Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Legend of Zelda (NES, Wii U VC, 3DS VC) Retro Review

SuperPhillip Central awarded our Game of the Year award to The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds last year. One thing that a certain member of our staff hadn't done was completed the original Legend of Zelda game. We taunted and teased, but he finally completed it after 28 years on this earth of ours! What better way to celebrate his accomplishment than with a review?

The Birth of a Legend

A game routinely near the top of most greatest games ever or most influential games ever lists, The Legend of Zelda laid the groundwork that many developers would build up from and be inspired by. There's no doubt in many game enthusiasts' and historians' minds that The Legend of Zelda was a game that was clearly way ahead of its time. While that's without question true, how does Link's first ever quest fare today?

The evil Ganon has used his powers to lay siege to the once peaceful kingdom of Hyrule. In the process, he's captured Princess Zelda and locked her away in his Death Mountain dungeon. Players assume the role of the heroic green-clad Link, who must venture into eight dangerous dungeons in order to collect the shattered remnants of the Triforce of Wisdom. It is only then that he will be allowed passage into Ganon's lair, where hopefully he will save the Princess and Hyrule all in one fell swoop. Obviously such a tale is a touch simplistic for today's standards, but the premise was strong back then. Heck, it's still strong for many such as myself today.

The Legend of Zelda totally thrusts the player into an open world made up of individual screens. No direction is given to the player; no tutorials are to be found. There is but a cave on the screen where the player starts that practically just begs the player to enter it by just being there. Inside is a sword, and an old man stating one of the most referenced game quotes of all time, "It's dangerous to go alone. Take this." Even before entering the cave, the world of Hyrule has no gates or fences that block the player into freely exploring. Of course one probably wouldn't get very far with no sword, but it is possible to journey through Hyrule with nothing in Link's sheath.

To this day The Legend of Zelda series
has yet to see as much freedom
given to the player as the original.
This unprecedented amount of freedom has its good and bad qualities to it. For someone who loves to explore every crevice and cavern they come across, getting lost in a new world, and uncovering secrets on their own, The Legend of Zelda's classic Hyrule is a dream come true. However, nowadays its the type of world that will most likely frustrate players, especially those who didn't grow up on "Nintendo hard" games. Instead, they are more familiar with tutorial-filled, hand-holding, hit-one-button-to-win-games that are popular now with consumers.

A lot of The Legend of Zelda's secrets are rather hard to find, and it doesn't help that clues given by the rare denizen of Hyrule (why they all live in caves is anyone's guess) are obtuse at best and mistranslated at worst. Seriously, how would one know to burn a specific bush to find a secret grotto, much more a dungeon that is required to make progress?  Things like bombing a specific rock face on the world map, or burning a seemingly random bush for something now seems amazingly counter-intuitive. Regardless, if one has a serious sense of adventure, they will find it tough to come across many better games that puts that sense to good use than The Legend of Zelda.

Okay, well maybe a lone bush in
the middle of a path is obvious...
As stated, Link's goal is to acquire the eight shattered pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom, and all of these can be found in the game's eight dungeons. Most of The Legend of Zelda's dungeons can be come across right from the game's get-go. In fact, some of the best equipment in the game can be found before even stepping foot in a dungeon. That's great, too, as The Legend of Zelda is an incredibly unforgiving game. Not as bad as its side-scrolling sequel, but prepare to see the Game Over screen a lot. Even with the best armor and the maximum amount of health you can acquire (all done through coming across heart containers), the average player will still discover that the land of Hyrule and its depths are far from a breeze to survive. Monsters can take off three hearts in one shot, and since Link doesn't have too long of an invincibility period after taking damage, the hurt can add up quickly.

"Why did it have to be snakes?"
What further makes the game difficult is how often it throws rooms full of enemies at the player, many of which have foes that can withstand multiple hits of Link's most powerful sword. Then there's how some enemies are able to move diagonally while Link can only swing his sword left, right, up, or down. All of this added to the incredibly finite amount of direction given to the player can make for an exhausting game to play through. Thankfully, the NES original was the first game to incorporate a save battery, allowing players to save their progress, quit the game, and return to it later. This is in contrast to leaving the NES on all night, hoping one of your family members doesn't turn it off, erasing all of your progress. The Virtual Console versions come with restore point functionality (save states), so that is an option for less skillful players (see: me).

These must be the ghosts of players
who never beat The Legend of Zelda.
As for the dungeons, the order of which they can be completed is almost totally up to the player. I say almost because some dungeons can only be accessed with the use of a specific item. These items are generally in other dungeons, and even then, the higher dungeon number Link enters, the more difficult it is.

Dungeons are the most dangerous locations in the game, each made up a labyrinth of rooms that are full of enemies. While foes like Ropes (snakes) and Keese (bats) aren't too problematic, things gets challenging when one has to take on a room packed with Darknuts, knights who can only be damaged from behind, and walk around totally at random. Each dungeon has locked doors that need keys to open them; hidden staircases uncovered by pushing a certain block in the room; special items like the Boomerang, the Raft, the Ladder, the Bow, etc. that assist Link on his journey; and a boss guarding a piece of the Triforce of Wisdom for Link to overcome.

A relatively harmless enemy in Zelda
can still be a bit of a nuisance!
The Legend of Zelda was a technical marvel when it debuted way back in 1987. It featured varied environments, lively character and monster animations, and had over 100 different screens for Hyrule alone. The ability to save one's progress made this lengthy adventure manageable. Top all of that with an iconic soundtrack, and you have the pieces to a great game. While all of this is still true, for a more discerning eye, there is noticeable slowdown as well as a lot of sprite flickering going on.

A game terrific for those who want some difficulty in their action-adventure games, The Legend of Zelda still rises to the task to this day. However, many players today will find the original NES classic The Legend of Zelda too unrelenting in its challenge, not just against enemies but in order to make any kind of significant progress because of its lack of direction and sometimes obtuse design. This lack of any hand-holding certainly is a different feeling than present Zelda games and most other titles released in this day and age. Still, one cannot argue how influential the debut of Link really is to the industry, and how despite all of the issues with the game looking at it with a present-day lens, The Legend of Zelda still presents itself as a truly compelling and enjoyable game.

[SPC Says: 7.0/10]

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