Late last December, a thread was started on the Lost Levels forums, discussing a recently discovered prototype build of Zelda no Densetsu (The Legend of Zelda).
This beta build of the game varied in quite a few ways from the finished version. Some enemies (such as the Wizrobes) were weaker, and some rooms in dungeons either had fewer enemies to negotiate or different groupings of enemies. Sprites for some enemies were different. A more noticeable difference was the fact that the dungeons all used the Level 9 theme from the final version, as the normal dungeon music hadn’t been applied at that point in development.
The image on the left is from the prototype, and is an example of a dungeon room with an easier selection of enemies. The right, of course, is from the final release in Japan.
The Cutting Room Floor has done a great job compiling a list of all the changes from the prototype build to the released version.
Last night I finally got around to playing the prototype, as I had finally realized why I couldn’t get it to play in my emulator (it was a simple matter of using the emulator commands to simulate removing the disk, flipping to side B, and replacing the disk). I recorded my playthrough of the first quest as a new Let’s Play project.
For that first playthrough of the game, I didn’t check on any online source for changes. I wanted everything to be a new experience, so I played through on my own. I was quite surprised to find the Level 9 music playing in every dungeon, and found it, in its own way, quite unnerving. That bit of music is quite suspenseful, and made each dungeon feel a bit more daunting.
The dungeon layouts were essentially the same. I didn’t notice a difference in dungeon design until I arrived at Level 9. I was heading to the normal location for the Red Ring, but found that I couldn’t bomb the northern wall of that room.
Confused, I continued on through the dungeon, intent on finding the Silver Arrows in their usual location. What I found in that room instead was just the compass. Turns out both the Silver Arrows and Red Ring had been moved from their locations in the prototype to where they are in the finished version. To access the room with the Silver Arrows, you have to pass through the only invisible doorway in the entirety of the first quest. The Red Ring is two rooms below.
There were other differences I noticed: Pols Voice were invulnerable to arrows in the prototype. There was no hungry Goriya in Level 7, yet you could still buy the meat in one shop for 160 rupees. Speaking of rupees, due to a different calculation for enemy drops, rupees were more common to find than in the final version.
So I finally completed the first quest, and started on the second. I wandered into Level 1, but immediately noticed differences, the first being that there were no enemies anywhere in the dungeon. A second difference was that the dungeon map for Level 1 in this prototype second quest was a capital “L”, which is the map for Level 3 in the finished version. However, the accessible rooms in the dungeon extended far beyond that. Yet there were no enemies in the dungeon.
This is a compilation of all the dungeon layouts for the prototype second quest. The overworld is identical to the first quest. None of the dungeons have a Triforce chamber, meaning there is no Triforce piece to obtain. This ultimately means that the prototype build only had the bare framework for a second quest, and it was not correctly playable. Interesting to see an early build of the second quest, though, as many dungeons have extra rooms not in the final version, or the final version has rooms not in the prototype.
Either way, this prototype build is definitely worth looking into if you are a fan of the early Zelda games, and are interested in seeing how development for the first game came along.
Yet even this early build of the game lacks the cave in this famous screenshot from the instruction booklet included in the American localization of the game:
Screenshots come mostly from Lost Levels forum and The Cutting Room Floor.