Review by discoinferno84

"When a hero comes along..."

Where were you in 1991? Think about it. Were you going into the second grade? Were you working some pathetic odd job for your next-door neighbor? Were you watching Saturday morning cartoons religiously? Were you even alive? It's all wrapped up in a haze of mismatched memories and embarrassing family photos. I don't remember every single detail of my childhood years, but I do know what I was doing over ten years ago. I played catch out on the street with my friends, bundled up in my winter coat and hoping that Christmas Break would start a week early. But as the frost swept through Californian suburbia, I found myself spending most of my time indoors playing my SNES. And as luck would have it, my favorite gaming console was graced with what is currently regarded as one of the finest games ever made. And after all these years, the Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past can still back up that claim.

It's been a while since Link has saved someone. You'd think that after one epic quest, the guy would be able to get some down time and go on a vacation or something. But as many gamers know, the realm of Hyrule is prone to evil invasions and conquering warlords. It seems that someone discovered a way to get to the Golden Land, the realm in which the almighty Triforce exists. As with anything mysterious and foreboding, this discovery causes countless wars and strife across the land. Desperate to find a solution to the turmoil, the King of Hyrule called upon the Seven Sages to seal up the entrance to the Golden Land. As peace came back to the kingdom, a new Royal Advisor named Agahnim came into power. But despite the tranquility, another controversy has emerged. It seems that people have been disappearing without a trace. And on one fateful stormy night, Link is awoken by the cries of unseen maiden. Rubbing his eyes and still half-asleep, Link unknowingly begins one of the greatest adventures of his life.

And as you embark on your new quest in Link to the Past, you'll tend to notice a few changes from its predecessor. Unlike the original Legend of Zelda, there is no longer a strong emphasis on exploring the landscape. In the previous game, you were allowed to wander Hyrule at will, finding whatever secrets and danger that lay in your path. You never had to systematically go through each area in a given order; for the most part it was completely up to you. However, Link to the Past covers a much wider scope of Hyrule, with more areas and details. You can literally spend hours roaming the fields, slashing bushes and grass for some spare rupees or items. But if you want to get anything productive done, you're required to go to specific locations and retrieve whatever item you're searching for. They even gave you a huge map of the Hyrulian landscape, conveniently pointing out your location and your destination. At least you won't get lost.

But if the game designers made any improvement, it's with the dungeons. As with all Zelda games, you have to venture into various dungeons and recover some item or artifact that is essential to the progression of the game. And since the dungeons make up the focal point of the adventure, it would make sense that the developers would spend some time revamping the quest. Instead of a few scattered dungeons here and there, we are treated to over ten massive labyrinths comprised almost completely of puzzle solving. This isn't just about bombing specific walls of lighting some torches. Now you have a multitude of traps and obstacles to deal with, from switches to push or specific foes to annihilate. Also, you have countless locked doors to open, chests to uncover, and plenty of special items that need to be used to your advantage.

Link will eventually collect a formidable arsenal of helpful gadgets as he makes it through the quest. You'll find the usual staples of the Zelda series, like bombs, arrows, and boomerangs. Also, there are a few upgradeable items, like the sword and the shield. However, the enemies have also come back with full upgrades. Instead of little blobs of color wandering around the screen, you'll be forced to face an AI that will actually pursue you. If one of those Stalfos sees Link, you'd better start running, as it will likely come after you. If you don't kill an enemy with one swing of the sword, there's a pretty good chance that it'll get back up and try again. But on top of all that, these dungeons themselves are difficult to navigate. There are some many intricate hallways, overlying paths, connecting rooms, and multiple floors for you to contend with. Since you're working with an overhead display, there's a fair chances that you could become confused by the layouts of the various dungeons. And when you factor in the detailed dungeon layout, the new and improved puzzles and some formidable opposition, you have the makings for a wonderfully challenging time.

However, a game of this scope and grandeur wouldn't work so well without an excellent presentation to back it up. The game designers made fairly good use of the SNES' capabilities, but a few aspects tend to lack a certain degree of quality. Most of the character sprites have a limited amount of detail and animations. While the quality has certainly improved from the NES incarnations, I'd still expect more considering some other games on the console. Of course, I can't deny that Hyrule is portrayed with excellence. All the locales in this game, from the imposing dungeons to the dark and mysterious depths of the Lost Woods have their own unique feel and atmosphere. You can almost feel the tension of entering a dungeon for the first time or the drama when you face off against a powerful enemy. It's a blend of lighting, coloring and overall special effects that create such an engaging experience.

But while the graphics are lacking in a few places, the audio quality is top notch. The game designers have taken all of the sound effects and refurbished them for the SNES, creating a more realistic feel for the game. You can actually hear metal meeting metal as Link's sword makes contact with an enemy shield, the way the bushes rustle when Link hacks his way through, or even the softened boom of a bomb going off. It's the kind of stuff you'd wish was on the older games. Also, all of the old themes have been remixed with a new dramatic and instrumental flair. You can hear the beat of a drum in the background of the Zelda overworld theme, or the soft piano notes of the Fairy's Fountain theme. With an incredible soundtrack meshed with everything else, this game comes off as the near-perfect Zelda game.

And as we leave Link to the Past, one question comes to my mind: Why aren't there more games like this? Why is it that some of the finest games ever made are on the older systems? Why can't someone come up with a game that could surpass all expectations, just like this game did? Of course, such a demand is pretty steep these days. It's hard to top a game like this. You have another epic quest of a beloved hero. You've got a massive world to explore with plenty of challenging dungeons and enemies to defeat. There's also an outstanding presentation to round everything out. Yeah, it's a pretty tall order to ask anyone these days. But there's some solace in the fact that I and many other gamers out there can come back to this game, where gaming has reached a level unparalleled by all competition. I hope that you can, too.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 09/08/04

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