perjantai 24. elokuuta 2012

REVIEW - The Legend of Zelda | NES | 1986

GENRE(S): Action / Adventure / RPG
RELEASED: February 1986
AVAILABLE ON: GBA, NES, Wii Virtual Console
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

26 years, over 20 different games - over a half of those games widely regarded the best, most important and innovative video games in the world. There's no greater legend in the video game business than The Legend of Zelda. In a time when video games were commonly considered simple-minded, straightforward children's entertainment, The Legend of Zelda came to blow skeptics' minds and shook the foundations of the video game business to their breaking point. The very same people who gave us Mario and Donkey Kong, gave us Link, a young swordsman on an epic, complex quest to find the mythical Triforce and save Princess Zelda from the clutches of the Prince of Darkness. Here's where it all began... and where it almost ended for me. Ladies and gentlemen, after beating around the bush for two years, I will now give you the biggest, longest and perhaps most important 8-bit review in the history of this blog.

Mark of the triangle

The land of Hyrule is in complete chaos. Ganon, the Prince of Darkness, has emerged and stolen the Triforce of Power, part of the Triforce relic which grants its holder ultimate strength. In an effort to prevent Ganon from also acquiring the Triforce of Wisdom, Princess Zelda splits it into eight fragments and hides them underground. Before she's captured by Ganon, Zelda orders one of her maids to seek for someone brave enough to challenge Ganon. On her journey through Hyrule, the maid is ambushed by a pack of Ganon's henchmen, and saved by a young boy named Link. After learning of Zelda's fate, Link sets out to find and reassemble the Triforce of Wisdom, challenge Ganon and save the princess.

Killing the first boss is honestly the last thing I
remember doing before abandoning the game for
the first time.
I'll burn in hell for this, but I dislike the Legend of Zelda franchise. I don't hate it, I don't despise it, I dislike it. That doesn't even mean that I dislike the games, I dislike the franchise. Sounds complicated, huh? Well, let's start from the beginning, from 1990. The Legend of Zelda was the first NES game I ever played. At least I tried to play it, it was complex as hell! After getting my ass kicked for the 23rd time within five minutes, and not getting ANYTHING done, I moved on to Super Mario Bros.. I loved that game's simplicity and straightforward nature - I don't know if anyone ever figured out that it basically has the same plot as The Legend of Zelda! The only thing I loved about The Legend of Zelda was the golden cartridge it was stored in. I never bought the game. My brother (him again) rented the game a few times from the local video store - he loved it. I could never understand why. He hated the totally different Zelda II: The Adventure of Link; I actually preferred that game at the time, 'cause it was dominantly a side-scroller. I was a sucker for those. They were my kind of games.

Well, then came the third game - The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - which looked awesome and was full of innovative stuff that made it an early killer app. Even though I initially didn't like playing it, I loved to watch it. In time, when I got struck by the RPG bug, I finally started playing the game and it turned out, to my complete surprise, one of my favourite games of all time, and it has remained that to this day. Sadly, it was the only 16-bit installment in the franchise. The fourth one was exclusive to the Game Boy, and the fifth one to the Nintendo 64. That's where I came to a boiling point. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is often spoken of in such fashion, that I feel people are completely forgetting how great A Link to the Past was and still is. It's like people are saying the franchise was nothing before "the best game in history" came along. To me, Ocarina of Time is the MOST OVERRATED game in history, bar none. The very vocal love just about everyone else but me has for the game watered down the whole Zelda legacy for me. For a spell, I downright hated the franchise, all because of Ocarina of Time. Also, I felt that each subsequent Zelda game was rated a perfect ten without any sort of reserve, just because it was of the same series as the picture-fuckin'-perfect, seamless, omnipotent Ocarina of Time. I don't hate the game. I dislike it for where it stands, as I honestly think it is far from the best game ever made. 22 years after first trying The Legend of Zelda and deeming it too complex and too tedious, and 14 years after first losing my mind over the ridiculous deifying of Ocarina of Time, I'm willing to give the Legend of Zelda franchise another chance. I'm satisfied with my decision already; after all these years, the very original article has finally struck a good nerve - which is something I believe Ocarina of Time will never do for me.

Uhh... not likely, sir.
If you sided with Sega during the first true console wars, or have been living under some other rock severing your slightest connection to Nintendo for the last 20-25 years - that's quite all right, I'd love telling you what this game is about. The Legend of Zelda isn't of any strict category - it's rather a functional mix of elements from different genres. Requirements for both an action game and an adventure game check out just fine. Although it's such an early game from a time when a top-down view and fantasy setting were associated with RPG's, The Legend of Zelda is NOT an RPG. It has some slight references to role-playing, such as "leveling up" by gaining more maximum health from heart containers, which are usually yielded by fallen bosses, or finding upgrades to your basic equipment, but it misses out on many important elements of a true role-playing game of that era. If The Legend of Zelda was made today, I think Shigeru Miyamoto would go for an RPG. Back then, it was all about his vision, and there weren't many RPG's on consoles to show the way, anyway.

The Legend of Zelda was a truly innovative game, the kind which hadn't been seen on consoles. The Legend of Zelda was at least one of the first games to have an open world for the player to explore in his/her own peace and pace, and according to his/her own preference. The actual levels of the game, the eight shrines of the Triforce, are scattered across the map - some are extremely well hidden, and I believe the late Nintendo Power had a huge hand in helping people beat this game, 'cause even while clues actually make sense in this game, it's still just as cryptic as the next 8-bit adventure game (the "creative" grammar in the opening narrative kicks some serious ass...). Unlike in Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, which came out a while later, everything can be found, though, with sheer persistence. You don't need to do any non-sensical stunts, you just need to explore every corner of Hyrule and try absolutely everything - bomb every wall, scorch every tree. Finding everything's possible that way... it just takes tens of hours.

Dungeon surfin' my way to victory...
The Legend of Zelda was also one of the first games to have special items that have multiple uses. For example, the Holy Candle can be used to burn some enemies, scorch trees and bushes, and finally, light up dark rooms, while the Recorder can be used as a warp or shortcut item, as a tool to reveal essential secrets, and even as a weapon. The Boomerang has no use as a weapon if you're going for direct damage, but it can be used to stun enemies, and collect consumable items left behind by enemies somewhere you can't reach. So basically, The Legend of Zelda was the first 8-bit game in which you could experiment a little. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, The Legend of Zelda was the first 8-bit game to include an internal battery for data saving instead of a tedious password system - or better yet, no save feature at all. The system is extremely primitive, the battery is known to break down after its expiration date - in this case, even if the game was brand new, as it's very delicate - but back then, since specific instructions were provided in the manual and in the game itself for how to use the battery properly, it was the best thing since sliced bread... and The Legend of Zelda was the longest adventure since Columbus' journey.

Graphically, the game blew out of the usual proportions. The world map comprises of a whopping amount of 128 screens; in addition, there's a total of nine dungeons - the "shrines" - all of which comprise of at least 20 screens. Well, sure some elements are a bit blurry - but not to worry, you'll know exactly what each item is, 'cause the game is generous enough to give us a rundown on each item in the opening narrative. Wish it'd be generous enough to provide us with (one of) the proper usage(s) for each item, as well, but we can't have everything, I guess... anyway, the game was a graphical marvel, the best-looking and biggest NES game of its time, and it's totally irrelevant to start judging it by what it looks like today. If it has to come down to that, I can honestly say The Legend of Zelda from 1986 looks a lot better and bigger than many NES games released after 1990. Koji Kondo's praised music... well, Super Mario Bros. only had a few tunes, and since the game was divided in such brief, even levels, you never got tired of the music. Counting out the main theme, the closing theme, the "found it!" jingle, and similar fanfares which play in pre-determined phases of the game, The Legend of Zelda has a total of three different loops - the Overworld theme, the dungeon theme, and finally, the Ganon's Lair theme, which never plays until Level 9. Completing The Legend of Zelda without a walkthrough or prior experience will take tens of hours. Do the math. To put it simply: the music is epic and legendary, but that doesn't make it any less repetitive and on long terms, pretty damn annoying.

This is what it's all about. A freakin' triangle.
You start from a valley on the Overworld map, with absolutely nothing to your name except a small, pathetic shield. Thankfully, there's a door right in front of you, and behind that door, is one of the most memed video game characters ever - the unnamed old man - who, for some reason, hands you a wooden sword, because it's dangerous outside. I know what you're thinking - "it's made of WOOD!" - but you have to start from somewhere. The old man will appear a couple of more times and give you a better weapon once you're ready for it, so don't trip. Now you're ready to begin your journey and the world is quite open for you to explore. You can get to quite a few places right away, but the usual bottom line is that you have to beat the levels in the numbered order they're arranged in. There's usually a key item hidden in every dungeon that will help you a great deal in the next one - sometimes you won't be able to even find the next level without it. Towards the end of the game when you have everything you could possibly need to make basic progress, the key items are replaced with extremely useful upgrades, such as a master key that will render standard keys completely useless. Some key items are only found in shops all around Hyrule, for ridiculous prices. There are a few secret rooms where you can make a lot of money fast and effortlessly, but the most effective way to collect money is to just prance all around the kingdom and bring death and destruction upon Ganon's demonic henchmen - with your ever so ridiculous wooden sword. Enemies actually take quite a while to respawn, which is another innovative element in this game - it seems that the most annoying ones always do, though.

While The Legend of Zelda starts off relatively easy when it comes to the enemies, ignoring the facts that you have lousy equipment and a pathetic amount of maximum health, it eventually turns very, very ugly when enemies called Darknuts (...) and Wizzrobes are thrown into the mix. Add in some Bubbles, Like Likes, Lynals and Wallmasters, and you're up Shit Creek. These enemies were made to annoy the hell out of the casual player, and that alone. Darknuts do heavy damage regardless of your armour level, they take a million hits to go down, AND they are only vulnerable from the back and the side. Doesn't sound too bad, perhaps, but enemies in general move extremely unpredictably, which makes battling a horde of these guys, especially the blue ones (blue is the colour of ultimate strength, except in the case of Link) that much harder. Wizzrobes are a nightmare. They're wizards who look quite a bit like Orko from Masters of the Universe. They have ranged attacks and the power of teleportation on their side - the blue ones can move in any direction and also take a million hits to go down. Bubbles don't do any damage, their sole purpose is to blast some electric current up your ass that prevents you from using your sword for a couple of seconds. Like Likes are like these "flesh baskets" or something, that capture you, prevent you from moving and cause consistent damage until you can break free of their hold. Lynals throw swords at you in the similar method you can use when you're at full health, they do a lot of damage, especially in packs. Finally, Wallmasters sometimes appear when you're close to a boss to simply grab you and take you back to the beginning of the dungeon. How does all this sound like? A fun trip? Sure, it's fun, but it can be pretty damn frustrating. It largely depends on the size of the dungeon. Anyway, when it comes to placing frustration and genuine challenge involved with the action- and puzzle-oriented side of the game on a scale, the scale definitely tips in the direction of the latter; The Legend of Zelda is a genuinely challenging game. But, there is one small matter that was worked on later on in the series, but which would surely be of some use in this game as well.

There's something kinky about those fairies.
I talked about all things cryptic a while back. Well, finding secret passages on the Overworld map isn't the most cryptic thing about The Legend of Zelda. You see, in the later dungeons, there is - without exception - more than meets the eye. Weak walls that can be blown to bits with bombs start out concealing secrets, but later, they start concealing the correct paths to the boss and the Triforce piece - in other words, success. There is never the slightest indication of a weak wall, unlike in A Link to the Past where you can see them clearly. There wouldn't be a problem if the bombs weren't limited, or if you didn't need at least two bombs every time you encounter a certain type of enemy! Let's say you go and try to bomb every wall there is, come face to face with a Dodongo and all doors close around you, indicating that you have to beat the enemy to proceed. Well, if you don't have the proper amount of bombs at that moment, you're as good as dead! It's funny... when I first played A Link to the Past years ago, I wondered why they made weak walls stick out so obviously. This is the first time I've ever actually beaten this game, and now I know the exact reason why they did it. It's enfuriating to waste perfectly good explosives, and sometimes wasting them spells your doom, even if you've acquired the few bomb upgrades.

"Doom" in a free-roam NES game usually means "dying in the last level and being forced to start over from the first screen". Luckily, that's not the case here. First of all, there's a teleport room you may unlock during the second half of the game, and which you can use to fast travel around Hyrule. If you die in the Overworld, you always start from the first screen of the game, yes, but actually, that screen is placed quite well, so that travelling just about anywhere is fast - you get to keep all your items, weapons and money, all that you gathered right up 'til your moment of death, nothing is lost except for your health. If you die in a dungeon, you're taken back to the beginning of the dungeon, but all paths you've opened remain open, and all the items you've gathered are still in your possession, enabling you to take the shortest possible route to the boss, or wherever you met your demise. I talked about the graphics being better in a 1986 game than in many games released in the 90's - well, The Legend of Zelda is also a much more intelligent game than many games released in the 90's. BY FAR, now that I think of it.

Don't celebrate just yet. There's another
challenge coming your way.
I guess there ain't much more to say after all... except that you shouldn't feel TOO proud of handing it to Ganon, saving Zelda and restoring the Triforce to the omnipotent way it was. You see, getting through the game is only getting through the FIRST QUEST. Yeah, as you might've guessed, the second quest is a "hard mode", in which everything's scrambled, from item locations to enemies. Beating this second quest in addition to beating the first quest gives you the proper right to boast. If you're not feeling up to a second quest - can't blame you for it - keep in mind that it's totally optional and for hardcore gamers only. If you're a casual gamer and manage to complete the first quest, you've beaten the game in my books.

After all these years, I can no longer deny the greatness this game once represented, and the permanent mark it left on video game development. The Legend of Zelda is a true 8-bit classic - there, I said it - but do I now consider myself a Zelda fan, now that this game finally unfolded and I still consider A Link to the Past a true masterpiece? Not yet, but we'll see how the story develops as I take on the rest.

+ An all-around positively nostalgic, innovative experience
+ Looks great and epic for such an ancient title; Hyrule is a marvel in both visual performance and gameplay
+ Secrets... lots of secrets...

- ...Some of them very cryptic, including secrets that are required to be found in order to make progress
- A whole bunch of purely annoying enemies with sudden, totally unpredictable moves
- No proper indication of weak wall structures
- The music will probably start to get on your nerves a few hours into the same loop
- Not enough things to seriously criticize!

< 9.1 >

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