My attempt to beat all Zelda games last year, my 2nd Quest I called it, stalled out after about five games. I burned out playing Majora’s Mask and writing about Link to the Past. Well, lately I’ve been playing Wind Waker HD and Oracle of Ages and they’ve got me wanting to complete this replay. So 2nd Quest is back with a long delayed look at A Link to the Past.
A Link to the Past is the game that really codified what a Zelda game is. Every game after it, both 2D and 3D, has used a similar framework to LttP. It is the original game on steroids. It does all the good thing the first game does, but better and without many of the warts.
One thing A Link to the Past doesn’t do is waste the players time. Some people, foolishly, judge Zelda games on how long it takes to get the sword. By this incredibly flawed measure, LttP fares well. The game gets the player from waking up in the rain to grabbing a sword and rescuing the Princess remarkably fast. A first time player might take some time to find their way underneath the castle, but replays take no time at all. Once you get past the intro part, the game lets you go free. There are tons of things to do on the overworld and the next dungeon is rarely more than a couple minutes away. The game is just snappy and while environmental hazards bar your path, there are no arbitrary barriers.
As far as the gameplay goes, it is great. Familiar to fans of the NES Legend of Zelda, but the small flaws in that game are sanded off. Now bombable walls are hinted at, no more bombing everywhere to find secrets. There are more buttons to equip weapons and tools. It’s just a lot smoother than the somewhat stilted first game. There is more structure to the dungeon set up. There are the first three dungeons, which allow Link to get the Mastersword. Much like nearly every game after that, the first three dungeons are an intro to the game. They are not necessarily too easy, but they are all about teaching players the rules as they go, without tutorials. After that the game gets serious, and dungeons are out to beat the player. It never gets too hard, but the series has rarely approached this level of difficulty since. The world of Hyrule is much more realized in this game. It is not just a hazard filled wasteland like it was in the first game. It is also not the RPG approximation that was Zelda II. There are forests and deserts and mountains and even a town, but present in that same top down view of the first game. It is magical and unforgettable.
A Link to the Past is widely considered one of the best games of all time. It definitely deserves to be in that conversation. This game hammers home to me not only just how great this series is, but how few games there are that try to out and out copy them. There are tons of platformers cribbing off Mario, but surprisingly few Zelda-clones. The only games I can think of to compare Zelda games to are other Zelda games (and Okami). The series could do with some clones, I think. Especially if they brought something new to the table or challenged Nintendo.