Power Shot, a frequent article writer for Zelda Universe, brings us his take on the original Legend of Zelda for NES in a series of “retrospective articles,” made just for ZU’s revamp, where he takes the Zelda series in a modern context, then proceeds to rip it to shreds. What did LoZ mean to Zelda history? How much has the series evolved since then? Is this old game truly worthy of the Legend of Zelda name? The answer lies within this Retrospective Review.
Retrospective Review: The Legend of Zelda
By Power Shot
As I sit here, watching television, I wonder how I can begin this review. I lie back, scratch my dog’s ears, and drift my mind back to think about this immensely important piece of gaming history, nay, art. I wonder how I can be unbiased towards this game, one which inspired my own personal love of storytelling in video games. I wonder about how I can review a game which was released twenty-two years ago. Times have changed, we’ve grown so accustomed to great graphics, great stories, and complex puzzles I wonder how I can possibly balance out today’s standards of game play and the simplistic joys of yesteryear. In many ways, reviewing the first game of the Zelda series is very much like reviewing the series as a whole, as I have the benefit of hindsight reviewers of 1986 did not. So, now that I have gotten that off my chest and my dog is happily asleep, I shall begin my retrospective journey through this, Shigeru Miyamoto’s greatest love child. Let’s pray to whatever religion we belong or don’t belong to I don’t get buried in the nostalgia of this groundbreaking title that started a legend.
Infants on the Big Screen
When The Legend of Zelda was released, it came with it characters who would become some of the greatest icons of the video game world. Oh, sure, they weren’t that pretty, and perhaps the game’s manual elaborated their appearances, but the fact remains that there are three distinct individuals in this game that have stood the test of time and deserve this special look back on their representation in the game.
First, we of course have Link. Now, in this game, Link is an infant. He is the tabula rasa, or blank slate, of nameless, faceless, voiceless protagonists. His name can be changed, he never speaks, and his body is made of such a small amount of pixels that one can barely see his face. As an infant, Link obviously hasn’t gotten into the swing of things like he will in later games, as he strikes and swings his sword and all of his weapons with an almost punishing lack of urgency. But that’s okay, it’s his first game. No one gets it right on the first try, right? Well, neither did I, as I spent the majority of the game at the restart points in each area. Considering how many times Link died on my journey across the land of Hyrule, I cannot help but feel amazed at the boy’s resilience. Surely after my restarting the fiftieth time he would be perfectly within his rights to begin complaining. Link’s personality is also slightly difficult to comprehend to the untrained eye, as his face is made up of maybe a maximum of eight pixels, which could understandably impede anyone’s ability to convey emotion. I really felt like it was me playing in the game, since the slate was blank and I could imagine Link saying or thinking anything I felt like. Like when I killed the three-headed dragon in the first dungeon, and I felt like Link really could have used a nap right about then. So I took a nap, to the immense relief of my family, who was at this time sick of the death screen music.
Now that we have analyzed our protagonist, I feel it necessary and, nay, required, that I speak about a relationship that we see form in this game and continue for the duration of most of the series. I speak of course of the standard kidnapping that occurs to famous gaming icon, and damsel in distress fetishist, Princess Zelda, which is normally done by resident evil baddie Ganon, the Prince of Darkness, called thusly presumably because Lucifer was getting over a late-night keg party when Miyamoto was having auditions. Here is where I feel the most emotion in the game is demonstrated, as Miyamoto’s idea of his characters displaying emotions at their infant stage involves movement of the arms, random body glowing, and hopping up and down. Ganon feels like a real antagonist because of his body language and roaring, while Zelda feels a bit weak, mostly because she does very little, even for Zelda. Well, I guess that’s alright, since this is her first time and all. Everyone’s a bit inexperienced, I’m sure she’ll get the damsel-and-distress business right in future games.
My Kingdom for a Map!
Okay, I shall admit that the graphics in The Legend of Zelda are not the best by today’s standards. If Zelda enrolled in a beauty pageant with the newer, nubile titles like Metal Gear Solid 4 it would be like watching a forty-year-old woman trying to win the Miss Teen USA Pageant. But there was a time when the game had some of the most innovative level design around, so we will ignore the graphics a bit and focus on how the game looks as far as what it is intended to do: challenge a player’s mind.
When I first began the game, I was amazed at the vastness of the game. In the era of the NES, from which I have resurrected this game, it was unheard of to have a game with such an expansive over world that could be freely traveled and explored. However, while Nintendo indeed made such a large game, they neglected to remember what is needed for such a large game: the map. Most of the times my game ended it was because I had taken the wrong directions due to not having a proper map. I feel the game could have been improved on immensely had Miyamoto had the foresight to install a map right from the get-go, as often times I would be completely unable to locate dungeons without consulting the Internet.
Speaking of the dungeons, I’d just like to add that the dungeons in this game are really good. Despite this being the inaugural game and all, Miyamoto does right when it comes to these little miniature dungeons, while lacking in some areas like attention to detail or fancy graphics, they get the job done and are enjoyable to play through. Plus, once you beat the game once, you get all new dungeons to explore. It’s like two games for the price of one! Back in 1986, people were ecstatic to hear this news! Some of the enemies, however, are not as finely tuned, such as the Moblins in the field, who spawn in for no reason wherever you go, often times behind you to block your escape and seal away your death. Other than that though, there’s no reason to complain.
Except, of course, when you’re trudging through the field with half a life left, only to lost it when a baddie marches up behind you and give you the touch of death. For the fiftieth time. Then the controller goes hurling through the television screen.
Read Me a Bedtime Story!
The Legend of Zelda was released a long, long time ago, before the days of the twelve centimeter Wii Optical Disk, on a small little floppy disk for the Famicom Disk System. As such, the game relies heavily on the game’s manual and prologue to tell the story for us. While this is not a very cool way to tell a story, it does explain why the little tree-spending pamphlets are included with games. I always thought they were used to hit my brother. For those of you that have no idea what The Legend of Zelda’s storyline might revolve around, it generally deals with the kidnapping of a certain eponymous princess and the subsequent rescue that requires you to go through a certain number of dungeons to gain a certain number of mystical items to battle a certain number of giant baddies who all work for a certain giant boar wizard demon called Ganon. The story is immediately forgotten and ignored during actual game play, but that’s alright. You kind of start forgetting about storytelling and exposition when you’re slaughtering three-headed dragons.
Legacy of the Triforce
So, here we are, nearing the end of this retrospect of what is probably one of the most important games of gaming history. Featuring a story, a free-roaming world, and more action than a Bruce Lee movie, The Legend of Zelda was an innovative game that gave players freedom they had never experienced before, letting them complete the game any way they see fit. This game, the characters, they’ve spanned sequels, remakes, even complete rip-offs (I’m looking at you, Okami), completely rewrote the rulebook on how games were made. Of course, I cannot comment on future titles, but I can say that this game is brutal, and that brutality of treating players like dirt, rubbing their faces in sand, mud, ice, fire, water, or any number of themed dungeons, is present in this inaugural game. And it’s worth trudging through, just to get to the explosive, 16-bit finale. If you can stomach the amount of times you will die in the effort to laboriously crawl towards it.
So, here we are. The ending of the first tale in the Zelda series. We’ve recovered the Triforce of Wisdom, we’ve rescued Princess Zelda, we’ve even trashed up Ganon for the very first time. So, was it the game everyone expected? Well, obviously we can’t overlook the test of time the graphics and simplistic game play designs, but Nintendo has always forsaken good looks for great games, and it’s a strategy that has served them well in the long run. There are a few nag-worthy issues that, in hindsight, should have been corrected, but again, it’s difficult to judge a game that’s twenty-two years old, when I myself am younger than the game! It’s from a different era! It was its sequels, not the first game, that brought me into the Zelda fold. And I liked it. If it can cross generation gaps, technological inferiorities, and still be great, I really think that’s worth mentioning. So congratulations, The Legend of Zelda. You’ve succeeded in filling this rage and misery-suffering gamer with a sense of hope, not from the future, but from the past. Let’s hope the rest of the games hold up to the challenge and excitement of the first installment.