The Legend of Zelda is a classic action-adventure game on the NES from Nintendo created by Takashi Tezuka and Shigeru Miyamoto. It was a bold, new take in the genre, and it has obviously been a massively successful game series and brand ever since. However, there is a dungeon in the original game with a very peculiar shape, and to the untrained eye, this looks to be a very dangerous symbol hidden within the world of the original The Legend of Zelda.
This is that time The Legend of Zelda has a dungeon shaped like a swastika.
Released in 1986, 35 years ago this year, the original Zelda was met with great reception and became one of Nintendo’s best selling titles at the time. When it comes to world design, the first game has some of the most unique and fun designs of all the games in the series. Not only is the overworld wonderfully laid out, but there are even some fun Easter Eggs hidden throughout, like how the first 5 dungeons of the second quest spell out E, A, L, D, Z in that order. However, if you rearrange them, it spells ZELDA. Neat, right?
Well, there are neat Easter Eggs and then there are questionable ones, and you know when it comes to That Time articles, we gotta talk about the weird stuff.
When you play through the game naturally, the third dungeon is shaped in such a way that western audiences were taken aback when they initially saw it. It may be a bit shocking to see, but please continue to read in order to understand the origins of this design.
Level 3 in the original The Legend of Zelda is shaped like a swastika, and considering the date the game was released, this does seem a bit odd. However, there is definitely a reason, and it is one laced in religion and culture.
Throughout Asia, the swastika is a symbol used in many religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Even the word “swastika” comes from the Sanskrit language (स्वस्तिक = svastika), and it means “conducive to well-being”. India, particularly, is littered with this symbol, and it means different things depending on the religion. It even found its way to Indo-European religions, so for literally hundreds and hundreds of years, this was and still is a powerful icon for many.
However, the religion that applies to this story is Buddhism, as this is the only major religion to migrate its way into Japan and staple itself as the religion of the Japanese, particularly Zen Buddhism.
The swastika is such a staple in Buddhism in Japan that it is even used as the symbol for Buddhist temples throughout the country. As seen in the screenshot (Taken on June 8th, 2021) above, you can see that the Buddhist temple in Ueno Park in downtown Tokyo still has the symbol used to mark its location. Japan plans to eliminate the use of this symbol on its maps over time, but there is a huge debate on it.
The original The Legend of Zelda instruction manual even had the icon within its pages, but Nintendo has since removed this page and it is no longer possible to see it in the online instruction manual catalog.
In Japan, the icon in Buddhism represents the auspicious footprints of Buddha. In Japanese, the character is pronounced manji, and it is represented with the arms pointing to the left (卍). However, throughout all of these Eastern religions, the symbol commonly faces both directions, but it always lays flat in a square-shape. The Nazi swastika is often mistaken as the same, but its symbol is represented by a right-facing/clockwise direction and stands diagonally in a diamond-shape.
It is unfortunate that Nazi Germany has tainted this otherwise peaceful and prosperous icon, but westerners really do need to understand that this symbol is not owned by the Nazis. Its history and ties to Asian religion and culture is rich and goes back at least 2500 years, so to try and erase this wonderful symbol from the world would do a disservice to billions of people.
However, we are also well-aware that the Nazis used it for evil, and the existence of Neo-Nazis keeps the diagonal version of the icon flying around from time to time haunting people’s memories. When Miyamoto and Tezuka created The Legend of Zelda, though, they were simply thinking with Japanese minds, and the Easter Egg was meant to be one to represent a famous symbol within their country’s Buddhism. The icon within the game has nothing to do with the Nazis, so we should never attempt to connect these dots. It is just sad that an ignorant western audience will see this and immediately think of one thing and one thing only.
Thank you for stopping by Nintendo Link and enjoying this “That Time” article. What do you think of the first Zelda game having a dungeon shaped like a swastika? Are you shocked Let us know what you think in the comments below! Happy gaming, everyone.
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My name is Jason Capp. I am a husband, father, son, and brother, and I am a gamer, a writer, and a wannabe pro wrestler. It is hard to erase the smile on this simple man.