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The Legend of Zelda (NES) artwork

The Legend of Zelda (NES) review


"Over the years plenty of brilliant action adventure games have been released on several platforms. They have told great stories, taken the gamers to fascinating worlds, and provided some of the most entertaining gameplay found anywhere. With that being said, are these games true adventures? They certainly do not give the player total adventuring freedom and provide only a handful of options between scripted events. One cannot truly adventure when they are following a certain path with events..."



Over the years plenty of brilliant action adventure games have been released on several platforms. They have told great stories, taken the gamers to fascinating worlds, and provided some of the most entertaining gameplay found anywhere. With that being said, are these games true adventures? They certainly do not give the player total adventuring freedom and provide only a handful of options between scripted events. One cannot truly adventure when they are following a certain path with events programmed to happen.

The only game to completely nail the formula of what an action adventure game should be is The Legend of Zelda. Instead of hearing some back story (story is available in the manual for the curious) you’re immediately dropped off into the middle of nowhere. From there the rest of the game is entirely up to you. This is your adventure, you progress as you desire and go where you want. The world is one giant labyrinth waiting to be solved with no correct solution. It is up to the adventurer to figure out how to complete all of the dungeons and solve the game, since the unscripted nature of the game prevents bias in a certain path or linearity.

Being a giant puzzle, the game can be solved in an unlimited number of ways. Instead of waiting until obtaining a certain item or reaching a game-changing point in the plot the entire world is instantly open for the gamer to explore. At the very start you might be tempted to move a few screens up and to the right where the first dungeon is, but nothing is preventing you from traveling all the way north to the mountains. Obviously this is extremely dangerous for someone with only a weak sword and shield but in the end the potential rewards could be great. The dungeons don’t need to be completed in order, either. After completing the first dungeon maybe you want to try and cross the water. So instead of progressing through the game until you get a raft, it is possible (and not discouraged) to skip right to the third dungeon and go back to the second one later. The best part is all of this extra exploring is encouraged and not mandatory. You can plow through the game normally like any other typical adventure or take the extra time to look for items and secrets, such as bombs or the super helpful (and expensive!) blue ring.

Even though primitive in design, the dungeons are amongst the best in any adventure game and blow later entries in the series away. There is absolutely no hand-holding here and unlike most games of its type there is no direct path to be taken or puzzles to be solved. They play more like a giant labyrinth loaded with dead ends and numerous paths to the destination. Of course there are some more direct paths that can be found with the help of a map but plenty of secrets as well for those who wish to explore. Not to mention that the challenges by the enemies inside is fantastic. Zelda has pretty basic combat compared to most action adventure games, but the intensity is unmatched. Some of the later rooms are crammed with challenging enemies that provide some of the most intense battles in the genre. Battling two or three blue Darknuts or Goriyas might seem tough, but wait until the game crams about eight into a room along with pillars that attack you. Who would’ve thought that an NES game is capable of such exciting gameplay?

There are also quite a few surprises to keep the rest of the game exciting. You might think you’re doing yourself a favor by burning every single bush and looking for secrets, but little do you know that behind one of them is a trap that will cost you a bunch of rupees (unfortunately not everyone has a positive reaction to starting forest fires). Of course none of this is mandatory. If burning bushes and searching for movable rocks isn’t your thing then for the most part it can be ignored. However, those looking for secrets will be handsomely rewarded. There is even a second quest is available for the more dedicated gamers. Instead of offering the typical rehash with every weapon and heart container an entirely new and far more challenging quest is available with much more difficult enemies and trickier locations. Since there aren’t any scripted sequences that the game follows the second playthrough is just as new and exciting as the first, not to mention brutally difficult the first time!

Today from a technical standpoint Zelda does not stack up well against the more refined games released in the past twenty years. The graphics are boring and feature dull, lifeless colors and animation, the swordplay is lacking, and there is not a single mention of story in the entire game. While today’s adventure games offer so much more in terms of story, content and polish, Zelda is the only game that truly captured what makes the genre so special. The entire game is one giant puzzle and it is completely up to you how to solve it. You have complete freedom to explore when you want (if at all) and complete the quest in any way in any order. This freedom and lack of hand-holding is what adventuring is all about and why two decades later Zelda is still the standard for action adventure games. No other game has provided such an experience suited just for the player, and since games are moving farther and farther away from this concept The Legend of Zelda is and will most likely always be unmatched.

Rating: 10/10

Halon's avatar
Community review by Halon (November 15, 2008)

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