February 05, 2015

That's A Wrap: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

warning: may contain spoilers

One of my goals for 2015 was to get some damn Zelda onto this blog! And I suspected that if I didn't do it first thing, I'd never get around to it. So here we are! The first Legend of Zelda blog for ATSG: A Link to the Past. Arguably the most popular Zelda game to date.
ALttP was released in 1992 (North America) for the SNES and remains the most critically acclaimed Legend of Zelda to date. A fan favorite, the game won my poll for first game of 2015!

I haven't got much for you in the way of graphics for this title, because - let's face it - sprites are timeless and retro games have no business being held to today's standards. What I will say is that this game has aged extremely well. It looks wonderful and colorful and you really wouldn't know it's as old as it is if no one told you. And Link's hair is pink. Back off. He's trendy.
In the sound department, the sound effects are particularly charming. I don't think there was a single instance in which Link travelled up or down stairs during which I didn't giggle. The stairs sound, by the way, is incredibly unique in that there is a slightly different sound for ascending and descending. Sadly, it's the same effect regardless of the terrain, but still… 1991, man…
You'll also hear many of the now classic Zelda effects throughout the whole game, including "acquire an item" and the iconic "uncover a secret!" There is also an alarm effect for when you are short on health, which gets annoying real fast, but is effective nevertheless. My personal favorite sound out of this game is heard when transitioning between the Light and Dark worlds. Gives me goosebumps every time.
The soundtrack is, expectedly, regal and prominent and will give you no trouble getting stuck in your head and reminding you your game is incomplete while you're at a funeral.


The plot for ALttP is rather predictable, especially for Zelda fans, but classic: our man in green has a strange dream in which he hears from Zelda, a descendant of one of the seven wise men that sealed away the scary "golden power" long ago. She has been captured by Agahnim and begs Link to save her. Upon rescue, however, you discover that Agahnim is merely a pawn in a much bigger picture, and in fact the evil Ganon has captured the Triforce and turned the Golden Land dark, and is now building power to take over the world of Light as well. Naturally, it's left to little ol' Link to save the whole world from Ganon's destruction. It's worth noting that anytime you're delivered crucial information, the game asks if you understand. If you say no, they will repeat themselves. Handy for the first timer. That said, basically every time you defeat a boss, you'll receive another chunk of the story.

As the plot suggests, you begin in the world of Light, tackling (what has become) ordinary LoZ activities such as collecting pendants to acquire the Master Sword, heart containers (or fractions thereof) to increase your health capacity, and exploring every crack in the wall and suspicious looking rock to discover upgrades for your person and your weapons!

Exploration is key in ALttP. In time, you'll learn to lift boulders, jump down holes or off ledges… sometimes into large vases. Literally every inch of the top-down world(s) needs to be inspected or you will miss important and/or very helpful items! One of the fruits of this labor comes in the form of empty bottles. Exciting, isn't it? But empty bottles will do you a world of good in Hyrule; they can hold potions, fairies - which will restore some health in a pinch, and revive you upon death*, should you have one handy - and an assortment of other things (I can only actually think of one...) to help you get by. You may also stumble across the game's handful of optional mini-games. There is one where you can pay a man to search his treasure chests, and another in the Dark World in which you may to obliterate someone's yard. Another fun pastime is picking things up or cutting things down. Loot is littered all throughout the land and you need only throw some grass around to score some, but be careful, you'll find random baddies hanging out in the bushes, too. If you get REALLY bored, you can torture chickens… yeah, now that I think about it, this game is really weird...
Here we are in the Dark World. Link is hiding behind the tree and subsequent, scouting baddie. To the left are more potential attackers in another tree. Even that skull-shaped rock could be out to get me. Up top are my magic meter with a "1/2 curse"; my current sub weapon (bug net); my rupee (currency), bomb and arrow count; and what's left of my 12 heart containers.
Eventually, you'll gain access to the Dark World, and begin picking apart that land as well. At this time, your mission evolves from rescuing Zelda, to rescuing Zelda and 6 other maidens that have also been captured. They now reside in crystals, and you must conquer dungeons to free them.

Every now and then, the game throws additional challenges at you besides the onslaught of enemies, like traversing narrow passages with no edges or working in the dark - in which case there is usually a temporary lamp at your disposal, but it's not always worth the effort.

*Just bear in mind that you'll wake up right back in the middle of action, only to be quickly pummeled to death again…

And that brings us to the single most annoying part of ALttP: fighting! I will always praise Zelda games for their variety in combat. A number of techniques are required and a lot of the fun of the game is trying out different strategies and discovering new weapons. Mastering combat does take some time. Timing attacks is crucial and you MUST be pointed the right way, which can be tricky with the SNES' loose controls and baddies coming at you from every angle.
To take down the various creatures, you can use a number of methods:
Your ever-changing sword - you'll have several opportunities to upgrade your sword, if you know where to look. This is pretty important considering some enemies can't be defeated with any given sword, and some can't be harmed at all by the blades. With the Master Sword, if you have full health, the weapon unleashes a projectile attack so you're not always required to physically hit the enemy!
The boomerang - possibly my favorite. The boomer is your first long-range weapon, and stuns most opponents, allowing you to swoop in a finish them off with other means.
Bow & arrow - another long-range friend with a number of uses. Often very effective, especially against bosses.
The hookshot - no doubt shines most for its other use - grappling - but also works as yet another long-range attack.
Bombs - I'm sure you can guess: they're a timed attack. Bombs not only blow enemies to smithereens, but are effective at blowing up other shit, too. Like walls.
Magic powder - if you're clever enough to acquire it, this powder can cause a lot of headaches for your enemies, at the cost of your magic meter.
Ice rod - sends an icy blast at assholes.
Fire rod - I'll give you one guess…
and finally, the magic hammer - which serves for pounding things into the ground. Including bad guys.
Additionally, if you fetch the pegasus shoes, Link gains the abilities to dash, which - with a pointy sword at the bow - can make for a powerful attack!

Of course the challenge lays in figuring out the most effective way to take down each of your many, many opponents, and managing your inventory to reflect these strategies. You'll find a number of other neat toys in your inventory, too. Heads up, spoiler-sensitive folk, this is where it gets interesting.
Early in the game you'll find your lantern, which can be used to light up lamps. Imagine that. If you talk to the right guy, you'll also find a sort of bug-catching net. This can be used for capturing fairies and bees. If you're really good, you can find up to four magic bottles, which can host said fairies, among other aforementioned things. There are three mandatory medallions you must seek: bombos, quake, and ether. They provide you with special magic. Possibly one of the most used items in your bag: the magic mirror, which provides you the means to travel back to the world of Light. A fine reward considering the task required to obtain it. For completing another quest, you'll receive the flute, which does jack shit until you learn where to use it, at which time it becomes an extremely handy warp tool! The book of Mudora can be acquired after you get your shoes, and will translate creepy stones throughout the land for you. The magic cape is a handy item that grants you invincibility until your meter runs out. Similarly, the cane of Byrna surrounds you with light, protecting you from many woes. You can also find the cane of Somaria which conveniently creates blocks for you. Seriously? Where was this when I was playing Catherine?!

There are a few other upgrades which don't offer themselves for this type of use, but rather upgrade our hero instead. The flippers of Zora offer you the ability to swim; the moon pearl is a must for surviving the Dark World, and in addition to the pegasus shoes, you can upgrade your sword, armor, shield and gloves to give you stronger stats and skills. Highly recommended.
Most of these upgrades are found on the game's many sidequests, although some of them are mandatory finds. Most of the game's quests are completed by simply looking around, but you'll have the occasional escort mission, too. Perhaps the most important quest one could take on is finding the many "pieces of heart," which, when gathered in fours, expands to a shiny new heart container - the indicator of your maximum health. You can gather a total of 20 heart containers in ALttP, but some are rewarded after defeating bosses.

The cast of A Link to the Past is very manageable. Our leading man Link - whose name is chosen by the player at the beginning of the game - is the only playable character. Of course the game's namesake,  Zelda, makes a couple of appearances. Throughout the game you're also offered help from Sahasrahla, an elder and descendant of Hylia who can communicate with you telepathically, and offers you hints in the dungeons if you seek out the grey brick with the triangle on it. Agahnim is Ganon's most prominent henchman (alter ego), and after that it's mostly weird bosses and NPC's until you meet the "dorf" himself. Link's uncle makes an early cameo.

Being that the game was constructed for the SNES, there isn't a whole lot more than what you need in the menu and features departments. You access your inventory by pressing start, where you can choose your item by simply highlighting it, and view your progress regarding pendants or crystals, and admire your upgrades.

The only other screen at your disposal is your map, which can be found on the X button. Your map has two views, a zoomed in and a full screen, and will switch to display your location in whichever world or dungeon you're in (best if you've found the dungeon map!)
In this game, Hyrule is sorted into 8 major regions: The Lost Woods, Death Mountain, Kakariko Town, Hyrule Castle, Eastern Palace, The Desert, The Swamp and Lake Hylia. Most areas have a Dark World counterpart such as Skull Woods, The Village of Outcasts, the Dark Pyramid. Dark Palace, and Misery Mire.

My beloved SNES controller makes the controls very easy to grasp:
A - input
B - sword attack
X - map
Y - item
Start - accesses your inventory. Highlight the item in question to add it to your Y button.
Select - offers you the ability to save, but when you resume you must begin from one of just a few starting points, NOT where you left off.
And of course, your trusty D-pad, which becomes surprisingly intuitive when you are in water or on ice. Navigating these kinds of surfaces is much more difficult and slow. In this game, you can move on diagonals. You can save up to three files on the cartridge, and select which one you want to work on when you boot up the game.

I can't say I rate ALttP very high on the difficulty meter, though it has its fair share of annoying enemies and rage-inducing bosses. More than anything, the game demands intense patience and explorer's skills that might quickly put fast-paced gamers to a bore. I'd only recommend LoZ to fans of the RPG genre for these reasons. For those of you unwilling to go the SNES route, A Link to the Past is also available on the Nintendo eShop!

Sadly the game does not include a clock, but considering my completionist efforts**, I'd wager my playthrough clocked in somewhere around 20 hours.

**I obtained every single upgrade, optional item and heart container this playthrough as well as dungeon maps and compasses.

The reason A Link to the Past is so widely loved, is because it's a damn near perfect game. Given the system it was made for, I really can't suggest many improvements. I find the cutscenes entirely too long, and I do notice some frustrating lag when using my bow and arrows, but that's about it. I know gamers who've never experienced LoZ before could find a number of other faults, mainly due to impatience, but as an experienced revisiter, I was amazed at how quickly the game came back to me. I was speedy to find a number of secrets, I knew my way around and couldn't wait to get my favorite weapons and upgrades to make the game less tedious. The anticipation alone keeps me driven in this game, and I was surprised by how quick it was over. The game is simultaneously simple and complex, and really takes me back to my happiest gaming days.

LOTIPS
  • If you should find the Pond of Happiness… use it.
  • Mumblemumblemumblewaterfallsmumblemumble
  • Finding upgrades is a crucial part to beating this game. If you find yourself unable to advance, that's probably why.
  • Remember to change your 'Y' item back to your favorite after using the flute or mirror. I always forget and end up summoning the damn bird instead of my boomer!
  • Cracks in walls (and sometimes floors) = bomb! Although sometimes simply dashing through will do the job.
  • Remember those mini-games I spoke about? Both of those will net you a piece of heart, if you keep at it.
Forever, eh?

2 comments:

  1. Amazing post once again, Lo. This was my first game with the Cartridge Club and one of my absolute favourite games of the 90's - you definitely did it justice! You mentioned that this took you back to your happiest gaming days; and for me, it totally shined through in your piece, taking me right back there as well :) Thanks for helping me wrap up this crazy rough week with such an amazing experience.

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    1. Nawww, go on. No really, go on…
      You're entirely to sweet, Dean. Thanks for giving it a read. I totally forgot how much fun this game is; I don't think there was a moment in which I didn't grin or giggle like I did the first time. It's a great game to revisit, so I'm not surprised the Bros. kicked off the club with this one.

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