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The Legend of Zelda playthrough project

The following blog entry is a conversion of my list with the same purpose, moved to the blog for better formatting. Despite being outdated, the original text from the list is largely unedited, while new content following Phantom Hourglass is to be added.

Inspired by an identical foray by two friends, I recently decided to start playing through the whole Legend of Zelda series by order of release. This kind of undertaking, while not only providing great entertainment for a long time, provides a great perspective of the series as a whole and its evolution from the beginning to present day. This list will be continuously updated throughout the playthrough as a sort of log to keep track of my progress as well as writing down some of my own thoughts about the individual games, my personal connections and their roles in the series.

CD-i games, Tingle games and other such derivations are naturally excluded, unless I make random exceptions because I feel like it.

The Legend of Zelda

Observing other players and internet research aside, my first personal experience of the first game came very late, at the acquisition of the Collector's Edition disc in 2004. With a mindset grown from Ocarina of Time, it's easy to see how this debut might come across as a bit shallow in the aesthetics department. I'm perfectly capable of jumping into older games with an open mind though, and while the simplicity of the first game's design didn't throw me off, the difficulty did. With no more than two dungeons completed, this game has hardly been touched for the last few years until now. This time, I entered the game with will and determination... and internet maps! Today, with good knowledge of what the future would hold for the series, The Legend of Zelda (uhm, "the first") becomes a very interesting game to analyze in regards to its similarities and differences to the games that followed. The whole game nearly feels like a prototype for a game idea, not yet technically capable of being executed in the way Miyamoto & Co had in mind. That kind of early undeveloped feel in itself makes The First a fun game to play, in the same way looking at pictures of yourself from ten years ago creates astonishment over how things have changed. Although perhaps that fun is not from the proper perspective. Looking at the game in its proper contemporary context, what it was when it was more than The First, when it was The Only One, in an age when gameplay and aesthetics were relatively simple, you see a game way ahead of its time. Complex and challenging like Tetris, but with depth that can hardly be compared to anything short of rivaling adventure or role-playing games of its time. While still no fan of the frequent death rate and almost too well hidden secrets, I was left rather impressed when I finally gave this game a proper chance. From picking up the wooden sword to finishing off Ganon with a silver arrow, it's not hard to see how this game managed to enthrall a whole world back in the day.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Oh yeah, the legendary "black sheep", so legendary it doesn't even need "The Legend of" in its name. My previous history with this game is pretty much identical to that of The First, even roughly down to completion progress before putting it down. Much like other low-regarded sequels that get shafted by the general public for being too different though, I personally prefer this game over its predecessor, a lot. The Zelda feel is totally there, only experienced through an interesting kind of platformer hybrid rather than just top-down perspective four directional movement. I'd even say this game comes much closer to aesthetically creating the atmosphere of a typical Zelda game than The First, with a varied world and towns full of life. What this game undeniably also has a lot more of is sheer difficulty, not so much for the brain as for the reflexes. As fun as the experimental gameplay is, it stands without question that the number one requirement for actually completing Zelda II is a whole lot of patience. You play, you die, you return to the beginning and work your way back, lather, rinse, repeat. I wouldn't even recommend playing this game without some kind of helpful reference, be it a walkthrough or just a marked map. There's enough challenge in the action to keep one person occupied and frustrated for two, and getting stuck with no knowledge of how to progress in addition to that can only be good for psychiatrists' wallets. No doubt, completing the game after several hours of attempts at the final palace alone is something I can regard as part of the year's biggest accomplishments. Leaving the challenge subject however, it has to be said further that Adventure of Link, while far from being on the same level as the many games that followed, was a very interesting way of making a follow-up without repeating the gameplay. It could perhaps be considered a shame that there will likely never be another game like it, but in truth that uniqueness is probably what makes the game fun as a stand-out. Admittedly the Zelda series would not have been the same if the subsequent entries had taken their inspiration from the sidescrolling bits of "the black sheep". If Adventure of Link had to be summarized, it could be called a successful shot, but a bold attempt that got once lucky.

Zelda (Game & Watch)

The final Game & Watch game ever made of the original line, known simply as Zelda. Played less as an actual part of the playthrough and more as a fun bonus inbetween A Link to the Past sessions, but nevertheless worth a mention. I am not fortunate enough to own a copy of the game in its vintage original version, but thanks to our unknown wonder developer TOSE, the less financially successful gamers can access this faithful port in the hopefully-not-last installment of the Game & Watch Gallery series... in the form of a tough-as-nails unlockable. In either case, what we have here is, above naturally, a simple LCD game using only a few buttons and movement between a few limited frames. No one's expecting more out of a Game & Watch game. That being said though, without guilt it can be admitted that this game has a surprising amount of depth for its limitations. Once you've figured out the goal and played past a few dungeons, whether you beat the dragon with a deadly tomahawk or Link's liquid crystal butterknife of doom, a sort of determination sets in, a determination to complete the Triforce and rescue Zelda. This is blissfully doable, and not particularly hard, thanks to the revolutionary continue function (irony yes), but it needs mentioning that at later parts of the game, some of the rooms actually provide a fair challenge (much depending on how often or not you get the Water of Life). Now, there's no way you can claim this game to be a full-fledged part of the series, but in any kind of Zelda marathon with friends, being able to break out this surprisingly enjoyable Game & Watch game to add to the experience will always be a nice party trick.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

  • System played: Wii
  • Version: Virtual Console
  • Date started: 30 December, 2009
  • Date finished: 3 January, 2010

How can it be denied? If The First was the prototype, this was definitely the final product. The idea became concrete, and landed on our Earth in a spectacular 16-bit fashion (not necessarily including nausea-inducing Mode 7 backgrounds). Still not the first game of the series experienced by le lent moi, who still wishes he had begun playing these games earlier, but one of the earliest, in the shape of the Game Boy Advance remake in 2003. I was pretty mildly impressed. A fairly enjoyable game, but not much more. Let's be perfectly honest though, giving this game a retrospective review is one of the most superfluous things anyone can do. Even if the game isn't fully your cup of tea - which is okay, I can relate to that - there's simply no way you can actually criticize it for what it is. The atmosphere is beyond beautiful, the storytelling is magnificent, the overworld is full of excitement, the dungeon design is perfect, the parallel world concept is flawlessly executed, and perhaps most importantly, unlike both its predecessors the difficulty is perfectly balanced. If there is such a thing as a perfect game, this has to be one of them. Keep in mind that these words do not come from a fanboy, just an average gamer who personally thinks the game is "okay". If anything bad had to be said about the game, it would be the slightly rushed storytelling that happens once you reach the Dark World and finish its first dungeon. You're dumped in a wasteland with a few numbers on a map and have to go to each one of them, with little individual build-up to any of them (the most notable exception being the wonderful Thieves' Town). The storytelling here is not below satisfactory, but had a lot of potential for more. Comparing the game to the rest of the series, it's simple to say that A Link to the Past took the whole groundwork from The First and added all the details that have become the defining points of the whole series. It's a game of perfection, and probably the most important entry of them all. Everything else is purely up to personal preference, because this game holds little room for improvement. Simply a perfect game.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening


Thoughts about the 3DS GBA Ambassador games

As you may probably know, the early adopters of the 3DS (prior to the price drop) got a very neat compensatory gift from Nintendo: 20 free games! All of them Virtual Console rereleases, originating 10 each from NES and Game Boy Advance. While not only a snazzy gift, this shows a lot of promise for the future of the handheld's retro library, an area where big brother Wii unfortunately lost a lot of momentum in the last few years, especially when they're willing to cover stationary consoles. However, GBA being a part of it is arguably even more interesting. A sixth-generation system largely left in the dust during the last few years, today only represented on the market by the DS Lite's backward compatibility. There's a lot to fetch from its library, and I'm glad to see the system is not too recent or too... advanced to receive retroactive treatment. Sure enough, Nintendo has said they "currently have no plans to release these games to the public", but do we seriously believe that will last?

So the GBA games were made available just last week and impatient buyers such as myself have had the chance to download and test them out. The emulation is flawless and the upscaled resolution feels without significant imperfections, largely a great playing experience. So what about the games themselves? Have we been treated to a treasure of classics or the cheapest, least coveted garbage they could find?

The NES selections weren't at all awful, but the line-up lacked surprises and only contained four titles with any real meat to them. The ten GBA games on the other hand, here's a whole bunch of games filled to the brim with entertainment and replayability, several triple-A quality titles! Personally, I feel spoilt. But without getting all religious, let's have a look at all of the games individually where I'll fill in my personal thoughts and experiences with the lot. Do some games raise the bar more than others, could any of them have been replaced for the better? Read on!

F-Zero: Maximum Velocity

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Let's take the bad news first. I love this franchise with a passion, it's really too bad the whole series has been out cold ever since 2004. The Nintendo 64 and GameCube incarnations are two of the very best racing games available, but there's also a whole bunch of 2D games with their own merits, three of which are found on the GBA. Maximum Velocity was the first of these three, and is the only game in the whole series not to feature its most famous characters. For better or for worse, this game takes its inspiration from the original Mode 7 SNES game and makes for a solid enough high-speed racer, but with one glaring problem: controls. The controls are so slippery, so difficult to handle it's a surprise this game made it all the way through testing. It can still be mastered, but the "correct" technique, tapping the accelerator during sharp turns, is too random and unlikely. The second GBA title, F-Zero: GP Legend, was a lot more solid in these aspects and might've been a stronger addition to the list. But considering that game's obscurity, it's no surprise they would stick to this, one of the system's launch titles. Maximum Velocity is quite possibly the weakest link, both within its own franchise and compared to the other GBA Ambassador games, but that's not to say it's so godawful it's not welcome to a position on my 3DS home menu. All things considered, I suppose I'm mostly glad to see new evidence of the best futuristic racing series around (beat it, Wipeout) not being entirely forgotten.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

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Well this is a nice treat. Let me start by declaring that I have no previous experience with the Fire Emblem franchise whatsoever, this is the first game to enter my collection. Shock, gasp etc. But don't worry, I'm getting started! Some minor experience with Advance Wars gave me at least an idea of what to expect. What can be said on the whole about this game being selected is the supposedly rather surprising fact that the second western Fire Emblem release was picked over the first, and how any game from this franchise was included to begin with. You're spoiling us, Nintendo! I couldn't compare this game in particular to any of its siblings, nor could I do a fair review of it with only two hours of playtime, But I will say that the first impression is good, very good. While I'm sometimes left wishing for more action and less dialogue (which perhaps changes down the line?), I still get enough satisfaction from the action to want to continue. But why oh why must my defeated units be permanently gone? Either way, I'm looking forward to a continued good time with this game and a good reason to check out the rest of the franchise. This game alone is able to bring home the fact of how top class the whole Ambassador line-up is.