When the topic of the best Legend of Zelda is brought up, A Link to the Past is frequently mentioned as the best 2D Legend of Zelda, if not the best game in the entire series. While I have not played every Legend of Zelda game yet, I have to admit that A Link to the Past thoroughly impressed me in almost every regard. The game is really the true successor to the original Legend of Zelda, and the amount of improvement between the two games is staggering. It is mind boggling to me that A Link to the Past came out in 1991, only five years after the original. The games length, complexity, depth, mechanics, items, graphics, its dungeons, and its world all feel extremely modern and I feel like this game could have been released this year and still be a solid game. Unfortunately this was also a bit of a drawback, as the game does show its age occasionally and I had to remind myself that was playing a twenty-five year old game.
While I do feel like this game could have been released this year as an indie title or maybe a handheld game, I do believe that some aspects of the game are dated. The first problem that I had with the game was a combination of two things. The first issue was that Link’s sword hitbox did not overlap with Link’s hitbox, meaning that if an enemy got on top of me, I could not swing the sword to get the enemy off. This is not a terrible mechanic in and of itself, but combined with the fact that Link is very sluggish it can lead to some awkward situations. This combination of the sword’s hitbox and the fact that Link moves slowly means that if an enemy gets on top of you, there is no option but to takes multiple hits instead of just the initial hit from the enemy. This was not that big of a deal but it was certainly frustrating when ever it did happen.
The other aspect of the game that felt dated was how much I had to search for certain items. The game definitely rewards the player for exploration and experience with the game, but I did not want to spend hours looking for the Bottles, Zora’s Flippers, Magic Powder, the Flute, etc. While I do like the fact that the game rewards the player for exploration, I felt like I spent way more time searching the world for these items instead of playing through dungeons or progressing through the world. There was really no way around spending a ton of time looking for these items either as they were extremely powerful or just necessary to progress. In Super Metroid, for example, there were tons of hidden items to be found around the world that I could spend hours looking for, but they were just small boosts to my character instead of being so strong to the point of being a necessity. I made it pretty far into A Link to the Past without the Bottles to hold Fairies which were basically extra lives, but at some point I realized that the bosses were just too tough for me to fight with only one life. I am usually a huge fan of exploration and discovering items to make my character stronger, but I just did not enjoy how important it was searching for these items.
The game’s modern feel was probably its biggest strength, but the other aspect of the game that really impressed me was the dungeon design. There were a total of thirteen dungeons in the game and I am not going to go in depth with all of them, but they all were well designed in my opinion. Each dungeon had a unique style and way to approach it. Every dungeon had tough monsters to fight, interesting puzzles to solve, rewarding items to be found, and clever boss designs, all of this packed in to an extensive labyrinth to find my way through. My personal favorite dungeon was the Skull Woods, it had multiple entrances hidden in the woods above it and it was like solving a maze as I went in all the different entrances and put the pieces together in my head to figure out how I would make my way through the dungeon. Even though there were thirteen different dungeons each one was of quality design and they were all enjoyable
Despite only coming out five years after the original Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past made a ton of improvements to the Zelda formula. My personal favorite improvement was just the overall clarity. Walls that could be blown up with bombs had cracks in them, there were no more obscure hints that only confused the player more, all the dungeons were marked on the map, the enemies were a lot more obvious in how to defeat them, and the path to progression was always known. Another massive improvement was the graphics, I am not usually somebody who revels in the newest and greatest graphic improvements, but it is insane how quickly the industry progressed in the five years between this game and the original. I also enjoyed how much more frequently I actually used to items acquired in dungeons. While in the original game I felt like the items were mostly used just to unlock the next area, in this game I actually continued to use the items throughout the game to fight monsters are find secrets hidden across the world. The world itself was also a big improvement in this game. There were people to talk to, mini-games to play, hidden holes with Fairy Fountains or Heart Pieces, and just a lot to explore. Even though there were plenty of things to do, the world was also very compact and concise, so getting from one corner to the map to the other did not take more than a few minutes.
I personally believe that A Link to the Past is where the Legend of Zelda series as we know it was born. While the original Legend of Zelda set the framework and foundation for a great series, this is the game that enhanced the experience so much and many of the mechanics that we know and love today were first introduced in A Link to the Past. The game does have a couple of flaws but fortunately they were not that major. It is seriously impressive to me that this game is twenty-five years old and it still managed to captivate me and entertain me like a recent title would. While I have not played every other Legend of Zelda game to properly compare them all, A Link to the Past was seriously impressive and a great experience.