Game Review: The Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past

Article by Mike Finkelstein

Editor's Note: A Link to the Past was reviewed on the Super Nintendo version of the app. The writer completed this version of the game -- several times -- before writing the review. The review does not, in any way, take into account later versions of the game that may include additional content.

On a raining evening, a voice calls out for a young boy. The voice belongs to Princess Zelda on the Kingdom of Hyrule. Zelda needs help, and there's only one person that can help her: a young boy named Link. Link, as it turns out, is a descendant of the Knights of Hyrule who were sworn to protect the kingdom. In times of need, the Knights did all they could to save the Kingdom for outside forces.

The lands of Hyrule are under attack, and even though Link doesn't know about his heritage, he is still called into battle to save the day and rescue the Princess. She then sends him on a quest for three pendants that can be used to awaken the Master Sword, a powerful relic of the Knights of Hyrule -- a sword that is key in defeating the evil swarming the land, an evil lead by the sorcerer Agahnim.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was a sequel to the first two Zelda games on the NES, and a natural progression for the series from the original game (famously, Zelda II was built on a completely different engine and play style than the original Zelda game -- fans are split as to if Zelda II is any good because of this change). In a Link to the Past (LttP), you play as Link from a top-down perspective, fighting your way across the countryside, exploring dungeons and collecting items, all in your quest to stop Agahnim from taking over Hyrule.

Many call this type of play style a Role-Playing Adventure, although this term tends to imply more than any Zelda game (except for Zelda II) includes. As you play your way through the game, you do get more powerful, able to take more damage and cause more as well. However, the biggest RPG standard, experience points, is not in this game (if you'd like that, you might try the Secret of Mana or Zelda II). Additionally, battles are not done from a series of menus, and there is no turn-based play. The game is real-time, so the monster are constantly trying to kill you, and you have to stay on your toes to stay alive.

This slimming down of the RPG stylings, combined with the action-based adventure play, made for an immersive, easy-to-pickup experience. The game aids in this by dropping you quickly into your first quest, building you up into a hero fast with no tutorials or training games just to get you up to speed. You can pop the game in, start up a new save file, and be off exploring dungeons within minutes.

This is actually something the later Zelda games seem to have lost, as it takes longer and longer to get into the best bits of the games (the dungeon exploring), instead dragging you further and further onto side-quests, tutorials, mini-games, and many other pointless diversions that detract from the core Zelda experience.

That is the great strength of LttP: It's focused. It knows the game it wants to be, and it throws its core experience at you and never pulls you away from your main quest. And it's a good quest, too. Each step of the process is well thought out, with several different dungeons to explore, twists and turns in the plot, and a surprisingly deep primary quest that goes on longer than you might expect but never outstays its welcome.

LttP was an incredible game when it came out, and while it has aged some over the years, the core-experience still holds up. Those that come to this game from later Zelda games may not appreciate all that this game has to offer (specifically because there's a more focused experience with less filler than current players may be used to).

(Author's note: I state the game is a sequel, but the timeline for the Zelda series is so convoluted that it's hard to state, with any authority, where the game actually takes place in the series. Most agree it's a prequel, but some think every Zelda game is a retelling of the same "myth".)