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Don't Judge a Game by Its Bits
By: Ted McAuley
A vast fantasy landscape filled with treasures, monsters, merchants, and myth. Complex subterranean dungeons seething with evil, locked by dangerous traps and mind-numbing riddles. A princess in the clutches of an evil Lord bent on possession of the legendary Triforce of Power . . . and an unlikely hero named Link. Let the epic quest for peace begin... In 8-bit?
Old-Schoolers know precisely what those few bits are capable of and would agree, I think, that sometimes 8-bits is enough. However unlikely it may seem to those who started gaming on newer consoles, the NES adequately presents the first game in the Zelda series, (though not the first game in the Zelda story; at this point, thatís The Ocarina of Time), capturing the depth and scope of a fantasy which has become one of the greatest classic-gaming experiences of all time.
Still, the game is exceedingly dated--technologically speaking, anyway. Yet its simplicity of story, music and graphics are the secret to its timelessness; the gamerís imagination does a lot of the work here, which--like the mind-sight inspired by radio-dramas--has always been the main attraction of the NES.
The story remains pretty straightforward from beginning to end, as do most of the games in its series. Itís a bit thin in places, but hey, thatís the scruffy-charm of the NES, my friends.
The once-peaceful Hyrule has been transformed to a land of chaos when the omnipresent Ganon captures princess Zelda and the Triforce of Power. At the same time, Zelda manages to fracture the Triforce of Wisdom into eight pieces and hide them away from Ganon within the confines of eight baddie-filled dungeons. (I guess the Triforce of Courage gets left in the Sacred Realm during this game . . . though I have an inkling thatís my 8-bit-inspired imagination trying to fill in the gap here). Soon after, Link rescues Zeldaís nursemaid, Impa, from a group of Moblins, who reveals to him these dire circumstances. The game opens with Link at the start of his quest, and the first cave he comes to houses one of the more sensible beings left in Hyrule who offers the young hero a sword and imparts the classic lines: ďItís dangerous to go alone. Take this.Ē
Although there are only six themes and two motifs in the entire game, they fill Hyrule with a range of emotion sufficient for its locales. The greatest theme of them all may be the opening title-sequence, which harkens--surprisingly well, I might add, considering the primitive synth of the NES) of adventure, courage and glory. A few other note-worthy themes are the Hyrule Overworld march (A grand theme sadly excluded from recent Zelda games), and the music of the eight dungeons. The theme for the ninth dungeon is quite good too--full of repetitious pulses and an eerily played melody. Music of this antiquated caliber is best enjoyed during the play-time of the game.
For a game of its age, thereís a startlingly large list of items with which to use during your quest. The function of most go without saying, but thereís a bit about the specific use of a few things that bear a brief mention. First, be sure you save up enough Rupees to buy the Blue Ring before going into the sixth dungeon. Believe me, Wizrobes equal bad things to Linkís person, no matter what propaganda Ganonís pushing these days. Obtaining most of the extra Heart Pieces is another good way to prepare against death in this dungeon. Lastly, carry a Blue Potion with you at all times beginning with the completion of the fifth dungeon. Youíll be glad you did, (especially if youíre playing the more-difficult second quest), when Linkís lifeline starts pegging off the charts far from a fairy pool.
If itís your first time through, The Legend of Zelda can be an extremely challenging game. And although the second quest can be reached simply by inserting ZELDA as your character name and pushing start, I donít recommend it until youíve conquered the first. No matter which quest you choose, take precaution by being prepared--as much as possible, anyway--before entering an area of the game which seems particularly difficult. Thankfully, whenever Link dies, the game can be saved. Unfortunately, Link continues with only three hearts filled, and going to refill the rest can be dauntingly time-consuming when youíre in the middle of things.
Playing the game more than once? Well, speaking personally, Iíve been through the game more times than I can count--except for the second quest; that Iíve only done once. Nonetheless, because of its relative brevity and engaging premise, it remains an enjoyable gaming experience for at least as long as the two quests it has to offer. Yet thereís always more to do in a Zelda game, new personal challenges to be set. Although the cartridge keeps no record of Linkís deaths, itís almost a Zelda tradition to conquer a game of its series, recovering all items and secrets, in a single life. And, of course, Old-Schoolers will never really tire of this NES masterpiece.
As the first example of its kind, The Legend of Zelda can only be described as a thing of greatness. In 8 simple bits it has transported the minds and hearts of countless gamers to far-off Hyrule dashed by an arrogant abuse of power, and instilled in each to restore peace to its lands. It is Shigeru Miyamotoís brilliant vision realized in its classic form. It is 8-bits, and sometimes thatís enough.
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