Since this is my 100th Monday’s game, I figured I’d cover my favorite game of all time: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the SNES.

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Link to the Past was one of those turning point games for the game industry. Where it’s predecessor started the idea that a game could be a journey and an adventure that tells a story through it’s events, Link to the Past was a game where the story became an integral part of the game, allowing not only the gameplay tell it, but actually unveiling itself as an expressed plot within the game.  The game was basically a workshop on how to merge the story elements of the RPG genre with more action oriented gameplay to form the adventure game.  Many spectacular titles on the SNES would follow in Link the Past’s footsteps, such as Legend of Mana, Secret of Evermore, Brainlord, Equinox, Shadowrun, Illusion of Gaia, Soul Blazer, and Terranigma.  But, even going beyond those, the inspiration can be seen in even more modern titles, such as Recettear or Ys.  Heck, even games like Mass Effect have elements which are derived from those laid out in the early Zelda franchise.

Link to the Past is basically an evolution of the first game of the series.  You play in the overhead isometric view of the first game and use the same baisc gameplay: swing a sword, block with shield, fire arrows, and drop bombs.  However, from there the game has a lot of additions and innovations.  In addition to the basic equipment, there is a cohort of special items to assist you on your journey ranging from a grappling hook to attack spells and even including an invisibility cape.  This is also the first game that featured the ability to catch a fairy in a bottle, a staple that would stick with the franchise and would spin off a wide array of jokes and crafts.

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Progress through the game also includes an increase in life in the form of heart containers (both dropped from bosses and collected in fragments around the world) and the discovery of the parallel Sacred Realm (Dark World) that would be referenced and appear in later games.  Indeed, Link to the Past has one of the biggest “Oh we’re just getting started!” moments about 1/3 of the way through the game with respect to the Dark World.

From the plot side of the game, Link to the Past set up a great deal of the mythos that set the stage for later games.  This includes things like the legend of the Triforce and the three goddesses, the master sword, the origins of Ganondorf, the role of the Zelda and the Sages as the protectors of the Triforce, and the green garb as being that of the chosen hero.  There’s a lot more than that, but those are the big points.

Artistically and musically Link to the Past was a careful study in balancing art direction with gameplay.  The music was catchy and always pertinent to what was going on in the game, and the artistic style of the game really highlighted the differences between the Light and Dark worlds.  Where the Light World is bright, green, and lively, the Dark World is drab, brown, and dead looking.  Indeed these contrasting themes were brilliantly executed to set a mood of underlying urgency and fear of imminent decay.  Likewise the dungeons were designed with an eye for the theme of each dungeon and the world in which it resides.

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Top: Light World. Bottom: Dark World

This is one of the handful of games that I’ve played over and over again in my days as a gamer.  I’ve honestly lost track of the number of playthroughs I’ve done, but it’s probably more than 20.  I’ve done speed runs, minimalist runs, no death runs, no save runs, 100% runs, and even the no-sword challenge.  The only game that comes close to the same number of play-throughs is probably Super Metroid, which I’ll cover some other day.

Now I’ve got a huge pile of nostalgia sitting on my head.  Time to dig out the SNES and play it again!

For those who’ve never played Link to the Past and are interested in it, there are many re-releases available for reasonable prices.  The most notable is that you can download it on Wii-Ware for $8.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?

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