The Legend of Zelda is among one of Nintendo’s longest actively running videogame series – along with the Mario, Donkey Kong, and Metroid franchises. A Link to the Past was originally released for the Super NES console, produced by Shigeru Miyamoto and directed by Takashi Tekuza respectively. This game is hotly contested with its later game, Ocarina of Time, as being regarded as the best game in the franchise by most fans of the series. The reason for this is how the games bring many of the basic tropes from the original Zelda while evolving a more fluid action and innovative dungeon puzzles. A sequel to A Link to the Past has recently come out, titled The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, which has had extremely positive reactions and is already loved by many.
A Link to the Past’s story is basic but well established; You play as Link, asleep in bed one stormy night in the land of Hyrule. Via a telepathic message, Zelda calls out for help against the wizard Agahnim. Following Link’s uncle around the perimeter of the castle, Link falls into a hole that leads to the basement of said castle. Almost immediately you discover your uncle who did not make it far before getting stabbed and left for dead. Giving you his sword and his shield, you begin your journey to save the princess. Finding her at the bottom of the castle dungeons, Zelda helps Link though a secret path behind the throne room that leads to the nearby sanctuary via secret passage. Leaving her with the priest, Link is then tasked to find three pendants and retrieve the Master Sword, and defeat the evil wizard.
Upon defeating Agahnim, however, you’re greeting with the games greatest plot twist. Instead of beating the game, you’re transported to the Dark world – a twisted mirror of the ‘Light world’, a Hyrule that has been corrupted by Ganon’s evil wish on the Triforce. To restore balance, Link has to rescue seven descendants of the sages that imprisoned Ganon originally. These dungeons scale up in difficulty from the first three; requiring more emphasis on various tools you find around the world and sometimes making changes in the light world that are reflected into dark world. Once all seven sages are saved, Link takes on Agahnim a second time in Ganon’s tower; then Ganon himself at the Pyramid. Defeating him here will grant Link the mystical Triforce, saving all of Hyrule.
A link to the past’s gameplay was designed to be closer to the original NES game rather than its lesser known sequel, Zelda II. Link is controlled with a top-down view with a button dedicated to the sword while the other is for various items you can select from your inventory. Positioning can help in certain situations as the sword swing isn’t exactly centered when facing north or south. This also applies to the shield where you can block more things as you upgrade it throughout the game. Once you get the Master Sword, you can shoot a beam if you are at full health; however the more often used improvement of the sword spin is a welcome addition to link’s move-set as it helps deal with being surrounded, as well as dealing more damage than a single swing. Another new feature is if you’ve collected a fairy in a bottle, it can be used as an auto-revive if Link runs out of hearts. This is a much welcome addition especially in deeper parts of a difficult dungeon.
Almost every dungeon incorporates the treasure item, found inside a large chest only opened with the Boss Key of its respective dungeon. In most cases, an item from a different dungeon entirely is also required to solve its puzzle. This is important as a few dungeons can be done “out-of-order”; but they are numbered on the world map to make it easier for first-time players. The dungeon bosses are just phenomenal, increasing in difficulty without being overwhelming until the later end of the game. Most of them are weak to the treasure item of their respective dungeon and frequently need that item to defeat them entirely.
Navigating the Light and Dark overworlds is one of the key reasons this game is unforgettable to most gamers, offering a lot to explore but without being too time consuming. Most dungeons require a little figuring out before you can just walk into them; and some are rather dramatic such as the desert palace. There is a little aspect of world concequences as well, as some things will require you to do something specific in the Light world that will affect the Dark world. Navigating becomes a little easier once you acquire the flute and you free the bird from Kakariko village, as it allows you to jump to pre-determined key points around the world.
The game graphics are well done, falling somewhere between a line of detailed and a little rounded out. This gives it a timeless feel even when you compare it to more modern indie style games, or even its own sequel. Many of the areas have served as inspiration for the basis of how later incarnations looked, such as Death Mountain, Kakariko village, etc. Every location is fairly unique in its design so any veteran player can point out exactly which location you’re in even at a glance. One side note is that Link’s hair is noticeably pink. This is due to a color pallet limitation the team was working with and the shades of brown (like that of the original games) blended too much with the background, making Link look rather off. All iterations of Link after were changed to blond afterward both in-game and as official art.
Like any other Zelda title, the music is iconic. When you first turn on the game, the Triforce comes together then clashes right into an awesome orchestral piece that sends shivers down your spine. The Light world is an updated version from the original title, while the Dark world has its own epic theme as well. The only minor gripe would be that the dungeons all sound the same, however even those are done decently enough. As with any Zelda game, when your hearts are low you will be harassed by incessant beeping, so finding those heart pieces are all the more precious.
In all, A Link to the Past is still to this day one of most people’s picks for “top ten” all-time games, and for good reason. Your first play-through will be unforgettable, and you will want to play it at least once more to collect everything within the game. There isn’t much in terms of completion bonuses other than making the last battle with Ganon easier; though it has a few categories within the speed-run community worth checking out. If you’ve never played this game before, then we highly encourage you to get a copy on the Nintendo e-shop and treat yourself!