Title: The Legend of Zelda
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Type: Virtual Console (NES)
NA Availability: Digital
EU Availability: Digital
Block Usage: 47
The Legend of Zelda is a franchise that a lot of people have known and loved for a long time. Ever since the NES era, there have been countless adventures for Link and Zelda. From The Legend of Zelda and Link to the Past to Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask to Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, Zelda still endures and expands throughout Nintendo fans.
Every fan of the series also has their own favorite and where they began the franchise. My first Zelda title was the original, gold cartridge NES game, though the first game of the series I actually completed was Ocarina of Time, which remains my personal favorite. For every generation, there are new Zelda fans being brought up, some of which do not know or have experienced the origins of the franchise.
Today, I am going to take you all the way back to the beginning. Before Midna, the Twilight Princess. Before Ganondorf and Volvagia. A retro review and start to reviewing as many games of the franchise I can, here is my official review of the NES Virtual Console title, The Legend of Zelda!
The original Zelda game takes place later in the overall timeline. Some time after the events of Link Between Worlds, the Demon Lord known as Ganon is revived and leads an army attack on Hyrule. After having stolen the Triforce of Power, Ganon continues his campaign to plunge the world into darkness. Fearing that Ganon may seek the other pieces of the mystic Triforce, Princess Zelda splits the Triforce of Wisdom into 8 pieces and scatters them throughout Hyrule. Shortly after this, she is captured and her servant named Impa seeks out a brave soul to rescue her.
Link is this brave soul sent on a journey across Hyrule to recover the 8 pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom and to use them to defeat Ganon.
But you don’t get told any of this when you play the game. When the original game came out, this detailed storyline was written and shown in the instruction booklet that came in the box. You can read this in the digital manual in this Virtual Console release as well. But don’t expect there to be any story at all in the game, itself. That’s one thing about this. It’s a story-heavy franchise, but there’s no story at all in the original game outside of the manual.
The Legend of Zelda is a 2D action-adventure game with puzzle elements thrown into the mix. You will be exploring an overworld map as well as dungeons, fighting through enemies and solving puzzles in your quest for the Triforce pieces.
Progression in the game is quite the confusing puzzle at first. This is the definition of a game throwing you completely under the bus at the get-go. The game starts and you’re on a map with a cave nearby and monsters lurking everywhere. There is no initial sense of direction outside of that cave, which is basically just where you get a weapon to defend yourself. You have no idea what you’re doing, where you need to go, or what you’re doing out by these caves. You’re just there and you have to figure it out as you go.
The idea is that you explore and will eventually find more caves to explore, which will slowly light your way until you find your first dungeon. The idea of the game is to explore, earn money to buy tools to help you solve puzzles, and find and go through the 8 dungeons to get the Triforce to enter Death Mountain, the final area of the game. You just don’t realize this until you actually go through for awhile and see shops and dungeons and put 2-and-2 together.
Despite the fact that you can and will get lost in the game, the first Zelda does throw in clues to guide your way. In some dungeons are NPC rooms that will hint at where you need to go, be it guiding you in the general direction of another dungeon, detailing a key item you need to find for a certain boss, or giving you directions to get through the maze-like forest on the west side of the map. You may have to pay NPCs for this knowledge, but that is where the Virtual Console Restore Point feature is quite handy. (In simple terms, make a restore point before paying, get the info, and the re-load the restore point).
Now let’s get to what makes this game so tough-as-nails hard. I won’t lie that the puzzle-solving in this game is pretty simple. We all know the general formula of Zelda dungeon puzzles. You go into a room and the doors lock you in with a bunch of monsters. Defeat the monsters and the door opens. Or, you push a block and the door opens. Repeat until you find the boss, kill the boss, and you’re done. This is all quite simple and the first dungeon drives this point home quite well.
Combat and avoiding enemies is what makes the game so hard. Unlike recent Zelda titles, heart drops from enemies are extremely rare, so your task is going to be defeat as many enemies as possible without being hit, at all. You want to stay at full health because you have a blade beam at full health which makes fighting a lot easier. It is doable otherwise, but you’re going to have to constantly learn patterns for every new enemy, and many rooms will require you to be constantly on your toes.
If hordes weren’t enough, bosses can be even worse. The first boss I fought was quite easy to figure out and fight. The second boss had me constantly moving to dodge magic attacks but I got him on my first go at him. The third boss, a certain three-headed dragon, had me on the ropes and took over a dozen attempts to get to the second phase of the battle, and it got even harder from there. When all was said and done, I felt like I’d accomplished the goal of a lifetime, only to realize it was just a mini-boss, and the real boss was waiting even further inside the dungeon. This isn’t like Ocarina of time where you can casually strafe to dodge attacks. Boss fights are hectic, fast-paced, and require exact movements to do properly. They will test your patience and your sanity.
That’s what I’ll say about the difficulty. Moving around the map and figuring out where to go isn’t really an issue. Combat and boss battles are almost the sole factors that make this one of, if not the hardest Zelda game I’ve had a chance to play.
Since this is an NES game, it’s short, right? While there are some miraculous speed-runners who have completed the game in mere hours, this is not a short game. Accounting for exploring, getting lost, learning the map, and everything you’re actually supposed to do, I’d clock your first run through this game at least 9-10 hours. How many NES games last 9-10 hours? Not many.
Controlling this game is quite simple. Since this is an NES Virtual Console game, don’t expect it to have any special controls on the New 3DS models. It’s the same whether you’re playing on a 3DS, XL, 2DS, New XL, or New 3DS.
Moving around is done with the D-Pad, but can also be done on the Circle Pad. I would highly advise you stick to the D-Pad, as you’ll need its feel for the precise movements you’ll be doing while you play. The A button is used for attacking with the sword and B is used for whatever alternate item/weapon you have equipped. The Y button is an alternate for Select, which pauses the game. Finally, the Start button will go to the customization menu to check on what items you have and how many pieces of the Triforce you’ve obtained.
I don’t have any problems with this, to be honest. It works well.
Alright, so the visual presentation of an NES game is really hard to gauge in Virtual Console, unless it’s absurdly blurry or has negative side-effects that it didn’t have in its original release. With this in mind, this game looks quite crisp on the 2DS I played it on. There isn’t any noticeable blurring from the different in resolution.
What is different is slow-down and lag. Now, you’re thinking this is an NES game, so how can it have considerable slowdown and lag? I thought the same thing, until I used the candle in a small room with two enemies and the frame-rate tanked to under 5 fps. At first, I thought this was a standalone freak glitch. But, across the game, it’s happened dozens of times, for different items/movements. The Virtual Console release has considerable frame drops that shouldn’t be there.
The Legend of Zelda is the iconic beginning of one of the most beloved adventure series in all of gaming. That’s not to say it’s perfect, as newcomers to the series will be utterly confused at the game’s lack of direction and large frame drops really hurt the experience. A classic game, but nowhere near perfect.