I was not a big Zelda fan for a pretty significant chunk of my life, going all the way back to me being a kid. My first time ever playing any Zelda was Link to the Past. Not entirely sure how this happened (probably a work get together my parents dragged me to), but I was at the house of some rich kid with an SNES. He was of course playing LttP, and his mom told him to quick hogging the console and let me play a little bit of it myself. Begrudgingly, I was handed the controller. Now I grew up as a Sega kid; I owned a Genesis and I played the fucking shit out of it. I never regretted my choice of console, but I was curious as to how the Other Half lived, so to speak. So this was my chance to finally play one of those beloved SNES games that I had only ever heard about, and I was excited!
I walked two screens to the left before the controller was quickly snatched out of my hands, followed by a bellowing “YOU’RE PLAYING IT WRONG! GIVE IT BACK!” Then I didn’t get to play any SNES games for the rest of the night.
This was not an isolated incident. Multiple times this would happen. I would constantly end up having to go with my parents to the house party of whoever was going to fire my dad in two weeks, being shuffled off into a room with all the other kids, being handed the SNES controller by the rich kid playing Zelda, and would get all of ten seconds of play time before I inevitably did something “wrong” and would have to sit in silence while yet another spoiled brat spent all night with Zelda. Sometimes they would relent and let me play the “good” SNES games, like Ultraman and the Goddamned Rocketeer. I eventually grew to hate Zelda, and Nintendo as a whole. The reason why I found myself only going back through the Nintendo catalogue during the Wii era is because I couldn’t help myself from associating Zelda (and many other N properties like Donkey Kong Country) with shitty little rich bastards who treated being told to share their toys like it was a fucking war crime. But I still could never bring myself to pick up LttP. Why would I waste my time with a stupid game with a shitty little elf that was slow as fuck and wasn’t late-era Genesis classic Beyond Oasis? Or the better-than-people-give-it-credit-for Brave Fencer Musashi on the Playstation? Anyways, if you grew up with an SNES and Link to the Past, I will firmly suggest that you go into the comments section and apologize for being such a tremendous dickhead to me as a kid.
Despite all that, I still had a Gameboy, which I liked. And I had Link’s Awakening, which I also really liked. I had always treated it like some rogue dev team at Nintendo managed to make chicken salad out of chicken shit with that game. I figured that Zelda games were all bull shit, except for Link’s Awakening. Then I got older (my twenties), played a couple more Zeldas, and figured that Zelda games were all bull shit, except for Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask. This pattern would keep repeating until I finally had to admit that Zelda games were good, I just had the misfortune of the literal worst way to be introduced to the series. But I still didn’t play Link to the Past. Not because I was still mad about kids being little brats, but because I would get lost for too long, or I would get tired and take a break, then forget to pick the game back up the next day, or the next week, or the next forever for years.
But, I finally hunkered down and played through the game. And here it is folks, my hot, scorching, blazing, molten take that’s taken nearly 700 words to get to: The Legend of Zelda- A Link to the Past is really good.
Zelda scratches an itch for me. The itch of knowing that there is an objective: fight Ganon, rescue Zelda, etc, but also knowing that you can take your time. Time spent obsessively combing every inch of the world for every last secret item. I have to get all the heart pieces. I have to upgrade my boomerang into the Better Boomerang. I have to find the screen-clearing magic I will barely use. I have this need to explore everywhere and fill out every blank in Link’s inventory. I don’t struggle with OCD or anything like that, I just have a desire for exploration. I love to explore these worlds that aren’t really even all that big, but manage to feel so massive and grand. Every iteration of Hyrule becomes this fun playground to run around in for hours or days at a time.
There is also something about Hyrule that I’ve been trying to understand. Honestly, it isn’t all that much different in its narrative design from other fantasy media, and can even be pretty cliche in concept. You have castles, villages, woods, deserts, caves, and dungeons to explore until you fight a wizard and rescue a princess. On paper, the Legend of Zelda doesn’t really do anything that Ultima didn’t already do years before. I don’t know if it’s through audio/visual presentation, or through design and mechanical implementation, but Link to the Past, and Zelda games as a whole, don’t feel like cliches. They feel like these grand adventures akin to an epic poem. Link to the Past can be summed up as a series of ticks on a checklist; you have to save Zelda, which means you have to defeat Ganon, which means you need to rescue the seven maidens, which means you needed the Master Sword to get to the dark world, which means you need the three talismans to get the sword. Maybe because you don’t get nagged at by the game itself, but it never feels like you are merely going through a series of objectives to fulfill. Each shrine feels like a mini-adventure in itself, which then ties into the narrative whole. Yeah, you need the talismans, but you also need the bombs to blow up the walls to get to the bow and arrow so you can shoot the cyclops that guards that lead to the power bracelet to lift up the large rocks so you can acquire the magic mirror and warp to the Dark World. It rules. Feels like a lot of similar games, especially in the last couple generations, have lost that sense of adventure and whimsy and made things so clinical with its obtrusive UIs and objective markers.
Most importantly, I goddamn love Link themselves. This goofy, clumsy, awkward elf that suddenly becomes the most capable person in the world the moment they touch a sword. Such a great character design, and a great cypher for the player; silently observing and appreciating the world. Love that little fucker, especially when Breath of the Wild came out and that Gerudo outfit was available, then Link became the most breedable game protagonist.
I realize that this piece is a much too late gushing over Zelda as a whole, but this game rules, and I’m glad that I’m finally getting through all of these.