The Legend Of Zelda

A Guide-Damned Legend

Nintendo saw its foundation in the late nineteenth century as a specialist in producing hanafuda playing cards for Japan’s population, and wouldn’t venture into videogames until the latter quarter of the following hundred years, with the original Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. among their early successes. Company producer Shigeru Miyamoto would commence another franchise alongside Mario, its first entry entitled The Legend of Zelda, after author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, differing from Mario in its nonlinear progression. Most can agree that it’s an iconic, influential game, but has it stood the test of time?

As with most videogames from the 8-bit era, Zelda’s story is simplistic, with protagonist Link needing to rescue the eponymous Princess Zelda from the clutches of the evil lord Ganon (misspelled as Gannon only in the initial installment of the franchise) whilst reclaiming pieces of one of the golden triangles of the Triforce. There really isn’t much development afterwards, and even the dialogue sequence at the end of the game doesn’t add much, although the first entry does a decent job constructing the initial Zelda mythos. The translation is subpar as was the case with most Japanese games in the time, with all capital letters for text, simplistic pidgin dialogue, and such, although Nintendo of America actually didn’t censor the Christian symbols.

Link starts on the southern edge of the land of Hyrule, getting a sword from the nearby cave and setting out on an adventure. Initially, the hero has three heart containers indicating his life and can slash foes with his blade, even being able to fire a ray from use of his armament when his life is full. He also has a shield that can block projectiles from enemies when he’s facing said missiles, and the player can purchase an upgrade from one of many shops scattered across the overworld. Unfortunately, there’s a rather irritating enemy that can devour Link’s shield, downgrading it to his starter one and forcing the player to grind for the Rupees necessary to purchase a replacement.

Link can also get up to two upgrades for his sword depending upon how many hearts he has, with supplemental hearts scattered across the overworld and gained from defeating bosses in the first eight dungeons, although finding these may necessitate use of the internet. The range of Link’s sword without full health, lamentably, is incredibly poor, and what’s more, he can only move up, down, left, or right, whereas his antagonists can in many cases move diagonally and at faster speeds, making avoiding them tedious at times. Given that many screens can feature multiple enemies, battles against standard foes can actually be more difficult than those against bosses.

When Link dies, the player receives the option of continuing from the place where they started the game, or at the beginning of a dungeon if his death was in one. However, Link only restarts with three hearts, though luckily, there are a few places on the overworld where he can fully restore his health. Players can also find medicine that he can consume to fully restore his hearts, although doing so forces them to sit and wait as each heart slowly refills. Finding out where to acquire this medicine, moreover, again can necessitate the use of online guides, as can finding a special ring early on that can reduce the damage that Link takes from foes.

The hero also receives a number of tools that can aid him in his quest, among them being the boomerang, which is useful in stunning enemies for a few seconds and leaving them completely vulnerable to attack during that time. Other noteworthy tools include the bow and arrow (although the use of arrows consumes Link’s Rupees), the ladder that can allow him to cross narrow streams, bombs that can reveal passageways in walls, and so forth. Dungeons also necessitate the use of keys to allow Link to advance, and luckily, there tend to be more than necessary to get through, and towards the end players get a master key that eliminates the need for one-time-use keys.

All in all, the general game mechanics work well in theory, but somewhat falter in practice, given the aforementioned need at times to reference the internet in order to gain an advantage against the enemy and make it to the end. The restriction of Link’s movement and his speed of conveyance also prove to be burdens when faced with his adversaries. While many enemies drop items such as recovery hearts, Rupees, and so forth, it’s pretty much a crapshoot as to when exactly they’ll drop them, and some foes don’t give anything at all. Ultimately, while there’s great promise in the gameplay, it can be more frustrating at times than not.

Control doesn’t fare any better, given the things such as the absence of an in-game map of the overworld, although dungeons do have automaps that fill out whenever Link visits a new chamber, and full dungeon maps found in each one. However, it would have been nice for game to show the partial map on the main gameplay screen instead of forcing players to go to the tools screen to view which rooms they’ve visited, with there being a significant time shifting between the main screen and equipment interface. The mentioned necessity of referencing the internet to get through is also a negative, and overall, Zelda doesn’t interact as well with players as it could have.

Perhaps the strongest aspect of the first game is its aural presentation, with composer Koji Kondo providing tracks such as the iconic overworld theme, along with the title screen music, main dungeon track, final dungeon tune, and the ending music. There are also signature sounds that would play part in the game’s successors such as the “secret revealed” and item acquisition jingles, and the other effects are actually alright for a game of its time. Granted, the musical tracks don’t go for a full minute without looping, but the audio aspect is the most passable part of the game.

The graphics are, as well, although to a lesser extent. The design of the title screen is good, although the colors of the overworld are a little off, with the graphical designer seeming to think that all ground contains a yellowish hue. Elements such as rocks and trees contain believable colors, however, and the dungeon designs have decent variety, in spite of palette swapping at times, the same going for the enemies, in most cases no bigger or smaller than Link. The hero himself does show a little emotion during things such as acquiring a new tool or a piece of the Triforce, and overall, while the visual presentation is middling, things could have certainly been worse.

Finally, the first installment is fairly short, somewhere from four to eight hours, with the ballyhooed “second quest” received upon completing the game a first time, with different overworld and dungeon aspects, adding a smidgeon of lasting appeal, though odds are most mainstream players won’t find the game fun enough to go through again.

In summation, while The Legend of Zelda might have been a turning point in the history of videogames, particularly regarding the action and adventure subgenres, that scarcely means it’s infallible, since most of its aspects haven’t aged gracefully, such as the game mechanics (which are otherwise okay), control, and especially the barebones narrative. Granted, it does have a few redeeming aspects such as its audio presentation, although most of its other areas are below par, and unless modern gamers are interested in experiencing a piece of gaming history, there’s not much to celebrate.

The Good:
+General game mechanics are good.
+Decent music and sound.
+Second quest adds lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Expect to die a lot.
-Randomization is annoying.
-Hard without the internet.
-Minimalistic storytelling.
-Subpar translation.
-Average graphics.

The Bottom Line:
Hasn’t aged very well.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: NES
Game Mechanics: 4.0/10
Controls: 3.0/10
Story: 0.5/10
Localization: 2.5/10
Music/Sound: 7.5/10
Graphics: 5.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 5.0/10
Difficulty: Unbalanced
Playing Time: 4-8 Hours

Overall: 3.5/10

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