves her right for killing Link! She's dragged out by angry Stalzol guards to be disposed of. No doubt Link was only injured and will soon make an amazing recovery.

They kick her off the city wall. Her body hits the ground far below and lies still amongst broken pots and garbage. Up close, her eyes are closed... like in the opening scene. Did she die?

The last vision panel completing the series from earlier: 3: Link's ashes, put in the Urn she opened, heart containers within. Life for a Hero.

She lays there for a while, looking at the sky. "I will rain fury and death upon them." Suddenly she just gets up and walks into a forest, unseen. Her health is now 11.5 out of 13.5 hearts.

The rest of the story is about her getting geared up, rescuing the surviving scout party, and dealing with the oppressors.

So, the power level in part 2 is in contrast with part 1. I guess when Link's ashes were buried the triforce and his stuff went elsewhere, but no one thought to check for the heart containers absorbed by him, or they were put there deliberately. The heart containers somehow caused the three visions (associated with Link).

Perhaps the Stalzol ruling class is eventually wiped out, but the citizens just carry on out of habit. The momentum is too large, like in Asimov's psychohistory. The theme of The Headless Machine might appear in more trivial forms, like a headless rider appearing after some scene, and the mount keeps on going because what does it know?


I think I'm gonna have to add details to the items so they fit with the style, but I'll keep the colour identities. I don't quite know which items the characters might end up with though. The blue soldier sword is probably a slightly oversized short sword (like a viking sword or gladius) judging by the diminutive guard. Some of the Z1 treasures like the bow/raft/ladder probably have some extra magical properties to justify being dungeons prizes. For example, maybe the ladder can stretch like the Monkey King's staff (only when held horizontally?). The raft might have some kind of propulsion system and be quite small out of the water. Water boots might make more sense, but a non-steerable self-propelled raft makes more sense for the Z1 map. The bow can make arrows from rupees. Then there's the bomb limit, probably explained by a bag-of-holding of some sort.


Character roughs for the story. #4 is based on a Z2 NPC and #6 is an analytic scholar who can do some or the exposition/explanation in the story. Bulldog moblin is from Z2, and the Captain from Warriors, featuring banded arms from Z1 manual. However, I'll do most moblins kinda fish-orky, like my old concepts a bit up (have to de-chibi though). I was lucky on those, placing the nipple and hump-back spikes not knowing/remembering they're on the old manual art moblin versions. I don't much like the moblins from the newer Zelda games. Actually, I only actually like the Z1 sprite... actually. Perhaps they vary by region, so the fishy ones are south-western (region of Z1 map).

Thinking about the soldier aspect of my story, I could see myself enjoying a more mindless Zelda game like Hyrule Warriors. I guess what I like about that is the focus on action rather than puzzles... which I always feel are a bit artificial in Zelda games. Afaik, Breath of the Wild's puzzle shrine tutorial dungeons were supposedly "trials", but to me it feels "off" that someone built such immense places for such a purpose.

The first Zelda game is perhaps more action oriented, with enemy toughness and map knowledge putting limits on the player. Perhaps I'd like a Zelda like Diablo 1, because it's mostly about defeating the enemies and getting neat stuff. When grinding, mapping and burning bushes is a thing you force yourself to do... I think that makes it /your/ adventure. Puzzles are someone else's adventure.


I've already mentioned that I think they based the loftwing design off the Z1 statue but here's some comparisons. Ramrock might be a dead monument. I wanted to draw a Guardian Armos but it won't fit in my story as they were built during the BotW timeline.


Here's an attempt to reconcile these Tektite designs by giving them shared but morphable/scalable physical traits. The Z2 Tektite are armoured, can shoot, have six legs... so I'm thinking they should be a Gohma-Tektite hybrid. I drew one on the Moldorm sheet but didn't include here. Six or eight legs gets too busy for my taste so I've avoided it on the related "spider" designs (Deeler/Skulltula, also seen elsewhere).


I've been trying to draw the Lynel for many years, without getting close to the sprite chunky doggo feel... but perhaps this? It has the face, the stocky legs, and it's not the typical muscle thing... feels like its own design/species. I took hooves and horns from the BotW Lynel which was based on the Z1 manual art centaur, but I felt that design is a bit generic... I want to see fantasy creatures.

Zelda book

This red Zelda book (Art & Artifacts) has good scans of the Zelda 1 & 2 art. I'm missing the encyclopedia book. It might be an even more useful reference as it lists items/monsters from different games together. I usually have to compile sheets like that myself.

Dad Devil


Dad, what the hell are you wearing??

...Huh? What are YOU wearing? Oh it's the same outfit wow what a
coincidence you're not embarrassed about your dad are you becau-


Not now Demise! Go out and play or something.

oukayy... *waddles out through crack in reality*

Devil World, like Clu Clu Land, has some interesting proto-zelda stuff. Gal Debiru's outfit here is a combo of Debiru's (Devil's) skimpy red speedos and the unused sci-fi Zelda concept with the vest/top. Keese in BotW are somewhat Z1 sprite accurate, because of the elongated pupil dividing the white of the eye into what can look like two eyes. Also, horn/ears. Ganon ends up looking a bit like Debiru.

Older art


Some old isometric test with depreciated designs.

old art

Even older 2004+ art for reference. Aquamentus is alright but this is mostly junk.

Game thoughts (older text)

In a top down game like Zelda 1 you have symmetry to the up-down and left-right directions, enabling you to walk around stuff. Manoeuvring in Zelda 1 is pretty clumsy. The movement is locked onto a grid of sorts, perhaps a legacy from maze games like Druaga. In a sidescroller like Zelda 2 you have gravity linked to the up-down axis. You can still explore a 2D plane (world), but you have the added benefits of deeper combat and jumping puzzles.

The story in the Zelda games never sat well with me, so I decided to rewrite it. Hyrule almost has a garden-like terrain in the first game, and there are these strange rocks and statues standing around in formations. The dungeons feel technological and otherworldly with their smooth clean walls, though that was changed in BS Zelda and later games. I hadn't heard of Lovecraft in the 80's, but that's sort of the feel that I got. What strange ancient race had built the dungeons, and perhaps also the overworld? The Great Race of Yith? The Elder things? The... Like-Likes (whom have since then regressed to a more primitive state)? That's something I'd like to play around with.

I always wanted to make art for an isometric "topdown" version of Zelda 1, but since this turned into a Zelda 2 project, it'd have to be a sidescroller with a topdown worldmap. I wonder how that would play if combined with Roguelike? It's sort of unusual to see, and I like unusual.

So, a random world map, with palaces/dungeons, towns and NPCs who generate quests (e.g. a fetch quest NPC would create a cave/dungeon on the world map and toss a kidnapped kid into it). The dungeons should probably be generated from finished rooms though, to ensure enemy placement is fun and suitably challenging.

The weapons, armour, spells and items could be random, and before you drink that potion, you might want to identify it...

And then there's permadeath. I don't like it, but it does fix some problems. For example, without anything at stake, it sometimes feels like the opposition put up by the game is futile (especially if one spawns close to the point of death). If too much progress or XP is lost, then it's frustrating as a player to redo the same thing again.

But wait, isn't permadeath even more frustrating since you have to start over from the beginning? Perhaps not, since you won't have to replay the same area over and over. It does take a certain mentality to play permadeath games though, as you have to accept that you may not ever finish the game (*eyeballs Nethack*). It's of course harder to build a solid, story based universe when doing random generation too, so this game would cater to a different demographic.

Alternatively, a well crafted, Z2 style game with Z1 openness would work for me too. Could be a hybrid, similar to how you get different bosses every time you play Diablo 1.

And now some random sprites

GBC 4bit sprites

The GBC (Capcom) Zelda games were pretty nice. I liked seeing the like-likes looking close to their old selves, but some of the other sprites looked a bit odd. I decided to see if I could make them look more like the Zelda 1 originals, but with black lines... i.e. one color less than the NES versions, because there's a 4 (3) color limit.

The slime has stripes in the manual so I added that to make the design more unique. A lot of games have slimes, and recently it has been popular to suggest transparency by doing an ellipsoid imprint of the ground at the bottom... but I'm thinking the Zelda slimes are more opaque. I like to omit some of the outlines, especially where the ground plane connects to the body.

A black bottom line (under feet, or at the base of a mountain) can make the sprite look like it hovers a little. With only 16 vertical pixels, every pixel is valuable so I'd rather use it for something else. Besides, here I'm using the blacks to create a chiaroscuro type of separation. It's a bit of a trap to start consistently black-lining every detail anyways.

Zelda sprites

Every time I try to do assets for a Z1 game I run into a dead end - I do not know how to tackle the perspective issues. Z1 had no problems because the graphics were quite abstract, topdown and sideview at the same time. My Octorok here really doesn't like being flipped upside-down... Also, 3 colors + trans per sprite is too tight. I much prefer my Famicube restrictions, which is 4 palettes of 7+1 colors as it stays in the NES era feel and I like the graphical clarity it promotes. Never really liked the SNES era, too much pillow shading and fuzzy AA with all of the extra colors.

Zelda sprites

Zelda 2 sprites edited to look more like Z1's as I prefer the look of those. Could possibly be patched into game, but I can't be arsed to do a full, animated set.

Zelda sprites

Also, the map data structure in Z2 makes it difficult to modify. If I could, I'd do something like this, with Z1-style dirt ground and trees. It'd could be a procedural, post-RLE unpack manoeuvre of some sort, which means new ASM. The other approach is dumping RLE for raw data, which is also extra ASM.

Zelda 2 map

The story in the case of this Z2 map could be set in another universe where Link was killed by Ganon's goons, thus resurrecting Ganon (I think they needed his blood). Zelda awakes, covered by cobwebs. Civilisation fell long ago... centuries? People have abandoned their cities and hidden in caves. The many mines, ruined cities and cemeteries, some sunken, suggest that people were worked to death. What was Ganon looking for, and where is he now? It's now up to Zelda to find Ganon and free Link's soul.

Zelda 3 enemies
Zelda 3 bosses

Zelda 1 had an unreal feel to it, with many strange monsters and no signs of ordinary life or earthly culture themes. The desolation, with old people hiding in caves suggested that something had gone down, perhaps long ago. The bustling towns in 2&3 undermined my narrative, though Z2 still had an exotic feel to with with the Cambrian(?) monster designs.

The Z3 monster designs come off as kind of knee-jerk goofy and haphazard. I also thought that the Arabian(?) influence felt out of place. This kind of culture theme'ing is common in many of the newer Zeldas and screams "design meeting". Too derivative and earthly - I shout as I jump hysterically in my hermit pit, beard bobbing, clutching a dirty Zelda 1 cartridge with a long dead battery.

So I was thinking... how would Z3 look with Z1&2 enemies? Here's my experiment. I knew the SNES could do 16 colours per sprite, but was surprised to find much less used. Supposedly the devs wanted to save ROM space by storing the graphics in 8 colours instead, meaning only 4-7 colours usable per sprite commonly. Aside from the skeleton, I've used only the colours available on the reference sprite. Some of those appears to have been poorly ripped and might not be accurate. I haven't played a lot of Z3 (too artificially puzzly), so I had to guess which optimisations were used (mirroring, split-ups).

It would be a lot easier to work with 16 colours and custom palettes of course. Colours are very important when it comes to identity so I worked with the few colours that would fit, often resulting in an even tighter palette, but 4-6 is enough to build a proper (colourful) figure in many cases (3 like on the NES is too harsh). I paid attention to pixel clustering / de-noising, avoiding the pillow shading present in the originals. I think the original terrain is quite a bit better than the original sprites.

Zelda 1 3rd quest ideas

BotW has a large world with items that break often... I think the idea is to make the player use a variety of items. Another method to achieve that goal is using a more compact world like in Zelda 1, and implement random treasures. In this case, it is each (short-ish) "run" of the game which offers variation.

Zelda 1 items sort of come in two categories: "Keys" like the raft and ladder which are needed for progression. There are so few of these that I think they could be static/non-random. Then there are the "buffing" items like swords, rod, blue ring, shield, hearts, bomb bag, etc. I think these could be divided into three tiers and randomized within.

That's too few, so I'd take some heart containers from the overworld and move them into the dungeons, and also use the bomb bags as treasures, and maybe big rupees. But that's still not enough, so I'd invent a few buffing items of my own:

Only a few of these would be available each run, so perhaps one run would have strong magic items and a weak sword. This to avoid Link getting overpowered. Some bosses/enemies can only be hurt by certain things so... if there's no silver arrow in a game, then maybe a special blast from the rod or a super bomb (holy bomb of Antioch?) could do the same job.

The store items would never appear in dungeons as they are more mundane.

I'd move the entry check in level-9 closer to Ganon so that dungeon can be entered and raided earlier for treasures.

The Peahats and Zoras are more difficult to approach early on in the game, and this might be good as it offers some variation to how enemies are approached. However, I think it could be neat if the Bow could be used to shoot down flying Peahats. It would make it more useful. Flying Peahats could perhaps even have a shadow when flying, done by alternating the shadow and Peahat sprite for a transparency effect. To differentiate the Rod, it could be changed so it can't hurt Peahats at all.

Another idea is playable Linkle (I called my version "Meld" earlier). She starts with an Almighty/universal compass and a bow/crossbow rather than sword (though a sword might still be available somewhere). To reflect her missing sense of direction there's no self-dot on the maps. The bow would have to be cheap to shoot... so maybe there's a ring reducing arrow cost (slowly giving 1 rupee/shot if there's 0?). I just realised it's probably possible to not grab the sword and get locked in with enemies in self-locking dungeon room. I guess it would be neat if you could set the weapon/use items to either B or A, but most of the time you'd like to have the sword available anyways.

Byline: Niklas Jansson, 2004-2011-2012-2019