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20 Years Later, The Lost Zelda Games Still Live

The Legend of Zelda is about as ubiquitous as it gets. Whether they keep up with the series or not, 10- to 35-year olds across the continent will profess their undying love for at least one of the titles. It's no surprise then that Zelda and it's legacy are particularly well-documented. Just take a look at 2013's Hyrule Historia; a compendium of art assets, developer interviews, and in-game lore that spans the first 25 years of Zelda's lifespan. But even for a book that is touted as an exhaustive and detailed chronicle of the series' history there are bound to be pieces left behind - pieces that have been picked up by the hardest of the hardcore fans and literally put back together over the last 16 years.

While the rise of video game historians over the past few years has given plenty of obscurities and curiosities their time in the enthusiast spotlight, you would be forgiven if you're not familiar with the Satellaview's Zelda suite. There are other resources out there for more detailed information on what exactly the Satellaview was but the jist is this: In the mid-90's Nintendo partnered with satellite radio broadcast company St. GIGA and created a peripheral for the Super Famicom called the Satellaview. Games would be broadcast during certain real-world times and downloaded onto a proprietary cartridge. Players would play the games during scheduled times and be treated to something akin to a radio drama that would accompany their play session. Because this audio was broadcast via satellite instead of on the cartridge it meant that play sessions could be accompanied by CD-quality audio as well as full voice over. It was a novel idea with some obvious limitations.
Satellaview

Not unlike the issue we're facing today on a larger scale with digital-only titles disappearing from their respective marketplaces, Satellaview games ostensibly disappeared after their scheduled broadcast was up. Such is the problem when games are treated as a service instead of a product. Luckily, the technological limitations at the time meant that those proprietary cartridges, unless they were overwritten with new data, still contained whatever the last game downloaded to them was.

There are three Zelda games of particular note that came out of the Satellaview; BS The Legend of Zelda Map 1, BS The Legend of Zelda Map 2, and BS Zelda: The Ancient Stone Tablets. Maps 1 and 2 are 16-bit remakes of The Legend of Zelda while The Ancient Stone Tablets is a sequel to A Link to the Past. Like the rest of the Satellaview library (including similarly 'lost' entries in series like F-Zero and Fire Emblem) these entries into one of the most important and well-documented game franchises in history were nearly washed away by the sands of time. Enter The BS Zelda Homepage.

Ever since 1999 The BS Zelda Homepage has been meticulously rebuilding these games into a playable state using every bit of reference material available. Considering that the Satellaview was in vogue long before the idea of streaming or 'let's plays' was even a twinkle in the internet's eye, the fact that footage of these games exists at all is miraculous from a historical perspective. The dedication and the means by which they've accomplished everything they have accomplished up to this point is amazing.

The site itself is enough to warm the cuckolds of any hashtag-90s-kid's heart; the front page is straight out of an HTML class, the colour palette is the raddest neon green imaginable, and the hit counter at the bottom of the navigation bar is a gentle reminder of your favourite Ranma ┬Ż fansite from back in the day. It could not suit The BS Zelda Homepage's mission statement any better - this site is a time capsule piecing together another time capsule.

And here they are in 2015. 20 years after the launch of the Satellaview and 16 years since the site began, still assembling those pieces and in some cases creating new pieces where the old ones were lost.

Satellaview

New patches are still regularly released for Maps 1 and 2 and The Ancient Stone Tablets. Patches that: remove the time limits inherent in the original broadcast versions, make bosses stronger, tweak item attributes to make it more in line with A Link to the Past, or change the player sprite back into Link instead of the default male or female characters. The next big update is an attempt to make the experience of playing these games as close to the original presentation as possible while also preserving the translation efforts; that means a restoration of the original CD-quality music and brand new voice-over.

Because of the nature of the Satellaview's format, the original audio components are lost to time. During the broadcast a narrator and other characters like Princess Zelda would provide commentary and direction to the player as they explored. Until now patches of Maps 1 and 2 and The Ancient Stone Tablets have relied on subtitles to convey that same information. Soon though we'll see the release of patches that provide these games with newly recorded English voice acting. Yes, it might be corny as all get out but it would be dishonest to say that it wasn't a corny approach to begin with when it showed up in '95. It's really a no-lose scenario; if the voice-over is bad then it's that much closer to an authentic 90's experience, if it's good then it's good.

Whatever the outcome you can't deny the devotion that the folks over at The BS Zelda Homepage have shown towards a game that hardly anyone knows about. The people who do care though are a passionate bunch and they've ensured that even the tiniest blip in video game history gets the attention it requires for preservation.