Posted on April 14 2011 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
Some may not realize it, especially with all the all too epic art piece for Ocarina of Time 3DS we posted the last few days, but it was A Link to the Past‘s 19th birthday yesterday. It’s still astounding for me to think back that I was a mere five years old when this title graced the world. It’s a title I have beaten multiple times, and one that any Zelda fan truly enjoys. While some may dislike Twilight Princess, hate on Ocarina of Time, or debate endlessly over whether Spirit Tracks is a good game, no one can deny A Link to the Past‘s brilliance.
However, I’m not here to talk about how much I enjoyed the game or even if it’s the best in the series (and trust me, there is a very real argument to be had for it being the best), but to talk about how important the game was to the entire franchise. I’d go so far as to say that it’s the most important series title to date.
Timelessness is a good word to start with, because A Link to the Past just has that eternal charm to it. If you look just at the visuals, it could be a game that could have come out last year, yet it came out back in 1992. Sure, 2D graphics are easy to do this with, but look at the slew of other SNES games that look dated, even by 2D standards. Setting graphics aside, though, it has a refreshing story built around the light and dark worlds, all the while delivering solid gameplay and some interesting puzzles. How many of you still get stuck trying to figure out where to use the shovel today? The point here is that, despite being 19 years young, A Link to the Past still feels as great now as it did then. Timeless.
However, being timeless doesn’t necessarily make it important: it just makes for a very good game with an excellent art direction. There are a lot of reasons A Link to the Past is important, and for many of them you don’t need to look any further than Ocarina of Time. You see, while many consider Ocarina of Time to be the pinnacle of gaming (for good reason), the fact remains that A Link to the Past is what made that happen. Frankly, and many of you have heard this before, Ocarina of Time is, in many ways, A Link to the Past in 3D. This is ultimately why Ocarina of Time, as the “new and improved Zelda is considered better, but without A Link to the Past the first 3D Zelda could have looked very different, and performed rather poorly. How is this so? Well, it all starts with the formula.
Prior to A Link to the Past, Zelda games lacked a cohesive identity. You had the original which, while great, lacked in several areas that just wouldn’t fly by today’s standards. Adventure of Link essentially brought Zelda to the side scrolling world with RPG elements, while adding new features such as towns to the mix. Link’s Awakening took some great steps in handheld gaming, but its personal direction didn’t express very heavily elsewhere. A lot of what that game introduced in terms of gameplay never was carried on, even in the other Game Boy games.
A Link to the Past, in that sense, is the “ideal” Zelda game. When you think of the formula, it’s really rather simple: some nobody-kid rises up to save the princess and defeat Ganondorf. Three dungeons, then a plot twist, maybe another dungeon or two and another major plot twist, a few more levels and then the game’s over. Triforce, Master Sword, Ganondorf, Zelda, Link – they’ve all always been there since A Link to the Past, at least in the major console games. Point is that the Zelda “formula,” while not necessarily outright created in A Link to the Past, was standardized by that game to the structure we know today. A lot of people give Ocarina of Time that credit, but to those who are well-educated on the series’ history, it’s clear that the “Ocarina formula” was simply copied from A Link to the Past. That means that the stuff that made Twilight Princess tick graced us back in 1992, not ‘98. The fact that things haven’t changed much in 19 years may be why the series has gotten a little stale over time.
But A Link to the Past found the perfect blend of exploration, puzzles, and action combined with a linear story. It was so well done it hasn’t been changed, at least not until Skyward Sword (supposedly). This is at the core of why A Link to the Past is the most important game in the series to date. It may not be the best, it may not be the most popular, but it established what exactly Zelda is, and that is something you simply can’t take away from it. It was so dead on it even nailed the proper difficulty level. All this adds up, and so I’m confident enough to claim that it – not Ocarina of Time – is the most important Zelda title ever. How about you?
The Link to the Past love doesn’t end here. Stay tuned for updates to our brand-spanking new A Link to the Past walkthrough! New content will release every other day.