Like many people I went to visit family for Thanksgivings. Well the computer at my Grandmother's house is pretty old, but I found that I had put on some old NES games on it and decided that looking at how some of them still hold up would be an enlightening endeavor. So I decided that a semi-regular weblog series where I attempt to discuss older games without the every so dangerous rose colored glasses of nostalgia. Without further ado let's take a look at the 1986/1987 release, Legend Of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
The Legend of Zelda was one of my favorite games when I was a child. I fell off with the series once the N64 came out, but those first four games have a place in my heart. The first one was on the earliest games I can remember playing. There was one birthday party when my friends and I spend a good chunk of it playing through quest 2. That was probably the last time I ever played the game until yesterday. Even after so long, it surprised me both how much I remembered and how much I had forgotten about the game. It also surprised me how well designed and fun the game I found it to be. There were a few things here and there that of course felt archaic, but it's certainly still an enjoyable experience.
What I found especially enjoyable was how challenge was presented. In modern games the philosophy is to prevent the player for dying unless they are especially careless. That is not the case in the first Zelda game. Health is rarely dropped from enemies and conversing it the key to survival. There are two health potion items in the game that also add an interesting albeit overly simple mechanic into the mix. The blue potion will fill up your health once then disappear and costs 40 rupees, but the Red Potion works twice and cost 68. There is no reason not to grind for the more expensive potion, but I'm glad the choice exists. In a similar vein the shops that dot the world map will sell the same items at different prices. Sure you can get that nifty shield for 160 right near the starting point, but you can find that same shield for a mere 90 rupees once you find the step ladder. That really rewards those who explore.
The combat was were the game felt the oldest, but there was a subtly to it that I doubt I had picked up on when I was a child. The sword comes out rather slowly which allows you to quickly "spin" to a different direction. This can be handy in some very specific situations, but was most likely an unintended result. For those that do not know, when at full health Link can shoot a sword from his sword. This also takes a long time from the button press to when the projectile is actually fired and the end result requires the player to time their shots well as spamming doesn't tend to work as an effective tactic.
In some of the later parts of the game become almost like a bullet hell game. Where you must dodge tons of fast moving projectiles while taking out these knight enemies that can only be damaged from the sides or from behind. These rooms were what I found to be most challenging parts of the game. Especially since those enemies are immune to the boomerang which I found to easily the most useful item in the whole game.
The only thing that I was really disappointed in were the boss battles. While some of them were pretty clever, most of them just consisted of you running up an whaling on the boss until it died. Some bosses could even be killed in a single hit. This tended to make the levels end on a rather anticlimactic note. This isn't unique to the Legend of Zelda however, many of the Mega Man games tend to fall to the same weakness. It's always a shame regardless of the game and is someone that still often plagues modern video games.
In conclusion, when a game is a solid, enjoyable experience, it is ageless. The Legend of Zelda is ageless in that sense. As long as you don't have any sort of prejudices to 8-bit graphics and music, and have an appreciation for well crafted games, then the Legend of Zelda will not disappoint. While looking back on this game has been a very enlightening experience, one thing that does not surprise me is why this game is as well regarded as it is. This game is simply a good game.