Top 100 NES Review: #3 – The Legend of Zelda (1986)

Surprisingly Good.

With only one official instance of NES Obscure Bullshit.

Sydlexia’s Ranking: #3/100
My Rating: cropped-star.jpgcropped-star.jpgcropped-star.jpgcropped-star.jpg

I’m back!

After a several month hiatus, I decided that it was time to get back on the hobby horse. I flirted with starting another website/brand, but realized I have too much loyalty to the idea that I started here — I want to finish these top 100 lists, damnit!

While my BF implores me to play Breath of the Wild, I decided to go in a different direction. Playing a game that is older than yourself is a scary proposition, especially if you have some umph in the tens column. How would the original hold up without all those 7th generation system fancy features such as auto-save and clearly written English?

Legend of Zelda is a surprise. Clocking in at 34 years old, it somehow still captures the essence of LoZ games: exploration, battle, puzzles. It also minimizes everything that is wrong with the NES (planned frustration to keep these small-ass games as drawn out as possible).

It is perfectly retro in both gameplay and style but also requires 1980s thinking to completely solve: time to open the manual!

Either a one time potion or a constant heart container? Hmm. What to do?


Nintendo wanted to create two experiences on its new NES. One would be linear and involve platforming (Super Mario) while the second would require problem solving and be more of an open world (Legend of Zelda).

Miyamoto, game designer of both franchises, pulled from his experiences of childhood to create an atmosphere ripe for exploration:

 “When I was a child,” he said, “I went hiking and found a lake. It was quite a surprise for me to stumble upon it. When I traveled around the country without a map, trying to find my way, stumbling on amazing things as I went, I realized how it felt to go on an adventure like this.”

Miyamoto, creator of Zelda and Mario.

While originally just an individual game, Zelda has spawned into several games. While originally just stand alone games that shared only motifs, the Zelda universe has since been crammed all into one timeline. It is an amazing work of retconning and deserves some of your time.

Nice way to lose yourself for an entire weekend.

The events of Ocarina of Time are used to create multiple timelines in Hyrule history. One branch is what would happen if Link is unsuccessful (called The Fallen Hero Timeline), and that is where we find the original Legend of Zelda placed.

In this history, Hyrule is in decline. The Triforce of Power is stolen by Ganon, the Triforce of Courage lost, and the Triforce of Wisdom split into 8 pieces. Link finds Impa, Zelda’s maid, surrounding by monsters in the forest and saves her life. Impa then implores Link to find the triforce pieces and save Princess Zelda.

Trivia: Zelda is named after Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald who wrote The Great Gatsby.


LoZ drops you right off in the middle of nowhere, a cave opening off to the left. Entering, you get a sword with the iconic “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.” But now what? Meander around until you find something of interest, of course!

Looking Above and Below.

LoZ has two planes: the above, open world and the below world where the dungeons exist. For just being a 16 x 8 grid (128 unique places), the open world is full of things to find and absolutely confusing to navigate. I sometimes wonder if our reliance on smartphones has withered certain abilities within our brains, like spatial navigation. But, I digress.

While the dungeons are less intimidating, they can get down right tortuous near the end of the game, so much so that I had to HAND DRAW the final dungeon to beat it.

I swear this made sense at the time.

Within every dungeon is a prized special item. In the typical Zelda fashion we are so used to, each weapon allows you to further unlock more secrets in other places. This leads to the proverbial “peeling back the onion” as you revisit places over and over again and find new things hidden away in nooks and crannies now available to you.

Few things changed my life like finding this magic wand earlier than I was supposed to.

Please Read the Instructions Carefully Before Starting.

At some point, I got stuck with what I was supposed to do next. Instead of running to an internet guide, I went to the next best source of inspiration: the manual! There was an absolute shit ton of useful information in that thing.

I’m glad Impa decided to wait until page 50 of the manual to share this with me.

It’s not cheating if it came with the game folks!

NES Hard.

With manual in tow and the patience of a monk, I was blasting through this game, but I eventually ran into a bottle neck: where was dungeon 5?! I already had wondered into dungeon 6 and 8 and knew with certainty what to do about 7, but I couldn’t find the last missing link (heh) for everything to fall into place.

At the top of the mountain, you come across a typical NES puzzle: exiting the screen left, up, or right only makes you reenter the same location. You can only exit this spot by going down.

There always has to be ONE thing I can’t solve you GD Nintendo Entertainment System.

There is a similar puzzle in the woods where you can progress by proceeding in the correct sequence of exits. This bit of information is bought from one of the peddlers in a cave, and I thought this secret would be similar. I even tried a few random patterns to see if I could hit the right combination.

The hint for this puzzle is held by a lady in the waterfall. Having found her, she implores you to “go up, up the mountain ahead.” Now, this lady is right next to a staircase going up a mountain. Given the amount of typos in translations and red herrings of advice, I just assumed this was dipshit advice.

Little did I know what she meant was for this “lost hills” section. Going up on this screen four consecutive times allows you enter dungeon #5. What makes me most mad, other than my own myopia, is that the hint is still incomplete. Going UP, UP the mountain won’t do shit and she knows it. While someone saying Up, Up, Up, Up or (Up * 4) may have been too obvious, I’m glad I didn’t get sucked into this rabbit hole of deceit.

Still Satisfying.


Still a fun game, just don’t hit “retry” when you die!

Other People’s Takes:

  • 1001MoviesReviewed: “This is the beginning of one of the greatest game series of all time. Though it’s over thirty years old now, it’s still worth a playthrough if you haven’t already.”
  • The Cake, Us vs. Reality: “In this sense, all the abstract features that constitute the identity of the Saga are present in this 8-bit game, so, without a doubt, if you are a Zelda fan, you have to play it!”
  • The Tired Video-Gamer: “Taking the time to draw out the map while I was playing added to the experience that was the Legend of Zelda. It made me feel like I was actually on this big adventure exploring dungeons, fighting monsters, and trading with merchants all with the intent to save the day and be the hero of Hyrule.”

One comment

  1. Glad you played through it!

    I replayed this on the Nintendo Switch Online service a few months ago and went through both quests. There’s something absolutely addictive about it.

    Liked by 1 person

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