The Legend of Zelda is an action adventure game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The prince of darkness, Ganon, stole the Triforce of Power. Princess Zelda split apart the Triforce of Wisdom and hid the pieces before Ganon’s minions kidnapped her. It’s up to you, Link, to collect the pieces, defeat Ganon, save the princess, and save the land of Hyrule. You play from a top-down perspective moving from screen to screen. There are caves and dungeons around the large overworld for you to enter. Some of them are immediately visible and reachable while others will require an action or use of an item to open. When you begin, the first screen of the game has an obvious cave opening. It is assumed you will enter this cave and get the wooden sword inside. This will now be your attack with the A button for the rest of the game. From this point on it’s up to you to explore the land in search for the dungeons, equipment, and secrets that await you. Do you have what it takes?
The Legend of Zelda is clearly very inspired by RPGs, which is evident by the acquisition of new items and the settings. However, it takes the fun parts of RPGs, such as exploring, looting, and progressing, and takes out the padding like the heavy focus on story, level grinding, and turn-based combat. Instead of leveling you tend to find heart containers to increase your health, find items to give you more abilities, and upgrade your items to become more powerful. You have the freedom of movement and attacking at will rather than taking turns selecting attacks from a menu. There’s a story, but it’s more outlined in the opening crawl and the manual than being thrown between bits of tedious gameplay. This compromise of elements created a new, more accessible experience for fans of adventures and open world exploration. You can tackle most of the game at your own pace. You can hunt for secrets, grind rupees for items, or just head right to the dungeons. You can even do some dungeons out of order even though they are clearly numbered. There are some cryptic things you’ll need to do in order to progress, but there’s always someone that will give you a hint about it. You just have to explore to find them. Or you can just experiment with things and figure it out for yourself. Basically, everything you do in this game is based on exploration, experimentation, and overcoming challenges with your own wit and skill.
I love how you just get to run around in a big world. You can find secrets and do dungeons and things the way you want. Each dungeon is like a series of little challenge rooms to test your skills. Combat may be simple, but fighting off different amounts and types of enemies can become very tricky. Getting and using new items is also really fun. It’s exciting to just find a cool new item, or buy it, and just start using it everywhere to see what it’s good for. The rupees are even done well in this game. You can get a lot of them, but you’ll need them for buying items now and then, especially if you mess up and lose items or waste them. This makes the act of collecting rupees constantly important and valuable. The bow even uses rupees to shoot arrows rather than having separate ammo. This just makes you think about how valuable using arrows actually is and if you’re willing to blow your rupees at the time or not to tackle enemies. And the enemies can often be tackled in multiple ways. Different weapons might be more or less effective and ammo can be a factor in it as well. So there is a good mix of exploration and challenge that come together to form a great adventure. And there’s even a second quest with entirely new entrance locations and remixed dungeons, so it’s like two games in one!
As great as this design is, there are still some issues I have with it. There’s no level grinding, but sometimes you may find yourself grinding for rupees to get your shield back, get a potion, get some bombs. Not to mention you need to use them as arrows. So there’s still some grinding going on in the game. The game also has the issue of wanting to be the best of both worlds of being open world as well as having a difficulty curve. Because these two things tend to conflict with each other, this ends up being a compromise rather than a combination. Pros for one will be cons for the other. You can go to a lot of places, sometimes out of order, but sometimes you’ll need equipment from previous levels to get to or complete later ones, giving it a bit of structure. So it’s neither a true open world experience nor a linear path with a difficulty curve. It can also be annoying to make progress in a dungeon only to hit a dead end because you don’t have the proper equipment yet. There’s only one way in and out of a dungeon so going back through once you’re utterly stuck can be annoying as well. That’s the risk you take playing out of order, I suppose. The enemies can be pretty rough at times. They’re usually easy enough to hurt, but they seem to move so unpredictably that often times you’ll take a hit because you couldn’t predict the future or read their minds. You can be extra careful, but you’ll still get hurt by this at some point no matter how good you are. The hints in this game are usually hidden, making you earn them. The thing is, some hints you kind of just stumble upon or even have to find because of their locations in dungeons. It’s not a big deal, but it’s certainly the inkling of handholding to come in later installments. The audio visual department is fine granted it’s on the NES, but there aren’t many themes or varied visuals. Most dungeons look the same, as do many of the overworld areas. They all are arranged differently, but they still look very similar a lot of the time outside of palette swaps. I would’ve preferred at least a new musical theme for each dungeon, but the music is cool so it’s not really deal breaker. And the art style keeps it from looking bad with age at least. One of the biggest things that can throw off first time players is when you are asked if you want the red medicine or the heart container in one of the secret caves. Picking one makes the other disappear forever. So if you take the medicine, which you can buy later on in the game anyway, you’ll completely screw yourself out of more maximum health. This can be unfair when you don’t even know what each one does yet and is simply an irreversible beginner’s trap. I think the biggest retroactive letdown is that there are next to no puzzles in the game. You might need to push a block one space over now and then or use an item at a specific place, but most of it is just figuring out a simple action rather than completing a series of actions like a puzzle. This is a bummer if you’re coming from later titles hoping for the same puzzle element to start here.
My point is that even The Legend of Zelda isn’t perfect. It has some flaws and isn’t necessarily for everyone. However, it’s still an amazingly well-designed game. It’s especially impressive for NES standards, having two different campaigns, battery back-up saves, and a whole new kind of adventure to experience. It’s also one of the harder Zelda games, even if it’s still relatively easy for an NES game. There hasn’t really been another Zelda game quite like it since. It’s a wonderful experience that put Zelda on the map. If there’s one thing that The Legend of Zelda is about, it’s adventure. Exploration, challenge, and adventure. Every Zelda fan should play this game. Every NES fan should play this game. Every video game fan in general should play The Legend of Zelda at least once in their life. Everyone should witness what it was like when this legend was born.