The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

My exposure to The Legend of Zelda the series was terribly light. I’ve known it for as long as I’ve been playing games but, while several of the titles in the much-vaunted series piqued my interest, I hadn’t had the chance to test my adventurous mettle with them. It took a Nintendo Online subscription gathering dust on my Switch and an upcoming western release date anniversary for me to finally give away the third title, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, A try. Though considered a classic by many, does the RPG-adjacent title still hold up today so many years after its initial release? I was very happy to discover that the answer is a resounding yes, even for a Zelda newcomer like me!

The story for A link to the past begins a stormy night in the kingdom of Hyrule. A sleeping Link is awakened by a woman’s voice calling to him in his head, though his uncle quickly tells him to go back to bed, even as the older man, sword and shield in hand, wanders into bad weather towards the castle. Link follows his uncle into Hyrule Castle, only to find him after a horrific defeat. It’s up to our intrepid adventurer to continue in his guardian’s place, eventually coming to the rescue of Princess Zelda, who reveals that a most nefarious plot has swept the kingdom. Link’s journey connects to a long-forgotten past, revolving around missing maidens and lines of sages and knights, spanning two similar but oddly different worlds interposed on top of each other. Facing countless dangers along the way, it’s up to the player as Link to succeed in his mission to bring peace to Hyrule.

Zelda does indeed play a role in the plot!

The plot of A link to the past is simply but succinctly conveyed through brief dialogue and cutscenes as Link continues his journey. I wouldn’t say it’s an overly complex tale, but as far as classic fantasy stories go, the story beats are interesting enough to keep you motivated to continue through the title. You don’t really get a feel for many of the characters, but they fulfill their roles in the story well. I was a little disappointed how little the female characters had to do in the story unless they were useful fairies. Still, Zelda and the other maidens provide Link with clues as to what to do next each time he encounters them, and are integral to gaining access to the final dungeon, so it eventually balances out. Although the characters only have minor roles, several NPCs are rather memorable for their sprite designs and small plot moments as well; the old man lost on Death Mountain or the dwarven swordsmiths come most easily to mind.

A link to the past presents a surprisingly robust overworld to traverse as Hyrule is a large kingdom with many exciting places to visit. At first, traveling from one area to another can take a while as you have to battle enemies as you go. Luckily, you later essentially gain a fast travel option once you acquire a certain Magic Flute item. Dungeons also dot the land, each with a unique layout and environment and a boss creature that must be defeated to finally conquer the dungeon. Later, Link gains the ability to travel to an entirely different dimension outside world called the Dark World that sits parallel to Hyrule, with its own places of interest and dungeons to explore. Several discoveries in the Dark World and Hyrule require Link to pass between realms using the magic mirror item or special portals. The way the journey between the two is made so seamless is a testament to the game’s overall design.

A battle screenshot from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
Full of money but an empty bottle, Link travels the Dark World in search of a milk bar.

A link to the past there is no shortage of things to discover, both in the two overworlds and inside the dungeons. I’ll probably admit that I didn’t find out everything important on my first playthrough. I know I missed a few pieces of heart! I think the wonder of discovery goes a long way in instilling a sense of adventure in the player. Puzzles must be solved to access certain areas or to advance through dungeons. While these offer a good challenge, they never stray into the “near impossible” realm. Simply experimenting with various items and actions in your inventory will often help you figure out the trick to solving puzzles. There are special items collected from dungeons that will greatly help Link and boost his abilities or provide him with a useful new tool or weapon. These range from basic magic wands to the ever-useful Hookshot or boomerang. Sometimes acquiring dungeon items out of order can even make it easier to traverse other areas and open up previously inaccessible points of interest. These items prove indispensable not only for puzzles but also for boss fights.

Enemies range from weaker to more powerful variations, where your best bet is to try to avoid direct combat. I found the boss fights to be engaging and akin to a combative puzzle. There is always a strategy involving the use of items to help make a boss fight smoother which I enjoyed figuring out, even though it took me a while to successfully implement. The final boss battle requires you to go through many different objects and maneuvers in order to finally overcome it.

A screenshot of the dungeon map from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
In the game you can find useful dungeon maps.

You can strengthen various weapons such as your sword, bombs, bow and arrows throughout A link to the past by discovering special areas, often helping to facilitate future long-term battles. Gear will also help you run faster, take less damage, or move heavy obstacles out of your way as you progress through the game. For example, the optional Bombos Medallion you can acquire is a great tool for clearing mobs when a room needs more access. The more Link travels and discovers throughout his journey, the stronger he becomes. A link to the past encourages and rewards exploration outside the box. Each successfully completed dungeon will also give Link an extra heart of health and restore his combat fitness, making him even harder for the next challenge, in addition to acquiring a dungeon item.

Graphically speaking, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is quite eye-catching with colorful sprites and backgrounds. The level of detail in the boss designs is fantastic. I like the various sound effects used during battle when Link was performing special abilities. The soundtrack itself contains some very catchy and memorable tunes. The outer world theme and the dark world theme stuck in my head every time I heard them!

An inventory screenshot from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
The inventory screen is well organized!

The button layout for playing the title on the Switch is simple to understand, with the buttons dedicated to just one in-game task except for the “A” button, which was a catch-all for every unrelated action. in battle or outright. exploration. Want to interact with an object or talk to someone? That would be A! You filter acquired items in your inventory to equip only one to Link, then you can access the special property of said item by pressing Y. To use another item, you must pause the game and switch to the item you want to use. . Luckily, this freezes things up in the middle of a fight. However, since there are fights where you have to do this quite frequently, it constantly becomes tedious, especially later on when you’ve collected quite a few items. Still, navigation was not complicated. The most useful feature for gaming A link to the past on the Switch, there was the ability to pause the game and save anywhere in seconds. This was a godsend, especially before boss fights, as it saved me from constantly having to restart the whole dungeon if I ended up being defeated for one.

All in all, I’m pretty happy that my first exposure to the Zelda the series ended up being A link to the past. It set a solid foundation for the rest of the series in terms of core gameplay and overall design, especially subsequent 2D entries. I now look forward to the chance to browse more titles from the series! I will definitely come back to this one. If you own a Switch and are wondering what to do with a Nintendo Online membership, I highly recommend giving The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past A try. Like me, you may leave pleasantly surprised!

About Johanna Gooding

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