The Legend of Zelda was released in 1986/87. Again, I got to play it much later, but it was the game that really introduced me to the series and the genre.
Zelda is played in a 3/4 over-head view. Your journey includes guiding the main character, Link, through the vast and supposedly beautiful land of Hyrule. His attempt is to search the land for eight Triforce fragments, reunite them, travel to Death Mountain and save Princess Zelda from Ganon, the evil prince of darkness. In order to do this, you have to search for hidden labyrinths that hide the lost fragments, defeat monsters, look for hidden items and secret passages etc. This is the general idea of Zelda.
One of the best features of the game is the diversity of the items, which vary from an enemy bait to a red ring. Some of these items can be used to discover secrets, like blowing up a rock with a bomb, burning a tree with a candle, blowing a whistle that summons a whirlwind etc.
Another great feature is the "second quest". You can access it by beating the game or by just entering your name as "ZELDA" at the start. This quest is much harder than the first, because it features more enemies inside labyrinths, larger labyrinths, nearly impossible secrets to discover and so on. Playing through it is a truly rewarding experience.
The Legend of Zelda is also the very first video game that allows you to save your progress. This gives you the chance to start from where you left off and not from the very beginning.
It has good graphics for the time it was released. Link is adequately drawn, making him look like what he is, an elf. He even opens his mouth when he throws the boomerang. The overworld graphics suit their purpose. However, the majority of trees are the same size as Link. Not very realistic but can you blame 'em? Ganon looks like what he is, a wild boar/warthog, and Zelda looks like a princess. Some of the bosses are well-drawn too. (Gleeok and Gohma). But the graphics certainly get monotonous, which in a way helps create the unique mood of the game. Overall, they look adequate, even if you play the game today.
The controls are a breeze to learn. Just two buttons and the D-Pad. However Link walks a bit slow, making some hazards a bit troublesome. Scrolling of the screens is fairly fast for its time and doesn't get in the way much. The sub-screen is a tad slow to appear, which at times get irritating. More than anything though, the controls are responsive and that's what matters.
This game has only five tunes: the intro, overworld theme, labyrinth, Death Mountain and ending. The ending and intro tunes are catchy. The overworld music of Zelda, first introduced in this game gets quite repetitive if you think about it. Don't and you'll be fine. The Death Mountain theme builds up a fair amount of tension, too. Sounds are above average. Most notable is the bomb-blast, the sword-throw and the cries of the bosses, which can be heard when you get to a room close to him. Even the SNES Zelda doesn't have that!
It's simple. Save the Triforce and Zelda from Ganon. No plot twists during the game. Just beat labyrinths 1 to 8 and then gain access to Death Mountain. The background story of the game is one of the best for its time, and even now.
Gameplay is the best, most original aspect of The Legend of Zelda. It's sometimes just plain fun to explore all of Hyrule and try things you didn't think of before. I even caught myself doing this for hours. Gaining access to new areas of Hyrule is just as fun. Link gets money when he kills an enemy, which he can use to buy items. Some items are not important to complete the game, which is also a good thing, You can find them for the fun of it, i.e. magic book and magic rod. You can even buy keys at a cave-store if you run out of them in a labyrinth (but they cost a bundle).
Even though it feels very outdated by today's standards there's no denying that it's still fun. There are even two endings (the second has more text). The game also has a unique atmosphere, which reels you in for some time. On the whole this is one of the most rewarding games I've played, and it definitely is one among the elite of video games! If you haven't played this game yet (it just might be possible), you're very unlucky!