Many Nintendo systems have seen at least two Zelda games released, with two notable exceptions. The Virtual Boy did not last long enough for Nintendo to release a single Zelda game. Then there was the Super NES, for which the company released a single Zelda game early in its life, and then never released another one for the system. That game, however, would go on to become one of the most beloved Zelda games of all time. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past would improve upon the features from the first two games while introducing new features, many of which would reappear in later games. Let me tell you about a great game from a series that should have had at least one other SNES entry at some point.
On a dark and stormy night, a young boy named Link is aroused from his slumber by a telepathic voice. The voice belongs to Zelda, the princess of Hyrule, who has been imprisoned in Hyrule Castle by Agahnim, the evil sorcerer. Agahnim has captured her, along with six other maidens, all of whom turn out to be the descendants of the Seven Sages who sealed Ganon, the King of Evil, in the Dark World many years before. His goal is to send all of the maidens into the Dark World and break open the seal, thus changing Hyrule into a world of evil. Link’s mission is to rescue the maidens, defeat Agahnim and Ganon, and restore peace to the land. The story is a bit deeper than in previous Zelda games, and is a fairly strong one for a Nintendo game.
As Link, your mission is to journey through the land of Hyrule, exploring towns and dungeons, defeating monsters, and solving puzzles, just like in so many other Zelda games. Following the mixed reaction to the side scrolling sections of Zelda 2, Nintendo restored the overhead perspective and made the game play similar to that featured in the first game. Link can use his sword to destroy enemies, solve puzzles to advance further, and collect colorful gems known as rupees so that he may buy useful items. As usual, there are many secrets to discover, which can lead to additional weapons and even a hidden room named after a person who entered a contest to have his name be featured in a Nintendo game. In the tradition of Zelda games, there are a lot of tasks to accomplish outside of the main quest, which will keep players coming back for more long after they defeat Ganon.
The sword is a useful weapon, but it is by no means the only one Link will utilize. He can collect a variety of weapons-some found in dungeons, some found in shops, and some hidden really well-but all of which can help him complete his quest. Returning items such as bombs, the bow, and the boomerang are as useful as ever, and many items that would show up again in later games made their debut here. There is the Hookshot, which Link can use to attack foes as well as to grapple onto things. The Fire Rod can burn foes and melt ice. The Mirror Shield offers better protection against enemy projectiles. Experimenting with each item can be fun, but be warned that some of them use up magic, which can be replenished by grabbing green bottles dropped by enemies and found underneath jars and hidden in the grass.
A notable new weapon that made its first appearance here is the Master Sword, which is an important part of the early portion of the game. Only the Master Sword can defeat Agahnim, and the only way to obtain it is to collect the three Pendants of Virtue which are hidden in dungeons scattered throughout Hyrule. These dungeons are filled with thrilling fights and clever puzzles, and for the first time, a special key known as the Big Key is required to unlock certain doors and chests. Every dungeon concludes in an exciting boss fight, and the bosses often require you to use at least one weapon in conjunction with your sword in order to defeat them. By collecting all three pendants, the Master Sword will become yours to wield, but even if you are victorious against Agahnim, the game is not over by a long shot.
For the first time in the series, Link finds himself exploring two different worlds, the second of which he will begin to completely explore after defeating the vile wizard. This second world, known as the Dark World, is like a twisted version of Hyrule in that it has more monsters, tougher dungeons, and an overall darker atmosphere. It is here that Link must save the seven maidens who have been sent here, and he will often need to transport between the Dark World and Hyrule to complete his quest. This is done by using a Magic Mirror to send Link from the Dark World to Hyrule and by using warp tiles to journey to various parts of the Dark World. Only when all of the maidens have been rescued will Link be prepared to face his final challenge: a large dungeon followed by a couple of more boss battles, including a very difficult one against Ganon.
When Link is not trying to restore peace to Hyrule, he can participate in a variety of side quests. Making its debut here is the Heart Piece quest, in which our hero can accumulate Pieces of Heart in order to obtain more heart containers. For every four pieces he collects, he can create a new heart container. Heart containers can also be picked up after most boss fights, and Link can have a maximum of twenty hearts by the end of the game. Other diversions include mini games that can be played to earn extra money and items and a quest to find a flute and use it to free a bird who can then carry Link to various places throughout Hyrule. Some side quests are optional, others are required, and all of them are fun to participate in and entice players to see everything the game has to offer.
The game is eighteen years old, and yet remains a classic for a lot of great reasons. There are tons of secrets to discover, dungeons to explore (eleven in all), items to collect, and memorable boss battles to fight. All of these make going through the game for a 50th time as wonderful as it was to play through it the first time. It has a few minor flaws, though. It is a bit short and easy if a player knows what he or she is doing, and running out of magic in some boss battles may force you to abandon the fight and collect more magic before restarting the entire battle. Still, the game as a whole is fantastic, and has been rightfully called one of the best Zelda games ever made.
Since it was released on a more powerful system than the NES, the game sports colorful graphics that made Hyrule more attractive than it was before. The character models and dungeons also improved, and the result is a visual treat that still dazzles to this day. A superb musical score is also featured, with the famous Zelda theme playing throughout Hyrule. Some tunes such as the Fairy theme, Kakariko Village, and Hyrule Castle made their debut here, and the improved sound quality of the SNES made them sound far better than the NES ever could. Other memorable tracks such as the Dark World, shop theme, and the final fight with Ganon add to the game’s sense of wonder, and the entire soundtrack is certainly one of the best ones Nintendo has ever made.
A Link to the Past was a massive hit, receiving a lot of critical acclaim, and becoming a best seller. Why, then, did Nintendo not bother to release a second SNES Zelda game? Perhaps they were so focused on releasing Link’s Awakening that they decided not to come out with a second SNES Zelda game so quickly. By the time that they could have feasibly made another 16-bit Zelda, other companies were preparing to unleash more powerful consoles, which would result in having 16-bit systems gradually fade away over time. As such, Nintendo likely opted to make a Zelda game for their next console, the Nintendo 64, in lieu of releasing another Zelda game for the SNES. Even a Zelda game released for the SNES near the end of its life would have surely been just as big a hit as A Link to the Past was, given the series’ reputation of offering spectacular game play. Surely it would not be out of the question for Nintendo to someday create a Zelda game in the style of A Link to the Past and release it onto Wiiware so that we may finally see the 16-bit sequel we have been longing for since 1992.
Eighteen years have past since the release of A Link to the Past, and players still go back to the game because it offers so much excitement. The features mentioned above make it one of the best Zelda games of all time, and one that will likely remain a classic forevermore. It has been ported to the Game Boy Advance with new features, and has also been released on the Wii Virtual Console, so that players who do not want to find the original cartridge have other ways to enjoy the game. It is simply a wonderful game, and one of the most beloved Nintendo masterpieces of all time.