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The Legend of Zelda Review Rewind

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On 12/15/2013 at 12:00 PM by Jamie Alston

Remember kids, "Dodongo dislikes smoke".

For anyone who enjoys a meaty 8-bit action/adventure romp.

With its deceptively easy gameplay and deep exploration, The Legend of Zelda represented a few first-time accomplishments for Nintendo, as well as the gaming industry itself. It was one of the first Famicom Disk Systems games to hit Japan in February of 1986, sporting the ability to save progress without needing a password. With its 1987 debut in America, it was released on a golden cartridge featuring a small backup battery to save progress -- making it the first game to use the technology. But most importantly, it was the first game to truly revolutionize the action/adventure genre with elements that similar games would borrow from for years to come.

Much like Mega Man 2 and Final Fantasy, this game has been reviewed, praised, and worshiped to death. If you pay a visit to sites with user reviews, you'd be hard-pressed to find a write-up that doesn't drool over the genre-defining legacy that Miyamoto's series undeniably established. But there was once a time when Miyamoto was not a name familiar to most NES owners -- despite having played his previous creations -- and The Legend of Zelda was just a game starring a kid wearing a funny green hat.

Our story begins in the kingdom of Hyrule, where Ganon has stolen the Triforce of Power and wants to plunge the world into darkness under his rule. Princess Zelda split the remaining Triforce of Wisdom into eight fragments and spread them throughout the land to prevent Ganon from getting his hands on it. In retaliation, he imprisoned her so she can no longer interfere with his plans. It’s up to Link to find the pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom, defeat Ganon, rescue Zelda, and restore peace to Hyrule.


You’ll guide Link as he travels between the main overworld of Hyrule and nine dungeons that house the various pieces of the Triforce that he needs to collect. Above and below ground are filled with now-familiar enemies such as the rock-spitting Octoroks, spear-happy Moblins, shield-eating Like Likes (which nobody likes), and downright creepy Wallmasters all got their start here.

The game features a simple-but-effective fighting system. At all times, you have access to your sword and shield. When your health is at full strength, you can throw your sword across the screen, which is suitable for keeping your distance from the enemy. As you progress through the game, you’ll collect a plethora of secondary items -- many of which are invaluable additions to your arsenal. The boomerang is a perfect example: once obtained, you’ll have an easier time fighting multiple enemies because you can strategically stun (most of) them and then finish them off with your sword. Other items such as the bow and arrow, bombs, and many others remain relevant throughout the game. I was quite surprised by how integral the secondary items were to conquering the dungeons.


Link automatically has his shield at the ready when you're not attacking with the sword or certain other secondary items. Thankfully, it deflects objects like spears and stones -- the shield isn't just there as piece of Link's character sprite. Both the shield and the sword can be upgraded to better serve your offensive and defensive needs. The game offers you the flexibility to finish it without ever upgrading your equipment; however, it’s much more enjoyable once you find the various upgrades.

What I found interesting was the surprising sense of accomplishment that comes so early in the adventure. You feel like a winner with the now famous "item catch" fanfare that plays when doing simple things like obtaining Link's basic sword, getting the ladder, or collecting a letter to give to a certain old lady. Of course, that was nothing compared to the feeling that is conveyed upon finding a Triforce piece. In fact, when I played this for the first time 11 years ago, I remember thinking I won the game after finding the first Triforce piece. The Legend of Zelda definitely encourages the notion of savoring the victory.


The nine dungeons are pretty well designed, with a compass and map hidden within each to guide you to the Triforce piece housed therein. Interestingly, these two helpful items don’t completely take the mystery out of exploring the dungeons. Certain doors are accessible only after all enemies in the current room are defeated, some stairways are hidden until you push a block in the correct direction to reveal that room's secret, and best of all, the enemies and bosses inhabiting the underworld sections often have unique weaknesses that need to be exploited in order to have the least amount of trouble getting past them. Even when you learn the weaknesses of your enemies, you still have to approach most of them with caution or you can find yourself in a perilous predicament very quickly. I still get a little nervous when I’m low on health and I have to fight a room full of Darknuts.

With all of the admirable qualities that can be found in the inaugural Zelda title, there is one aspect that didn't age quite as gracefully -- the non-linear approach. Actually, I should say that it was the execution of the non-linear approach. After all, it's great that you’re not forced to attack each dungeon in a super strict order and you are free to roam the land of Hyrule to your heart's content. But when it comes time to hunker down and finish the quest, things can come to a screeching halt once you realize that you don't know what the heck you’re supposed to do next.

Sure, you will find occasional (and very cryptic) clues from creepy old people in caves and dark rooms. But am I really supposed to know that some guy telling me that "Spectacle Rock is an entrance to death" is creepy-old-man-speak for "place a bomb on one of the otherwise innocuous boulders somewhere at the top of the overworld map to access the final dungeon"?  No way. You can expect to find stellar advice like that throughout the game. And while  the difficulty may have been just right back when people cared if you beat a game on your own or not, it simply doesn’t matter much nowadays to the average player who is more interested in finishing the game than winning the admiration of his school buddies.

The visual style, while quite primitive by today's standards, was perfect for its time. The creatures that inhabit the land of Hyrule were quite unusual compared to the usual line-up found in most adventure games back then. In fact, it's almost puzzling as to how some of these character types could have even been imagined, but that’s what makes them so interesting in the first place. I had never known of any other game (at the time) that had characters quite as unusual as the floating Peahat or the odd-looking Pols Voice. Exploring the overworld and underworld areas is quite enjoyable with the smooth scrolling from screen to screen. I also liked the way Link was engulfed in a black backdrop every time he found one of the Triforce fragments. It really amplifies the feeling of a job well done each time you complete a dungeon.


To say the audio in the game was "good" would be a bit of an understatement. What's ironic is that there isn't much variety in the way of multiple musical scores. There are really only two main pieces of music that play throughout the majority of the game:  the overworld and dungeon themes. However, these tunes are pretty catchy and prove to be the perfect accompaniment to the action going on. In fact, the music for the overworld sections has become a ubiquitous feature throughout the life the Zelda series. The sound effects are also quite memorable as well, especially the whistle, whose ditty later made its way into Super Mario Bros. 3.


The Legend of Zelda has become a well-respected, venerable series and for good reason. This first game of many really solidified the action/adventure genre and provided an unforgettable experience for anyone willing to devote their time to explore the land of Hyrule. There were no menu commands to sort through, and no level-up system to dictate the growth of your character. Instead, the game featured the simple use of a sword and shield and left it up to you as to how you would develop Link. Just keep in mind that the game will not hold your hand with regard to where to go or how exactly to accomplish certain key objectives. So don't be ashamed to whip out the strategy guide if need be. It's a great buy for anyone interested in familiarizing themselves with the series' humble beginnings.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Cary Woodham

12/15/2013 at 02:30 PM

After all these years, the original NES Legend of Zelda title is still one of my top favorite games in the series.  I think I only like Link's Awakening and Link to the Past more, making it third place.  Not bad for the first in the series.


12/15/2013 at 03:28 PM

It's funny how the old 8-bit and 16-bit games still seem to hold up the best, or at least stand out the most. My personal favorite is Link's Awakening, which is really the game that demands a remake if there ever was one. The Minish Cap on the GBA is also criminally underrated.

Joaquim Mira Media Manager

12/15/2013 at 03:44 PM

Wait until you play Between Worlds.

Cary Woodham

12/15/2013 at 05:19 PM

Yes, Link Between Worlds is high on my list, too.  But my favorite is still Link's Awakening.  I'd like a remake of that using the Between Worlds treatment.


12/15/2013 at 06:48 PM

Hey Cary, by the way, nice avatar icon! In case you're interested, Namco just released eight new mazes to the original Pac-Man arcade game on iOS. Not all of them are winners, but it's still kinda of a neat update--one 33 years in the making, you could say!

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

12/16/2013 at 07:23 AM

Yeah, this game is pretty high up there on my "best of" list as well.  But yeah, A link to the Past did kick things up a few notches though.  Zelda is one of those seires that (at least for a time) kept getting beter between the SNES and N64 era.


12/15/2013 at 07:43 PM

The Legend of Zelda was my favorite game for quite awhile, surpassed only by A Link to the Past. However, in all honestly, it didn't really stand the test of time even in 1994, when I got a taste of A Link to the Past (a game which really does stand the test of time in today's environment), let alone here in 2013. Still a great game and a landmark in video game history, but mechanically, time has left it far behind.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

12/16/2013 at 07:28 AM

No doubt about it, the first Zelda game isn't quite as robust as A link to the Past.  Nintnedo really topped themselves on the Super NES.  However, I would still say that LOZ has still aged rather gracefully and is still very playable despite its age.  That can't always be said for other classics from the same time period.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

12/16/2013 at 06:08 AM

I too have great sentiment for this game and its place in history.  It might not have aged as well as other games, but it was certainly an important title and I love it.  

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

12/16/2013 at 07:33 AM

To me, the only thing that held this game back somewhat was the cryptic clues givine as direction to where to go next.  If Nintendo could have ironed that out a little more, it would have been perfect.  But it's easy for me to say that now.  Hindsight is 20/20, right?

Matt Snee Staff Writer

12/16/2013 at 07:34 AM

yeah... back in those days we didn't have internet FAQs either!  Laughing


12/16/2013 at 08:32 AM

I loved this game.  I still remember how jealous I was when my parents bought it for my cousin for Christmas when I didn't even have a NES yet.  Not too long later one of my neighborhood friends got it and a few of us would go over to his house and play it every day after school.  When I finally got a NES it was one of the first games I got.

It really is a great game.  Although A Link to the Past would go on to become my favorite Zelda game, I don't think it's possible to praise the original too much.  It was just so original and opened up a world of exploration like nothing that came before it.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

12/16/2013 at 10:40 AM

I felt the same when this family we knew back in the day was the first to get a Sega Genesis with Sonic the Hedgehog.  I wated one sooooo bad!  Took some years before we got one of our own, but dang it, I was happy.

Nick DiMola Director

12/16/2013 at 10:18 AM

I adore this game. It's easily one of my favorites in the series and I most definitely prefer it over the entire handheld line of Zelda games (with the exception of A Link Between Worlds).

It's stunning to see what an impact it's had on gaming and just how damn visionary it was for its time. It's basically the archetype for action-adventure games and many a game have borrowed some or all of its concepts.

If it had some better hinting to guide you, I think just about anybody could love it. If I didn't have the entire game committed to memory, I'm sure it would bother me more, but I played it so much as a kid that I discovered everything that could be found then.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

12/16/2013 at 01:51 PM

I remember pouring over this game in this strategycheat book my brother had back in the day.  It had those nice water color illustrations from the instruction manual too.  Looking back on it, like you said, LOZ was quite visionary for its time.  You could see that Miyamoto really drew from his own childhood experiences of exploring the open field.  It was only 8-bits of processing power, but oh, how well applied they were!


12/16/2013 at 10:48 AM

One of the best games ever made and awesome reveiw by the way. And I spent alot of time checking out Nintendo Power for the answers to alot of questions. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

12/16/2013 at 01:53 PM

Nintendo Power...the GameFaqs of the early '90s...for NES stuff at least.


12/16/2013 at 06:09 PM

Yes the gamers bible of the day lol and saved me on link and Mario 2 lol!!


12/16/2013 at 11:41 AM

Great review Jamie. I always thought it was hilarious how Link proudly holds up items. Especially in Zelda 2 when he holds up that kid lol. I don't think I ever beat this game as a kid because of a certain hidden dungeon. I finally did find that dungeon by accident many years later. I felt like such an idiot when that happened lol. Embarassed

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

12/16/2013 at 02:08 PM

Sometimes, accidents make the best victories.


12/16/2013 at 10:04 PM

This is a great game.  I was lucky enough to play it back in the day when it was "state of the art!"  lol.  I'm not sure how it holds up today becasue I will always see it through those eyes.  It is cool though to see newer generations go back to the gaming roots and enjoying it.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

12/17/2013 at 08:36 AM

Yeah, I'll probably always have nostalgic eyes for Zelda, but I think it's fair to say that the game would probably do reasonably well if introduced to new gamers.  They just might wonder what the heck they're supposed to do when trying to get to some of the later dungeons.


12/17/2013 at 06:03 PM

It's been a long time since I played the first game.  I have it on my 3DS too.  I never beat it the 2nd time to get the "real" ending. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

12/18/2013 at 01:51 PM

Real ending?  I didn't know there was a difference in endings between the first and second quests in LOZ.


12/18/2013 at 04:11 PM

I said, "real ending", but it's probably better I use "2nd quest".  The ending for the 2nd quest is a little different from the ending of the 1st quest.  To start a new game on the 2nd quest, just name your save Zelda

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

12/19/2013 at 09:45 AM

Gotcha.  Thanks for clearing that up.  I always knew about the 'Zelda" 2nd quest thing, but I never bothered with it.

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