|“The first truly free form video game”.
This review will
cover the Legend of Zelda in its entirety. It will make generalizations on
game logic, and other assumptions regarding the game’s internal code. Being
as no such code has been released, certain aspects of the game, which will
be covered regardless, are controlled by functions not clear to this
reviewer. Again, generalizations and assumptions will be made. They are
SOLELY the opinion of this reviewer.
Legend of Zelda. Shigeru Miyamoto’s little adventure engine that could. This
is the game that spawned the lucrative and legendary game series, which has
sold millions and millions of copies over 15 different games. More or less,
the game made Zelda a household name, and common knowledge in the gamer
world that it is one of the most revered and critically acclaimed game
series, ever. While technology has improved several times up, the game has
remained the same deep down, and each new game is expected to be, and most
always is, a classic instantly.
While a book could be written on each game in the series, we will focus
on the first game, Legend of Zelda, for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment
System. This game was released in 1986 and featured in a gold case, as well,
later on, a gray case. This review will start with a multi-part analysis of
the game, followed by an actual, typical review. Please jump to page 7 for
the actual review. The text preceding the review is for support of the
opinions and judgments made in the actual review.
Part I: The Basics.
The Legend of Zelda is a top-down adventure game allowing free
exploration of a world consisting of ‘screens’, and the world consisting of
a grid of 128 screens, 8 by 16. Each screen is different, except for the
Lost Woods and the location leading to Level 5 First Quest, both to be
discussed later. Your character, Link, is allowed to freely move over most
terrain, as long as he is equipped to make such a move. He can collect
weapons and items to assist him in his quest, which he can use, in turn, to
help himself and to hurt his enemies.
The story for this game is as follows: (verbatim from the manual)
“A long, long time ago the World was in an age of Chaos. In the middle of
this chaos, in a little kingdom in the land of Hyrule, a legend was being
banded down from generation to generation, the legend of the "Triforce";
golden triangles possessing mystical powers.
One day, an evil army attacked this peaceful little kingdom and stole the
Triforce of Power. This army was led by Gannon, the powerful Prince of
Darkness who sought to plunge the World into fear and darkness under his
rule. Fearing his wicked rule, Zelda, the princess of this kingdom, split
up the Triforce of Wisdom into eight fragments and hid them throughout the
realm to save the last remaining Triforce from the clutches of the evil
Gannon. At the same time, she commanded her most trustworthy nursemaid,
Impa, to secretly escape into the land and go find a man with enough
courage to destroy the evil Gannon. Upon hearing this, Gannon grew angry,
imprisoned the princess, and sent out a party in search of Impa.
Braving forests and mountains, Impa fled for her life from her pursuers.
As she reached the very limit of her energy she found herself surrounded
by Gannon's evil henchmen. Cornered! What could she do? ... But wait!
All was not lost. A young lad appeared. He skillfully drove off Gannon's
henchmen, and saved Impa from a fate worse than death. His name was Link.
During his travels he had come across Impa and Gannon's henchmen. Impa
told Link the whole story of the princess Zelda and the evil Gannon.
Burning with a sense of justice, Link resolved to save Zelda, but Gannon
was a powerful opponent. He held the Triforce of Power. And so, in order
to fight off Gannon, Link had to bring the scattered eight fragments of
the Triforce of Wisdom together to rebuild the mystical Triangle.
If he couldn't do this, there would be no chance Link could fight his way
into Death Mountain where Gannon lived. Can Link really destroy Gannon and
save the Princess Zelda? Only your skill can answer that question. Good
luck. Use the Triforce wisely.”
With this, your character now has to scour the world, find the 8 pieces
of the Triforce, and defeat Ganon. At its simplest, this is your objective.
As I will describe, this game is much more than that.
Part II: Devices
This section will cover the broad range of devices at your disposal,
whether they are weapons, items, and, your enemies themselves.
At face value, the sword is your main weapon. Simply, you hit the A
button (this button is solely for sword use… if you never pick up a sword,
you will never need it!), and Link will extend his sword straight out in
front of him. Link can swing his sword in the four cardinal directions
only. If the sword touches something that is weak to it, it will incur
damage, visible by a quick swapping of palettes (flashing) on the enemy.
If it does not, it will either make a chink sound effect (Darknuts), or
none whatsoever. Certain enemies are immune to the sword (Dodongo), while
others can only die by its hand (specifically Ganon).
If Link has full life (all red hearts) the sword will shoot a flashing
image of itself directly in front of it. This sword hit hits with ½ damage
of a normal strike. This will almost always be Link’s first ranged attack.
are three swords in the game, Wooden, Silver or White, and the Magical
Sword (Often referred to as the sword that would, in the future, be known
as the Master Sword.). Each sword is a step up by one of the previous
version. The Wooden incurring one “point” (actual visual points are
irrelevant in this game, but many refer to them as in “how many hits XX
enemy has to take before it dies”), the Silver incurs 2 points, while the
Magical incurs 4. This leads to an enemy like the Blue Darknut taking 2
hits from the Magical, 4 from the Silver, and 8 from the Wooden in order
to die. The swords are awarded either by finding it (Wooden), or by
finding it and having a certain heart level (5 or 12 respectively) to get
the Silver or Magical Sword. In its own way, this qualifies as the
experience system (a system popularized by other NES games like Dragon
Warrior and Final Fantasy), rewarding you for progressing to a certain
point in the game. This point will be touched upon later.
Due to the mechanics of this game, Link’s sword has an absurd amount of
flexibility for a game of this time. Take, as an example, the room in
Level 5 First Quest, two UP, three LEFT of the start of that dungeon. It
is a room full of blue Darknuts. A decent amount of dodging is needed to
survive this room with most of your life intact. However, you can
incorporate ‘sword swinging’ and the fact that you are allowed to move
very shortly after a weapon draw. By sword swinging, I mean the act of
swing your sword, connecting with any enemy, and pulling the control pad
in another direction with the sword still out, essentially canceling the
first attack, into another, with one button press. It is not often the
second swing will hit, however, it is quite useful for hit-and-run
techniques, which are essential. It is not often you will connect a
“strike” onto a Darknut (strikes will be discussed shortly), and odds on;
there will be another Darknut nearby to get in your way. For these
reasons, sword swinging, or even sword canceling becomes commonplace. This
tactic shows the flexibility of the game’s engine perfectly. Other games
will leave your character more vulnerable when you attack making you
execute a more passive strategy to survive. In Zelda, your character is
allowed to be aggressive with the flexibility to defend at the same time.
touched on before, strikes are attacks that push the enemy backwards. For
obvious reasons, strikes will only show on enemies you can’t kill in one
hit. You will know you performed a strike when the enemy is, flashing,
pushed back to the nearest solid square. While useful for obvious reasons,
this also shows the touch of realism that the designers added into this
game. Often times, in fights, you can hit your opponent hard, or in a weak
spot, that sends them back, or stuns. This is implied by the strike
mechanism. How this works exactly is unknown. It may work on the basis of
face to face hits, or backstabs.
The next weapon is the bow and arrow. The animation for this weapon is
like the sword, but it just shows the bow graphic over Link’s, and an
arrow moves in the same path as the sword shot. This weapon is found
separately, the bow in a dungeon, the arrow in a shop. In this reviewer’s
opinion, this was a wise move. It allowed the player to find one, and not
the other, and have a useless item in their inventory. Each arrow shot
costs one rupee (the game’s monetary unit) to use, giving an additional
use to rupees after you have purchased all there is to purchase. Finally,
the Silver Arrow is available at the end of the game, and is needed to
finish the game. This added an additional dimension to the end of the game
– you could find the final boss, and not be able to kill him, forcing you
to explore more and think more into what clues you have been given to
finish the quest. This would bring me to almost call the bow & arrow the
most punishing-to-the-user item in the game. Almost. J
Two versions of a boomerang are a part of this game; one, wooden, and
another magical. The boomerang (spinning) is thrown forward in front of
Link, and when it reaches its maximum distance, or a solid object, it
returns to Link. The magical boomerang offers increased power (slight) and
range over the wooden version. The boomerang also tracks itself back to
Link, allowing it to curve, which can be useful in some situations. This
weapon stuns most enemies, and only kills one (small bols). This weapon is
a good secondary item to use in conjunction with the sword.
The final weapon to be classified as solely as weapon, is the wand. The
animation for this weapon is the same as the sword, a straight thrust, but
the wand graphic itself does not do any damage (Check this for accuracy).
Instead, the wand shoots a wave beam out, similar in path to the sword
shot. However, this beam is also stronger than the sword shot of the
magical sword. The enemy known as Wizzrobe is immune to it, as it should
be, as they use it as well. The Magic Book item adds another dimension to
the weapon, as when the beam reaches its target it creates a flame, like
the candle. This leads to multi-hitting situations, allowing you to kill
an enemy susceptible to fire in one shot, as well turning the wand into a
In this section, any notable, for the purpose of this review, item is
listed. Also, any item that can be used as a weapon is listed here (ex.
Bomb). Only pure weapons will be in the preceding section.
A good part of the items in this game can be used as weapons, a novel
concept that allows for creative play (combos), or even to alter the way
you play through the game. (Sword-less). Yet another reason why Zelda’s
item system was beyond what anyone had seen at the time. Also, most items
in the game are multifaceted, giving Link more than one purpose, even if
the item is not offensive in nature.
The first major item categorized as a weapon/item is the bomb. When the
item is used, a bomb icon is placed directly in front of Link. After a
short time delay (fuse), the bomb explodes damaging any item that can be
damaged in its range (a 3x3 square, designated by smoke), including Link,
enemies weak to its blast, and any breakable walls. The Dodongo can only
be stunned by a bomb blast, and it must “eat” (placing the bomb directly
on its head) the bomb in order to die. You have a limited number of bombs,
and they can only be replenished by buying them or by finding them on dead
The candle comes in two incarnations, blue and red. The blue is only
available for purchase (it cannot be found), and the red can only be found
inside a dungeon. Both work the same, Link “slides” a flame in front of
him, which works the same way as a bomb, damaging Link, susceptible
enemies, and now bushes that are burnable, all in the candle shot’s one
square range. This flame multi-hits multiple enemies, can combo, and also
lights up any dark rooms. The flame lasts for about a second. The
difference between blue and red is uses on a single screen. Although both
candles can never run out of total uses, the blue can only be used once
per screen (to hinder exploration of hidden areas early on), while the red
can be used infinitely.
Every other item in the game does not have an offensive use. The
whistle is the exception to this rule, however, it does not kill, but
makes the enemy affected by it susceptible to normal attacks. The whistle,
when played in the overworld, pauses action on screen, and a whirlwind
comes on screen, left to right, at the level Link was at when it was
played. This whirlwind will take you to a dungeon entrance. The mechanism
for this has not been completely identified. Depending on the direction
you are facing when picked up, it will take you to a different location.
Apparently, the whistle has “memory” that remembers the last dungeon you
went to, and takes you to the next one in order on the next use, even if
it is 20 minutes later! This affect is not saved in your save file. The
whistle will not take you to a dungeon you have not yet visited (so if you
don’t know where First Quest Dungeon 7-9 is, it won’t find it for you).
This whistle function is a precursor to many warping/tunnel systems seen
in later games to transport you from one end of the world to the other,
when traveling by foot could be redundant, and retard gameplay. This is
similar in nature to the power bracelet, that uses static warp areas to
transport you around the world.
Other notable items include the raft, regular keys, and the master
This section will only touch on enemies thought to be supportive of the
Probably the most significant enemy in the game is the Darknut. It is a
knight character only found in the dungeons of the game. This creature is
unique in the fact that it is the only enemy that can block your attacks.
The shield the Darknut carries prevents your sword from hurting them in
their face. They can only be hurt from the sides or behind. Coupled with
the Darknut’s seemingly random movement pattern, and the fact there are
always at least three of them per room, the Darknut becomes an enemy that
forces the player to act defensively and aggressively in order to survive
(the aforementioned sword swinging can be shown to be effective here).
It’s no longer a case of “How fast can I kill them”, it’s now “How fast
can they kill ME”.
The Gohma and Dodongo are notable as enemies (and bosses at times) as
the sword cannot kill them. Simply, this forces the user to think and use
trial and error to overcome them. Akin the Ganon fight, if you run out of
either arrows or bombs, respectively, you will have to reset or die, and
The game’s enemy gallery is also quite varied, offering different
effects aside from the standard “hurt the player” seen in most games
before Zelda’s time. The Like-Like steals the player’s expensive large
shield along with hurting Link. Fairy balls take away your ability to use
your sword for a short time, and the second quest fairies take away your
sword indefinitely, unless you find a healing fairy.
One other device of note to be mentioned is the Lost Woods and the path
leading to Level 5. Although the Lost part of it is simply the area you
are in recreating itself until you trigger the proper path out, this
mechanism shows how the developers wanted to change the standard of screen
to screen and throw tricks at the player to make them think, and to mix
things up for the player.
Part III: The Free Form Open System
What exactly do I mean by an open system? Well, a number of things.
First, the game drops you off at the bottom of map, with no clues, no hints,
no direction except find the 8 dungeons, and ... no items. What you do at
this point is completely up to you. Want to explore the overworld completely
before heading down into the dungeons? So be it. Know where you’re going?
How about doing the dungeons in reverse order? Would you like to try the
game without picking up a sword? Well, it’s not completely possible (Ganon
needs to be hit with a sword), but you can do 99% of the game without it.
Or, if you want to play the game as it was meant to, one through eight,
you can. You have the choice, as there are no rules, except for when items
are needed for entry, on where you can go and what you can do. You can skip
some items altogether, or you can take your time, and pick up every single
one. Whereas other games of the time forced you on a linear path, Zelda
changed all that and allowed you to do what you wish, and play how you wish.
Once you have taken up the game, and are knowledge in it, there are a
number of ways you can play the same game in a different way. First and
foremost, the second quest is one. The developers added, essentially, a
whole new game after the first. Where a lot of sequels these days are
essential rehashes of its predecessors, Legend of Zelda put the rehashed
sequel as part of the game, increased the difficulty, changed around both
over and underworld maps, and gave the player the same feeling of what do I
do now all over again. It essentially offered the quest and master quest in
one package, akin to what they did with the Zelda: Wind Waker Bonus Disc.
From there, you can apply different ideas to make the game more difficult
and challenging, and also to make the way the player plays and handles the
game different. You can play the game for speed, play the game with only the
Wooden sword, sword-less, no rings, so on, and so forth. It allows the game
to become fresh again, as it is a new challenge for the player.
This is what I mean by free form and open. It allows the player to do
what they want in-game, and to decide how they want to do it. The game
extends a replay value that is more in-depth and longer than any game before
Part IV: The Review
The Legend of Zelda is arguably, and in my opinion, the most important
video game of all time. Designed by the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto (based in
part on his own childhood adventures and imagination), it set the stage for
many, many games in the future, from the NES, to the current systems of
today. Simple at first glance, this game forms an experience like no game
before it. The basic story is that Link has been given the task to find the
Triforce that was split, defeat Ganon, and save Princess Zelda. (Part I.a).
The game only touches on the story in the attract mode, and in the ending,
but when you play this game, the story becomes an afterthought to one of the
best video game experiences ever. This is the one game you cannot play and
call yourself a seasoned video gamer, at the same. It must be played to be
truly felt and understood.
The game’s graphics were great at its time, but have paled in the face of
newer systems. The important thing to remember is that the graphics
accurately depict what the game wants to show you, and that they do not
hinder the gameplay in any way at all. From the ominous tree doors on Level
1 First Quest, to the room of statues that greet you in every dungeon, the
graphics add what they need to, and no more. They are perfect.
The game’s sound is akin to the game’s graphics. The music is great for
its time, but in the face of CD audio, it begin to falter. However, the
sound purveys the moods that are desired for each area. The triumphant
overworld music gives the player the background music appropriate for their
exploration. The dungeon music also gives the player the mood of a dark
area, while Level 9, Ganon’s domain, slows down the pace of that music,
giving an urgent and darker sense to the player. The sounds themselves also
exhibit what is needed; a clink here, a slash there; what is appropriate.
Again, the music and sound are perfect in furthering the game’s different
areas and encounters.
Finally, the gameplay of the game is unmatched, even in some ways, by
today’s games. Featuring a truly open game system (Part III), the game has
perfect control with a system that allows for a larger freedom than before
(Part II.a), a weapon system revolutionary for its time (Part II.a.b), and
an enemy bank more varied than any game before it (Part II.c). The game also
offers a gameplay system which allows for an incredible amount of replay
value, depending on how much you want to challenge yourself. (Part III) It
was expertly designed, and it shows in every part of it.
And did I mention the game is a BLAST to play? The Legend of Zelda is at
the top, or near the top of many gamers and magazines all time top games
list for a very good reason. It immerses the players into a world like no
other. It is not a game to be missed.