The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Genre:
    • Action Adventure
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 11/21/1991
    • US 04/13/1992
    • UK 09/24/1992
Score: 100%

This review was published on 05/07/2013.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a 2-D action adventure game released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It's the first and last Zelda game released for the SNES, and the third Zelda game released in the series. This is the true sequel to the first Zelda that everyone was waiting for, but did not receive in Zelda II. With a development time of approximately three years, A Link to the Past was a major production for Nintendo. The project initially started off on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988 as Zelda III, but eventually made its way to the 16-bit SNES. A Link to the Past is often heralded as one of the best Zelda games ever made, and it's certainly one of the best games on the SNES console.

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Hyrule is the land always in need of saving in the Zelda universe, and it's no different in this game. If you let the game sit at the title screen for a bit, you'll get some of the back story to the world of Hyrule. The back story begins by explaining that the Triforce is an omnipotent object able to grant good or bad wishes depending on the one who obtains it. Due to this, there was a war fought over who would be able to wield such power. Nobody was able to acquire it until one fateful day when it became clear that an evil force had found its way into the Golden Land where the Trifoce lay hidden. The King at the time commanded seven wise men to seal the path to the Golden Land to prevent any of the evil from invading Hyrule. Many years later in the far flung future, an evil wizard named Agahnim took control of Hyrule and began in his attempts to unseal the path to the Golden Land. And that is where this game begins. Here's a fun fact: the Golden Land is referred to as the Sacred Realm in future Zelda games. It's really nice that they don't force all this mythology down your throat. Players interested in the game's mythology need to dig deeper themselves, rather than have it shoved into their faces.

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The introduction sequence to A Link to the Past is perhaps one of the best video game introductions in history. It starts off with our hero, Link, whom you can name before the game starts, sleeping in bed only to be awoken by a telepathic message from the captive Princess Zelda. She informs him that she's being held in the castle dungeon due to a dark conspiracy and needs an immediate rescue. Shortly after the young Link wakes up, his uncle and caretaker informs him that he'll be leaving for the night. Being that it's a dark and rainy night, there is obviously something ill afoot, so Link decides to head out to follow his uncle. Game play begins immediately as you guide Link on his way to figure out what's going on. After wandering about for a while, you'll uncover a secret path into the castle dungeon, where you discover that Link's uncle has been injured in his quest to defeat the evil wizard and is no longer able to go on. The good uncle entrusts his nephew with a sword and shield and suddenly, the real adventure begins. A Link to the Past's introduction wastes no time in setting up the story and getting players right into the action. This is how a video game introduction ought to be done. Modern games should take heed of this advice.

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As was customary for 2-D Zelda games, A Link to the Past is seen from a top-down perspective. Link can now walk in diagonals, too, which makes him a lot easier to control than in the first Zelda game. It's a good thing, because the land of Hyrule is vast. Despite its vastness, it never takes too long to get anywhere in the game, so don't worry about that. Travel times greatly reduce once you gain the ability to teleport around the map by use of bird. Beyond the castle at its center, Hyrule has plenty of varied looking locations to visit. The deathly Death Mountain lies to the north, the east is the mysterious witch's hut, and to the west is Kakariko Village. If there's anything wrong with A Link to the Past's world map, is that it only has one town. Kakariko Village is a fairly well developed town, however. It has a bunch of cool people to talk to and plenty of buildings to explore. Unfortunately, the evil wizard has used his control over the kingdom to issue a warrant for Link's head. That means some of the villagers will call guards to attack you if you talk to them, so tread with caution. It's a nice way to set up the atmosphere of the game through the use of game play mechanics. The land of Hyrule is memorable enough that you'll no doubt have no problems learning your way around. A Link to the Past's overworld is one rife with personality.

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Fighting in A Link to the Past revolves around your sword. The B button is your dedicated sword button, which will see frequent use all throughout the game. It's the most useful thing you have in your arsenal, so that makes sense. Holding down the B button will have Link hold his sword out, charging the blade for a devastating spin attack. On top of hitting anything near Link in a circular motion, this fantastic attack does more damage than a regular sword swing. A neat trick you can do while Link is holding his sword out is walk into a wall and he'll tap it with the tip of his blade. If the wall sounds different than it usually does, then it can be blown up with a bomb. It's a handy little mechanic. Perhaps the most amazing thing you can do with the sword is have a friendly spar with the not-so-friendly guards. These guards have an incredible AI. They'll give chase if they spot you, and they can even hear nearby sounds. For example, shooting an arrow right past a guard will prompt him to look around suspiciously. This kind of artificial intellect was fairly ahead of its time. Engaging a guard with your sword feels akin to a real sword fight, because you can hold down the button to hold your sword out as a means to deflect their attacks. Be warned, however, that they will also deflect attacks from your blade with their own swords. Sparring with these guys never gets old. Battles in A Link to the Past are pretty fun.

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Many items make their return in A Link to the Past, albeit in altered forms, but there are also a plethora of new ones. The boomerang, bow, and bombs all make a comeback. Bombs can either be placed below your feet or thrown over short distances, the bow can shoot arrows at far off enemies or switches, and the boomerang can be used to stun enemies. All of these items can be equipped to the Y button to be used as a secondary function, though there are items that are automatically equipped at all times and don't need to be switched around in such a manner. These items include the gloves, boots, flippers, and other wearable things. Simply having these items in your inventory will expand Link's capabilities; the gloves allow Link to carry rocks, the boots enable Link to sprint like a maniac, and the flippers give Link the ability to swim. Some items will require magic power to use, like the fire and ice wands. These magical items all share the same magic meter, so you have to watch your meter when using them. There's always something new to look forward to, as the prospect of obtaining new abilities is one that never loses its luster. Each new item brings with it the seemingly endless possibilities inherent in the prospect of being able to explore new areas, making the acquisition of an item the single most exciting thing in the game. A Link to the Past knows how to make items fun.

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A Link to the Past is the first Zelda game to really make the push towards puzzle based game play. There were puzzles as far back as the first Zelda game, but this one places a much greater emphasis on puzzle solving than the first two. Beyond pushing blocks, A Link to the Past comes up with a bunch of new, clever puzzles that can be solved in a bunch of new, clever ways. Shoot an arrow at a Cyclops statue's eye to reveal a secret passageway, bump into a bookshelf to drop a book down from an unreachable height, and much more! It's not uncommon to be stumped by these puzzles your first time through the game, because they're all unique. My favorite puzzle has to be the one where a lady asks you to guide her through a dungeon. What you're actually supposed to do is take her to a place with light, and in doing so reveal that she is no lady, but in fact, the dungeon's boss! What an incredible twist. How are you supposed to figure that out? Well, the game is nice enough to drop a few hints your way. The lady mentions that she doesn't like light, so you're left to put things together like a Hyrulian detective. Puzzles are rarely repeated, which keeps them memorable, and this helps make the game memorable.

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One central mechanic to A Link to the Past is being able to switch between the light and dark worlds. The Golden Land that was mentioned in the game's back story ends up being transformed by the evil Ganon into the Dark World, a parallel world eternally shrouded in darkness. Hyrule is then referred to as the Light World, since it's all bright and cheery and stuff. The Dark World is introduced a little later in the game and is an exact replica of Hyrule's general geography, but with a lot of differences. Enemies look different and are more powerful, the town is in ruins, the castle changes into a dark pyramid of power, and lots of other stuff. It really does feel like you're exploring an entirely new world, even though it's technically the same thing in a new coat of paint. A lot of puzzles are solved by switching between the parallel worlds at the right spot. For instance, there's a wall blocking your way into the swamp in the Dark World, so you need to switch into the Light World, go to the desert, and then switch back into the Dark World and voila! You're now inside of the swamp. Yeah, the desert is a swamp inside the Dark World. It's possible this mechanic predates A Link to the Past, but it was this game that popularized it. Many other games in the future end up reusing this idea. The parallel world thing is a swell concept, so I can see why it's copied so often.

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Dangerous dungeons await you in A Link to the Past. This game has quite a large number of dungeons. The main meat of a Zelda game always comes down to the dungeons. Dungeons either make or break a Zelda game, and these dungeons make A Link to the Past. In the beginning of the game, you go through the dungeon inside Hyrule Castle. This is more like a tutorial dungeon or sorts and doesn't count in the grand scheme of things, but it doesn't quite feel like a tutorial. After finishing that miniaturized introductory dungeon, you are free to explore the world of Hyrule. At this point, Link's goal is to acquire the three pendants in order to remove the legendary sword from the stone, the Master Sword. Yeah, that was obviously inspired by Excalibur. In any case, these three pendants are hidden inside of three dungeons. Each dungeon is a maze of treacherous pathways filled to the brim with ferocious foes. Almost all of the game's puzzling puzzles are found within the dungeons. Pressing the X button will bring up the map, which progressively fills up as you explore the dungeon. If you can find a dungeon map inside of a treasure chest, then the whole map will be revealed to you. You can also find a compass that reveals the location of the boss, but these are pretty useless. The objective of each dungeon, besides getting the pendant, is to find an item that will help you beat the dungeon by letting you solve certain puzzles. One example is the hookshot, which is kind of like that thing Batman uses to grapple himself onto buildings. In this game, the hookshot is used to grapple Link across pits, provided that there's an object to hook onto at the other end. Important items like these are contained inside of big treasure chests that need a special big key to open. Keys are the main things you'll be looking out for inside of dungeons, because locked doors are everywhere. The general flow of a dungeon generally comes down to solving puzzles to get keys to open doors; rinse and repeat until the dungeon is complete. After completing the first three dungeons of the game, a bunch more become available, so A Link to the Past is a lengthy adventure full of dungeon fun.

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Bosses in A Link to the Past appear at the conclusion of every dungeon. The bosses in this game are terrifyingly big, often filling up the entire screen. Because there are a lot of dungeons, there are also a lot of bosses. Most bosses require simple pattern recognition and ace dodging skills, but there are a few that need the item of the respective dungeon to defeat. An example would be this one boss that is shrouded in little puff things. You need the hookshot to pull away and destroy the puff things before you'll be able to damage the boss itself. These kinds of bosses are cool, because it's almost like they're living puzzles. Another cool boss is this giant scorpion thing with a helmet on its face. You have to break the helmet off first using the magic hammer before you'll be able to poke its supple face with the masterfully pointy blade of mastery. That's my favorite boss, by the way. It's a very large, menacing foe that swings its giant tail at you if you look at it funny. Other bosses include the evil wizard himself, Agahnim. The fight with that dastardly wizard comes down to a simple game of tennis, as you're tasked with deflecting his magical energy balls back at him with your tennis racket of a sword. It's a cool boss fight that gets cycled in future Zelda games. There are a lot of other cool bosses in A Link to the Past, but I think I made my point. This game has awesome bosses.

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Optional collectible stuff is mostly comprised of heart pieces. Getting 4 pieces of heart will complete one heart container, which permanently increases Link's maximum life gauge. Beating a boss also nets you a complete heart container, so Link's life will increase even if you opt to not do any optional treasure hunting. Where's the fun in that, though? Many heart pieces can be found simply scattered throughout the environment, while a few are obtained via side quests or mini-games. There's a shovel digging mini-game, a treasure chest opening mini-game, a bow and arrow shooting gallery game, etc. You win fabulous prizes for doing these mini-games, like money or heart pieces. Zelda isn't a role-playing game with leveling up, so collecting heart pieces is one of the only ways for Link to become stronger. In a lot of ways, this kind of mechanic is superior to leveling up, because it rewards fun activities like exploration as opposed to the tedious repetition of slaying monsters over and over. You do get rewards for killing monsters, such as money. Zelda never has a large focus on money, but you can use it to buy potions that fully restore your life energy or magic power. First you'll need a bottle to store those mystical liquids inside of, though. Bottles are another big optional collectible item. They are also found during side quests and are super handy, because you can store a bunch of different things inside of them, such as fairies, bugs, the aforementioned potions, and so on. A Link to the Past has plenty to do besides the main quest.

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The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is an extraordinarily phenomenal game. It took the formula of the original Zelda and essentially perfected it. This game has one of the best introduction sequences ever, many hours of content in its main adventure, lots of optional things to do on the side, and it just has impeccable design all around. There's a reason many people consider this game to be the best Zelda game ever made, and that reason is because it's really darn good.

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