Condemn or Condone: 'The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past'

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I know that the game that everyone has been talking about this year has been the brand new Zelda game called A Link Between Worlds (which is winning many Game of the Year awards), but I feel like it’s predecessor is something that should be getting a lot more discussion for making A Link Between Worlds possible. In a long line of fantastic games in The Legend of Zelda franchise, A Link to the Past is the entry that many consider to be the best (or at least tied with Ocarina of Time). That is no small praise, and in anticipation for the 3DS entry, I downloaded the game on Wii Virtual Console (hey, it’s getting some use!). Let me tell you that even though it is a Super Nintendo title, it holds up remarkably well.

The game starts with Link being woken up by the voice of Zelda urging to rescue her from the castle. She tells him that the evil wizard Agahnim is trying to break the seal of the Seven Wise Men, which would grant him unthinkable power. Link’s uncle sneakily goes first so Link doesn’t get wrapped up in it, but is seriously injured in the process. The injured uncle gives Link his sword and shield, and from that point on it is Link’s job to save Zelda and eventually all of Hyrule.

Now if this is a game you never got around to playing, but you have played Ocarina of Time many many MANY times, then this game is going to put a big smile on your face. It shares so many similarities with Ocarina of Time – from the music, locations, story and items that it almost makes Ocarina of Time feel like a remake of it. It all goes to show how ahead of its time A Link to the Past really was back in its day, as it continues to influence each new entry in the franchise.

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Hey look, a sign! I wonder what it s– I JUST REMEMBERED I HAVE SOMEWHERE TO BE. BYE-BYE!

One of the main distinctions of this game is that you travel between two worlds known as the Light world and the Dark world, and you will do this by either finding specific warp points or utilizing a magical mirror that will warp you on its own. The difference between the two worlds is that the dark world is a hell of a lot less pleasant than the light world. The music is less vibrant, the colors are more dull and the enemies are more vicious. There will also be some things that will only exist in one world and not in the other, and sometimes you will have to utilize both worlds in order to complete an area or discover a new one. This element is very similar to Ocarina of Time‘s time-traveling element, though this game utilizes it much more frequently in its gameplay. The biggest importance of the dark world is that it is the home of the majority of the game’s dungeons.

Like in any Zelda game, the bulk of your playing time will spent either in a dungeon or making your way to one, and this game’s dungeons offer a ton of variety and challenge. One of the most notable things about A Link to the Past compared to the games in the more recent games in the series is that it is much more difficult. Even the most common of enemies in A Link to the Past can become a major pain in the butt for you, and when you come across the more difficult ones, often times the most viable option is to just steer clear altogether. This adds so much tension to the gameplay, because even though you get better equipment and more heart containers you never truly feel like you are an overpowered juggernaut that can easily dispose of anything. You’re just a little spec that will get his butt handed to him many times, regardless of how many shiny heart containers you have.

Even without the enemies, the dungeons offer a lot of challenge on their own with puzzles, mazes, hidden doors, traps and a whole lot more. As the game goes on you will find that each dungeon offers a unique twist that makes you play in a different way, such as acquiring a hookshot to cross a dungeons many bottomless pits or acquiring a magical cane that is used to create blocks that are used to hold switches down or to make your own moving platform. Of course, each subsequent dungeon will utilize the new item and the items you have already acquired, so by the end of it you will be using just about every item in your repertoire just to get to the end of it.

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Lost in the Lost Woods. Some things never change.

And THEN there’s the boss fights. A Link to the Past‘s boss fights make the bosses in recent entries in the series seem like roses by comparison. There is no “hit it 3 times and it’s dead” rule in this game like the games today, as each boss takes a serious beating all the while it is dealing a serious beating on you. If you don’t come well prepared with a good supply of potions and a battle strategy for taking these dudes down, then you’re going to be hitting the retry option a lot. Some bosses will have more than one form, or multiple heads, or will be in a room with a moving floor that is shoving you towards spikes on the wall, and plenty of other annoyances that will bug the hell out of you (but you’ll love every minute of it). Once you finally figure out what it is you need to do to take down one of these guys (and can do it without being annihilated), the sense of victory is that much greater.

Of course, no Zelda game is compete without a healthy helping of side quests, and this game offers loads of things to keep you busy outside of the main game. Their are your hidden heart pieces that you can collect to increase your heart count, stronger weapons that you can acquire by either forging or offering your old one to the great fairy with a rupee donation, and magic bottles and ammo upgrades that will allow you to heal and attack more frequently. Now, being side quests, going off and seeking out these hidden things are not required, but I really feel like the side quests are just as important as the main quest in many Zelda games and especially this one. Not only are you extending your play time, but you also discover new locations, characters and events that add a lot to the overall game. These games are adventures, and it’s always the adventures off the beaten path that end up being some of the most rewarding ones in the game.

The Legend of Zelda series has come a very long way in its almost 30-year history, but A Link to the Past continues to be one of its crowning achievements that all subsequent entries look back to and learn from. It was the point in the series where The Legend of Zelda officially became a must-play experience that was unlike any other, and the fact that it is just as fun to play today is a testament to how fundamentally solid the mechanics of the game are. Sure, the games today might have prettier graphics, but none of them offer the challenge or ground-breaking originality that this game offers in spades. If you haven’t yet played the game or it has been a long time since you have, I highly recommend you give The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past a playthrough. It’s simply one of the best best gaming experiences out there, with ever aspect being so meticulously crafted that it remains a breath of fresh air to this very day.

STRONGLY CONDONE

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