Review by darthjulian
"A true milestone adventure and still one of the best video games ever made"
When the Super Nintendo hit the stores back in 1990, "Super Mario World" certainly was the first mega-seller for Nintendo´s then-new 16-Bit machine, and rightly so. Of course there were lots of above-average and outstanding titles coming afterwards, but the next big highlight for the SNES was "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past". And much like "Super Mario World" before it, this brainchild of legendary producer Shigeru Miyamoto set a new standard for its genre, managing to outclass its predecessors by far.
Curiously enough, he events of "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" supposedly serve as the premise of the events taking place in "A Link to the Past", with the evil Ganondorf having been sealed into the Dark World by the Seven Wise Men/Sages, saving Hyrule in the process. Centuries later, the evil sorcerer Aghanim has managed to rise into the position of the adviser of the king of Hyrule. However, he gets rid of the king in order to search for the seven maidens, the descendants of the seven sages, trying to break the seal of the Dark World in the process and freeing Ganondorf/Ganon. The seventh and last girl he needs for this procedure is Princess Zelda herself, and that´s where our hero Link comes into the game. One stormy night, he finds his uncle in the sewers beneath Hyrule Castle, dying from fatal wounds, with his last words being the revelation of Aghanim´s plans, and that only Link can save the Princess now. From now on, it´s Link´s duty to save Princess Zelda and the other six maidens from the clutches of Aghanim and Ganon with the help of the Master Sword. As it is the case with nearly every single Zelda game, "A Link to the Past" does not abound with complex character development or nearly unbelievable plot twists, and the story is not being carried by them. However, compared to the first Zelda and "The Adventure of Link", "A Link to the Past" can definitely be considered to be a vast improvement, and you can´t help but being drawn deeper into the story, especially after the twist near the beginning of the game.
It´s some sort of a given fact nowadays that Zelda games impress gamers with pitch perfect gameplay and controls, as well as tons of ideas and fresh gameplay elements by Nintendo mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto. And that is definitely true for "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past", being a revolutionary experience for its time in comparison to its predecessors. In general, the rough gameplay concept for ALttP might be resembling the first part of the series again, which means that Nintendo disposed of the overhead/side scroll concept of "The Adventure of Link", settling for a complete overhead view again, which is already a big plus thanks to the gamer now having a better overview of the environments; an extremely helpful aspect especially when you´re battling monsters. Another much needed gameplay change is the omission of the experience point system of Zelda II, which means that there´s no levelling up anymore here. However, you can still increase at least your energy bar by finding new heart containers, another Zelda trademark that was going reused in later games. Fortunately, Link is now also able to slash his sword into any direction you choose, instead of simply being restricted to thrusting it forward, which gives the battles a more fast paced and less frustrating feel. The same goes for the mere process of walking. In the two NES Zelda games, you were only able to walk horizontally and vertically, which means that you practically could only walk to the left/right or up/down, an aspect that proved itself to be considerably frustrating in the older Zelda titles, especially during the battles, and it´s a relief to see that Nintendo got rid of that problem by allowing gamers to walk diagonally as well now. Of course, there are also several new items and techniques for Link to learn (like the Pegasus Boots that allow you to run), some of which have made further appearances in Link´s next generation appearances. The most innovative concept in "A Link to the Past", however, definitely is the inclusion of a Light World and a Dark World version of Hyrule, with you being able to travel between these worlds from whatever point you want thanks to the help of a magic mirror. The cool thing is that since the Dark World is indeed the dark mirror world to the light version of Hyrule, there are a lot of puzzles you have to solve using the ability to travel between the two worlds, and to say that this new element is clever would be an understatement. Speaking of puzzles, you´ll also find tons of them inside the complex dungeons, and there are some tricky brainteasers here this time around, with the introduction of the multi-floor concept of dungeons ultimately working out and serving for a completely new feeling of dungeon exploration compared to Zelda I and II. As for the difficulty level, "A Link to the Past" offers a near perfect mix between beginner-friendly handling and a good deal of challenge, with some of the boss fights being tough enough for experts to be satisfied, while newbies will be carefully introduced to the game and its aspects so he will grow accustomed to it quickly. It´s yet another proof for the sheer brilliance of Shigeru Miyamoto-san.
After 2D side scroll/topdown mix in "The Adventure of Link", Nintendo returned to the classic perspective of the first Legend of Zelda title again, and not only did it help to improve the gameplay over its predecessor vastly, it also represented the return to the essence of Link´s 2D style. In my opinion, a 2D Zelda can only bring forth its true potential and charm with a topdown perspective, and the side scroll view in "The Adventure of Link" did not really work for me. Naturally, "A Link to the Past" is not merely a change from its predecessor when it comes to the perspective the game is being presented from, it´s also a huge improvement over Zelda II in terms of the quality of the visuals, being a Super Nintendo game, after. And hence, it makes use of the capabilities of Nintendo´s 16-Bit machine in a way that it lives up to the standards set by other first generation SNES games. It´s naturally a lot brighter, more vibrant and of course more colorful than its predecessors, utilizing the larger color palette of the Super Nintendo wisely in order to create a fairy tale like experience. The topdown view guarantees that you won´t miss any of the small but important and of course nice looking details like birds flying around on the overworld or the insides of some houses. Everything fits together perfectly, creating a complete experience in terms of locations. The character sprites have a rather unique, slightly chibi look to them, and they simply look cute to say the least, with all the details about their clothes and character designs being visible, making each of them perfectly recognizable. In the days of the Super Nintendo", "mode-7" was some sort of a magic word, being the special ability of the SNES due to the FX chip, and "A Link to the Past" makes use of that feature, too - in the map of the Light and Dark World, as you are able to zoom in and out of the rather complex and detailed map, giving you a better grasp on your current position in Hyrule. Equally impressive are the sometimes large boss enemies, being unique and interesting in their design and great looking from a graphical point of view.
The musical score has been composed by Nintendo mainstay Koji Kondo once again, the man behind the tunes in Super Mario and Star Fox. Other than the reappearing overworld theme of the first Zelda for the Light World version of Hyrule, the score in "A Link to the Past" is also famous for having introduced several themes that would reappear in later games of the Zelda series, like Zelda´s theme, the theme for Kakariko village and the fairy cave theme. That alone should tell you about the sheer quality of the soundtrack Kondo came up with for this part of the franchise. The tunes are haunting and atmospheric, always perfectly fitting for the current situation and rather adventurous and heroic in general. Whether it´s the intriguing opening title music or the glorious ending theme, the score is simply brilliant and just perfect for a game as ambitious and grand as "A Link to the Past". Of course, one could argue that the music selection is not exactly outstanding and that some of the pieces tend to repeat themselves a little too often, but fortunately, you somehow won´t notice while playing. The sound effects are fairly decent, too, with the sole exception of the annoying sound you´ll be hearing whenever you´re low on remaining hearts. It might not be the most memorable soundtrack of any Zelda game, but the score is nevertheless a true classic and among the best to be heard on the Super Nintendo.
"The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past" is one of these timeless classics that will always remain an awesome and unforgettable experience for fans of quality gaming everywhere. Maybe it has been surpassed by "Ocarina of Time" and "Twilight Princess" by now, but nevertheless, "A Link to the Past" has not lost its appeal at all. You definitely need this in your collection if you´re a serious console gaming fan, and thankfully, you can experience this remarkable adventure on the Game Boy Advance as a port if you missed the original. It´s simply another brilliant and revolutionary title by Shigeru Miyamoto, and another proof for him being the best video game designer ever.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 12/21/06
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