25 Jan 2017

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

A Link to the Past SNES UK Packfront
Publisher: Nintendo
(Four Swords add-on: Capcom)
Consoles released on:
SNES: 1992   
GBA: 2002 (With Four Swords multi player game)
Wii Virtual Console: 2013
Wii U Virtual Console: 2014
3DS sequel titled A Link Between Worlds: 2013 (separate review for this title)
3DS Virtual Console: 2016

This review isn't going to do justice for this  iconic, single player game in the Legend of Zelda franchise. I know there have been many reviews before me and no doubt there will be many reviews after me, but please read on. I have played this on the SNES, Wii/ WiiU and 3DS and I'm still constantly amazed at this game's replayability. I may also refer to the game by its shorthand ALttP.

This is was the only Zelda game released on the SNES in the UK, and it has remained a firm favourite with Zelda and Retro fans alike some 20 years later after its release, withstanding the test of time. There is still a debate about which game out of ALttP or Ocarina of Time, was the reason for many changes in the Zelda franchises (and others too). My opinion is that a Link to the Past started the changes and with the development of technology, particularly the polygon technology of the N64, resulted in the finalisation of those changes started.

An interesting fact is that in Japan, this is called Triforce of the Gods. The name change came about as in the Western world- more specifically North America, didn't allow religious references in game titles. The USA title stuck for the UK release. The packfront logo was reused for Link's Awakening /DX on the Gameboy a year or 6 later (DX colour version was released in 1998), with the  distinctive Zelda font and Master Sword used and adapted for many more games afterwards including the newest and most anticipated Breath of the Wild

Title Screen
This game changed the Zelda franchise completely from gameplay, game length, camera angle,  quests/ sub quests, music and graphics. All of which are now standard in Zelda games today, in fact the music of Legend of Zelda is so good, that Nintendo performed 4 symphonies (25th Anniversary and the Symphony of the Goddesses, Master Quest, 30th Anniversary) full of Zelda music with videos from the game series, plus Video Games Live has had a few different versions of Zelda music throughout the years.

Like the NES games there are more side-quests, objects, hearts and skills to collect. It goes without saying that there is a bigger colour palette, however Link's pink hair is a mild personal annoyance, but like the design for Mario, it may of been down to colour restrictions. Zelda also doesn't look the more recent Zelda's (with the exception of Skyward Sword) with the now trademark purple dress and tiara, but again this is a minor point. The save feature is greatly improved, with the player starting from certain places (and not right at the origin point as in the first NES Zelda game). 
Dark World Dungeon Item Menu from 3DS virtual console

The item menu is same sort of layout as the NES Legend of Zelda but with many additions. I find the menu design very good, as you can clearly see what abilities you have, as well as your progress in the game (in the screen shot, the player has not gained the item in the big chest, they are on the 4th dungeon- so my estimate is halfway through the Dark World). It is easy to select the item, and the Sword is automatically assigned to the B Button. A Button is your action button, whereas Y (3DS version) is the item button. The item menu had a slight redesign for the 3DS where only one bottle is displayed, until it is selected then a sub-menu pops up with bottles and their contents. Interesting to note, Link cannot jump or fly in this game or indeed the "sequel" A Link Between Worlds.

It starts on a rainy night where Link and his uncle are awoken from their sleep by a female telepathic voice asking to "Help Me". His uncle (a former knight) goes to the Castle to see if he could help. However, when Link goes to investigate, he finds his uncle dying in a corridor. Taking up the sword and shield (automatically equipped) Link now sets forth to free the trapped Princess Zelda from the evil wizard Agahmin. And so the epic quest begins.

The game is split into two main quests: the first to retrieve the Master Sword, which is the only sword that can defeat evil. This requires Link to gain 3 medallions, and the Book of Mudora which translates ancient Hyrulean into modern Hyrulean. After he gains the Master Sword and defeats the evil wizard Agahmin for the first time, he now has to journey into the Dark World to rescue the 7 Maidens (including Princess Zelda) who can help in the final battle. It is a very long game, with the added side quests which reward the player with upgraded weapons, shields and more health hearts which are a standard feature in Zelda games (the author acknowledges that isn't unique to Zelda franchise or games alone). Normally in any dungeon, the item found is the one you need to defeat the boss. Some of the many upgrades include: Sword, Boomerang, Shield, and finally arrows (only the Silver arrows can defeat Ganon). You can also increase your bomb, arrow and magic capacity by visiting certain fairies. 

ALttP/ Four Swords GBA packfront (USA)
The Capcom (responsible for the Oracle Series on GBC) Four Swords add-on on the GBA part of the game requires another player via the GBA to GBA link cable, (this was rectified in the Gamecube's Four Swords Adventures, and the 3DS Virtual Console Four Swords Anniversary game where only 1 player was required to play the game, with the additional option of up to 4 players being able to play. This add-on required 4 Links to work together to gain items/ treasure, and after this was complete a final question in the form of 10 riddles for the solo player with the bug catching net. The idea of Four Swords (aka the Four Swords Trilogy) was later expanded into Minish Cap, where for brief periods of time in certain places Link could "divide" himself up to 4 copies with basic abilities (mirror the original Link). One could also argue that Triforce Heroes (not officially in the Zelda timeline) could also owe its origins to Four Swords. The Entrance to the add-on feature is in the Dark World on the right hand side of the pyramid, and only be entered once the original game is completed.

Zelda games released after A Link to the Past owe a lot to this game. For example, Link's most famous weapon the Master Sword and the Light Arrows are introduced in this game. From a musical point of view, some of more famous musical cues including Zelda's theme originated here. The concept of the Ocarina, the key musical instrument that features in a lot of Zelda games began in A Link to the Past (not Ocarina of Time as some people believe). In latter games, even as soon as Link's Awakening the role of the Ocarina was expanded to play individual songs which did a certain task.  

In Link's Awakening, one of the 3 songs is a warp song, one "restores" the dead, and the other is a song of Awakening. A Link to the Past also has a direct effect on the handheld games by using its MODE 7 viewpoint, a slightly tilted view of the world so nothing is missed. This viewpoint has continued on all handheld Zelda games up to DS Spirit Tracks to date. Also the iconic spin attack used here for the first time (to the author's everlasting gratitude!- Read my NES Legend of Zelda review for the reason why) has become a standard feature of Zelda games ever since.

Helmasaur King- an early form of King Dodongo
This game is one of my favourite Legend of Zelda games, particularly as its on the GBA and 3DS virtual console, so I can take it wherever I go. When Nintendo did their collector's disc featuring; N64 Ocarina of Time, N64 Majora's Mask, NES Legend of Zelda and NES Adventure of Link, the SNES' A Link to the Past was conspicuously absent. The 3DS Virtual console version works best on the newest 3DS consoles, however the GBA add-on Four Swords wasn't included as Nintendo had previously released Four Swords Anniversary on 3DS Virtual Console only.

An Early Zora 
Some of the more familiar races are introduced here, but within the space of two games (from A Link to the Past and Link's Awakening to Ocarina of Time) there was a massive redesigning of the Zora and the Goron races. Originally both are 'enemies ' where the Gorons temporarily turn to stone when struck with a weapon, and most of the Zoras will fire fireballs at Link. In Ocarina of Time, these two races became Link's allies with different abilities, history and look.

Light World Overworld Map of Master Sword (1st) Quest
As you can see from the map opposite, the angle showcases the Mode 7 viewpoint that is seen throughout the game. This is half of the world of a Link to the Past, but one where you will walk around a lot. However there are 9 warp points that once the Ocarina is obtained makes Link's life a little easier. These warp points do not exist in the Dark World however, and some puzzle solving is needed to travel around the Dark World.  The amount of detail is beautiful, with the shading and colour range. But that's not all... the player  can zoom in too. This overworld zoom feature becomes more promient in Minish Cap with the unlocked items showing on the map.

For me as a Zelda fan, this game showcases the SNES' abilities and changed the design of menus, maps and game design in general. The amount of side quests, and the Mario homage (look for Mario's picture inside houses), the introductions of Link's most deadly enemy the Cucco!, the Legendary Master Sword, the Ocarina, and the many weapons that became more developed as the series progressed . This is where the Zelda games of today truly began vtheir origins, and despite playing it multiple times, I still come back and enjoy playing it anew, whether it is on the big screen, or on the go with the 3DS. This game will still be played for many years to come and is the perfect example of Nintendo's innovation, game design and excellent storytelling. 

In fact I do highly recommend reading Akira Himekawa's Legend of Zelda manga series as an excellent accompaniment to the main game.

My only hope is that the BS (Broadcast Satellaview) Zelda versions- Ancient Stone Tablets and Triforce of the Gods (only released in Japan at time of writing) are one day released in the Western World