The Legend of Zelda (NES)
Nintendo presents us with a top-down action-adventure experience that would go on to become one of its most popular and successful franchises, as well as one of the most sought after and recognizable series in gaming history.
Content Warning: Fantasy violence, gambling, references to magic
In the backstory, the henchman of the evil wizard Gannon invade the peaceful Kingdom of Hyrule and steal the Triforce of Power. Fearing that the Triforce of Wisdom also be stolen, making Gannon nigh unstoppable, Princess Zelda divided it up into eight fragments, and hid them throughout the land. She also bid her nursemaid, Impa to flee from the castle in search of a warrior with enough courage to face Gannon. Angered by this turn of events, Gannon captured Princess Zelda, and sent his forces to chase down Impa.
Catching up with her quickly enough, Impa thought she had breathed her last. Then suddenly, a young man appeared a skillfully dispatched Gannon’s wretched soldiers. Taking notice of his strength and bravery, Impa implored this boy, named Link, to reassemble the Triforce of Wisdom to destroy Gannon, the Prince of Darkness. Setting out with his trusty shield (which is apparently all he used to fight off Impa’s pursuers), he vowed to find the eight Triforce pieces and rescue the princess.
Your goal, in essence, is simple: Raid eight dungeons and recover the eight pieces of the Triforce, then face off with Gannon to rescue the princess. However, this game is nowhere near that linear. You will be spending a tremendous amount of time grinding for rupees (currency), and then attempting to locate a store that not only sells what you’re looking for, but sells it at a decent price. Don’t grow too attached to that wonderful Magical Shield, either, because it can be taken from you. So, while darting around the map to find new shops may be tedious, it does behoove you to shop around before you buy.
Combat in The Legend of Zelda is quite enjoyable. The enemies are varied, and you will gain a liking for finding certain enemies, and a dislike for encountering certain enemies. Most likely, you will be frantically avoiding enemy attacks for fear of losing your ability to fire blasts with your sword. I say embrace the chaos, get in there, and trade blows. It may sound reckless, but it’s a whole lot better than wasting time for fear of being hit. This is especially true in dungeons, where there are no stores to purchase healing potions, nor fairy springs to restore your health. Just give it your best shot. You just may find yourself lucky, and slay a monster that will drop a heart, or maybe even a fairy.
Fortunately, your sword is not all you have to work with. Along the way, you’ll pick up a menagerie of useful items that will be indispensable in combating the forces of evil, including:
A short bow that will let you attack at a distance regardless of your health.
Bombs that can take out groups of enemies and open hidden entrances in rocks.
A magical candle that can light up darkened rooms and open hidden entrances in trees.
Two different colored rings, which will boost your defensive power.
A boomerang that can retrieve items and stun enemies.
That is just a sample of your endgame inventory. There are many other items to locate, including heart containers, which will increase your maximum health.
The Legend of Zelda features a simple, yet pleasing color palette. There is not a substantial amount of blending done in the environments, but you still get the sense that you are moving through hills, forests, woods, mountains, rivers, and of course, a giant cemetery. The dungeons are drawn to give a more convincing top-down perspective than is the overworld, but are otherwise monochromatic. The blocks, which serve as both barriers and puzzle pieces inside the many dungeons, are shaded to provide an element of depth.
As for the enemies themselves, they are well-drawn, and are exemplary of the best the 8-bit era has to offer. Attack patterns vary widely, and there are a few enemies that can move diagonally, while you cannot.
The Legend of Zelda series has always been known for having exceptional music. The Overworld Theme, sometimes referred to as the Zelda Theme, is without question, one of the most memorable pieces of music in all of gamedom. This title is its first appearance. It has been featured in several other Zelda titles, and is personally my second-favorite song in the entire Zelda series.
The Overworld Theme, which is simply timeless, needs no over-explanatory explanation. The music that plays in the dungeons, while not possessing the popularity of Overworld Theme, is very well-done piece in its own right. Its tones have the perfect blend of trepidation, mystery, and danger. Added to the music of The Legend of Zelda is the satisfying sound of shooting sword blasts at your enemies, and the equally satisfying sound they make when they perish.
Steve’s Tip: To get through the Lost Woods and enter the Graveyard, the proper navigation is north, west, south, west. Save your rupees for equipment.
There isn’t much to say about the writing in The Legend of Zelda, as there is no dialogue, and those who speak to Link typically do so in single sentences. In fact, if you want actual in-game information about your quest, you have to wait at the title screen and watch the prelude roll that shows you pictures of all the items you can get, and gives you a brief synopsis of your quest. One interesting feature that you may run across is the opportunity to risk your hard-earned rupees in a game of chance. Scattered across the landscape of Hyrule are hermits who will take ten of your rupees for the chance to win big. The odds are stacked against you as two of the possible picks will always cause you to lose additional rupees. Honestly, you’re better off grinding for cash.
The Legend of Zelda stands as one of the classics of the NES. Very few people, if any, have much to say badly about this title. For gamers born in the late 70’s and early 80’s, this game is synonymous with pleasant childhood memories. I still remember sitting next to my dad as we would take turns trying to figure out where to go next. Back then, you didn’t have the internet, so you only had a few options:
- You had to find someone who’d beaten the game and ask them to tell you everything they could remember.
- You had to subscribe to Nintendo Fun Club News (and be lucky enough to have subscribed before said issue was published in fall of 1987).
- You had to wait for the summer of 1988 inception of, and then place a call to the Nintendo Power Line for tips at $3.99 per minute.
- You were stuck waiting until 1991 when Jeff Rovin published the fourth book in his series, How to Win at Nintendo Games, and then shell out for the book.
Or, most commonly, you simply had to figure it out through hours of trial & error. Best of luck.
Photo Credits: GameFAQS
+ Hours of terrific, non-linear fun that will leave you hungry for more Hyrule action.
+ There is a second quest which effectively doubles the replay value (Just enter 'Zelda' as your name).
+ This is the first NES title that allows you to save your progress via battery backup, instead of a password.
- There is a tremendous amount of wandering to be done. Prepare to become lost more than once.
- The large grey "map" in the top-left corner of the screen is less than useless.
- You receive no real guidance about where to go or what to do.