Today I’m talking about a game that needs no introduction. Many gamers consider it one of the bests in the biz: The Legend of Zelda. We all have fond memories of this classic, but I’d like to put away my rose-tinted spectacles and take a look at this venerable title with a modern, more contemporary and chic pair of eye wear, preferably a pair pleasing for the ladies. I do this in the hopes of not only attracting the ladies, but to answer the question: “Is this landmark title still fun nearly 30 years after its original release?”
I set out on my quest with a single blow into the cartridge. Then another. Then another. Then I kind of put the game in and pressed up and down on the cart a few times. Then I blew on it again and put the game in with another game jammed on top of it. Upon pressing power, the legendary title screen for this time-honored and respected game finally appeared in all of its renowned glory!
Let’s revisit the first time Link reclaimed Hyrule from the rotund clutches of evil (or, like, the thirtieth, according to the official Legend of Zelda timeline found in Hyrule Historia). Now, we unsheathe our laser-shooting wooden swords! Because it’s too dangerous to go alone.
Developer: Nintendo R&D4
Release Year: 1986
The Legend of Zelda was brought to us by Mr. Nintendo himself, Shigeru Miyamoto. It’s widely known that Miyamoto got the inspiration for the game by exploring caves by his home when he was a child. Because apparently that’s what kids did before there were video games.
Hurry up and make video games good! The Outdoors are terrible!
Thankfully, I grew up in a time with kick ass video games, and The Legend of Zelda was one I played a lot. Regrettably, I don’t replay The Legend of Zelda as much as I should nowadays. It’s a shame because every time I play it I have a blast. My fun derives mostly from all those memories I have from playing it as a kid combined with my inability to remember anything about the game. Seriously, I never remember where any of the dungeons are. I spent like two hours searching for the second and third dungeons. I just have a terrible sense of direction.
And once I’m in a dungeon, I can’t remember where anything is, despite having beaten the game a dozen or so times. It’s because every dungeon looks exactly the same. Well, except Dungeon 3. That dungeon looks like a freaking swastika. Now, I’m going to be optimistic here and assert that Nintendo wasn’t trying to propagate a Nazi agenda and instead was using the symbol in its original Indian context of being a charm for good fortune. Yeah, let’s go with that and never speak of it again.
“Good luck, everyon-” I can’t do it. All I see is evil. Nazis ruin EVERYTHING!
Regardless of my digital geological ineptitude, I’ve always loved this game. But how does it hold up today? Pretty damn well, actually. Its sense of freedom and exploration hasn’t been tarnished by the passage of time, and the gameplay holds up (mostly).
I’ve not much else to say about LoZ. In its nearly 30-year history, everyone has pretty much said everything about it. Instead, I’d like to present to you my Top Five reasons why The Legend of Zelda is an amazing game and my Top 5 reasons why The Legend of Zelda sucks. Because if you don’t have much to talk about and you’re writing on the internet, make a list. These are solid words to live by.
Unlike the elderly we’re used to shoving out of the way in our everyday lives, the Old People in LoZ are actually quite useful. They offer little kids dangerous swords, strange medicine, and even more dangerous swords. You know, all the stuff you’d expect people NEVER to give to young children. And that’s what makes them awesome.
4.) No Heart Pieces, Only Heart Containers
Heart Pieces suck. I hate looking for them, and, because they’re in pieces, there are a lot of them. In the original LoZ, if you found a Heart Container, you got the whole damn heart. Instant gratification: that’s what I want in my video games. Make this a more common thing, Nintendo.
3.) The Stopwatch
The original LoZ puts you in all kinds of scenarios where you’ll get your ass handed to you, especially when you’re up against a room full of teleporting wizards or those knights you can only hit from the sides and back. The stopwatch item, dropped randomly, freezes every enemy in that room and is a life saver. Grabbing a stopwatch in one of these rooms sometimes brings a tear of joy to my eye. I wish they were in later installments in the franchise. As of now, the stopwatch has gone the way of the scoring system in the original Mega Man.
2.) The Roars of the Dungeon Boss
The dungeons in LoZ aren’t too complicated, but they can get intense with enemies constantly draining your life. That’s why it was always a relief to hear the dungeon boss’s roar whenever you got to a room adjacent to its lair. It indicated that you were finally at the end of that godforsaken place! Conversely, it also meant you were about to fight a tough enemy, causing you to get nervous. It was a neat and effective trick that evoked both excitement and anxiety when I was a kid. Well played, Nintendo.
1.) Discovering Dungeon 7
This was a big deal for me when I was a kid because Dungeon 7’s location isn’t handed to you, e.g. you can’t just happen upon it like most dungeons; actual critical thinking and a little guesswork is needed to find it. Your only lead is some random old man in a random dungeon room, and his clue is vague at best: “There are secrets where fairies don’t live.”
It turns out you need to play the flute (which plays the same tune as the whistle from Super Mario Bros. 3, by the way) at a pond where you’d imagine a fairy should be. This will drain the lake and reveal Dr. Fred’s nuclear reactor… wait, wrong game. Long-story short, at the bottom of the lake is Dungeon 7’s entrance, and the game expertly sets this reveal up by placing a fairy-inhabited pond next to the fairy-less pond so you’d naturally come to the conclusion that something was off. Finding such a secret made me feel great as a kid, and I still remember that original feeling of accomplishment to this day.
Yes, the Old People in LoZ are a double-edged sword. Though they’re cool when they give you stuff, they’re still a drain on society, stealing your hard-earned rupees with games of chance, asking you to run errands for them, or forcing you to pay for their wall you just blew a hole into. At some points, they even ask you to go down some stairs. Considering they live in creepy caves and dark rooms in dungeons, this is more than enough cause for suspicion. So of course I’m going to stab them eventually. I like to think of it as a preemptive attack in my own self-defense. With that logic, they’re in the wrong when they kick my ass with their fire pits. IT WAS SELF-DEFENSE!
4.) The Candle
The dark rooms in LoZ are annoying. Each time you enter one, you have to pause the game, highlight the candle, unpause the game, shoot fire from your candle onto the room’s floor, and then pause the game and highlight any other tool besides the candle because the candle is so lame. Not only is this not how candles actually work, but this slows the game’s pace. Also, sometimes I walk into the fire after I throw it and hurt myself. You might call me dumb, but I say the candle is dumb!
3.) Worst Swordsman Ever
The original LoZ had you moving and attacking as if you were on a grid, so there was no moving or attacking diagonally for you. Unfortunately, this left you at a great disadvantage as some enemies could move and attack diagonally. Link’s limited movement is further noticeable when compared to later games where he swings his sword in a studly arc instead of just stabbing like a chump. It’s a minor complaint, but it’s one of the few things that makes the game feel dated.
2.) Dungeon 6 Is a Son of a Bitch
I hate Dungeon 6. The game’s cake up to this point. In Dungeon 6, the difficulty spikes and makes me want to puke. Why? Because of those freaking wizards! They teleport all over the place, throw projectiles, and take a ton of life away when they hit you. And they are everywhere! They’re in this room, they’re in that room, they’re in the dark rooms, they’re in my nightmares! Fuck you, wizards! I hated Dungeon 6 when I was a kid, and I hate it even more now!
1.) Bomb Farming
Bombs are a precious commodity in LoZ because sometimes progression depends on making your own doorways, if you get my drift. So if you run out of bombs you can’t go any further until you find some. This gets frustrating when you get stuck in a dungeon and – like all men inevitably resort to – decide to blow up things. Since there are no visual cues that aid players in discerning if a wall can be blown up or not, this makes exhausting your bomb supply that much easier. Furthermore, enemies barely drop bombs to replenish your stock, so it may take awhile before you get to move on. This tedious bomb farming is a major pain in the ass and is the only major complaint I have with this game.
And there you have it. To nobody’s surprise, the Legend of Zelda is a great game that still holds up today. Its sense of exploration and discovery is just as good now as it was nearly 30 years ago. But the game isn’t as perfect and timeless as my nostalgic sensibilities remembered it being. There are quite a few design choices that show its age: bad translation, grid-based movement and attacking, and constant game flow interruptions while cycling through your inventory. The lack of visual hints to guide players to destructible walls is easily the game’s biggest annoyance as bombs can be tough to come by and are essential for progression. The game’s difficulty and unguided, non-linear structure can be deterrents as well, though modern conveniences like the internet render the latter point moot.
But you certainly can’t hold any of these quibbles against such an innovative game. I mean, Nintendo’s been using its established formula for almost 3 decades. They must have gotten something right.
Thanks for Your Playing! What do you all love about The Legend of Zelda? What do you hate about it? Do you think I need to lay off Old People? Go ahead and call me a geriatric-hating jerk in the comments below!