(NES)

Game Review

The Legend of Zelda Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Philip J Reed

Rough around the edges, but an unforgettable adventure

When The Legend of Zelda was released in 1986, it was at least as much an eye-opening experience for gamers as Super Mario Bros. had been. Whereas that game expanded and solidified the left-to-right nature of platformers for generations to come, The Legend of Zelda opened sprawling worlds before us, and allowed us to go wherever we pleased. It was a deliberately disorienting experience, and it's one that's still easy to appreciate today.

Previous games — notably Atari's Adventure — attempted to unfurl vast landscapes before our eyes, but it's The Legend of Zelda that most classic gamers remember most fondly, and that's for good reason: the game is, and always was, a masterpiece.

From the impressive spritework to the marvellously evocative music, it's clear from the moment the game starts that you're in for a treat. What you do after the game starts, though, is entirely up to you. The Legend of Zelda was an open world adventure before that term had any meaning. Of course there are paths that can only be accessed through item usage, but, by and large, Hyrule is your oyster.

You control Link, who has been called upon to reassemble the Triforce of Wisdom, which has been split into eight pieces. He will also need to rescue the titular Princess Zelda, and slay the monstrous Ganon in order to rid the land of evil. And, once he does this, we assume that peace will reign forever. Ahem.

Control is simple: Link moves with a press of the D-Pad and A swings the sword, which is his primary weapon. Different items can be mapped to B by way of an innovative — for its time, of course — inventory screen, which grants Link an impressively large arsenal, and helped him to stand out among other gaming protagonists of his time.

Ideally you will complete each of the nine dungeons in sequence, but the lack of a proper map and some comically muddled hints from NPCs means you're likely to discover them out of turn. This might seen like a problem, but it's actually just a reflection of what gives The Legend of Zelda so much of its appeal: its versatility.

With so many options before you at all times — options which only increase in number each time you find a new item — you always have multiple ways to defeat enemies, evade traps and explore the world around you. While many players (particularly younger ones who are used to more specific guidance) are likely to be irritated by this openness, others will see it as an invitation to experiment, to learn by doing, and to hone their survival skills so that they'll be able to conquer whatever onslaught they stumble into next.

The game is so versatile, in fact, that sequence breaking and speed running have both become perennial pleasures, and no-sword and three-heart runs are self-imposed challenges that give even the best players a run for their money. Top this all off with a more difficult — and devious — second quest, and you have a game that's not only packed with gameplay, but bursting with so many possible ways to experience it.

Of course, being one of Nintendo's earliest masterworks, it's not free of glitches or quirks. The aforementioned hints are garbled by shoddy translation, and the lack of guidance or instruction can leave many important passages — and sometimes dungeons — almost impossible to find. Unlike sister game Metroid, a good portion of Link's items have limited ammunition, and so bombing every tile in the hopes that you'll find the way through is not always an option.

Fortunately the 3DS Virtual Console release features restore points, which can cut down on wasted ammunition and the unfortunate necessity of having to heal up and restock after death. Using them too frequently will — yes, will — affect your enjoyment of the game, but it's nice to have them there to keep the pace brisk and the frustrations to a minimum.

Any quibbles one might have with The Legend of Zelda, however, are going to either be very minor ones, or a simple reflection of the fact that the game just isn't for them. It's relentless, it's cruel and it's regularly confounding. However it's also mysterious and beautiful, and every accomplishment you make in-game, no matter how small, is legitimately satisfying. Having The Legend of Zelda on the go is certainly nothing we'll ever complain about.

Conclusion

Despite some growing pains, The Legend of Zelda has aged surprisingly well. A brilliant soundtrack, creative visuals and masterfully layered adventure come together to provide a gaming experience so deep that players still haven't exhausted its majesty. It's unapologetic in its open world approach, however, and the lack of hand-holding might be off-putting to those that expect it. For anyone who works through that barrier, however, it's a game that's still rightfully legendary.

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User Comments (86)

FluxOwl

#3

FluxOwl said:

Played this for the first time as an ambassador game. It's pretty neat, but I think I'll hold off on finishing it until the full VC release with restore points.

Geonjaha

#4

Geonjaha said:

It's one of the few Ambassador NES games worth the 4.50
Braces self for Donkey Kong Jr and Open Tournament Golf

zeeroid

#5

zeeroid said:

It's a great game, but a tough one to play when held up against modern design standards. I enjoyed my few hours with it last year but was never quite able to compel myself to finish it.

RR529

#6

RR529 said:

As an ambassador, I was able to play it for the first time, and I really enjoyed it. It's not quite up to standards of other Zeldas (IMO), but still a fantastic game worth the price.

grumblebuzzz

#7

grumblebuzzz said:

I kind of hate this game and I actually grew up playing it. I do love the music, sound effects, and other things from it, but to me, it's just way too difficult to be enjoyable. Zelda II (although insanely hard) is my favorite of the 8-bit Zeldas because I can actually make progress in it.

mrkuribo

#8

mrkuribo said:

@FonistofCruxis Yeah, it's a 7 from me too. LoZ is just too confusing and simple compared to the later games. It's fun for a while but I lost my interest even before completing a single dungeon.

Tasuki

#9

Tasuki said:

A great game but I have never finished it really. I always get bored half way through the second quest since all it really is is a rehash.

Haywired

#12

Haywired said:

Regarding the complete lack of guidance in the game, when Zelda was originally released on the NES/Famicom it came with a map alongside the instruction manual showing the location (and order) of the first four dungeons and other points of interest. I think it's such a shame that the Virtual Console version doesn't include this map within its virtual instruction manual as it was part of the game and gives people playing it now the wrong impression of the game (ie. that it's ridiculously confusing, obscure and badly designed). Obviously they can just find a map online, but they're not seeing/judging the game as it actually was and being needlessly frustrated and turned away because of it. They're not getting the full package on which to base their opinion. It would be like re-releasing a modern Zelda, but completely removing the map from the game's code.

I know because (having not played the original when it came out), I was one of these people!

Kaeobais

#13

Kaeobais said:

The game is hard, yes, but I think we all need to stop thinking of challenge as a negative point unless it's just unfair. I think new Zelda games need to be more like this one. Which do you prefer, honestly? Having no idea what to do, and having to explore to figure that out? Or knowing EXACTLY what to do, and yet having a sidekick spell it out for you all the same?

The game can be unforgiving, and I won't lie, that does damage my enjoyment a little bit at times, but at the same time it makes me respect the game more.

chewytapeworm

#15

chewytapeworm said:

Now restore points are a function, I may well start over. Challenging doesn't even begin to describe this game.

Chrono_Cross

#16

Chrono_Cross said:

LoZ is just too confusing and simple compared to the later games.

Way to contradict yourself.

This is one of the best games ever created. A shame you didn't like it as much as I did.

FonistofCruxis

#17

FonistofCruxis said:

@Chrono_Cross I think he meant that its simple because there isn't as much depth to it when compared to later Zelda games but also confusing because there's no guidance as to where to go and its hard to remember the way to various areas in the game.

Play_It_Loud

#18

Play_It_Loud said:

got this game as a gift for Christmas when I was around 4 years old. I remember staring at the map and feeling like I was about to start a real adventure. I spent countless hours figuring this game out on my own. I never beat this game, but made it to the final dungeon...I could not for the life of me figure out how to get the silver arrows...great times this game is truly one of a kind...Just like its cart this game is GOLD!

ajcismo

#19

ajcismo said:

Decided to dust this one off while on a road trip to Chicago this past weekend while at the hotel with the wife. (btw, I LOVE my 3DS and the ability to carry dozens of classics like this around with me) So, I found it kinda funny that a review of it showed up when I turned on my computer when I got home.
It amazes me how far along this series has evolved over the last 25 years, and yet so many of the features that made the 1st game so damn interesting, difficult and fun are still around today.
It is a classic, and something that all gamers of all ages should play through at least once. There is no doubt, it is a flawed game. Considering what it turned out to influence, which is just about everything in adventure-style gaming, those flaws are given a pass.

Dreadjaws

#20

Dreadjaws said:

This is really a classic. Younger players might scoff at it for being too hard, and I will counter with games today being actually too easy. We could go at this for hours, so all I'm gonna say is "Dodongo dislikes smoke!"

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#21

Philip_J_Reed said:

The game is hard, yes, but I think we all need to stop thinking of challenge as a negative point unless it's just unfair.

Just to clarify — and I know you weren't referring directly to the review — no points were taken off for difficulty, and I absolutely agree that I prefer this hands-off exploratory approach! It was, however, worth mentioning in the review as a potential issue for those who prefer later, more forgiving Zelda entries. :)

XDalleX

#22

XDalleX said:

This game was best when playing with your friends... and still Pen and Paper were usefull too... Games back then were diffrent...

sketchturner

#24

sketchturner said:

I may be in the minority, but I actually find Adventure of Link to be vastly superior to this game.

Kaeobais

#25

Kaeobais said:

@XDalleX My boyfriend and I recently beat it together, without the internet, by making our own map. Old games shouldn't be played any other way.

Except for Simon's Quest, because there's a difference between lack of hand holding, and convoluted mess :P

WanderFan91

#26

WanderFan91 said:

@sketchturner - I prefer Zelda II: The Adventure of Link to the first The Legend of Zelda, too
Not only that, but I found Hudson Soft's take on the Zelda formula, Neutopia, to be superior

motang

#27

motang said:

I have this on my 3DS as part of the Ambassador program, I should really play it as I haven't played this game in very long time.

BulbasaurusRex

#28

BulbasaurusRex said:

My apologies to the open world sadists, but I personally find a marked map to be absolutely essential to get much enjoyment out of this game. In my opinion, the poorly translated hints and the required randomly hidden entrances later in the game do make this game unfair without some kind of outside reference.

warioswoods

#30

warioswoods said:

It's hard for players today to fundamentally bracket what they know about the genre or franchise enough to see what this game offered.

When I first booted it up all those years ago (having played little beyond the first Mario), I was thrown into a clearing with a door at the top, and knew nothing about how the game would proceed from there. Of course, just like the mushroom placed in the first box in SMB, they put the old man right there in the first cave to give you a sword and send you off with a few cryptic words; "it's dangerous to go alone" made up the entirety of my knowledge at that point.

I remember stumbling into the first dungeon after hours of wandering around, and just feeling like it was some vast underground secret. When I beat it and received a triforce, I started to get the sense that there were more dungeons and more pieces, and things slowly built from there, with each discovery (trees can be burned to find passageways!) marking another moment of amazement.

If you play it today, forget about the franchise, because it didn't exist. Just think: "I'm controlling a little guy in a field. Where will this go next?" Then you'll begin to sense the full experience.

paburrows

#31

paburrows said:

Man I got all excited thinking that I had missed a North America regular 3DS release of this great game when I saw this review, only to have my hopes dashed when I went on the 3DS shop. Oh well, I hope that us non Ambassitors get it soon.

kyuubikid213

#33

kyuubikid213 said:

I love the exploration in this Zelda. I played it all the way through for my first time because I got it as an Ambassador title, and I have to say, it is definitely up there right along Ocarina and Twilight Princess. It is only difficult because if you don't have a brand new NES version of the game, you are left without a map. Yes, as most people know, the original Zelda gave you a map in-box with the NES cartridge. IT didn't show anything besides the area and some of the top was missing, but you basically knew where you were in relation to this vast and wondrous world.

In short, to fully enjoy this game, go online and find the original map.

9/10 in my book.

Xyphon22

#34

Xyphon22 said:

This is still my favorite game of all time. There's a person in each dungeon that gives you a subtle clue to the location of the next dungeon, so you actually have to think and explore to find it, but it's not completely random luck. Much better than just following an arrow on the screen or an X on your map, in my opinion.

CorbsAdmin

#36

Corbs said:

The first time I played this game when it was originally released, it completely changed the way I thought about what console gaming could be. I doubt I'll ever play another game in my lifetime that has the kind of effect the original Legend of Zelda had on me in 1986. Now THIS was a game changer. :D

Scissors

#37

Scissors said:

I'd give it a 9 or 10. I have no retro goggles and I can't really appreciate NES games, but I found this game immensely enjoyable. In my opinion this game has aged better than Metroid, and Super Mario. This alongside Kirby are the 2 NES games that have aged the best.

thefabfour64

#38

thefabfour64 said:

10/10. a game of this magnitude from 86'? Sign me up. And for it to hold up as well as it has speaks for itself. Sure it has a few issues, but that won't stop me from calling it a masterpiece.

Torchwood

#39

Torchwood said:

Meh, I beat it on the 3DS having never played it and by today's gaming standards I'd give it a 5 or 6 as a Nintendo and Zelda fan, but I'm sure this was perfection in the 80s.

ShadowSniper7

#40

ShadowSniper7 said:

I agree completely with Scissors, I do have retro goggles but an 8 seems a tad on the low side. Friends of mine who don't enjoy NES games even like this one. I might even say this game has aged better then any NES game except SMB3 and Kirby.

And.... isn't hand holding a bad thing? Pretty sure that is the most common complaint with skyward sword. I'm hoping the WiiU Zelda takes note of this game and doesn't explain how to do everything 5 different times in 5 different ways throughout the adventure :/ If you do get stuck you can always just look up a map on your 3DS browser :D

grumblegrumble

#41

grumblegrumble said:

I spent many, many hours of my youth burning down every single tree and bombing every single block in this game. I give it a 10/10 because it filled me with such hope and inspiration for things to come later on in my life. Wonderful characters, soundtrack, graphics, and replayability, even a second quest :) Have you played as "Zelda" yet? :)

unmannedrobot

#42

unmannedrobot said:

Ah , this game is amazing . To bad most of u don't have the map that came with the original games. I still do and this game is a 10/10.

Myx

#43

Myx said:

2/10... i mean, seriously.. zelda is hugely overrated. always has been, always will be. while i saw the aspect of the game in the 80s, there is not one reason i would play this game again today. there are games that are... new.. they take up most of my spare time already. so, spending money just for nostagia reasons? not really. (besides, i am ambassador.. and never played any of the ambassador games for more than 2 minutes) because i have to work for money, too, so should certain companies. these abandonware titles are a nice gimmick.. nothing more. to charge for these games is really low. and people are saying "thanks". i don't get people.

CorbsAdmin

#44

Corbs said:

It could be said that these "people" you speak of don't get you either. I've been playing games for 33 years, and I still love playing these old NES games as much now as I did back in the day. To me they're quite timeless, even with newer technology we see in more modern games. Hell I'd take many of these amazing NES games over a lot of the crap we see coming out now any old day. :D

onlyaman

#45

onlyaman said:

The original Zelda is an amazing game, and one of the few ambassador games that is easily completed without restore points (at least the first quest). If you find yourself lost, just google yourself a map. Purists would have you face Death Mountain without guidance (as I did when I was 5), but honestly it's just as fun with a little help from the interwebs. Granted, I've been playing games nearly as long as Corbs and Zelda was my first true love, but if you don't "get" Zelda, then you don't "get" videogames. Period.

James

#47

James said:

@warioswoods, you just totally nailed it. What a revolutionary concept this was back in 86, long before hint-dropping helpers and GameFAQs. I should play it with that fresh perspective and enjoy it all over again.

Kage_88

#48

Kage_88 said:

A 10/10 for me personally. This was such an important game.

In a way, The Legend of Zelda is like an 8-bit Skyrim; go anywhere, do anything...it was tough, yes, but that just made it seem like an even bigger adventure - adventures are supposed to be HARD! Back in 1987, it really captured the essence of being a hero; and again showed why Nintendo are such great pioneers in videogame structure and design.

That being said, I'm ashamed to say I still haven't finished Zelda II...

Haywired

#49

Haywired said:

Some of the comments show that the game is indeed being somewhat inaccurately remembered. The "hardcore" posturing and "this game was before guidance/hand-holding/GameFAQs/namby-pamby modern gamers, etc." isn't entirely true. The game came with a map. kyuubikid213 has already linked to it, but here it is again:
http://skoce.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/legend_of_zelda_map_front.jpg
It shows the exact location and order of the first four dungeons. That's some pretty explicit guidance.

Kage_88

#50

Kage_88 said:

@Haywired - Well, LoZ was a game unlike any other at the time, so of course Nintendo provided a guide to help.

Just like how instructions were provided with every other game. That's just common sense.

There's a difference between 'instructions' and 'hand-holding'.

Haywired

#51

Haywired said:

@Kage_88
"Well, LoZ was a game unlike any other at the time, so of course Nintendo provided a guide to help." Well, yes, that's what I'm saying, it DID come with a guide to help. Something that has been forgotten (mainly due to being omitted from the VC release of the game). I think it's a shame that newcomers to the game buying it on VC will dismiss it as an incredibly confusing and frustrating relic when they're not getting the full package (the map/guide that came with the game).

Samholy

#52

Samholy said:

one of the few ambassador games i truly cared to finish seriously.
great game, even after all these years. Its great to play it on a handheld console too.

ReindeerDasher

#53

ReindeerDasher said:

I wold have given it a 9, partly because this is a really hard and frusterating game, which a few of those on my 3DS would be fine. I'm an ambassador and I've really been enjoying it.

eleven59

#54

eleven59 said:

i still love playing this game. but it brings up a concern. i want to buy it for the 3ds, but having already gotten it on the wii VC, i really don't want to have to keep up with TWO separate games going on!! nintendo where is the cloud saves/ cross platform save transfer system that sony uses! its desperately needed if you're going to start offering the same titles on both systems!! even if we have to physically attach the 3ds up to the wii to do it or worse a sd to sd card transfer over a computer, its at least something!

Whopper744

#55

Whopper744 said:

Though Ocarina of Time is my favorite game of time (The Zelda series is great), the original for the NES is probably the most important and great game there ever has been....this import was not the best though, but the awesomeness of this game is hard to water down all that much.

Tethers

#56

Tethers said:

@ "I don't think its aged as well as some do, I would give it a 7 rather than an 8."

I have to agree with that. I would even give the game a 6/10

Wamtu

#58

Wamtu said:

The thing with these retro 3DS re-release reviews is, it's obviously written by someone who grew up with this game. I don't mean to offend anyone, but honestly, very few people who didn't grow up playing retro games are going to find them that appealing, me thinks. For me, a really tough and frustrating game just...frustrates me, and I don't associate that feeling with pleasure.

That said, I think this is much more reasonable than the Metroid review. I can't even play Metroid. This game, my main problem isn't difficulty, it's the aforementioned aimlessness. I'm not saying that you should walk people thru every step of the game, but I think there should be some middle ground between excessive hand-holding and complete aimlessness.

Establish some loose patterns early on, to where the player can figure things out without being told directly. Like, have hidden entrances have some subtle recurring tells. Don't make them so subtle only the most eagle-eyed and persistent players will spot them, but don't have a flashing neon sign pointing to them either. Stuff like that.

I've been playing the game Jedi Outcast recently, and I think it has a good balance. Sometimes I'll get clueless about what I should do next, but I have never needed a walkthrough (I have used one, but I always berate myself when the answer turns out to be stupidly obvious). Previous games in the series (and some other unrelated games) I see the walkthrough and go "Good grief! How much time do these people think I have to spend playing VIDEO GAMES?!"

Not sure how well I stayed on subject. Oh, well. This seemed relevant when I started.

Wamtu

#59

Wamtu said:

Who knows, I learned a few things about the original Zelda here. Maybe I'll even finish it someday.

Pfft. Yeah, right. Like I'll be able to beat a retro-hard game...

Ryno

#60

Ryno said:

Wamtu said, This game, my main problem isn't difficulty, it's the aforementioned aimlessness. I'm not saying that you should walk people thru every step of the game, but I think there should be some middle ground between excessive hand-holding and complete aimlessness.

The cool thing is there are plenty enough games for you and your middle-ground preference. Some people, and especially those who grew up with the NES, like exploring on our own.

Anyway, legendary game. Though I am not a a big Zelda series fan I find this game to be so fun! It kicked my butt as a kid but revenge is oh so sweet!

bezerker99

#61

bezerker99 said:

This game changed my life. I had no idea video games could be so open. I still play this game to this day - currently I'm attempting to do a No-Sword quest. I Love this game! Heck, the music itself is worth paying the $4.99 just to download and listen.

Dak_n_Jaxter

#62

Dak_n_Jaxter said:

@warioswoods I agree entirely... It's all about perspective.. or lack there of, as a kid jumping into this unknown adventure... it was a lesson in 'life'.... being lost and aimless, just trying to figure out what the hell is going on... fueled by the sense of wonder... and overwhelmed by the sense of reward. For me at least :P

wariowarewolf

#68

wariowarewolf said:

The option to do the dungeons as you pleased was nice.
I still remember, in OoT, using the Longshot to get to the Spirit Temple before doing the Shadow Temple. :)

WaveyChristmas

#69

WaveyChristmas said:

My two complaints as far as not aging well? Not knowing where to lay bombs...And the bland lookalike(but with a different color. Yippie!) dungeon schemes. Ganon's Dungeon is a massive grey & confusing eye sore of WTF-ness. :p

But at the same time, this was such a revolutionary and one of a kind title. WarioWoods pretty much nailed it.
Entering the first dungeon was easily the most mezmorising Zelda moment for me in gaming history. The haunting mysterious and gloomy music set my 5 year old self in a hypnotic NES trance, to the point where the first dungeon and it's Dragon Boss kind of spooked me. :p

PlaystationThWii60

#72

PlaystationThWii60 said:

@Tasuki How can you call it a rehash if it was one of the first top down POV/non-shooter action RPG, if not the very first? The graphics may be blocky by today's standards, but one doesn't play original generation video games for the graphics, one plays to understand (or nostalgia, in my case) the foundations for today's generation of video games, no?

Calmarius

#74

Calmarius said:

The most frustrating thing in this game is when you realize, you need to destroy the entire overworld with fire and bombs again, because you missed one freaking tile containing the entrance to the level8 on the second quest.

I also never found the blue ring on the second quest, and fighting wizzrobes and red bubbles in a closed room in green clothes is quite a pain...

Sam_Loser2

#75

Sam_Loser2 said:

I love this game, I think it aged... less than okay, really. But it's still fun, absolute fun, and I never played it as a kid, so I can't blame nostalgia. Can now beat it in a day with no deaths.

millarrp

#76

millarrp said:

Even though I'll probably get this as soon as it's launched in NA, part of me wishes they could update this one (and all of the NES classics for that matter) as 3d titles...

MeloMan

#77

MeloMan said:

If only Zelda would return to this style. Say, "here's a sword kid, go save the world". I miss that.

JohnPhilipSousa

#78

JohnPhilipSousa said:

Now I get why people actually enjoy this game! It came with a map! I wish I knew that earlier. For years I could never find the second dungeon- hell, I STILL can't find
it. Now I just want some way to print out that map.

RoryJames

#83

RoryJames said:

I had this game as a kid on the NES, and have to admit I never completed it (I was only 7!) replaying it as an adult for the first time was a joy. Although I do have to admit turning to an online guide on a few occasions to to frustrations with getting lost. Like Ocarina 3DS, I plan to return to this and finish the second quest. However, being back into gaming for the first time in years, I have a stockpile of 3DS and Wii U games, and other virtual console titles, to hit first. This game is a great memory from childhood, and still fun today.

Blue_Dread

#84

Blue_Dread said:

Wow, this game is fun! I got this a few days ago and I'm already up to Dungeon 8. Dungeon 6 was a frustrating slice of hell, while Dungeon 7 was much easier in terms of difficulty but it was challenging because of the thinking and puzzles and that had to be solved. I also got got Super C on my 3DS and I ve been playing it with my brother a lot, too. Although this game is difficult, it is still a very enjoyable experience and was very appreciated back then. 10/10!

Mus1cLov3r

#86

Mus1cLov3r said:

@Myx Troll alert!!!! Most people like classic games, ya know.... And it's not abandonware, you apparently don't know what that is..

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