After playing The Legend of Zelda and Adventure of Link, A Link to the Past feels like a gigantic leap forward. The game opens on a stormy night, very different from many of the series’s bright, cheery openings (also hey, we have weather in Zelda now). You’re instantly treated to a much more developed, cohesive world that’s just as full of secrets, but a lot more welcoming. Link even has his own house, and the trope of him waking up at the beginning of the game begins. The story, not just relegated to the game manual anymore, provides a driving force in the game without ever getting in the way of things. I think this game could’ve been made today and it would’ve still been a big hit.
The game borrows from both The Legend of Zelda and Adventure of Link, but clearly favors the former, especially in terms of style. We’re back to top down Zelda, and we’ve gotten rid of the more RPG-style elements of leveling up and experience points. The bow and arrow from The Legend of Zelda returns and decides to stay forever (yay). The most notable thing that makes a return from Adventure of Link is magic, which sticks around for several Zelda games.
A Link to the Past brought us that classic Zelda formula that we’re all so fond of (some of us, a little too fond, I think). You collect three items representing courage, wisdom, and power at different dungeons, get the master sword, and then you have to go beat some more dungeons to collect items or rescue sages. Each dungeon has an item, often needed to complete the dungeon. There’s some variation, but future Zelda games closely follow this pattern, and I’ll be referring to it in most of my future posts.
This is also the game where Link becomes a lawnmower. You can now cut grass for rupees, hearts, and other items helpful in your adventure. And boy, do Zelda players love cutting their grass. There are plenty of things to interact with in the world other than enemies, either by picking things up or using items, and it just makes for a much more satisfying experience. Also notable, Link now slashes his sword instead of stabbing it. And the Master Sword makes its first appearance! I’m a very big fan of the first upgrade to the Master Sword, the red Tempered Sword, which only reappears in A Link Between Worlds, and I very much would like to make more appearances in Zelda games. Honestly, I just wanna see more colored swords, Eragon-style.
Princess Zelda has a slightly more active role in this game, helping you escape Hyrule Castle, giving you the details on Agahnim’s plans, and occasionally talking to you telepathically. These small things make her feel much more present and important than in The Legend of Zelda and Adventure of Link. She’s also the first escort mission in the series, and love them or hate them, there are a lot in future games. I personally love the concept, but not always the execution. Future post idea – ranking of Zelda escort missions?
Ganon returns as the villain, this time with his pawn Agahnim, starting another Zelda trope of a secondary antagonist. Maybe one day I’ll rank Ganon’s pawns (how many ranking ideas can I come up with?). The battle with Agahnim contains the first dead man’s volley (or tennis match) in the series. And the fight with Ganon is much more difficult than in the original Legend of Zelda. We also get the first reference to “Ganondorf,” the identity of Ganon before he obtains the triforce, hinting at a slightly more complex villain.
Kakariko Village makes its first Zelda appearance, with its iconic theme and charming characters. Though there are far fewer towns in this game than in Adventure of Link, Kakariko feels much livelier, with characters who do more than just serve you by healing you or providing you with new spells and abilities. They’ve got their own lives going on. Its Dark World counterpart, Thieves’ Town is filled with…thieves, who feel like a prelude to the Gerudo, especially as Ganon is referred to as the king of thieves.
Speaking of the Dark World, we’ve got another first in the Zelda series, with the alternate world. On first glance, A Link to the Past‘s world looks smaller than that of The Legend of Zelda or Adventure of Link, but the Dark World effectively doubles its size. Everything within the Dark World is transformed, including Link (into a bunny!) before he obtains the Moon Pearl. Even the bushes turn into this nice purple color (a color featured prominently in another alternate Zelda world, Majora’s Mask‘s Termina).
How many more first appearances can we come up with? Link acquires the flute, which is essentially the ocarina, and plays it one last time to its previous owner. I’m pretty sure we just turned him into the next Deku Tree. There’s also the hookshot, the pegasus boots, the cane of somaria, the mirror shield, and big keys, all of which became mainstays for the series. Link no longer needs a raft because he can swim with the zora flippers (although I still think it would be cool if rafts made a return to 2D Zeldas. With all the firsts I’ve mentioned, A Link to the Past not only feels like a huge step forward from the previous two games, but also establishes itself as highly influential to the rest of the series. I heard plenty of high praise for the game before, but didn’t truly appreciate it until playing it myself. If you’re a Zelda fan and you haven’t played this game, I highly recommend you get on it!
After playing through A Link to the Past, I can unequivocally say that my top 20 dungeons in the Zelda series have changed. I’ll have more to say in my A Link to the Past dungeon ranking post, but they are incredibly well-designed and lots of fun to play through.
And now for my favorite and least favorite parts of A Link to the Past.
Least Favorite: This game is so good, it was kind of hard to pick something, but I do wish their were more towns/villages around Hyrule, even if they were just tiny ones. It’s very much a personal preference thing – I like little hubs and I feel like they add so much personality to the game.
Favorite: The series makes a huge shift towards more complex, puzzle-heavy dungeons from the previous enemy-heavy games. It’s still challenging in terms of enemies, but A Link to the Past brought the puzzles that I came to the series for.
Up next week: my A Link to the Past Dungeon Ranking!