It's been a quarter of a century since Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past was released in Japan on November 21st, 1991. To celebrate, I'll be sharing tons of content! Be sure to check out my album and remix reviews, this hilarious article, the LttP Remix Countdown, and a very special SUBCON Podcast 45, all dedicated to the Super Nintendo classic, Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past.
Everybody has to start somewhere, even if all that person is starting is a series of video games. For the Legend of Zelda series and I, it began with Link to the Past. Not the first Legend of Zelda game I played, but the first Zelda game I played to the very end. I didn't just finish the game either, I destroyed it. I lifted each rock, crashed into all the trees, and used the legendary Master Sword to anxiously poke at every inch of wall. This was all in a painstaking yet pathetic attempt to search out the many heart pieces and hidden treasures of Hyrule. I found those heart pieces though. All of them.
Running across shifting sands that reveal terrifying sand mummies, forever trapped waist deep in their own demise. An ominous crackling of thunder and lightning atop the windswept peak of a mountain. Even something as simple as that Mode-7 rainfall on a cold night felt impressively world building. I can go on for ages about how influential Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past is for me. The lands I saw, the enemies I fought, even the numerous times I fell off a ledge, all add up to a life altering experience.
First Time in the Golden Land
Like most kids, I was dumb. I only had access to the handful of games along with the family NES. Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros 3, Donkey Kong Jr.... So, as far as I knew in my childish brain, the gaming world only had two genres, colorful platforming games, or occasional puzzle game like Tetris, and the occasional but baffling fusion of the two like Pac Man or BurgerTime.
The very first time I played Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past, I didn't even know what it was. I grew up in a desert wasteland known as Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the time, my mother was a janitor, and would be sent to clean the various homes and offices she was sent to.
Each house was of a quality far higher than the one we lived in. Such a thing is obvious to me now, considering my mom was the janitor, and these folks were the type that could afford janitors. Anyway, there was one house in particular that I used to love going to. This spacious suburban home belonged to some well off family with a single son. A young teenager who lived the pampered life of an only child, a lifestyle I could only imagine. I never did meet the guy, so I simply assumed that he was the happiest and least bored kid to ever live.
It wasn't hard to learn much about this kids life though, at least the parts I cared about, which were all connected to the television in the living room. Underneath the big screen TV were multiple consoles. There was a Sega Genesis. There was a Super Nintendo. There was even an Atari Jaguar! What a world. The rest of the shelves were lined with more video games than a toy store. To a young kid like myself, this was heaven. The time passed by quickly as I tried game after game I had never heard of, and had no idea how to play.
I decided to try the impressively new, at the time, Atari Jaguar, and came face to face with the ugliest controller in gaming history, The games available to play were equally ugly, and surprisingly incomprehensible. I can say, first hand, that even a child would be unimpressed with the Atari Jaguar. Apparently the best way to dissuade someone from buying a Jaguar, is to own one.
I moved onto the Super Nintendo games. After a few different games, I fired up one more, quickly went through all the boring introduction screens and menus and finally reached the game proper. From my vantage point from high above, I found myself staring down at a game that had a lot of menus and functions, but no clear objective. My avatar was a colorfully flat sprite that couldn't even jump.
This game couldn't have gotten the platforming genre more wrong as far as I was concerned. The main character wore ridiculous clothing of reds and pinks and blues which clashed brightly against the golden pyramid he stood atop. I stared at the screen for a moment, without a clue as to what was going on in any way. I hit one button and the character's sword sliced through the air with a quick swipe. Not bad so far. I pushed another button and I dropped a bomb which promptly exploded in my face. Not so good now. I then fell into the hole at the top of the golden pyramid. once inside, I am quickly and unforgivably assaulted by what turned out to be the king of evil. I can't say I had a good experience with the game, having been brutally murdered by the incarnation of evil and all, but this series of random events became forever branded in my young memories.
Return to the Past
About five years later, I came across this game again, a little wiser, but not by much. Memories of a golden pyramid and a funky clothed elf laid long dormant by this point. I began to explore Hyrule for what I believed was the first time. Over the next few weeks, I'd arrive home from school and immediately plunge into a world of puzzles, enemies, and enemies that are secretly puzzles.
I started up the Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past, and the epic intro music rang through the mono speaker on my television. I entered my name “ANTHNY” and yes, it was in all capitals, since I hadn't even noticed the separate section of lowercase letters. Also, yes, the 'O' is missing. A recurring theme of classic video games is my name never fits. It gave me a very particular type of inadequacy about the amount of letters in my name. So, throughout my first play through, every character (and the signs in town) would shout my butchered name at me like they had Tourette's and "ANTHNY" is Hyrulian for asshole.
The game faded to black. When light returned I found myself lying in bed as text scrolled along the screen. The first thing I noticed was that my character was not named Zelda. Apparently Zelda was the name of the girl speaking to me. I silently nodded in understanding. That's one less gamer faux pas to worry about (Though as an aside, piss off Nintendo fans by calling Link, 'Zelda,' and Samus, 'a robot.') Zelda quickly tells me that she is trapped in the castle dungeon by Agahnim, and he has even done away with the other missing girls! Wait, are they missing because Agahnim did away with them, or did he do away with them, hence they are now missing? Can you telepath me some details Zelda?
Slow down princess, I haven't even gotten out of bed yet. Missing girls? Agahnim? Seven wise whats? Who's ancient seal is being opened? Is this some kind of Hyrulian innuendo, because I think I like it.
The text ended and I awoke. A blue haired man told me to stay put, and I audibly scoffed at him. Try and stop me old man, it's not your name in the title either. It might not be The Legend of Link, but it isn't the Legend of the Blue Haired Asshole Uncle either. In defiance I began to hurl pots around the room the moment he left. Apparently I have the coping skills of an untrained dog.
After I destroyed anything that wasn't tied down, I decided it was time to actually defy my uncle by going outside. Spats of cold rain fell from the sky in full Mode-7 glory, but the impact was wasted on me. It's hard to appreciate the little things when I had discovered that there was a whole world of objects to pick up and throw, starting with the many bushes planted neatly in front of my house.
Eventually I decided to stiffen up, and explore like a hero should. Definitely because I am a hero, and not because Zelda was telepathically nagging me. After getting bossed around by a couple soldiers (and throwing some bushes at them) I eventually found an entrance into the castle basement.
I lift up one final bush and dive into the dark hole that is revealed. I land in some surely cold, definitely disgusting water. I would be so angry about my clothes getting soaked (something no game character ever seems to get upset about) but I was already out in the pouring rain for an hour, so I suppose it makes no difference. I move on to find my blue haired uncle already there, and already injured as well. There were no enemies, nor any traps in the room. All I could imagine when I look back on it is that he must have had a stroke from all the excitement.
Before my useless and dying uncle could uselessly die, he decided to make himself useful by handing over his sword, and quickly teaching me the sacred sword technique used to protect the kingdom of Hyrule. Although, for a legendary technique, I figured it out immediately. In fact, I'm pretty sure I already mastered this ultimate attack way better than my uncle ever did. Now it's time to save this princess that keeps telling me to save her, like it has to be about her all the time.
With sword in hand, I clumsily slashed my way through Princess Zelda's castle, beating up guards and destroying the royal front lawn in a sad search for spare hearts to regain a bit of health. Some hero.
As I continued deeper into the castle, I eventually found myself winding through a series of dank cavernous rooms hidden deep below. The enemies down here were stronger and more numerous. I'm not sure how the hierarchy of the Hyrulian royal guard works, but it appears that the toughest, and most loyal knights in the Hyrule army are relegated to guard duty deep in the castle basement. I can't imagine these soldiers hiding out in a room somewhere in Basement Level 2 is going to see a lot of action, especially when most heroes break their ankle falling through the castles secret entrance like one blue haired uncle I won't mention by name.
At the very least, it can't be good for morale.
"You are Hyrule's most highly decorated knight. The people of this land owe you a debt of gratitude for your dedication to the safety and justice of this land. Now head downstairs, where you will stand guard over some probably important treasure down in the lower right corner of the second level of the royal basement. It is there that you will stand guard, ceaselessly, and await all challengers worthy of battle with you!"
"My King, with all due respect, that doesn't sound like something I'm interested in-"
"Don't be ridiculous! There is no greater honor than to be far out of sight of the townspeople, and reside, alone, in my royal basement, your only company, the foes you must occasionally slay! Now take your blue armor and get in the basement! Make sure no one steals whatever is in this box, and please stop making eye contact with me."
Anyway, I reach the deepest depth of the castle. I enter a jail like room, with Princess Zelda herself locked in one of the cells. As I approach, I'm suddenly assaulted by the ball and chain wielding foe that blocks the path to the princess. I can only assume this vile fiend is the evil wizard that's been causing all this trouble! I fling the recently stolen, and quickly beloved boomerang at him. Unfortunately the boomerang did little to stop his assault. Surely there was no tougher opponent in the land than this boomerang shrugging villain.
I begin to stick and move, timing my attacks between the powerful swings of the ball and chain. The ball and chain though, is not exactly a weapon of timing and finesse, and I'm not one for timing and finesse either. Instead of the ballet of reflexes and problem solving Miyamoto must have had in mind, I just got brutally clobbered into a game over.
I don't give up so easily though. I return for another try, and that's when I notice the pots in an open cell, next to Princess Zelda, and I do the only thing I'm good at. I lift those pots, and I hurl them. Luckily there are hearts underneath, which is nice. With health replenished I decide to go at the boss with full strength.
Then I have an epiphany. Instead of swinging my sword angrily and hoping for some divine intervention, I decide to grab the final pot and bring it with me. I hurl it into that jerk's face. The attack finishes him off. Who needs swords? I'm just going to bash my enemies in the head with large, heavy objects. I will teach the ways of object throwing to my children, and my grandchildren, and I will call this the legendary technique that saved Princess Zelda.
Oh right! Princess Zelda! I saved the princess! I'm a hero!
She appears to be a real princess too. Although she could be playing the long con, but from what I can tell, I wasn't tricked into saving some very confused living mushroom. I had defeated evil, saved the princess, and surely brought peace to the land.
...So when do the credits start? How come we got to sneak out this hidden exit? A hero should leave through the front door...
I can write a book about the Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past. This article is merely the beginning. Did you really believe I could bring an article in at under three thousand words? I've got so many more thoughts and memories associated with this incredible classic. I haven't even entered the first dungeon yet! If you want to read my continued adventures of playing Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past, please, please, please let me know by sharing this article and by subscribing to me on Patreon. There is a video games' worth of unfinished business here.