developed & published by Nintendo/1987.08.22
1 Player/(3 save slots) Cartridge/NES, GBA, GC, Wii (Virtual Console)
The Legend of Zelda, Shigeru Miyamoto’s magnum opus that solidified Nintendo’s reputation as the best game developer in the world, is a true masterpiece. In fact, players knew it before even playing it. Opening the box for the first time to the wonderful surprise of a golden cartridge (rather than the typical drab gray) was super cool, even if it was just a marketing gimmick. There had been other adventure games before Zelda, but let’s be honest, Zelda far surpassed them in just about every way.
The first Zelda was so well conceived that it set the stage for innumerable sequels. The fantasy setting of Hyrule, populated by the elf-like Hylians, is a world made up of forests, deserts, mountains, rivers, ruins, cemetaries, and dungeon fortresses. Familiar creatures and conventions, such as fairies and rupees rule the day. At this early stage, the mythology wasn’t well developed but the Triforce plays an important role, fragments of which are the prize and the goal of each dungeon.
The evil thief Ganon has kidnapped Princess Zelda and used the Triforce of Power to summon evil monsters into the otherwise peaceful land. To prevent Ganon from abusing the power of the Triforce of Wisdom, Princess Zelda has scattered its pieces throughout Hyrule. It’s up to Link, a young boy clad in green, to take up the sword and save the day. One would be forgiven for assuming Nintendo took some inspiration from the cult classic “The Dark Crystal” – with its Elf-like Gelflings and a quest to restore peace to a troubled land.
Miyamoto wanted to create a game world where players could feel the excitement and wonder of exploring strange new lands and finding hidden secrets; the kind of feeling he had wandering around his hometown as a child. To this aim, the land of Hyrule was unmatched in size for its time, composed of 128 unique screens. That was like having a whole world inside your television – you’d come to recognize areas like you do your own neighborhood.
Adding to the complexity of the landscape are its many secrets, which can only be uncovered by using one of the many items in the game. With the right equipment, Link can bomb open walls, burn bushes, push boulders and gravestones, and ferry across rivers. Now, this all sounds pretty typical of adventure games these days, but there are no words to describe how awesome that was back when this game was new!
Even with all these items, Link will sometimes need directions from locals to find his way through the labyrinth of the Lost Woods or Death Mountain pass, which seem to keep unwanted visitors out with some kind of magic! Sometimes the locals will proffer goods (at a price), play gambling games (rigged, I swear!), donate rupees (it’s a secret to everybody), or shout at you and demand payment for damaging their humble abode!
Discovering Deep, Dark, Dangerous Dungeons of Despair
Every now and again as Link fights his way past the minions of Ganon, he will come across ominous ruins. Venturing inside, he is faced with a labyrinth seething with enemies, hidden passageways, traps and puzzles. The game automatically fills in a dungeon map to help you find your way, an innovative feature at the time. If Link perseveres he can find a complete map as well as a compass which points to the location of the Triforce. These make the going a little less tough, but they don’t reveal the location of keys, locked doors, or essential items.
As he gets closer to the Triforce, Link will hear the unsettling breathing of an enormous beast through the dungeon walls, and in the next room a boss battle awaits. Bosses in the first Zelda game are fairly tame compared to the sequels. Gohma and Dodongo would put in appearances in later games, and Link uses similar strategies to defeat them here.
There are 9 dungeons in total, gradually becoming more complex and difficult to find. Unlike future iterations, there are usually no tell-tale clues as to what walls can be bombed, what shrubs can be burned, or what blocks can be pushed. Despite the sometimes punishing nature of its game play, especially in the master quest (which features different dungeon locations, layouts, and items), Zelda was a sensational success. Players everywhere relished the riddles that Hyrule posed.
Some twenty years after its initial release, I decided to pick it up again just for fun. Within a couple of hours I was absolutely transfixed, and couldn’t stop playing it! I ended up finishing it for the first time in my life. Zelda had always stumped me as a kid because I always entered my name as Zelda – triggering the much harder, more cryptic master quest. I really feel bad for people who haven’t played it – or won’t, simply because it’s “old”. The key is, you have to save up some rupees and buy yourself the blue ring. That way you’ll take less damage, and then…
Quick Run Down
- Timeless adventure
- Many secrets to discover
- Large world to explore
- Some players may find it too difficult
- New gamers may not like the graphics
One Sentence Review: One of the first adventures game ever made, and still one of the best.
One Word Review: Nostalgic.