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As of April 2010, The Legend of Zelda series has sold over 59 million copies since the release of the first game, The Legend of Zelda, and continues to be successful worldwide. The original Legend of Zelda is the fourth best selling NES game, of all time. The series consists of 15 official games on all of Nintendo's major consoles, as well as several spin-offs. An American animated series based on the games aired in 1989, and individual manga adaptions which are officially endorsed and commissioned by Nintendo have been produced in Japan since 1997.
The Legend of Zelda games feature a mixture of puzzles, action, adventure/battle gameplay, and exploration. These elements have remained constant throughout the series, but with refinements and additions featured in each new game. The player is frequently rewarded for solving puzzles or exploring areas. Most Zelda games involve locating and exploring dungeons, in which puzzles are solved and enemies fought, then defeating the dungeon's boss. Each dungeon usually has one major item inside, which is usually essential for solving many of the puzzles in that dungeon and often plays a crucial role in defeating that dungeon's boss. Some items are consistent and appear many times throughout the series, while others are unique to a single game. The series also consists of stealth gameplay, where the player must avoid enemies while proceeding through a level, as well as racing elements.
Though the chronology of the Legend of Zelda series is subject to much debate among fans, numerous materials and developer statements have partially established an official timeline of the released installments. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is a direct sequel to the original The Legend of Zelda and takes place several years later. The third game, A Link to the Past, is a prequel to the first two titles and is followed by Link's Awakening. Ocarina of Time is also a prequel, taking the story many centuries back and implicitly telling the Imprisoning War from the manual of A Link to the Past. The ending of this game caused the timeline to split, with the child era leading into the direct sequel Majora's Mask, and Twilight Princess set more than 100 years later. The Wind Waker is parallel and takes place in the other timeline branch, more than a century after the adult era of Ocarina of Time. Phantom Hourglass is a continuation of Link's and Tetra's story, followed by Spirit Tracks about 100 years later. Skyward Sword will be a prequel again, taking place before Ocarina of Time. At the time of its release, Four Swords for the Game Boy Advance was considered the oldest tale in the series' chronology, with Four Swords Adventures set sometime after its events. The Minish Cap precedes the two games, telling the story of Vaati and the Four Sword's birth.There have been no statements about the placement of the Oracle titles, or about which timeline branch some of the earlier installments are meant to be set in.
The Legend of Zelda was principally inspired by Shigeru Miyamoto's explorations as a young boy in the hillsides surrounding his childhood home in Kyoto, Japan where he ventured into forests with secluded lakes, caves, and rural villages. According to Miyamoto, one of his most memorable experiences was the discovery of a cave entrance in the middle of the woods. After some hesitation, he apprehensively entered the cave, and explored its depths with the aid of a lantern. Miyamoto has referred to the creation of the Zelda games as an attempt to bring to life a "miniature garden" for players to play with in each game of the series.
Hearing of American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife Zelda, Miyamoto thought the name sounded "pleasant and significant". Paying tribute, he chose to name the princess after her, and titled his creation The Legend of Zelda.