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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?

Oh that's just my way of expressing my displeasure at Jargon . No-one calls Zelda II better than Majora's Mask!

Posted by 
 on: 08/14/11, 03:08:11  - Edited by 
 on: 08/14/11, 03:08:53

Haha, I'm Level 14 I think. I have the Staff of Rain. I can now get to the deserted town and live to tell about it, but once inside it's filled with guys who are too strong for me. Right now it seems like there's not much I can do but grind, grind away. Also I found this guy who tells me that I failed his task even though I have no idea what task that is.

But I am having fun. And I'm doing it without looking at any guides or maps except what's in the original manual.

Posted by 
 on: 08/14/11, 03:15:38

Pffft, how DARE he say that? I see you've made him pay with that Warsaw move.


That game is THE source of grinding. Pretty ridiculous / antiquated. I'm doing a lot of this / that today. Hmm.
But yeah, you simply just have to keep pounding away. How are you equipment-wise? I was told NOT to get the Flame Sword by Nintendo Power (I read that after I already got it), but I think its totally worth it. Its a ton of money, but getting that when you can and the Silver Shield are things you should do pretty much instantly.

Where is the guy you found who told you you failed something? Maybe you simply don't have an item yet?

Posted by 
 on: 08/14/11, 03:27:42

He's at the bottom of the eastern island.

Right now I have bought every item I've seen. I've got the Magic Armor, Broad Sword and Large Shield. Haven't seen the Flame Sword or Silver Shield, must be in a town I'm too weak to get to.

Posted by 
 on: 08/14/11, 03:30:21  - Edited by 
 on: 08/14/11, 03:30:48

On the very bottom thing? He's surrounded by rocks/mountains? Alright.
I think I know exactly what you have to do. Do you want me to tell you? I don't think you've failed anything yet.

You need to return to him though..after you've found something else.

Tell me if you'd like more info.

--Oh, and isn't the items I mentioned in Rimuldar? Sounds like you've already been past that. Do you have any Magic Keys yet?
In order to get to that bottom area on the Eastern Island, I'm pretty sure you'd need to walk past that town.

Posted by 
 on: 08/14/11, 03:36:43

I've been to Rimuldar, but I don't think I saw those items. I'll give it another look though. I could use a better sword and shield. Green Dragons ain't messing around.

Posted by 
 on: 08/14/11, 03:38:12

You ain't lyin'. Yeah, I think those weapons are there, in a plain old shop. Check it out!

--Ok, just looked it up. Those items are NOT in Rimuldar, but you will need a Magic Key to get to that shop in a town you may not've visited yet.

Anyway, they're expensive, but really the last things you'll need money for. Some walkthrough dealies say NOT to buy them (because of their price), but yeah. I guess it also depends on how much cash you have. I had a buttload.

Posted by 
 on: 08/14/11, 04:01:35

Right now I've got over 10000 gold burning a hole in my pocket, making me terrified that I'll die and lose 5 Gs.

Guess its more grinding for me. Thanks for the help!

Posted by 
 on: 08/14/11, 04:08:29

Yeah, don't die. That would be horrible. Save often, leave battle quick should it get hairy.

Don't be afraid to reset should you go down.
Just don't press power w/o holding reset!

Posted by 
 on: 08/14/11, 21:27:18
Finished up Adventure of Link tonight. It's a game that certainly falls short of greatness, but there are still some worthy aspects and innovations. It's just that the cool parts don't really make up for the frustrating ones. When I think back on this game, I'll mostly remember that it was hard as hell and not particularly rewarding.

I think I'll write a full review of it, too.

Posted by 
 on: 08/16/11, 05:57:24  - Edited by 
 on: 08/16/11, 05:58:12

Hey you finished it!

You sir are an inspiration. Now get cracking on Majora's Mask, put Gui to shame

Posted by 
 on: 08/16/11, 06:06:03

I'm afraid I will be not be able to give that review my full endorsement.

Posted by 
 on: 08/16/11, 06:08:58

Man, I gotta do Link to the Past first! But I've gotta take a break from these games for a bit. AoL pissed me off too much. I don't want that coloring the way I feel about ALttP or MM.

EDIT: Gawd, my left thumb hurts like hell.

Posted by 
 on: 08/16/11, 06:12:16  - Edited by 
 on: 08/16/11, 07:18:40
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