The Legend of Zelda. One of the most popular and well known video game series of all time. And on the day of this article’s release, the original game will be turning 35! There is so much to talk about with how revolutionary this game was. The saving system, expansive open world, dungeon crawling, and mystery made this one of the NES’ crown jewels back in the day. We have The Legend of Zelda to thank for many things as gamers, but how does it play today? Is it worth getting an NES and copy of the game and playing it in 2021, nostalgia notwithstanding? Let us find out together!
I wanna start with how The Legend of Zelda game looks, feels, and sounds. And goodness you can tell this is old. Early NES games have this slight disadvantage in looks where, let’s be honest, developers were just trying to figure out what they could do with the hardware. It’s a new system that while powerful for the time, had plenty of limitations. The game was released on the Famicom in 1986 with a 2 year development cycle. And for 1986, it was ambitious. While the original plans of the development team were eventually scaled back from technological time travel adventures to a more “grounded” medieval setting, the game was still huge for the time. So yeah, I understand why The Legend of Zelda doesn’t necessarily have the style of Mario 3, but it is still sad that the creativity flowing in this game is a little muddied by the limited capacity of the NES. You can tell there’s a prettier game in the minds of the developers, but those 8-bit sprites just weren’t there yet.
The sound though? Probably some of the best on the console! The music is genuinely good even to this day. I mean, it’s Koji Kondo, the man produces incredible music. What is there is good, but sadly there isn’t much. Less than 9 minutes of music means you will become familiar with the overworld music, possibly to the point of annoyance. Again, these games didn’t have much space, so I can forgive them for making me listen to the very well done Dungeon theme over and over as I die.
Sound outside of music is also quite nice, making it feel more alive than you might expect, especially for a machine as crude as it was in comparison to modern day systems. Almost every action you take likely has sound to it that feels right at home with the action.
Gameplay wise, it is basic, but good. You got that classic 4-directional movement with an attack button for your sword, and a button for whatever selected item you got. Simple, but effective and well executed for the NES, although I will personally admit the limited range of movement made me angry at certain bosses.
You have 8 dungeons to clear to acquire all the pieces of the Triforce, then you go to fight Ganon to save Princess Zelda. Simple enough premise.. But holy moly, is there a lot of game on the way to Death Mountain in this one. With a guide in hand, I was halfway through the game in about 3 hours before a save corruption in my cartridge forced me to go back. Seriously, be careful of that with the original NES hardware, it will happen and it will make you sad. Still, it is a game that has plenty to keep you entertained and is one of the more well executed games on the system.
The overworld is vast for the system it was on. With no map to guide you, you had to learn the natural placement of Hyrule’s dungeons, stores, secrets and natural landmarks. With the world also being unified with almost no loading between things, the seamlessness of it all can really suck you in as you get lost in the graveyard or traverse the eastern coastline, with many things to kill on your way!
The real star of the locales however is the dungeons. I can honestly say that each of these dungeons is fun. The scale of them also grows massively. By the time you reach Death Mountain, the first dungeon will feel like it is nothing compared to Ganon’s Lair. Enemies and bosses are plentiful in type and strategy.