Top 100 SNES Review: #1 – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)

The Experience of a Game.

This game is one of the best, but it had me thinking — how different it was to play games back then. 

Screen Shot 2018-12-27 at 3.05.41 PMSydlexia’s Ranking: #1/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550

This is the Iliad for the SNES; there is much wisdom to be learned from one of the best video games of all time that it has been rightfully picked apart from any angle. Want to learn about its map design? Someone’s done it here.  Or their systematic approach to making enemies? Here’s an in-depth analysis.

It has been over ten years since I marched through these Hyrule fields. It was remarkable how much I maintained in some hidden consciousness. I knew intuitively how to solve many of the problems that gave me fits long ago. This made me wonder: there are immense differences in expectations and experiences for video games that are never coming back.

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I fell off this ledge more times than I want to admit.

[STORY] Link is asleep at home in his Uncle’s house when he is woken up telepathically by a message from Zelda. She’s locked in the castle and needs to be rescued. Link notices his Uncle is already prepared for battle and says he is leaving and for Link not to leave the house. Of course he doesn’t listen. 

He gathers a lantern and heads to the castle. He finds a secret entrance where he finds his Uncle mortally wounded, as he gives him his sword and shield before he dies. He finds Zelda imprisoned in the dungeon where she was going to be used to break the seal to the Dark World by an evil wizard. They escape to the Sanctuary, a church outside of the castle, and now Link has to obtain the Master Sword so he can put an end to the Wizard’s plans.

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 8.35.05 AM
Fat shaming a fairy was socially acceptable in the early 90s.

[ANALYSIS] This game has been sliced ‘n diced in every way imaginable. There is no new material to unearth in form, art, music, gameplay, or impact. What isn’t out there is the huge experiential difference in playing a puzzle/adventure game pre-internet versus something similar today, say Elder Scrolls. Throughout this replay, I was reminded of moments that could never happen today, and that some experiences are lost to time.

The Only Way to Experience Was to Play.

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Seminal images like this could not be saved, shared, or searched. You had to reach and savor it.

Within each cartridge, there were a hidden million images that could only be unlocked by appropriately going through the game. I remember the excitement of pulling out the Master Sword and was treated to a rather cinematic event: the animals scattered while the mist dissipated as I solidified myself as the hero of the game. There was no way to share this event other than talking about it at school. It took on a mythological significance, as we waited for our friends to experience it.

Now, there are millions of images and videos depicting video game play — including this blog. There are no four walls of a cartridge preventing us from seeing what happens within a game now. Imagine the scenario from above, realizing that the only way you could see it again was to replay the game up to that point in your house. We don’t need to appreciate any moments within games; they are easy to access with the internet.

Our experience has gone from an isolated, personal one to something shared across millions. There will never again be a time where there is a scarcity of information, where a game becomes mystified and an animation sequence something to beholden.

There Were No Guides But Your Friends. 

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 8.24.55 AM
I’m not quite sure how anyone figured out anything.

I’m not sure how anyone beat this game — really!

How did I know about the silver arrows required to defeat Ganon? How did I know lair entrance four could be opened by just yanking on it? How did I know by pulling on the right claw of the Turtle Rock Statue rupees come out?

Experimentation and friends are the reasons. To defeat games, it required a network of friends who also enjoyed playing the same games. You had to share attempts, methods, and secrets, and through this discussion you were able to progress in the game. There was always a collective method at the level of your community to try and beat one of these things. It required teamwork!

Every puzzle you encounter today is ultimately an emotionally empty endeavor; you always know that you have the internet to rely on. Even if you are one of those people that refuses to look up things online, you know it exists. There was a true sense of isolation when you played these games originally. Either you figure out this damn puzzle with you and your friends, or you don’t.

The fact that we were able to beat this game shows the ingenuity of people when they have no other option but to experiment.

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My favorite part of this game: collecting stufffffff. I LOVE STUFZ.

[CONCLUSION] There is a big nostalgia piece to LoZ:aLttP, but with it came a very different way of how you consumed a piece of media. There was no group think called the internet backing your efforts. You had to wait to for the school yard the next day — no hopping online for immediate satisfaction.

My roommate and I played Skyrim on the day it was released, and we shared our secrets on the map that came with the game in the living room. We updated important locations and used color-coded tacks to represent certain objects. That kind of thing seemed silly, giving that we could have found everything we wanted online, but it brought a special feeling of teamwork, like we were doing this on our own.

That was a rare moment that reclaimed the excitement of retrogaming. While A Link to the Past is an all-time great, it can never be experienced the same way again.

Other People’s Takes:

  • Nintendobound: “That extra boost is equally felt in the storytelling department, for it is A Link to the Past that sets into stone much of the mythology that supports the franchise’s universe.”
  • Blame the Lag: “Because for me, the greatest Zelda game of all time (and quite possibly my favorite game of all time) goes to the third game in the series, A Link to the Past.”
  • Professional Moron: “One of the SNES’ great masterpieces, and still arguably the greatest Zelda title of the lot, this 1991 stunner pretty much cements the SNES as one of (if not the) greatest games console of them all.”

 

Author: Casual But Smart

I review the top 100 books, movies, albums, and games of all time.

4 thoughts on “Top 100 SNES Review: #1 – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)”

  1. It’s a tough one to beat without a guide, that’s for sure! And it’s an amazing game adventure that tests players’s skills in puzzle-solving, exploration, and investigation. It’s a mesmerizing achievement that set in stone the gameplay staples of the franchise, and you did it justice with your review.

    Also, thanks for the mention!

    Like

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