The Legend of Zelda - Retroview

The Little Elf Man


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 6
   Originality 9
   Plot 5
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 6
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

2 - 10


When I was your age...

   I feel like an old man. I'm only 19, but I feel like an old man. I owe it all to my dusty NES, sitting in the corner of my room, crying about how I neglect it. I tell it that it can't take the carts anymore, that it deserves rest after all the youthful years I spent not doing homework and instead making it chug out pixel after pixel of vegetative fun. Back when the controller had 4 buttons and a control pad, back when you loaded cartridges into the belly of the beast, back when an RF connector switch is all we used. Back when there were only two directions -- left and right -- and when everyone jumped and crouched. Way back when all you needed to do was go from point A to point B to point C, never backtracking, never hunting. Good old side scrolling. Then along came The Legend of Zelda. When I played it, my brain ceased all extraneous operation and concentrated on Link, the little green elf man, running in four directions, sifting through his inventory, and burning bushes. It was enjoyable. It was a classic.

   I remember Zelda best for taking me out of the side-scrolling world and thrusting me into the multidirectional one, a world where you could walk up and down, left and right. Where if you turned to fight a monster behind you, there would be one to your right. Or your left. Or behind you again. Adding directions to the game made fighting more dynamic. Rather than a combat "system" -- turn based or realtime -- you'd find in your garden variety Dragon Quest, The Legend of Zelda was action. Link's main weapon was a short sword that could fire projectiles only when his life guage was at full, so in a room full of creatures you were constantly turning and slashing, turning and slashing. Link could also use a secondary weapon/item that could be assigned to the B button from his inventory. Boomerangs, bombs, a bow and arrow -- these were all at your disposal with simple button presses. Good fast action.

   The Legend of Zelda's overall gameplay concepts are simple. Link must collect 8 pieces of the Triforce, each of which are housed in labyrinths across the land of Hyrule. You must guide Link around the land, amassing funds by slaying monsters, and finding then conquering every labyrinth in the game. The fun is in the simple exploration. It was a beautiful thing back in the day to let the player explore much of the expandable world at the outset. You can cover a lot of ground at any point in the game -- just be prepared to fight baddies that will more or less crush you should you meander into the wrong area. The main pattern of gameplay went: find labyrinth, get new special item, use item to explore more of the upper world, in order to find next labyrinth, etc., resembling much of the "unlock" gameplay of RPGs today.

A new gameplay mode?
Elimination MODE? Nah, they just meant ERASE GAME...  

Unfortunately, the Legend of Zelda was, at best, above average in the music department. The main theme was an incredible piece of music, which has been orchestrated and redone in future games splendidly. However, the game really only has _ major songs: the title screen theme, the overworld theme, and the labyrinths (there's also one different track for the final labyrinth). While this game did come out way back in the NES's fledgling days, there were definitely games with more varied soundtracks (Contra and Castlevania come to mind). Zelda's composer(s) could have thought up of some other tunes for different areas of the game -- for example, a graveyard theme, woods theme, etc. However, the few tunes the game does have are certainly memorable.

In fact, The Legend of Zelda as a whole is one of the most memorable games out there. Much of this can be attributed to its original concepts. A whole world ready to be explored, increasing your health and upgrading your weapons and armor throughout the game, finding secret hideaways that house people who have items to offer you, discovering and using special items in the right places to proceed, and the infamous old man who proposes to gamble for money, "Let's play money making game!"-- The Legend of Zelda is one of the pioneers in all of these gaming concepts. There are secrets to find, puzzles to work through, enemy weaknesses to exploit, and ... bushes to burn. (I'm serious!)

Not much originality, however, is found in the plot. Without giving away exact details, in case you've never played the game before and never heard its story, be prepared not to be amazed. Even for a first generation game, the plot seems quite cliche. None of it is really moved along during the game, either. You're given the background story in the title screen's intro, and in the instruction booklet. Then you simply play through the game and watch the ending. Maybe there is little plot progression in the game because there's not much plot to begin with -- or maybe there's not much plot because the game doesn't bother to advance it. In either case, I played the game for the gameplay -- not for the plot.

Those who are looking for an intriguing plot won't really find one, and it doesn't help that the game isn't localized all that well. With the little text they had, Nintendo managed to muck it up quite a bit. "A winner is you!" and the bland, lifeless text introduction (something along the lines of "Go LINK and find the pieces of the triforce to save PRINCESS ZELDA...") show that improvements could definitely have been made in terms of localization. But, however awkward these translations might have seemed, it's easy to laugh at and doesn't really get in the way of the game. If my localization score seems a bit high for what I've written, it's because it made me -- and will most likely make you -- laugh out loud.

"Throw" your sword and have it magically back in your hand in mid flight.
What happens to an Octorok who has Link's sword thrown at it? ...The same thing that happens to everything else. (The WORST line ever.)  

The key thing to keep in mind here is that the fun of this game is much more than enough to make up for its shortcomings -- music, story, and translation-wise. The Legend of Zelda's all about good old fun. You might beat the game and go back to it to find out what you've missed, how to get that extra heart container, or what bush you could have burned that you didn't. You might beat the game and decide to play it over again in HARD mode. You might just go back to the game and play it for the sake of slicing and dicing monsters over again. This is one of those games that you don't have to sit through, progressing through a story or mission, hours on end, to have fun with it. Although an adventure game with much exploration, it's quite easy to pick up and have fun with over and over again.

You won't have to wear protective eyewear to play through this either. The graphics, while not incredible even for its time, are clean and colorful. You won't get lost because an area is so bland that you can't tell where you are. You won't get enemies confused with trees. General hues also give you an idea of just what kind of environment you're in. For example, the graveyard is predominantly greyish, and pasty light white and blue. Desolate forests have trees with their leaves browning, while more accessible and occupied woods have green trees. Seasides and lakesides don't have much other land graphics besides bright beige sand, and almost each labyrinth sports a different color scheme -- each one dark enough to give you the idea that you're stuck in a dank dungeon. The only thing that made me squirm was the fact that some of the mountain rock was colored green. ("It's lichen!" is not convincing enough of an answer.)

As the game grows on you, your skill grows along with it quite evidently. The Legend of Zelda is not an extremely tough game, nor is it a cakewalk. Because the combat is more like an action game than that of what we're used to in other RPGs, developing dexterity and reflexes is key here rather than memorizing enemy weaknesses or finding a spell in a spell list. Rather than thinking quickly, you have to act quickly. With a game of such nature, the difficulty tapers off at a certain level where combat comes as second nature and all you have to do is react correctly. The Legend of Zelda ends up having a moderate difficulty level -- choosing what to do becomes easy, actually doing it depends on your practice and skill.

H. Yamauchi... isn't that the dumb jerk who won't let Square develop for Nintendo again!?
Hey looky! It's... uhh... Ten Ten.  

How fast you finish this game really depends on your level of exploration. Do you want to find everything, cover every area and recover every heart container to extend your life meter? Do you just want to race through the game and leave the enemies coughing up your dust? Either way, the game is enjoyable -- whether you rush or savor. While the world is vast, it's quite easily traversed, and you can find yourself completing the game within 2 hours if not less. If you take your time and see all there is to see, you might end up spending up to 10 healthy hours -- carefully picking your way through labyrinths and emerging before completion once in a while to get a breath of fresh air, hacking random enemies outside to accumulate wealth. or even trying to be the old fart in his "money making game."

In the end, The Legend of Zelda is a highly enjoyable game despite its flaws. As a game that focuses heavily on its action-based gameplay rather than a plot/mission-based "button-tap" RPG, aesthetics do not and should not detract from the fun to be had from this game. Even for a first generation title, The Legend of Zelda can still be considered better than some of today's RPGs which tend to be either mere rip-offs or graphical showcases. While no longer "spectacular" or even "great" compared to some of today's masterpieces, The Legend of Zelda is a fine classic.

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