The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda (1986)

The Legend of Zelda (1986)

It likely comes as no surprise that the author of a blog titled The Nostalgia Spot enjoys playing old games.  I love having old consoles laying around the house, either hooked up to a television set or even just sitting in a closet waiting for a rainy day.  It’s almost a sort of nostalgic high to snap a cartridge into a Sega Genesis or hear that familiar spring when pushing a cart into place on a Nintendo Entertainment System.  Because so many of these systems are existing in a closet or attic, it can be a bit of a chore to relive the old days but thankfully digital distribution is here to make things easier.  Sure, nothing is better than the original experience.  Often times if there’s an old game I feel like I missed out on I’m more apt to find a used copy on the internet than download it.  The one exception is in the portable realm.  Nintendo is one such company that has released a lot of its old titles for download onto portable gaming systems.  I’d actually argue the company hasn’t released enough.  It has a tendency to focus on old portable games when selecting new ones to release and not enough on old NES or SNES games.  A lot of the classics are available though, and that’s why I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with an old favorite recently:  The Legend of Zelda.

I’ve actually had a copy of The Legend of Zelda on my 3DS for awhile now.  I bought the system at launch only for Nintendo to drop the price dramatically not long after due to lackluster sales.  To avoid ticking off the early adopters Nintendo released 20 free games to these “Ambassadors,” as they called them.  They were ten NES games and 10 Gameboy Advance games.  Among those ten was The Legend of Zelda.  Initially these releases were bare-bones lacking some of the features of the typical downloadable games.  As the games were released to the public though, Ambassadors were able to re-download them for free with the save state feature.  The feature is certainly a nice one to have, especially for a game like The Legend of Zelda which popularized the save feature in console games.  The feature was rather crude by today’s standards, but the re-release fixes that and allows the user to save whenever he or she wishes, which is a necessity for gaming on the go.

The boss of the first (and 8th) dungeon is a cake-walk.

The boss of the first (and 8th) dungeon is a cake-walk.

For the most part, I don’t blog about the all-time classic titles, there’s just enough of that stuff all over the web.  Sometimes a game becomes so old though that people tend to forget about just how good it is.  No one I know would say The Legend of Zelda is a bad game, bust most would the caveat that it’s “good for its era.”  That is just not true.  This is a title that does not need to get by on reputation.  Before playing it I had spent a few weeks playing a recent RPG released for the 3DS:  Paper Mario Sticker Star.  The Paper Mario series is a pretty good one, but Sticker Star is not a very good game.  It’s far from awful, but it’s so tedious and needlessly gimmicky that I just found it tiresome.  I saw it thru to the end but really wanted to wash the stink away.  I didn’t have a new game lined up, so I dug into those ambassador titles and settled on The Legend of Zelda.  Now, I’d be lying if I said it was easy to jump right into.  There’s always a bit of a culture shock when going back nearly 30 years with an old game.  That’s when one realizes just how used to today’s comforts they’ve become.  With The Legend of Zelda we’re talking about an early generation NES game.  It’s not even considered good looking for an NES game.  The backgrounds are pretty sparse, all of the dungeons look the same (save for the color), and Link (the protagonist, for those unaware) doesn’t have much personality.  Pretty much the entire plot to the game was contained in the booklet that came with it, so don’t expect much in the presentation department.  This is just a really simple looking game.

Pretty much everyone is familiar with the gold NES cart, but fewer are aware that in Japan the game was originally released for the Famicom Disk attachment.  This was never released in other parts of the world, which is what necessitated the inclusion of a battery for saving in the American cart.

Pretty much everyone is familiar with the gold NES cart, but fewer are aware that in Japan the game was originally released for the Famicom Disk attachment. This was never released in other parts of the world, which is what necessitated the inclusion of a battery for saving in the American cart.

Despite that though, it really didn’t take me long to get sucked in.  It actually didn’t take me as long as I would have guessed.  Once I got my feet wet and found that first dungeon I was off and running.  Things started coming back to me, I started getting used to how to approach each enemy again, and I started to have fun.  Lots of fun.  This game has no business being this good still.  It’s also crazy how similar it is to every game in the franchise.  It’s easy to forget where the series started when chasing down Ganondorf or watching Link turn into a wolf, but the same basic game design has remained the same since 1986.  It’s funny to me, and a bit misguided, how Nintendo has tried to give gamers a new experience by adding some silly gimmick to recent Zelda titles but has never really attempted to change the experience.  Majora’s Mask is probably the lone exception on console games, while the portable titles have mixed things up to some degree while maintaining a familiar interface.  Though even there, Nintendo has still muddled things with gimmicks like touch controls or trains.  Nintendo consistently fails to realize that it often implements change, like touch controls or the waggle controls on the Wii edition of Twilight Princess, for the sake of doing so and rarely addresses the actual gameplay experience.  Whether gamers are pressing a button or flicking their wrist, they’re still making Link swing a sword.

Tangent aside, it’s actually a great deal of fun to be reminded of where the series started.  I always liked this title back on the NES, and the sequel only reinforced that, so I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that I still like it.  The game probably would be less fun for someone who has never played it.  There are so many little things one has to do to make it thru to the end that the game just doesn’t even clue you in on.  Throughout the game there are these old hermits living in caves that offer advice.  Some of it is cryptic but does have value.  Some of it seems like nonsense, a mistranslation perhaps.  Then there are other secrets that just have no indication whatsoever.  The entrance to Level 8 is one such thing where Link has to burn a random bush on the overworld map.  Most bushes aren’t affected by the candle item Link has to use to burn this one particular bush down, but the player is still expected to figure it out somehow.  I suppose this bush isn’t completely inconspicuous, but others are.  There are a few hidden stores or caves that a player isn’t going to find without help.  And that may have been the idea as there were numerous tip hotlines and the like for games back in the 1980’s.  Nintendo would get in on the action with Nintendo Power though this game arrived before that.  And Zelda games weren’t the only offender, but it’s something that really isn’t heard of in modern games.  We’d consider it poor design.  In other words, if this is your first time playing this game, expect to be in need of a walkthrough at some point.

The ones in blue are a pain to deal with.

The ones in blue are a pain to deal with.

Aside from some confusing moments, the game actually isn’t too difficult provided you know what you’re doing.  If one never upgraded the sword or Link’s armor then the game would get really hard.  I actually got the magic sword one dungeon later than I could have and that last dungeon with the mid-level sword was a bastard.  The game takes some getting used to in order to figure out just how close Link needs to get in order to defeat enemies.  Early on I found myself taking unnecessary hits but once I found my bearings I was okay.  Most of the enemies move faster than Link, and since this was before the invention of his spin attack, it can be challenging to keep them at bay.  The boomerang becomes Link’s best friend and remains so for most of the game as it freezes enemies on contact.  Keeping Link’s health maxed out is also a tremendous asset as that lets him shoot beams out of his sword.  Some enemies though are just plain hard to defeat without taking damage.  The wizrobes are probably the most challenging as they take 3 hits with the magical sword to defeat.  Striking them also doesn’t interrupt their movement or attack, and they can teleport all over the screen.  Needless to say, getting out of a room full of them without taking any damage is a true challenge.  The boss encounters, on the other hand, are all pretty easy as long as you know what you’re doing.  The final boss, Ganon naturally, can only be killed with a silver arrow and it’s entirely possible to reach him without ever finding said arrows making survival an impossibility.

Ultimately, I’m making this entry because I’ve been surprised with how much enjoyment I’ve been able to squeeze out of this title recently.  If you’re a younger gamer who never played the original Legend of Zelda then I suggest you do.  There are many options for playing it in this day and age as it’s been re-released more times than I can remember.  The easiest way to get it is via download from Nintendo and I think it only costs five bucks, but I’m not certain.  This is one title that has withstood the test of time, Zelda II on the other hand…

2 responses to “The Legend of Zelda

  • Ranking the Zelda Games Part 2 | The Nostalgia Spot

    […] 4. The Legend of Zelda (NES 1986) – Just outside of the top three is the one that started it all. It’s hard to explain to someone who didn’t experience this one in 1986 just how different an experience it was from other games. It’s a game design so perfect that it remains largely unchanged thirty years later. It’s rather incredible just how playable this game still is, and just how much fun it remains to be. It’s main difference from the modern games is mostly just how cryptic it is. It’s pretty clear where the game wants to send you in virtually every other Zelda game except this one. Here you’re just dropped into the fray and told to go beat the game. There’s a few hints along the way, if you happen to uncover them, and if you read the instruction booklet you get a few more, but that’s it. Word of mouth, and eventually Nintendo Power, was the way to beat this game back in the day as there was always a friend with an older brother, cousin, or cousin’s cousin that knew how to get into Level 6 or whatever. The game manages to be cryptic without being unfairly so, for the most part. There is one part where you have to find a specific bush and use a specific item on it that is pretty ridiculous, but it’s not on Simon’s Quest level. The combat is generally the same as the top-down Zelda titles that followed, but harder because all of the other enemies seem to be able to move much faster than Link. Some of the boss fights are so well constructed that Nintendo has returned to them over and over again. Really, if you grew up with one of the later Zelda titles being your gateway to the series then you owe it to yourself to go back and give this one a try. Once you get past the crude visuals and accustomed to how the game handles you’ll probably find yourself enjoying it quite a bit. The game is readily available as a downloadable title on basically every modern Nintendo device and will also be included with the NES Mini this fall. I’m obviously ranking this one somewhat on a scale to place it so high and affording it some deference for how important it is to the franchise and gaming as a whole, but I also genuinely love the game. I’ve returned to it over the years more than once, which is something I haven’t done for every game I’ve ranked behind this one (but something I have done for the ones ahead of it) which is a testament to its quality and its longevity. It’s really one of the greatest of all time. […]


  • The Games of the NES Classic | The Nostalgia Spot

    […] The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo 1986) – It’s The Legend of […]


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