#128 The Legend of Zelda

Posted: 27th October 2014 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

374th played so far

Legend_of_zelda_cover_(with_cartridge)_goldGenre: Action/Adventure
Platform: NES
Year of Release: 1986
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

Wow, it’s been a while since we last played a Legend of Zelda game – nearly 300 games ago, in The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords of Adventure. This is some combination of wanting to keep the number okay and spreading them out further in the future, and us having played plenty of games on these consoles already. It’s still so long until we get to playing Twilight Princess, I’ll probably be haggered and toothless by the time we get to this point.

It was about time to come back to the series now, and where better to start than at the original? We played the 3DS version, which we got for free as Nintendo 3DS ambassadors (yay for early adopting for once… shut up I’m still sore about the Red Ring of Death debacle of 2011) so can’t claim that we had the gold cartridge that’s one of this game’s claims of fame. Instead, it’s just the gameplay we have to go for today.

Our Thoughts

As it should be for any game here, surely?

This is a game where, for me at least, memories and prior experience colour the gme, memories of speed runs once seen and hunting the world with friends for a long time looking for a dungeon being as much a part of the experience as actual gameplay. And then there are the many sequels we played – even just taking 2D, Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening (awww my first Zelda game) and the Oracle subseries have had my attention for some time.

And yet actually playing the original doesn’t overshadow any of these. Sure, it’s clearly Nintendo hard – difficult to an extent you don’t see in current games that often. The game is merciless in the number of enemies that spawn and, seemingly as often, respawn. Damage quickly becomes high, opportunities to recover from them infrequent – less than previous games, as less of the environment can be destroyed for rupees and bonuses. Still, it feels like it all plays fair. Any losses are down to lack of preparation or inattentiveness, there’s no sudden rushes you’re not prepared for. It feels finely balanced.

The dungeons themselves are similar, filled with hidden passages, puzzles, challenges to open doors and different strategies for loot to collect. Although there’s a lot less exposition surrounding it, they still follow the pattern of later games of going in, getting a new tool or weapon that helps you defeat the dungeon and is needed later on, then on to find the boss to defeat the dungeon and collect a part of the triforce.

While you could already spend a long time wandering around these, finding passages and exploring, the real getting stuck is more likely to come in when finding the dungeons in the first place. The first dungeons are plainly visible in the world, as long as you find the path to them, but to get access to later ones you need to solve puzzles in the overworld, with the help of (at most) some badly translated hints. These can be a combination of finding the right part of the overworld (with some infinitely repeating screens that require you to take the right combination), defeating the right enemies and finding out which tree to torch or block to push. While inside the dungeons, you can often get some clue you need to do something in a certain room, due to the level layouts, in the overworld there aren’t as many clues and you can spend hours trying to work out where to go and what to do. In a pre-internet world, that would get frustrated, but also has the rush of accomplishment to go with it.

As alluded to earlier, the story as explained in the game is, as with many of these games, fairly thin. The elderly helpers you meet in caves and dungeons have fairly badly translated dialogue that used to cause more confusion than it clarified. Even as explained, it’s simple, laying the foundation for pretty much all future Legend of Zelda plots – Zelda is captured by the evil Ganon and has to be rescued by Link, by reuniting the Triforce that has been broken up and scattered through the world. By doing this he saves the world. Later games expand on this – the Legend of Zelda canon is convoluted – but on the whole the blueprint appears here.

When we look at games like Super Mario Bros, it’s difficult to argue the first is truly superior, as later instalments improve on all other aspects. For the first Legend of Zelda, however, the game design feels so tight and everything works so well on its own level that even know it feels like it fits in with any of the others – at least when it comes to the 2D series. And even then, you could argue whether 2D or 3D Zelda games are better, if they’re even comparable. Peter, what do you think?

I think asking whether 2D or 3D Zelda games are better is just asking for trouble to be honest since it is such a personal thing. I think I am going to have to go for the cop out answer here and play a bit to both sides. I personally have had more fun playing the two dimensional games. Link’s Awakening was such a big game for me as a child since it was one of the first games that I completed where I felt the most immense sense of satisfaction and so I am looking forward to playing that again soon as well as picking up Oracle of Ages and giving that a go since I used to play on Oracle of Seasons. I do have to say, however, that in terms of beauty and technical achievement I will back the 3D games with special love being given to Wind WakerSo, in terms of what are the better games I would side with the 3D crowd, but on a personal level I have a greater fondness for the 2D games. Not too much of a cop out I hope.

Final Thoughts

Well, after being put on the spot like that (thanks a heap Jeroen) it’s amazing to see how early a number of the tropes we consider Zelda-like originate in this first iteration of the game. Is it perfect? No it is not but I would argue that no first game in an acclaimed ever really is. One thing that strikes me about this series, however, is how both the top-down 2D style and 3D series are still being made alongside each other. Grand Theft Auto chose to abandon it’s roots but if A Link Between Worlds is anything to go by they may not fully move the whole series into the traditional 3D arena any time soon.

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