What Makes Zelda Great - A Link to the Past
23 Feb 2009 — by Alpha
The SNES provided a much welcomed technological boost to the Zelda series, helping reestablish Link's adventures through Hyrule as leaders amongst games. A vast reimagining of Hyrule, ALttP sought to explain the history of the world found in the first two games: the origins of Ganon, the Triforce, and the Hero were all discussed in this one entry, and it also introduced into play the now common sight of dual realities and the Sages/Maidens. In addition it incorporated multiple new features that ensured it would become one of the most renown entries in the franchise for decades to come.
Because of the new hardware that the SNES gave developers, A Link to the Past was the first of the Zelda games to have an in-game storyline – both LoZ and AoL, as we have noted, had short little blurbs in the game manuals that served as the story, but in game did not feature any real plot. But from the very start of ALttP we can see one of the most original stories in the Zelda franchise – gone is the simplistic tale of “You’re a hero. Save the princess.” That’s still there, of course, but this time we delve much deeper than that, forging a full-fledged storyline in the game itself that is borderline magnificent. Okay, scratch that, it’s just plain magnificent.
And even with that in-game story, Nintendo also included a backstory for the game in its manual. Today, with fourteen games in the series, the manual’s tale of the Triforce, the Imprisoning War (or Seal War, whichever you prefer), and Ganon’s birth still serves as probably the most comprehensive source of information on those subjects. Although Ocarina of Time and other games have delved into these issues at times, A Link to the Past’s manual without a doubt provides the most detailed and fleshed out backstory of the series.
The key attribute of the story, however, is the presence of what has become a staple for Zelda games: the presence of dual realities. A Link to the Past was the first game to include such an idea in the form of the Light and Dark Worlds. Link travels on a magnificent quest through the Light World, obtaining the Master Sword (which also appeared for the first time in the series in ALttP) and heading to confront the evil Agahnim…and then gets sucked into the Dark World. I’m not the first to say that it’s a shocker to have thought you were fighting the final boss, only to realize afterwards that you’re not even halfway done with the game. Especially since back in the early 90’s, that Light World portion really would have been a fine game in and of itself.
The Dark World was an intriguing concept, and its partnership with the Light World remains perhaps the best dual reality found in the Zelda series. The two worlds were nearly identical – ‘nearly’ being the key word there, because there were some changes in life forms and minute differences in the landscape. The worlds also had something of a symbiotic relationship, insomuch as what happened in one affected the other. These two traits, seemingly frivolous, opened up a mountain of puzzles and quests for the developers to make use of. Rather than seeming like a chore to go from one world to the other, players were motivated to be constantly warping back and forth to observe the changes between Hyrule and its dark side – you never knew what you might find, and it almost always paid off to check.
Two worlds are definitely better than one.
And at the center of this masterpiece lay the cornerstone of all Zelda titles: the dungeons. With so many brilliant features incorporated into ALttP, the dungeons are still what outshine everything in their innovativeness, difficulty, and structure. The very number of them in this game remains an unbroken record for the Zelda series: 12 dungeons in all (provided you count Hyrule Castle and Ganon’s Tower, which in this case, I think we can), and all of them are challenging in their own right. The Ice Palace is especially infamous for its difficulty level, so much so that in the GBA remake Nintendo actually altered the dungeon to make it easier to navigate. Too, the dungeon bosses all were plenty difficult to defeat. Don’t even try entering a dungeon without a few fairies in your bottles, because chances are that you are going to die sooner or later. And yet that only adds to the satisfaction that is felt when a dungeon is beaten and a pendant/crystal secured.
The items also played a much bigger role in this game than before – A Link to the Past was, in fact, the first Zelda title where they started hiding the dungeon boss’ weakness inside the dungeon. Aside from the dungeon items, though, were a plethora of other items that could be sought out. Side questing gave you access to things like the Cane of Byrna, the Magic Cape, and Bottles. These were never needed in the game, but it really adds to replay value to try and find all the items in the game – because there are a lot of items to find.
Really, the game’s main failing comes from a lack of storyline twists towards the end of the game. Once you reach the Dark World, many of the dungeons only require you to figure out how to get inside of them – you can go from one straight into the next if you know what you’re doing. There are no story elements that take place between them. But really, in a game whose main focus appears to be dungeons, that shortcoming is easy to overlook – especially since once you complete one dungeon, all you really want to do is jump directly into the next one, rather than waste time doing some little quest to allow you access to it.
There’s a lot more that can be said about A Link to the Past, no doubt, but do remember that we’re working to discuss the elements where it surpassed every other entry in the Zelda series. This game excels in almost every area, but then again, so does every title in the franchise. Where it truly goes above and beyond everything else is in dual realities and the many excellently made dungeons. Hence why I’ve decided to christen ALttP as the Dungeon Master.
A Link to the Past – "The Dungeon Master"
Next time around we’ll be looking at the Gameboy classic: Link’s Awakening (I know at least one person who’s going to be excited about this one). For those who missed one of the previous WMZG entries, I'm inviting everyone to reply here or in the TDC Forum topic I'll be starting later, telling me why you think LA was such a great title. You've got a whole month to give us your reasons!
Until next time, this is Alpha, signing off to go do . . . stuff.
by ZeldaVeteran @ 23 Feb 2009 04:09 pm
by Mikaudes @ 25 Feb 2009 09:46 pm