This post is the written version of a podcast episode on YDWMY Reviews about my feelings on having completed The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the very first time. Listen instead of reading here.
I’ve been a fan of the Legend of Zelda series for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I spent countless hours exploring Hyrule in the NES Legend of Zelda with my older brother, and I remember playing through dungeons in Link’s Awakening DX by the light of passing street lights on a family road trip. When the N64 came around, I was all in on both Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. I loved Wind Waker on the Gamecube, and it’s weird offshoot/sequel Phantom Hourglass on the DS. Twilight Princess was great, and I even played through most of Skyward Sword. I’ve nearly played through Breath of the Wild three times! While I really liked A Link Between World’s on the 3DS, playing it illuminated one of my gaming blindspots… I’d never really gotten into A Link to the Past.
I feel like I was always aware that the Super Nintendo Zelda game existed but, for some reason, I had no attachment to it. My brother and I had a Super Nintendo when we were growing up, but I think we must never have picked up this game for it. The first time I can really remember playing it was when I bought it on the Wii Virtual Console, but I never really got hooked on it there.
With Nintendo Switch Online’s classic games library, I ended up going back and beating the original Legend of Zelda on the NES a few months ago (something I never thought I’d do), so I decided it was finally time to move on to playing my biggest miss in the Zelda franchise. I started up a save file on the GameBoy Advance version of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on Twitch back in January, then moved over to playing the game both offline and on my Audio Only Let’s Play podcast, TroytlePower Presents: The Power Play-Throughs Podcast, with TroytlePower, all while cataloging my impressions as I went on the Your Day, Week, Month, Year Reviews podcast for the We Can Make This Work (Probably) network. I’m mentioning all the different ways I tried to make content out of this playthrough partially as shameless plugs, but also because I felt like I was accountable for finishing the game because of making my progress public.
Last week, on the morning of Valentine’s Day, I finally finished the game. Now, I know this will come as a shock, but it turns out it was actually pretty good.
There wasn’t really anything about the moment-to-moment gameplay that came as a surprise to me. Having played a fair amount of 2D Zelda games and all of the 3D Zelda games, I was pretty used to the basic loop of find a dungeon, go into the dungeon, beat up baddies, solve puzzles, find a new item, beat up a boss, and repeat. However, just because the gameplay loop didn’t surprise me doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. The combat in this game felt great (especially in comparison to the original NES game), and the puzzles and the dungeons were, on the whole, really satisfying and fun to play through. There were a few times I got stumped, but far less than in the NES game. I do think that the exploration in this game was a little dissatisfying, though, because while there is a big world full of lots of interesting secrets and stories, the game didn’t really push me to engage with them for the most part. At any time in A Link to the Past, you can look at the world map and see a marker showing you where the next dungeon was at, so it was really easy to run from one to the next without really engaging in the overworld much at all. I think I would have liked it if, instead of marking exactly where the dungeon was, I got a marker for where someone was who could guide me to the next dungeon. Even just that one interaction with an NPC between each level would have made the world feel more alive and engaging, and I think it would have made me more inclined to explore a bit as I went.
The story in this game was nothing to write home about, really. Ganon’s evil, he used the power of the Tri-Force to create a dark world, and eventually is going to take over the light world, unless you can unite the power of the sages… you know, maybe this story was something special before Ocarina of Time, but since I played through that game so many times before getting to this one it just feels comfortable… like it’s a standard Zelda story. I think those connections between The Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past were the most surprising things to me in this play-through. Both games have you completing three dungeons in one world before everything goes south and you have to go to a corrupted version of the same world in order to harness the power of the Sages against Ganon… It feels like these two games are far more reflective of each other than the rest of the games in the Zelda franchise, which is maybe why, while I had fun playing A Link to the Past, it didn’t really stand out with a, “Wow, what a crazy new experience” feeling even as much as playing through the original Zelda (which I liked a lot less) did.
I’m happy to say that I’ve played this game, and it was a lot of fun, but it doesn’t really feel like as much of a triumph as I thought it would. It was good, but familiar instead of distinct… like getting served a really good pepperoni pizza, but you were expecting something like a pesto base with sliced tomatoes.
I’m going to replay Ocarina of Time next, and then might move on to one of the 2D Zelda games I’m not as familiar with, either the Oracle games or Minish Cap, and I’m interested to see if they end up wowing me more than A Link to the Past did.