|The Legend of Zelda – A Link to the Past
|Original Release Date
|US – April 13, 1992
|Super Nintendo, Virtual Console
|E for Everyone (ESRB)
The Legend of Zelda series is regarded by many as the greatest set of video games ever created. It is easily one of the most recognizable both within and outside the gaming community and has rightfully earned titles such as masterpiece, perfection, and greatest of all time. So for one of these games to be singled out as arguably the best of them all, it must surely be a true masterwork. The Legend of Zelda – A Link to the Past is absolutely worthy of such esteem.
Before I go any further, I want our readers to understand that reviewing a game of such accolade and admiration by its fans was far more difficult for me than I expected. Reviewing a game like this, that ignites an exceptional level of fondness and appreciation from gamers, puts a great deal of pressure on me to do this game the justice it so rightly deserves. I hope I don’t disappoint.
A Link to the Past is the journey of a hero through the origins of a legend. Although it’s the third game in the series, A Link to the Past serves as a proper prologue to a larger story that, at the time, had been limited to the NES. Right from the start, you know this is going to be good since we are treated to the creation myth of the world. As this story goes, three goddesses, representing power, wisdom, and courage, descend from the heavens and create the world. Through their influence they established Hyrule, where their chosen people, the Hylia, would dwell. Before departing they leave the Triforce, a relic imbued with their essence that would serve to guide the Hylia. Legend has it that this relic would bestow great power to anyone worthy of it, so naturally greed and lust for dominance ensues and things turn bad pretty quickly. Fast forward to the beginning of gameplay and we start with a scene in which something’s already very wrong. We see an older man gearing up for battle (it was a dark and stormy night…) and before heading out, tells his young nephew to stay put. This boy is our hero, Link, and, of course, as soon as his uncle leaves, we disobey and start our adventure!
Just from this introduction, you can tell A Link to the Past possesses a degree of storytelling depth that outshines most games produced at the time (and arguably since then). We soon learn that Hyrule is in peril and it’s our job to save it. We are led to believe the wizard Aghanim is behind the threat, but this is really a set up for a far deeper and fantastic story. The game itself sports ten full dungeons plus a number of shorter treks through major locales during which the story is told, not to mention a vast, beautiful overworld built for explorers. The graphics are impressive for a 16-bit game and the devs do an outstanding job of using the larger color palette to add environmental details like rolling fog in the Lost Woods or establishing the game’s light versus dark theme.
They also show their innovation with new ways to interact with the environment in order to produce more complex puzzles within dungeons. Players are now able to shoot switches from a distance, utilize magic items to clear paths, and complete puzzles that span multiple floors, requiring you to climb up or jump down from the floor above. They have definitely come a long way from the “push block to reveal a staircase” method. Music by the renowned composer Koji Kondo lends itself to setting the proper mood and tone to these environments, as well as major scenes. Audio, visual, and text all work perfectly in tandem, as players will live the tenseness of showdown battles or feel the desperation the characters are struggling with. Finally, gameplay comes in the form of hawk-eye or top-down view, introduced in the original Legend of Zelda and perfected here. All of these elements fit seamlessly to produce a gaming experience that will stick with any gamer for a lifetime.
The controls and mechanics for A Link to the Past are intuitive and easy to master, which is a good thing because you’ll have your hands full with all the content this game delivers. Link’s health is represented by hearts and his magic meter by a green bar. Replenish both by collecting hearts and magic jars dropped by enemies, using potions, or destroying environmental items like pots and grass. Move Link using the d-pad, swing his sword with the B button, pull up the map with X, and save/quit the game with the Select button. The Start button brings up your Sub Screen, in which you assign sub weapons for use with the Y button.
The sub weapons play a very critical role in gameplay, as each has a unique capability that can affect Link or the environment. Legend of Zelda veterans will be familiar with the idea of using sub weapons to interact and unlock new things and I think it’s incredible to think that this game establishes the now recognizable formula. It has become a trademark of Zelda games. You explore until you get stuck, you visit the available dungeon, get the new sub weapon and beat the dungeon boss with it, and then use it to reveal new hidden paths and mysteries. Then when you get stuck again, you repeat the process. It is vital not to hesitate from trying different sub weapons in different situations or in both new and previously accessible areas to potentially bring to light new paths or secrets. Do not be afraid to explore. You will be rewarded immensely and have fun all the while.
Perhaps the most important mechanic in A Link to the Past is combat. Link is a hero with a sword and he’s expected to use it. Simply tapping B to swing may cut it in the beginning, but players will soon realize that timing, charging the spin attack, and utilizing sub weapons will all impact combat. For example, Link’s shield is always out, ready to block incoming projectiles, however, he moves it when striking and players will need to keep that in mind. Also, sub weapons can affect your style of fighting. Keeping in mind the characteristics of sub weapons can turn the tide of a fight. I personally favor using the boomerang or hookshot to stun enemies from a distance before moving in close. Although the hookshot takes several more milliseconds to recover than most other sub weapons, I adjust by keeping a distance and positioning myself away from clusters of enemies. Other players may favor other sub weapons for faster execution and close combat. Fortunately, becoming comfortable with all of this will take very little time and players will develop their own style quickly. It is just another testament to the impressive skills of the developers.
The fun factor of this game is the last bit I want to focus on. Again, this game encourages exploration and it never feels repetitive. While the difficulty may increase as you progress, it always feels satisfying to defeat enemies and bosses, build Link up with more hearts and improved gear, and complete dungeons on your way to finishing the game. I never got the sense of repetitiveness and I never felt bored. In fact, the only time I felt frustration was during a particular boss battle (third dungeon boss: Moldorm) in which it can knock you off the platform you’re fighting on to the floor below. If you fall, you have to get back to the boss room and start the fight over again. Other than that, though, I cannot find fault with this game. And that’s out of 30+ hours of gameplay for those of us trying to collect everything.
The Legend of Zelda – A Link to the Past is a masterpiece. Plain and simple. If you never had the opportunity to play it, I recommend you do. If you have, it’s always worth a replay. This is just one of those games that will always be revisited because it does so much right and also outperforms so many modern games. Blades may bleed and shields may shatter, but this game will never, ever disappoint.