The Legend of Zelda


It begins

I have never played The Legend of Zelda. Any of the Zelda titles, in fact. N64, GameCube, old, new, original, remastered. You name the Zelda title and I will show you a game I've never played. But I've watched a great many of them: Let's Plays, speed runs, glitches, histories, documentaries...

Its origins are The Legend of Zelda, launch title for the Famicom Disk System, staple of many NES players' game libraries. It is an absolute must play title whether you're following a list of 1001 games to play or not, so they say, so I really should cut this intro off and fire it up.


Forgive me for swearing, but fuck me am I finding Zelda difficult.

From the first screen you are dropped into the world to explore as you see fit and it is full of goddamn monstrosities hell bent on showing me the Game Over screen. Early on it's a case of one hit and they're done (oh, that's assuming you went into the cave to pick up the sword before venturing off - don't worry, I did), and as you'd expect different enemies present different challenges based on their movement abilities, attacks and so on.

The Octoroks you see in the image above periodically spit rocks at you for example, which are easy attacks to avoid: just sit still and Zelda Link will deflect the incoming projectile. Isolate them and you're laughing all the way to the next screen. Have five of the bastards ambling around the screen and you better hope you've not allowed any of them to flank you. If you're not looking at an incoming rock, you're getting hit by it. If you're getting hit by it, you're losing half a heart of health. That doesn't sound like much until you lose five chunks of hearts on a single screen thanks to one mistake or overlooked enemy.

These tubby assholes are Moblins and they chuck spears your way. Again, easy to avoid by holding your ground and watching them bounce harmlessly off your shield. In between attacks, you'll have to land three hits on these blue Moblins before they're done. Now imagine that there are two of them both firing at you in the same direction, but with the kind of timing that means your attacks will have to be very precisely timed, else you take a devastating hit. Now imagine that there were two orange Moblin (requiring two hits to defeat) and an oranage Octorok on the screen as well, all milling about, some of them attacking you from a direction you are not facing, and will therefore be unable to block.

Does it sound like I'm grouchy, or does that sound like too much too soon in terms of difficulty? I was following a great walkthrough on the Zelda Dungeon website, yet I lost count of the number of times I saw the words 'Continue Save Retry'.

I never had the patience to even make it to a dungeon. Forget the Water Temple of Ocarina of Time, I was struggling to get into any dungeon. I consider the following screenshot to be my greatest triumph: Collecting my first and only heart piece after bombing open a secret cave.

Fun Times

I am frustrated by Zelda and if there's one thing I hate in video games, it is being frustrated. All too often - once I've calmed down - I know that the sole reason for my frustration is me. Lack of skill, mood, moment of dumb; whatever the reason, it's me. What happened with ZeldaHere's what I think.

Zelda, like a few games we've seen so far, is so cheerful and welcoming in its appearance that it has lulled me into a sense of safety or something. "Ah, Zelda, awesome, just gonna go collect some rupees, find some heart containers, bop some Octorok on the head... aaaaaaand Game Over."

I never even got to find out the plot - not that we don't all know it by now: Ganon (booo) kidnaps Zelda (you're not playing as Zelda), so Link (wheeey) sets out to get the Tri-force, rescue Zelda (who you're still not playing as, you're called Link), defeat Ganon (boooo) and save the kingdom (wheeeey).

In The Legend of Zelda you do all of this across a large overworld map full of secrets and monsters, with nine dungeons taking you underground for yet more of a challenge. You'll need to explore to add to your equipment and enhance your abilities. Extra hearts are essential, with bombs, boomerangs and upgrades to your sword and shield all begging to be found and equipped.

Playing through the game can take a couple of hours even if you know what you're doing, and there's plenty of game to keep fighting through (provided you have more skill and patience than I). Being a classic title, there are also some great speed runs out there that absolutely break the game to show it off in yet another light.

You can't really avoid Zelda. Even having never played it, I've had a key-ring with the famous phrase "It's dangerous to go alone, take this!" for years now (it happens to be a bottle opener too). Not only had I never played it until now, but truth be told I just wasn't terribly interested in playing any of the Zelda series, and yet I absolutely had to watch other people play them.

I want to know what the fuss is about with games that I can't play, be they unavailable in a particular region or only playable on platforms I don't own. Beyond a couple of versions of the Game Boy, I've never owned a Nintendo device. I only got a Wii a few weeks ago because P2 wanted a Wii U instead. As such, Zelda (along with much of the Mario series) was pretty much resigned to being watched only, and I was fine with that.

But look at what I'm missing out on...

Final Word

Whether played as the developers intended or in ways they perhaps never knew existed, The Legen of Zelda doesn't fail to impress. I found it rather difficult (certainly more difficult than I expected) and that put me into a bit of a mood. Whoever programmed the Continue option needs a personal thank you from me, but even that wasn't enough to keep me trying.

Not getting far is my problem. Not liking my experience of playing Zelda is on me. I sure as hell hope they get a little friendlier as the series goes along and video games develop across the decades, but I still can't deny that The Legend of Zelda is a must play title.

An action-adventure that is as grand as anything you'll see, certainly for the mid-1980s. A game formula that is largely unchanged to this day. A challenge - by God a challenge - that entices you to explore further and farther. The only list it won't be found on is the list of games I'm playing at the weekend.

Fun Facts

This was the first NES title to sell more than a million copies, which I find surprising, considering... well... Mario.

The Legend of Zelda, developed by Nintendo R&D4, first released in 1986.
Version played: NES, 1987, via emulation.
Version watched: NES, 1987 (World of Longplays)