Review by Denouement

"Walked in my daddy’s shoes…no time to be a peaceful man"

Like the Triforce itself, A Link to the Past presents three faces to us. Which of these, the player must ask himself, is the true face? Is it the typical, uninteresting story of the beautiful princess and the young boy who strikes out to rescue her? Perhaps it's the battle of Link to recover that same legendary Triforce and defeat the evil Ganondorf -- there is certainly a healthy portion of that tale. But at its heart, this is the story of a young boy who walks in his father’s footsteps -- against his direct parental order -- into a greater danger than he had ever imagined, and must fight his way out.

The tensions between obedience and honor, between doing what is expected and doing what is right, are evident here, and are the issues Link must overcome on his journey. Things work themselves out for our young hero -- soon it is clear enough that Agahnim and Ganondorf, the villainous duo of the Zelda saga, need to be taken out. Of course, that knowledge doesn’t make his task any easier, for those two have thrown up seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the elf hero’s path, and worse have sent implacable and dangerous minions against him.

The whole thing reeks of Tolkien, doesn’t it? Zelda has always taken after the Lord of the Rings, with its small, boyish, questionably qualified hero. Unfortunately, while emulating the high fantasy and compelling heroes of Tolkien, Nintendo has also somehow dragged along his faults for this title--namely, dismal enemies and loads of action that often isn’t too exciting.

The actual enemies you’ll face are a disappointing bunch, really a muddle of the more boring and monotonous foes Zelda has pitted us against. Defeating a seemingly endless array of basic soldiers grows tedious, especially when any simpleton can see their attack pattern and trounce them with little difficulty. The fighting itself, however, can be a joy at times, with Link swinging his sword for all he is worth and laying it to a dastardly foe, only to spin away from a devastating counterattack. This is what action combat is all about -- if only there was more of it. The simple attacks patterns of enemies, and their utterly stupid intelligence, are the single greatest flaws in this game.

While Link’s enemies are as generic as they are relentless, the weapons at his disposal have great variety and utility. Plus, the control system for weapons and special items has been improved, so that by equipping a special item it can be swiftly used at the push of a button. Cleverly, the designers have made acquiring these special items not just a matter of pride or perfect completion, but necessary to defeat some of the game’s many puzzles. In Zelda, acquiring these unique and powerful artifacts is not just left to an appended sidequest; these minor quest are woven seamlessly into the flow of your main journey.

The greatest fault of A Link to the Past is that it tends to dissolve into repetitive dungeon-crawling, though many specific moments perk up the player’s interest temporarily. In most cases, the dungeons of this title are not quite as sprawling or absorbing, partly because they are less complex that those of the predecessor, and partly because of some graphical issues.

Visually, this is an improvement over the NES Legends of Zelda, certainly better than that side-scrolling hybrid that was Zelda II, but only in the sharpness of color and detail of some sprites, and in some special effects like the rain falling down at the start. What you see on this screen can be lively -- it is often filled with color, with enemies moving and perhaps details like flowers and bushes -- but it is not especially enjoyable to look at over the long term. Uninteresting backgrounds and screen after repetitious screen in the dungeons drag the game down into boredom -- where it fails to be resurrected by the unremarkable score and sound effects.

While some portions of the soundtrack are excellent, it is generally fairly bland, with the different themes sounding more like minor variations on the same theme -- which to begin with is taken from the NES Zelda. Neither sound or graphics will disappoint you, but neither will inspire you or drive you to complete Link’s quest. Fortunately, the story subtly does that all by itself.

Unfortunately, the game you are driven to complete is not as rewarding as we might desire. Instead of enjoying the fights through the dungeons and the exploration, you will likely find yourself pushing on to the next area without really savoring the game.

Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series ranks among the most enduring names in gaming. A Link to the Past simply shouts out that it is wants to be the original Legend of Zelda come again onto a more modern platform. It equals the original easily, providing innovations in story and gameplay that were not long in spreading to the rest of the RPG world. With A Link to the Past, we have not yet reached the pinnacle of Zelda -- that is Ocarina of Time, in my mind. Nor do we have the best game for the SNES, or even the best RPG. Some of the accolades A Link to the Past has received over the years are undeserved. This is in some ways a masterful work; its story has set the foundation for many a role-playing game to follow. It flaws are stark by comparison, but while they are present, they do not detract much from the pleasure of watching A Link to the Past unfold. Despite those faults, this game offers us many rewards. At the time of its release, it revitalized a genre that was beginning to seem all to generic, although it does not itself escape the umbrella of that term. And underneath everything, the astute, involved humanity of the story.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 07/02/03, Updated 07/02/03

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