The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

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Introduction

The Kingdom of Hyrule is in turmoil. The dark wizard Agahnim has killed the king—or turned him into a skeleton or something, I can’t really tell from the image—and is close to finishing his evil design of merging this world with a parallel (and cursed, did I mention cursed?) world! And, naturally, you are literally the only thing on the entire planet that can stop him.

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Agahnim is green in the game. I don’t know which is weirder, the bad guy wearing same colored clothes as the characters being Christmas themed.

 

Development

A Link to the Past was originally being developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System but was bumped up to the next generation, the Super Nintendo Entertainment Systemso that it could take advantage of the advanced graphics and the ability to zoom and have scope.

It was such a large game that its cartridge has twice the size of normal SNES cartridgesfrom 512 Kilobytes to 1 Megabyte. I know! Think of what we can do with one Megabyte today! If I had 1500 cartridges I could fit an episode of Game of Thrones in my whole garage. The game was going to need the space because it had two different worlds for the player to explore.

Even with this increase of space, the programmers used a series of tricks to keep memory usage as low as it could go. This is why the game only displays 8 colors at a time instead of the 16 the SNES could be capable of. Another neat little trick is that the Dark world art is overlayed on top of the Light world. This makes the worlds visually identitical but thematically wrong, an uncanny valley of sorts, as the Light world’s familiar and sunny settings are replaced with grim mockeries. On the simplest level, with a little pallet work, the once bright trees of Hyrule had changed into deadened husks. Bridges rot away between the worlds.

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This turns into…

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This. Yes, that desert turned into a swamp.

 

Gameplay

Agahnim has taken the castle as his own and is holding PrincessZelda, hostage as the final piece of his sinister plan. You play as Link, of the line of the heroes of Hyrule. Zelda contacts Link through a dream and asks him to save her from Agahnim’s clutches. When Link wakes up his uncle tells Link not to leave the house and that he’ll be home before morning. Strangely, when I was a kid I never thought it was weird that Link lived with his uncle and that his uncle was just awake at 2 in the morning on rainy nights. Link disobeys his uncle’s commands and runs off anyway—unless you feel like staying in your house forever.

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The land of Hyrule is filled with mystery, some mysteries that can only be explained in the Dark World.

 

Nostalgia

This was the first game where I played a character with a sword. Link doesn’t jump on goombas or turtles, he kills his enemies. He’s fighting for his life. He’s in over his head, slaying hoards of monsters. Link fights evil, Mario rescues Peach. This is the game for the Super Nintendo that lets a kid fight evil, destroy the wizard, and save the kingdom. It takes some cues from Joseph Cambell’s theory of the Hero’s Journey, but doesn’t feel the need to hit all the points. But the effect is the same, the player feels like a hero.

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Sword in the Stone anyone?

 

The Replay

This game holds up to its original playthrough surprisingly well. Having played through it before, I didn’t get stuck in all the places that I used when I was younger…with a few exceptions I’ll get to later. I also listened to the whole plot this time around and the information about the sages and the Golden Land is really interesting, now that I read it. It’s also easier playing it when I have more motor control, and now that I can read, because reading is important. It’ll never be as mind blowingly good as it was when I was a kid, whenever I stopped playing I wanted to start again. But it’s still damn good.

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As you can see, the art from the manual is just incredible.

 

The Gush

It’s hard to say all the things that went right with this game because there are just so many. The puzzles are usually simple enought that even a young kid can figure out how to complete them with a little trial and error, but complex enough for an adult to figure out on their first try. The Master Sword is still as amazing as I remember it. It’s the ultimate weapon in videogames, it’s indestrible, evil can’t touch it, it reflects magic, and it shoots lasersWhat more could you want!? Dashing around harassing chickens and digging for treasure, there are so many little things you can do and so many little secrets to find. Miyamoto originally designed the Legend of Zelda series to be about exploration and it shows in this game. They say that the first Legend of Zelda game that you play is your favorite, and I don’t know if that’s true for everyone but it’s true for me

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I’ve got some bad news for a certain sleeping sword, it won’t be left sleeping for long

 

The Kvetch

The Ice Dungeon. Just, the Ice Dungeon. I hate this place. It’s hard to figure out how to get in. Some enemies can only be killed with the fire rod and the fire rod runs off of limited resources. Giant skeleton enemies can only be defeated by being struck with the sword and then blown up with bombswhich took me forever to figure out when I was six. And it’s full of slippery floors that’ll lead you to run into fire walls and spikes. To top it all off, the final boss can only be damaged initially by the fire rod or the lamp. So if you’re out of magic, there’s no way to beat him.Get some potions or get really sad.

I also want to complain about Sahasrahla, the last descendant of the 7 sages that sealed the cursed land away. That sounds really important but the game doesn’t make it seem that way at all. It took me forever to figure out how to say that right. He’s got really poorly defined abilities. Sometimes he can contact you telepathically when it’s convenient, but sometimes he can do it when Link holds his head up against certain walls. It’s really weird and hard for a kid to understand. Why couldn’t a dead adventurer have written a hint on the wall or something? I just think it looks really silly when Link starts listening to walls for a sage that’s on another plane of existence says something that’s oddly apt and useful.

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By the way, that floor is scrolling in randomly changing directions. Have fun trying to not get hit.

The Verdict

It holds up really well. It deserves the nostalgia it recieves. It’s rewarding to know some of the secrets and it’s still fun to relearn the rest. The adventure still feels like an adventure, it still feels fresh.

Next Week: Super Mario RPG

 

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