Similar to Link, I am on an adventure: to replay my favorite Zelda titles and compare this new experience to the past.
Entry #1: The Legend of Zelda (1987)
Play time: 6 hours, 12 minutes
When I first played The Legend of Zelda on the NES, I was 4 years old. I didn’t know what was going on with the story, the characters, or the items and dungeons. I was thrilled to play a game my older brother loved and was awesome at. I would emulate his actions on my own save file. At that age, there is no possibility I would have known all the secret heart areas, or that I needed the lamp from the shop to navigate the dark rooms in the dungeons. I was aimlessly playing some game. Fast-forward a few years later and suddenly those secrets turned into conversations with friends. I would stare at my watch during school; counting down the minutes until I could go home and fire up that slick gold-cartridge to apply what I learned. While I did eventually slay Ganon, the sense of accomplishment was nothing compared to what I just experienced when I slayed him yet again.
When I decided to embark on this adventure, I knew I wanted to start with The Legend of Zelda. Afterall, it’s the first title in the series and the one I felt I knew best. Sure enough, from start to finish I did execute mostly on memory. Although, I did draw a few blanks: notably, the location of several dungeons and heart containers. I also forgot where to find the Red Ring until I actually got to dungeon 9 and recalled those eyes in the map! Granted, I had one big disadvantage: I didn’t have the world map! This map came with the original game cartridge. Regardless, what I learned from this experience is the true beauty of the first title, and how few subsequent titles compare. In fact, the direct sequel on NES, The Adventures of Link, is completely different. You don’t even collect rupees!
My playthrough was very much like riding a bike: I mostly knew where to go, where the secrets are, and the timing needed to defeat enemies. No doubt this accelerated my play time. But with every dungeon completed, I thought to myself: how could a kid figure this out? For example, one of the heart containers is found by burning a bush with the lamp and walking down stairs. Another example is dropping a bomb in an otherwise useless area of the game. Who thinks to try this? And once you stumble upon success, the next logical step is to drop bombs on every wall or burn every bush! Dare I say it, but this is a lot like Dark Souls. It’s a world that is logically built, but illogically navigated. Certainly a doable system back when gamers had access to maybe 2-3 good games per year, and could spend hours with trial and error in the land of Hyrule.
After roughly 6 hours, it was time to face Ganon and save Princess Zelda. I did what any normal veteran Zelda franchise player would do: I tried to slash at this magic bullets. That didn’t work. I died and died and died; thinking I must not have the timing quite right. In the spirit of retro gaming, I avoided Google and went to the person who was my one true source of Zelda information: my brother. He recalled that you have to hit the invisible Ganon with your sword and then with “whatever item you get in that dungeon.” Which, it turns out, is the Silver Arrow. And there is the beauty of Zelda: using recently found items to progress through the adventure. This is a theme used throughout the franchise, and was recently modified to add some variety to the gameplay. I didn’t feel like I cheated by asking my brother for help. I felt like I really won. It’s more than just telling me how to win. It’s that implication that after 27 years, he remembered what to do. And just like he did then, he’s again helping his little brother beat the bad guy.