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The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo NES) Review
Review by 
9.15/10 from 81 user ratings
After all these years, I've finally pulled Zelda out of that dungeon on Death Mountain. That means my Save the Princess count finally goes from 1-1 to 2-0.

I started this as an entry in the Finished Pile but, since I can't seem to write only a few words about anything, I thought I'd go ahead and turn it into a full-blown review. In honor of the Finished Pile, I'll kick off this way:

Playtime: 25 Years

Really finished?: Finished the first quest. Not sure how important it is to my credibility as a gamer to finish the second one. Though I think I'll eventually do that, anyway, because I love this game so much.

Thoughts: I've mentioned before how this commercial turned me completely away from playing The Legend of Zelda as a kid:

Media Message: "Seriously, kids, don't play this terrible game. P-P-Peahats."

That's no lie. I really did see this commercial, which was played in my area a lot more than the famous Zelda rap one, and was completely confounded by it. This guy is screaming the name of all the enemies in the game, but my childish brain somehow misunderstood it to mean that he was shouting different "modes" of play. Basically I thought Zelda was some kind of mini-game collection, similar to how the old Atari games had multiple modes on one cart. You know, you'd pop Zelda in and play some "Leevers". When you get bored with playing "Leevers", hit reset and play some "Octorocks". You want a mini-game where you pee in a hat? We've got it. The whole thing looked like a step backwards to me after playing Super Mario Bros.

I'm not positive how long I kept that misconception, but it was quite a while. I remember a kid at school flashing his gold cartridge of Zelda II and wondering who the crap this guy "Link" was supposed to be. What happened to Zelda? I do remember seeing a pull-out map of some kind, but I can't remember what I thought about it. I didn't have a subscription to Nintendo Power and my two best friends were SEGA Master System and Atari 7800 kids. Poor guys.

It was probably the cartoon show that set me straight. But, unlike a lot of people who looked forward to Fridays, I always felt like the Zelda cartoon was hijacking the Mario show. It didn't help that I found Link's "Excuse Me, Princess" antics annoying, even back then.

Excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me, Princess,
while I make the hero of one of Nintendo's most important franchises
look like a total jackass every week.

So it's like my introduction to Zelda couldn't have been worse. I never played the actual game, which I'm fairly certain I would have loved. It's not like I didn't play adventure games. I was already playing the King's Quest series. I loved Kid Icarus. I put a lot of time into Dragon Warrior. A few years later, when I got a Genesis, one of my favorite games was Sword of Vermillion. I remember telling my friend Johnny (the Atari kid) that it fixed the things I didn't like about Dragon Warrior. Mainly, that there was an active combat system rather than a boring, menu-driven, turn-based one. And I remember him saying, "Oh, so you like games more like Zelda". I was flummoxed by that because, up to that point, I still wasn't totally clear about how Zelda worked. All I knew about the actual game was that you had to have some huge map from a back issue of Nintendo Power - one that you couldn't get anymore.

Time marched on. By that point I'd switched to SEGA and then, confounded again by all the terrible consoles on the market in the mid-90s, I skipped out on gaming for the entire PS1/N64 generation. But the poor, unloved 'Cube brought me back. By then I was aware of the place Zelda had in gaming history. I knew that I'd missed out on something special. So I picked up Wind Waker and had my mind fully blown.

For me, this badassery is Zelda:

Also this:

So all that memoir crap up there was a long way to say that, yes, despite being a big Nintendo fan, I somehow missed out on playing a lot of Zelda games. In the last 7 or 8 years I've gone back and played a number of them - Ocarina of Time, Minish Cap, Link's Awakening, Twilight Princess, etc. and I'd already made serious headway on the original Legend of Zelda years ago. But I'd never finished it. Looks like I got bogged down by all the Wizzrobes in Dungeon 6 and just moved on to other things. But my affection for the game wasn't dampened and it has stayed on my To Do list all this time. But since someone around here challenged me to it earlier this week, I went ahead and wrapped the game up over the last few days. (Thank God my save file was still there.)

What are my feelings about The Legend of Zelda as an unsentimental adult playing it 25 years after release? It's certainly one of the greatest games ever made. Even by modern standards, there's a lot of fun to be had. It's a wonder rocket of an 8-bit game, but also just a great game, full stop.

I know most of you are intimately familiar with The Legend of Zelda, so I won't get too detailed about the story or how the game works. That'd be unnecessary. Simply put, it's a classic Nintendo "Save the Princess" story that enables a well-designed adventure game full of hidden secrets, active combat and plenty of 8-bit dungeon goodness.

Lots of lonely old men in caves, too. Struck a chord.

I found the fundamental play mechanics to be solid and enjoyable throughout. If they're a little stiff, I'm willing to forgive that, considering this did release in 1986, after all. If you sort the Wikipedia list of NES games by year, Zelda is hardly the worst offender in the control department amongst games released around the same time. So while I can easily imagine controls for Link that are more smooth than they are, I didn't find myself particularly frustrated by what made it into the game. Control ends up being an almost negligible complaint for me.

The adventuring itself is first rate. The Overworld map is absolutely huge, teeming with life and full of puzzles and weird little quirks. It's satisfying to pick up an item, like the stepladder, and know immediately that you can use it to get that one heart container that you saw just out of reach a few days back. It's funny to meet all these weird characters hiding out in hidden caves, ready to give you rupees or help you gamble them away. Like Metroid, it's also exciting to come across areas that you can tell, just by the difficulty of the enemies, you aren't ready for. I found myself running like a madman through certain sections of the game just because I wanted to get an idea of the scope of the map. It was all good phun.

If there is a possible major weakness, it's that many of the secrets are so well hidden that I'd say they're nearly impossible to find without consulting a guide of some sort. In the 80s, a lot of adventure games seemed designed to sell hint books or magazine subscriptions and Zelda seems to fall in that category. I'm sure someone will appear in the thread claiming to have found every secret in the game without any kind of guide, but I think most people would admit they had to, at the very least, talk it over with a knowledgeable friend.

Yeah, or maybe you just aren't taking your medication again, Pops.

However, I'm aware that some of this obscurity was by design. Miyamoto has mentioned that part of the Zelda experience was supposed to be talking about the game with other players and swapping tips and discoveries. I can respect that.

I'm also aware that The Legend of Zelda originally came with a thick, detailed, full-color instruction manual, which I don't personally own. Even on the title screen, there's a reference to consult the manual, so it's clear that the manual was considered more important to Zelda than your usual NES game. This was a premium package where everything included in the box was supposed to be part of the experience.

But since I didn't have the manual, I did what all lazy gamers in 2011 do: I sometimes checked the Internet when I got stuck. I tried to keep that to a minimum because, frankly, it isn't a lot of fun to follow a guide step by step. But toward the end I started to think it'd be worth it to find out what the heck all these items did and where the ones I hadn't already found were hidden. Turns out there were a number of items I'd missed, which was making the game a bit harder on me than it needed to be.

Look familiar, Mr. Awesome Gamer?

So my advice to players in 2011 is to feel no guilt about using guides when you get badly stuck, but be sure to use them sparingly. Anyone who could decode the location of the Magic Sword using only the messages contained in the game should be working at Scotland Yard, but it was a thrill to discover the location of the 7th and 8th dungeons without any hints. I liked finding Ganon on my own and figuring out how to defeat him in that last battle without reading a cheat sheet. And, yet, I'm also glad that I used a guide to scrounge up some of the items I couldn't find. Even backtracking into dungeons I'd already played to get the Magic Key or the bomb upgrades was fun, even when I knew exactly where to go and which wall to bomb to find them. I suspect a lot of 80s kids felt the same way when they used Nintendo Power tips to complete the game.

Speaking of dungeons, here's an aside: I've never really heard this mentioned anywhere before, but I started to feel, toward the end, that The Legend of Zelda just might be a generational evolution of Pac-Man. Seriously. The dungeons, in particular, started to remind me of the mazes the Pacster runs around in, only here the maze is multi-screen and more about discovery than endurance. You're largely concerned with collecting power ups and each screen contains multiple baddies - often four - whose behavior is somewhat random and somewhat predictable. The blue and orange Wizzrobes, in particular, started to remind me of all those killer ghosts. It's not a perfect analogy - one's a point scoring arcade game and the other is a long-form adventure game - but I'd never heard the similarities mentioned before and thought it was worth bringing up. I wonder if Miyamoto and Co thought about Pac-Man while working on Zelda.

Anyway, in sum, The Legend of Zelda managed to charm me even all these years later. It felt like an accomplishment to finally be able to say I'd completed it, and that's more because the game is so good than anything else. But I was also aware that I could never really have any self-respect as a gamer if I'd never finished this game. It was worth it on both counts. The Legend of Zelda is still a great game, worth getting enthusiastic about even all these years later.

Now, on to Adventure of Link. See you in another 25 years.

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Posted: 08/07/11, 02:22:02  - Edited by 
 on: 08/07/11, 02:55:46    
Why not sign up for a (free) account and create your own content?

Jargon said:

Zelda II > Majora's Mask.

You know what, the Germans can have the British Isles for all I care.


Posted by 
 on: 08/11/11, 06:35:21  - Edited by 
 on: 08/11/11, 06:37:10
@Shadowlink I'll join the club as soon as I'm done with Link's Awakening DX. LADX and I have a tumultuous relationship. I've started the game like 4-5 times now. I've vowed to finish the game this time.

Posted by 
 on: 08/11/11, 07:29:50
Thanks for writing up the review. After reading your review and the comments, I now would like to give the original Zelda a chance. And I guess on the 1st of Sept. I will get that chance.

BTW, I felt the same as you, that Legend of Zelda was an inferior game, esp. compared to Mario. The graphics, gameplay, ect all looked really cheap and basically, Zelda looked like a grade D game to me when it first game out. Even the title of the game seemed cheap and boring.

Posted by 
 on: 08/11/11, 09:01:38
kriswright said:
That doesn't change the fact that Roy's absolutely right. The commercial is reminiscent of those print ads. What was up with Nintendo's ad people during that period?

I know I'm a little late on this but...I don't recall anything in my post saying otherwise. In fact, I was saying that the AVGN not only referenced them, he said THE EXACT SAME THING...the adds were disgusting and he wondered WHY they were there in the first place.

I also happen to agree...those were some weird adds, and shouldn't have been there, even if they were 'edgy' or whatever. So...I wasn't trying to 'change the fact' on anything...I was AGREEING here.

Posted by 
 on: 08/11/11, 17:37:35  - Edited by 
 on: 08/11/11, 17:38:42
Listen, I have no beef with you, CB200. Your response here makes it sound like you think I'm angry or aggressively correcting you or something. That's not my attitude at all. What I was doing was simply saying, "Roy still has a good point, though". If you'd prefer, just read my first sentence that way:

"Roy has a good point, though. The commercial is reminiscent of those print ads."

Posted by 
 on: 08/11/11, 22:20:48

And I have no beef with you either, just explaining what I meant a little more. No need to get defensive or confrontational when I wasn't doing anything of the sort. Again, I am agreeing with what Roy said as well as what you said, save for the part that reads "That doesn't change the fact", when I wasn't trying to change any fact in the first place.

Perhaps poor wording on both our parts? All right, no biggie here, just clarifying, so please don't blow your stack, especially since I meant no harm in my post, hence the tongue-face at the end of it.

I do apologize if you took the capitalized words as me yelling, but they were all capped for emphasis, and not to designate me shouting or getting angry. Caps can be a tricky subject indeed, and again, I didn't mean to come off as 'yelling'...just putting emphasis where I thought it was needed.

Posted by 
 on: 08/11/11, 22:42:00  - Edited by 
 on: 08/11/11, 22:49:05
Jargon said:
sirmastersephiroth said:

ALTTP and MM are much better games than Zelda II. I agree that you would do well by playing them first.

Zelda II > Majora's Mask.

Let me preface this by saying that I'm one of the biggest Zelda II fans you'll ever meet. I've played through it more times than I can count (along with Zelda 1).

You're wrong. Majora's Mask is far superior.

Posted by 
 on: 08/11/11, 22:47:56

No you.

Posted by 
 on: 08/11/11, 22:49:31
This is a very unusual conversation we're having here and maybe it's best if we both drop it. I'm willing to chalk it up to a misunderstanding. But, to be on the safe side, I'd like to say one more time that I'm not angry, aggressive, defensive and never did I blow my stack or intentionally accuse you of changing facts.

Posted by 
 on: 08/11/11, 22:56:20

Yep, perfectly cool by me. I agree on dropping it...best we dun derail teh topic any further than we have already.

Posted by 
 on: 08/11/11, 23:07:33
Damn, Adventure of Link is one tedious game. There are a number of things I really like about it, but it needs to be sharpened up in a bunch of areas before I'd call it a great game.

Reminds me of Simon's Quest, in that respect. Or Kid Icarus, only where I find the weaknesses less forgivable.

Posted by 
 on: 08/13/11, 22:39:38
Grab the item, move on to the next dungeon, come back and beat all the bosses later. Makes the game a piece of cake.

Posted by 
 on: 08/13/11, 22:43:22
Is that the trick? Not a bad strategy, to be honest. I'll try it. I'm at the Island Palace and I'll be happy just to run in and take the raft and get the heck out.

Posted by 
 on: 08/13/11, 22:48:46
@kriswright Fun fact: the official name of the Island Palace boss? Rebonack.

Posted by 
 on: 08/13/11, 23:54:36
kriswright said:
Is that the trick? Not a bad strategy, to be honest. I'll try it. I'm at the Island Palace and I'll be happy just to run in and take the raft and get the heck out.

I was able to beat the game without using that strategy, but it does sound like it would save you some grinding there at the end since beating a dungeon automatically levels you up.

Posted by 
 on: 08/14/11, 00:02:44

Woah, I didn't know that. I thought his name was just "Blue Iron Knucle on a Horse."

Posted by 
 on: 08/14/11, 00:12:21

If you think Adventure of Link is tedious, don't play Dragon Warrior

Posted by 
 on: 08/14/11, 00:22:56
I enjoyed Dragon Warrior as a kid, but I think I'd have a hard time going back. The older I get, the less patience I have for grinding numbers up in RPGs. That's not a test of skill, it's a test of commitment and nerve. But, in Zelda II, even more than the grinding I'm a little irritated by the "You die, you lose all your XP progress and go back to Zelda's tomb" mechanic. It's forcing me to play more conservatively than I'd like. I mean, there are so many aspects to this game where they could have shown a little mercy on the player and they just said, "Nope". They should have subtitled it "Zelda For Super Players".

But one thing I can say about Adventure of Link, at least the battles are more or less about skill. Sure, half of the bad guys feel like they'd be minibosses in other games, but the shield/sword battle system, while sometimes a little janky, makes each fight with a Stalfos or Darknut feel like an actual sword battle. I have my complaints about that, too, but I admire the idea.

Ah. Well, that means that I just ran out of your palace like a total coward, Rebonack.

Posted by 
 on: 08/14/11, 01:12:57  - Edited by 
 on: 08/14/11, 01:16:42

Another thing that can help ya. You don't have to level-up your attributes in order. Say you get to 50 exp, which would nab you a health upgrade, you can cancel that and keep building up exp until you get to something else you want. If you want to hit harder you can build up to 200 (I think) and then level that up, then a the first palace skip over the health and magic upgrades again, beat the boss, and then you automatically get enough exp to get to the next upgrade.

A good way of powering your physical sword attacks up for sure.

Also, if you want to be REALLY cheap with beating the Darknuts/Armored Knight guys, then you can jump at them and just before you land on the ground and get your sword to about the level of their heads, initiate an attack. Takes a little practice, but you can always hit them that way, even when their shields are up.

Posted by 
 on: 08/14/11, 01:54:55  - Edited by 
 on: 08/14/11, 01:57:24

Hey dude, I just buried Dragon Warrior a month ago. How far along are you? You can do it!

But its gonna take money, a whole lot of spending money. Its gonna plenty of money, to do it right, child. It's gonna take time, a whole lot of precious time, its gonna take patience and time, mmm to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it right.

I know if you put your mind to it, I know that you really can do it.

*squirrel saxophone-pipe solo*


Hmm? I skipped page 2..

Posted by 
 on: 08/14/11, 02:25:14
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