obsessive-compulsive that i am, i’ve been working my way through the zelda series. i needed a quick game to finish last week, so even though there are still a few in the series i haven’t played yet i picked up my copy of the original the legend of zelda for NES which i’ve been meaning to replay for a while.
it’s pretty much impossible for me to judge the game objectively as it was the first NES game i ever owned. even though i had played other early NES classics like mario and duck hunt, excitebike, and gyromite at friends’ houses, zelda was my first and i played it compulsively (some things never change). my mom wouldn’t let us play on weekdays, so on saturday mornings my brother and i would get up ridiculously early to play. i don’t remember the details about these sessions, but i do remember burning every bush and bombing every wall in order to uncover all the game’s many (and, from a modern POV, completely useless) secrets and being amazed at the fact the game includes a 2nd quest, basically doubling the length of the game. this was also one of the rare games that i remember kids in school passing around now-hilarious misinformation about, such as “did you get the purple ring yet?” ha ha.
replaying the game now, at least 10 years since i last even looked at it and probably at least 20 since i’ve last beaten it, was definitely an interesting experience. although i remembered exactly where every heart container, item, store, and dungeon was, there were some details i’d forgotten, like the clock item, the occasional enemy that hasn’t become a series staple (e.g. vires, patra, manhandla), or exactly what order the dungeons are. (incidentally, another thing that was entertaining that i’d never noticed it was that in the credits miyamoto is referred to as “miyahon”. online people seem to generally assume this was some sort of misspelling, but i remember reading somewhere that in those days companies had their employees intentionally use pseudonyms in the credits to avoid having the poached by rival companies.) dungeons were entirely straightforward and, with perhaps the exception of the last one, lacked the puzzle-solving emphasis that its sequels have. the items acquired are all fun and memorable, as is the music, graphics, and for the most part the enemy design. instead of a focus on puzzles there ends up being slightly more emphasis on combat: parts of the game were harder than i remembered, and i have to admit that i ended up having to continue more than a couple of times. it was also refreshing that the game isn’t so formulaic: you don’t get all the items you need to complete the game from dungeons; the boss of a dungeon isn’t necessarily weak against the item you do get in that dungeon; and some dungeons have more than one item.
the real emphasis of the game is, of course, on the almost entirely unguided exploration, and this is what makes me hesitate in my evaluation. the instruction manual points the way to the first two levels, but i could easily see how people would get frustrated at not knowing where to go. i didn’t have this problem because at the same time i got the game way back in 1987 i also got a copy of the official nintendo player’s guide which contained a basic guide to the majority of the first quest. of course now i would eschew such handicaps, but i have to wonder how my opinion of the game would have been different if i hadn’t had it. even now i’m leery of starting in on the second quest because i really don’t remember much about it except vaguely where the dungeons are and that there’s a lot of time wasted trying to walk through walls (the later sequels let you test walls with your sword to see if you can bomb them or not).
all in all this was a great trip down memory lane, and a great look back at the origins of what has become one of the all-time great video game series. it all started here, but even beyond that this is still a fun and colorful game and astoundingly polished and innovative for its time. the game shows its age, though, more so than the NES mario games, and the inevitable frustrations of the unguided overworld would make this off-putting for the uninitiated today and make me inclined to rank this a little more harshly than i would otherwise. but overall, yes, this is another NES classic that i’m happy to see still holds up for the most part, and it makes it onto my ever-increasing list of “greatest games of all time”.
some legendary zelda links:
– zeldadungeon.net has a nice subsite, with a rundown of all the cryptic clues the old man gives you and the locations of all the secret rupees
– the page at zeldawiki.org is also a good source
– scans of the manual at infendo.com. the instruction manual oddly enough refers to zola as a “she”, and it’s interesting to see how the race of water creatures known as the zoras began. zeldawiki.org illuminates the possible distinction between zora and zola here.
– funny related comic: link visits his mother
– summary of the nintendo channel data of the VC release here
– vgmaps.com has a lot of maps including this interactive one. this map at zeldacapital.com is a bit more readable.
– blast from the past: one of the commercials that aired for the game. not sure if they aired it a lot or not, but i actually remember this one. a classic.
– here’s the review at nintendolife.com for another modern perspective
– entry at wikipedia
– and a bit of trivia: here’s what happens if you try to have less than 3 heart containers by giving up one to the “your money or your life” guy