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The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo NES) Review
Review by 
9.16/10 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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 Excellent  9.7 / 10
08/07/11, 02:22   Edited:  08/07/11, 02:55
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Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 02:53
Glad you enjoyed it kris. It's just not my type of Zelda game though. Honestly out of all the Zelda games I've played (which is all of the canon Zelda games and Link's Crossbow Training minus Four Swords), the original Legend of Zelda is my second least favorite of the series. I enjoyed LoZ's exploration more than any other game, but apart from that it didn't do much for me. And on top of that it's the hardest game in the franchise if you factor in the 2nd Quest. (LoZ 2nd Quest > Adventure of Link > LoZ 1st Quest in terms of difficulty.) I've never even beaten the 2nd Quest and just have no desire to. I don't want to have to use a guide in order to be able to play the game, much less beat it, but if I didn't want to be playing the 2nd Quest until I'm an old man, that's what it would take. So I've just skipped out on it completely (about two or three dungeons in, I think).

Still a fun game though.

Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 03:21
Yeah, the exploration is really what I love most in Zelda games. That's probably a big reason I like Wind Waker. It takes a lot of heat for the sailing, but I can say in all honesty that I loved every second of sailing the boat around. I really did. Sometimes, if I was bored with making forward progression in the story, I'd just go off in the boat and try to find something happening out there. And there was always something fun to do. Just a joy to play.

So, yeah, for me the exploration angle is key to my enjoyment of a Zelda game. So I'm more of a Wind Waker / LoZ guy than an OoT / TP guy. I know it's fresh in my mind right now, but I'd probably say the original is even my second favorite Zelda.

So far. I still have to play Link to the Past. Dun dun dun....

Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 04:55
I'm looking forward to getting back to this when it comes out on 3DS. I first got to play this via the GC collectors disc and, and at the time I *didn't* have internet access. Nor did I have a school playground full of knowledgable chappies or a manual to help me out. I truly did go in cold.

Somewhere in the bowels of my desk, I have *hand-drawn map* with notes I scribbled on it about warp locations I found and other miscellaneous tricks. Actually I did the same sort of thing with King's Quest that you mentioned in your review :P. God I love Sierra's Quest games. The early to mid-90's saw the family computer table littered with game notes and maps.

In keeping with that tradition, when the 3DS port hits, I'm going to see if I can beat it without consulting the wisdom of the sages. You're right I probably won't find evey hidden thing on my own, but it'll still be an accomplishment.

Wonder if it will come with an e-copy of the original manual...

Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 05:30   Edited:  08/07/11, 05:31
Great review Kris, I liked how you turned your Finished Pile entry into something a bit more personal and enlightening (with your own screen captures, no less!).

Wow, I don't remember such a freaky commercial for this game. I only remember the rap one.
When I read this in your review: You want a mini-game where you pee in a hat? LOL!

Ugh, that Zelda cartoon was pretty bad, but at the time I found it kind of cool for some reason.

Wow, it's kind of funny (yet sad ) how many years you had the wrong notion about what kind of game Zelda 1 truly was. Eventually you came to realize its grand nature, so it's all good now.

Wind Waker was definitely memorable, I posted a Top 10 for my favorite moments a while back. Not a bad way to jump into the series!

I actually hate to admit I haven't finished Zelda 1, I got stuck in the final dungeon. I will do it!

That's a great BitF comic! (TriforceBun rocks)

Very interesting analogy to Pac-Man. The thought never crossed my mind, to be honest. I think if I went back and played Zelda 1 again, I will keep this in mind.

Whoa, you have to play A Link to the Past. I think you will be very pleased with it!

Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 06:56   Edited:  08/12/11, 08:27
I didn't get the fancy printed map, but I did go screen-to-screen and draw the whole map. It was a ton of fun as a kid and I made notes all over it! Wind Waker was similar except I just printed an online map after a while :-P

Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 06:57
Excellent review! Personally, I'd rank the game a 9.9, so your love for the original Zelda is certainly not uncommon.

I still find that story about your misconception of the commercial to be very entertaining. You'd play some "Leevers," then kick back with a little "Octoroks" when you got bored...

One of my favorite things about Zelda 1 is how much value is packed into the title. The nonlinearity (to the point where you can even determine if you're getting the sword or not) is a stroke of genius, and has resulted in one of the coolest gaming challenges ever: the swordless quest. If you get around to conquering quest 2 (which I'd certainly recommend), and end up knowing the game forward and backward, the swordless quest is a great way to really test your mettle. And it works well on both quests!

And thanks for the link.

Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 07:11   Edited:  08/07/11, 07:12

I hope it does come with an e-copy of the original manual. The press release made it sound like we might be getting pretty Spartan versions of the games when they drop, so there's a chance we won't get the manual until later.

You know, there're probably scans online somewhere. Let me check. Yeah, here's a collection of scans of the original manual.

Figures that I'd think to look for it after finishing the game. If you're thinking of doing a "pure" run through, without using guides, it'd probably be a good idea to at least look at these scans. For me, one of my big mistakes was not getting the blue ring until after Dungeon 7. I'd found the location, but I just never bothered to save up the cash for it. But I think if I'd known it'd half the damage I took, I'd have saved up for it earlier. Dungeon 6 was the one that really spanked me, but I think it would have gone better if I'd just had that rudimentary knowledge, which was in the manual all along so it's not like I was expected to work it out for myself. (This same sort of thing happened with Kid Icarus, where, as a kid, I never worked out what the barrel did. Once I actually found out by looking in the manual, I could be more strategic in my purchases and almost immediately had greater success.)

All those Quest games were amazing. King's Quest, Space Quest, even Police Quest. Loved 'em. I think King's Quest 3 was my favorite, though. Also Leisure Suit Larry, but for different, possibly embarrassing, reasons.

@roykoopa64 Yeah, I'm debating when to jump into Link to the Past. I have the cart but I'm not sure I want to immediately go into another Zelda game. Then again, I'm sort of in a Zelda mood, now. I played Metroid games all summer, maybe I'll play Zelda all Fall. I don't know. It'll be sooner rather than later, though. Probably try to wrap it up before Skyward Sword drops. I expect I'll love LttP almost as much as this one. We'll see.

That's impressive! I'm not sure if it's the availability of online maps or just my age, but I don't have the patience anymore to draw maps by hand. I used to do that for games - especially the Quest games, but I remember doing it for text adventures, too! - but nowadays I try to remember everything and, if I get confused, I just do a quick map search. I didn't have to do that too often in LoZ, but it was too convenient to pass up when I did get a little lost.

I think it'll be a while before I attempt the Swordless Quest. How the heck do you fight the Wizzrobes without the sword? Bombs? That's gotta be really painful! Impressive, though. Only for the best of the Zelda best. Maybe I'll try it, one day. I gotta knock out a few other Zeldas first, though.

And it's my pleasure to link people to BitF. That particular comic is one of my favorites that you've done. Apart from the inspired gag, I think it's the expression you've put on the Moblin's face while he's playing that really sells it. And then the contrast with that look and his expression in the final panel. Just well written and well drawn, my friend.

Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 08:35
Regarding obtuse hints from NPCs, isn't there an old man in Level 8 that says something, but it's apparently a translation error? It's supposed to give a clue as to where to get the magic monkey key thing, but from what I remember it just makes no sense. It always makes me wish that it really did allude to a secret in the game, but it's apparently just gibberish.

Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 08:36
Yeah, I just looked it up and it's that cryptic "10th Enemy Has The Bomb" quote. Apparently it was supposed to say "Look for the Lion Key", which would have at least been somewhat helpful.

Glad to see that I wasn't the only one who had no idea what the heck he was talking about, there. That said, I'm going to try to drop "10th Enemy Has The Bomb" in inappropriate places now. The meaning? It's a secret to everybody.

Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 08:59

Is that the thing that gives you the white/grey tunic-y thing? (or was that something different?). Anyway, I got the tunic which I think did the same thing. I can't remember.

I got all the way to the 7th dungeon on my own, but there was this one room stuffed full of blue lynels. They take off two hearts per hit and basically kept kicking my ass. Haven't been back to the game since.

Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 09:42   Edited:  08/07/11, 09:52
Yeah, the ring's the thing that gives you the white tunic. It costs 250 bones and I just never saved up for it because I didn't know what it did. Made quite a difference once I got it, though. So you were much more experimental than me.

I'm very impressed that you've gotten that far on your own, especially without even the manual as a guide. Your Link Fu is strong. You want a hint for those Lynels? Don't mouse over if you want to be able to say you did the whole thing alone! If you get the biggest shield, it'll block those Lynel knife attacks. You can buy that shield in certain shops... See, now we're playing Zelda like we were supposed to, according to Miyamoto.

Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 09:49   Edited:  08/07/11, 09:51
Great review. The Legend of Zelda is one of my favorite games of all time, and I've beaten it more times than I can count. (Hell, I've beaten it three or four times in the last year alone.) Glad to hear you are able to appreciate it even 25 years later. People often say that it's archaic and difficult to get into, but I don't think it's nearly as bad as some other old school games. If you ever decide to play through the second quest, good luck to you -- it's harder in pretty much every way, and I can easily see how people would be turned off by it. But completing the first quest is quite an accomplishment in my book, and you're making me want to play through it myself!

kriswright said:
I think it'll be a while before I attempt the Swordless Quest. How the heck do you fight the Wizzrobes without the sword? Bombs?

Precisely. But what makes the swordless quest particularly difficult is that you have to do the dungeons in a certain... out of order order. (If that makes any sense.) That is to say, the magic wand from dungeon 6 is helpful to defeat several enemies (including the boss in dungeon 4, who can ONLY be hurt with the wand), but to get through dungeon 6's Wizzrobes, you'll probably need the bomb upgrades from dungeons 5 and 7 (and of course you can't skip 4 entirely since you need the stepladder). So in addition to enemies being tougher, you really need to think outside the box. It's an amazing feeling to complete that, let me tell you. [/bragging]

Man, now I want to play this game. I guess that's the hallmark of a good review?


You don't like Zelda 1? I didn't know that.

Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 16:12   Edited:  08/07/11, 16:13
rebonack said:
and you're making me want to play through it myself!

*peeks in*


Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 17:46
VofEscaflowne said:
rebonack said:
and you're making me want to play through it myself!

*peeks in*


Not to run Kris's thread off-topic, but I just crossed the 11.5 hour mark in FF6.

Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 17:58
I definitely wouldn't call it archaic or hard to get into. The only place where it really shows its age, to me, is in the slightly stiff controls. But that's true about pretty much every NES game from that period (apart from Super Mario Bros which was so far ahead of the game that it's hardly fair to point to that as some kind of standard). And even then, Zelda's controls aren't archaic, just a little stiff. Metroid and Kid Icarus are far worse offenders than Zelda, and they're both still quite playable.

I dunno. I would think LoZ is more accessible than ever, considering that the Internet can provide you with answers to any question you have if you get stuck. Anyone who is committed (and not a totally hopeless gamer) could beat LoZ over a weekend now using a guide. Back in the 80s, the likelihood of getting permanently, frustratingly stuck was so much higher.

Seriously, there should be more LoZ clones out there. If there can be dozens of Metroidvania games, there's gotta be room on the market for another exploration game like this.

Posted by 
 on: 08/07/11, 22:35
rebonack said:

You don't like Zelda 1? I didn't know that.
There's not a Zelda game that I've played that I don't like, but it is my least favorite aside from Four Swords Adventures.

Posted by 
 on: 08/08/11, 00:10
Great review, but you spelled 10 wrong in the rating.

You should definitely try the second quest someday. I never played it as a kid and I beat it a couple years ago without using a guide at all. It can be done!

Posted by 
 on: 08/08/11, 03:54
@kriswright I don't think it's archaic either, but it's my impression that a lot of people who didn't play it when it first came out think the game is too dated to be enjoyable now. I completely disagree with that. I'm just always glad to see somebody new who enjoys the game, because as I said, it's one of my favorites.

Posted by 
 on: 08/08/11, 05:34
I certainly think it's respectable to give LoZ a 10. From an historical standpoint, it's certainly no less than a 10. I guess a few very, very minor issues kept me from considering it perfect (stiff controls, obscurity of the in-game hints, the ease of most of the dungeon bosses), but I'd still call it among the great masterpieces of gaming. And I reserve the right to revise my score upward if and when I come to my senses.

High five!

Posted by 
 on: 08/08/11, 06:21
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