The Greatest Game Ever Made
Several events took place in 1992. George W. H. Bush threw up in Japan on TV, The Church of England votes to allow women to become priests, "The Simpsons" was beginning its fourth season and, of course, a little game called "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past" was released. Little did I know I would play the game that I would, as many other do, consider the greatest game ever made. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a perfect representation of Zelda lore. The previous games in the series set the pace, atmosphere, location, gameplay and story but A Link to the Past brings it together and masters it, making it an experience not easily forgotten.
Like previous iterations of The Legend of Zelda, you are Link, a young boy destined to save the ill-fated land of Hyrule and its Princess, Zelda. This time around, a deceptive wizard has captured Princess Zelda and set forth a chain of events to release the King of Evil, Ganon. You'll fight enemies twice your size, collect heart pieces and items to fight your foes, bottles to store potions, etc; The mainstays of the Zelda Franchise. It all sounds familiar, but that isn't a bad thing and where story, location, atmosphere, pace and gameplay takes you is where A Link to the Past really shines.
The game starts out with Link being telepathically contacted by Princess Zelda who has been locked away in the dungeons of Hyrule Castle. When the message ends, Link's Uncle is dressed for battle and upon telling Link to stay in bed, he leaves their small home. Ignoring his Uncle, Link springs out of bed and makes way for Hyrule Castle. When Link arrives outside the gates, he finds his Uncle mortally wounded. He tells the his nefew to take his sword and shield release Princess Zelda from imprisonment. Upon his Uncle's passing, Link takes up arms and ventures in through a secret passage into Hyrule Castle where he navigates his way to the Dungeon. After defeating the guard, Link and Zelda make their way through the dark, secret passages and sewers of the castle and reach the Sanctuary.
Upon reaching the Sanctuary, the caretaker tells Link of Agahnim, an wizard who has usurped the throne and is planning to break the magical seal created hundreds of years ago by the Seven Sages of Hyrule. The seal has been holding the evil Ganon in the Dark World, the former Sacred Realm before the King of Evil invaded and obtained the legendary Triforce. With the Triforce and his twisted, dark heart, Ganon's wish destroyed the Sacred Realm and turned the land to darkness. Being told of the three magical pendants that will unlock the Master Sword, a weapon crafted to be evil's bane. This is where Link's journey begins to kick into high gear.
On his journey to find the three pendants, Link will meet several characters throughout the vast lands of Hyrule. The biggest Hyrule to be experienced due to the Super Nintendo's 16 bit processor and the larger state of ROM cartridges at the time. Sahasrahla, a descendant of those who forged the Sword of Bane's Evil, will mentor you along Link's travels. Upon taking control of the Master Sword, Link is contacted by the keeper of the Sanctuary in distress. Upon arriving, Link is told of Zelda's capture and heads to Hyrule Castle once more. When he arrives, Link will whiteness the events that leads the young hero to the most important part of this tale. Once link is transported to the Dark World, we as players get immersed in a new level of the Zelda lore and a new setting.
Dropping the side-scrolling style of gameplay used in Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, A Link to the Past reverts back to the overhead perspective we knew from the original classic, The Legend of Zelda. Though it uses many of the concepts and mechanics from the original title, new improvements have been made to the gameplay. For example, arrows are now a separate item, not costing a Rupee to fire one. Not completely ignoring the second game in the franchise, the magic meter returns from The Adventures of Link. Controlling Link had been made much more flexible with the allowance of diagonal walking along with running after obtaining the Pegasus Boots, one of many new items in the game. Combat was also improved with A Link to the Past. Going from a purely directional forward stab from previous iterations, Link now swings his sword on a sideways arc for broader range, making combat easier and more realistic. This would go on to be Link's default attack in the future of the franchise, though stabbing would return when the series goes 3D.
Several items would return with improvements like bombs and arrows; swords and shields, but new items such as the Hookshot and Power Glove, adding new gameplay and puzzle elements. Heart containers make their return, but are spilt into several pieces and well-hidden. This adds more of a collection aspect and adds to the replay element. The returning concept of multi-level dungeons are back, now requiring the playing to sometimes choose a hole to fall through, which if not positioned correctly, could mean falling too many levels, not enough or worse, death.
The biggest aspect that would change the face of the franchise would be the parallel worlds gameplay and setting. There are both similarities and differences along the Light and the Dark Worlds. The Light World is Hyrule as we know if from the beginning of the game. A bright, colorful world filled with people who are joyful. The Dark World is a twisted, corrupt version of the former; dark, bland and angry. People are transformations of their Light World selves based on their personality. The game really opens up when Link acquires the Moon Pearl and Magic Mirror, two new items in the game that effect how it’s played along with adding more depth to the puzzle elements.
A Link to the Past is beautiful, even by today's standard of 16 bit "arcade" titles found on XBLA or PSN. At the time, it was arguably one of the best looking games the SNES ever had grace its hardware. You get two worlds that give you a taste of complete opposites. One gives you sense of safety. A sense of familiarity...like being home. The other is a sense of fear and the constant feeling of being uncomfortable; a feeling of depression. Everything you know has been taken from you, twisted and now you’re trapped there. It definitely fuelled my need to make things right. The only way to do so, was to fight.
Enemies in the game range from big rats to a giant eye ball surrounded by smaller, but still pretty big eye balls. There are a total of twelve boss fights in the game and 10 temples to conquer; all unique and all with increasing difficulty in enemies and puzzles. Frustration had definitely started to set in with some of them when I first played through when I was six, but after figuring it out gave a real sense of accomplishment. Something a six year old might never feel until older in life. Among the many unique bosses, the game offers many unique enemies littered around both the light and Dark world, so traveling is definitely not a cake walk. A Link to the Past offers many different puzzles with many rewards for completion and the RPG element of levelling up armor and weapons is a great addition to the amazing upgraded gameplay.
Speed runs are a treat, trying to find the path of least resistance or trying to beat the game without dying or taking a single hit will find out it is going to be one hell of a challenge. Trust me, I attempted both. I have a pretty solid speed run time, unfortunately I don't remember it exactly. I've also completed the game without dying, but not without taking a single hit. I've gotten to the point, that I've played this game so much that I can walk people through the game, informing them of enemies laying in wait and which door to take.
For many people, the best Zelda game is between A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. I love Ocarina of Time. It was the necessary next step the franchise needed to take. It was a fantastic game, but the greatest Zelda game? No. That title goes to A Link to the Past. It will live on as my favorite game of all time. It does everything masterfully and doesn't hold back. It is the most memorable game in the franchise as a whole. Ocarina of Time made hold the title for most memorable when it came to drastic visual change, but A Link to the Past just nails it! It's the kind of experience you can never forget. If you're a gamer and you haven't played it, do yourself a favor and get your hands on it. If you are a parent and have gamer kids, makes things right and have them play this. Don't allow them to miss out on a piece of gaming history.