REVIEW: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

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I realize I’m reviewing a new game from a franchise that has a 25+ year history, so before reading my thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, it may be helpful to refer here, here and here for my comprehensive Zelda background.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds | Box Art Title The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Developer Nintendo EAD Group No. 3, Monolith Soft
Publisher Nintendo
Genre Action-Adventure
Platforms Nintendo 3DS, 2DS
Release Dates EU: November 22nd, 2013
JP: December 26th, 2013
NA: November 22nd, 2013
Age Ratings ESRB: E
Official Website Nintendo, The Legend of Zelda

I remember reporting on the Nintendo Direct where Reggie announced that a sequel to A Link to the Past was in development, and I remember everyone’s reaction to the game’s debut trailer. Some were elated and bounced around the room like small children, regardless of their age. And some were extremely apprehensive, thinking there’s no way Nintendo could ever capture that lightning twice. These are the same people who wrote detailed blog posts or Facebook statuses that talked about various trailer analysis videos. The worlds are too similar. There aren’t enough differences in the dungeons, either! The paper mechanic is a gimmick at best!

I realize that anyone who reacted positively probably already has the game, or they really want it and won’t be swayed by anything I say. My words are attempting to reach those who are either on the fence in general, or those who are skeptics and see the handful of poor reviews that stick out like a sore thumb among the game’s positive fanfare. Is A Link Between Worlds overhyped?

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - Princess Zelda | oprainfall The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - It Sucks You In | oprainfall

It may not be practical to begin my review by discussing some of the game’s weak points, but stay with me: Those of you looking for a truly immersive story along the same lines of Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, Majora’s Mask or other argued favorites in the franchise may be disappointed by what A Link Between Worlds presents you with by the end. This isn’t to say that the story is bad or flawed in any way–this is just to say that the Link to the Past sequel handles itself exactly like its predecessor did. It focuses heavily upon world-building over plot. Link’s journey is not a struggle filled with philosophy, inner-conflict, and emotion–it’s a journey filled with friends to get to know (and to save) in ways that follow A Link to the Past almost to the letter sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with that; story is just not the game’s strongest attribute.

Other small, rather nit-picky negatives I feel the need to express: saving  is done by talking to Bird Statues (a lot like Skyward Sword), which is…not really best-suited for hand-held games or quick-play bursts. While other first-party Nintendo games handle saving particularly well, this one may frustrate you from time to time. Also: the item upgrading that can happen in the game doesn’t seem to serve a higher purpose (e.g. enhancing exploration…all it seems to do is make various items a little more handy; it’s not necessary or rewarding in any way, really), which makes one of the many premises touting replay value fall just a smidge short of its mark.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - A Look at Hyrule | oprainfall

Assuming you look past its (arguably minor) flaws, though… A Link Between Worlds is so amazing, I want to scream. Anyone who insists Nintendo couldn’t capture the same essence as A Link to the Past, in my opinion, couldn’t be more wrong. Heck, anyone who’s never played the Super Nintendo classic will still feel very welcome in this game’s world. The game’s soundtrack borrows heavily from its predecessor (as it should, in my opinion), but improves it so drastically that it pushes the 3DS to its limits, sometimes even surpassing the lofty orchestrations present in other strong system-selling soundtracks like Kid Icarus: Uprising or Fire Emblem: Awakening. When you hear this music, it won’t just bring about nostalgia (assuming you’re a fan of A Link to the Past); it’ll make you respect the 3DS as a system just a little more than you did before.

A lot of people could take or leave the game’s graphics, but I consider them to the game’s credit. They’re a natural evolution of A Link to the Past, they breathe new life into spaces both familiar and brand new. I would even go so far to say that I want to see this kind of artistic style in the Zelda on Wii U (assuming they decide to go against the tech demo shown at E3 in favor of a more cartoon/colorful style like The Wind Waker or Skyward Sword). Even if you’re adverse to them at first, I think these are the kinds of graphics that’ll grow on you as you become more familiar with the game.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - Bridging the Gap  | oprainfall The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - Tower of Hera's Menace | oprainfall

A lot of you who’ve stuck with me this long want to hear more about gameplay. There’s a reason I saved it for last. It’s because A Link Between Worlds does something Zelda hasn’t managed to do since the very beginning of the franchise. Nintendo wasn’t joking or putting on money hats when they insisted exploration is up to you–it really, really is. The ability to have Link merge with the walls of the world comes to you just after the game’s first dungeon, and as soon as that happens–the world is your oyster. After sufficiently exploring every nook and cranny of the world with my newfound paper-abilities, I had enough rupees to rent every item in the game. And before I even did that, I grabbed a power glove and some flippers from some of the people I met while exploring. You can obtain almost every item in the entire game before even beating a second dungeon.

You’re tasked with conquering three dungeons before something happens, then seven more. What order you complete these dungeons in is entirely up to you. Most of the time, how you choose to complete the dungeons is up to you, too. The game has some degree of sign-posting insofar as if certain weapons are required to advance, you’ll know to pick them up from Ravio. Two of the seven dungeons in Lorule reward you with items necessary to enter other dungeons there, but very rarely does the game restrict you in any way.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - Ravio's Shop | oprainfall The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - Paper Thin | oprainfall

Ravio’s prices aren’t unreasonable, nor are his rental conditions. You have items until you die. Fantastic–I never died, because fairies and smart use of potions. By the way–monsters drop various items in addition to hearts. Horns, claws, tails… I thought they would all be used to upgrade items like in Skyward Sword, but instead they’re used to brew potions. Kind of disappointing, but at least drops are plentiful enough that you’ll always have the potions you need whenever you want them. That isn’t to say combat wasn’t challenging. A lot of these enemies were genuinely fun to fight, and bosses posed a decent challenge. Sometimes I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and thanked the goddesses for fairies–other times, I was praying to beat a boss within two minutes before I had to stop playing and I did so. There’s a good mix of bosses that make you say, “Holy crap!” to bosses that make you amend that explanation with “…what a pushover!”  Also: the battles done via StreetPass are no joke, and I absolutely got “pwned” by a few Shadow Links I faced while ill-prepared.

This is, perhaps, the most non-linear Zelda to ever exist since the very first Legend of Zelda. I hope my preceding words have proven I’m not hyperbolic or exaggerating in any way. When it comes to A Link Between Worlds being praised for its sense of exploration, believe the hype. Solving puzzles comes fairly natural, too. Since very few of them offer items necessary to advance (Ravio takes care of most of that), dungeon exploration and level design rely heavily upon player intuition and use of items you already have. Finding some of the materials necessary to enhance your sword (this is an upgrade system entirely separate from regular item enhancing, which I mentioned earlier) may require some extra brain-power, but…these level designs were very intuitive. Everything about the game (from pieces of heart to the hundred creatures scattered around the world to collect in order to enhance items) came quite naturally to me. I’m not bragging when I say this, but A Link Between Worlds is the first Zelda I’ve ever been able to 100% without some sort of strategy guide. I’m not sure if I would consider the ease of finding things and solving puzzles a credit or a detriment, but I think that mostly depends on your play style, not mine.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - Exploring Lorule | oprainfall LBW 011LBW 011LBW 011The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - Persistent Wall Master | oprainfall

But this game has a lot of things. Replay value is absolutely assured. Will completing dungeons in certain orders truly affect the game’s plot? What if someone wanted to complete the game using only one item at a time? Could it be done? These are questions devoted Zelda fans will seek to answer, questions that will turn A Link Between Worlds from a good Zelda game to a timeless classic.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - My Favorite Artwork | oprainfall

Hopefully I’ve managed to dispel concepts that have many people waving on A Link Between Worlds. This game doesn’t accomplish anything revolutionary in terms of its presentation, but it does offer an extremely refreshing take on Zelda gameplay. If Iwata’s notion of A Link Between Worlds being used as a testing ground for concepts that will only continue to evolve in Zelda on Wii U is true, I couldn’t possibly be more hyped. Whether or not you consider this game to be the best the franchise has produced in decades is determined by how you play Zelda and why. Assuming you’re willing to look past its story in favor of non-linearity, I can promise two things: this game is a worthy follow-up to one of the most celebrated games in the entire franchise, and you will find something new to love about Zelda as a whole throughout your journey.

If the journey is a Zelda game’s biggest reward, the freedom granted to the player in A Link Between Worlds makes this experience truly worth celebrating.

Review Score

Review copy purchased by author.

  • SteveThompson1

    Great game, only problem I have is that the puzzles were too easy. Games need to start including master quests.

    • The puzzles are easy if you have every item in your inventory.

      There are more interesting and engaging solutions to the puzzles if you carry only one necessary item.

      The games pretty interesting that way.

      Master Quests aren’t all that challenging though (mind you only tow games have had Master Quests… OoT and original LoZ’s second quest)…. I found OoT Master Quest to be easier in some respects, and more or less what bothered me was that the flow of a dungeon is completely ruined when you are going through it in a different direction.

      For dungeons and puzzles to be memorable and challenging, they require being built from the ground up together. Something a remixed dungeon doesn’t do properly.

    • Youth

      Can we also say Hero Mode in Skyward Sword and Wind Waker HD count as
      well? They didn’t change the dungeons but they added difficulty to the
      monsters and if you play with the Default Heart run… it will certainly add challenge to minor monsters and bosses.

    • SteveThompson1

      I don’t really count them. Sure the monsters do more damage but you’ll probably really only feel it during boss’s.

    • Generally the most challenging way to play Hero Mode is with 3 hearts. Doing ALBW in Hero Mode right now with just 3 hearts, no shield either.

      One hit and you are done for the count.

    • MusubiKazesaru

      I wouldn’t say they were either easy or hard, but they’re some of the best in the series, the Palace of Darkness sticks out for me in particular.

  • multibottler0cket

    So good! Probably my third favourite after Link’s Awakening and A Link to the Past! I wasn’t a fan of the item renting in that there weren’t cool items in the dungeons (except for the blue/red mails and stuff), but I liked that the renting/buying system added real value to money and a real consequence to death.

    Very satisfied, working on Hero Mode now.

  • bliip

    Sounds like it is catered towards the young-ins in terms of difficulty. If that is so, does it necessarily deserve a perfect score? I’d hate to be the only one who feels this way.

    • I don’t think “intuitive puzzles” means “easy puzzles”. I never found them too difficult, but I spent several hours wandering around in dungeons from time to time attempting to figure out what made certain levels tick. Turtle Rock and the Palace of Darkness had me stumped for a long while before I figured things out.

      It’s like I said: whether or not you consider this game worthy of a 4/5 or a 5/5+++ is largely dependent upon how/why YOU play Zelda. But, in my opinion, the sense of freedom and exploration (among many other positives, which outlined) makes this game stand out among its contemporaries, and makes it worthy of the score I gave.

    • Thanatos2k

      Every game has flaws, but that should not prevent them from getting perfect scores.

  • James Best

    Yeah, I don’t really think too highly of this game. The visuals rely too much on its 16-bit heritage and I felt it was way too easy. I still liked it though, so it certainly wasn’t all bad. But I’d never lump it with the best of the Zelda series.

  • Thanatos2k

    I’m actually just going to say it now – This IS the best Zelda game of all time.

    took Link to the Past and improved it. 2 item slots instead of one.
    Items have no ammunition – everything works off the magic meter which
    auto fills over time (genius). No rupee wallets limiting your bank
    size. Returning to non-linear exploration, and most tools available
    near the beginning with the rental system. Map on the bottom screen at
    all times, and they let you put markers on the map to indicate secrets
    you can’t get yet so you don’t forget. Fast travel unlocked from very
    early on, and waypoints all over the map to find. Faster and more
    convenient spots to access the dark world. A story that knows it’s
    unimportant and stays out of your way. Minigames that don’t overstay
    their welcome. The new 2D wallwalking ability is used very well
    throughout the whole game and really changes what they can do with level
    design from the 3/4 perspective.

    The best part is that the game
    is clearly designed for people who have played Link to the Past. Not
    only is the world the same as it used to be but they’ve reused concepts
    and enemies and stuff to give you a warm feeling of familiarity while
    simultaneously betraying your expectations whenever they can. Some
    enemies are pretty much the same as they used to be, but some have
    changed in ways only someone who’s played Link to the Past will notice.
    For example, the little enemies with the masks are back. In LttP you
    beat them by cracking the mask off with the hammer then killing them.
    But in this game the hammer doesn’t work, and you have to either hit
    them from behind or use the hook shot to pull the mask off. Little
    things like this where they know what you are going to do before you try
    it and they get in front of you. You get that same feeling with some
    of the puzzles and dungeon designs and secrets locations. And the
    soundtrack is all the wonderful LttP music returned. They have like 3
    remixes of the dark world music, and the first time I heard it start
    playing I felt a deeply satisfied feeling in my heart.

    This game
    is near perfect. Only problem is it’s definitely easier than LttP was.
    Even discounting that I’m far better at games in general than when I
    was 10, some of the returning bosses (or half-clones of something) are
    objectively easier than they used to be. I only died once the entire

    • I only died once, too! I want to say it was the Dark or Desert Palace that did me in. Something about not reaching the sub-boss in time but running out of potions/fairies 🙁

    • Thanatos2k

      It was the first time I encountered 2 of those flame throwing liontaur
      enemies on the same screen. They do far more damage than anything you’d seen up to that point.

    • Thom

      While I feel like I have in no way gotten better at games (by my Gradius V scale of ‘how long does it take me to die’), I agree. I didn’t have to spend time learning the particulars of how Link controlled and – dare I say – the control felt even more natural than in LttP. The reprises of some of the bosses like at the Thieves temple were really well implemented. Definitely my new favorite Zelda game.

  • Jack Banks

    I absolutely love the music on this game. It brings back a lot of memories from the original.