The lights are on
While I appreciate the original Legend of Zelda and enjoyed playing through it years after its release, I was a toddler when it originally hit store shelves in 1987. I obviously wasn’t cognizant enough at the time to recognize its impact on the industry, but I do have faint memories of watching my father and step-father play through it as a child. I grew older and became enamored with the Mario series, Mega Man, and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, but Zelda mostly escaped me until my eighth birthday. However daunting the game seemed to me when I was younger, I felt ready when I opened my birthday present to find A Link to the Past.
It was the same day I received my Super Nintendo, along with the included Super Mario World. I wanted both games more than anything in the world, but I decided to pop Zelda in first. After waking up in his house, I assumed control of 16-bit Link for the first time. I picked up a couple of pots, grabbed the lantern, and then walked outside. That’s when I heard the ominous music and saw the rain for the first time. Looking at it now, the rain seems utterly unremarkable. It’s a standard weather effect, and didn’t try anything artistically dangerous. Despite this, it was something I had never seen before.
It wasn’t so much the graphical element of the scene that fascinated me, but the overall mood. The lighting outside was dim, rain pounded down, thunder sound effects played, and armed soldiers stood guard down almost every path. I tried talking to them, but they all assured me that I was just a little kid and should go back to bed. Throughout this, Zelda spoke to me about her dire situation in the castle. This combination of elements painted the scene perfectly – bad things are happening, and no one could possibly believe this kid could do anything of real significance. It took all of five minutes for me to be absolutely sold on this game. I had waited what seemed like eons to my young mind for Super Mario World, but it could wait for now.
As I progressed in the game, I couldn’t believe how vast it seemed. Defeating the wizard Agahnim in the Light World seemed as climactic as anything I had ever seen in my history of gaming, and I fully expected credits to roll after dealing the final blow. To my surprise, I was transported to a sinister parallel dimension that featured seven new dungeons to explore. I had never seen a game this big before, and I was obsessed with scouring every inch of its maps.
Collecting items in all of my previous games was a simple procedure – I’d see the power-up or mushroom that I wanted to reach, and I’d get to it using my platforming skills. As anyone who’s played the series can tell you, Zelda was different. I’d spot a piece of heart on a cliff, only to be stopped by a seemingly uncrossable set of spikes on the path to the prize. Having to return to areas once I obtained specific items was a new concept to me, being used to the instant gratification of platformers.
I wouldn’t rest until I knew every secret and Easter egg in the game. I spent money on hint lines trying to figure out how to fill that one last spot on my inventory (the Cane of Byrna). I panicked when the purple bat in Kakariko Village attempted to halve my magic meter’s capacity, only to be relieved when I realized he had accidentally doubled it. Upon introducing my friends to the game, I felt like the coolest kid in third grade when I showed them how to defeat Agahnim with the bug-catching net.
While I could easily narrate my entire experience with A Link to the Past beat-by-beat, I don’t have enough room on this page to fully capture what this game meant to me. I had enjoyed and obsessed over video games before A Link to the Past, but this is the one that made it clear that gaming would be a huge part of my life from that point on. Almost 20 years after I played it for the first time, I still consider The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past to be the best video game I’ve ever played.
Check out our Zelda feed for more memories of this beloved Nintendo series.
This essay originally
appeared in Game Informer issue #222