The Legend of Zelda review
Origins of Zelda
Outdated graphics and sound
Poor plot delivery and development
Hyrule itself is uninteresting
Poor save system
Okay, let's get something clear. The whole concept of the NES Classics series just seems like a rip off idea. NES games are old and simple. If you're going to be packing them up for newer audiences without touching them why do one game per cart? Nevertheless, Legend of Zelda set the foundation for all future Legend of Zelda games, so I wanted to have a go at this classic for myself.
The NES was never amazingly capable of stunning visuals. However, I doubt you would call the Legend of Zelda's graphics to be good even by those standards. Add in the competition from virtually every other GBA title around and you have a pretty poor display. This is no treat for the eyes.
The problem is that everything is bland and uninteresting. Link is effectively a blob of greens and browns, and while there is enough to discern that said blob is indeed our elven hero we've come to love the lack of detail is disappointing. This problem extends to every character sprite around. It is a demonstration of the most basic kind of pixel art around, as everything just lacks any sort of detail. Flat is a good way to describe it too.
Then there is a lack of actual animation. What animation exists is kept to such a basic level that it is pretty ridiculous. Take Link's sword strike. Press the button and all that happens is that Link's sword appears for a second and then vanishes. You don't see Link twist around. You don't see a fluid motion.
Link and enemies manage to fire arrows without a bow ever appearing in their hands. The flute is played without Link's sprite even changing. There's just nothing to make them seem alive.
The disappointments carry on into the environments. Bland is the best you can expect here. Everything lacks any kind of detail that it is actually rather hard to figure out what some things are meant to be. At its worst some things are just plain ugly (is that really a bush?).
As if bad visuals wasn't bad enough it all gets so samey as well. Why does each dungeon look so familiar? All they do is a colour palette swap (a monotone colour scheme, by the way) and be done with it.
Despite the NES limits imposed on the original game the overworld theme in the game is actually quite good to listen too. It's not as technically competent as the current competition but it definitely has a catchy beat to it. Dungeon music isn't quite so awesome but yet it does manage to capture the moody atmosphere you would expect from such places.
Unfortunately, variety isn't the game's strong point. There are very few music tracks in the game, and as good as they may be a player will still tire of them soon enough.
Sound effects are typically low quality and sparse. Some of them don't really sound as you would expect too, making for a poor showing here too.
The story that started it all. The evil monster Ganon sought to steal the Triforce of Wisdom, but Hyrule's princess shattered it into eight pieces and hid them in various dungeons before she was captured. While it isn't explained what the kingdom's army were doing at the time it seems Zelda's attendant, Impa, turned to Link to save the princess and the kingdom.
Yes, it's not particularly original nor well written. The plot doesn't explain itself well enough but it's a solid starting point to be going around adventuring and cutting stuff up.
No, the problem isn't so much the plot itself but the delivery of it. The backstory is only told if you hang around the title screen long enough. Choose to dive straight into the game and you're told nothing. Even if you make yourself aware of the backstory, there's no real progression of it. You don't get any additional story until the very end of the game, which isn't giving a good idea of what's happening as you play.
Character development... doesn't exist. There are actually very few NPCs in Hyrule, and they simply exist to sell items or give hints. As a result Link doesn't become anything more than some odd strange boy who's handy with a sword and can apparently juggle a variety of items. Zelda's never seen until the end and Impa isn't seen at all.
That is pretty much your non-badguy cast. Even the badguys don't have anyone remarkable other than perhaps Ganon himself, who really doesn't stand out as anything other than just another boss. He's no more interesting than any of the other dungeon bosses in terms of plot development.
Okay, let's face it. NES games were never good on presentation compared to current generation titles. But gameplay is something it can do right, as long as the developers have the right mindset going into it.
Legend of Zelda is an adventure game, where players guide Link across the land of Hyrule and through its dungeons to work his way to the final boss. Along the way players must defeat enemies and solve puzzles to progress.
Legend of Zelda handles exploration in a way that might catch modern gamers off guard. Travelling around in a linear fashion with clear pointers on where to go next. LoZ laughs at such notions.
The land of Hyrule is a pretty open world to explore. Unlike most games, most of Hyrule is open to explore from the beginning. There are few areas that one cannot reach early on, which does indeed give the player a sense of freedom. The way this is managed even allows players a choice as to what order to attempt the dungeons - to a degree. I ended up doing the second dungeon after the fifth one.
However, that wasn't exactly by choice, but a result of a flaw of the game. See, LoZ isn't the type of game to be telling you where you need to go. Nintendo have left it up to the player to figure out where the next dungeon is or what items they need. Sounds challenging, and sometimes it's done right, but too often things are just too obscure for most people to figure out (how do you know where to bomb blast in the mountains when every rock looks the same?). As a result it can lead to some frustration as players wander around aimlessly (or resort to a walkthrough) as they have no idea what they should be doing.
The game does try to provide the occasional hint from the rare NPCs that aren't trying to sell you something, but their comments are so vague and confusing that more often than not you're more likely to end up with even less of an idea on where to go.
This sense of being lost isn't helped by the game's idea of a map. Instead of an actual map you have this blank square with a flashing indicator on what is meant to be Link. Okay, except you still won't have much of an idea on where you are, and since a blank square doesn't take obstacles and environment layout into account then trying to use it to get around is nothing short of a nightmare.
Even then, exploring Hyrule isn't as interesting as it should be. There's certainly a variety of environments, but there's just not much of interest to see at or find. Most of the NPCs are just trying to sell you something, and the few others just talk nonsense. There's a few places to go, like the heart container sitting on a platform in the water or the hidden shop that's selling a defence ring (which these items are a lot more useful than in other Zelda titles), but a few only offers limited highlights. Finding hidden dungeons or villages might have been cool, but right now there is just no incentive to actually go traipsing all over Hyrule.
There's a healthy collection of dungeons in the game, and while the might look similar in visual terms they are varied enough in content to work well. You have various rooms to work through with enemies and/or puzzles to tackle.
The puzzle collection is surprisingly good, although sometimes totally obscure. You might wander into a seemingly empty room but you're supposed to push a block. The catch? Every block looks the same and there are a lot of them.
Much like the overworld, progress through the dungeons aren't completely linear (although not as open as the overworld). You'll find branching paths and side rooms to look through, preventing the usual A to B linear progression most adventure games would give you and offering a fairly fresh approach.
Combat in the game is relatively simple in concept. In terms of swordplay Link really only has the ability to thrust his blade, as well as a blade beam attack that happens if he's at full health. These options tend to be enough to eliminate most baddies, although playing defence is harder. While some enemies are happy to just walk around others have their own tricks, like firing arrows, leaping about or the nasty trick of not flinching and suddenly changing direction without a moment's notice.
Link can call upon a variety of items to help in both puzzle solving and combat. The selection is more limited than those found in later games but still offers a healthy selection. This is where we first came across the classic items like the bow, boomerang and bombs. These work as you would expect, except the bow doesn't consume arrows (arrows as ammo doesn't exist) but rather a rubie per shot.
There are other items as well, such as a ladder that lets you climb over obstacles that take up a single tile or the flute that warps you around dungeon entrances. Some of these seem pretty useless though. There's a master key that opens locked doors and doesn't disappear like normal keys do, but by the time you get it the game is almost over. Despite the odd dud item there are enough to satisfy any adventurer.
The game is difficult, which is what you would expect from a NES title. However, this isn't always a good thing. Fighting enemies is indeed challenging but when part of this difficulty comes from the game's totally obscure nature then it leads more to frustration than enjoyment.
For gamers that persevere enough to clear the game once can try their hand at a harder second quest. The overworld remains the same but all the dungeons are new and provide quite a challenge. This remixed version is a nice extra, although considering how difficult the normal game is then the second quest may be a bit much for some.
Oh, but gamers used to smart save systems might be rather annoyed by LoZ. See, here you don't simply pause the game and hit save, because the option doesn't exist. To save here you have to kill Link, and you'll lose certain item upgrades and any consumables when you do. There used to be a second save system in the original game that didn't hit this consequence, but it required a second controller and is therefore not manageable in this version.
There's some solid gameplay elements here but the outdated presentation, an uninteresting gaming world and the game's insistence on obscurity hurt it a lot. It's not that the game is bad, but its flaws are just far too noticable. An update could have easily worked, but a direct port is just outdone now by the contemporary adventure games on the market.
About the author
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