I know this sounds like blasphemy as an old-school Nintendo fan, but I never played The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past when it came out. I grew up with the Super Nintendo, but I was essentially limited to what I saw on television or in a store. I didn’t know Nintendo Power existed and I was more interested in platformers than anything else. My first Zelda game was Ocarina of Time, but it wasn’t until the Game Boy Advance re-release that I finally played A Link to the Past. I remember being enchanted by it and surprised at how much fun the old game was.
It’s been awhile since I last played it, admittedly making this a “Third or Fourth Chance Gaming,” but I believe it’s been long enough that another playthrough would offer challenge in both combat and figuring out the puzzles once more. In a rare instance, it turned out I was actually right for once and my current playthrough seemed to be like I was experiencing a familiar game in a new way, but more on that later.
From what I remembered, A Link to the Past was one of my favorite Zelda titles (not quite number one) and one of my favorite top-down action/adventure games of all time — a genre I love but don’t get enough of. I have memories of big boss battles and being stuck in dungeons for hours, desperately trying to find the solution. Another thing I loved was the land of Hyrule; not only was it big, but it was densely packed with secrets seemingly at every turn. I enjoyed it since more recent Zelda games have useful items in dungeons only or at timed-specific side quests. In A Link to the Past, you could walk into a seemingly normal cave and be rewarded with an Ice Rod.
While I said I was enchanted by it and had fun, I also wasn’t blown away by it. I was used to the 3D titles in the series, and the Zelda formula at this point didn’t surprise me anymore. That’s not to say the dungeons or bosses didn’t, but the “find three items, master sword, seven sages” formula was starting to wear on me and I would have liked a change of pace. That said, it isn’t really a knock against the game — since it was the archetype of this formula — it just had the bad luck of being played so late after its initial release.
Even so, I still appreciate it. I love the design of each dungeon and it seemed like, no matter how many times I played, I always got stuck on a few key ones. Of course, the bosses at the end of each one was memorable and I never got tired of besting them in battle. Items go hand-in-hand with dungeons and I really liked how they all felt useful. They don’t give you a slingshot that becomes useless in an hour once you get the arrows and even the boomerang can still be handy late in the game.
Replaying A Link to the Past made me realize just how important some of the missing features I briefly touched upon earlier felt. I love the fact that some key items are found by exploring the world and this playthrough really demonstrated how important it was to do so The Medallions, Ice Rod, Cane of Byrna, Magic Cape — all of these are found outside of dungeons. Even upgraded shields, swords, bomb bags and quivers are found by exploring and not so much by finding raw materials and crafting them like in Skyward Sword. While I enjoy the crafting mechanic in Skyward Sword, I wish there was more of a balance.
Another tradition they’re trying to overcome is how the treasures you receive in the dungeons are used in said area and almost forgotten afterwards. How many Zelda games give you the aforementioned slingshot, only to be abandoned almost immediately? In A Link to the Past, I found most items useful all the time and later, dungeons are exceptionally clever due to using the entire arsenal of toys rather than the newest one. As a result, the dungeons feel more complex and satisfying to solve since the solution isn’t always the most recent item.
Other than the game making me wish the series would reward exploration more greatly than recent titles, A Link to the Past is essentially what I remembered. That said, though, it felt more epic this time around. I’m not exactly sure why it did, but this was the first time I felt how heavy the situation in Hyrule was and the “coming of age” adventure of Link really hit home. It was much more immersive than I remember and I think it’s due in part to the freedom the world allows. My recent gaming exploits consisted of linear titles, so playing A Link to the Past was a breath of fresh air. The last Zelda title I played prior to this was Skyward Sword and I already stated how I disliked the more linear nature of that one.
In addition to the open world, the music was another key feature that helped with the atmosphere. This truly is a timeless soundtrack and some sole songs really standout. I think my personal favorite is “Hyrule Castle” or “Dark Mountain Forest.” On the other side of the presentation coin is the graphics and this game is still a looker. I love sprite work, as I think they age the best, and the colourful detailed world of Hyrule is still a sight to behold, even in this age of HD graphics.
Of course, what’s a game without its controls? Probably a movie, but thankfully, A Link to the Past still plays as smooth as butter. I played the Game Boy Advance version on the DS and it made me wish for the analogue nub of the 3DS. That isn’t the games fault, just my loose DS control pad. It also is a bit of a letdown only having one equitable item at a time where more modern Zelda games have at least three. However, the pause screen is quick and easily accessible, so again, it doesn’t detract much from the experience. Walking around, grabbing items and attacking Cuccos is all a breeze and never once did I have to fight the controls or yell at Link for not following my instructions properly.
A Link to the Past is still a solid game and worth at least one playthrough. It deserves the praise as one of the best Super Nintendo games ever created. It features some mechanics that I think future Zelda games can learn from, especially since they won’t stop talking about the Zelda traditions that need a shakeup. I stand by my belief that it isn’t the best in the series, but it’s still a damn finely crafted game. So if you’re bored of The Wind Waker HD and need some more Zelda before the upcoming A Link Between Worlds, give this game a whirl and fall in love with it all over again.