The Legend Of Zelda franchise is my favorite video game franchise of all time. I have played and beaten so many of the games in the series, and I have countless memories with each game. The first game in the series, The Legend Of Zelda, is considered one of the best games on the NES. It started a ton of tropes for video games, and really can’t have any justice done for it with a review. That being said, the game is over 30 years old now, so I’m going to see how well the game holds up.
Since I’m covering the first game in the series, I’m going to have to explain the game from scratch. The Legend Of Zelda starts out with a boy in green named Link in an empty field, with nothing but a cave and three paths present. Your instinct will tell you to go into the cave when playing, and inside an old man gives you a sword. The goal of the game is to traverse nine dungeons, collecting eight pieces of the Triforce, a magical treasure in order to defeat the evil Ganon and save Princess Zelda. Along with way, Link will collect items and money, defeat enemies, dungeon bosses, and increase his power. The game is simple and complex at the same time. Link just walks around, uses items, such as the bow and arrow, boomerang, stepladder (Which is used to cross water gaps), raft (used to cross larger water gaps), Magic Rod (shoots fire beams), Candle (Burns bushes and lights up dark rooms), bombs, swords, shields, and more. Link has to explore the land of Hyrule, finding hints and secrets among the way in order to locate the nine dungeons. Inside these dungeons, Link must navigate through several mazes, puzzles, and gauntlets of enemies until he reaches the final boss of the dungeon, which will give him a new heart container, increasing his health, and a piece of the Triforce. These dungeons have a large amount of the items Link needs to continue forward and finding them is another challenge of the dungeon. Heart containers and items aren’t only found in dungeons, however. They are found throughout the land of Hyrule’s overworld as well, in hidden caves and burnt bushes.
There are several upgrades available, such as the blue and red rings, which give Link more health, and the aforementioned heart containers. The overworld brings my first complaint with the game. The land of Hyrule is very big, and unless you own a physical copy of the game with the map or use a walkthrough, you will have no idea where to go at all throughout the adventure. I have never not used a guide when playing through The Legend Of Zelda. The game is very cryptic and there are several occurrences and puzzles in the overworld that have no rhyme or reason unless you use a guide or get a cryptic hint from an old man in a cave that will likely confuse you more than it helps you. The first Zelda game is waaaaay too cryptic, and not a game for beginners. There is no in game map for the overworld, either, instead just a grey box with a dot indicating where you generally are without any detail. The overworld is iconic, for sure, but it’s not fun to traverse your first time through. Many of the secrets are found through ways you’d never even think about trying without a guide. Along with this, the game is pretty unforgiving. You always start after dying with three hearts full. This is a minor inconvenience at the start of the game, but when you have 16 hearts in your health and only start with three, it becomes annoying. You can fill them pretty quickly if you find a fairy, but in dungeons you’re SOL.
Some enemies are also super annoying to defeat, like Dodongos, whose unpredictable moving pattern makes it difficult to bomb them, Darknuts, who can’t be attacked from the front, also have an unpredictable moving pattern, and are incredibly powerful. These two enemies suck, but hands down, the worst enemies in the first Zelda are Wizzrobes. These fucking enemies move all over the place, can teleport, and can take over three hearts worth of damage in one hit. These enemies alone make me almost want to turn the game off. Thankfully, the boss fights are generally pretty fun, and I enjoy exploring the dungeons, so the game makes up for the unfair enemies and cryptic overworld in some way, but even the dungeons aren’t perfect. There’s a level of crypticness to the dungeons as well, with walls that need to be blown up with bombs that don’t have any hints toward it and a hungry moblin that needs food that needs to be purchased outside of the dungeon. Overall, the gameplay is more frustrating than fun, and I don’t enjoy the gameplay that much.
The controls are another beast entirely. The game takes place with a bird’s eye view over all the action, which means Link moves on a grid through use of the D-Pad. Link’s kind of mobile, but he can’t move diagonally, and sometimes the controls feel very stiff and awkward because of this. When there are a lot of enemies on the screen, good luck not taking damage, since navigating through tight quarters is so awkward. The controls never really change except for very limited sidescrolling sections, where hitting up on the D-Pad moves Link up ladders instead of a north direction. The A button is used to stab with your sword, and B is used for items, which are switched off through the pause screen. This was an NES game, sure, but the game really shows it’s aged with controls.
The graphics of Zelda 1 aren’t anything special either. For 1986, the game might have turned some heads back then, but nowadays, everything is pixelated, there’s little to no detail on the overworld, barely any more detail in dungeons, the character models aren’t anything special, and while the items look like they’re supposed to for the most part, they look incredibly strange in some instances. The power bracelet looks like a croissant, and the magic rings look like ring pop candy. The graphics really show their age. Thankfully, the music is pretty great. The title theme, overworld theme, and dungeon theme are all iconic, but there are like two other themes in the game besides these iconic themes. Though the music has aged well, there isn’t a lot of it.
The Legend Of Zelda started a phenomenal franchise, but the first game is just not a good game in 2018. I hate to say it, but there are almost no reasons to go back and play the original Legend Of Zelda. I really wish they’d remake the game, since the original hasn’t aged well at all.