A hero from another country, Link is found to bare the mark of the Triforce of Courage, meaning his fate is inextricably twined with that of Hyrule’s. The evil king Ganon has broke through the Sages’ Seals and captured Hyrule’s Princess Zelda. However, before Ganon can get his hands on her coveted Triforce of Wisdom, that would allow him to take control of the world, Zelda split it into 8 pieces and hid them around Hyrule.
It is your job as Link to reunite the 8 pieces and use them to defeat Ganon. Compared to later games in the series, the story in The Legend of Zelda is incredibly bare. This didn’t faze hardcore adventurers back in the late 1980’s, but there’s little of interest here for modern gamers looking to get their retro fix on Virtual Console. 2
After sampling the delights of the newer 2D Zelda games, players will have a hard time getting over how clunky and slow the controls are. This can get very frustrating when trying to avoid projectiles or enemies. However, persevere and you can still pick up the feel of Link quite quickly. Combat is simple enough, usually involving just a sword or a bow, and constantly respawning enemies means that getting around Hyrule can be a repetitive chore.
Difficulty on the overworld is less about battle tactics, as in later Zelda games, but your ability to handle swarms of enemies at once. The dungeon puzzles are equally as archaic, very much of the ‘move this here, switch this there’ variety, but when the game was originally released this was groundbreaking stuff, though knowledge of this does little to alleviate tedium for modern gamers. Testament to the original game design is that both the overworld and dungeons hold an a mysterious, eerie aura. 5
For a NES title, Legend of Zelda boasts some gorgeous graphics. Not as ageless as those of A Link to the Past, they still hold a certain appeal only otherwise found in the Mario Bros. series. Some gamers today may dismiss them as primitive, but they remain bold and clear.
The characters and enemies hold a relatively high number of frames (of animation), showing how well Shigeru Miyamoto squeezed the juice out of the console to get what were, at the time, amazing results. In particular, the start up screen was graphically spectacular. 3
Because of the NES’s feeble sound hardware, the sounds that emerge from your speakers are nothing short of basic. What they did with the lack of power was incredible as the tunes are still very catchy and almost powerful. In the dungeons they’re slow and mysterious and create an air of tension.
The music fits the style of the game, as after all, you would think it strange if they had an orchestral soundtrack to accompany such basic graphics. 8
If there’s one thing that this game hasn’t lost over time is its sense of atmosphere. Even without the soundtrack of Ocarina Of Time or the graphics of Twilight Princess, LoZ has dungeons which still feel cold and dreary, and forests that feel mysterious. It is very easy to lose yourself in this 8-bit Hyrule. 8
Without this game there would be no Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess or A Link to the Past, so in that sense, The Legend of Zelda has made a bigger contribution to the series than any of the others. It set many of the series’ gameplay paradigms and conventions, and aside from that, it introduced Hyrule, Link, Zelda, Ganon, and many locations such as Death Mountain which have since found a home in many players hearts. 9
The end product amounts to more than the sum of its parts; it’s a massive adventure, an 8-bit playground that, just when you think you’ve finished it, delivers a second, much harder quest. Retronauts should snap this up immediately, because despite the rapidly aging gameplay, this game is an industry landmark and like the T-shirt says, you should know your roots.