Does It Hold Up? #1: The Legend of Zelda

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.

5 Comments
6 Comments
Posted by D_W

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.

Posted by Video_Game_King

I'd say it doesn't hold up too well. Navigation outside dungeons can be pure hell, mainly because the game gives absolutely no hints as to how to progress. How would you know to play the flute at the lake or how to get through the Lost Woods without Nintendo Power to help? Still a cool game, but it's noticeably rough.

Posted by Patman99

Can't say Legend of Zelda is my favourite game of the series but it is definitely ageless. It's always enjoyable to revisit but I love me some "A Link to the Past".

Posted by Lavapotamus

I hated the game up until this month -- no direction, boring overworld, and a boring grind for cash to get anything useful. This time, however, it finally clicked with me. I used to get frustrated with being unable to find anything other than the 1st, 5th and 6th dungeons, but I stuck with it and have slowly been filling my inventory. The swordplay really feels like a game of tag, but it's not so bad. I have to say there's been a few lucky breaks on my part -- finding the power bracelet or blue ring, for example. I'd be really frustrated with the game had I never found those, since you don't really have a hint towards either one. I mean, I literally found one under a rock!

Posted by D_W

@Video_Game_King: @Lavapotamus:

There are numerous hints littered around the game, but there is very little "hand holding" in the game. Personally it struck the same chords with me as Dark Souls did. Of course there is no problem with using a guide. Especially considering how available they are nowadays. Grinding for rupees is probably the weakest thing about the game though. I found the best places to do that are either the 1st or the 3rd dungeons.

@Patman99:

I've played a bit of a Link to the Past shortly after playing the original, and I'm not sure if it's as enjoyable. I don't know what it is exactly though. I'd have to play more of it.

Edited by Branthog

I'd much rather play the first two Zelda games than any of the shit that has come out in the last fifteen years with the name on it. Almost makes me want to go dig out one of my GBAs and the Zelda cartridge.