Release Date: 15 November 1987
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
In preparation for the upcoming release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild I decided it was time to direct my nascent love of this franchise to its beginnings and see how far we’ve managed to come in 30 years. Since I was one of the fortunate few who was able to secure an NES Mini when it launched I decided to rock it old school with a controller far too small for adult hands, printed out maps of Hyrule, and a handy guide to see me through this adventure.
Was my day in Hyrule well spent? Not really, but it was insightful nevertheless.
Fun thing about this game – it tells you nothing. This wouldn’t have been a problem back in the day when the game cartridge came with all manner of accompaniments, including a story breakdown, but in 2017 it requires a little navigation of Wikipedia to understand your motivation.
In a timeline that would later follow the Hero of Time’s defeat in Ocarina of Time Ganon has invaded Hyrule and stolen the Triforce of Power. Princess Zelda, hoping to stop Ganon from gaining too much power, chooses to split the Triforce of Wisdom into eight fragments and hide them in temples throughout the kingdom before she’s eventually kidnapped (as all princesses back in the day were). Before being spirited away she did manage to instruct her nursemaid to find someone courageous enough to retrieve the eight fragments of the Triforce of Wisdom, defeat Ganon, and rescue Hyrule from certain doom – and so Link’s adventure begins.
This game is a bizarre combination of infuriating difficulty and mind-boggling simplicity.
Much like with the plot the game gives you nothing when it comes to telling you how to actually play it. Unlike later games which tend to point you in the right direction and arm you with a variety of assistants to give you a hint when you get a bit stuck, the original Legend of Zelda is entirely non-linear and completely unhelpful. Its exploration elements hark back to the days of playground discussions to find out what your friends had discovered and to trade in secrets found. There are no environmental clues to tell you where hidden rooms might be, nothing to tell you what the item you just found actually does, and dungeons aren’t so much areas with elaborate puzzles that need solving as they are mazes of similar-looking rooms that involve little more than key-finding expeditions. I’m nearly 30-years-old now, so it would be a little creepy for me to hop into a playground full of young children to discuss a game most probably haven’t even heard of, so I resorted to a guide by the good people over at Zelda Dungeon. It was that or spend days walking aimlessly through this 8-bit Hyrule without a clue about what I should be doing.
In contrast to this ‘you need to get this item but we’re not going to tell you where it is or what it does but you’ll die very quickly if you don’t have it’ approach to exploration, combat is relatively simple and few enemies provide any real challenge. Those that do tend to veer off to the decidedly difficult side of the spectrum, but other than that all it takes are one or two hits at something and you’re in the clear. This is particularly true of dungeon bosses, and if you know what you’re doing it often takes more time to walk from one end of a room to the other than it takes to defeat them. It can be rather anti-climatic in a way, given how tricky it can be to actually find the boss, but I guess allowances must be made.
Here’s the thing – on the one hand it feels unfair to judge a game older than I am by the standards of modern gaming, but on the other hand you need to decide if the game is worth playing in 2017.
The Legend of Zelda is an interesting game to play because you can see all the rudimentary bits of what would later become franchise staples. If you know what you’re doing (or have a guide like I did) it’s also quite a short game – I finished it in one sitting that lasted around 5 hours, so it’s useful if you feel like saving Hyrule but don’t have a ton of time to spare. That being said I can’t say that it was a particularly fun game to play. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just that it’s a product of a different time and as a result didn’t offer up anything challenging since discovering things is more down to dumb luck and candle-driven pyromania than to clever deduction.
But at least I can say that I have played it, ever desperate as I am to avoid accusations of being a filthy casual.
My Final Rating: 5 / 10
Buy an NES Classic Edition at Amazon.com