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[Blogging] What Makes Zelda Great - The Adventure of Link
23 Jan 2009 by Alpha

The Adventure of Link took Zelda in a step that no fan of the original game would have predicted. AoL shifted away from the incredibly detailed overworld and gave only a basic map for Link to walk about in until he entered special areas like towns, caves, and dungeons, where we were given a side scrolling view of our favorite Hyrulean Hero. There were no longer items that you collected and switched out in your ongoing battle against the hordes of the Evil King, but rather a focus was placed on your sword and magic spells. While some many would call it a step in the wrong direction, The Adventure of Link still managed to get a lot of elements done in impressive fashion.

The most noticeable difference you'll see when you start up the game is the fact that most of the time you play in a side scrolling manner looking at Link from the side and controlling his movements to the right or left, but not up or down (though you could also make him jump this is also the only Zelda game with a button dedicated solely to jumping). Except when you're traveling from one location to another via the overworld, this is how you control Link whether he's fighting bad guys, traveling through a city, or solving puzzles, you'll get to watch it all from this 2-D perspective.

Enter the overworld, however, and you get a top-down view similar to LoZ, though you see it from a much higher perspective rather than one screen at a time, you can gaze upon a vast portion of Hyrule while moving Link around it. Though there wasn't much detail put into the overworld the only thing you could really see was the type of landscape (forest, desert, field, water) the place is enormous. You thought LoZ had it huge? The world featured in The Adventure of Link dwarfs it.

Especially when you consider that the red box supposedly represents LoZ's entire overworld...

Not only was it big, AoL's map had a multitude of key locations present. There were a total of 7 towns included in the game, the largest number of cities in any Zelda title. And there were also plenty of caves and hidden side scrolling areas. Most of these locations held some form of upgrade for your 'stats', whether it was a Heart Container or an old man just waiting to give you a magic spell.

That's another central difference between AoL and the rest of the Zelda games the game was an RPG. Now, sure, some people call all the Zelda games RPGs, but Zelda as a whole does not often fit under any given categorization. But it's actually very appropriate for AoL: there were experience points to gain and levels of combat, health, and magic to strive for. There was actually a very good reason to fight as many enemies as you could, battled either in semi-random overworld encounters or in dungeons, because otherwise you'd never get strong enough to take on any of the dungeons' bosses. Having a reason to fight bad guys other than simply because they’re in the way get a good mark in my book.

And you can't talk about the game's fine points without making a nod to the use of magic in the game. Ever since AoL most of the Zelda games have used magic to some level, but all have fallen short of the amount of usability granted by the spells in The Adventure of Link. From the get-go you'll be fighting to survive and proceed through Hyrule, and often the only way to do either of those is with one or more of the magic spells granted by the old men hidden in the various towns of Hyrule. These spells actually seemed worthwhile and were used frequently. They were not mere plot devices that, while pretty cool, forced you to go out of your way so you would have them that one little time they were required (here's looking at you, Din's Fire).

Well you can't talk about the game's good stuff without mentioning magic, but you can't talk about the game period without speaking of the difficulty level. Whether you see it as good or bad, the game is a challenge to beat, and the fact that Link has only three lives to work with doesn't make it any easier. Die three times, and you have to restart back at North Castle where you initially begin the game doesn't matter if you're on Maze Island, in the ruins of Old Kasuto, or in the depths of the Water Palace, you're warped right back to where the sleeping Princess Zelda lies resting. And of course this would be the game where enemies can kill you effortlessly on a regular basis.

I'm sick of seeing this.

One of the game's major faults is, like LoZ, a lack of an in-game story. There are some NPCs to interact with this time around, though with the NES's limitations they could only say a handful of words to you, giving them little personality and giving you little idea of what it is they wanted. Are they telling you something because they want you to do something about it, or is it just random bits of information and gossip? Hard to tell when there's no context for their words, but such is what you must deal with to complete AoL.

The same basic complaint could be made towards several of the items as well you won't get many items, but those you do find you use without selecting and assigning them to a button it's already preassigned by the designers, and they don't tell you which button does what. For instance, there's a flute in the game; if you press the right button, Link stops for a few seconds to play it. Unfortunately for me, I got the GBA version, and normally play Game Boy games with the sound off…so I would sometimes accidentally hit the button and then spend the next five seconds wondering if and why the game just froze up on me.

And of course one of the main things about the game is how it essentially replaced Items with Magic. In side-scrolling mode, you've got your sword and spells; none of the few items you collect in the dungeons or caves can be used to help you. Even ones like the Hammer…

These seem like they would be horrible flaws, but the game is still quite good. Maybe it's not your standard Zelda game, but in its own right, it has plenty going for it. The difficulty level is set pretty high, and if you beat it you've got some serious bragging rights. The overworld is very expansive and has a vast number of secrets to find if at all possible, I'd love for Nintendo to set the next Zelda game in this same overworld. How amazing would it be to have a 3-D rendering of the Hyrule of The Adventure of Link?! And unlike all the other games, you can actually see Link getting stronger as he fights more enemies, courtesy of its RPG elements. Really, that's what AoL is: the RPG of the series.

The Adventure of Link
"RPG of the Series"

Not many people offered up reasons for why AoL is great, probably because of the poor light in which many fans see it. But I have a feeling there'll be a lot more to say about the next one: we'll be looking at A Link to the Past, one of the most popular Zelda titles ever. For those who missed one of the previous What Makes Zelda Great entries, I'm inviting everyone to reply here or in the TDC Forum topic I'll be starting later today. All I want is the answer to a simple question: why do you think ALttP was such a great title? You've got a whole month to tell us your reasons!

Until then, this is Alpha, signing off to go do . . . stuff.

P.S. - special thanks to DSCUBED and all the guys at The Hylia. I'm honored that you guys took note of the LoZ article. ^_^

*pics taken from Zelda Dungeon

by MagmarFire @ 28 Jan 2009 12:25 pm
Excellent article once again, Alpha! smile

To me, TAol is probably the most underrated Zelda game ever. Yes, the Game Over screen can and probably will make your head explode with frustration after, say, the ninetieth time your Life Energy reaches zero; however, it's still that enjoyable for me.

Now, for ALttP... Also insanely awesome. It's back to the traditional interface that was so highly regarded in the original game, and we have a lot of awesome collectables to boot--the Medallions, needless to say.

Nintendo should really put more of those uber spells in a future game, I say...

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