So who hasn’t reviewed The Legend of Zelda in a fair manner before? I mean, we get a game that is widely regarded as a classic that changed how games should be made, on the gaming system that seems to be credited as breathing life back into the North American gaming industry and showed the world that the U.S were not the only ones who could make good (I think people liked the Atari games…) games.
Ok so putting it up on a pedestal like that makes it sound like it is on god-status and can’t possibly be given a bad review, which is how people seem to see it. It is either a perfect 10/10 game due to the legacy it carries, or a horrible game because it has dated graphics. But is it possible that the game could sit anywhere else on the scale? Let’s find out.
History/Origin: The year is 1983, the North American video game industry was about to be hit hard due to the sub-par quality and overabundance of games being released towards the end of the Atari 2600’s life cycle, and the sheer amount of gaming consoles that were available. Nintendo, based in Japan, has released a console for the Japanese market called the Family Computer (ファミリーコンピュータ Famirī Konpyūta) which is commonly called the Famicom. Nintendo were not strangers to the gaming industry, they were known for classics such as the Game and Watch line of handheld games and the arcade hit Donkey Kong, and were planning to enter the North American market by signing a deal with Atari, who would release the Famicom under the Atari brand. Those negotiations, although far along, were never cemented and in the end it was up to Nintendo to bring the console over itself.
In 1985 Nintendo was finally planning to bring over the Famicom , but re-branded it as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and changed it’s design a little bit too. Alot of journalists called this a bad move on Nintendo’s part as by this time, the North American video game industry had almost disappeared entirely due to the market crash. One of the launch titles was a cult hit, Super Mario Bros which was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto. One of Shigeru’s titles that followed was The Legend of Zelda.
Now The Legend of Zelda was originally released on the Famicom Disk System, a disc based addon for the Famicom and it featured some slightly different track compositions from the version the west saw, but for the most part it was the same game.
Plot: The Triforce, a symbol of power in Hyrule, has been stolen by Ganon and hidden in the games 9 dungeons. Link, the hero of the game, must set out to rescue the Princess Zelda by gathering all the pieces to the Triforce, and defeat the Evil Ganon.
That is plot boiled down into 2 sentences, but with a game that offers the full ‘story so far’ after the title screen and almost no real in-game dialogue, I feel it is sufficient.
Graphics: Now what is a game review without talking about graphics. One thing that the Famicom/NES were known for were the amazing graphics. After the swarm of computer based systems from North America which featured basic-at-best displays, Nintendo was able to produce something amazing here. The Legend of Zelda however seems pretty basic, even by the standards of the time.
You have link who is clearly a humanoid of some form, you can see his shield quite visibly and you can make out a sword when he attacks. The monsters you face along the way are mostly sprite-swaps of enemies you faced in the first few screens of the game, but once you realise that red = easier, blue = harder then you are golden. One good thing about this however is that as Link gets new sword upgrades on his journey, you see the sword change colour to match (Your wooden sword is brown, so it makes sense). So they are easy to understand, but if anyone tells you that these graphics were amazing in the mid-to-late 80s, make sure there nostalgia goggles are off.
Sound/Music: Now the music for this game on the other hand is done very well. You think Mario’s theme is iconic to the red-dressed plumber? Well the Hyrule field theme is the same with the Zelda series. The melodies are usually short and repetitive, but they fit the mood. The only real tracks you hear in-game are the Hyrule field and dungeon themes, and a fan-fare track when you buy an item. You might get sick of them if you die alot and need to restart over again, but it still beats playing in silence.
The sound effects work too. The bombs blow up and sound like chip-tune explosions, you hear a little cha-chink type noise when you pick up a rupee and so forth. Simple yet effective.
Gameplay: Zelda in the recent years has been more focused on 3D exploration, but here we are greeted with a basic overhead view of the world, and the world is explored screen-by-screen. The environments we visit feel quite varied, we have the Lost Woods which features alot of trees, Death Mountain which is full of narrow paths and lots of rocks, and the coastline & lake which feature water. Combat is simple affair which involves swinging your sword at a monster until it dies, and lots of puzzles. The puzzles mind you really only swap between pushing the correct block to move on, or kill all the enemies in the room, but seeing as almost every dungeon room has monsters and blocks, it’ll keep you guessing.
You pick up items to help you progress, like a Magic Torch, Sword & Shield upgrades, Bow & Arrows etc. You can also fund health upgrades to increase your health meter, which are usually found after defeating a boss or in the world itself. You will need these to get through some of the end-game dungeons.
My biggest complaint however lies with the fact that there is no over-world map. Instead you are left to draw your own map, refer to the internet or memorize where you are going (The original game did come with a folded up map so you could see where you were going. This isn’t exactly emulated when you play the original cart of even play on the Wii). Also, when you die you always start off with 3 health, which means if you died in a dungeon and the enemies hit hard, you need to find a potion or kill enemies for more health.
My thoughts: The game was great back then and it still plays well now. The game certainly carries the fabled “Nintendo Difficulty” with it and is not for the undisciplined, but it will make you better as you progress. Now even when I was younger and played this game I still didn’t think it was the best thing around, but I might have been jaded by playing lots of various games like Alex Kidd and Wonder Boy on my Sega Master System. I do like to revisit this game when I can, especially as it is the most challenging of the top-down style Zelda games around, and seeing as it is available on the 3DS, Wii, Wii-U Virtual Consoles, there really isn’t an excuse for saying you haven’t at least tried it. (There are even roms out there for those who can’t justify spending money on an NES game, but I don’t want to condone piracy or anything)
Score: 7/10 – It’s a fun game – You should at least play it once