1992 was what I’d call one of those golden years in Zelda’s history. The glory from the NES era was yet to fade and despite the years that had passed since the release of Zelda II, non-game material such as merchandise and the cartoon series kept Zelda and Nintendo very much in the spotlight. The prospect of a new Zelda game on the Super Nintendo was very exciting for fans, and 1992 saw the arrival of A Link to the Past to western markets, a year after it was released in Japan. The third Zelda game promised to be the biggest and best Zelda so far. Nintendo took learnings and elements from the first two titles, pulled out all the stops and the result was a game so big that it was bursting at the seams with adventure. To this day A Link to the Past is considered one of the best Super Nintendo games, and for many Zelda fans it remains one of the best titles in the series.
For me personally, A Link to the Past stands out because it’s essentially a bigger, better Legend of Zelda. I adore the original Zelda game and find it hard to fault, but A Link to the Past included a more detailed story, extra characters, more items, and an overall larger quest which greatly enhanced the Zelda gaming experience for me. I mean, the goal of the first game is to rescue Zelda. In A Link to the Past the game has barely started when you first rescue our fair princess!
One of the other things that always stands out to me from the game is its beautiful soundtrack. In my opinion, A Link to the Past has the best soundtrack of any Zelda game. It may not be as large as later games, which obviously have room for much larger soundtracks, but for the number of tracks that there were, there are many standout pieces (Hyrule Castle, Dark World, Introduction, Dark Woods, to name a few, and if you’d like to hear them all together you should check out this amazing remix).
Since we covered A Link to the Past in detail yesterday, I’m not going to use this game as the focus of 1992’s article. I mentioned that giving A Link to the Past a more detailed story really helped bring the world of Zelda to life for me, and stories are exactly what we’re going to look at today.
I’ve always seen video games as another way to tell a story. When you read a book, your imagination brings the story to life, and when you watch a movie you get to feast your eyes on the vision that someone has created. Video games allow you to jump into the story and control some of the action. True, not all games are story-oriented and often I find ones that have a very simple premise, like Tetris, to be incredibly enjoyable. But the games that I enjoy the most and that stay with me the longest are the ones that can tell a good story. Zelda games definitely fall into that category and the main reason why I continue to play a series that I started playing 20 years ago is because I’m always keen to see what will happen next in the world of Zelda. How will the story evolve or change the world as I know it?
The problem with a series like Zelda back in the 90s was that you sometimes had to wait years before getting your next “chapter” of the story. Despite the games having a high replay value, you’re essentially experiencing the same story over and over. My hungry imagination craved more, even on top of the beautiful and descriptive instruction manuals that accompanied Zelda games back in those days. That left it up to books and comic books to fill the void, and fortunately 1992 gave us a new comic based on A Link to the Past along with two Zelda-themed Nintendo Adventure Books.
The Nintendo Adventure Books were just like those Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular around the same time. The concept behind these books was that you would read a short amount of story before being presented with two or three possible actions for the main character to take. Each action required you to jump to a particular page in the book, where you’d typically read about the results of that particular action and then reach another decision point, and so on. The stories would have multiple endings and not all of them were happy! The Nintendo books also occasionally required readers to solve a puzzle that would tell them the next action to take, and would also require them to keep track of various items or points they had obtained.
Two such books were based on the Zelda series: The Shadow Prince and The Crystal Trap. Several other books were based on the Mario series. I remember being given one called Double Trouble when I was young and I thought that it was the best thing since, well, Mario games themselves. I poured through that book, reading it over and over to make sure I had discovered every possible sequence of events. If only I had known that there were Zelda books too!
The Shadow Prince tells the story of Link and Zelda’s encounters with the mysterious and dashing prince, Charles, who is visiting Hyrule from a far away land. At the beginning of the story, Link and Zelda are attacked by a great horde of Moblins. They fight valiantly but eventually find themselves overpowered. Just as all appears to be lost, Charles shows up and manages to scare the remaining Moblins away. He reveals that he is on a mission to do good deeds as part of custom before he can return to his land and become its king. Zelda and her father, the king, are quickly won over by Charles’ charms, but something about him gets to Link and he starts to become suspicious of the stranger. It’s up to readers to help guide Link through the story and find out if he’s just feeling jealous because Charles is stealing his limelight as the greatest warrior in Hyrule, or if his suspicions are correct and Charles has ulterior motives for being in Hyrule.
The Crystal Trap allows readers to control Princess Zelda for a change. At the beginning of the story, Link and Zelda are chasing Ganon through a deserted castle when the tide turns and they run headfirst into a trap. Ganon orders them to surrender, and when they remain defiant he decides that if he can’t have the Triforces of Wisdom and Courage, which he needs before he can take over Hyrule, then Link and Zelda should not be able to use them. He casts a spell that will encase the Triforces in crystal. Since the Triforce of Courage resides in Link’s heart, Link himself is trapped in a large crystal. If Zelda can’t figure out how to get him out and the three things she needs to do it within 24 hours, Link will be trapped forever.
I only wish that I’d had both of these books as a child. I’ve since read them via scans and had fun working through both stories. Although these sort of books are aimed at children and young teens, being able to go beyond the world of the games is what I love so much about them. It’s things like this that encouraged me to write my own stories about Zelda, and inspired my later love of fan fiction.
A comic book series based on A Link to the Past was also released in 1992. It was initially divided into 12 parts and was published monthly from January to December in Nintendo Power magazine. In 1993 it was released in complete form as a book. Written and illustrated by famous Japanese comic book creator Shotaro Isinomori, the comic didn’t follow the game strictly and introduced several changes in order to make the story more surprising and dramatic. If you’re interested in reading it, it is available for download at Zelda Legends. It’s well worth the read, particularly for fans of the game.
1992 was a golden year for Zelda fans, and the run continued when the fourth Zelda game was released the following year. Make sure you check back tomorrow to read about the good – and the bad – of Zelda in 1993.