A Link to the Past logoSo much has changed since the beginning of Zelda. A little elf boy running around and trying to save a princess is but one of the many memories people have from the 80s. The Legend of Zelda, released in 1987 for the Nintendo Entertainment System, marked the start of one of the biggest adventure game series of all time. Everything about the original Legend of Zelda defines classic. The music, the sound effects, the story and the adventure all made the game that much more special. Having Zelda II: The Adventure of Link come out shortly after the original game only added to the franchise’s popularity and showed that Nintendo wanted to be creative by changing the overhead view from LoZ and making AoL a side-scroller. Ever since this experiment with the series, Nintendo has been constantly injecting new ideas, concepts and gameplay-types into the series. Change is ever-present in the Zelda universe.

Throughout the Zelda franchise, we have seen the games go from 2D to 3D, and seen music and weapons gain more importance. We’ve also witnessed the incorporation of deeper storylines, new gimmicks and NPC interactions/side quests. While fans awaited Zelda III on the NES, Nintendo was developing one of the best games in the series for the Super Nintendo. Zelda III never materialized, but what we got instead was a 16-bit masterpiece of a game. The Legend of Zelda made its jump into the next generation with the release of A Link to the Past in November 21, 1991.

A Link to the Past is one of the Super Nintendo’s best selling games, and for good reason. It went back to the original overhead view of the first Zelda game, but updated the graphics, story, control and the overall experience. A Link to the Past was the perfect Zelda game and has withstood the test of time. As the new games continue to experiment and stray a little from the formula established in the earlier games, we lose little pieces of the classic Zelda feel. Nintendo is always trying to innovate and lead the gaming industry with new ideas, and Skyward Sword’s motion controls are a perfect example of how Nintendo is trying to lead the way into the future. But however great the innovations may be, the one thing we forget is what really makes a Zelda game. We always have fond memories of the older Zelda games, yet still we all tend to overlook what really makes Zelda games special. Here are 7 things that A Link to the Past shows us about what really makes a great Zelda game.

1. Storyline: Zelda games have always been known to have adequate stories, but ALttP was the first Zelda game to change the main goals of the first two Zelda games. Instead of just going around from dungeon to dungeon until you reach a climaxing point, we have a plot-twist and then the climax. In AlttP, after getting the three Pendants and the Master Sword, we fought Agahnim and finished part one of the game before moving on to the Dark World portion. Ocarina of Time follows a similar two-part story system by having certain tasks to do in the child time period before moving on to the adult future. NPC interaction along with information given to us by other characters deepens the plot of the game, and A Link to the Past built on this from the standard introduced in AoL, in which the information given by other characters is often valuable and can be used to your advantage. In ALttP, though, much of the dialogue includes commentary and other details about events, with scenes like Zelda sending a telepathic message to Link, telling him to come save her. This is helpful and even needed in a great adventure series like Zelda. The goal and initial hook of ALttP is the battle against Agahnim. This seems like an ending, but it is truly the beginning of the harder second half of the game. After being sent to the Dark World and while trying to save the 7 Maidens, you have a contrast of Light versus Dark and feel even more satisfied when you finish this great adventure game. The story of LoZ is very similar to ALttP, with you rescuing a princess from Ganon, but A Link to the Past offers another villain, more dungeons and new goals which ultimately lead to Ganon. A Link to the Past is the prime example that a simple story that slowly gets more and more complex and involved is the perfect way to grab our attention and draw us into the game, as opposed to starting with a very complex story and confusing gamers like in recent games.

2. Control: We are given an updated control scheme for ALttP, which is a good thing for the game and is a prime example in proving that a little tweak once in a while is better than going for a complete overhaul of the system. In addition to the A and B buttons and D-Pad from the original, we have new buttons for the map and item screen and the addition of diagonal running. The stiff up, down, left, and right control of LoZ has become more flexible and offers players of ALttP different movement options. Again, Skyward Sword has a great many changes, but it still follows the basic rules for a Zelda game and does not stray as much as we sometimes think. Remember swinging the sword in the Wii version of Twilight Princess? Skyward Sword demonstrates an update to those controls which is an exact reflection of the update from the original LoZ to the ALttP control scheme. So maintaining or updating the control scheme a little is a great way to enhance future games.

Agahnim3. Visuals: With a new take on the original LoZ, ALttP uses the SNES’s 16-bit graphics superbly. ALttP is a demonstration of blending the old with something new to create a great-looking game. The 8-bit sprites of the original game get fresh overhauls and become more recognizable as we can now see their features as well as different animations. This graphical improvement actually carried with it a great increase in depth and changed the game’s mood with its different style. This is reminiscent of the cel-shaded artstyle from The Wind Waker, the realist artstyle from Twilight Princess and the impressionist artstyle used in the upcoming Zelda epic, Skyward Sword. We have a cartoon-looking game with pipe music featuring a large sea and islands in TWW. This background and artstyle gives the game a lighter feel or rather a less serious tone compared to its successor. The realist artstyle, orchestral-sounding music and the Twilight Realm gave TP a darker feel. So, we can clearly differentiate between TWW and TP. With SS, we have a blend of the two artstyles from the previous games. Nintendo is clearly trying something different here and we have a great idea of how visual updates can influence the mood of the game.

4. Music: Creating new tracks while still bringing old ones back appeals to all audiences as you are bringing back memories of older games whilst still introducing new music. The Overworld theme in ALttP is an update on the original LoZ Overworld theme, catering to fans and giving them a feeling of remembrance and similarity, while the Dark World theme is completely different, now attracting the new generation with a catchy tune that fuels thoughts of adventure. Incorporation of older music not only helps to retain the nostalgia factor but also can aid story development. This brings us to our next point, which is…

5. Contrast: Not only does ALttP offer dual overworlds with different objectives in each, it uses different enemies, locations and layouts. It offers returning enemies from the first game like Ganon, yet also adds new ones such as the Knights or Agahnim himself. We can see that the developers of the Zelda series have also used this contrast formula in Ocarina of Time between the peaceful past with Child Link versus Adult Link’s hectic future. Notice how in both games, you have an original villain for the first half of the game, then this villain is replaced or the villain changes? Looking back to LoZ again, we only have Ganon as the ‘final boss’ figure. With ALttP, we see the addition of another main enemy (Agahnim) to make the new game different from its 8-bit predecessor. -omitted- Many people take contrasting elements for granted and don’t see that they are not only an integral part of the story of each game, but also a key piece in the basic fabric of Zelda games.

6. Choice: One of the most important aspects incorporated in ALttP was that you could choose (for the most part) how and when you wanted to accomplish a certain goal, get to a certain area or complete a certain task. The Legend of Zelda had a great feeling of exploration as you could choose where to go and you could really look around before deciding if you needed to buy things, get rupees or enter a dungeon. While some of the other games force you into a particular order of doing things (i.e. the temples in Majora’s Mask), in others, like ALttP, you have a little more freedom to explore and have an adventure… definitely one of the most important aspects of the series. Skyward Sword seems to feature a more open overworld and an open dungeon system. It will be interesting to actually see the final product and I am sure this -omitted- will add to the series. Nintendo is also adding new elements of choice to the battle mechanics of Skyward Sword. We will be able to swing the sword in different ways, use different items to exploit the many weaknesses -omitted- for each individual foe. The new feeling of choice will be a great addition to the series and we won’t be stuck with the same hack & slash gameplay seen in earlier games. Nintendo is taking a large leap forward and is leading the video game industry once again with the new motion control mechanics in Skyward Sword.

7. Literal links to the past: Every Zelda game since ALttP has had some connection with a previous game, either by featuring music, cameos, similar stories or lore and story elements from other games. ALttP had ties to both of the NES games, as it was originally stated to be a prequel to those games. Now I won’t get into timeline placement or anything, but you can see how the past influences the present. Ganon from LoZ originally returned in ALttP, and now he is in the majority of Zelda games. Remember watching the Skyward Sword trailer in reverse, where it sounded like Zelda’s Lullaby from Ocarina of Time? Also note that SS is a prequel to OoT and will tie in with it dramatically. Nintendo is not trying to tie things in from previous games only to appeal to the fans, they are also doing it to enhance our gameplay and story experience and help us to understand the messages hidden within the game.

The TriforceTake a look back into your past with the Zelda series… have you noticed any of these “links” before? Ocarina of Time was a big innovator for the series, but shouldn’t its predecessor get some credit? A Link to the Past took the original formula of Zelda and added what are now the basic building blocks for new games today. Ocarina of Time would not have been as big a success without the tools presented by A Link to the Past. Skyward Sword would not be so anticipated if it weren’t influenced by the past. The seven basic principles set by ALttP provide the link to the future of the Zelda franchise. Have you noticed that a small elf kid running around defeating monsters has evolved into one of the biggest gaming franchises in the world? Have you noticed the similarities between the games? Can you tell what is different? I say it is through looking back and improving that the series can really move towards a brighter future. To sum it all up, Zelda would not be the series that it is without making improvements while still following a basic formula; mixing it up between the old and new. The Legend of Zelda is not afraid to go where no other series has gone before and it has always pushed the industry standard. Even with all the innovations, Zelda will never forget its roots. The link to Zelda’s success is there… Sometimes you just have to look backward to see forward.

Related: A Link to the Past Walkthrough

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