The Legend of Zelda


Review by · March 27, 2001

Way back when I was just a little bitty boy, my brother had a subscription to Nintendo Power magazine. Now, although most of my time in it was spent reading the delightful adventures of Nester and his level headed accomplice, I did notice something interesting. Near the back, there was a section that had the top 10 games of the month. I remember seeing The Legend of Zelda in 1st place there. Every time. For months, nay, years on end, this spunky little title successfully ownz’ed the competition, and considering that TLoZ was an NES first-generation game, that’s saying quite a bit. Here’s my review.

In the far off land of Hyrule, there was a beautiful princess named Zelda. She, like all the other elves of Hyrule, lived peacefully despite the occasional monster going on a rampage. Of course, this was only the calm before the storm. One day, an evil pig named Gannon (last name Dorf) entered the land and kidnapped the princess.

However, before he did this, the princess took the Triforce and broke it into 8 shards with her mystical princess powers. She then somehow hid them in 8 dungeons, located in absurdly out-of-the-way places, and assigned humongous death beasts as guards. Only the brave elf that managed to gather the pieces of the Triforce could ever defeat Gannon and save Zelda.

Enter Link. Armed with a mystical blast-shooting sword, his wits, and more gadgets than James Bond, this elf will take on everything the now-twisted land of Hyrule can throw at him in order to save the princess. I know that it’s clichéd, but wait until I start the review to complain.

This is the game that started it all. With the possible exception of the Mario series, no other game has received quite as much hype as the Zelda saga, and for good reason. Every game in the Action RPG genre owes its existence to this ancient golden cartridge. Link wound up setting an example for the world to follow concerning how one should build a game, and very few have even come close to matching it.

You control Link from overhead as he treks throughout Hyrule, slaying every beast that crosses his path and gathering the hearts and rupies that they drop. Then the player kind of gets lost. You see, back in these days, game developers hadn’t discovered the secret to telling the player just where to go, so most of your time is spent exploring the vast expanses of this wilderness. As you travel, you occasionally come across the three types of buildings, which I shall explain here:

Shops – These are the guys who first invented the idea of buying junk inside of games. Here you can spend all those hard earned rupies on various items like bombs, candles, air fresheners, inflatable furniture, etc. This building type also includes mini-games that more often than not steal your money as well as people who rob you outright for visiting them.

Labyrinths – These are the game’s dungeons. I’ll get back to these later, but keep in mind that they’re important.

Idiots – These are the people who you occasionally find in some remote corner of the globe. They try to give you useful tips, but the translation job was so horrible that it’s a lost cause.

Of course, there are a few points of interest on the world map. Fairy fountains are scattered about, providing you with an instant health recharge (although instant may not be the correct word, as it takes an annoyingly long time to recharge when your life is really low). Although not as nice as the topside of the world, most of your game should be spent hunting labyrinths. This process involves trying to burn every tree in every screen, pushing on every block you ever see, and spending countless rupies on bombs to try to blow up every wall there is.

After finding the entrance to a labyrinth, Link must basically explore it for treasure until he’s found the dungeon’s unique tool. For example, the first dungeon contains the boomerang, an item vital to success later on. Then, once you’ve done that, you must hunt down the boss enemy, defeat it, and grab a piece of the Triforce. Repeat 8 times to finish the game. However, it’s not quite that simple. Aside from the countless deadly enemies and the multitude of fireball-spewing traps, Link also has to bypass locked doors and must have the right gear to even hurt the boss. Reaching him also requires the occasional block-pushing puzzle to solve or blowing up one of the multiple, unmarked walls you’ll find, so be prepared for a lot of patience-trying goodness.

So far, the game probably just sounds like your usual run-around-and-kill-everything-type Action RPG. However, there’s more to it than that. The game contains a huge variety of gadgets and gizmos to play with along with 3 different swords to collect. No other game at the time had such a plethora of doodads to use, and few games even today implement all of them so well.

To top it all off, the game provides a decent challenge and has several nearly impossible secrets to find. Then, once you’ve beaten it, you can play a Replay mode with harder enemies, harder labyrinth locations, and other aggravations to prevent you from saying you’ve finished the game. Of course, even if you do finish it all, the game keeps a counter of how many times you died. It’s hard to impress a fellow gamer when he can see that it took you one hundred and forty seven tries to beat it. Although TLoZ is a little rough around the edges, it defines a video game classic.

Classic or not, the thing is a bit ugly. With almost Atari-like graphics, I doubt that anyone out there will be wowed by any of it. There is a frightfully low number of colors and an even worse level of pixelation. Enemies are interesting, yet repeatedly palette-swapped just as often as the backgrounds. While exploring Hyrule, you will find some areas with green trees and green rocks. Keep exploring and you’ll find a place with brown trees and brown rocks. As if it’s not insulting enough to make no effort to change it past a different color, they even use the same color scheme for different objects. Although it does help to know that the blue versions of enemies are harder than the red, it’s just another thing for me to yelp about.

However, there was obviously some effort put into the detail. After all, Link opens his mouth when attacking, certain parts of the ground are more than just plain, uniform tan, the title screen has an awe-inspiring waterfall effect (See title screen shot at top of page), and bomb blasts produce a neat little smoke cloud when exploding. The game’s still uglier than almost any other NES title, but in a bland and bearable way.

What really sticks out in the game besides the gameplay is the music. Any self-respecting gamer has undoubtedly heard at some point in his or her life the infamous Zelda theme song. Yes, you know the one. That song is played throughout the entire game when you’re in the overworld. At first it’s wonderful. The nostalgia, the emotion, the whole concept of basking in the song that started all the other remakes of said song; it all produces a wonderful feeling… until the third hour. By then, you find yourself shoving cotton in your ears, yanking out your hair by the roots (A pain I know all too well), and yelling at the screen to shut up, even after you’ve hit the mute. Okay, so maybe it’s not THAT bad, but it does get repetitive. The same goes for the labyrinth music. This little score is much shorter and lacks the star appeal of the overworld map theme, but somehow it just doesn’t get to you as quickly.

Despite the moderate madness of the music, it shall be the sounds that get to you. I’m not talking about the ker-shpaow of a sword blast or the grunt of Link when injured. No, the sound I speak of is far more insidious than those. I am talking about the death toll. You see, whenever Link’s life reaches a certain low point, the game warns you that you are nearing death with a constant beeping noise. This beep is just high pitched enough to irritate most larger mammals, is just barely out of synch with the music, and has caused me on more than one occasion to finish myself off rather than try to gather enough hearts to shut it up.

As for the storyline, I really don’t know what I can say. Link is trying to save the princess from a large side of ham that calls itself the “prince darkness”. As you can tell, the game is extremely typo-laden. Whether it’s an old man telling you how to beat a boss or an unreadable passage in the opening credits, I think that all gamers who thought Final Fantasy Tactics was poorly done would be appalled by this game. There are no towns; instead you have isolated villagers here and there who offer you advice or items. Still, you have to give it a few points for being the forefather of all those other Action RPG storylines, but not too many.

Finally, we have controls. These are so bloody simple that there is no way anything could be wrong with them. You control Link flawlessly with the D pad, A stabs with your sword, B uses your side weapon, and Start opens the menu. How anyone could have trouble with that is beyond me.

The Legend of Zelda is a very fitting title, for it is truly a gaming legend. Every slow-fingered gamer out there who can’t pull off fighting game techniques has TLoZ to thank for the popularity of RPGs today. Until you’ve managed to beat the game on Hard Mode with no extra heart containers, no shield, no deaths, and no saves, you cannot call yourself a master gamer (like Erik Peter on Lethal Doses). If you haven’t played it, do so. It’s an interesting experience and it’s definitely worth playing.

Overall Score 99
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Andrew DeMario

Andrew DeMario

Andrew went by several names here, starting as a reader reviewer under the name Dancin' Homer. Later known as Slime until we switched to real names, Andrew officially joined RPGFan as a staff reviewer in 2001 and wrote reviews until 2009. Andrew's focus on retro RPGs and games most others were unwilling to subject themselves to were his specialty.