RELEASED: November 1991
AVAILABLE ON: SNES, Wii Virtual Console
"Zelda III", as it was informally called, was the most ambitious project Shigeru Miyamoto had involved himself with 'til 1988. After finishing his work with Super Mario Bros. 3, which in itself was a huge breakthrough game in its genre, he immediately started working on what was to become Link's next great journey, and how it would differ from its predecessors, and what kind of trends it would set. He focused on Zelda so strictly that he even passed on the development of a few Mario titles - with the exception of the 16-bit Super Mario World. By the time Super Mario World was finished, it had already been decided that the third installment in the Legend of Zelda franchise would also be a 16-bit game. The long-anticipated prequel to The Legend of Zelda finally hit the shelves in Japan just in time for Christmas 1991, and just like the very original game in the franchise, the game took every technical advantage of the platform it was released on - it was a mindblowing, extremely influential epic. The best part: it still is. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is not only my favourite game in the Legend of Zelda franchise by far, it's also one of the best video games of all time, and one of the great titles that made the SNES the most formidable video game console of all time.
The true gold standard
Years ago, Hyrule was barely standing as famine and plague had fallen over the lands. Then, a wizard named Agahnim appeared and used his magic to cure the land, becoming a hero and securing a place in the royal court of Hyrule. Now, Agahnim has usurped the throne and put in motion his grand scheme; break the seal the Seven Sages made centuries ago, and thus release his master - Ganon, the King of Darkness - from imprisonment. Princess Zelda, who is one of the direct descendants of the Seven Sages, and is now being held in the castle dungeon, telepathically calls out to a warrior sworn to protect the land. As the warrior dies in the line of duty, he passes on his sword and shield to his nephew - Link. The young boy sets out on an epic adventure beyond space and time to rescue the descendants of the Seven Sages, including Zelda.
|Shall we begin? For sure.|
After the experimental Zelda II, Shigeru Miyamoto figured the third game should be a return to the roots, which would be fitting 'cause the story was written as a kind of a prequel to the original - it is still a subject of debate whether it has anything to do with the original story or not - but, what would a Zelda game, especially one to relaunch the franchise on a new platform, be without a fistful of never-before-seen features? Enter multi-level dungeons occasionally split into several separate buildings, diagonal movement, updated weapon, item and mana systems, and finally, most importantly, the concept of two parallel worlds to explore, which has since been rehashed in many individual, successful games, great franchises such as Silent Hill, Legacy of Kain and Castlevania, and which has also remained a trademark in the Legend of Zelda series. Reflecting on all of this and all of the other elements that make this game so huge leaves me without a fuckin' clue how in the hell they fit it all in such a small cartridge. And, if a '91 game looked this good, why in the hell did a whole lot of bigger (in bit size), later games look so damn ugly? Perhaps I don't wanna know. Industrial secrets. Real hush-hush.
The Legend of Zelda never lacked good music, but it did lack diversity before A Link to the Past came along. It was a capacity-related quirk, of course, but that doesn't make it any more acceptable to one's ears. Koji Kondo worked his ass off with this game, coming up with several different themes for several different environments - the palaces, several different parts of the Overworld including the magic forest and the village of Kakariko, and also, the caves and of course, the Dark World, and different parts of the Dark World, and whatnot. In addition, the game has such a fast tempo in comparison to its two slow-churning predecessors that you can't possibly get tired with the music. Most of it's awesome to boot, one of Kondo's finest collectives. The original themes from the first game are resurrected magnificently, and I'm starting to enjoy the iconic main theme again.
|Yeah. Who's your dentist?|
The first hour of the game is a scripted tutorial sequence all new to the series - and if you're going cold turkey from the pair of NES games, you're going to need that tutorial 'cause Link has a whole array of new tricks up his sleeve, which I will try to break down in a moment. After that, you're free to explore Hyrule as far as you can without the help of key items acquired later on. You can go straight for the first palace if you want, but all players with some self-respect will surely go for the available secrets first, and they might find them just by walking around enough. Walls that can be bombed to heck are clearly indicated - you need to find the bombs first, of course - and there are peculiar looking bushes hidden in corners just screaming out "there's a hidden passage under me!" After you're done with the intro, you have four full hearts of health; if I'm not totally off the chart, you are able to increase your max health up to six hearts before you make it to the first palace. Just a little example how far you can go just by "stepping off-road" a bit. Heart containers are still generally left behind by fallen bosses, but the world is full of well-hidden heart pieces, of which four make up for a full heart container. After nearly each palace, you are able to find more secrets as your new key item grants you access to a whole lot of places, meaning it's perfectly natural to spend hours between dungeons doing something entirely else than you're supposed to be doing. And it never gets boring, that's the best part; on the contrary, you'll be jumping out of joy once you realize you're finally going to be able to lift that boulder out of the way with the glove (POWER GLOVE!) or drive that annoying stake to the ground with the hammer. Which reminds me, the first thing you need to do when you start to play this game is surrender most logic - if I really needed to go somewhere, I don't think a five-inch wooden pole sticking out of the ground would stop me.
|"Dude! I'm being attacked!" "By who?" "THE |
FLOOR!" "Wow, that's some excellent level
|I have a bad feeling about this.|
Link came a longer way than he necessarily had to from the tails of Zelda II to A Link to the Past - yeah yeah, he's not the same Link, I know. Maybe that's the official explanation as to why he's suddenly such a badass though this is supposed to be a prequel to the first game. At first, you can do little besides picking lightweight stuff up and throwing it around, but once you gain the sword, shield and lantern, you can do a lot. First of all, your shield reflects most head-on projectiles. The advantage of diagonal movement enables you to shield yourself from just about every arrow, spear or fireball (once you've upgraded) - it takes a little practice, of course, and won't do you much good when surrounded, which you often are. You have a special area attack, and once you gain the Master Sword - an important plot element - you'll be able to use the classic sword throw attack, provided your health's at maximum, and it actually works unlike in Zelda II - just at an approximate 50% efficiency. Dying often is not an impossibility, actually it's a probability 'cause the game can be quite unpredictable at times. Just like in the first game, if you die in the Overworld you'll be hauled back to a safe place - you can choose your starting point from a few options, though. If you die in a dungeon, you'll start at the beginning, with all the items you've gathered still in your possession. However, if this game worked exactly like the first two games, it would be simply impossible to beat. Magic bottles let you store potions, and more importantly on my account, fairies. A stored fairy will resurrect you and rejuvenate your health up to seven hearts automatically at the event of your demise. Having at least one along at all times will tip the scales to your benefit by a huge shot, so don't underestimate the power of fairy dust.
|Seriously, what's up with Nintendo and eyeballs?|
What else? Well, maybe I could mention the enemies, since they've been in the shadowy spotlight in the last couple of reviews. Generally, the enemies and their behaviour is just fine by the ways of a genuinely challenging game. There are many enemies that will annoy you to pieces, like the Wallmasters (which are more like "Ceilingmasters" this time) and any flying bastards, especially in the Dark World where just one of their wandering projectiles can smack you in the ass and take one to two whole ticks of your health at once - it takes an eternity to upgrade your armour to the point these enemies are no longer an immediate threat. The worst of the lot are these orb-shaped enemies with legs, that the dungeons are crawling with, that are constantly trying to push you into chasms. They're a nightmare in hordes. Well, perhaps EVEN worse is the Anti-faerie, that not only damages you on contact, but also takes away your mana, and it's a bitch to hit since the only thing that works on it is the clumsy key item Magic Powder. The good thing about it is that it turns into a regular fairy upon defeat. Fairy? Faerie? Nah, I don't give a crap.
|Don't I know those guys from somewhere?|
This was my eighth trip through "Hyrule '91", but only the second trip which has come to an actual conclusion. Everything I've ever said about the game still rings very true. Well, perhaps there are some issues that bother me, but in the end game, they're so small and insignificant that there'd be no point going over them in a written review, they're exactly the sort of things that I created the Ups and Downs system for. They have a risk of ruining the tone of the review, which is supposed to be a very upbeat one - The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a true 16-bit milestone, which all gamers need to experience for themselves.
+ At last a great story which is easy and fun to follow
+ Excellent graphics and music
+ The magic of exploration...
+ ...Which expands to two worlds
+ Innovative level design (which might get on your nerves from time to time ;) ) in both interior and exterior areas
+ Great puzzles, that sometimes have the most humiliatingly simple solutions
+ The game offers us a guideline to follow, which does not limit the open-world experience
- Environmental controls, specific info below
- Swimming is a constant struggle throughout the game
- Narrow walkways (from which you can fall down) are very unforgiving with the addition of fully diagonal movement; be patient, big-thumbed people
- Moving stuff - such as statues or blocks - is slow to initiate and execute, and tediously precise to boot
< 9.7 >