#363 – The Legend of Zelda

A masterpiece of its time.
The original, imperial.
Link doing what he does best.




GENRE: Action/adventure

RELEASE DATE: August 1987

The Legend of Zelda is one of the original Nintendo’s most important and popular games. A million essays have been written on its greatness. Top-notch game designers like Warren Spector have been inspired by it. It was the first entry in a series which has sold upwards of 67 million copies worldwide (as of 2012). For those rare few who haven’t played the original Zelda or perhaps fail to understand its appeal, please read the following:

  • Zelda was its own genre. It wasn’t just an action game or an adventure game or an RPG. It incorporated elements of all three to form something that was entirely unique.
  • It was non-linear, which forced players to get outside their comfort zones and explore the land of Hyrule without knowing exactly what they were doing or where they were going.
  • The game’s progression is expertly paced. After each dungeon, you walk away with a new item (or two) a heart piece, and a powerful feeling of accomplishment.
  • You could save! Saving is expected in a game now, so it’s hard to imagine the impact, but pre-1987, the only games you could save were on the computer. Zelda was the first cartridge to carry an internal battery for saving.
  • The adventure itself is epic. After exploring nine dungeons and a massive world, you feel positively spent… until you find out Zelda comes with a second more challenging quest. The second quest is either unlocked after you beat the game or by entering ZELDA on the registration screen. Dungeons and enemies were more difficult, and the placement of items was different.

These are just five of the dozens of different reasons people could give for why they love the original Zelda. Influential is an understatement. The Legend of Zelda changed lives.

Hang in there, Link!

Allow me, then, to be brutally honest: I didn’t care much for the original Zelda as a child, and even now, I view it more as a work of art than a game I can leisurely enjoy. As a seven-year-old boy weaned on platformers, I enjoyed the eeriness of the dungeons (the dungeon music still haunts me when I hear it), but the non-linear gameplay frustrated my impatient young brain. Currently as an adult in my twenties, I can only be thankful that it paved the way for better games in the series, specifically Link to the Past. Reasons? To me, Hyrule in the original Zelda is a sterile, bland landscape that, aside from the enemies and the random caves, offer little in the way of wonder and majesty. Why anyone would want to explore it of their own volition is beyond me. The dungeons, on the other hand, are both expertly crafted and oozing with atmosphere; if nothing else, they’re the reason to play (and re-play) Zelda. Since the game is essentially one part world-exploration and one-part dungeon-conqueror, Zelda is an incredibly disjointed experience that is hard to fully appreciate.

I’ll do what I want, old man.

Like with any hugely influential work, Zelda has its champions who view the game through a rose-colored fog, and its detractors who view it as overrated at best and middling at worst. Both sides have reasonable points. If nothing else, they can agree on one thing: The Legend of Zelda changed the gaming landscape in 1987, and without it, we wouldn’t have games that are far superior. It was the template for future greatness, and as a game, it’s actually pretty ok.

Influence and Impact: A+

My Rating: B+

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17 replies on “#363 – The Legend of Zelda”

It’s always nice to read a review of a classic that’s honest and not afraid to poke at sacred cows. That’s one reason why I like this blog so much. Good work!

I sucked the marrow from Ocarina. I only played through twice but feel that I have subsumed the essence of the Zelda mythos. It did indeed change my life. It helped open up my thinking to adventurous possiblity and also the realization that something so small as a blocked doorway might lead you to another world. Just come back later with the right item. The enjoyment my brother and I experienced was sublime. As such, when I came around to playing this, I was underwhelmed. ‘Bland’ is a good word. However, I have nothing but respect for this giant on whose shoulders my favorite game of all time, stands. Great post, my friend.

I suppose I understand where you are coming from, but you have to put the game in context. For instance I too played the hell out of ocarina, and for what it’s worth thought it wad the best game ever made. Until I played over again recently and realized the luster had worn off and the experience didn’t seem as all consuming as it did at one time. The same thing can be said for the original Zelda. Just the thought of a game where you could go ANYWHERE was beyond the comprehension of most gamers of that age. Being a child and experiencing that was somewhat staggering!

Ahhh, so many amazing memories. Now of course, the game doesn’t hold up quite as well as it did back then, but this game got some huge points for me not only because it was such a new experience, but for the sort of ‘new game plus’ that it offered. That sort of thing was almost unheard of back then, especially for a game of this nature.

I think it depends on when you play this game how you feel about it. For someone who has never played it, I can see how it does not live up to the hype.

Since I was around when it came out, it will always be etched in my brain as I experienced it, completely epic and unlike anything else.

I guess that makes me lucky…or old.



Yeah, I can understand that. I was only a year and a half old when LoZ was released. I first played it in 1993, and even then, I was confused by its popularity. “But it has a gold cartridge… it has to be good!!!” This was my young mind’s reasoning.

ROFL@Dylan – I liked the gold cartridge logic. See, I was like twelvish when it came out. For me, the dark caverns and haunting passages plus the puzzles was amazing – it was formative stuff for my imagination back then as I was also just getting into reading fantasy novels around that time as well.

Like most of the commenters here I am a little older so I was around in the hay day of the NES. Zelda was a staple in gaming.. the chats on the bus, the sharing of item locations and the path through the lost woods are all the things that make this game epic to many kids from back then.

I agree with you Dylan that LoZ Link to the Past was and still is the best game in the series. It took everything from the originals and really fleshed Hyrule out.

Great review as usual.


I dont remember how old I was when I finally god zelda, maybe 5 or 6. My mom played it the most though. Remember how the map had all those white blocks of uncharted areas? My mom drew them all in. Then went on to lavel every hidden object, seceret passage, hints, clues, anything that was needed to progress through the game. I think the back side had dungeon maps in the same manner, but not every dungeon?

All I know is I wish I still had that map. It had a lot of info written out on it.

Im sad though, last time I tried playing it, maybe 10 years ago, I realized the battery had died, and killed the near completed game save. (Slightly off topic, but my super mario world cart did the same thing several years later. I fixed it by taping wires to a AA battery and wiring it to where the battery inside was. It looked like such a hack job since it had a AA hanging off the cart, but it worked. Not too bad of a fix for a 10 year old

This is actually pretty similar to my own experience and perspective. I was never what anybody would consider a gamer growing up – I had a Nintendo (and later, an SNES and N64) and a handful of games for it, but most of my experience with games was through my cousin (who had quite a few games and is five years older than me) and various friends. So, I never actually played or owned Legend of Zelda when I was a child. I have a few vague memories of it as a child at my cousin’s house, but I think I probably got frustrated with the wandering around and went back to Mario.

Anyway, as a young adult (college, maybe), I decided to actually try and play it. My sister (13 years younger; she’s 18 now) is obsessed with Zelda, actually (although she’s more into Ocarina and Majora’s Mask) so we did have a used version. It was definitely fun – I drew my own maps, kept track of the clues, etc. But, once I beat it, I never felt a big urge to go back and re-beat the new quest, or do the whole thing over again – whereas every now and then, I will feel like pulling out Mario 3 or something like that, and playing for a few hours, or re-doing the Mario 64 quest.

I think one of the best things is the main theme though. Overall, I’d say the game with the best music is Super Mario or Shadowgate (if I’m going for something creepy) but I think my favorite individual song is the original theme from Legend of Zelda.

I have always loved the original Zelda, but it’s a shame the series didn’t get another chance in the latter days of the system.
If Nintendo could pull Link’s Awakening out of the Gameboy, they could have given us something great with another shot at an NES adventure.

Absolutely spot on. Despite being a longtime Zelda fan, and if my emblem wasn’t obvious enough that I love the NES Zelda, I agree with this review to the letter. It’s too big of a guide game, it was more impactful than actually enjoyful, and its graphics were outclassed by many later 8-bit titles. Link also moved like a tank, the music, despite being good, was rather short and sweet, and its difficulty is quite unfair to the point that I recommend the VC version on the 3DS for its saves.
It was still a revolutionary game, and it is excellent, but it’s not a masterpiece of video gaming. It’s not something I’ll go back on purpose to play through.
Thank you for not being like critics and praising it past its flaws (God, RPGFan and HonestGamers’ reviews on this game were full of bias).

It’s interesting and refreshing to read a Legend of Zelda review that actually has something critical to say about the game. After reading the review and thinking about it, I could see how someone could find the overworld to be bland: no towns, the secret rooms you can find are all identical and have zero detail, there are no optional underworld places to visit – just the dungeons, the NPCs are all identical etc.

Great review as always. I played this game late in my NES life, long after many more evolved and accomplished games, but I still loved it. It was also one of only a handful of games I ever bothered to finish on Gamecube. I think it still feels pretty fresh, but the nostalgia helps.

Glad to see some LttP love on here. My favourite, alongside LbtW.

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