A masterpiece of its time.
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.
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.
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+