One of the greatest games of the 16-Bit Era
Developed by Nintendo, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is one of the greatest games of all time. It’s received unanimous praise for its game design, sound, and storytelling. One of the great aspects of the Zelda franchise is that the majority of characteristics evolve with each game.
Many of the mechanics presented in the Zelda formula have become standard since A Link to the Past. I will detail some of the reasons why Link to the Past is considered an amazing video game and one that still stands the test of time.
The game begins on a dark and stormy night, as Zelda speaks telepathically to the main hero, Link. She says she’s captured in the dungeon of Hyrule Castle and needs help. Link sets off in search of Princess Zelda and fights his way through hordes of enemies.
They escape through the sewers and Link begins his journey to finding three sacred pendants to prove his worth and pull the legendary Master Sword from its pedestal, enabling him to vanquish evil. This form of storytelling would become a staple in the series.
A link will travel to ruins, swamps, mountains, lakes, and even between parallel worlds to set peace to the Hyrule.
The first Act has Link rescuing Princess Zelda from the dungeon underneath Hyrule Castle. They escape together through the sewers.
One of the most important mechanics introduced in Link to the Past was the concept of parallel worlds, the light and dark world. Both lands are connected, what happens in one world can affect the other.
For example, If Link teleports on a flat area in the Dark World, in the Light world it could be an elevated surface to reach a secret. The game cleverly uses this game mechanic as a path for finding items or exploring new regions.
Link can travel in between worlds using portals found hidden under certain objects. He can also create portals using a Magic Mirror.
After being a 2D sidescroller for the second game in the series, the third installment saw the return of the top-down 2D perspective. To make the combat more interesting, Link could swing his sword at a 90-degree angle instead of a forward jab.
Just as in the first game, Link could also find items hidden in dungeons that would help him defeat the main boss of that area. Also, Link could use the same items in and outside of dungeons to explore and fight enemies. Players could now move in all eight directions and diagonally, or explore different floors of dungeons instead of one large individual floor plan.
The outstanding boss fights are just one of the many highlights and improvements made towards the series.
Link to the Past introduced mechanics that have become an important part of the Zelda formula, and have for the most part stayed present until the recent Breath of the Wild.
Bottles: Link could now find glass bottles and use them to store fairies and potions to help heal his health, magic, or increase strength.
Heart Pieces: Scattered throughout both the Light and Dark world are Heart Pieces. Find four pieces that would grant Link an extra permanent heart for his overall health, allowing him to have 20 hearts in total.
Spin Attack: Link can swing his sword in 360 degrees, allowing him to attack enemies from all sides. The spin attack has become one of Link’s most iconic attacks in the franchise.
Ocarina: Although the Ocarina plays a minor role in Link to the Past, its introduction paved the way for the compelling time mechanics found in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Link could play songs and these songs could cause doors to open or help with fast travel.
Master Sword: The Master Sword has become an iconic part of the Zelda franchise. It’s considered the bane of evil and can only be held by the chosen one. The only way to pull the Master Sword from its pedestal is by finding three sacred pendants. Having full health will allow Link to throw a magic beam from the tip of the sword.
After finding the three pendants, Link can pull the Master Sword from its pedestal in the Lost Woods.
“I feel like developing a large-scale video game like The Legend of Zelda is similar to setting out on a voyage across the ocean in the distant past. I’ve said that each installment in the series has a theme. for me, that involves coming up with a system that I’ve not yet had the opportunity to explore. It’s similar to seeking a new continent that no one on Each has visited before.” – Eiji Aonuma, director, and producer at Nintendo Corporation
A link to the Past was developed by Nintendo EAD, with Takashi Tezuka as the director and Shigeru Miyamoto as the producer, Kensuke Tanabe as a writer, and Koji Kondo as the composer. The main developer continued to collaborate on future iterations. Takashi Tezuka (known for his contributions since Donkey Kong and Super Mario) became a director on the future Gameboy Color game, Link’s Awakening. Shigeru Miyamoto afterward shifted his focus and his attention to creating Zelda Ocarina of Time and Majoras Mask for the N64.
While Ocarina of time had two years and a half of development, Majora’s Mask was developed within a year and its design was more complex by incorporating timed schedules for each of the NPCs located in the videogame. Shigeru and other team members like Eiji Aonuma to this day make Zelda video games like Windwaker, Twilight Princess, and Breath of the Wild.
As mentioned previously, many of the mechanics of the Zelda formula were established in A Link to the Past (heart pieces, Master Sword, and Bottles) and have been a part of the Zelda formula until the release if 2017’s Breath of the Wild. Nintendo tried using new mechanics while keeping the gameplay and adventure fresh by making exploration nonlinear. They didn’t use bottles, special items, or heart pieces. Instead, they replaced them with being able to just grab a fairy without a bug catchers net, the Sheika Slate and after obtaining four stones found in the 120 shrines you’ll get to extend your life or your stamina. Also, elemental temples were discarded from Breath of the Wild.
Lots of the core mechanics in Link to the Past haven’t been present until Breath of the Wild, dividing the community and fans alike.
Activities such as minigames, changing tunics, finding minerals to upgrade weapons, the importance of purchasing items through rupees, gave Link to the Past its charm, and created an immersive world to explore. Zelda’s art style would continue to evolve over the years, always outdoing its previous iteration.
The music, lighting, art direction, and animation further cemented Link to the Past as one of the most highly regarded games of that decade. Still to this day, LttP is considered one of the greatest games of all time, and still a hallmark for the 16-bit era.
Hard as I try, I am unable to find a flaw in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The animation, game design, gameplay, the items, the sidequests, charm, music, the length, story, replayability, balanced difficulty; everything is there to make it is a timeless classic. A Link to the Past to this day is a masterpiece.
Maybe the only thing I could criticize is their choice of UI but UI has never been Nintendo’s strength until recent years. It wouldn’t be fair to criticize LttP’s UI, I do like it, it has a nice aesthetic feel to it. It may not be as minimal or modern as the games today but for the time it was great and did a job well done.
Future top-down 2D titles like Minish Cap, Link Between Worlds, and the Phantom Hourglass were also great games but none come as close or impactful as Link to the Past. Link Between Worlds gave the player more nonlinear gameplay by allowing you to purchase items to use in dungeons but I thought that ruined the formula. It was centered on farming for rupees to advance to the next level and I disliked that.
Nintendo toyed with the formula just how they played with the weapons durability in Breath of the Wild. They deviated from the core gameplay mechanics and it felt off. With Breath of the Wild, there was a larger focus on finding rupees to progress. I like to joke to myself whenever I see an NPC in any game asking for in-game currency by saying, “It’s always about the money, huh”?
I still go back to playing A Link to the Past and I can always find ways to enjoy myself. Zelda is a trendsetter, Zelda is the reason I buy a video game console. It’s considered a masterpiece in game design and storytelling, numerous critics praise Link to the Past as the greatest video game on the SNES library and of the 16-bit era. And it was only succeeded by the next big installment on the N64, Ocarina of Time, which garnered even more acclaims as becoming the best video game of all time.
These games are incredible and I respect the men and women at Nintendo’s R&D department who crafted such an incredible work of art. Their eye for impeccable design and polish is mind-blowing.
On a personal note, it’s thanks to A Link to the Past that I’m dedicating my life to video games, it inspired me to believe games are an art form and the future (now the present). Even as part of my professional career, I cannot see a flaw in A Link to the Past. I might have to play it all over again just to see if I can.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and what flaws and opinions you have about A Link to the Past in the comments below.
Reviews of a Link to the Past
Nintendo Life (100): https://www.nintendolife.com/reviews/vc/legend_of_zelda_a_link_to_the_past_snes
Nintendo Insider (10/10): https://www.nintendo-insider.com/the-legend-of-zelda-a-link-to-the-past-review/
The following URLs are also links to lists of the Top SNES games. A Link to the Past is always on the top three, right next to Super Metroid and Chrono Trigger, which, I cannot deny they are also incredible games that deserve to share the position for highest-rated games on the SNES.
Digital Trends: https://www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/best-snes-games/
Den of A Geek: https://www.denofgeek.com/games/best-snes-games/
Goomba Stomp: https://goombastomp.com/the-top-50-snes-games/
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