New video: ‘The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the past’ (1991)

Henrique Lage
28 min readMay 12, 2023

The game that consolidated the saga did so through greater interactivity with the environment, making it, for many years, one of the best games in history. The consequences of its popularity not only changed subsequent “The Legend of Zelda” games, but inspired a multitude of later classics that tried to recapture the magic of the original work.

If you like these and other blog posts and want them to continue, please consider donating via https://ko-fi.com/henriquelage or contributing as a Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/henriquelage where you can get early access to the texts and vote for upcoming posts. Chek out also my Youtube channel (with English subtitles).

FULL TRANSCRIPTION:

My first experience with a “The Legend of Zelda” game was with “Link’s Awakening” on the Game Boy. Even though it was one of the strangest installments, it managed to make me fall in love with Link’s adventures forever. I was already aware then that “A Link To The Past” was the maximum splendor that the saga had had until then. A model to aspire to, the great adventure of which “Link’s Awakening” was only a disjointed epilogue.

Shortly after, I had the opportunity to play “A Link to the past” and it became one of my favorite games instantly. Today my opinion may be less ecstatic, but it made me realize that the popularity of “The Legend of Zelda” was born from a well-polished formula. This is, in fact, the installment that first featured in-dungeon puzzles, boss keys, Cuccos, Goddess mythology, heart shards and the Master Sword.

It wasn’t about the fantasy adventure, it was about the way we navigated spaces in search of dungeon entrances, places to explore and survive in by collecting the items needed for an epic battle with the corresponding boss. And how those same skills then had a direct application on the world map, opening up new paths.

Obviously this was there from the first installment, but it was “A Link To The Past” and its enormous popularity that would forever lay the foundation for what people think of when they think of a Zelda game.
Or, at least… until “Breath of the Wild” destroyed that formula, perhaps now forever with the arrival of “Tears of the Kingdom”.

So let’s say goodbye to this model as it deserves, celebrating one of the most beloved, imitated and fortunate games Nintendo has ever produced. This is my review of “A Link to the Past”.

DEVELOPMENT

Times don’t always move the way we think they do. In 1988, just one year after “Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link”, everything seemed to indicate that a third part for the Famicom was in the works. However, industry pressure, with Sega’s Master System and PC-Engine becoming direct competition, Nintendo had to raise the bar. The console war was to move from a patchy and saturated market to a true battle of loyalties as it continues, in many respects, to this day.

So there was no doubt: the next Zelda would not be for the Famicom, but would be released on the Super Famicom, thereby raising the potential of what they could afford to do and, with it, the ambition of the project.
It’s not as if the saga was going to suffer the rest of its trajectory with each new installment being promised for one console and coming out on the next….

The Super Famicom’s outgoing titles gave a good account of the console’s priorities: “F-Zero” made use of the famous Mode-7 to simulate something resembling a three-dimensional view while “Super Mario World” expanded the already gigantic palette of Mario game options and their innumerable secrets and variations. Just a few months before the release of “A Link to the Past”, the game “The Legend of the Mystical Ninja” gave a facelift and increased complexity to a saga that had dabbled with beat’em up, RPG elements, stores and mini-games.

But the first ideas didn’t seem very well focused. They knew they would return to the overhead view of the first game, but Shigeru Miyamoto, in an interview with Yuji Horii, spoke of “Zelda 3” as a game in which we would control a complete team: a warrior, a wizard and a fairy, the latter, a concept discarded from “Zelda 2” that became a skill for Link.

“A Link to the past” had more budget and development time than other previous Nintendo games due to the huge success the console was accumulating at that instant and this allowed to make a bigger and more complex game, which doubled the memory of other Super Nintendo cartridges occupying a chilling 1 Megabyte. It was the first script of the prolific Kensuke Tanabe, who would go on to collaborate in the story of “Link’s Awakening” and “Ocarina of Time” as well as a multitude of different roles in other projects of the company until becoming a producer.

The excellent but brief soundtrack was once again provided by Koji Kondo, who created some of the most recurring and memorable leitmotifs of the series.

And so the team of “The Legend of Zelda: Triforce of the Gods” was formed… which is what it was going to be called until the American translators let slip that it might be an inappropriate title.

In fact, why exactly is it called “A Link to the past”? Even if we accept that the Dark World is a future version of Hyrule, something the game never says, it’s not a time travel story. It just so happens that the original project was to start in a world that would function as a prequel to the devastated Hyrule of the first game and then we could travel to a more futuristic, sci-fi inspired world as a distant sequel.

Among discarded ideas was a sexy warrior version of Zelda that could have been the later inspiration for Sheik.

Finally, and given many problems trying to implement other ideas, such as more alternate worlds to explore or the possibility of setting fire to grass and creating long fires that would damage enemies and change the map, “A Link to the Past” was released and the rest is legend.

THE DESIGN

There is no doubt that part of the idea of this reinvention was to make the saga more accessible to everyone. The self-healing with fairies captured in bottles, the possibility of continuing the game after death were not something specific to the game, but it is clear that they are anti-frustration measures.

While we can handle Link in eight directions and the arc that makes our sword attack covers almost 180 degrees, the system of collisions with enemies is somewhat capricious, which means that, if we do not have the Master Sword with maximum life, we must get very close to them. This seems to be inherited from the also complex system of “The Adventure of Link” which also required some precision.

The characters have some ability to slide on the ground, which makes the game more slippery than in later installments, but in return, being able to keep our sword charged and move freely, which today we call “strafing”, is one of the great pleasures of combat and is incentivized by the fact of doing more damage to enemies.

Nothing characterizes this game more within the saga as the fact that Link has pink hair. There has been much speculation about the reason, with the simplest explanation being that the 16-color palette did not allow to differentiate a blonde color for his hair and maintain his transformation into a pink rabbit, acquiring, by accident, a symbolism within the game’s narrative: Link’s pink hair and its link to his pink rabbit appearance in the Dark World are presented as symbols of the boy’s purity of heart, which culminates with the Triforce fulfilling his wish for goodness at the end of the adventure. The reality is that the explanation is not entirely believable because both the rabbit and Link’s hair are different shades of pink.

Considering that some previous manga adaptations had shown Link with a pink hair color, it’s very likely that it was just an aesthetic decision that didn’t subsequently translate to promotional material.

It may seem like a minor detail, but that decidedly childish look adds to the gentleness with which it treats what is still a fantasy story with its usual dark undertones.

The interactivity with the environment is the most graceful element of the entire game. Each object we acquire corresponds to an ability and our environment reacts, on each screen, to the use of these skills to create new paths or simply shortcuts or reveal secrets.

Running is not only to go fast, but also to ram enemies, cut grass, break stones or make objects fall. This is all the game needs to make Hyrule feel like a living place. An interactive world, where lifting a stone can mean opening a new path, finding rupees, encountering an enemy or having something to throw to defend yourself. It is up to the player to solve the situation with the given tools, which, within its obvious limitations, means that we can bring our own personality to the way we relate to the world.

Reaching the last dungeon with all the items in our inventory also means having a dense arsenal that fits the style we want. It is not overly complex and today it may seem almost candid in those multiple uses, but the effect (the feeling in the player) is more than enough to make up for any technical limitations.

While the game still contains a multitude of secrets and cryptic elements that force you to explore and interact with the same areas over and over again, some of the problems of the previous installments have been solved in a very elegant way. While in the original game it was mandatory to place bombs in every space just because of what might be there, in the same style that would make the “Metroid” saga famous, we now have a small visual clue in the form of cracked walls.

Nothing reflects this better than the fact that all the dungeons in the game are represented on the map. It’s no longer so much about finding them as it is about figuring out how to access them, either because they are sealed and require some specific skill or item, or because the journey to those dungeons is a challenge in itself. The 16-bit allowed for more diverse dungeons, with specific enemies related to their biomes giving a huge variety of styles and designs.

One substantial element that goes largely unnoticed is that this is the first Zelda to include heart fragments to collect. Getting a new heart involves either defeating one of the game’s twelve bosses or getting four fragments, scattered throughout the map. These fragments are not only an excuse to encourage exploration, but also function as extra challenges for those looking for new challenges.

Similarly, some objects in the game are optional but greatly facilitate some combats, such as the ice wand. Even the order in which we tackle dungeons can allow difficult moments to become trivial, such as getting Somaria’s staff in the Grotto of the Marshes which allows us to skip an important segment of the Ice Palace.

The real goldsmith work is that “A Link to the Past” doesn’t have just one complex, diverse and interactive map: it has two, as the alternate version of the Dark World has specific layouts and its own challenges, overlapping with the Light World and creating a multitude of moments where, alternating between one and the other, we can overcome different obstacles that don’t seem obvious at first.

In addition to the map and compass, the dungeons now have particular objectives in the form of items, with which the subsequent screens to their acquisition serve as a tutorial and the combat with the final boss of each dungeon guarantees an original use of the item that you did not expect. The compass and compass, as well as other items such as the shield or tunics are not necessary but are of great help when you find them, so they are always welcome.

Between September and October 1990, Nintendo Power magazine organized one of its contests. This time with the prize that the winner’s name would appear in a future NES game if they were able to send in a picture of a rare “Final Fantasy” enemy, the WarMech. The winner was never revealed, but it is speculated that this could explain one of the secret rooms in “A Link to the Past” where, apart from a bunch of rupees, we can find a message referring to a certain Chris Houlihan. 32 years later, we still don’t know who Chris Houlihan is, but later versions of the game have omitted this message.

To put a game like this in perspective, we have to think of other Action RPG models recent to its release, such as “Golvelllius” or “Crystalis”, perfectly adequate in their intentions, but far from the ambitions of “A Link to the past”. There was nothing like it, and here’s why.

THE GAME

The beginning of “A Link to the Past” is one of the most memorable of the saga. Better said, one of the most memorable in the history of video games, only comparable in its year with the beginning of “Final Fantasy IV”.

On a stormy night, Link’s uncle leaves the house after hearing a desperate plea.

And that’s it, we’re already in control of the character and can move freely, but the mystery, both of the voice and the nightly absence of our relative, calls out to us and the storm only heightens the tension.

At some point in our childhood, we have listened from our beds to adults entering or leaving the house, busy with their own chores, and that has awakened our imaginations. Here, the most fantastic and terrible scenario is drawn: our guardian sets off on a desperate mission from which he will not return.

A game that wasn’t clear on what its spirit is would have opted for the idea of Link finding his uncle at the castle gates, or even Link getting in there through the front door. I suppose I speak for many who played it as youngsters when I say that the idea of finding a secret passage under a bush on the side of the castle’s outer wall is a moment you’ll never forget, and the game wants it to be that way: it wants you to remember that this is what it’s going to be about above all else, exploring, observing and finding, more than anything else.

In this first walk through the depths of Hyrule Castle we become familiar with combat, rupees and the use of magic. Once we ascend to the castle proper we find a focus on verticality and various paths and routes that actually lead to the same place, without many possibilities. This is an exception to the rule that the game’s level design is going to follow, but it serves as a brief introduction to the magnitude of some of the spaces we’ll be visiting.

Fleeing the palace with Princess Zelda through the sewers is an experience as simple as it is fantastic. Once settled in the Sanctuary, we embark on our real mission: to stop the evil sorcerer Agahnim in his attempt to resurrect the fearsomeGanon, locked away in the past by seven sages.

To do so, we must obtain the Master Sword, but we will only be worthy of wielding it if we first obtain three medallions representing the Triforce: Courage, Wisdom and Power.

EASTERN PALACE

This first dungeon is an example of the approach to the design of this release.

As soon as we enter, we have three paths. The left one doesn’t lead anywhere and the right one doesn’t either, but from both we can see that there is a bridge through the central path. What happens is that the door is closed.

Under a vase we find a switch. On the bridge, in addition to not very difficult enemies, we have another switch.

Now we have to cross a corridor from which three types of projectiles appear, one from the left, one from the right and one twice as big that covers the narrow space. Nothing complicated, but this location shows us that there are different levels, just like in the Princess Palace.

We arrived at a large central room to which we can not descend. If we continue to the right and activate the switch, we will arrive directly to the first map of a dungeon.

If we return to the large room and take the door on the left we will end up reaching not only the compass that tells us the location of the treasures and the boss of this area, but also allows us to descend a level to reach the large central room.

There we find a very striking giant chest that cannot be opened without a master key. Guided by our map, we still have to explore further to the right.
In a darkened room, we lift a vase to find a key. It is a small key and not the master key we need, but it allows us to open a door to another room with a chest.

After killing all the enemies, a group of anti-fairies (yes, that’s what they’re called) detach themselves from a vase. When we lift it, we activate a switch and the chest with the Master Key will appear.

If we continue to the north of the room, we will exit through a one-way shortcut that allows us to return to the room with the big chest and, there to get the bow, essential for the final boss.

As you can not beat the boss (a group of jumping armor) without the bow, the relationship between the objects we find in the dungeon and the utility within them is more than established. We receive the medallion of Valor and head west.

THE PALACE OF THE DESERT

To enter the desert palace is necessary to get the Book of Mudora, in the library south of the Kakariko Village that we can get by running with the Pegasus boots and hitting the bookshelf.

The use of quicksand is the most prominent element of the dungeon, although it is brief and usually focuses on enemies such as sand worms, which force you to ignore them and move on.

The main curiosity is that the Desert Palace is the first dungeon in the saga where there is no strict difference between inside and outside the dungeon. By acquiring the Gauntlet of Power, we can go outside through the top of the palace and lift some stones to get to the bosses: the Lanmola worms. It’s a very brief and minuscule thing, but it’s a timid attempt at something more important: the way in which future dungeons can become part of the outside of the main map, which would eventually lead us to Breath of the Wild.

With the Lanmola defeated, we receive the medallion of Power. There is only one more to go.

THE TOWER OF HERA

The Tower of Hera is where things start to get complicated, in case our brief transformation into a rabbit upon momentarily accessing the Dark World didn’t venture it. I have a sharp memory of being amazed at the level design of the dungeon, even before I was aware that there was such a thing as “level design” but it’s also one of the parts that makes me the most furious. Here we have to deal with switches but also bouncing enemies that, even attacking them, cause us to recoil. Each floor of the tower has gaps where we can fall through, which means that even if we make progress, we can accidentally fall back down to the floor below.

Furthermore, we MUST fall down if we want to get the Moon Pearl, which allows us to maintain our form in the Dark World. Plus, there are pinball bouncers to make the task even more difficult. Good thing the boss, the Giant Moldorm Worm, is fairly simple to defeat.

Finally, with the Medallion of Wisdom, we can make our way to the Lost Forest and, out of all the fake swords, pick up the Master Sword of Legends. With our health replenished, the Master Sword fires beams that keep the distance with the enemies. Nothing can stop us now.

BACK TO HYRULE PALACE

In the Sanctuary, we discover that AgahNim’s soldiers have kidnapped Zelda again and locked her up at the top of Hyrule Palace. Perfect because that’s where we were headed to kick the sorcerer’s ass.

Making our way with the Master Sword, we have to advance through several screens with pretty tough enemies for this time of the game, almost designed to drain us of life and wear us down before the final encounter.
We reach AgahNim and Zelda who soon disappear into thin air. Tearing some curtains we find a secret passage that allows us to reach Aganhim and confront him. The sorcerer fires powerful bolts of lightning and balls of energy, but the Master Sword serves us to return them with effect in a triumphant combat.

And once we have defeated Aganhim, we have finally finished “The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past”. Note: five stars. See you in the next video.
Ehm… well, yes, I too was surprised the first time I played when I realized that I hadn’t just explored the entire map, but that Aganhim transports us to the Dark World we saw briefly upon entering Hera’s Tower. Now we can see that it is a new map, superimposed on the World of Light. And worst of all: we have to rescue the Seven Maidens kidnapped by Aganhim. Seven more dungeons to explore The next one? The Dark Palace.

Before entering the Dark Palace, it’s the ideal time to explore the two maps and understand how to switch between one world and the other in a way that benefits us. We acquire heart pieces, medallions with powerful spells (which will open dungeons for us later) and items such as Zora fins to be able to swim in the water. This process of researching with our new powers will be repeated at the end of each dungeon and before entering the next one.

THE DARK PALACE

I think one of the worst levels in the game is the Dark Palace. Not because it doesn’t have fun ideas and is interesting, but because the way it has keys and doors is one of the most frustrating moments in the game. In short, if you spend a key on a door that returns you to a previous room, you’ll probably spend a long time looking for another key to follow the right path. There are six keys and five doors, but since those keys are either behind other doors or require you to solve puzzles and riddles to get your hands on them, the Dark Palace experience can be catastrophic. The first time I played it I was absolutely certain I had found a softlock.

On top of that, the enemies are very heavy, and until you get the dungeon item, the Magic Hammer, some of them can’t even be defeated. If on top of that you die facing the final boss you’re in for a long and boring journey back to reopen the path to him.

At least that final boss is one of the most memorable in the game. King Helmasaur’s design is fantastic. We must destroy his mask while avoiding fire attacks and a deadly tail.

SWAMP RUINS

This is a fairly simple dungeon at this point in the game, focused on activating various mechanisms to make the water level rise and fall and be able to access different heights. Not as complex as two versions of the same idea that would come to Nintendo 64: the Water Temple or Jabu-Jabu’s belly in “Ocarina of Time” and Wet-Dry World in “Super Mario 64”.

Swamp Ruins adds the Hook Gun, probably one of the coolest items in the history of video games that, although here only allows us to move in a two-dimensional plane, will become a true icon in “Ocarina of Time” and one of the great skills of video games.

At the end of the dungeon Arrghus awaits us, first surrounded by small hatchlings that we have to lure to us using the Hook and then hitting them with the sword, and secondly dodging their jumps and lunges. Ingenious but not very memorable.

FOREST OF THE SKELETONS

If Desert Palace had briefly opened to the outside, Forest of Bones plays entirely to that concept: intercutting between brief subway rooms and their various accesses from the open world. It is relatively brief and not very complex, with the exception of the Hands that will try to grab us and return us to the beginning of the dungeon. In it we find the Wand of Fire that will be tremendously useful for the rest of our adventure. At the end, we drop down a hole to find a new boss: Mothula. As a boss she doesn’t have much of a problem although her collision is relatively small for the sword and perhaps it’s more comfortable to defeat her with arrows, but the floor is composed of moving panels that make handling Link a complete hell and make us lose life unnecessarily. When we regain our composure, at least we know we don’t have to go through it again.

BANDIT CAVE

In the evil version of Kakariko Village, a demon statue carries a pitchfork from which we can pull and dive right into the so-called Bandit Cave.
I’m not a big fan of this dungeon, mainly focused on the fact that the two levels that compose it overlap, making it more complicated to see enemies, traps or even entrances to the next screens if you’re in the lower level.

There’s nothing particularly complicated about it, so the feeling is that a half-formed idea that never fructifies into a satisfying design.
We can make an interesting puzzle with light projection on a lower floor based on destroying the floor of the floor immediately above, but its usefulness is not obvious until later. In a prison we meet one of the maidens, which had only happened at the beginning with Zelda and makes this moment suspicious when she asks us to escort her out. Actually, if we place her under the room in the sunlight, the maiden transforms into Blind, an enemy that spins and can separate her head from her body. She is no threat to us.

ICE PALACE

If I had already said that the game has a tendency to create certain slippery and bouncy effects, the Ice Palace is when it becomes a real white hell.
Interestingly, this is another fairly linear dungeon, although it disguises it with little tricks like forcing us to go through screens with several exits that we can only access through one of them at a time.

The ice palace is also made up of multiple floors, some of which are only accessed by finding the exact spot to fall, but it’s not as confusing as it sounds, since once past the first few floors, there’s no need to go back over them.

It’s also the first dungeon where, I’d say, carrying bottles with magic potion to fill your magic meter becomes absolutely essential if you don’t want to run out of it deep in the dungeon and have to go outside for more.
At least here we can find the Blue Robe, which slightly increases our defense and which, at this point in the game, is much appreciated.
The final boss is Kholdstare. In his first phase we have to break his ice shield with an attack from the Bombos medallion or the Wand of Fire, then get rid of his three steamy eyeballs with several sword strikes. It’s more of a fight where you know how to dodge than anything else.

GROTTO OF THE MARSHES

The Grotto of the Marshes is also a relatively easy dungeon, especially if, at this point in the game, you have collected a good number of hearts and items. It consists of three floors in which we have to navigate by searching for keys, many keys that open doors indiscriminately, making it rather less restrictive than the Dark Palace. Even the game seems a bit sick of forcing us to go around too many times and installs a series of teleports once we have obtained the dungeon master key and the main item: the staff of Somaria that allows us to create blocks in the air to drag.

The final boss is Vitreous who is… a mountain of eyeballs (because this saga has a strange obsession with eyes and as soon as they tell you, you notice it more and more). Just be accurate with the bow and pop them one by one, leaving Vitreous unprotected for a hit from our Master Sword. With six of the maidens rescued, our ultimate goal is to free Zelda.

TURTLE ROCK

Thanks to Somaria’s staff, we can finally go to the rescue of Zelda herself in a dungeon consisting of rail systems and moving in the dark. Even more so than in Ice Palace, arriving here with a high reserve of magic is essential.
While the rail system has its fun, it doesn’t quite work and on more than one screen you’ll think you can change your platform in one direction only to have the game, for no apparent reason, keep the direction it already had.
Overall, Turtle Rock is an interesting collection of traps set up by the villain to prevent Zelda’s rescue, although this isn’t as evident in a first playthrough.

The final boss is Trinexx: one head of fire, one of ice and one… normal, I guess, implies that we’re going to have to alternate Wands of Ice and Fire with the Master Sword. It’s more of a test that you’ve acquired all the items you need to get to the last dungeon than a challenge in itself as a boss, but we’re entering, now we are, the home stretch. Time to sweep the floor with Aganhim.

GANON TOWER

This is the last challenge of the game and does not pretend to hide: here are mixed, sometimes without much internal coherence, different puzzles of the other previous dungeons. This involves constantly changing objects to advance.

Here we will find the Red Robe, the final armor of the game, almost an act of mercy so that we do not lose our nerves. Ganon’s Tower is, above all, a test of endurance and patience.

We will again face the first four bosses of the game, which are now much easier to see how much we have grown during this adventure: the armor, the Lanmolas, Moldorm and, of course, the final fight with Aganhim, now multiplied by three.

But… Surprise! Aganhim was none other than Ganon himself. It’s a well-known spoiler nowadays, but it never made much sense to me either: what difference does it make whether he was a servant of Ganon or Ganon himself?

In any case, the reborn Ganon opens a hole in the Great Pyramid. Once we’ve stocked up properly, it’s the decisive moment. The Battle against Ganon.

As in the first game, the problem with Ganon is twofold: his ability to teleport and his invisibility. For the latter we have as a remedy two bonfires to light, although they will go out pretty quickly and, of course, if we run out of magic reserve, we can not do anything.

In the final phase, we have to paralyze Ganon with a blow from our Master Sword and then shoot him with the bow. The constant switching in the inventory between lighting the fires, the bow and watching out for projectiles and Ganon’s attacks make this encounter very tense, but if we resist, we will find relief at the end.

We will get our hands on the Triforce and, in a beautiful final montage, we will restore normality to the world and life to all those who had lost it. And with that, the Master Sword will rest forever, because it will never, ever be used again… until “Ocarina of Time”. And literally every game after that.

THE OPEN WORLD

The main issue with the dungeons in “A Link To The Past” and the items scattered throughout the world is that the vast majority can be accessed in any order we prefer. Yes, there is a suggestion of a particular order for the seven maidens, but it’s more of a suggestion for first-time players than an obligation. In fact, repeated playthroughs can lead you to get many items early to unlock almost the entire map and be well prepared to beat each dungeon with relative ease. It rewards you for exploring and playing at your own pace.

Popularly, Miyamoto-san didn’t really agree with this approach because he felt it hurt the story. The plot blurs, NPCs answer sentences that are no longer relevant and, in general, the characters fall a bit into oblivion. Needless to say, Miyamoto has a complicated relationship with his narrative approach to games, but it is logical to see in his position an element of pragmatism, trying to guide the player to an ideal model of how to progress.

The most dramatically effective example is the Ocarina Boy. We first meet him mysteriously in a forest as an apparition. When we reach the Dark World, we learn his story: this young man used to play the ocarina for the animals of the forest, but accidentally falling into the Dark World he is transformed into a monster unable to play the flute. It is up to us to retrieve it and try to give it back to him, but he will not accept it: instead, he will ask us to let him hear the sound of the ocarina one last time, before disappearing. Talking to his father in Kakariko Village breaks our hearts when the ocarina becomes ours. And then it turns out that if we play the instrument in front of a duck statue in the center of Kakariko Village, it becomes a useful fast travel tool. It’s so effective, that “Ocarina of Time” and “Majora’s Mask” recreate, in their own way, this same idea of loss and melancholy that alternating between different moments in time has.
In fact, it can be said that there is an excess of options. Take for example the ability to teleport between whirlpools in the water which, once we get the ocarina, the whirlpools become irrelevant as the duck instantly transports us from any point.

The increased focus on narrative would mark the saga for two decades, with a more and more linear approach that would go to the extreme in “Skyward Sword” with very controversial results among fans.
“A Link to the past” has a good cycle between transiting its semi-open world and fighting in the dungeons, but it holds many more challenges: a race through the hedges, a game of target shooting, betting on surprise chests or the terrible game of digging. Let’s be honest: they are not good, but they add to the feeling of a playground and of surprises and challenges.

In addition, we have help from fairy sources such as the Well of Happiness, where we can spend 100 rupees to get improve our bombs and arrows capacity, something you can only discover after spending the first 100 rupees without even knowing what it means. Another fairy grants us an upgraded version of arrows, the silver arrows so important in the first game. And rescuing a frog from the Dark World who turns out to be a dwarven blacksmith grants us the Tempered Sword, a version of the Master Sword that deals more damage. As if that weren’t enough, in the blacksmith’s own house we can find an unlocked chest that follows us until we run or jump or hit the silent thief in the desert who will open it for us.In it we find one of the bottles, necessary to store fairies or Magic Medicine. Or meet this demon who curses us… making our spells cost half as much magic. In short, making our life easier as a reward for exploring every corner of the map, every minutiae in its simple but beautiful details.

LEGACY

“A Link to the past” blew the minds of the great minds of the industry. The best-selling game of 1991. Third best-selling game of 1992. Nearly seven million units sold to date. Perfect scores in the big magazines, Sandy Petersen praising it in an article, and, of course, an almost undisputed Game of the Year title… if it hadn’t been for a little game called “Street Fighter II”.

That gigantic popularity was what created the huge expectations for “Ocarina of Time”, but before its move to three dimensions, “A Link to the Past” was, unanimously, one of the best games ever.

Today the opinion varies a bit, partly because the saga has branched into different styles and, although it is considered an extremely important title in that evolution, it does not reach the complexity of some later installments, even among the two-dimensional ones.

Does that mean it’s not as good as it was once said to be? Quite the opposite: it confirms that it was, because we couldn’t have gotten this far without this giant leap. It may not be your favorite Zelda, but its legacy attests to the fact that it is, without a doubt, an undisputed artistic achievement.

The official canon included in “Hyrule Historia” indicates that the events of “A Link to the Past” are the beginning of the timeline in which Link loses to Ganon, causing an event known as The Imprisonment War where the Seven Sages managed to seal the villain. This turns the previous installments into sequels, where Hyrule has been deteriorating to a post-apocalyptic level.

But, as we all know, “Hyrule Historia” and its timelines don’t have much validity. The reality is that each new game is a standalone adventure and trying to fit them into a chronology is a waste of time that just causes a lot of problems. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to speculate, which is why Nintendo used years of fan speculation to create this supposed “official story” to get our money. I have to admit that I myself have fun fitting the saga’s mythology into my own personal canon, just as I do with “Star Wars” but the sooner we accept that it’s a fantasy and that it’s best to treat it as an oral tradition that keeps changing with each era, the better for everyone.
This Link will be the one who will star in the largest number of games. After “A Link to the Past”, the events of the Satellaview game “BS Zelda no Densetsu: Inishie no Sekiban”, “Link’s Awakening” and, later, the adventures in “Oracle of Seasons” and “Oracle of Ages” follow. Five games with the same protagonist, which, perhaps, has made it the most canonical version of the character even with the popularity of “Ocarina of Time”. Curiously, the game “A Link between worlds” takes place a century after the events of “A Link to the Past”, so although we travel the same map, it is not the same Link.

The Gamecube version adds a new dungeon in the Great Pyramid once Four Swords is completed, although to do so you have to have played the completed game with four friends, something that wasn’t too easy with one of Nintendo’s less popular consoles and the expensive and complex multiplayer system.

It is impossible not to look at later games in two dimensions and zenithal view that do not have at least a hint of the influence of “A Link to the past”, if not directly attempts to make their own version of the game: Brain Lord, Golden Axe Warrior, Beyond Oasis, Sylvan Tale, Goof Troop, Alundra, The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang, Ganpuru Gunman’s Proof, Soleil. The indie scene that came to fruition in the late 2000s brought a generation that had experienced “A Link to the Past” as the epitome of what a videogame could be, and from those memories came games like The Binding of Isaac, Anodyne, Hyper Light Drifter, Chicory, Unsighted, Nobody Saves the World or Tunic.

Even I have worked on games that we have defined in press releases, without any shame, as inspired by The Legend of Zelda. We wanted to say, specifically, “A Link to the past”.

But the overwhelming influence is in the saga itself. The perfect formula finally established, everything that follows is either an attempt to replicate it or an attempt to break it. “Link’s Awakening” continues the same model, even recycling puzzles, but by making everything much weirder. “Ocarina of Time” proposes exactly the same structure but in three dimensions. “Skyward Sword” tries to be much more linear and obvious. Even “Breath of the Wild”, touted as a return to the open-world style of the first game, maintains an interactivity with the environment and an overwhelming diversity of choices that only began with “A Link to the past”.

This is where the saga found its personality and confirmed itself as an undisputed icon of video games. The map of the Dark World that overlaps with the natural world would be the brilliant idea that would determine future installments: mechanics of time travel, changing seasons, changing the direction of the wind, changing Link into a wolf, changing size or alternating between the skies and the earth. That level of interaction with the environment that affects even the story itself, that asks us to look at things from another angle.

When I analyzed the original “Dragon Quest” in modern open-world terms I didn’t delve into how many of the open worlds that populate today’s mainstream operate in ambiguous terms. “Dragon Quest” limited our relationship with the world to the combat system and the obstacles along the way were just a way to pace our progress. Immersive sims tend to release us into particular scenarios, almost always differentiated into phases, where the issue is the huge range of elements to interact with, achieving unexpected combinations. But sandboxes, as we know them, offer different mechanics in worlds of limited interactivity. You can parkour, drive or try mini-games, you can, as in the case of the “Just Cause” saga, combine several elements to get explosive reactions, but the term “sandbox” may not have been the most appropriate. In comparison, “Link to the past” feels like a real playground, where you choose to go on the slide or see-saw, or even in which way you use them. This part of its appeal is the cause of its enormous longevity, something that has only been enhanced in “Breath of the Wild” and culminated in “Tears of the Kingdom”.

No matter which side of the mirror we look at it from: “A Link to the past” is a tremendously influential work, a fundamental piece to understand the evolution of videogames and a familiar and welcoming scenario to return to again and again.

--

--

Henrique Lage

Writing essays. Writing games. Writing essays about games. Narrative Design Teacher.