Review by bachewychomp
"Nintendo gets it right."
The Legend of Zelda is undoubtedly one of the most cherished series in gaming history. The original installment was released approximately five years before A Link to the Past, and is heralded as a classic pioneer in gaming. While it is a great game with an undeniable impact, its gameplay and story were largely limiting and primitive in comparison to future installments. The sequel Zelda II is an underrated game which introduced many overlooked concepts to the series, but still largely failed to resonate with the same impact as the first. Then, as Nintendo leapt into the next generation on the SNES, its new Zelda installment atoned for the disappointment of Zelda II and delivered a masterpiece that would truly define the way we think about Zelda games.
A Link to the Past reinvented the Zelda formula by going back to its roots. Just as in Legend of Zelda, the gameplay at its simplest core centers on a boy hero named Link exploring the world of Hyrule and fighting various monsters with his trusty sword, shield and a collection of useful items and weapons that grows with his quest. However, the control is dramatically improved. Link can now move diagonally and instead of stabbing his sword in front of him he swings it, meaning that the player does not have to be as precise to attack enemies. It also introduces a spin attack which is more powerful than a basic sword swing. Like in Zelda I, all items are mapped to a single button and selected by pausing the game, but ALttP also makes use of the SNES' extra buttons for an action' button and a map screen.
The original Zelda centered on the idea of throwing the player into this world with little help and the capacity to go almost anywhere in the world immediately with few exceptions. ALttP makes the focus more linear, which makes it arguably less difficult, but its difficulty becomes a lot more fair and reasonable. Despite the increased linearity the game is designed to still allow the player to explore at his own pace. The dungeon locations are all outlined on the in-game map, showing clearly that the emphasis was not on Where the hell am I going? as in the first game but How the hell do I get there? Exploration is much more focused rather than blind, and most searches can be solved with a little bit of clever observation and reasoning.
And of course, the gameplay focuses on a big idea heretofore unmentioned. The core innovation brought to the series here is the idea of a dynamic overworld, in this case one that switches between the Light World and Dark World. The Light World can be accessed at any time from the Dark World, but the reverse is not true. The majority of the dungeons in the game are located in the Dark World, and finding the proper route to them is a large part of the game. This adds an extra element of depth to the gameplay, as sometimes mere exploration of one world at a time is not enough, but it demands instead that the player traverses each world and looks for links between the two.
The dungeons in A Link to the Past are another area that is largely improved. With the exception of secret passages, progress in an original Zelda dungeon was largely based on moving through doors in a NSEW plane. Although multi-story dungeons were introduced in Zelda II, this is the first top-down Zelda game to feature them, and they add a whole dimension to the possibilities of progressing through a dungeon. Dungeon rooms are no longer uniform in size, and multiple sub-stories can even exist within certain rooms on each story. Dungeon puzzles are much more diverse, with additions such as torch lighting and weight-activated switches that would become staples for Zelda games to come. Dungeons are thematic, often including area-specific hazards such as sand, water and ice. They are designed more carefully to avoid the possibility of defeating the boss without obtaining the critical dungeon item. Speaking of items, Link's repertoire is greatly increased, with the essentials like the bow, bombs, and sword included alongside many powerful and unique new magic items. The armor, sword and shield upgrades are more expansive, and Link's abilities are more diverse, swimming being one such example.
The amount of gameplay improvements is certainly impressive on its own, but I would be remiss not to mention anything about the presentation of the game. Simply put, it blows away any Zelda game that came before it in terms of presentation. First and foremost, the graphics are much more colorful and vibrant, but this is largely to be expected on a more powerful system. Different areas such as deserts, swamps and mountains look like what they are supposed to look like instead of leaving it largely to be filled in by imagination. The soundtrack is still one of the best for any Zelda game, introducing many songs that would become cherished regulars in the series, and an overall impressively large selection compared to its predecessors. The game has multiple overworld and underworld themes which change depending on Light World vs. Dark World and specific locations within each. Thematically the soundtrack helps to highlight the differences between worlds. This is also done graphically--the enemies in the Dark World are often more threatening and unnatural looking than those in the Light World, and the terrain is darker and more deathly.
A big part of presentation, and a highly discussed aspect of Zelda in general, is story. From the opening scene alone the improvement here is obvious. The brief scrolls from the first two games are ditched for a flashier intro, including cutscenes, that focuses on the Triforce and background of Hyrule more than just the events of the game. This is the first Zelda game that develops its story throughout the course of the game, evolving more and revealing more information as the player progresses. There are many more NPCs present to talk to in this game, and the localization has dramatically improved, with few (if any) grammatical mistakes, making the dialogue more meaningful in a way beyond something to make fun of. Simply put, for the first time in a Zelda game it feels like Nintendo was invested in the story for the sake of the story.
Presentation should not be overvalued, but A Link to the Past has the gameplay to back it up, and together with great gameplay it is just icing on the cake. This game is a masterpiece and a critical point in the Zelda series. Anybody who has ever enjoyed any Zelda game, or the action adventure genre in general, should play this game.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/05/11
Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (US, 04/13/92)
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