Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Super NES

Review by Review Contest 2003!



Graphics: ?

Sound: ?

Gameplay: ?

Overall: ?

This review is the result of two fatal mistakes. First, I decided to take an unplanned trip to the Salvation Army after coming up empty-handed at another used game store. “Hmmm, Zelda…for the SNES…six dollars…that’s kind of rich for my blood, but what the hell, the Zelda series always represents!” My second mistake was putting the game in “just to get a quick feel for it.” I had no idea the sweet, siren-like call of Zelda would be so hard to resist…

I won’t bore you with the now-familiar story. It’s the standard “rescue princess/free countryside/stop evil ruler’s inter-dimensional gateway” plot. Though the premise may be trite, the actual progression of the storyline is quite well done. There are simply tons of people you can talk to, all offering their own brand of advice, rumor, or useless small-talk. You’re free to wander basically anywhere around the map, but through these conversations you’ll always know where your next major task is, as well as some juicy tidbits concerning the ample side quests. Unlike the Hyrule of the original 8-bit Legend of Zelda, whose industry consisted entirely of general stores, casinos, and random old hags selling potions from their hidden caves, this is a fully fleshed out world. Kakiriko Village is a thriving and varied little town, boasting a smith, a tavern, a bookshop, general store, homes, gardens and more. You will also come across ruins of ancient monuments, a graveyard, and hieroglyphics in an elder tongue, nicely giving a sense of genuine history to your surroundings. The map is big and its secrets are tightly packed; one could easily blow an entire day just sightseeing and looking for secret doors and other goodies. Luckily, you can view the map of the Overworld at anytime simply by pressing the “X” button—a terrifically useful feature that was sorely lacking in the original.

OK, so the concept is great, but what about the actual execution? In a word: brilliant. Both graphically and musically, A Link to the Past sets a benchmark for achievement in the 16-bit arena. The potential of a vastly expanded color palette is plumbed for all it’s worth, imbuing the entire game with a dazzling, cartoon-like sparkle. The fetters of the 8-bit world have been cast off, it’s limitations fallen by the wayside. Instead of re-coloring or otherwise recycling the sprites, here every character gets his due. Each building is different. You’ve also got your share of cool visual effects. Strike one of those monsters that looks like an ambulatory green hotdog and the screen goes all wobbly and electric. Then when you enter the Nightmare Realm for the first time….whoa, now this is a “second quest”! Likewise, the music is nothing short of superb. At times buoyant, at times somber, it always seems to fit the mood of the scene. Fans of the Zelda series will pick out pieces of the first game’s Overworld theme, as well as seeing the origin of many of the musical phrases that found a second life in the N64’s excellent Ocarina of Time. Overall, the score is one of the most evocative and brilliantly realized pieces of music in gaming history. Also, note that in the SNES version of this game, Nintendo hadn’t yet gayed it up by adding that ridiculous “HA!” every time you swing your sword. If you don’t think bad sound effects can kill a great game, try to play more than five consecutive minutes of Earthworm Jim without his obnoxious “Oww!” drilling straight through your head like an industrial strength dose of Fran Drescher.

Gameplay is just as tight as you’d expect from such a polished effort as this. One of the greatest distinctions between the Zelda series and other console RPGs is that the combat is real-time as opposed to turn based. Whereas in Dragon Warrior, for instance, you can just hold down the A button with a paper weight and go to the kitchen for a snack, in Zelda quick reflexes are just as important as the more “cerebral” demands of an RPG. Besides the standard sword thrust, you have a couple of other cool moves at your disposal, including a powerful roundhouse swing and a running attack. Of course there are also a multitude of interesting items to discover which may or many not help you in combat. It’s this balance that I fell is the series’ greatest strength, combining the best aspects of an overhead fighter with those of the RPG. Even the long term goals of finding the individual crystals and battling Ganon are nicely balanced by the abundance of side quests and mini-games. Ocarina of Time tried to further evolve this concept, but in comparison with A Link to the Past it comes off as heavy-handed and excessive. The challenge was a little too intense in places there; here is the perfect compromise between the NES original’s ease and the frustration of Ocarina.

In terms of sheer fun, there aren’t enough superlatives to adequately describe A Link to the Past. Quite simply, it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played on any console, even managing to trump its venerated 8-bit ancestor. If this was the only reason to own a SNES, it would still be worth it. I give it a 10 out of 10 and my highest personal recommendation.


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Last updated: Sunday, February 08, 2004 12:43 PM