The Legend of Zelda
  • Genre:
    • Action Adventure
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    FDS
    • JP 02/21/1986
    NES
    • US 08/22/1987
    • UK 11/15/1987
    • JP 02/19/1994
Score: 80%

This review was published on 10/20/2012.

The Legend of Zelda is a 2-D game with an overhead perspective that practically defined the action adventure genre. It was first released in Japan on a floppy disk for the Famicom Disk System, which was an attachment to the Famicom. The game was later released as a cartridge for the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America and Europe. Japan also got a cartridge release much later on. One of the game's big selling points was the fact that it could save your progress. It also came in a golden cartridge. Those were different times. However, that's not why The Legend of Zelda is fondly remembered as a classic. This game pioneered a relatively unexplored landscape for video games at the time, being that it was about exploration and solving puzzles. It aimed to require players to think about their environments and how to proceed forward, as opposed to being a totally linear experience. It wasn't about achieving high scores in Zelda; it was about an adventure that people would remember. Zelda sought to defy previously established conventions in the video game industry. It was very ambitious for its time. The Legend of Zelda was one of the first games to do the action adventure genre justice.

Image

Our story follows the exploits of Link, a boy on a journey in the mystical land of Hyrule to save Princess Zelda from the evil clutches of Gannon, or Ganon if you prefer the modern spelling. The hero of our tale isn't named Zelda, surprisingly. I know this sparked a lot of confusion among people in the past, and perhaps still confuses those unfamiliar with the franchise today. The plot goes that Ganon invaded the kingdom of Hyrule with his nefarious army to obtain the Triforce of Power. Ganon succeeds in his mission and gains incredible power. Princess Zelda was the holder of the Triforce of Wisdom, so she split it into eight pieces to prevent Ganon from easily acquiring it. Ganon captures Zelda, which is what all evil doers do with princesses, and Zelda sends her nursemaid Impa to find help. Impa stumbled into Link and informed him of the trouble in the kingdom. Being that Link is such a heroic, courageous lad, he agreed to help them out. After all, according to the Zelda games for the Philips CD-i, "it is written that only Link can defeat Ganon." This requires him to gather the eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom to become powerful enough to take on the big bad himself. In short, this is another classic tale of a hero saving the princess. I bet that surprised you.

Image

Link starts off on the overworld of Hyrule completely unarmed. Lucky for Link, there's a cave in sight that houses an old man willing to part with a wooden sword. That's right; a sword made out of wood. For some odd reason, the sword shoots damaging beams of light if Link swings it when he's at full health. I don't really understand that, but it's cool. And you'll need it, because exploring the world of Hyrule will be tough. The overworld of Hyrule acts as the hub that connects to all the other areas of the game. Link will revisit this world map many times on his quest to stop Ganon. There are secrets lurking around every corner and under every bush. It's the sense of exploration and discovery that gives the map of Hyrule its unique appeal. Caves hide secrets like money, items, or heart containers. Heart containers will permanently increase Link's maximum life gauge, which makes them the best treasure to find in the game. Some caves are hidden from plain view and must be uncovered before Link can loot the juicy treasures within. Hyrule is a big, confusing place when you first step foot on its soil. The Legend of Zelda's original cartridge release came with a physical map of Hyrule. Most of the map was already filled out, but players had to manually fill in empty sectors themselves. This game was designed around the concept of players using an outside map, because there is no in game map for the land of Hyrule. All you have to rely on in the game is a giant, empty square that reveals Link's location in the form of a dot. Players would look at this square while holding the physical map up to the screen to figure out where Link was at any given time. These days, players without the physical copy of the map will have to look it up online. Hyrule is a fun place to explore, but the omission of a virtual map proves to be a persistent annoyance.

Image

Dungeons are the signature feature of the Zelda series, and this is no different in the first Zelda game. The broken pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom are hidden in eight dungeons. Link must traverse the eight dungeons and fully assemble the Triforce of Wisdom before he can gain entry to Ganon's lair. The way things work inside of a dungeon greatly differs from the rules of the outside world. For one, dungeons are dangerous due to the large amount of difficult enemies and traps. The other main thing about dungeons is locked doors. Every dungeon is littered with locked doors that can be unlocked with keys. In most cases, the keys are hidden nearby locked doors. Link acquires keys by solving puzzles or defeating every enemy in a particular room. Every dungeon is maze of interconnected rooms with locked doors and hidden keys. Thankfully, there are two items that Link can find in every dungeon to help him navigate his surroundings. The compass will reveal the location of the dungeon boss, and the map will reveal the entire layout of the dungeon itself. I'm talking about a virtual map inside of the game. Dungeon maps even show you which rooms you've already been to, making it really easy to find your way inside the dungeons. This is incredibly convenient. It would have been great if the overworld had a map as detailed as the dungeon maps. Don't think the dungeons will be a breeze just because maps are available. The toughest challenges are found within dungeons, and the layouts can still be confusing even with a fully revealed map. It takes considerable determination and careful thought to best the dungeons in The Legend of Zelda.

Image

Puzzles are what separate Zelda from other games. The kind of puzzles you encounter in The Legend of Zelda usually involve pushing blocks to trigger switches that open doors or reveal secret passage ways. If you ever find yourself stumped, it stands to reason that there's probably a puzzle to solve. Being that this is the first Zelda game, the puzzles aren't too tough, though they can often be cryptic. The Lost Woods is a forest maze that loops endlessly until you take the correct path. Figuring out the correct path without consulting an external guide is very tricky, because Link has to search the whole world of Hyrule for the clue. A lot of the clues to puzzles like these are revealed by mysterious old men and women who hide inside secret caves. The hints seem to be poorly translated, which only makes matters worse. On the bright side, the majority of the game's puzzles are intuitive enough to figure out without outside help. Most of the more intuitive puzzles are found inside of dungeons. These puzzles don't usually have hints, but simple use of logic will solve a great deal of them with ease. An example of such a puzzle is the one where a staircase is surrounded by blocks. The player's natural instinct is to push up against all of these blocks to see if anything happens, and this is when the player discovers that one of the blocks can be pushed out of the way to reveal a path to the staircase. In other situations, blocks that can be pushed tend to look out of place when next to all the other blocks, subtly clueing the player on what to do. Puzzle solving adds a nice, calming variety to the danger in the dungeons.

Image

Items are another defining aspect of the Zelda series. Link can acquire a new tool in each dungeon he explores which will expand his capabilities. These tools tend to have multiple uses inside and outside of battle. An apt example would be the bomb. Link can place bombs on suspicious walls to reveal secret passages, or he can use them to explode some baddies. Bombs are actually quite useful at trouncing certain types of foes, so their limited supply should be treasured. Bushes can also be burned by the candle to reveal holes, making the bombs and candle the perfect set of items for uncovering secrets. There are also items handy for combat, like the boomerang. Link can throw the boomerang to momentarily stun enemies, which leaves them open to attacks from Link's deadly blade. One of the best combat items the game has to offer is the magic wand. This baby can shoot deadly fireballs at a long range. Nothing can stop Link when he's equipped with this bad boy. Some of the items allow Link to explore new areas, such as the raft and stepladder. The raft can be used to sail across a large body of water, whereas the stepladder can be used to cross small gaps on the ground. There's nothing more satisfying in a Zelda game than obtaining a new item with fantastic uses at the end of a tough dungeon. The dungeons are already fun and exciting in their own right, and they reward you with items that are just as fun and exciting. Players are essentially rewarded for having fun. This is the key to good game design and Zelda has it licked.

Image

Rupees are the currency in the land of Hyrule and can be exchanged for useful goods at shops. Like in most video games, money is obtained by defeating enemies. Link can also gamble to earn extra cash or find generous folk willing to donate to his heroic efforts. Stores are inside various caves throughout the land, some of them hidden, and some of them in plain sight. Different shops will offer different items at varying prices. The same item can often be found in another store at a much cheaper price, so it pays to shop around. There are a couple of goodies to buy, some of which are essential, and some are non-essential. The bow can be located inside of a dungeon, but its arrows must be bought at a shop, and the arrows are essential to beating a few of the bosses. Optional items include a magic shield that can block more types of projectiles than Link's normal shield, a ring that permanently enhances Link's defense, potions that can fully restore Link's health when used, and even additional keys to be used inside of dungeons. There is no question that the shops are very handy to have around in The Legend of Zelda. It was quite common for role-playing games to feature shops with items to sell, but it wasn't as prevalent in games of other genres back in those days. This gives players incentive to defeat foes and explore the environment in hopes of procuring funds to make their quest a bit easier. The shops in this game are modest to be sure, but they add a nice touch of depth to an already deep adventure.

Image

Hyrule and its dangerous dungeons are home to many ferocious fiends. The enemies play a huge role in The Legend of Zelda. While this game does focus on puzzle solving a bit more than action, the enemies should not be underestimated. The first few areas of the game are home to the weak yet classic Octorok enemies, octopi that walk on land and shoot projectiles at Link from afar. These guys are easy to dispose off, but can become a threat when fought in great numbers. Octoroks, along with some of the game's other easier enemies, are only seen outside of dungeons. This lends a generally pleasant atmosphere to exploring the overworld, as the dangers aren't too high. However, dungeons are home to the game's most threatening creatures. The first few dungeons will feature enemies like skeletons and mummies to provide a darker atmosphere, but the later dungeons will contain the terrible Dark Nuts and Wizrobes that give dungeons a heightened sense of danger. Dark Nuts are some of the most difficult enemies in the game. Dark Nuts are basically knights completely clad in armor; the only way to harm these sentinels is to stab them from the sides or behind. These guys are totally invulnerable to the front and are immune to almost everything except sword attacks, so there isn't anything that can be done to make fights with them easier. Combat with Dark Nuts requires heavy strategizing, much like the Wizrobes. Wizrobes, as their name implies, are wizards. They shoot waves of magic that inflict incredible amounts of damage and occasionally teleport around the room. If you thought Dark Nuts were bad, then wait until you see a room full of Wizrobes. Success or failure in this game depends entirely on how well you deal with Dark Nuts and Wizrobes. Enemies in The Legend of Zelda can be frustratingly difficult, but vanquishing them is a rewarding experience.

Image

Bosses await Link at the end of every dungeon. These dungeon masters are much bigger and tougher than any normal enemy that Link will encounter. The Legend of Zelda has a large variety of bosses. There are fire breathing dragons, hydras, one-eyed crabs, weird wheel things, and a few others that don't make much sense. It's the late 1980s, so you'll have to use your imagination for some of these. The bosses do look pretty good, for the most part. Boss fights in this game can go one of two ways: they'll either be an action packed battle for dear life, or they will require some puzzle solving skills. For instance, the infamous Dodongos are impervious to all attacks and can only be defeated by shoving an explosive down their throats. There are other bosses that can be thwarted in similar manners, so players will always need to have their thinking caps on. As for the rest of the bosses, it just comes down to skill and strategy. The first boss of the game can either be a slight nuisance or an incredible ease, depending on what approach you take. If you enter the fight with full health, then you can make use of Link's sword beams to thwart the boss with absolutely no challenge. Fighting this guy normally is a lot tougher. The hydra boss is probably the most impressive, because it's very challenging and the satisfaction of taking down a large, multi-headed creature is exhilarating. Defeating a boss rewards Link with a piece of the Triforce and an extra heart container. The one bad thing about the bosses in this game is that they get recycled. A few bosses even appear as normal enemies in some dungeons. The Legend of Zelda's boss battles are entertaining and challenging, but they suffer from minor repetition.

Image

Much like the original Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda greatly expanded the scope of video games. At the time, there was no game with a greater sense of adventure than Zelda. This game encouraged players to explore their surroundings and think logically about how to solve puzzling situations. It was a different take on what a video game could be. The Legend of Zelda was the first mainstream success of such ideas. This game championed the notion of a nonlinear experience that would challenge the rigid structure of previous video games. While the Zelda formula has certainly been improved upon in future entries in the series, the first Zelda has aged remarkably well and remains a legendary classic.

Word Count: 2,682

Tweet