The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – Birthday Special!

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I’m going to be straight with you right away: I am biased towards this game. I am going to try my best to make the review as unbiased as possible however. This is my so-manieth playthrough so I am very familiar with the game. Irrelevant to the review, but I also challenged myself by doing every boss without taking damage, which did result in me experimenting a bit more with items I normally wouldn’t use as much. The version I’ve played is the SNES version, which is the version I’m most familiar with. The game is also available on the Gameboy Advance and every Nintendo system beyond the Wii.

Some people are scared of spiders. Others of having to pay taxes. One of my fears… is to review games that are special to me. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a game that has been with me since the beginning of my life and well… eh, let’s not beat around the bush. For the longest of times, this game has shared its spot with a few others as my favourite games of all time. It’s a bit anticlimatic to start a review like this I’m aware, though it’s to be expected from a birthday special I guess. Oh yeah, probably should have mentioned that it’s my birthday today first. Oops.

Regardless, I could’ve easily written an essay about this game or a long article on why I love this game to bits, but I figured it would be more appropriate to give this game the treatment I am known for: a full-blown review. After all, I want to represent the games dear to me in the best way possible. But this is the part that scares me: I have to be professional and critical. Well, I don’t really need to, it’s my site so I can do whatever I want, but I still want to. Regardless, I am going to try my best to honour this game in the best way I can think of!

The development for A Link to the Past originally began on the NES, but was later shifted to become a launch title for Nintendo’s new console: the SNES. The previous Zelda games were very successful, which allowed Nintendo to invest a larger budget and more releases into this game, including a cartridge that had more storage space than most other SNES cartridges. They’ve actually used a lot of interesting methods to make this possible, such as a graphic compression by limiting the colour depth and having the dark world be a mere ”overlay” of the light world due to their mostly identical layout. The game was released to very high acclaim, being praised as one of the best SNES games ever, or even games in general. It is also the game that has introduced many elements that are still present today, such as the Mast Sword, Pieces of Hearts and multiple weapons just to name a few. For your random trivia of the day: did you know that Shigeru Miyamoto originally planned for there to be a party of characters, inspired by JRPGs such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy? This of course never happened but if it did, it could potentially have changed the entire franchise as we know it today.

The game starts with a napping Link who’s woken up by a magical voice in his dreams. Instead of just continuing to nap like I would because dreams are lies, he jumps out of bed after his uncle left for the castle 5 seconds earlier, just to find him dead in the basement of said castle. Despite our favourite protagonist being mute and showing no expressions at all to his uncle’s final breath right in front of him, this is a good setup for the story as we get to witness all of the evil schemes firsthand in just the first 10 minutes of gameplay. Link might not show that he cares, but he is meant to represent us after all–and we certainly want to pay the villain back for what he has done. Or at least, some people do. I’m just here for the adventure.

And revenge is what we will surely get, as Link has gotten a good upgrade from his 8-bit roots. Instead of having to stand in front of an enemy to stabby-stabby kill-kill, his sword slashes arch in front of him, also hitting enemies that are not directly in front of you but slightly to the side. Diagonal movement has improved Link’s gameplay by just enough to make it feel far more satisfying to work with, which will only become better after the many items we can obtain. I will come back to that part later though.

He can even slash all around him! No more backstabbing allowed!

First of all, we have to look for that mysterious voice that we’ve heard in our dreams. The castle itself isn’t too special, but it does work as a nice tutorial with multiple different enemies and having an objective to focus on before being able to move further into the dungeon. Normally that would be a weapon or the big key, but Princess Zelda will do for now. The end of the dungeon isn’t really too special either, but it does show how important items become to progress further. Make your way out to reach the sanctuary where Zelda can be left behind because she will totally be safe here in this unprotected building. Yes, very clever.

But after that short tutorial, the game truly begins. Armed with your sword and shield, you can now go pretty much wherever you want–given you have the items to go there. The latter won’t be a problem for long though, as my first destination is always Kakariko Village to the right. Bombs are easy to get here, and this pretty much gives you access to the entire overworld barring some optional stuff. I love exploring this world before I focus on the main objective of the game. I mean, Princess Zelda is safe in the sanctuary right, what could possibly go wrong?

I’m kind of jumping the gun here but I figured that since we’re talking about exploring the world, I might as well go all the away. I really enjoy this incarnation of Hyrule with the many secrets to be found, which grow in count the more items you obtain. This was also part of the original The Legend of Zelda of course, but it feels far more fun to do here and much better indicated as well. Especially after you obtain the flippers to swim, it feels like so much opens up to the player. And that doesn’t even include so many of the optional items and places that are not hinted to you in any shape, like going behind a waterfall to upgrade some items or unlocking fast-travel through the bird statue in town. Not only are you given a lot of freedom to explore wherever you want, but thinking outside of the box and curiosity are rewarded often.

Not only are you given a lot of freedom to explore wherever you want, but thinking outside of the box and curiosity are rewarded often.

…Maybe I should continue on with the game though, otherwise I’ll be way overpowered before I even reach the first dungeon. I’m not going into detail about every dungeon (that’s what we have this article for), but I can say that I’m overall satisfied with the quality of them. I wouldn’t say there’s a dungeon that stands out from the others, but I can also safely say that there isn’t a single one I consider to be bad. But let’s focus on the first dungeon for now before I go off track again. This dungeon perfectly represents how almost every other dungeon is handled as well.

A Link to the Past First Dungeon

The first dungeon is how a first dungeon should be. Multiple different paths to take straight from the get-go, rooms having unique gimmicks and interesting puzzles, and tons of enemies to fight that are mostly exclusive to the dungeon they’re found it, with the exception of a few like the jellyfish-on-land. Every dungeon has something that makes them unique, like the platforms in Turtle Rock with monsters that are designed after Super Mario enemies, and the slippery floors in Ice Palace with penguins sliding around. That last one isn’t a favoured example for most people who’ve played the game; can’t really disagree with them, but it does bring the point across.

Your progress further into the dungeon is usually stopped by a door with a big keyhole, or obstacles that need the item from the big chest. After many trials and enemies fought, the key can be found somewhere in the dungeon. Most equipable items found are used to progress in the same dungeon as well. Taking the first dungeon as example again, there are multiple enemies that block your path like Gandalf the White unless you have the item they’re vulnerable to, being the bow. The variety in items is very nice, with my favourites definitely being the Fire/Ice rods and especially the Hookshot, which made its debut in this game. And that doesn’t even mention the amount of optional items found in the overworld, such as the Magic Cape and Cane of Byrna that make you invulnerable. Admittedly I don’t use all of the items when they aren’t required for puzzles, simply for the reason that the game isn’t too difficult and the sword/bow usually did the job. But hey, that’s what we have randomizers for right?

The variety in items is very nice, with my favourites definitely being the Fire/Ice rods and especially the Hookshot, which made its debut in this game.

Several of the bosses also use the weapon from the dungeon, but some also use items from other places or have multiple alternative ways to be killed. The Argos Knights from the first dungeon are definitely weak to the arrows, but you could just use your sword as well–it will just take longer. You can chip away the Helmasaur King’s faceplate with the hammer, but that will take a total of sixteen hits while you can also just throw four bombs and hope for the best. The second boss specifically is made easier by finding an item in the overworld, rewarding people who explore their surroundings. Some bosses such as Vitreous are absolutely pathetic but like the dungeons, I’d say the overall package is solid.

From this point onwards I’m going to delve into spoilers about the second half of the game. So if you want to go through this 30-year old game without any spoilers, there’s your queue to skip to the verdict. Granted, I don’t really think it’s a secret what happens from here on out. Anyway, you’ve explored the entire world, gathered the three pendants and have obtained the mythical Master Sword. Surprise though, Princess Zelda got kidnapped from the sanctuary! I have no idea how this was able to happen, she was safe in this unprotected building! Anyway, back to the castle to bring an end to Agahnim once and for all! What you probably didn’t anticipate though, is that Agahnim is a professional tennis player, so you should accept his duel in true fashion–with a bug net. But this is just round one and since tennis consists of multiple rounds, Agahnim calls it a draw for now and throws you into the Dark World. Agahnim is a sore loser.

A Link to the Past Agahnim

We’ve already got our taste of the Dark World by travelling up Death Mountain for the third pendant, but it turns out it’s not just reserved for that mountain. Instead, the Dark World is pretty much anti-Hyrule, both figuratively and literally. The layout of the world is the same, but all of the vistas have changed. Hyrule Castle is now a pyramid, and the desert has turned into a swamp. Since both deserts- and swamps are my least favourite areas in video games, that’s not much of an improvement for me. Joking aside though, there are seven more dungeons to explore and a whole plethora of new secrets. And boy, I love the Dark World so much.

Your knowledge from the Light World can be used to your advantage in this world since the layout remains the same; just the way of getting there and the items required to find secrets may be different. What may have been just a normal cave with a chest in the Light World, may now have become an entirely new cave system that requires an item from one of the dungeons in the Dark World. But my favourite part may just be how the worlds ”interact” with each other. On your journey in the Light World, you may have seen several items- or caves that you just couldn’t reach in any way. Perhaps you can reach that specific part in the Dark World, use the mirror to look at yourself and somehow get scared so hard that you transport back to the Light World at the exact same spot. The Light World was very fun to explore, the Dark World was very fun to explore, and both of them together are even more fun to explore.

A Link to the Past Hyrule Castle
Remember Hyrule Castle? This is them now. Feel old yet?

We’ve almost reached the point of the review where I wrap everything up and… I can’t do it. As much digging as I’ve done, I can’t really come up with a design or mechanic I deem to be bad. The only thing I could think of is that after opening the game again, you only have three spawn places in the Light World and only the pyramid in the Dark World. So if you died in a dungeon and got absolutely furious at the lack of your own gamer skills (please don’t hurt me I’m joking) to the point that you save and quit, you don’t start at the beginning of that dungeon again when booting up. Not only that, but you don’t start with the same health bar- and magic meter that you had before saving either, which is instead put at half. You also can’t fast-travel in the Dark World, though every Light World equivalent does have a portal so it is accounted for. Most of these are just nitpicks due to technical limitations though; some games didn’t even have a save system to begin with.

I’m pretty sure the review has already made it clear enough but it’s no secret: A Link to the Past is one of my favourite games ever. I can’t stress enough how much I love exploring this world after you leave the sanctuary for the first time, and how much more becomes available for the player the more they progress through the game–especially in the second half. Combat has seen a good upgrade, especially with the great variety of items the game has. These shine even brighter in the dungeons they’re found in, which often have enemies- or mechanics designed specifically for these items. The dungeons themselves all feel really fun to go through, with the cherry on top being the bosses of each dungeon. Some are admittedly worse than others, but the good part is that they all have multiple ways to be killed without being limited to the item found inside the dungeon. All in all, I don’t think this will come as a surprise but I could only give the highest recommendation for this game.

10.0

Nepiki's Rating

Overall rating

Game Score
10.0
Fun Score
10.0
Positives
  • Updated combat over the first game feels very smooth.
  • World(s) are very fun to explore and encourage memorization.
  • Almost all of the dungeons and bosses are great.
Negatives
  • Only a few save spawns due to technical limitations, particularly in the Dark World.

Thank you for reading! I really tried my hardest not to sound biased but I honestly couldn’t come up anything that I didn’t like about the game. No game is perfect, but I couldn’t do anything else than to give it a 10. After all, it’s one of my three favourite games ever. The others will remain a mystery for now… maybe for another day? Who knows. Also, I can’t wait to start my first randomizer run of the game in the near future. I’m definitely going to stream it too so if you’re interested, you know where to find me!

I am not done with A Link to the Past yet however. I already hinted somewhere in the review what’s going to be next and… well, actually, I’ll leave it at that. Find out next week!

What is your favourite item from the The Legend of Zelda franchise?

I’ve already hinted at it in the review, but I love the hookshot to bits. It’s easily my favourite item in any Zelda game due to its versatility in combat and puzzle-solving. The rod items are also very good, though I’d have to play with them a bit more in the 3D Zelda games to give a justifiable opinion on them. The handheld games also has some items like the Mole Mitts, but it’s been too long since I used that item. The hookshot returns in almost every game after all.


Does this genre interest you? If so, I have multiple other Action-Adventure reviews ready for you!

About author

Nepiki

A gamer and writer at heart who wants to combine his hobbies into one. I am 25 years old and I'm from the Netherlands. Having played many games over the years, I wanted to express my love for them, however obscure they may be!

Comments
  • WCRobinson1

    February 12, 2021

    Reviewing a game you adore is really tough, being critical of a game that you struggle to find faults in. Then again, there is enjoyment from reading just why you connected to it so much, and this is a fantastic read – you can tell how much you like the game. As for the item, well, not to one-up you, but maybe the two Hookshots from Twilight Princess; the impressive acrobatics they allow late-on are so fun, and then the final boss of that dungeon is epic. The spinner was uniquely cool too, but I reckon it is the two Hookshots for me!

    Reply
    • Nepiki2

      February 13, 2021

      Thank you so much for the warm comment, I’m glad you enjoyed reading it! And true, the only thing better than a hookshot are two hookshots after all haha! I do like the spinner as well yeah, though I wish it was used a bit more outside of the dungeons. Would definitely not mind seeing that return though, it was a fun item!

      Reply
  • Aether3

    February 15, 2021

    A Link to the Past is such a fantastic game. It’s especially an eye opening experience, playing the games in order. So many later Zelda titles carried forward so much from this game that’s it’s easy to lose track of just how much a step forward this game was, but Link to the Past really established what the Zelda series would become, more so than any other. It’s a game from 1992 that really feels so many years more advanced.

    Reply
    • Nepiki4

      February 16, 2021

      Absolutely! Mechanics introduced in A Link to the Past are still used and improved upon where possible in the current day and age, and even many indie games view LTTP specifically as their direct inspiration when it comes to the Zelda franchise. We may indeed think that the difference between LTTP and Ocarina of Time was big, but the leaps LTTP took compared to its predecessors are, for a lack of better words, massive.

      Reply

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