Legend of Zelda review

The Legend of Zelda, originally released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1986 is where the story of Link, Zelda, The Triforce, Ganon, and Hyrule all began. The graphics and audio may look and sound and little dated, but what jumps out at me playing through this is how current the game feels. I can only imagine playing through this as a wide-eyed kid sitting in front of the television.

The Legend of Zelda, or the Zelda series is probably Nintendo’s number 2 franchise, just behind Mario as number one. It could be argued that Zelda is number one because a new Zelda adventure sells consoles, plus multiple Zelda entries are often cited as the best game of all time including Ocarina of Time and Breath of the Wild.

Breath of the Wild is a valid comparison to the original Legend of Zelda, given you are dropped into the overworld with nothing but your wits, and you can roam the open world freely. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to get too far with just your wooden sword and shield, but it’s theoretically possible, much like you can rush to Hyrule Castle in Breath of the Wild.

The Legend of Zelda is a must-play for any Zelda fan, and it’s very easy to play these days given it’s featured on Nintendo Switch Online’s NES library. I have a small admission to make, my love for the Zelda franchise started with Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Yes, it maybe cited as one of the worst Zelda games, but it’s all about nostalgia for me. My Dad bought it for me as a gift when I was a kid when the NES first came out and we played through it together. This playthrough of the Legend of Zelda is actually my first time playing through the original. I’m sorry I waited so long because the DNA of The Legend of Zelda is all here.

We start out dropped onto the map, we have nothing, although it’s not too difficult to find our first item, and it’s an important one too, it’s our first Sword. From when you are dropped into the game, walk into the game and the Old Man will give you the famous line… “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this”.

You can roam the environment, and quite easily stumble upon dungeons in this game. There are different environments, classic environments including the beach, the desert, mountains, and waterfalls. This game doesn’t take too many prisoners either, you start out with only a few hearts and in true 80’s style, this game is hard. Before you get stuck into the Dungeons I recommend finding a few items, this includes the shield, a few heart containers, and also the White Sword, which is the first sword upgrade in the game. Ideally you want to be going into your first Dungeon prepared, especially with pletny of hearts. The Sword upgrade is definitely going to make dealing with those enemies easier too.

One of the most delighful things about the game is the secrets. Use bombs to find secret doors, which often result in rupees. Burndown bushes to find secret staircases, which may lead to a warp zone or to the Old Man wanting to give the Old Woman a letter. I understand The Legend of Zelda was created because Miyamoto used to go for walks in the forest in Japan, and wanted to share this sense of wonder and discovery with players.

The now-familiar classic Zelda model was born in this game. Start out with barely anything, build up your weapons and hearts over time, and gather more powerful tools as you progress through the dungeons, collecting pieces of the Triforce as you go. You could argue this formula was perfect in The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past on the SNES, but it started here.

It’s also amazing how much Breath of the Wild DNA is here too with the open-world you can explore, and you can pretty much go anywhere. In later iterations of the Zelda franchise, you were blocked off from zones and you had to get items from Dungeons, but here you can go a lot of places. We are also introduced to Lyonels too, the terrifying half man half beast creatures that hunted us in Breath of the Wild, and were the stuff of nightmares. They may not be as scary here, but they are here thats for sure.

The Dungeons in The Legend of Zelda aren’t too tricky, probably until you get to the later ones. Once you get into The Lizard and The Dragon Dungeons, which are 5 and 6 respectively, then the difficulty starts to ramp up and I found myself having to stock up on potions. Dungeons themselves have the classic feel to them where you have to find the compass, the map, and the Dungeon item.

The items themselves are here including the boomerang, bombs, whistle (which would eventually evolve into the Ocarina), and the Magic Wand, allowing you to shoot magic at enemies. There are some unique items too including the step ladder, which allows you to cross one square on the screen, which is useful for getting over small streams in the overworld, and very useful in dungeons for avoiding water or lava. The boomerang item is interesting as you pick up the boomerang, then moments later upgrade it to a magical boomerang, which can fly across the whole screen. The original boomerang didn’t get much time to shine, but you can see Nintendo here experimenting with new items. The pacing isn’t quite right with some things, but this is only the beginning and something they would go onto perfect in later iterations.

There are unique parts of the Dungeons too, which are very similar to Zelda II. This unique view often accompanies finding the dungeon item, and the level semi-switches into a side-scroller type view of the screen. This is something Nintendo would fully embrace for Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, although here in the original it’s used very rarely.

The main thing that jumps out to me from this game is the difficulty. It’s very much worth your time to run through gathering items before you enter a Dungeon. You will need heart containers, and the extra power of the sword upgrades are definitely going to help you out. The overworld is full of danger, and enemies move quickly and in random patterns. You’ll have enemies bouncing up and down, coming up out of the floor, and also poking their heads up out of the water shooting you with projectiles. Then when you enter dungeons you have Mummies, Wizards, and Knights to take on. The Wizards can be a particular pain, so any extra help you can get from items and upgrades is a welcome assist.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to like going back to The Legend of Zelda. I’ve played countless Zelda iterations since, often on day one. I was lucky enough to experience Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time as they came out, and back then we didn’t know anything about the games. We didn’t have the internet to spoil things. We did have magazines or phone numbers we could call up to get help, but I don’t think my parents would have been too happy with the phone bill. We didn’t have our own phones back then, the only phone in the house was in another room and your parents paid the phone bill. If we wanted tips or tricks, we could write into magazines, but that would mean waiting weeks for an answer. The only way forward was to play, and figure it all out as you go.

For all the players going back to The Legend of Zelda today the game is unforgiving, and not very good at directing players through the game. Without some guidance it’s going to be near impossible to find some of the secrets in this game. Some of this was addressed in later games. For example, there isn’t much of a hint here that you have to place a bomb on the wall to find a secret save or location, later Nintendo provides cracks on the walls as hints. Here in the Legend of Zelda there are numerous secret bushes to burn down, walls to blast, and you’ll have to systematically go through all of them one by one with items, which would be a painstaking exercise.

I 100% recommend going back and playing The Legend of Zelda for any fans of RPGs. If you are interesting in the Legend of Zelda franchise, and I assuming you are if you are here, then this is where it all began. You can see so much of the Zelda DNA here in the original. Not everything is done right, but you can forgive Nintendo for being their first iteration of this formula. 35 years after the original release, it’s still a magical journey, and I can’t wait to get stuck into the next adventure.