Pick up your sword, young man, it’s time for adventure!
To Beat: Reach the end credits
To Complete: Beat both quests
My Goal: Complete the game with all items
What I Did: Completed the game with all items (11 deaths)
Played: 12/21/15 – 12/31/15
My Difficulty: 3/10
The back of the NES box has the written line “Experience the Challenge of Endless Adventure.” While this game certainly has an ending, the Legend of Zelda series as a whole has no end in sight. Dozens of adventures and spinoffs have been created as a result of the success from this classic NES title. The original title is one of the first great examples of an “open world” style of gameplay and it also launched a formula of game design that is still revered and refined upon today.
The Legend of Zelda is the brainchild of Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka and was developed alongside Super Mario Bros. Their aim was to make a game that was different from the linear Super Mario Bros, and so The Legend of Zelda took the opposite approach as an exploratory, open world game. The game was inspired by Miyamoto and his memories of exploring the fields, woods, and caves near his home, and all of these elements are present in the world of Hyrule. The game was released in 1986 as a launch title for the Famicom Disk System in Japan, which had higher game data storage compared to Famicom carts of the time and the capability to save progress directly to the disk instead of utilizing complex passwords, thus making for a large complex game compared to other console games. The Legend of Zelda was released on the NES in 1987 in a unique gold colored cartridge and was the first NES game to feature battery backed saving. The game’s popularity in the US was just as big as its reception in Japan, paving the way for the series to continue to the present day.
The Legend of Zelda is a top-down action-adventure game featuring Link in his quest to recover the eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom and banish the evil Ganon from the land of Hyrule in order to save the princess Zelda. The game features a large overworld map that players must explore to find treasures and items to aid in the quest, as well as discovering the nine underground dungeons that Link must clear along the way. Link begins the quest with a simple wooden sword (if you remember to pick it up on the first screen!) for short ranged attacking and Link augments this with other weapons and items to add to his arsenal. Several of the weapons double as tools that help Link explore more effectively. For example, Link finds bombs that can be used to hurt bunches of enemies, but these bombs can also reveal hidden alcoves in the overworld and destroy walls in the dungeons. Each underworld dungeon contains one or more of these items and often these are required to either find or navigate later dungeons, which provides a sense of progression but also makes Link much more versatile for the challenges ahead. Once the first eight dungeons are cleared, the ninth dungeon is opened up for Link to take Ganon head-on. After the game is completed and Zelda is saved, a second quest is revealed that is quite a bit more difficult. The locations of the dungeons and other rooms are rearranged and the dungeons are completely different. The game also introduces a few new mechanics that are unique to the second quest. I won’t spoil them here except for one in the next paragraph. 🙂
The Legend of Zelda was a game that I owned new when I was a kid. I think I got it for either my 7th or 8th birthday. I don’t remember much about playing it way back then but I do remember poring over guides to learn where all the pverworld secrets were located, and those memories have carried over to my current playthrough. Back then, those tips helped me out a lot but took away my opportunity to try and figure things out fully for myself. Even with Link at full strength the game isn’t all that easy, however. I do remember figuring out one particular secret in the second quest all by myself that I didn’t see in a guide. One of the new mechanics in the second quest is the ability for Link to walk through certain solid walls in the dungeons. The first time it is needed in the game, I deduced that there must be one path to get into a specific room but bombing the wall did nothing, so out of frustration I just charged in and lo and behold I passed right through to the next room. Well, that blew my young mind that’s for sure!
To truly finish The Legend of Zelda, both quests should be completed and so that was my intention from the very beginning. It took me some time playing in small chunks over a couple of weeks but I was able to complete everything from memory without a whole lot of trouble. Between both quests, I died a total of 11 times which is reflected in the ending screen. I’m not sure what my lowest death count is but it is probably in the single digits. In this case, it should have been that low because I had some really pointless deaths. For fun, I took note of each death and I’ll summarize them here:
- Three deaths during early game overworld grinding. These were the most pointless deaths of all. The overworld can be dangerous at times but I have enough experience and capability early on to handle all that with relative ease. Really I died because I was playing late at night and was so tired that I kept nodding off during the game! This is not a reflection on the quality of the game in any way, shape, or form. It just shows that I can fall asleep during just about anything. Not many people can say they fall asleep in the middle of playing a video game so I guess I have that going for me!
- Two deaths in Level 6. This is the first dungeon to introduce Wizrobes which are the most difficult enemy for me to handle, specifically the blue ones. They fire magic across the screen if they have line of sight to Link, they can faze through solid blocks, and they change direction randomly at will. I believe the only way to damage them is with either the sword or bombs which both require close range, making them risky to attack, and there are always multiple of them when they show up in rooms. These deaths could have been prevented though because I could easily have utilized the healing potion but I didn’t bother to buy it until my third attempt through the dungeon.
- Two deaths during Level 1 Second Quest. These deaths were legit as it is tough to clear this dungeon just starting out. The blue ring (cuts damage in half) would help here immensely but it is equally difficult to farm enough money up front to afford it.
- Two deaths in overworld grinding in the second quest. After dying twice in Level 1 I decided to buy the blue ring before taking on Level 2, but with low starting health and the time it takes to farm money death will happen.
- One death in Level 6 Second Quest. Another Wizrobe death here plus I ran out of potion before making it back out to get more. I could have done better but I could have done much worse.
- One death in Level 9 Second Quest. Same as the death above. I don’t know the second quest dungeons nearly as well as I do the first quest dungeons so I was doing a little bit too much wandering and risking death in the process. The fun thing about this dungeon was that I completed it during a New Year’s Eve party at my house. I didn’t want to get too wrapped up in some board gaming while hosting the party so when several people started a game I decided to play in the background and see if I could beat the game before the end of the year, which I did. My friends were getting into it so it was worth it!
The Legend of Zelda has a lot of little interesting tidbits that are known to various degrees, but there is one that I find quite interesting. The dungeons maps have a variety of shapes but they were all designed in a way that they could all fit together like a puzzle. Internally to the game code, they are laid out in a large square similarly to how the overworld is laid out but they are chopped up to make the dungeons themselves have a more interesting shape. The designer, Tezuka, was so good at piecing the dungeons together he only utilized half the space he was given, so the team decided to utilize the other half of the dungeon space to make the Second Quest. The story of this was covered in a session of Iwata Asks, and also this article has some neat images showing how the dungeon maps are stored.
The Legend of Zelda may have left the framework for future Zelda titles to follow, but the first NES entry has an identity all of its own. Future Zelda titles would evolve the formula by making the complex dungeons the real centerpiece of the experience, but by doing so the dungeon order is mostly locked down to guide the player along the desired upgrade path. Aside from a few dependencies, the player can work out the game on his own and take on the challenges out of order, so to speak. It is an approach to game design that is largely abandoned in modern gaming, but it gives the first NES game a distinct flavor and it is very much worth playing today.