The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Original Release Date: 1991
While the NES Zelda titles are widely regarded as classics, neither one are really that outstanding by modern standards. While pioneers of the genre, they were held back by the limitations of the time, and weren’t able to make the most of their innovative ideas.
A Link to the Past, on the other hand, was able to take what the first two games did well, and take it to the next level. It went back to the basic formula of the first game, included elements from the second game, and added a ton of new features and innovations of its own. The end result is a masterpiece that has weathered the passage of time far better than its predecessors.
A Link to the Past has excellent combat, a vast overworld, iconic music, fun items, engaging challenges, colorful NPC’s, and a simple but memorable storyline.
One thing that A Link to the Past does especially well that the original Zelda didn’t is the pacing. A Link to the Past is more linear, with the dungeons having to be beaten in a specific order to obtain new items to unlock new areas. While many who prize the unbridled “freedom” of the original may see this as a change for the worse, I think it’s a change for the better. The advantage of linear gameplay is that the developers can plan around a set path, and give the player a properly paced narrative and a gradually rising difficulty curve. It allows for a balanced and cohesive experience that is impossible if the player is allowed to explore everything from the start.
But they didn’t abandon the exploration of the first game by any means. There is still plenty of exploring to do, plenty of secrets to find, and it’s very engaging and rewarding to trail off the beaten path and attempt to find all of the game’s secrets. The dual world mechanic allows for new methods of reaching new areas, and makes the world feel dynamic and alive.
Speaking of dynamic and alive, the NPCs this time around are significantly more memorable than the ones in the first two games. They actually come across as real, living people, rather than crappy pixelated pictures trying to masquerade as real people. This, combined with the expansive and well put together overworld makes it feel like you’re going on an epic adventure across a vast landscape, something that neither of the NES Zeldas was really able to do.
Honestly, A Link to the Past is an excellent game, and there’s not much wrong with it. But it does have a few flaws. The graphics look a bit dated, and the gameplay isn’t quite as smooth as in later Zelda titles. The dungeons in the dark world, while really good, don’t have a lot of variety in terms of aesthetic. There are some exceptions such as the Swamp Palace and Ice Palace, but a lot of the other dungeons tend to blend together, and don’t stand out individually. This isn’t helped by the fact that all of the dark world dungeons have the exact same soundtrack. It’s an okay theme, but by the time you get to Ganon’s Tower, you’re going to be sick to death of that particular piece of music. And finally, the game does occasionally engage in the archaic bullshit that made the first game such a chore, with the way forward being needlessly cryptic.
On the whole, though, A Link to the Past is a well-crafted and well put together game. It was the first truly great Zelda game, and is still very much worth playing even today.
How well it holds up 3/4
Personal Enjoyment 5/5
Overall quality 9/10
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