A Link to Gaming's Past.

I'm doing something just slightly differently with this blog. Usually I try to write about two or three games in each blog, to make them nice and long. And because I never think I have enough to say about one game for it to exist as a standalone blog (which probably isn't true, but that's neither here nor there). But in this case, I think I have enough to say, even if the blog does end up being a tad shorter than what I usually write. And you'll probably agree that, of all games, A Link to the Past is one of the ones that deserves it.

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Like most games I play that are more than a year or two old, there is a bit of a story as to how I came about playing it. I never owned a SNES as a kid. My cousin did, and I played a handful of SNES games at his house numerous times (TMNT IV being our go to), but I had no idea that A Link to the Past even existed. Fast forward to when I was in high school, and I had a desire to play a bunch of the classic Nintendo games that I wasn't able to back when they were released. That led to me buying my friend's NES and all the related paraphernalia he owned with it for a good price (like $40 for the console, 30-ish games, few controllers, Zapper, and a Game Genie), and I bought a used SNES at a local establishment for more than it was probably worth. I don't actually remember how much it cost, but looking back on it, I probably overpaid.

Now, this was before Nintendo had announced anything about the Wii, or the virtual console. Had I known about that stuff, I would have skipped on the SNES and just bought games there. I'd still have bought the NES, because I got a good deal on that (even if the NES and stuff was all in kinda poor shape). Anyway, I didn't get Link to the Past with my SNES, that wasn't until a year or two later when another friend asked me if I wanted a copy of the game. Apparently he found the cartridge while he was helping his dad clear out an office space he had just acquired. I have no idea why the cartridge was there, or how true the story was, but I said yes, and soon had a copy of A Link to the Past.

At the time, I was more frustrated with the game than anything else. I wanted to enjoy it, and gave the game my all, but I died a lot. Part of that was because I'm occasionally just bad at some types of games, part was that the game is a hard game, and part was that my second hand SNES controllers were in poor shape. Not even joking, they were doing me no favors. Eventually I ended up giving up, and I stopped playing the game.

Over time it became something that I regretted, especially as I heard more and more people over the years talk about the game with nothing but praise. It became a game that I told myself I would go back to at some point, once the right moment came. And, as you know, that moment came. It actually came about from an argument I had on Twitter about Skyward Sword that somehow resulted in me going back to A Link to the Past, this time armed with a new controller that was in better shape, and a determination to see it through to the end, no matter what.

And I'm glad I did, because A Link to the Past is a fantastic game. It's not perfect, and I certainly have things to say about the issues I have with the game, but overall, I really loved the game. I see now why people that played it when it released absolutely adore the game. And, had I been older, and played it in that context, I'd probably count myself among them. But it's impossible for me to play the game (mostly) for the first time in 2015 without looking at it from the perspective of someone playing it in 2015. And from the perspective of someone that has beaten most of the "main" Zelda games, and played enough of the NES ones to understand those games (there's a story as to why I didn't finish the original, but I'll tell that some other time).

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The first thing that struck me about playing the game again was that the game was still hard. Quite hard, given that I game overed at least twice in the "tutorial" dungeon (maybe three times, I don't remember off hand). And I died a lot through the rest of the game. To the point where I may have used some cheatery here and there to get past some of the tougher spots, which, I know, puts a big asterisk on my having finished the game. I could have brute forced my way through the game by dying repeatedly and slowly getting better at it, but I guess I just don't have the patience to do that in 2015. Not that I would have had the patience to do that as a kid, either. I definitely cheated my way through some of my all time favorite games as a kid (like my all time favorite, Banjo-Tooie). But rest assured this wasn't just me using a Game Genie code for infinite health and then blowing through the game. I gave every tough spot my all before resorting to anything other than just playing the game normally.

But what was it that made the game so hard for me? It's a lot of little things that add up. Things like how each heart is divided into two pieces, rather than the four that it is in the later games, which effectively means that (given the max heart count is 20, like always) Link has half as much health as he would in the Zelda games I'm used to playing. And on top of that, a lot of the enemies do insane amounts of damage, especially in the Dark World. Things like a random little bat thing in the over-world that does three full hearts of damage on every hit. And the game is not shy about swarming Link with enemies that are pretty relentless. Or, at least as much of a swarm as you can get on the SNES. But there were plenty of times where I went from full health to suddenly realized I was down to a quarter or so of my max, and just being baffled as to what happened, because I didn't realize the enemies were doing so much damage. On top of all that, the enemies drop far fewer hearts than they do in the later games, which made replenishing health a challenge in itself some of the time.

Now, you know I'm not opposed to challenging games. Dark Souls is a challenging game, and it's one of my all time favorites. But the key difference is that I enjoy the combat in Dark Souls. I do not enjoy the combat in LttP. Well, that's harsh, and not entirely true. It's more accurate to say that the combat was sometimes satisfying, but I often found myself floundering around as I swung my sword in the wrong direction, or tried futilely to run away while enemies were still hitting me. Or things where I would get hit repeatedly by the unkillable spinny things in dungeons that not only do damage, but also drain Link's magic meter, even if Link is flashing and has "invincibility frames." I definitely wish the game had less of a focus on combat than it does, or that the combat was easier.

Actually, Dark Souls is a game that I thought about a lot while playing LttP. I know I have seen people comparing Dark Souls to the old Zelda games before, but I never really understood that until playing LttP post Dark Souls. Things like the more open ended world, the higher focus on combat, and the myriad of death traps in the dungeons repeatedly reminded me of Dark Souls. To the point where I ended up thinking that LttP is like a 2D Dark Souls where every dungeon is Sen's Fortress. That's obviously not true, because the first few dungeons aren't constant hazards and things like the later ones are, but I also think that's kind of a funny comparison so I'm sticking with it.

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And like Dark Souls, there's kinda harsh penalties for dying. Die fighting the boss of the dungeon? Well, too bad, start back at the start of the dungeon. Now, it's not like the game completely resets. Puzzles solved and things of that nature will remain "completed," you just need to navigate through the dungeon and get back to the boss. That doesn't make it not frustrating, though. It's what made me stop playing the game the first time I tried. It was the last Light World dungeon that did it. For whatever reason, I just had so much trouble getting through that one that I just gave up. But I was able to get through it this time. Not on my first attempt, but I was able to do it.

I think part of it being that I spent more time exploring the world, and making sure I found things like heart pieces. I think in my first attempt I fell into the same problem I did when I played Majora's Mask back in 2012, which is that I focused too much on simply doing the main content, and not doing any side stuff. Majora's Mask, being an N64 game, didn't provide enough of a challenge that I really felt hindered by that (aside from only having one bottle making part of it a total slog and my just not liking that game as a whole), so I was able to beat that one on my first attempt. Assuming you don't count renting it as a kid and being equal parts confused and creeped out by the game (Link screaming in pain when he puts on a transformation mask is seared into my mind).

A Link to the Past, however, is a game that I really had to take my time with, and try to find as much of the optional stuff as I could. Which I enjoyed, because there's plenty of fun little puzzles and things in the game. I particularly liked the ones that required switching between the Light and Dark Worlds to access spots that you couldn't get to otherwise. Not super difficult, but fun little moments that made scouring the game for hidden items enjoyable. And I certainly needed all those items, too. By the end of the game I had all but three heart pieces (so 19 hearts), all the bottles (which I spent a lot of rupees keeping full of potions/fairies), and all of the optional items.

Speaking of, I was really surprised at the amount of optional equippable items in the game. Some things that were very useful (like two separate items that grant Link invincibility, but use magic to do so), and upgrades that I can't imagine completing the game without. Like upgrades to the Master Sword, or to Link's armor so that he doesn't take as much damage. Or halving the amount of magic that magic items use (in a funny scene where a bat thinks he is cursing Link to have half his total magic). And I was a little impressed that the armor changes actually change Link's sprite too, even if I preferred the look of the classic green one. But he still had pink hair regardless, so all was good. That pink hair is honestly one of my favorite things about the game, and I wish Nintendo would bring that back. Though, I sometimes wish I could dye my hair pink, but that's a whole other thing and I've gotten off topic. (But if I was ever to get into cosplaying, I'd totally do a pink haired Link one, so I could get away with dyeing my hair pink and working a skirt into a cosplay (super off topic now)).

I don't normally include other people's fan art, but this was too adorable to not include.
I don't normally include other people's fan art, but this was too adorable to not include.

Another thing that surprised me about the game is how the items work in the dungeons. Or rather, that they don't tend to be set up like the later games. In those games, you get about half, or two thirds of the way through a dungeon, and then you get an item that you need to get through the rest of the dungeon. That exists here, but not to the extent that it is in the later games. There's even one case where you get a mysterious item in one dungeon that the game doesn't even explain what it does (which I found funny), and it's only needed once in that dungeon. But then the "next" dungeon revolves entirely around that item, at least for part of it.

I quote "next" because, also like Dark Souls, the game isn't entirely linear. There's definitely a "recommended" order (in that the Dark World dungeons are all numbered), but that doesn't mean they all have to be done in that order. I did end up doing them in that order, but it's really cool that isn't required. I know that Miyamoto and Aonuma did that video about how the next Zelda game is going to be open world, and more open ended, and I hope that includes letting you do dungeons in different orders like this one does, rather than just towers and horse AI (I rewatched the video to see if they mentioned anything about dungeons in different order, and they didn't).

One of my favorite things about LttP (right after the pink hair) is that the game doesn't just spell everything out for you. Sure, it tells you where the entrances to the Dark World dungeons are, but it doesn't tell you how to get into any of them. The first couple are straightforward, but the rest aren't. It helps give the game a better sense of mystery and adventure as you have to solve a puzzle just to get into the dungeons. And that's great!

Actually, calling it one of my favorite things about the game is a bit of a stretch, because it also ended up being something that really annoyed me in a couple of spots. Specifically when figuring out how to get into a dungeon isn't a matter of solving a puzzle so much as it is finding an item in the over-world that you need to get in, but don't necessarily know that you even need it. That happened to me with the swamp dungeon. You need a specific medallion to get in, but the game doesn't tell you that. I spent quite a while wandering around there trying to figure out to do. There is a guy that will tell you that strong winds could blow away the storm over the swamp (if you pay him rupees to tell you), but at no point does the game say, "You need this specific item, and you need to use it on this specific spot." Well, the spot is marked with a picture of the same thing on the medallion on the spot where you need to use it, but that doesn't help when you don't even have that item, or know that it exists. But the one one is the part where you need a specific type of arrow to beat the final boss, but the game doesn't even tell you that unless you fight the boss, then fall off of (and out of) the boss fight room, and read a thing that tells you to use those arrows. Doesn't tell you where, or how to get them. That was...I think that part is badly designed, honestly.

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I ended up going to a guide to figure out what to do there, which I did in a few spots. I also used it to help me get some stuff like upgrades to the Master Sword, and to the number of bombs and arrows that I could carry. Well, okay, I didn't actually look up how to upgrade my bombs and arrows, I was looking up what a thing I found in the world did, and it happened to be the thing that upgraded those (if you pay a lot of rupees). Either way, there are moments where there's stuff that is too obtuse or too obfuscated for its own good in this game.

Which is a lot like Dark Souls, but I feel like Dark Souls: A. Does a better job of letting you know about these things, and B. Usually keeps that stuff optional, rather than being the core path that you need to go (speaking of, in order to get to the swamp in the Dark World I'm pretty sure you need to complete a quest that involves digging with a shovel and using a duck for fast travel in the light world, or at least I never found another way in there). I know Dark Souls has things like the Abyss ring that you need to fight the Four Kings, but Dark Souls has a lot more NPCs to talk to, and a lot more item descriptions to spell that out better than a guy that says it's possible to stop a storm.

But overall I do like that LttP doesn't just tell you what to do every step of the way, and given the choice between that and a game that tells you what to do every step of the way, I'll take this. At least for this sort of game, I wouldn't want to play a Call of Duty game where I had to stop for twenty minutes to find a key to open a door. But that's kind of a silly thing to say when these games are so different in so many ways, but you get the point.

That's about all I have to say about the core parts of the game. I liked the music a lot, and the game helped remind me that SNES games sound really good. Or, at least have the capacity to sound really good. Looks nice too. I especially like the the Mode 7 in the game, because Mode 7 was never not amazing to me. Especially as a kid, but even now I still think it's cool every time I see it in a game.

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It's a fantastic game that I wholeheartedly recommend. Like I said, it has some issues, but it's a classic. I wish I had the fortitude to beat it when I first tried back in the day, but I'm glad I was finally able to do it. If you're like I was, and like the Zelda games but never played this one, I can't recommend the game enough. Play this game! It's great!

Now if only I had the money for a New 3DS so I could play Link Between Worlds. But sadly, I don't see that happening any time soon.

Anything else?

I think it's pretty clear that I had plenty to say about this game, so yeah! Nothing much else to talk about, so I'll just mention the stuff I plan to blog about in the coming weeks. I've still got a bunch of PS+ games to play, including Rogue Legacy (which I'm really enjoying), inFAMOUS First Light, and Apotheon (I've already played Transistor and Yakuza 4). I'll also have some things to say about the Battlefield Hardline Beta.

I also was fortunate to get a code for The Last of Us Remastered from @yummylee, which was completely out of the blue. I've already thanked him for it several times, so instead I'll just say that if you see me not instantly arguing against his clearly incorrect opinions on Uncharted 3 on the forums, it's because I'm too happy with him for just giving me a free game to cheer me up. ;D

But that's it! See you next time!

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Really looking forward to finally getting to play Left Behind as a part of Remastered.