NOTE: For the purposes of this post, I played through the 3DS Virtual Console release of the game, which features save states, something the original did not have.
This is not a drill- we are ONE day away from the release of Breath of the Wild and the Nintendo Switch! With the overwhelmingly positive reception that game is getting, I figured last week that I’d revisit the game that started it all- the original Legend of Zelda. It’s a game I’ve played many times, and I’ve owned it on the Wii, the Wii U and the 3DS. It’s absolutely insane to think that this game is just north of 30 years old now. Even after three decades, very few games have captured the feeling of total wonder that this game gives me.
The Legend of Zelda originally released on the Nintendo Entertainment System. During development, Zelda was looked at in contrast to Nintendo’s other flagship franchise, Super Mario Bros. Creators Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka saw Mario as a linear series of action sequences, and wished to make something on the polar opposite end of that-an open-ended, exploratory experience. You surely know the story: Shigeru Miyamoto drew influence from his childhood, where he would take hikes in the wilderness near Kyoto. The Legend of Zelda flawlessly captures this emotion of exploring the unknown and the joy of little discoveries.
It’s Dangerous to Go Alone!
The Legend of Zelda is pretty unique within the Zelda series in terms of how it drops you into the world. There is very little exposition-you know that an evil demon known as Ganon is seeking a magical artifact known as the Triforce. In response, the princess of the kingdom of Hyrule split the Triforce of Wisdom into eight pieces, and scattered them throughout the land. She instructed her nursemaid, Impa, to find a hero that could retrieve the Triforce and use it to defeat Ganon. That hero is you.
But what makes it unique is that it lets you go without any guidance as to where you have to go. Hell, you don’t even have a sword, you have to travel to a nearby cave, where a helpful old man gives you a weapon to defend yourself against the monster-infested land of Hyrule. From there, you can go wherever you want. You can wander into areas that your weak, three-hearted hero is not strong enough to survive in, and you will taste the bitter sting of death a lot.
This makes The Legend of Zelda quite an unfriendly game for those who are used to modern games, which are full of tutorials and tips, wanting to shelter you from the possibility of failing. Zelda doesn’t do this. Oh, it teaches you the rules, but it does so through plain old trial and error. You learn quickly not to travel into the northern mountains of Hyrule, where the toughest monsters live, until you’ve gotten the right equipment. You learn that you need to hit red octoroks once to kill them, but that it’s two hits for blue octoroks. You learn you can block physical projectiles with your shield, but not magical attacks. The game teaches you all of this the plain old hard way.
It’s a Mad World
This may sound unpleasant by today’s standards, and is perhaps why many people, even Zelda fans, skip over the first two entires in the series. But skipping over this game is a massive mistake. The first step to enjoying the original Zelda is simply to get over your fear of dying. You eventually need to learn that it is through the process of trying and failing that you discover things in this game, and once you realize this, Zelda becomes a totally revelatory experience.
I will never forget when I met the old man in one of the dungeons, who asks you, “Did you get the sword from the old man on the top of the waterfall?” Of course, my answer at the time was “No!” I immediately began a trek throughout Hyrule to find this waterfall and this sword. I eventually found a waterfall with a path leading to the top, but the area was infested with a particularly tough monster-a Lynel. This monster shoots beams that can kill you almost instantly. Eventually, I figured out you can stun them with the boomerang for just long enough to rush inside the nearby cave, where, lo and behold, an old man was waiting for me with a shiny sword upgrade! Zelda has numerous of these little adventures, and the amount of joy they give you is magnificent.
Take Any Road You Want
The Legend of Zelda is an incredible game, and one of the few NES games that I truly believe holds up to today’s standards. It is game full of deep wonder. Wonder at what lies in the unknown of Hyrule. This game forces you to learn from your mistakes, and to tread carefully in its unforgiving world. Sure, its age has revealed some quirks. Some of the riddles you have to solve are ridiculously vague. This game can be throw-your-controller-at-the-wall hard at times. The dungeons, especially the final dungeon, are frustratingly long, complex mazes that take a large amount of patience to solve. Some modern conveniences help alleviate this and make the game more fun, like the Save State feature of the 3DS and Wii U virtual console releases.
If you’re the type of person who has played the opening of this game only to die repeatedly and give up, I urge you to try it while setting the expectation that you will die a lot. This is a game that demands respect from you. It demands that you learn the behaviors of every single enemy, and it requires you to try to figure out solutions to its problems on your own. In this process of trying, you will fail-a lot. But this is what makes the moment when you succeed so much sweeter.
- Hyrule from The Legend of Zelda is a masterfully designed world, filled with tons of little secrets and discoveries for you to find.
- The game encourages you to try and forge your own path, and you can tackle its eight dungeons in any order, even if you may be unprepared.
- As you collect items in this game, you learn to feel more powerful, until eventually you can traverse all of Hyrule with confidence.
- The dungeons and combat can sometimes be stupidly difficult.
- Some dungeons and secrets are extremely hidden, and are almost impossible to find if you don’t know where you’re going already.