The Legend of Zelda has returned to its original game’s overhead view looking down on your hero Link as he sword slashes, discovers secrets and uses new items to defeat bosses and traverse both worlds of light and dark. This is the third installment of a beloved franchise and it overdoes everything to the level of the Super Nintendo that the original system could never do. Better graphics, more enemies, deeper gameplay, but it also takes the second quest idea of the first and branches it into a dark world fully fleshed out. Link can flip between worlds through the use of a magic world to discover unreachable areas.
The story has humble beginnings, you are but a child that hears a voice in bed during a rainstorm. It is Princess Zelda summoning you to rescue her. The rescue is quick and on the way you meet your dying uncle that heed the call before you. He bestows you with his sword and you’re on your way in a daring one man invasion of a castle crawling with guards on the lookout for anything suspicious.
You quickly find the princess, and rescue her from a mace swinging guard that the original system was never capable of doing. The story plays out and Zelda is safe, but you have an evil foe named Agahnim to stop in the land of Hyrule. With the engaging tutorial out of the way, the storm clouds dissipate and you’re free to roam around the over world.
With the world open to you, there are many areas to explore. The lost woods, a town, a desert, a lake and death mountain itself. At first you’ll need three pendants before you challenge the evil force and each one is within its own palace. Hyrule itself is a rich, diverse land to wander around in. Its tough to find a dull moment. Everything has a puzzle or some sense of mystery to it. Hidden rooms, ghost boys, attacking chickens to cause an onslaught of chickens attacking you.
The original game had a series of rooms that were one screen each, but in a Link to the Past, these rooms are big and there are multiple floors. Some areas even have walkways for you to jump down from to a lower level. It turns every labyrinth into a fun challenge. You can always locate a compass to show you the boss and major item found in each palace. A map shows you a room layout. Doors are locked, some require typical keys others need a big key to proceed further. There are cracked walls that you can bomb to see what’s inside and shutter doors that will open under certain circumstances such as defeating all the enemies in a room or solving a puzzle.
Items are always rich in usefulness and you can equip an item by going into the game’s menu. Each of the game’s many items serves as a way to progress. The power bracelet lets you pull and push objects. The boots let you run and ram things out of trees. The hammer pounds enemies and breaks through masks or shields. The boomerang is back and its an easy way to stun enemies or retrieve distant items, but outside of its diagonal ability, it becomes obsolete with the game’s new hook shot that you can use to cross large gaps.
You’ll come across upgrades and enhancements to your sword and tunic that let you do more damage and take less of it. There are a few ways you can find them, the first of which is searching through the lost woods for the legendary master sword, but its the lost woods for a reason, you need to find your way through the mysterious fog and haze to a clearing with a glow of light shining down. Other methods for upgrading include having specific fairy springs bless them.
The sword itself has a few techniques. Your slash alone attacks a ninety degree radius to the side, but you can also stab forward with it. If you hold the sword attack it will charge and when released Link will circle. Its effective for hitting tough enemies or mowing eight tiles of grass around you. Having full health and the right sword will send a beam of energy out.
There are three destructive spells that kill everything on the screen, lighting them on fire or electrocuting them. Within the dark world there are a few places that require these to progress. Its all just another method to get further in the game. There are other items that use magic as well, such as fire and ice wands. Then you come across a staff that makes blocks and you can use them for puzzle solving or turn them into four fireballs. Its a rich and diverse game when it comes to puzzles and combat.
With a game so vast, you get a map of the two outside world that should guide you where you need to go, without telling you how to get there. You’ll come across barriers, either gaps, rocks, water and so on that impede your way. Link has no way to jump, but he can obtain flippers to swim through deep blue water rather than walking through lighter colored shallow water. Before you ever reach the first evil mastermind, you come across a mirror that will let you shift between light and dark worlds. This is where things get interesting. The dark world has everything twisted and having it before the first final boss is a stroke of genius to hint that the game goes deeper than three mere palaces.
Outside of palaces there are plenty of tunnels and caves to explore. Zelda is really a game of exploration and discovery. There are usually quarter heart containers scattered throughout the land. Finding four will give you an extra heart of health to take more damage. The average amount of damage is half a heart and you start with three, but you can garner several more. You find things along the way that benefit you. Whether its rupies for currency or hearts to refill your health, there’s a chance of something that gets dropped by an enemy or uncovered beneath a shrub or pot.
Once you stop the first evil mastermind, you’re snatched from the light world and thrown into the dark. That’s when the game goes deeper and you need to travel through bigger palaces. One of the best parts of having this open world is tackling the labyrinths as you see fit. All you need to do is get there.
In terms of enemies, there’s a wide variety of old and new favorites with plenty of ways to fight them. Some knights have shields that require you to go around them. Other cycloptic foes need you to shoot them with an arrow where it counts. Burning mummies is always fun. Some enemies take health, others consume magic and there is even a few steal you off the ground and return you to the last entrance of the area.
There is only one town in the game, but its big enough to have a lot going on inside. Then take into account there’s a dark version as well. You’ll find shops, explore wells and vacant homes. To take a break there are a few mini games here and there, such as digging for dollars or in this case rupies.
The music and sound are fantastic and iconic. Ballads to send you charging into battle. Mysterious and dreamy songs that make your mind work. Celebratory sounds for every treasure chest you open. Its all an effective way the game gets you to do what you need to.
A Link to the Past is an excellent and exceptional game; one of the best on the system. Its a true gem of a game and something that I used to complete every weekend over and over again. Even knowing where everything is, it still remains a captivating game.