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The Legend of Zelda (NES) artwork

The Legend of Zelda (NES) review

"Link moves with the elfish grace you might expect from his size. A quick thrust of the sword is enough to vanquish most foes, and when itís not a secondary slash will do (at least, throughout most of the game). All he has to fear is the stream of fireballs Hyruleís mermaid-like monsters launch from various rivers and lakes, as only a magical shield can deflect such attacks. Later, there are some projectiles even that armament wonít defend against."

An elfish boy named Link was traveling through a forest in the land of Hyrule when he came across the path of an old woman streaked with sweat and panting for breath. Braids of gray hair dangled over her hunched shoulders and she looked as if she would topple to the ground any second if not for her blood-soaked staff. Before Link could ask her why she was in such a state, monsters crashed through the brush at the edge of the forest. Dog-like in shape but walking upright as men, they easily outsized both humans and brandished menacing spears. With little choice in the matter, Link grabbed the womanís staff and beat off the beasts, until at last the two were alone again.

He soon found that the womanís name was Impa. Following a brutal attack on Hyrule Castle by the Prince of Darkness, Ganon, only she and one other member of the royal family survived. That other person, the princess Zelda, remained alive only because she knew of the location of the Triforce of Wisdom, an object Ganon desired more than life itself. She had broken it into eight pieces and secreted them throughout guarded dungeons in Hyrule just prior to the attack. Only the mystical triangle created by the goddesses themselves had the power to destroy Ganon, and she knew the people of Hyrule could not afford for it to fall into the monsterís hands.

As his heart burned with the fire of justice, Link set out on the quest known as The Legend of Zelda. His journey is one you will share, and it stands proud as one of the absolute best titles the NES ever saw. Everything comes together to create a nearly flawless adventure, from the music to the graphics to the challenge. But most importantly, Linkís mission is filled with such a sense of adventure that itís almost impossible to turn down one more trip through the mystical world of Hyrule, even all these years since the gameís original release.

The forest where Link met Impa lies at the edge of a series of rocky cliffs. When you begin your travels, youíll instantly notice a cave. Upon entering it, youíll meet an elderly man who gives you the gift of a sword. Itís the only item youíll ever gain quite so easily. Future trinkets require that you pay for them with hard-earned rupees, or that you scour the depths of dank dungeons to unearth their location.

As Link is armed with a blade, itís time to set about searching for the first of those eight dungeons Zelda visited just prior to her capture. If one chooses to follow the gameís intended progression, that first destination lies just north, on a small island in the middle of a lake that covers much of Hyruleís main valley. Hollowed out of a massive tree trunk, the first entrance is guarded by a swarm of octopus-like creatures that somehow manage to scurry about on land.

Combat with such monsters is easily managed. Link moves with the elfish grace you might expect from his size. A quick thrust of the sword is enough to vanquish most foes, and when itís not a secondary slash will do (at least, throughout most of the game). All he has to fear is the stream of fireballs Hyruleís mermaid-like monsters launch from various rivers and lakes, as only a magical shield can deflect such attacks. Later, there are some projectiles even that armament wonít defend against.

Many of the monsters you most need to fear donít lurk in the sunlight. Theyíre not content to hide atop the mountainous crags, or amongst trees that dot the landscape, or even in the sprawling desert near Hyruleís center. Instead, they prefer the torch-lit dungeons beneath the earthís surface. Here, they gather in groups powerful enough that even the most intrepid adventurer will find himself pausing to catch his breath.

Of course, the first dungeon exhibits little of this. The hero who has prepared himself by locating heart containers (they extend your life meter up to a maximum of 16 hearts) and perhaps a sword upgrade will easily cut a path through the monsters on display. Flocks of bats donít pose much of a threat, and even the sword-wielding skeletons are readily enough warded off with a combination of patience and swordplay. Itís not until later in the dungeon, when Link finds himself squaring off against vicious demons armed with boomerangs, that you will find yourself in danger of losing that last fragment of your health.

Dungeons arenít just about enemies, though. Each one hides not only a piece of the Triforce (and another heart container), but also a new weapon that Link can utilize in the challenges to come. The first dungeon contains both a bow and a boomerang. The second has more of the same, the third a raft. These items can often be equipped as Ďsub weapons,í right along with your sword. Others are automatically employed when the situation calls for it, such as when Link must cross a gap just a little bit too wide to handle alone. They serve as tangible rewards. Just another piece of the Triforce wouldnít be enough to keep players exploring, but knowing youíll become more versatile is all the reward in the world.

Yet as your strength and skills increase, so do those of the enemies. By the second dungeon, the easy slimes and bats have mostly vanished, replaced by lightning-fast serpents and worms that ooze along the surface of a sand-covered chamber. The dragon the guarded the first piece of the Triforce is gone, replaced by a Tricerotops-like behemoth that seems impervious to any attack you might manage. And so it goes, as you battle multi-headed dragons, wizards, armored knights, sword-stealing heads and shield-gobbling mounds of jelly. Hyruleís dungeons are filled with all that skitters and creeps. If youíre like me, youíll love every minute of it, right up until the game ends.

But when the game ends, it doesnít really. A second quest awaits you, one where you can pass through weak spots in walls, where doors vanish behind you and enemies attack with increasing ferocity. Where skeletons previously engaged in hand-to-hand combat, they now throw their blades at you from across the room. Where the spectral heads once took away your ability to wield a sword but for a short time, they now inhibit you until you visit a fairy fountain. Not only that, but items have been hidden in different locations, and the dungeons are completely redone so that all that was once familiar takes on a menacing new tone.

The second quest is enough to make most any gamer scratch his head when heís not gritting his teeth and hoping to survive just one more encounter. And if thatís too tough for you but you already finished the first quest, go through the game again by a different route. Though it would be a stretch to call it truly non-linear, The Legend of Zelda gives you enough freedom that you can conquer the first eight dungeons in nearly any order, provided youíve gathered the correct items. Those who are up to the task can even play through to the gameís final encounter without ever collecting any of the three available swords.

The Legend of Zelda is just that kind of game. It grabs you from the moment the first screen unfolds before you, and it doesnít let go of you even when the final credits role. Iíve played through it perhaps twenty or thirty times, and Iíll likely tackle it a few more times. I never get sick of wandering through the dungeons, going toe-to-toe with skeletons and snakes, mummies and knights. Give it a shot. Youíll likely find that you feel the same way.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (January 31, 2005)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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