As the inaugural game of The Legend of Zelda series, it was first released in Japan as a launch title for the Famicom’s Disk System peripheral, a year and five months before it was released in the United States. Because the Famicom Disk System was not released outside Japan, the game was published internationally on the Nintendo Entertainment System’s cartridge format in 1987, with an internal battery to facilitate data saving. Nintendo released the game in Japan in 1994 on cartridge format for the Famicom. [Info from wikipedia]
In the beta version of Zelda 1, in the first cave the player had the option to choose between the sword or the boomerang. In the final version you can only find the sword. The image of this beta cave is still in the manual of the final game.
Thanks to one of the “Iwata Ask” interview series, we found out more info on the development of Zelda NES. The game was internally known as “Adventure” or “Adventure Mario”, as wrote by Miyamoto in some early design docs, created in 1985. Some of the items and enemies drawn in the design-doc, were never used in the final game. There’s also an early version of the world map!
The “Second Quest” was created because they had spare memory room:
Iwata: In order to fit in as many dungeons as possible given the limited memory, you were making them like you were doing a puzzle.
Nakago: Right. Tezuka-san said, “I did it!” and brought this to me. I created the data exactly in line with it, but then Tezuka-san made a mistake and only used half of the data. I said, “Tezuka-san, there’s only half here. Where did the other half go?” and he was like, “What?! Oops, I messed up…” But Miyamoto-san said it was fine just like that.
Tezuka: Heh heh heh. (laughs)
Nakago: So, using the half of the memory that was left over, we decided to create the Second Quest
Some more info on the beta and development of Zelda for the NES were shared in the book “Hyrule Historia” and translated by Glitterberri:
The first thing I thought about was a game that made use of the Disk System’s function of rewriting data so that two players could each create their own dungeons and make the other player solve them. We actually created such a game, and when I played it, I felt it was very fun playing in the dungeons themselves. So we put together a game with a series of dungeons underneath mountains distributed around Death Mountain for a single player to solve them. But we also wanted it to feature a world above, so we added forests and lakes, and so Hyrule Field took form gradually.
Now, we didn’t decide the game’s title from the very beginning either. Originally, I wanted it to be “The Legend of X,” but I couldn’t find the appropriate word for the “X.” Then, the planner to whom we assigned the PR project suggested we did a story book of the game.
Also, a prototype version of Zelda 1 was somehow leaked, and thaks to the Cutting Room Floor we can see all the little differences that were made before the game was relased:
- The prologue and item list are not in the prototype.
- When a candle is used in a dark room, the game does not pause while the room lights up.
- It’s not possible to hit the old men in the prototype.
- The Magical Sword requires 8 hearts in the prototype and 12 in the final build.
- Armos Knights take much longer to come to life in the prototype. The waiting time was reduced from 128 frames to 60 frames.
- Moldorm has 1 HP per segment in the prototype, but 2 in the final version. Likewise, the Blue Wizzrobe got its health buffed from 8 HP to 10 HP.
- Both Wizzrobes’ beams do less damage in the prototype. The Blue Wizzrobe’s beams went from 1 Heart to 2 Hearts of damage, and the Orange Wizzrobe from 2 Hearts to 4(!) Hearts.
- There are a few sprite changes in the prototype. Three of them are used in-game, while the other two are earlier designs left in the ROM.
In another interview with Miyamoto, we learn that originally Zelda was meant to have a futuristic setting:
Link’s name come from the fact that originally, the fragments of the Triforce were supposed to be electronic chips. The game was to be set in both the past and the future and as the main character would travel between both and be the link between them, they called him Link.
You can find more info about Zelda NES in the Zelda Wiki!