The Legend of Zelda originally made its debut here in America in 1987, two years after the launch of the original Nintendo. It was a true departure from games that had to get completed in just one sitting. The American version had a battery backup inside that allowed for three save slots for your hours and days of exploration. You play as Link on his way to save Princess Zelda from the evil Gannon in this top down adventure. To save her, you’ll need to find nine pieces of Triforce each located in its own dungeon.
To get to these dungeons, you’ll need to travel the overworld going screen to screen. The Legend of Zelda has a grid like map. When Link touches the side of a map it then scrolls to the next screen over. The overworld has different forests, mountains, bodies of water and even a graveyard. For its time, this was a massive game world. To this day, it still feels alive, fun and foreboding all at the same time. There are secrets to discover by using items that Link will pick up on his journey. A candle to burn down trees, revealing staircases and to light dark rooms. Bombs to blow up walls to reveal doors, defeat enemies and feed to bosses. A raft to sail across bodies of water and a ladder that lets Link cross narrow bodies of water. There’s even a power bracelet that lets Link push aside blocks to reveal hidden passages for fast travel and a whistle (flute?) to be whisked away to a previous dungeon.
While there is so much exploration to the game, I think its discovery that makes the game stand out. Before there was a time that people couldn’t look up things on the Internet, there was this sense of discovery. I encourage people to find the secrets themselves and just play the game. You’re always discovering things. There are stores, secret doorways, push blocks and passages underneath of statues to name a few. Even the legendary Lost Woods is a puzzle in an of itself.
The game play is simple. The D-pad to move, A button to use your sword straight forward, and the B button to use an item. The start button calls up the inventory to select the item, see how many pieces of the triforce and see a map of the current dungeon. Link has a shield that blocks projectiles as long as he’s facing them without his sword out. The shield can get upgraded like most things to block greater projectiles. and you’ll find two extra swords that increase your attack power and two rings that will buff your defense. A boomerang that you use to stun enemies and grab items will get upgraded to fly the length of the screen. A candle that you can use once per screen will get upgraded to one that you can use always. Every item has an important use. There’s really a sense of progression. You feel like you’re getting better equipped to take on tougher and tougher enemies.
Each dungeon has an item to find on top of a boss to defeat and a piece of the triforce to get. You’ll be looking for a compass to guide your way and a map to see the rooms of each dungeon. Its a nice system and applies to that sense of discovery that I mentioned. After defeating a boss, they leave behind a heart container that increases Link’s maximum health.When Link dies, he either restarts from the beginning of the overworld or the entrance of the current dungeon. He will always start with only three hearts of health even if you’ve upped the maximum to twelve. Defeated enemies can leave hearts to fill your health meter, but finding fairies will fill your health bar faster. Each heart container earned will give Link full health. This forces you to keep playing if you want to keep that health. Sure you can save, but when you load the game, you’ll always have three hearts and start on the overworld.
You can also find these containers in secret places out in the overworld. The inhabitants with heart containers will give you a choice, the heart container or a medicine that will fully restore your health. That’s another thing about this game, the choice is ALWAYS yours. Since the world is so open, you can tackle the dungeons in the order that you want. If you want to go to the eighth dungeon after the first, go for it. The only restriction is getting there. Will you need a ladder to cross a river to get to the next dungeon? Will you need to have something to find a secret entrance?
It feels relaxing to wander around the game. There isn’t much pressure put on you. For the most part, you don’t even have to defeat enemies. Only in rare instances will the game ever lock you in a room full of enemies, forcing you to dispatch them to leave. There are always new enemies in each dungeon to fight. The game does a nice job of progressing their difficulty. The enemies seem multi faceted. Most enemies will pace and fire projectiles that Link can block. Some enemies split into lesser enemies. Zora springs up from water to shoot at Link. Wizarbes will teleport in, spray magic at Link then disappear. Like Likes will eat a magic shield if they capture him. Magic disco balls temporarily take away Link’s sword. Darknuts (Dark Knights) cannot get attacked from the front, because they too have a shield. There’s so much diversity to these enemies. It makes every screen a unique challenge.
There is something special about this game. Its blend of exploration, discovery, combat, enemy diversity and even its music. The music is some of the most iconic and loved music even in a sea of games on a platform known for great music. From the opening score, to the chipper overworld tune, to the hypnotic dungeon theme and finally the menacing sounds of Gannon’s dungeon. It is all top notch and memorable. You’ll be humming it later in life if you aren’t right now.
Even after you’ve completed the game, there’s still more. The second quest opens up with remixed dungeons and new locations to find them in. This was mind blowing at the time, that there would be another game on top of the one we had just spent hours, days and months completing. You can also use ZELDA as a name to automatically skip to the second quest.
The Legend of Zelda will get played until the end of time. I myself replay it every so often and again for the sake of this review. It is still an iconic classic that holds up to today’s gaming standards and will continue to hold its legacy forever.