Version Played: The Legend of Zelda (NES – Wii U Virtual Console)
The Legend of Zelda was originally released on the Famicom Disk System in 1986 with an international release coming out a year later on the NES. The game had us playing as a young man named Link who must travel the land of Hyrule collecting pieces of the Triforce in order to both prevent the evil Ganon from destroying the world, and to save the Princess Zelda from captivity. The game was one of the very first home console releases to feature the ability to save our game progress, ultimately revealing its scope in the process. Since then series has become one of Nintendo’s most successful and always its most highly anticipated franchise to date. It comes as no surprise, considering how engaging the original title still manages to be today.
The game plays from a top-down perspective and is split between two main exploration fields, the overworld and the underworld. Link must traverse the landscape of the overworld in order to uncover the eight dungeons of Hyrule, allowing him access to the underworld areas where the fragments of the Triforce are being hidden. Link is initially armed with a Sword and a Shield and three hearts acting as his health, all of which can be upgraded at certain points in your adventure. However his arsenal does not remain so limited and the plucky explorer is rewarded with a huge inventory of stuff to use including but not limited to, a Boomerang, Bow and Arrows, a Raft, a Stepladder, Protective Rings and a Power Bracelet. It’s quite staggering how much Link grows by the end of the game despite the game’s age and it’s refreshing to see that almost his entire inventory is not only useful but can be upgraded in one way or another too.
Link does need this diverse movepool considering the enemies found within the game, ranging from projectile throwing creatures, to knights that can only be attacked from behind to wizards that are just a nightmare to deal with. Only when players are able to learn the enemy patterns alongside how to use their inventory to its full extent, can they begin to manage the dungeons the game has to offer. Otherwise without trying new ways to approach the challenges ahead, it is very easy to feel overwhelmed. Akin to Super Mario Bros. we are meant to master the game’s mechanics rather than run head first into danger as the latter tactic rarely pays off. The Darknuts were particular trouble for me considering I just wanted them to die and they kept ripping me to shreds. We simply have to be patient and wait for that right opening.
What’s most encouraging about the game is that even almost 30 years on it remains incredibly engaging to play, with the length of the adventure and depth of Hyrule and the secrets it holds still rack up a decent amount of hours by today’s standards. A second quest is unlocked once the game is completed, increasing the difficulty and layouts of the dungeons, which only adds to that play time. When I found you could save the game I didn’t realise just how necessary that would be. The music also holds up well, with the dungeons providing the right atmospheric touch and the famous overworld theme being just as catchy in 8-bit as it has been in every The Legend of Zelda title to date. The only real concern for its position today is that the original Instruction Manual is in fact an incredibly useful primer for the game, providing so many hints and tricks that one must really have to think outside the box without it to keep making steady progress. In a video game climate fixated on having the player complete the game above all else, this can come off as frustrating to those who are used to being led by the hand a lot more. However it is partly this lack of information the game gives you that makes it so rewarding to play, with experimentation and ingenuity being applauded at every corner.
It’s great to see this game on Nintendo’s NES system and it shows just how comfortable the company had become with its home console since the early year’s library of arcade ports and simple sports games. The Legend of Zelda remains a really good game and is perhaps the best on the whole system and no gamer today should snub its humble 8-bit appearance, as they would be missing out on a wonderfully crafted game full of depth and secrets to unfold.