"Miyamoto and company welcome you to enter dark caverns and dismember segmented desert worms. Be wary of them; their movement is aberrant, erratic. Buy your wares in shops, but buy them also in shallow places beneath the waterfalls. Fairies resurrect you should you falter—capture them and keep them safe in jars that you will find. Swim in deep channels discovering weird whirlpools that mysteriously warp you about your huge world. Play the first four dungeons and take on Agahnim, only to reveal seven more. "
I remember the rain. Unlike some heavy-handed ‘traditional Role-playing games' (RPGs), Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, or Zelda III (as it is often called), wastes no time in touching you. The beginning has become cliché—we all know and have likely played something like it—the young adventurer in bed, the cryptic warnings/dreams, the mission undertaken. Link’s fate starts here, and winds through a quest so magical that its influence is universal.
You don’t have to particularly like RPGs. I don’t. You don’t have to like the first and second installments of Zelda, which appeared on the NES to begin the legend. I don’t. But if you can appreciate the immediate and complete immersion in a storybook-like quest, then take your shield and humble boomerang, venture forth from your quaint homestead, and don’t look back.
A Golden Power once rested in a Golden Land, and men sought to have it; none were successful, and none returned. Seven wise men sealed off the threshold to this land, and after a time, Agahnim, a dark wizard, came to Hyrule, eliminated the good king and made descendents of the seven wise men disappear. How does Princess Zelda figure into all of this? And what of Ganon, the archenemy of our hero, Link? Fight on to find out.
You'll notice right away how cutesy and colourful the game looks. It certainly serves its purpose well enough, but detractors will claim that it’s not much of an improvement over its 8-bit kin. What, no Mode 7 effects? they will say. While the inspiring, trumpeting soundtrack is more than enough to compensate for the game’s graphic banality (especially the boisterous anthem-like orchestration of the original theme), the emotionally-driven storyline is what carries Zelda III subtly into rare air. Your father has forbidden your involvement in the mission that his nobility requires him to partake in. As the rain comes down, you follow your father, the strings singing in the wet, waxing the immediacy of what’s at stake. When you come upon him, his condition compels you to find resolve and carry his pride upon your own already burdened shoulders.
The famous game designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, also had much weight to bear when developing Zelda III. The Legend of Zelda—the original game—was considered a classic, and if the purported shortcomings of its sequel were overlooked in a Link-fanatic frenzy, no such oversights from a 16-bit-hungry public would be entertained. Thankfully, the consummate designer delivered.
Miyamoto and company welcome you to enter dark caverns and dismember segmented desert worms. Be wary of them; their movement is aberrant, erratic. Buy your wares in shops, but buy them also in shallow places beneath the waterfalls. Fairies resurrect you should you falter—capture them and keep them safe in jars that you will find. Swim in deep channels discovering weird whirlpools that mysteriously warp you about your huge world. Play the first four dungeons and take on Agahnim, only to reveal seven more.
Just how clever is this game? Obtain a hookshot grappling hook tool/weapon from a certain dungeon’s Master Treasure chest, and find immediate use for it, pushing back enemies, and navigating smart platform placement. Use your sword to swing, parry, twirl and thrust; use bombs to fall away floors or hit floor switches. A wand that fires ice, one that fires fire, and even one that creates fleeting floors, all deplete your magic levels, so purchase enough potions from the good witch. Saving up rupees for more arrows to use with your bow? Look out, for there are those who would try to rob you. Thieves will stalk you in the blue-veiled fog of the forest. In the rare circumstance where you find yourself ‘lost’, visit a fortune-teller who will get you back on track with nebulous yet helpful clues.
Besides being clever, the game's atmosphere and emotional draw are extraordinary. My personal favourite moment—I won't spoil it for you—is a microcosm of the game; at first glance, you don't see how the event will engage you, but somehow, on some basic emotional level, the result is considerably moving. The moment features somber notes from a musician’s flute that will talk softly to you of how dark change disfigures. Men become animals, dead beasts become alive, worlds turn upside down and things end up where they ought not to be. And still, beautiful orchestration powers and fills your chest, and still, Link must persist.
Zelda III is so good, I was able to play it with a friend—despite the fact that it’s a one-player game. So compelling is it, that one of us was able to remain thoroughly engaged as an active problem-solver/navigator without holding the controller. And features like Link's special boot-aided sprint and his special 'airline service' keep things moving at a unrelenting pace. Only in warm retrospect will you truly recognize the genius behind the design of the adventure.
Nintendo's game improves upon the classic first adventure in every way fathomable, all but eclipsing it in the eyes of many who have played both. All things being equal, stolen from the clutches of every quest, RPG, and adventure game of Zelda III’s time is thunder, and Link is the culprit.
From the onset, we almost hear Link seemingly saying, ‘this is how games are to be made’, as he strikes out into the unforgettable rain.
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 13, 2004)
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