Top 100 Retro Games: A Link to the Past
Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past
It is so weird looking back, but I never actually owned A Link To The Past back in the old days. I did buy it in college really cheap from someone on eBay who was cleaning out their kids games, but back then I never had it. I did play A Link To The Past a ton though via a friend and his play through alongside me of the game. I think the reason I never bought it was that he got it first, so I figured I would just play it with him. By then, rental game culture had totally taken over and “owning” a game did not seem like a priority anymore.
I have shared in the past what a huge part of my childhood The Legend of Zelda was. We did an episode about the game a few years ago. Link was my best friend and hero. When Zelda II came out, I was a bit disappointed by his portrayal and the game in general. I struggled with it a lot and had to have a friend, as we discussed in our episode about that game, get through a lot of it for me before I finished it off.
A Link To The Past came out in April 1992 (although Nintendo Power comments that “most dealers” would have the game in May). We played through the game during that summer right before I moved away. My friend was a lot better at video games than me. He built this incredible city in Sim City, dominated Super Mario World, and played through RPGs with ease. A big memory I have of him was his ability to breeze through very difficult parts of Battletoads, which is one of the most frustratingly difficult games I have ever played.
He did most of the dungeons, and we got through the game a week before I moved away. We kept in touch for a bit afterward, but drifted away eventually.
For some reason, we decided to take turns playing through A Link To The Past. I would walk to his house. He lived probably about 20 minutes away. We lived down the street from the middle school. I could walk through that lot and either cut through some woods, which my brother has told me is now gone, or go past the high school football field, where we spent a lot of time, through the high school’s parking lot, past the board of education building, which I stopped in for water sometimes, and then down to his street a few mornings each week to meet up with him to play the game.
We took turns playing the game. In retrospect, I was definitely assigned the less difficult parts of the game in the over worlds. He would tell me to collect stuff and then let me do it. It is also clear looking back this was very thought out by him. The game was really cool and returned to the top down aesthetic of the original Legend of Zelda, with some cool graphical upgrades.
When I moved, I did give Zelda II another shot sometime the next summer. I got through the game with some help from an IRC channel I used at school. I was happy to go through the game, but did not really feel much for it.
So, the plot of A Link To The Past goes something like this: Link is a young boy who fights to save Zelda, after the death of his uncle, and seven maidens from the evil wizard Agahnim, who turns out to be a disguised Ganon. To achieve this, he must travel between the light and dark worlds of Hyrule, rescue Zelda, and save the maidens from the dungeons they are being kept at in the Dark World.
The Mach 1992 issue of Nintendo Power has a long form feature on the game. Looking back, it is a little odd that this is buried on page 83. It is interesting to me, and I remember this well, that on page one the immediate comparison for A Link To The Past is back to The Legend of Zelda, not Zelda II. I can remember staring at the screenshot, where Staflos are shown attacking Link in both games, for a moment before going “ohhhhhhh” and then getting very excited about the release of it.
The feature continues by reviewing all the weapons Link would have access to during the game. This included familiar weapons like boomerangs, bows, bombs, but also new ones like magical rods and the really cool hook shot. A few of these, like boomerangs and bows, are implemented in a much better manner in this game than previously.
Nintendo Power also lays out a beautiful map of the over world. I love the graphics in this game and how Hyrule is presented in it. The world looks to be a bit bigger than the Hyrule of the Legend of Zelda, or the oddly shaped Zelda II, but of course, a secret world lies hidden.
(unless you stumble upon the entrance on Death Mountain before you are supposed to like I definitely have not done once….or three times…)
The feature continues to lay out different parts of Hyrule and people you will meet, and then ends with some hints of what is to come in The Dark World.
This commercial is interesting for three reasons: First, I still love the tagline “now you are playing with SUPER power.” That sold me so hard on the general vibe and aesthetic of the Super Nintendo. In my mind, as we have discussed in other episodes, Sega was always a fairly distant rival to me. Second, the actor playing Link has a wonderful curly haired mullet like a bunch of professional wrestlers of the era. Think Brian Pillman and people like that. Finally, the action in the commercial is Link climbing a giant mountain to reach a goal, in this case finding, I guess, the Master Sword.
The cover for A Link To The Past is also very much calling back to the Legend of Zelda with its gold background and shield wrapped around the logo. I love this cover and how it….links…back to previous games….in the past…of the series.
If you want to play A Link To The Past, there are a number of options available to you. Besides an original cartridge, the game was also ported to the Gameboy Advance. It is also available on a variety of versions of the virtual console. I own it for the 3DS, but did this playthrough on the Super Nintendo Classic.
My most recent replay of A Link To The Past was on the Super Nintendo Classic. I also own the game on the 3DS, but I wanted to play it on the big screen this time around.
The first thing that immediately draws me into this game, especially after a distasteful replay of Zelda II last year, is a return to an overhead camera. The side scrolling adventure Link had in Zelda II makes more sense to me in 2018 than it did back then, but I still do not like it much. I felt much more comfortable with a return to the classic visual style of the original Zelda game.
We have discussed how rain is implemented on the Super Nintendo, but I need to express again how cool this looked in 1992. The introduction to this game and its rainstorm added to the game’s aura substantially. 16 bit weather still looks really cool and even just as dressage without effect on the game I still love it a lot.
Something A Link To The Past does rather well is close range attacks. When you did not have full health in Legend of Zelda, the randomness of enemy movements, and maybe a little iffy hit detection, often frustrates me. Zelda II was a bit better when fighting hand to hand, but has a terrible implementation of how your sword works when having full health. A Link To The Past does a good job of combining the best of both games to make close range attacks very formidable. I spent most of this replay not worrying about my health meter being lower because of this.
Replaying this game now, it is quite jarring how early you recover Zelda. After dropping her off at the Monastery, if you did not know any better, one would assume you are going through a few dungeons and then defeating the final boss. The sequence of events beforehand are similar to those of the first two games in the series, but then instead of finishing up you are thrust into a new world with a new series of dungeons to complete. This is really cool and meaningful while replaying the game now.
I love the theme for the Dark World. It really sets the tone for this totally different world you are about to journey through. There are some truly weird and odd sights throughout it, I think capped off by the young man, his flute, and the fact that he turns into a tree!
There are many intricacies to this game that I love as well. I like having to discover bombs in the village. Staflos jumping away and dodging you is really cool. They had such interesting designs in the first two games, but really weren’t put to use much. Dashing is a fantastic and super useful addition to Link’s abilities. I love dashing through long stretches of a grid to save time. It can also be useful against enemies as an opening attack to throw them off. You can also crash into a wall and look fairly silly in the process too.
After the side scrolling dungeons of Zelda II, I also greatly enjoy the return of Zelda style dungeons. The first Zelda game has some flaws in its dungeon design, and I think this game is a great improvement on it. They are absolutely made for exploration and maneuvering through them. They aren’t large, by modern standards, but also fairly logical in how you go through them.
The puzzles within each dungeon are just complex enough without getting too busy or cumbersome. The swamp palace is a great example of this, where you have to go around it a few times to fully find everything you need. I remember that dungeon being a favorite back then too.
A question I pondered a lot while playing this game was whether it was the best Zelda game ever. I honestly do not know. It might be the best personification of the aesthetic of the series, at least as I know it, but I really do not think there is a correct answer to that one.