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Additional reporting by Andy Robinson. This article was updated on 20/01 at 11:25 GMT.
The Forest of Illusion Twitter account said it discovered the beta ROM left over on an old development cartridge it had acquired.
According to the group, the dev cart primarily contained Nintendo racer F-Zero X, but it was discovered that it had been reflashed and originally housed an early demo for the N64 Zelda.
About half of the original Ocarina of Time ROM – said to have been intended for Nintendo’s 1997 Spaceworld show – is claimed to have been found on the cart.
Forest of Illusion shared the contents online on Tuesday and fans have already been able to recover a significant amount of new information about the pre-release version including new areas, redesigned items and other elements that never made it into the final build.
The beta and unused items include early versions of the Lens of Truth and Spiritual Stones, and a landmine that’s reminiscent of Mario Kart’s blue shell or Bowser’s shell.
Also shown off are all the powers for the bow, some of which didn’t make the final cut, the grass that Link would use to summon Epona instead of utilising the Ocarina as you did in the retail version of the game, plus several music note items.
Originally Link would hold one of these notes above his head each time he used a song to correspond to that piece of music.
Fans also discovered text for the many cut equippable medallions originally intended for the game.
The Soul Medallion would allow players to transform into the fairy Navi and fly around the environment. The Light medallion allowed players to use an attack similar to Light Arrows in the final game. Finally, the Dark medallion allowed Link to stop enemies from seeing him.
In addition, the beta files reveal significant differences to the structure of the game’s story. One section of translated text suggests that originally, Princess Zelda would have had Link gather the Spiritual Stones while she researched how to enter the Temple of Time in the Royal Library.
Initially, the opening of the game would have seen Link freeing fairies (including Navi) from inside the Great Deku Tree, which had been trapped as part of Ganondorf’s curse.
The text also suggests that originally Nintendo intended to include inn areas at Zora’s Domain and Lon Lon Ranch, while Gerudo bandits – and not monsters – roamed Hyrule field at night.
Dialogue also suggests that at one point, players were able to tackle the first dungeons in the game (at Death Mountain and Zora’s Domain) in any order – a concept that was later adopted for modern instalments Breath of the Wild and A Link Between Worlds.
Much of the text is labelled ‘Spaceworld 1997’, suggesting the build was intended to be showcased at the old Nintendo Japan expo.
More videos looking at the new areas and other discoveries are currently being worked on, including one video summary by Hard4Games and a detailed Twitter thread by user Mr Cheeze exploring the text included in the ROM.
It should be noted that Tuesday’s Zelda revelations are unrelated to the significant amount of classic Nintendo data leaked onto the internet in 2020.
The so-called Nintendo ‘Gigaleak’ saw early prototypes for games such as Yoshi’s Island, Star Fox, Super Mario 64 and Zelda: Ocarina of Time shared online.
The data included another pre-release Ocarina of Time version which was much closer to the final game, but which did contain references to the 64DD. An Ocarina expansion was originally planned to release on the failed add-on.
The full N64 leak was said to include some source data for the final versions of games including Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, Star Fox 64, Wave Race 64, Yoshi’s Story, Legend of Zelda games Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, plus Dr. Mario 64 and Animal Crossing.
Nintendo has been subject to a significant number of data leaks over the past two years, including debug ROMS for various SNES and N64 games, alongside source code, internal console emulators and more.
The leaks also reportedly contained internal documentation related to GameCube, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 64 (and its 64DD add-on), Wii and the China-only iQue, showing how the systems work and the development processes behind them.
The data was said to originate from a server hack related to BroadOn, a company Nintendo had contracted to develop Wii hardware and software.