History of Zelda: Part 03 – A Link to the Past

The History of Zelda – Part 3

The Legend of Zelda. Indeed, this name is as recognisable in Video Game fame as Mario, and even Final Fantasy. Close to thirty years ago, Nintendo hired a man who would, of all things, design concepts for toys. Little did anybody know that this man would write history, influence hundreds of games, oversee the development of even more and define an entirely new genre. Shigeru Miyamoto devised the first iteration of The Legend of Zelda in the mid 1980s, and since then, The Legend of Zelda has become one of Nintendo’s very best properties.

This series of articles will look at each Zelda title in chronological order of release, describe the groundbreaking achievements and show the essence of the Action Adventure RPG.

Chapter III – A Link to the Past (SNES)

The Super Nintendo was fresh territory in 1992, the world had not yet seen the likes of Rare’s Donkey Kong Country, which in later years was a great success. Nintendo had been working on a brand new rendition of The Legend of Zelda for four years. The Super Nintendo now offered 16 bit power, thousands of colours, detailed graphics and scaling effects. With potential like this, there was plenty of exploiting to do.

After an unforgettable battle with a familiar face, Link was able to save Princess Zelda from her eternal slumber and in the process, resisted the resurrection of Ganon and returned peace to the world of Hyrule. Now, a new legend was to be told. The creation of Hyrule, the formation of the Triforce, and, the forging of none other than the Master Sword were written on legendary Hylian scrolls. A Link to the Past, while maintaining key elements built up by The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link, added to the essence of Zelda by creating a rich and refreshingly detailed plot, one that would tell the story of Hyrule for the generations to come.

A Link to the Past introduced a deep and engrossing story line new to The Legend of Zelda series, telling of the great ‘Imprisoning War’, the once Golden Land turned Dark World, and the intimidating appearance of a new, menacing wizard, Agahnim, who sought to break the ancient seal of the sages on the Dark World, and release the near unescapable darkness of Ganon. The previous titles in the series did tell of the history of Hyrule, but this entry added a new depth, providing more detail and history that built upon those before it.

The traditional enemies were ever present, along with new fiends. Armoured Knights, once apart of the king’s army, now controlled by Agahnim. Hinox beasts were new additions to hinder Link with bomb tossing abilities, along with the return of Stalfos, Gibdos, Wizrobes and Armos Knights. Some of the more tedious enemies included the Ball and Chain Monster, Helmasaur and Snap Dragons. There was no shortage of beasts to cut down to size.

After an absence from The Adventure of Link, the famous trade-mark weapons of Link’s made returns, such as the bow and arrows, boomerang and bombs, as well as the introduction of the hookshot, shovel, flute (ocarina) and Master Sword. Building on the magic system incorporated in The Adventure of Link are the Bombos, Ether and Quake medallions, as well as Ice and Fire rods, Somaria and Byrna staves and the Magic Cape. The Legend of Zelda is able to maintain an audience with the same game play mechanics by offering new ways and strategies to traverse the world, such as the hookshot and flute. These were innovative in the development of the series, and demonstrate the essential change in the elements of game play that have allowed The Legend of Zelda to maintain a high amount of quality in its enjoyment.

With the return of the full quest status screen, there were an abundance of new and engaging items to collect, – a trademark Zelda element, providing the adventurer with a once again brand new world to explore, while still in the same kingdom. A Link to the Past builds on Nintendo’s ability to reuse a franchise while giving an entirely new feel and depth. Of particular importance to this game and its contribution was the introduction of the bottles. Link was now able to stock up on potions blue, green and red as well as the not so compelling bees. This type of an item opens up immense possibilities to be exploited well into the future.

The innovation doesn’t stop with the items; it follows through to the game play and exploration. With this title came the two tiered system of a Light and Dark world. Once in possession of a key item, Link could travel to the Dark World in order to progress. This unforgiving place was the land that had been ruled by Ganon for many years. It was his safe haven, and if Link was to succeed, he was to prove it in the harshest of environments. It is the nature of Nintendo to incorporate such a challenge where only the truest of heroes will succeed.

Of exceptional improvement was the musical score. The limited beeps and blips of the NES were over. Although in midi form, sound was a pleasant mix of cheery humming to depressing scores. While walking around the kingdom, the ever present main theme is a delight. But as soon as a dungeon was entered or passage was made to the Dark world, the mood changed considerably with an evil themed marching tune. Music is invaluable to the series, helping to set the mood, as well as supporting the adventure orchestrally.

A Link to the Past refines many of the previous elements that have helped to forge the structure of the series. The magic system and components utilising it are ‘magical’ rather than basic abilities as some were in The Adventure of Link, (jump), while the quest status screen gives descriptions of items and the button they are assigned to as well as allowing for a far greater amount of rupees to be held. These refinements are essential for the extent of the adventure, giving a natural and consuming experience. The level up system is done away with as the heart containers make a return in their true form as well as finding upgrades to items as opposed to ‘learning’ them through experience.

A new addition to the series is the element of puzzle solving. Where previous titles involved hack ‘n’ slash mechanics, Link now would find himself in dungeons with enemy-less rooms, but no way to progress. Whether it is to pull a simple lever, push a block or step on a button, Hyrulean adventurers were introduced to puzzling strategies. Puzzles had played a small part in The Legend of Zelda with bombable walls, but A Link to the Past made the large scale adoption. This type of game play is challenging, requiring you to think. It is mind games, and Nintendo was able to intertwine it within the action/adventure style of the series while maintaining the thrilling experience. The satisfaction of solving puzzles after countless minutes of thought is exceptional, and is vital to The Legend of Zelda.

A Link to the Past was the sole Zelda experience on the SNES. That was of insignificance, as this title was a testament that games didn’t have to be side scrollers or ‘platform’ styles to offer an adventure of massive proportions. It built up on all elements of the series including weapons, beasts, people and mechanics and brought them together to form a rich and engrossing world with a treasured legend that is tested countless times through the ages by evil forces. The one unfortunate thing is that the legend on home consoles ends here for six long years.