Retro Gaming: Zelda: A Link to the Past

Game: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

System: Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

Year: 1992

Type: Action-Adventure

Claim to Fame: Viewed as one of the greatest games of all time, it sold more than 4 million copies!

Trivia: Many changes were made from the Japanese to American version.  The most obvious change was made to the subtitle of the game, which was renamed from Kamigami no Triforce “The Triforce of the Gods” to A Link to the Past. The font used to represent an unreadable language, Hylian, originally had designs of a vulture and an ankh. These designs were based on Egyptian hieroglyphs which carry religious meanings, and they were altered in the English version. The localization also changed plot details included in the instruction manual. The priest Agahnim became a wizard, and his background, which originally implied that he was sent by the gods, was altered to remove any celestial origin.

One of the most revered games of our time, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was destined to become a classic from the moment it was released.  This long awaited continuation of the Zelda series was the third such game released and the first released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.  The game was originally titled Zelda III and was planned for release on the aging NES console.  That plan was scratched with the SNES release date was announced.

One of the selling points of the SNES was that you could get your hands on Super Mario World and the new Zelda: A Link to the Past right away.  It was a big step for Nintendo to finally move into the 16-bit realm when other systems (such as Genisis) had already been there for years.  I think they were wise to bide their time and wait until the technology was perfected.  Some of the best video games ever made were for the NES and SNES.  Those two system held more “classics” than any other console.

At the time, most SNES game cartridges had 4 Mbit (512 KB) of memory. This game broke the trend by using 8 Mbit (1 MB), allowing the Nintendo development team to create a remarkably expansive world for Link to inhabit.  Like Super Mario World, this game used a simple graphic compression method on the SNES by limiting the color depth of many tiles to eight colors instead of the SNES’s native 16-color tiles. The tiles were decompressed at runtime by adding a leading bit to each pixel’s color index. Memory was also saved by eliminating duplication: The Light World and the Dark World are almost identical, and reverse engineering of the game’s ROM contents has revealed that only the differences were saved; otherwise, they would have needed to wait for a 16 Mbit ROM.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past returning to the series roots in regards to gameplay with a top-down perspective.  The action and movement is similar to the original Zelda yet much smoother and more approachable.  The development team worked really hard to create a game that is reminiscent of the original yet pushed the boundaries on story and character development.

A Link to the Past takes place before the events in the previous Zelda games.  You play as a young boy learning how to cope with being a warrior in the land of Hyrule.  You are awakened one evening by an urgent message from Princess Zelda.  She tells you that the evil wizard Agahnim is searching for seven girls who are descendants of the magic sages.  He requires their magical powers to break a seal that holds evil Ganon captive in the Dark World.  Unfortunately, it is too late and when Link confronts Agahnim, he and the girls are sent to the Dark World.  Thus begins our quest to save the girls and locate the legendary Triforce.  The Triforce is the only way to return the world to it’s former state.

The gameplay is divided between the Light and Dark Worlds, which Link can freely move between.  The Dark World is a negative image of Light World with gnarled trees, strange evil creatures, and extremely dangerous dungeons.  The Light World is more of a 16-bit version of the original Zelda with happy music, colorful characters and creatures, and lots of green trees and bushes.

The layout is nearly identical in both the Light and Dark Worlds. (which allowed Nintendo to work their magic- see above if you skipped this section!) There are several areas where to progress through the game you must jump from one world to the other and then back again.  There are hidden areas in both worlds that provide incentive to explore the same location in both Light and Dark Worlds!  You never know what you will find hidden under a shrub!

Progression through this game is attained by visiting dungeons to defeat bosses or obtain specific items which aid you in your quest.  There isn’t a lot of help to guide you to the next location you are to visit, but this is something I appreciate.  Modern games have taken away the freedom of exploration which was one of the reasons many of us play in the first place.  Streamlining the game for “ease of play” has actually driven many of us away from newer games.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past has everything you could ask for in a great video game.  It still looks and plays great after all these years and for many is a timeless classic that will live on and be shared with future generations.  (Can you believe that this game is already 20 years old!?)

After all this talk of old school Zelda I think it’s time to fire up the old SNES and pop in that golden cartridge.  Tidbit of Irony: Pandora is playing “the Advantage” covering the dungeon music from the original Zelda game as I write this.



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About Jonathan G. Nelson

Jonathan G. Nelson is the editor-in-chief and owner of NERD TREK. He is also owner/publisher at AAW Games /, a tabletop gaming company based in Snoqualmie, WA. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook.