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The oldest Zelda screenshot shows a long-lost, beautiful side of the game

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Not that the final product wasn’t pretty, too

The legend of zelda - Link fights a dragon Nintendo

The recently released Hyrule Encyclopedia shows a version of The Legend of Zelda that never made it to the Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s just a level select screen, but it’s a rare glimpse at how the classic game’s aesthetic changed drastically during its development.

Fansite ZeldaPower.com uploaded the image to Twitter after spotting it in the Zelda lore compendium, which hit Japanese bookstores last month. The screenshot comes from an early build of the first Zelda game, and it shows: It’s a dungeon selection screen from a first-person view, two things absent from the final release.

The designers of The Legend of Zelda originally planned to make the game just a string of dungeons, which explains why this unfamiliar screen was programmed. We’ve actually seen concept art for this image before, straight from an old Iwata Asks, published in 2013.

The Legend of Zelda
The original dungeon select screen from The Legend of Zelda.
Nintendo

“This is the planning sheet for the dungeon select screen we drew up back then,” original Zelda programmer Toshihiko Nakago explained to Satoru Iwata, then-president of Nintendo. “The title is ‘Adventure Title,’ so we hadn’t decided on The Legend of Zelda yet. And that’s Miyamoto-san’s signature.”

The screenshot from Hyrule Encyclopedia bears a strong resemblance to that illustration, even approximating its blocky aesthetic. While we love what Nintendo eventually went with for The Legend of Zelda — a big overworld with lots of things to see in-between dungeons — this is a cool look at what could have been.