The year must have been 1987. I would have guessed a little sooner, but the original Legend of Zelda would not have been out yet, and if it were in 1988 my younger Brother would have already been born. That would make me 3 years old at the time, and I can remember the Legend of Zelda as far back as my earliest memories go.
[17 years after I originally went as Link, I dressed up as Link for Halloween once more. I don't have any really old pictures to supplement this story, so you'll have to bear with these newer ones... or just pretend I'm stranger than you originally thought and this all happened a few years back]
Interestingly enough, I didn't even play the original Zelda title myself at the time. I was watching my mom and dad play it. They were big into games at the time and had an NES with plenty of their favorite arcade games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. They even bought that big NES Joy-pad to recreate the arcade experience at home. My dad tells me stories of how they used to go to this one diner because it had a DK machine with a fourth level. Zelda was unlike any arcade game though, this game was an epic quest filled with mysteries to unravel for hours on end.
[I really hope this image doesn't need a spoiler warning at this point... I can rip through Zelda pretty quickly these days when I sit down to play it on a random whim. I had no memory of the red ring until I played in when I was older... I wonder if my parents found it? If you ever play Zelda around my dad, he'll insist that you bomb every single wall. There were no little cracks and pings to guide you the first time around!]
My parents spent many an evening traveling through the land of Hyrule. I would watch as if it were the greatest thing ever. I suppose my parents' adventures - transferred into a sword-swinging quest on the television - was more than any little kid could hope for. I paid close attention to it too. When I was older, I remembered the riddles to all of the puzzles from watching them play, although I do have trouble remembering what's in the first quest and what's in the second quest. They were extremely happy when they found out there was a second quest, and they felt as if they were getting two games in one.
My obsession with Zelda at this young age went well past just watching the game. Every stick I found became a sword. Every plastic sword I had could shoot beam-swords... and before long became bent or broken. I was constantly disappointed that the plastic boomerang didn't return to me, I wasn't too happy that my dad snapped the bow from the Cowboys and Indians set pulling back a dart-arrow, and while the gray plastic shield from the Knight set was cool, the cardboard one that my mom cut out and painted yellow with a big cross on it was much preferred. I'm sure everyone around me got sick of my incessent humming of the songs from Zelda.
[For my cousin's costume wedding on October 28th, 2006, my parents and I went with Nintendo themed outfits]
For Halloween I had to go as Link. I think there may have been two separate Halloweens of this... or maybe I'm combining one mixture into two memories. In any case, I know my mom was trying to find me a Robin Hood costume that she could alter into a Link costume. There was also a cheap official Link costume from Toys 'R' Us with a plastic half-hat/face and a vinyl-ish tunic-ish thing that had a picture of Link fighting a monster on it. I remember that thing ripping and the mask breaking.... I know my mom made me a belt out of felt which was black and had little cut-out shapes of all Link's items, which I thought was super-awesome! Then some punk kid in my pre-school class with a faux-fencing sword ripped off the little bow and started swinging it around on his blade. He wouldn't give it back to me, so we started fighting and the teacher had to break us up.
[Did I spill some Lon Lon Milk on my shirt?]
I think it goes without saying that I was a huge fan of the Zelda cartoon on Fox when that came out. I look back on it now with a smile of nostalgia and a cringe with the unavoidable question, "How could they not come up with something better than this!?"
I have similar memories of watching my parents play through Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and how when they made it to the final temple they left the NES on all night. If you turned it off you started back at the beginning, but while it was on it put you right back at the start of the temple (and it was a hassle to fight your way in there). I found the flying eyeballs really creepy and every time I saw those "Neighborhood Watch" signs I imagined it was one of those and it freaked me out.
There was one time when we went on vacation to Lake George, New York and they had a big haunted castle attraction. I really wanted to go in it because I thought it would be like going through one of the Zelda II temples and it would have those little guys with the daggers running by that I could slash through easily and all that. My parents couldn't talk me out of wanting to do it, so my dad took me in and I was really scared and wouldn't open my eyes the whole time... which I find pretty funny to think about now.
[Have I really changed much at all since back then?]
I could keep going on with Zelda memories all night; going up through the amazing Link to the Past days to when I got my first (now GIANT) Game Boy packaged with Link's Awakening and onwards, but I think here is a good place to start wrapping it up. Zelda is something that not only greatly affected my game-playing, but my entire life. There's little that I find better than a story featuring a sword-wielding protagonist and even though I have awesome memories of watching my dad play through Final Fantasy II (now called IV!), nothing can replace the spot in my heart for Zelda.