So folks, if you look off to your left, you’ll see the roots our beloved series starring everybody’s favorite silent, asexual hero. The Legend of Zelda was not always the huge franchise it is today and, like most wonderful origin stories, we can find the game’s humble beginnings if we look to the ’80’s. The very first game, titled simply The Legend of Zelda, was released in 1986 for the NES and although it didn’t sell nearly as well as Super Mario Bros., it left a comparable impact and is equally iconic. With its exploration, tricky puzzles, and Save System, it completely redefined the Action/Adventure genre.
When it comes to narrative, the story is pretty basic but remember it’s the NES. The game focuses on the classic trio: Princess Zelda, our villain Ganon, and of course, the Legendary hero Link and the plot is essentially a watered-down variant of the legend fans have come to understand. Ganon, Prince of Darkness and wielder of the Triforce of Power, has kidnapped Princess Zelda in an attempt to claim her Triforce of Wisdom. However, upon said kidnapping, Zelda shatters her Triforce of Wisdom into 8 different pieces and hides them in all corners of Hyrule for safekeeping. Somehow, breaking shit and scattering the remnants is considered a foolproof protection plan in case of emergency. It is then the job of the young boy named Link to recover all 8 pieces and rescue the princess because the only other inhabitants of Hyrule are cryptic old men. For some unbeknownst reason, the Triforce of Courage doesn’t ever make an appearance. Overall, it’s pretty simple stuff but hey, it’s NES – you can’t expect The Last Of Us.
Admittedly, The Legend of Zelda doesn’t have a legendary plot, however, it fair pretty well in the gameplay department. Unlike most games of its era, The Legend of Zelda isn’t played on a static or side-scrolling screen, but rather it boasts the whole land of Hyrule to be explored from a top-down angle. It features no points, no highscores, no levels, and no princesses in other castles. The player is free to discover Hyrule’s numerous secrets at any chosen pace, a feature that was pretty radical for gaming in the 1980’s. So often it feels like modern games hold our hands, carefully escorting us through every moment of gameplay, whereas The Legend of Zelda does an excellent job of leaving the player to their own devices while offering a refreshing sense of challenge. Such freedom had never been seen before in games at that time. The very hazardous dungeons can be completed in any order and collecting the shards of Triforce is quite satisfying. Although, alas, my heart goes out to you, oh children of the ’80’s who ventured through this game without any guidance. Like most ’80s games, it is often brutally challenging, so be warned. The game gives you minimal assistance and when you actually understand where you’re supposed to adventure next, the challenge is a huge plus. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
Go forth and conquer!
No game can escape the aging clutches of time and The Legend of Zelda is no exception, mostly due to its release date. There are indeed moments when the classic does feel a bit archaic, particularly when it comes to the aforementioned level of challenge. The Legend of Zelda does a good job of challenging Link with tricky baddies and dungeons, those goddamn Darknuts in particular, however, the actual secrets prove to be quite the unnecessary pain in the ass. There is often no indication as to which bush you should burn with your magical candles, which cliff-side you should explode with your bombs, or what the Pig Man in Dungeon 7 means when he says “Grumble Grumble”. (Somehow that translates into “I’m hungry, kind sir. Give me that random piece of meat from the shop you probably didn’t buy earlier.”) Playing this game without a external guide or map is likely only to result in frustration, especially considering the grey box labeled “Map” ingame is essentially useless. However, it’s difficult to stand in clean conscious and too greatly criticize The Legend of Zelda for these design flaws. The 1980’s were an experimental time for gaming and there was no cold-cut definition of what “worked” in games and what didn’t. Furthermore, the NES version was accompanied with numerous pamphlets and a map to aid and improve the player’s experience. While it is incredibly frustrating to navigate without assistance, upon downloading a map online, the game becomes immediately a great way to kill some time on your 3DS.
So, would I recommend this game to your average Joe gamer? Most likely not. It’s simply a little too tricky. However, I would suggest it to any fan of The Legend of Zelda to definitely pick this one up. Like I mentioned before, the game fits perfectly on the virtual console for the 3DS, with the Save Points making life far easier – just make sure you have a map of the secrets pulled up on your phone while you play. Though you won’t find yourself totally engrossed for hours at a time like you may with some of the later titles, solving dungeons and nabbing Triforce pieces is perfect for when you have a moment at the DMV. The Legend of Zelda hasn’t aged with perfection, however, the classic still a pretty enjoyable time for those with a little patience and a hankering for a challenge. In the context of the rest of the franchise, it’s quite different. Though it’s not the greatest title in the series, it is definitely worth any fan’s while, as long as you’re in the right state of mind.