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The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
When you think of action RPGs, it’s almost impossible not to think of the Legend of Zelda series, the well-known and beloved franchise which started its humble roots on the NES, and quickly branched out into a series of games spanning almost every Nintendo console to date. While none could agree on exactly which is the objectively best game of the series, A Link to the Past — the third in the series, and the only to feature on the SNES — is undeniably at least one of the top five.
This Review: SNES (1992)
Near-Identical Versions: Game Boy Advance (2002), Nintendo Wii (2007), Nintendo WiiU (2013), New Nintendo 3DS (2016)
Game Length: 15-17 hours
Critic Rating: 94% aggregateThe aggregate critic rating is based on independent review scores from several other websites.
In what will be a completely unsurprising story for anyone who has played another game of the series, the green-clad and mute protagonist Link embarks on an epic quest to defeat the evil lord Ganondorf and rescue the fair princess Zelda, while restoring the corrupted Dark World to its former glory as the Golden Land, the resting place of the almighty artifact known as the Triforce.
That’s it, that’s the entire story.
What the Zelda games lack in complex plot and character development, they make up for in sheer fun. The game’s two worlds — the kingdom of Hyrule in the Light World, and the sinister Dark World — have a variety of environments to explore, foes to defeat, and a wealth of hidden areas and secrets to discover. The dozen or so dungeons generally have their own unique theme and feel — and yes, of course there’s an ice dungeon — and as well as having a variety of different enemies that must be defeated in various ways, the dungeons also feature simple yet satisfying puzzles that must be solved with the plethora of magical items and equipment Link will gather on his adventures.
Outside of the dungeons is a fairly large overworld to explore — two, in fact, with the Dark World being a corrupted and evil reflection of Hyrule — with no small amount of secrets, ranging from hidden caves filled with treasure or magical items, to talking trees, gambling mini-games, and much more. As Link acquires more powerful equipment to bypass obstacles such as heavy rocks or broken bridges, the worlds slowly open up and allow for more exploration and discovery. The game is surprisingly non-linear, with three early dungeons in the Light World and seven in the Dark World able to be completed in any order, though it won’t be possible to unlock every hidden secret without gathering all of Link’s magical items.
It’s hard not to find something to love in the adorable, cartoonish visuals of this game. The charming graphics help make the world feel alive, especially with little background touches such as the animated flowers with bouncing petals. A Link to the Past feels like being inside a cartoon, in the best kind of way — the varied landscapes and dungeons are colourful and exciting, the enemies and townsfolk are detailed and cute, the animations and special effects are absolutely top-notch. Whether you’re trudging through a swamp or exploring a mystical forest, there’s something new and interesting to see around every corner of this varied, technicolour land.
The game features an excellent soundtrack which, while hardly up to Final Fantasy standards, is memorable, upbeat and perfectly fitting for the theme of the game. If the rousing overworld theme isn’t enough to spur you on to adventure then I don’t know what will, while the Dark World theme is suitably moody while still being upbeat and exciting. The sound effects in the game are nothing short of perfect — at least, as close as the SNES can get to perfection. Combat and magic feel satisfying, bombs sound suitably beefy, Link’s adorable cries and whimpers match the cartoonish feel of the game perfectly, and the mechanical clink of the hookshot always sounds great. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as the whoosh-tink sound as Link swings his sword around after defeating a boss.
Gameplay-wise, imagine everything an action RPG should be — easy to learn, satisfying and responsive controls, a variety of fun weapons and equipment, varied and unique boss battles, and a plethora of different enemies to battle. A Link to the Past is all of these things and more, a paragon of 2D action RPGs, with gameplay that can be described as close to perfect.
A Link to the Past has a strong sense of freedom, exploration and wonder, and many of the most satisfying moments of the game come from discovering a clever use for items or abilities to access a new area, or to solve a vexing puzzle. There’s always something new around every corner to explore and discover, and while the gameplay is well-balanced enough that it can be completed by anyone with reasonable gaming skill, finding every last hidden secret without the help of a guide is an impressive feat indeed.
In conclusion, this lively, colourful game has aged surprisingly well and is a well-crafted, enjoyable experience for gamers of all ages. Despite its paper-thin story, the masterfully-crafted gameplay and quirky, unique game world make up for its shortcomings in spades.
The cartoonish style, bright colours and upbeat soundtrack make this experience a cheerful, light-hearted adventure to find a legendary sword, rescue princesses, defeat an evil villain, and save the world.
Because sometimes, you just need to relax and not worry about the heavy themes of more serious games. Sometimes, you just want to feel like a little kid again.