Review by Shachihoko

"The circle has been completed"

It's been more than a decade now since The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past first appeared on the Super Nintendo, setting a new standard for the Legend of Zelda and for adventure games in general to meet. After A Link to the Past, the franchise divided; the next 2-D Zelda games would all appear on handheld systems, beginning with Link's Awakening on the original black-and-white Game Boy, continuing with a colorized version of Link's Awakening for the Game Boy Color, and followed by the GBC-only Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons.
And now, the legend has come full circle: the game which set the standard for 2-D Zelda has been brought to Nintendo's latest handheld system, the Game Boy Advance.

I do tend to agree with those who bemoan the fact that Nintendo didn't go all-out and make a completely new Zelda for the series' debut on the GBA, but I honestly can't complain: if there's one game from Nintendo's classic library that deserves a GBA reprise, it's A Link to the Past. Nintendo didn't rest on its laurels, either; they could easily have done a straight port of all assets, but instead they tweaked some details, gave Link an actual voice, and worked with Capcom to put together an entirely new multiplayer mode called The Four Swords. I have to give them credit for adding value to an already great game - although some people will argue about how much was really improved.

Gameplay (LTP): Odds are you're going to have to get used to the new control layout; this is one area where I think Nintendo/Capcom kinda dropped the ball. I've been associating the sword with the A button ever since the first Legend of Zelda (and selected items to the same effect in the Oracles games), but Nintendo's swapped the face buttons around - B is for the sword, A is for the equipped secondary item. The L shoulder button brings up the map, and R is used for miscellaneous actions (talking, lifting, pulling or pushing, etc.); Start brings up the save/continue/sleep menu (another counter-intuitive move), while you have to use Select to open the items submenu.
Once you get used to the controls, though, it's classic Zelda at its very best.

Gameplay (4S): I can't say very much about Four Swords, since I haven't got anyone to play linked multiplayer with, but most of the controls are the same as in the LTP side of the cart.

Story (LTP): Princess Zelda is in danger, you're Link, you have to save her. Standard storyline with some probably-familiar twists for most players; the kingdom's been taken over by a wizard named Agahnim who's trying to break the seal into the Dark World by enspelling the maidens who are descended from the seven sages who cast the seal. The story develops from there.
Story (4S): Rather than being the princess, Zelda's the priestess of the Wind Shrine where an evil spirit named Vaati is sealed within the blade of the magical Four Sword. She senses that something is amiss with the seal and asks a young warrior named Link to help her examine it ... but Vaati breaks free and kidnaps Zelda, so Link has to go save her. The catch is that Link has to use the Four Sword, which splits him into four aspects of himself who have to work together in order to complete the quest.
I have to admit, Nintendo/Capcom came up with a clever gimmick to turn Zelda into a multiplayer game. Even if you don't have anyone to link with, you can at least load Four Swords and watch the introductory cutscene.

Audio (LTP): Not quite the same as in the SNES version; as I mentioned above, Link has a voice now, and it's a little disconcerting to hear him screaming as he falls into a pit. The death rattle is pretty cool, though, and some of his other sounds are good ... I'm not sure if the voice clips were lifted from one of the Nintendo 64 games or from Zelda GCN; I've heard the latter but never played either Ocarina of Time or Majora's Mask.
Audio (4S): .... probably comparable to LTP.

Video: Virtually no changes to LTP; again, I haven't seen Four Swords in action (except for ads), so I can't comment. The artistic style used for 4S Link is very distinctive, though. (You can see his sprite on the file selection screen.)

Replayability: Your mileage may vary. Four Swords seems designed to be almost indefinitely replayable; every member of your group has to have all three keys before going to fight Vaati, as far as I can tell, and once you beat both LTP and 4S, another adventure opens up within the single-player game. If you're only going to play this game alone, though, it's about as replayable as any other Zelda game - try to beat the game faster, die fewer times, find more items, etc.

Buy or rent?: Absolutely buy this game. If you've been playing LTP on an emulator, then delete the ROM from your hard drive and go buy a legitimate copy of the GBA version. If you have the original SNES cartridge (or a similarly legitimate copy) in good working order and a working SNES to play it on, and if you don't want any kind of multiplayer features, then and only then should you consider skipping the GBA version .... but anyone else who's a Zelda fan (and how'd you find this review if you aren't? ;) should go out and buy The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past/Four Swords for Game Boy Advance ASAP. There are already places where the price has been reduced below the $30 American list price .... go and get it!

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 12/07/02, Updated 12/07/02

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