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While modern games quickly sell millions of copies, older games accomplished the feat as well – and sometimes quicker. According to a gaming magazine, when The Legend of Zelda first released on the NES in 1986, former Nintendo UK agent Mike Wensman claimed to have sold 1 million copies in Japan on the first day alone. For reference, it took The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild nearly a month to reach 1.3 million copies on the Nintendo Switch and Wii U.

Link fighting Octoroks in 'The Legend of Zelda,' first released in1986, in 'NES Remix Pack'
Link fighting Octoroks in ‘The Legend of Zelda’ (1986) in ‘NES Remix Pack’ | Nintendo

When did the first ‘Legend of Zelda’ release on NES?

While the video game crash of 1983 stalled the game industry, Nintendo had no plans to give up. NES games like Super Mario Bros., first released in 1985, and The Legend of Zelda, first released in 1986, helped bring video games back.

The Legend of Zelda released on February 21, 1986, on the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES. The game followed the adventure of Link as he tried to save Princess Zelda from the evil Ganon. It sold over 6.5 million copies in total.

However, according to The Games Machine magazine #14, 1 million of those sales came from the first day The Legend of Zelda became available in Japan.

While The Games Machine magazine stopped printing new issues back in 1990, the Internet Archive looks back at remarks from Nintendo’s UK agent at the time, Mike Wensman.

Former Nintendo UK agent Mike Wensman claimed the first ‘Legend of Zelda’ sold 1 million copies in its day 1 release

The quote comes in an article examining the obstacles developers faced with new video game consoles. The author noted that the “Nintendo II,” officially released as the SNES, still had years of development.

And with more hardware came more complex, 16-bit games, like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Wensman said that Nintendo spent over a year developing the 8-bit game Legend of Zelda to release on NES in 1986.

However, spending more time on quality pays off, Wensman said.

“According to Wensman … in Japan, he claims, Legend of Zelda sold a mind-boggling million copies on its first day of release,” The Games Machine magazine reported (via Internet Archive).

How many copies did the NES game really sell in total?

While the first Legend of Zelda released to a great start, fans might wonder about the total sold and how it stacks up against other heavy hitters in the series like Twilight Princess and Breath of the Wild.

One of the most widely praised games of the series, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, sold around 6.22 million, according to NeverEndingRealm. The first Legend of Zelda on NES outsold it, though, at about 6.5 million.


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However, Twilight Princess and the original release of Ocarina of Time beat it with 7.26 million and 7.6 million, respectively.

Then The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild destroyed all previous sales, with 24.8 million sales so far.