Hello gamers and welcome to day four, week eleven of our 100 reviews in 100 days countdown!
Kickstarting a Genre in the number 47 position…
In 1987, when I was six years old, my parents bought me a copy of the Legend of Zelda. I owe them for that. Big time. I’d played video games before, but the original Zelda was the first game that I vividly remember, and it was certainly the first game that made me sit back and say “Holy shit, you can do this in a game?!?!” And if you’re wondering why I was cursing like that when I was six, it’s probably got something to do with the fact that my father is the Picasso of profanity. Love you, Dad! Anyway, my memories of playing the original Zelda are surprisingly clear, considering that it was almost 30 years ago. The game made that substantial of an impression on me, and deservedly so. At the time, there was literally nothing else like it. The game felt massive, complex, detailed and exciting. It made my tiny little 6-year-old brain do explodey things. I’m still not sure how Nintendo managed to cram as much content as they did on to an 8-bit cartridge. It’s astounding. The Legend of Zelda, as great as it is in and of itself, is also responsible for kicking off what has arguably been the greatest video game franchise of all time, which takes this game from being great to being historically great. No other franchise that I can think of has been as consistently great over so long a period of time, and no other franchise has been as consistently popular with gamers and critics alike. Almost half of the games from this franchise are appearing in our countdown of the top 100 games ever. So yeah. Link and Zelda kick ass and take names better than almost anybody.
ORIGINAL GANGSTER. IN HYRULE. SO, NOT SO GANGSTER. SHUT UP, I’M TIRED.
I’m surprised the original Legend of Zelda doesn’t get more credit for pioneering what’s evolved into the open-world games that dominate the RPG space in the modern era. The terminology and thinking behind what we know today as open-world didn’t really exist in the mid 80s, but the initial seeds are there. Expansive world? Compared to everything else at the time, oh yeah. It was massive. Tons of hidden stuff and puzzles? Sure. Monsters, plus more monsters and then some additional monsters? Big ol’ fat yes. Legend of Zelda gave us more to explore, see and do than any game before it. If you look at anything else from that era of games, nothing even comes close. The graphics were nothing special in terms of technical achievement, but oddly they suit the game pretty well. Somewhat basic, a little cartoonish, but they fit the spirit of the game perfectly. The gameplay is consistently fun if a little repetitive (stab, then stab, then stab some more. Did I mention the stabbing? There’s a lot of it), but you can say that about pretty much any game from the early NES years. When you’ve got a directional pad and two buttons, you’ve only got so many options. I can’t hold Zelda’s feet to the fire too much for that. All up, Nintendo created the OG action-RPG, and they knocked it out of the park. So I’ll forgive this game its minor flaws.
ANOTHER PRINCESS NEEDS SAVING BECAUSE OF COURSE SHE DOES
Like most games from the early years, Zelda’s story is pretty weak. That’s really the only bad thing I have to say about it. Well, that and whenever Link thrusts his sword it looks like a giant penis (sorry, there’s an obligatory “One dick joke per article” clause in my contract. Blame Gambit). But yeah, the story. There isn’t much of one. It basically boils down to “Princess kidnapped. This bad. You save. Go do!” The narrator of the game is a caveman for this joke. Anyway, you get the idea. It’s pretty standard Damsel-in-Distress fare, but ultimately it’s forgivable. The amount of sheer content that you get more than makes up for it. It’s not wildly dissimilar to Skyrim in that respect. I know comparing the two of them probably seems a little silly, but the original Zelda is about the best 1980s stand-in for Skyrim you could find. If you look at Zelda in the context of it’s era, it’s not an unfair comparison. Both games were a little light on central story, but there was so much other cool shit going on you just kind of thought “Well fuck it, let’s see what’s over here. HOLY SHIT WHAT IS THAT!?!? Let’s kill it!” Stuff like that.
SO SHOULD YOU PLAY IT?
If you can get ahold of it, it’s worth it. I won’t lie and say the game holds up nearly 30 years after it’s release, but nothing from that era holds up. That’s not the point. You want to play this game because it’ll give you a sense of where things began. Zelda was the first glimmer of extraordinary possibility, the first sign that there could be so much more to this medium than we ever imagined. Nearly three decades after my parents put that gorgeous golden cartridge into my hands, I can tell you I feel like Zelda’s promise has been delivered upon and then some. Final Fantasy may have been what turned me into a serious gamer, but I’ll give the Legend of Zelda credit for being the first game that truly opened the eyes of a six-year-old boy living in the Virginia suburbs to the idea that there was a whole world out there waiting for him to explore it. Twenty-seven years later, I’m still exploring, and still loving every god damn minute of it. I have Zelda to thank for that. 5 out of 5.