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Classic Game Review: ‘The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past’

“A Link to the Past” was released by nintendo in 1991 (Photo courtesy of Nintendo)
Shane Foley 
Connector Editor

Celebrating its 25th anniversary last year, “The Legend of Zelda” now enjoys the status of being one of Nintendo’s longest surviving franchise. Due to their large history, they now have a large fan-base that spans younger newcomers to older gamers who were first introduced with classic titles like “Ocarina of Time” and “Majora’s Mask.”

These games are so embedded in the annals of gaming history that newer additions like “Skywards Sword” and “Triforce Heroes” are forced to borrow elements from their classic predecessors. These classic titles were, however, in turn heavily influenced by an even older game that retro gamers hail as also being amongst the all-time greats. “A Link to the Past,” which was released in 1991, introduced many “Zelda” elements that were perfected in “Ocarina of Time” and “Majora’s Mask.”

In chronological order, “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” was the third “Zelda” title released (do not ask when it takes place in the canon; it is a very, very long story). The game came out on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System along with Nintendo heavyweights “Super Mario World” and “Super Metroid.” It is a two-dimensional game where the player must make use of a wide array of items to defeat enemies and traverse some of the most daunting dungeons ever.

One characteristic of this game retro fans will recall was that it was the first “Zelda” game with a plot. The previous two titles, “The Legend of Zelda” and “The Adventure of Link,” were heavily focused on gameplay, and never made note of the story that was unfolding save a large explanation at the beginning of each game and each game’s resolution. These older titles only had really one objective that the player had to achieve. “A Link to the Past” featured an intricate plot though, especially in comparison to games of its era. The game is supposed to take place after the events of “Ocarina of Time,” where the evil king Ganon is sealed away. At the beginning of the game you meet the wizard Aghanim, the main antagonist of the game. His mission is to capture all of the seven maidens (knows as the seven sages in “Ocarina of Time”) to break the seal on Ganon. The final maiden that he must find is Princess Zelda.

Fans may also under estimate how many classic moments or items come from this game. This was the first game to feature items like the hookshot, the Pegasus boots and the iconic Master Sword. One of the major events in the game is the transformation from normal Hyrule to the Dark World, an element we also see in “Ocarina of Time,” “Twilight Princess” and “Skyward Sword” to a small extent. There are even major areas that we see here for the first time, like Hyrule Castle, Kakariko Village and Zora River.

Another savory quality this game has is a well-placed degree of difficulty. Playing this game without a guide or walkthrough to reference will result in many hours of gameplay. The dungeon count in this game is ridiculous, and the player must eventually walk across every tile of the map to complete the game. There are no other aids in this game either. There is no Navi to tell you where to go next or Midna to tell you how to defeat the boss (there is no Fi to tell you your batteries are running out, either). You are for the most part on your own. The dungeons in this game also have many floors with large obstacles that make it very difficult to select a path to take.

“A Link to the Past” also has a large emphasis on puzzle solving, even more so than combat. Please do not misinterpret; there are hordes of various monsters that are very good at draining your heart meter. This game never puts you in a room and says “defeat these enemies and you advance,” though. The game prompts you to look for different entries, exits, multiple rooms in one area and completing objectives that let you move on…and then you have to defeat all of the enemies. This game gives no free passes.

To throw on top of all the other amazing elements of this game, it also features a great soundtrack. The game sounds like a “Zelda” game should, with heroic anthems for the triumphs of the game, sorrowful ballads for the sad parts and eerie sonatas for the dungeons. This game introduced many themes that are recycled in subsequent games as well. “Zelda’s Lullaby,” the Kakariko Village and Dark World theme can all be heard in other “Zelda” titles.

As there are many appraisals of this game, there are some complications with its gameplay. The high difficulty is not a real area of concern, but the progression is. There are times in this game where you have to meet incredible odds just to get to the next dungeon. There is also a large emphasis on side quests. People now play “Zelda” games differently. Some try to get the whole experience at once, while some play the main story line and go back for the side quests. In this game though, you have to do the side quests, but they do not tell you this is a thing. You can play most of the game without exploring every little thing, but I can tell you there is no way you are getting to the sixth dungeon in the Dark World without paying close attention.

Complications aside, these are not enough to detract completely from this wonderful gaming experience. Fans who have played “A Link Between Worlds” may notice that it is set in the same setting as “A Link to the Past.” This was also the first game with an Ocarina, introduced the idea of seven sages/maidens/whatever there is seven of in other games. The bottle system was also introduced here. While it may not be as well remembered as “Ocarina of Time” or “The Wind Waker,” “A Link to the Past” has certainly left its mark.

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