Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Legend of Zelda, or "Well excuse me... Wait. What do you mean that's an over-used catch phrase?"

A young boy wanders the monster-infested world in search of a magical MacGuffin to help fight a powerful evil lord in order to save a princess and the whole of the planet. Honestly, I think I just described about half the console RPGs in existence in one sentence. But in this case, we're talking about the grand daddy of the modern action-adventure dungeon crawler. The Legend of Zelda.

As a series, Zelda is about as prolific as they come. There has been at least one original release of the series on every major Nintendo console (Well, except the Virtual Boy, but we shall not speak of that demonic strainer of eyes. I suppose had it lasted longer, it may have gotten it's own Zelda title as well.) and countless re-releases over the years. There are also several spin offs, most of which have not seen a release in the United States, and three laughably abdominal games made for the ill-fated CD-i, but those are hardly worth mentioning. There was a Zelda animated series back in the '80s and the Zelda crew guest-stared on Captain N several times. There have been several comic series and countless Japanese manga about our green hero.

But for purposes of the review, let's narrow our focus and take a look at the original game. The Legend of Zelda was released in Japan for the Famicom Disk System - a Famicom peripheral that never came to the United States - in February 1986 and on the Nintendo Entertainment System in the U.S. in August 1987. Its shiny, gold cartridge sticks out among the sea of traditional gray NES cartridges. One of the more unique items included with the game was a map. On one side, there was a partially incomplete map of the over world, while on the other were a couple of dungeon maps and a list that gives you an idea of what treasures you'll find in the later dungeons. Both were invaluable for the beginning player in a world before one had hundreds of walk throughs a few keystrokes away on the Internet.

The game itself is a quintessential top-down adventure game. You control Link, a green Hylian elf with an improbably large inventory on a journey to collect the scattered pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom and ultimately liberate Princess Zelda from the clutches of the evil Ganon. As you travel the world and from dungeon to dungeon, you'll pick up links now-iconic equipment like the boomerang, bombs and bow and arrows. Some gear you'll find randomly strewn across the over world and the nine dungeons, while others can be purchased with rupees, the currency of Hyrule.

Game play is straight-forward. Link moves around wit the control pad, stabs his sword with the A button and uses his current special weapon with the B button. The Start button will bring up Link's inventory screen and the Select button pauses the game.

Link's life is measured in hearts and can be increased by picking up heart containers, most of which will drop off the dungeon bosses. You start the game with three hearts. At full life, Link's sword will shoot sword-shaped energy from a distance, giving him a useful sniping ability that will instantly go away the moment a random bat dares touch him. When Link is low on life, the game will start an incessant beeping noise that will grate on your nerves until a monster decides to drop a heart to restore some lost life. Link can also pick up faeries from fallen creatures that will restore a larger chunk of your life or visit a fairy spring which will restore his life to full. You can also pick up a red potion which will, when used, fully restore Link's life and are useful.

You're more or less free to roam where you like on the over world map with the only major limiting factors being that some areas require you to acquire certain items to unlock them. Well, that, and if you wander into some areas before you're supposed to, the monsters may be too strong to defeat with you puny starting sword. The dungeons can be entered in any order with the caveat that some dungeons are inaccessible without certain items and others can't be completed without certain items.

Aside from the monsters, there are also other Hylians hiding out across the world. Several are shopkeepers who'll sell you (mostly) valuable equipment. Others will offer advise of dubious value - not because they are trying to trick you or anything, but because the sparse dialogue in the game was so horribly translated. Still others may offer you some rupees or other items to assist you, while others will be angry that you busted into their homes and actually charge you for the repairs. Sadly, without a guide or notes from a previous playthrough, it's a bit of a crap shoot as to which is which.

The dungeons have a fairly stable formula to them. Find the map and compass, hunt down the special item, fight the boss, pick up the hunk of Triforce, rinse, repeat seven more times. While the early dungeons have more or less straight-forward layout, the later ones can be more tricky to navigate with multiple hidden rooms and secret passages.

Once link has traveled the world, collected enough items that he shouldn't be able to move any more or should at least require a cart to drag all his junk around in, and vanquished Ganon and saved the princess, your journey is not necessarily over. Why? Because the game will let you travel a harder version of the game with a new layout and stronger enemies and repeat the process over again.

The Legend of Zelda is a classic among gamers. It has been re-released in the U.S. for the Gameboy Advance, on the Game Cube as part of The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition, and is available on the Wii Virtual Console. Link is one of the most recognizable video game protagonists and the game has spawned 12 sequels (Counting the two Gameboy Color Oracle games as a single game and not counting LCD games, spin offs and the horrible CD-i games.) Granted, only one of the sequels - Zelda II: The Adventure of Link - is a direct sequel to the original. But most possess the basic elements of Link traveling the word to save the Princess Zelda (in one form or another) and defeat Ganon (also in one form or another.) If you can get past poorly translated text, The Legend of Zelda continues to be a quite enjoyable adventure and well worth playing for the four or five of you who have yet to do so.

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