The Legend Of Zelda
- Nintendo, 1986 -
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Miyamoto's Magic And Imagination
The Legend Of Zelda
—a bright, new day in gaming.
Do you recall all of the imagination and wonderment that danced through your fertile mind when you were a child? You naturally approached everything with that tingling feeling of newness and excitement, of an unspoiled or untainted magic that hadn't yet dissipated... that hadn't yet been stamped out and suppressed by the rigors of the day-to-day drudgery that many of us seem to be, perpetually, set in.
Everything was fresh and vivid and the world was a place of pure sensory overload.
At play, in your backyard or at the park, that gnarled branch that looked like it had a hilt, carved specifically for your hand's grip, became your wooden sword. And that neglected piece of cardboard or that dented trash can lid, your shield.
You engaged in swordplay, as you frolicked amongst the creeping shadows, battling all forms of goblin and other imaginary beasts, standing between you and lost treasure. Look! Those bushes that seemed out-of-place may have sheltered secrets. And those suspicious knotholes and deep hollows within those aging trees or those time-worn caves that burrowed into the shadowy recesses of that hillside... Well, who knows what mysteries may have lain there?
The Legend Of Zelda
... where it all began.
Shigeru Miyamoto knew. And he vividly transposed his childhood whimsies and set his electric dreams upon the circuitry of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Composed of a 128-tiled Overworld map and nine, subterranean labyrinths of the Underworld, his vision gave many players their first taste of the sheer greatness that an adventure/action-RPG could attain.
Glimmering inside its golden encasement, The Legend Of Zelda held riches that a whole generation of gamers would learn to treasure and that would forever lift the self-induced, low ceiling that the short-sighted industry hid under. From that point on, Miyamoto's mind-expanding masterpiece inspired other game developers to look beyond mere platforms and to raise their sights for the stars and moon.
Before The Legend Of Zelda, open-world exploration—seamlessly-integrated with elements of role-playing, clever problem-solving and rewarding discovery—did not exist on the NES.
The self-contained batteries of The Legend Of Zelda
were an innovation that this game bestowed upon the video gaming console world—the ability to save progress in an expansive gaming environment.
Nor did its breakthrough inclusion of what the back of the game's box calls, "EXTENDED PLAYING POWER"—which, in plain words, means internal batteries. These batteries were soldered within the cartridge and were used to store and save the progress of up to three players' accounts. (Memory cards and the sort were a science fantasy in the 8-Bit generation.)
For the first time, players could step in and out of their quests with the ability to escape at any point. Gone was the apprehension of having to start anew and agonizingly-rechart all of that progress in such a heady game. The battery pack would become an essential component for future RPG's (like Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior), extensive adventures (like Kirby's Adventure and StarTropics) and brain-teasing, first-person puzzle games (like Shadowgate and Maniac Mansion) on the NES.
Nintendo has always held itself to high-quality expectations with its games and consoles. So it comes as no great surprise that that same degree of pride showed in The Legend Of Zelda's standard-setting package design and 46-page manual. Complete with full-color, glossy illustrations, screenshots, backstory, tips and more, the manual was so highly-regarded that during the game's opening scroll, Link himself holds up a sign that implores the player to "PLEASE LOOK AT THE MANUAL FOR DETAILS."
An additional insert that functioned as both a fold-out map and strategy guide helped topple the first domino in what would become the formation of Nintendo's Counselors' Corner—a dedicated staff that fielded calls from a special hotline number. Their singular task was to feed distressed players valuable nuggets to keep their quests of Zelda moving forward. Ultimately, the company's successful foray into publishing with the Nintendo Power magazine would feature the Counselor's Corner, along with more treats for Nintendo's ravenous fandom.
Will Link's first steps be towards westward, eastward or northward expansion (and your first enemy encounters)? Or will he step into that dark cave of mystery? Hmmm...
Now that we have touched upon some of the forward-thinking features that fast-forwarded gaming development closer to today's levels, let's peer deeper inside the actual gameplay and see why the legend grows more as time passes and why its name seems apropos.
From the game's first screen of action, the player of that era may have been taken aback. Its bird's eye viewpoint presented the play in a much different manner than many gamers were accustomed to. Even now, The Legend Of Zelda almost feels like a board game, spread across a grid of screens.
While so many other titles were shuffling along, like a side-scrolling chain gang, Link (in this case, a symbolic broken link in the chain) was free and unencumbered to choose his own destiny, screen by glorious, pixelated screen, traveling north, south, west or east across Hyrule's vast geography.
The topography of Hyrule is translated across 128 rectangular parcels, where the eastern and southern sections of the map are abundant with greenery—shrubbery and trees surrounded by rivers and larger bodies of water along the east coast's edge.
North and west bears barren desert, rocky outcroppings and mountainous features. Along with a desolate cemetery in the middle, there lies two self-contained islands. Prominent water features in the form of two lakes and the natural border of a waterfall-fed river renders Link, virtually landlocked (with the exception of a footbridge or two)—at least, until Link seizes the Ladder/Stepladder and Raft, and becomes stronger and can better protect himself with a Magical Shield.
And if that was not enough terrain to explore, should the player stumble upon a suspicious cave or tree seemingly planted out of place, the flat plane of the Overworld shifts, giving way to a network of underground rooms and mazes containing residents in hiding, deeper riddles to unravel and keys to unlock the pathway to magical treasures and mythical beasts beyond!
The Old Man utters legendary parlance that will go down in the annals of video game conversation (something that, in that era, was rarely meaningful, if downright, grammatically-correct and understandable): "It's dangerous to go alone! Take this."
Once the player faces her/his fears and enters that first cave, there's no turning back. And with that, now that twisted twig in your childhood self's hand has magically transmuted into a WOODEN SWORD! Taking those renewed, brave steps up out of that cavern, you now command the power to begin contributing to the legend that awaits.
Early on, Link’s journey will be a dangerous one, if he wanders west and northward—even with the wondrous Wooden Sword in hand. If the early, impassable waterways and beguiling Lost Woods (one of two Overworld mazes that influenced Metal Gear [Click here to read more about that in our Metal Gear review.]) don't dissuade you, sweeps by swift, deadly beasts—Lynels (faun-like, sword throwers), Molblins (spear-chucking, bulldog-like brutes) and Ghinis (ghosts in the graveyard) will send an unprepared Link retreating back to the safer groves of the east. (Link should venture this way only after he has his Blue Ring, Magical Shield, Magical Boomerang, Red Water Of Life and possibly, 12 Heart Containers, then the trip will be worthwhile with a Magical Sword and Power Bracelet awaiting him.)
If you press the START button, Link's Inventory will be seen in the Subscreen. Collecting and stockpiling your Inventory becomes a necessary obsession, if Link hopes to ever find Princess Zelda and face-off against Gannon/Ganon.
Once Link feels his courage rising and he dispatches a few ruffians of the Hyrule wild, he'll realize that he can collect valuable leftovers—like the Clock (or Magical Clock, according to the manual, that let's Link pass through enemies unharmed, while still in the present screen), energy-replenishing Hearts and the almighty Rupies.
Yes, the Rupy—crystalline jewels that serve as the currency of Hyrule (flashing yellow and blue ones are valued at one, while blue ones are five). Rupies (like money in the real world) play a crucial part in Link's ability to progress. When enough Rupies are saved up, Link will be able to barter his coveted crystals for powerful items and weapons, like a Blue Candle, Key or Magical Shield (which will be a wise investment early on, especially against the water-dwelling Zola's ball).
Shops are stocked with everything from Bombs to Enemy Bait/Food, but be sure to window-shop first and compare prices because some goods can be found at discount prices elsewhere.
An underground beehive of business is buzzing beneath the surface in several areas across Hyrule's Overworld map. Link just has to locate the caves where the Merchants have set up shop. Sometimes, Bombs will blast open the way. Other times, the Blue or Red Candle will torch the path to subterranean staircases. (Do NOT attempt in real life! Heed Smokey Bear's warnings, please.) Finally, some markets may emerge if Link activates statues by bumping into them.
Because Rupies hold so much value, it is crucial to build your reserves quickly.
For those of you who like to gamble, testing the hands of fate, Link's Rupies can be wagered 10 at a time at the Money Making Game. For those of you who like a more proven way to financial gains, defeated enemies occasionally drop them. But, for the biggest windfalls, Ganon/Gannon has defectors in his armies and if Link can find their hideouts, he will be rewarded with donations to his cause!
Not all doorways are good, this game had the foresight to add unpredictability and realism. If you aren't careful, you will be charged to repair the damage left by your bomb blast by a recluse, reluctant to see the light of day.
Beyond purchasing provisions for Link's great travels, Rupies hold other benefits for our hero, as well.
For one, they can be used to pay for information. Money talks and so will informants, when a few Rupies are offered up to lubricate and loosen their lips.
Once Link gets his Bow and Arrows, each arrow costs one Rupy to use. Be careful—for each errant shot is the equivalent of letting money fly free in the wind.
And finally, there may be an Old Man or two, who would be willing to part with extra Bombs for a healthy share of Rupies.
Bombs are precious commodities that open up the game. They are the ultimate item for your inventory because they, not only, uncover new doorways and caves (as previously-mentioned), but they also add some much-needed bang to Link's early attack.
The mighty Bomb can double as quite the effective weapon for some of the tougher foes... in fact, there may be a few enemies who are impossible to defeat without it.
Along with Bombs, the Blue Candle is a welcome companion for the lonely explorer of Hyrule. Its versatility is rivaled only by the Bombs; its flame can burn away darkness, enemies, trees and bushes alike. The Blue Candle can be ignited only once per screen; however, the Red Candle, which is found in Level-7, sparks infinitely.
During his travels, Link will no doubt become famished and weakened through his energy-draining encounters. There are four ways for Link to recover his health:
- earn Hearts through his battles, left behind by fallen foes
- find a Fairy in battle, left behind by fallen foes, and successfully touch her before she floats away or eventually vanishes
- find the springs where the Fairy exists, and step forward into the serene pool to get healed
- buy Blue Water Of Life (or Life Potion with one usage) and Red Water Of Life (or 2nd Potion for two usages) from the Old Lady to take a refreshing swallow to replenish Link's ravaged body
A Fairy's touch will replenish Link's Hearts.
Defense plays a major role in Link's survival throughout the game, but especially early on. It is important to know when to fight and when to flee for self-preservation.
In future installments, there is more focus and specialized control on Link's defensive tactics. In The Legend Of Zelda, however, items invigorate his lifeline and provide a broad blockade to potent projectiles.
No item more greatly exemplifies defense than the Magical Shield. When Link faces arrows, swords, stones or harmful balls spewed from Stone Statues or Zolas (perhaps this game's pick for most obnoxious enemy—Bubbles and Wall Masters, notwithstanding) with Magical Shield in hand, all dangers are safely knocked aside.
In Hyrule, rings are more than a fashion accessory; they can actually extend your life expectancy. They come in two colors: blue and red.
The Blue Ring, which can only be found in one shop at a whopping price of 250 Rupies, is worth the worldwide search. The spoils? It bestows the added protection of absorbing half the damage from an enemy's strike, as well as expanding Link's wardrobe selection by turning his tunic to an iced shade of blue.
The even rarer Red Ring, which unfortunately is found near the end of the game in Level-9, weakens hits to one quarter of their original potency! Oh, and it gives Link a ravishing red ensemble to boot.
A boomerang is not the first thing that would come to mind, when thinking of taking a defensive stance, but in The Legend Of Zelda, only the Magical Shield is better.
Beware Like Likes like
and will devour your Magical Shield. Steer clear or you’ll have to buy another one.
The Boomerang can be hurled in diagonal directions, opening up Link's attack options, while temporarily stunning or destroying foes. During the time that some enemies are seeing stars, Link can pass through them unharmed for a rapid escape or can let loose a fast flurry of attacks.
The Boomerang can also retrieve goodies left behind by defeated enemies by striking its target and returning them to Link. And the Magical Boomerang brings it to the next level, reaching across the entirety of the screen.
Waters Of Life (or Life Potions, according to the actual game's opening scroll) restore Link's life, whenever it is slipping away especially fast. Although this technically is not a true tool of defense, this power-packed, thirst quencher does protect Link from an unwanted Game Over and interruption in the action.
The Water Of Life/Life Potion comes in two colors: the Red Bottle can be imbibed from twice, while the Blue Bottle only once. They can be refilled by purchasing them for 68 and 40 Rupies respectively.
And, of course, the potions refill Link's Heart Containers (or Container Hearts, if you follow the game's opening list of "All Of Treasures"). Heart Containers fortify Link's life meter, adding more, well, hearts to our hearty hero's health.
The Old Lady will sell Link her special Blue or Red Water Of Life—but only if he brings the Old Man's Letter.
Link begins with a paltry, yet precious three, but as he wanders Hyrule and recovers pieces of the Triforce, he will discover hidden ones, while others will be earned as a reward for defeating the bosses of the labyrinths. By the time he meets Ganon/Gannon, he can have a maximum amount of 16 Heart Containers.
Learning the lay of the land of Hyrule's Overworld may have been gaming's first sampling of what open-world exploration could be. It is a fun excursion all its own, powered on by a lively overture of music. But, it is indeed—pardon the pun—only scratching the surface.
Link's deeper purpose is to gather up the eight pieces of the sacred Triforce (to help bring him closer to freeing Princess Zelda from the clutches of Ganon/Gannon), scattered across the Underworld by Zelda. And so, phase two of this game’s composition is revealed: the puzzle-filled play of dungeon exploration.
Walking down those stone steps into oblivion, gloom-filled music, with its minor-key runs layered behind long, low, mournful passages, set the serious tone. Grotesque, gargoyle-like statues are the first sights greeting Link upon entrance to the Underground labyrinths. These nine mazes make up the meat of this game; they are where the significant actions occur that propel the story and get you ever closer to Zelda's freedom.
Just like the Overworld, the Underworld play looks remarkably like the board game, Clue, from above and will take similar deductive skills to solve. Link's exploratory and survival skills are challenged within each basement region.
Each maze presents new puzzles, starting with finding a Compass and Map so as to not wander aimlessly in darkness and danger. Once these necessities are located, Keys open new routes, secret walls can be exploded and breached, and large blocks can be moved, opening new passages or revealing items.
You never know what may lie in the next room of the Underworld mazes - sometimes an Old Man imparts knowledge or offers Link help in other ways.
Of course, Link isn't going to be able to just tiptoe through the temples, taking his treasured items and shard of Triforce without being tested.
A roster of Underworld ruffians brings the wrath with bats (Keeses), poisonous snakes (Ropes), skeletons (Stalfos), mummies (Gibdos), wizards (Wizzrobes), knights (Darknuts) and more. And when Link is one room removed from contact with the labyrinth's main boss, its unfriendly growling will ominously echo through the rooms' walls, sending an audible warning.
The nine labyrinths are laid-out in crude shapes (referred to, respectively, as Eagle, Moon, Manji, Snake, Lizard, Dragon, Demon, Lion and Death Mountain [or skull]) and are protected by major bosses—most of which come in animal-like forms, especially dragons. These bosses typically take several sword strikes to defeat or are beaten with the aid of whatever treasured weapon or item Link finds in that particular level. With each beast going down, Link becomes stronger, earning another Heart Container and one more tangram piece of the Triforce.
After Link conquers the first eight levels of the Underworld and has become stronger and fully-stocked with weapons and items (say, where does Link store that Stepladder/Ladder and Raft?!?), he will be able to face his biggest test yet—battling through Death Mountain (Level-9) to confront Gannon/Ganon and to rescue Princess Zelda! Are you brave and wise enough for the challenge? Will you do your part to make the legend grow ever-brighter???
The Legend Of Zelda dawned in the 8-Bit childhood of the gaming era, thus restricting it to certain dictates or constraints. Like a child, restricted to curfew, going to school and—GASP!—eating his/her vegetables—the pure potential of Link and The Legend Of Zelda would be realized in their older years, when seasoned maturity and unbridled freedom (in the form of technological advancements and the growth of the gaming industry) would set them well on their way to forging their own special places in history.
However, Miyamoto's vision and wherewithal to see the production of The Legend Of Zelda through, pushed the game beyond mere boxy graphics and simple colors. The imaginative sum is so much greater than its technologically time-locked parts.
Link, who himself looks like a diminutive person or child, ironically, is dressed like another famous child-like character, J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Peter Pan existed in Neverland and was the boy who wouldn’t "grow up." Miyamoto's vision of Link and his epic adventure maintains that same declaration—the innocent wonderment and imaginative exploration of The Legend Of Zelda carries the player back to a time in youth that feels like one is suspended in a prepubescent stasis.
Donning brown sleeves, tights and belt with Kelly green tunic and cap, young Link walks in a lonesome world where unfriendly fiends seem to be lurking around each new turn, and where the only interaction with adults comes when their clandestine caves and coverings are coerced from the harsh, stark landscape.
What Link lacks in mobility—inability to take angled footsteps, or to swim, or to jump, even—he makes up for with his inquisitiveness.
Hey... that shrub looks conspicuously out-of-place... Maybe I can burn it (Again, please don't try this in the real world!)?
I know there has to be more than the naked eye can spy in this screen... Maybe I can push that statue, tombstone or block?
Maybe I can step behind that waterfall?
Perhaps those interesting rock formations conceal something—if I could just crack that surface? Don’t ever lose that child's thirst for learning and curiosity!
The Legend Of Zelda reaches out to the child, deep in each of us, in so many ways—maybe most powerfully with its magic.
Within the realm of Hyrule, the magic of music from the Whistle or Recorder can dry out lake beds, revealing hidden passages or carry Link away in a whirlwind. A Magical Clock suspends time for all evil in the immediate area. A Magical Boomerang can stun foes and retrieve dropped items far across the screen, all with the flick of a wrist. With a Magical Shield in hand, providing unparalleled protection, Link’s Magical Sword can cut down evil with ease. Waving the Magic Wand/Magical Rod, Link can cast spells at enemies; read incantations from the Book Of Magic and Link’s words hold the heavier weight of flames.
Finally, the Magical Key opens the way to all.
That whole idea of magic isn’t lost on mere items on the Sub Screen, the idea transcends the larger picture here. That touch of magic and imagination lives in each of us and Miyamoto finds the way to stoke the fire of curiosity in every manchild and womanchild who goes off in search of the golden Triforce.
The Legend Of Zelda crosses all ages and generations because it calls out to that early desire to explore, inborn into each of us. And Link serves as just that—a link—that will never age and whose quest will remain timeless. Thank you, Shigeru Miyamoto, for reminding us of the wonders of staying young at heart!
b. jones © 2016, 2017
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