I love the Legend of Zelda games, they are among the best! Indeed, I have sometimes considered it my favorite videogame series. This action-adventure franchise is amazing thanks to its great gameplay, graphics, music, and design. I know everyone has their own picks for their favorite Zelda games, but my favorites are Link’s Awakening and Ocarina of Time, followed in some order by the two Oracles games and Twilight Princess. Perhaps the most popular Zelda game, however, is this one, 1990’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It is not a game I played in the ’90s, but this early SNES classic is one of gaming’s most revered titles among some circles. It is indeed a very good game in a lot of ways, and I have often loved my time with this game. The classic Zelda formula and gameplay is one of gaming’s best, and this game does that well, for the most part.
However, despite that, over the years there is no Zelda game I have criticized more than this one. When LttP is good it’s very, very good, but I feel that the game has a few too many niggling issues the game has that hold it back. No game is perfect of course, but as great as it is a lot of the time, LttP’s flaws are too frustrating to overlook. As a result of the various issues I have with this game, it has been a regular target of mine; there are posts of mine online going back to at least 2003 criticizing Zelda: LttP on various fronts. I have never compiled those various criticisms into one single article, however, so after thinking about doing so for some time, that is what I have done here.
Please note, this is not a review; it is, instead, a list of most of the points of criticism I have about this game, with details about why each one is an issue. LttP’s positives have been said many times by many people, but its flaws are not mentioned as often, and some of them bother me. But remember, I do think that LttP is a fairly good overall; it’s far from perfect, but it is much more good than bad. Currently I think of it as an A- grade game, though at times when I’m being even more positive about it I have thought about it as possibly deserving of a full A. And while playing the game some again while putting this article together, I was reminded of some of the ways that this really is a great game, and the limitations of some of my criticisms; some apply much more to the first time you play the game than any subsequent replays, for example. But even so, the game has flaws that need mentioning.
One of the biggest challenges in judging LttP is that while at the time of its release it did a lot of new things, later games in the series would improve on what LttP does in so many ways that this game looks dated and frustrating in comparison. I know everybody has different tastes in games, but I really like some of the things later games do that this one just does not do as well. My two favorite Zelda games are the next two after this game, namely Link’s Awakening and Ocarina of Time, and both fix almost all of LttP’s flaws, while bringing back the outstanding, and often unmatched, core gameplay central to all classic Zelda games.
But as for this game, it is good, but has some real problems. I decided to make this article a list of issues, with a separate section for each major concern I have about the game. I think this structure works well for this kind of article. I do need to say though, while each of the numbered points on the list below has a different number of words backing it up, the length of the section and the importance of that issue do not necesarily coorelate; some issues are very important despite taking many fewer words to explain, while others take a while to explain but are not quite as important. I will try to make it clear how important each issue is as the article goes along.
Lastly though, a note: this article will have many major unmarked spoilers about Zelda: A Link to the Past in it. Do not continue reading if you have not finished the game.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Issues with Zelda: Link to the Past:
0) Nostalgia: I don’t have much nostalgia for the game, but I do for (the much superior) Link’s Awakening.
1) Interface & Map: The interface is dated and the in-game map could be better.
2) Combat Issues: Combat can be frustrating thanks to Link’s too-short sword-attack range and weak shield.
3) Poor Map & World Design: LttP has one of the most boring overworld map layouts ever in a Zelda game. This is a big deal for me.
4) Story & Towns: The town, story, and character interactions in this game are seriously lacking compared to any later Zelda game.
5) Dungeon Issues: The dungeons are pretty good, but some are too linear and frustrating and one near the end has an unacceptably horrible “puzzle” at the end.
6) Required Hidden Items: LttP has a lot of required items hidden in random corners of the world with minimal or no hints about where they are. I have never liked this kind of design at all!
Items/areas I had a particularly hard time finding:
6A) The Book of Mudora
6B) The Quake Medallion
6C) The Flute
6D) The Ether Medallion
6E) The Bombos Medallion
6F) Getting into the Swamp of Sorrows
6G) The Ice Rod
6H) Silver Arrows
6I) Overlookable Items, Concluded
7) Continues & Saving: The continue system is too limited. The game needs more points you can start from if you die or save.
8) The Character Art: I have never liked the style of LttP’s in-game character art sprites; they have a weir and not good look to them. The background art is fine, but not the characters.
Issues with Zelda: Link to the Past
0) Nostalgia: First, the issue of nostalgia. I’ve been playing games since the eighties, though we did not actually have gaming platforms at home until the early ’90s. However, while I did play some of the original NES Zelda game, I have no memory of spending any amount of time with Link to the Past for SNES back in the ’90s. I read about it, I read that LttP-inspired Zelda comic in Nintendo Power in ’92, and such, but hadn’t played the game much at all. The first Zelda game I owned myself was Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy, which I got in late ’94 and immediately fell in love with. I still really, really love LA, and consider it the best 2d Zelda game ever for a lot of reasons. But despite some misgivings I did want to sometime go back and play that SNES game some people talk about so much, so when the GBA port released in the early ’00s I bought it… and found it alright, but not as good as LA or either of the GBC Oracles games, Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Zelda: Oracle of Seasons. I dropped the game in the sixth dungeon and never have gone back to finish that version.
Several years later, after I started collecting classic games with my purchase of a Super Nintendo in 2005, I bought a copy of the SNES version of LttP. I played it partway and did think it was pretty good, and better than the GBA version, but I eventually got stuck midgame and stopped playing. In 2008 I finally went back and finished the game for SNES, and my reaction was pretty much as you see here: I liked it, with caveats. It is quite likely that if I had played it back in the early ’90s, despite the frustrating elements I would like it more than I do now thanks to nostalgia. However, I do think I’d still like LA more, because of the improvements to things like combat, mapping, story, required-item hunts, and more. LA and its successors build and improve on things LttP did, so this game feels primitive in some ways in comparison to later titles.
So, while I will admit that nostalgia is a definite factor here, I do believe that my issues with this game are things that mostly would bother me regardless of when I first played the game. The best games hold up regardless of when you first play them, and as my classic-games collection has grown and grown over the years there have been many games I love that I’d never even heard of before, back when they were new! LttP’s problem is not just that I didn’t play it when it was new, but that its game design does some things I dislike.
1) Interface & Map: Next, the interface is dated and the in-game map system, the one you bring up with the X button, could be better. Over time, the number of items you can have equipped at once in Zelda games has increased. From only one in the first couple of titles, it went up to two in LA and three in OoT, and it has stayed at at least two in most every Zelda game since. But in this game, you can only equip one item at a time, apart from your sword and shield, which are permanently mapped to buttons. This feels quite limiting compared to most newer Zelda games, as you’re constantly having to pause and switch items to a degree beyond most newer titles. The Super Nintendo controller has plenty of buttons, and they should have added at least one more equippable item slot. This isn’t the huge problem of some items on this list, but it is a bit annoying.
The pause menu screen where you change which item you have equipped is kind of clumsy, too, as if you select an item which includes multiple items within, such as the bottle, it may change the item within that category instead of switching items. So, you need to watch out which items you select while switching items, so you don’t get caught in sub-menus. This could have been handled better. The on-screen interface is a little odd as well; why do you need to know how many bombs and arrows you have on screen at all times? That is not such essential information that having this on screen all the time makes sense, versus the solution later games use which is to just put a number on each item that has a limited quantity of uses. That is the better design than this.
Lastly in this category is the issue of the map. If you hit the X button, you open the map screen. In the overworld this opens a Mode 7 map of the whole overworld that you can scroll around, and in a dungeon this opens the dungeon map, if you have found that dungeon’s map item that is. The overworld map is fine, but stylistically, I strongly prefer a map which reveals areas as you explore, instead of maps that let you see everything from the beginning regardless of if you have been to that location or not. Unfortunately, LttP does the latter: you can see the whole overworld map from the first time you open it. Most people probably like this just fine, but I care a lot about ingame maps, and I don’t. In comparison, the next game, Link’s Awakening, switches that out for a grid-based map which reveals as you explore. This really encourages me to explore much more than LttP’s map style does, because I really want to reveal all of the squares on that map! I may not care much about loot in videogames, but I do care about exploring out maps in games which have a minimap which reveals as you go. I wish LttP had that as well, and not only LA and the Oracles games. And on top of that, in LA you can even move a cursor around the map, getting info about what the name for the tile in each area or the building in each location is. There is no similar function here, so you’ll just need to remember where everything is.
Still, the overworld maps in LttP is a very detailed depiction of each of the two worlds in the game, so it is a useful map that makes navigating in this game easier. The map is great for that. But by showing you the whole map of it from the start, for me this discourages me a bit from exploring as much as I would in an LA or an Oracles game. And when you combine this with LttP’s decent but sometimes annoying item-switch menu and on-screen display, you get something that is good, but not as great as the best Zelda games in this category.
2) Combat Issues: Another important issue with LttP is that combat can be frustrating. Some people claim that this game “isn’t very challenging”, but I would say that they have played the game too many times to remember that it’s actually pretty tough! I died more than 80 times in my first time finishing the game on the SNES, and even though I didn’t finish the GBA version my death count is not low. Part of that is that I’ve only beaten the game once and Zelda games are always easier on a replay than the first time, and some is probably just that some people are really good at games, but there is more to it than just that. You see, after LttP, the Zelda series made several important changes to its combat system that make combat easier and more fun than it is in this game or the first one for the NES. For the most part combat in LttP is fairly standard for a Zelda game, which means it’s great. You have a sword for your main weapon, a shield for defense, and a bunch of other items you can use in combat as well that you will get as you play. The core of the Zelda series is about exploration, action, and puzzles, and the combat here is mostly great fun. However, as good as LttP combat is, the sword and shield both saw big improvements starting with Link’s Awakening and it is hard to go back to this style after having played that game.
First, your sword’s range is limited, and your range varies depending on which way you are facing. You have good range to the left or right of the screen, but up and down range is a bit less. And worse, your diagonal range is very limited. While in the next game, Link’s Awakening, Link’s sword-swing animation hits a full three tiles, those in front of you, diagonally forward-above, and above, in this game your limited little sword attack swings only in a small arc in the direction you are facing. You don’t have the vertical hit you do in LA, and you don’t have as much forward distance in your swings as you do in that game either, particularly when facing up or down. Additionally, when you hold the sword button down, you charge up for a spin attack. This is great, and is also useful because if enemies walk into you when doing this they will get hit, but in this game the ‘charged’ sword is held close to Link’s body, so it has very little range. In comparison, in LA Link holds his sword out like normal when it is charged, making hitting enemies with it easier. These changes make combat harder than it should be because you’ve got to get close to enemies in order to hurt them with your main weapon, the sword, and this increases the chances you will take damage. This is a regular issue throughout the game and does hold it back. I’m still not used to the sword’s limited range in this game, really. This is a significant issue with LttP.
And second, like in the first game for the NES, while you have a shield, it is nearly useless. In this game, unlike almost any newer newer Zelda game, the shield is only for blocking projectile attacks such as arrows and has no function outside of that. Blocking arrows can be useful, but blocking regular enemies and their attacks is far more important! In comparison, in most Zelda games from Link’s Awakening and on, the shield is vitally important during combat because it blocks enemy attacks. Going from that back to this game with its very basic and limited arrows-and-such-only shield is not pleasant. While most third and fourth-gen action-adventure and action-RPG games don’t have shields able to hold back enemies either, some games do, and walking around with this shield on your sprite that serves almost no purpose is kind of frustrating. It’s like, you have a shield Link, use it when that enemy walks into you! But no, they didn’t think of that idea until Link’s Awakening. Ah well.
As a result of those two factors, I find combat in LttP to be less fun than it is in any of the Game Boy or GB Color Zelda games. I’m not sure if this is a harder or easier game than those, as I died more times beating any of the three GB/GBC games the first time than I did in this one, but I played this game well after those so some improvement is expected, and in LttP I felt like I had more frustrating, unfair deaths than I did in those games. It’s definitely fun to explore around in this game, but you’ll take hits more often than you should due to your limited attack range and defense, and this makes the game more frustrating at times. This is an issue they fixed starting in the next game in the series. Overall combat in Link to the Past is pretty good, with fun core sword-swinging combat and some variety with your various items such as the hookshot and fire and ice rods. However, it could have been better, and the limited range and shield make combat in this game less fun than it is in newer Zelda games, and harder than it should be at times as well.
3) Poor Map & World Design: Ever since I first played it, one of my biggest problems with LttP has always been its map layout and design. The problem is, it’s not good, at all! Both in its overall layout and in how fun it is to explore, LttP’s map is kind of boring. While this game does not have the worst overworld design in a 2d Zelda game, I would say that The Minish Cap is worse, it’s one of the weaker ones for sure and this really bothers me. Across the Zelda series, in both the 2d and 3d games, you see two basic concepts in world design: either a carefully designed world, that is tricky to navigate and is densely packed with unique areas and things to see and do, or a large and open world that you can explore large amounts of more quickly and that has a much lower density of interesting or relevant areas. Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time are good examples of that second style, while Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask are of the first style. I think that the second style is better from a gameplay and level-design standpoint, when done well; it leads to more interesting, more varied maps with more to do and a more carefully designed feel, versus lots of pointless space that seems to be there for no reason other than to wander around in. As someone who has never liked open-world games much, that kind of design is not much of a draw for me. Objectively the two styles are probably equal, though, that’s just opinion. And beyond that, execution matters the most, as either style can be great or mediocre, depending on how well they are designed. For instance, I consider Ocarina of Time to be my favorite console game ever, while Majora’s Mask is interesting but very flawed due to its time mechanic. Despite that, MM has the more interesting, and almost certainly better, world to explore, but a game is more than its world, other factors are more important, in this case the time mechanic. In LttP’s case, the game has both the not-as-good style of world and also doesn’t have other elements that completely make up for that.
So, when I think of the game world in LttP, I think of a large and open map that is mostly decently designed, but just is not as interesting to explore as the maps in the top Zelda games. Yes, exploring the world can be a lot of fun in that classically Zelda way, and there are interesting areas to find as you look around, puzzles to solve, and more, but most of the map is mostly-empty and feels like it’s just there to take up space. When you first reach the desert and can run through it in five seconds to your goal and that’s the end of that, how is this supposed to be good world design? You’d never see this in Link’s Awakening or a 3d Zelda game! When exploring around the map in this game, looking for those scattered areas which actually are important, most of the time you instead just run in to more of the usual boring too-open spaces full of random enemies to run past or maybe fight if you want filling most of the space, with corners that serve no purpose more often than not to the edges. It’s hard to keep up my interest in finding the areas that are important, the places that have items like those below I couldn’t find, when I find most of the map so forgettable. And even when an area does have a key item in it, this game rarely explains that well enough, expecting you to fully explore everything regardless of how important it seems. I will get in to this issue in depth later, though.
So the problem is, this game requires you spend quite a bit of time exploring and finding items, but I found the world too uninteresting to make me want to actually do that exploration. And even when I did find a suspicious spot in the overworld, sometimes I couldn’t figure out how to proceed because of how obscure the overworld puzzles often are. But when outside of the usually pretty interesting dungeons most of the world feels irrelevant, I just wanted to go find the next dungeon. Another thing that can make you want to explore a game is its story, so while I will discuss this in more detail in the next section, the story and character interactions aren’t nearly good enough to help here either. The writing here is average at best, both in the basic story and the only decent NPC characters that are scattered around. In many later Zelda games the characters and in some cases even the story can help you want to keep going, but while it is improved over the original NES game by a lot, that is not so much the case here. Most of the better story and character interactions are early in the game, too.
Additionally, if you look at the zoomed-out map on the X-button map screen, you’ll notice that the overworld map layout is not that great. THere are some scattered corners with neat stuff in them, but that is not the bulk of the map. A Link to the Past is the only 2d Zelda game with a very straightforward and unvarying hub-and-spoke world, and I don’t like that; it’s kind of boring! The gameworld here is built around a central castle, surrounded by a ring of open ground connecting to the main areas in the game. The map in this game is made up of nine square areas, connected by mostly wooded spaces in between the main themed regions. One area, Death Mountain, takes up two of the nine squares, but otherwise each square is one area. These squares are even mostly identical in size! No other 2d Zelda game has such a simplistic layout, and it holds this one back. 3d Zelda games can be more like this, Ocarina of Time in particular, but there the good layout and other improvements make the world great regardless of that. The later games mix things up more than you see here. LA’s more complex world design helps make that game better.
LttP does do one thing which mixes things up in terms of map design, though: it introduces the concept of multiple game maps to the Zelda series. The implementation isn’t the best, but it is a good idea. While you spend the first half of this game in the Light World, midway you gain access to the Dark World, where you travel through a dangerous alternate realm. This map is a variant on the main map, so it is familiar and yet different. This concept of having multiple variations on the map is one that many Zelda games have used since, so it is an influential and important addition to the series. It’s not quite as cool as having an all-new second world would be, but it requires a lot less work and seeing an alternate version of the same world can be interesting for sure, so it does work. And the Dark World is satisfying in some ways, as it adds challenge to world traversal that rarely exists before you reach it. However, its design is very linear. This wouldn’t bother me if it had multiple start points, since I don’t mind linearity in games so long as you don’t need to replay the same stuff over and over, but unfortunately unless you’re in a dungeon you can only start from the center point of this map, and unlike in the Light World the Dark World’s center area has only one exit. So, you end up circling around the Dark World over and over. You do eventually get an ability that alleviates this issue, but still, this could have been better. The Dark World also has many fewer people to talk to than the Light World and no real town, so the games’ already limited amounts of interaction drop off even more here.
4) Story & Towns: Related to the previous point, Zelda: LttP has a very basic and no-good story, limited interactions with other characters compared to any newer game in the series, far less to do in the games’ one town than any subsequent Zelda game, and, of course, fewer clues for what you should be doing than any game after it in the series either. That last point is separate, though related because of how Zelda games combine story, towns, and clues together. But as for the rest of it, so, the story in this game is that you need to rescue the princess, again. It’s the same old garbage sexist story as usual, just with a better, more complete introduction segment than you’d see in the NES games. At the start the story seems to have promise, as you go to the castle, find your uncle and then Zelda, and escape with her. Once she gets kidnapped and the game proper begins, however, most story goes out the window apart from some conversations with the old sage Sahasrahla and a few psychic-link messages from Zelda. The game does have one twist, the initial villain Agahnim is revealed to be working for traditional series villain Ganon, so after beating Agahnim at the midpoint of the game you go over to the aforementioned Dark World. You start out in the dark world in an animal form, though, which is kind of amusing, but you soon get an item that lets you stay in human form there. Then you work your way through the dungeons in the Dark World until you can get Ganon. This is all a lot more plot than the nearly nonexistent story in the original Zelda, but that is a very low bar to cross and even compared to many other SNES games, LttP’s story is not that good. It has its moments, most notably the intro section and when you first go to the Dark World, but for the most part the story is entirely forgettable and generic, when it’s even there at all. And on top of that, “rescue the princess”, one of Nintendo’s favorite game plots, is a terrible and sexist plot that should go away forever, so it’s disappointing to see it return here. And as for the games’ ending, the less said the better; there barely even is an ending, beyond a very basic ‘you win’ sequence. It’s a far cry from the endings of most any newer Zelda game.
However, many Zelda games have bad stories; it is not a series known for great storytelling most of the time, it is best known for its great gameplay. Most newer Zelda games help make up for the weak stories with other things, such as amusing non-player characters (NPCs) to look at and interact with in the world, minigames, at least one town, and more. Link to the Past does have those things, but only in very early, rudimentary forms. Comparing this game to Link’s Awakening only a few years later, the improvements in NPC writing, design, and variety; towns; and minigames all are incredible and very, very noticeable. Where LA has some of the most memorable NPCs and situations in the series, with clever writing and a varied and amusing cast, and newer 2d or 3d Zelda games like Ocarina of Time or A Link Between Worlds have larger casts of interesting characters to interact with, minigames to play, and non-combat areas to explore, LttP shows the series’ first halting steps towards having these elements in a top-down Zelda game. The original Zelda is a great game, but apart from a few caves with one inhabitant each, who either gives you a clue or item or is running a store, your quest is done alone. Zelda II has full towns full of people to talk to, but its sidescrolling perspective makes it quite different from all other Nintendo Zelda games. Despite that though, I’m not sure if LttP is actually an improvement over Zelda II or not…
So, in this game, the third in the series, there is one town, Kakariko Village in its first appearance. The town is in the left center of the map, and is decent-sized but mostly barren of interesting things to do. There are some NPCs scattered around town, mostly in buildings, but they have little to say and there isn’t much progression or change here, unlike the towns in later Zelda games. I know many people at the time found the town fun to explore, but I find that there is so little to do there that most of the time the town is irrelevant. Apart from one key item and one dungeon, there is little reason to ever return to the town, something you could never say about Mabe Village in LA, or any main town in any 3d Zelda game. The handful of characters have little to say, there are no interesting minigames to play, and there isn’t much to find beyond a few overly obscure clues, either. For 1991 maybe having a guy who runs around town quickly and you need to figure out how to stop and a few people scattered around in the houses in town made for a good town, but it really doesn’t hold up at all. The town isn’t even monster-free either, unlike the (light-world) towns in all subsequent Zelda games! And as for the Dark World, there isn’t a town there at all, something else takes its place. Apart from towns, this game does have some scattered houses to visit, sort of like the caves of the original but better looking. It’s good that there are some of them in the game, but it’s nowhere near enough to make up for all the games’ other faults. And anyway, again, LA does this better.
On the whole, this game is heavily focused on the adventure, not the town and story elements of later Zelda games. The Zelda series is great because of the adventuring, dungeons, action, and puzzles first and foremost, but the lacking presentation, towns, and story in this game make it less interesting than later titles in the series. And even if it was a step forward for Zelda games in each of those categories at the time of its release, I think it is fair to compare it to other action-adventure games of its generation and find it lacking! Any of the three Soulblazer/Illusion of Gaia/Terranigma games have far better stories and character interactions than anything in LttP, for example, and Link’s Awakening is a huge improvement over this as well. As a result, while playing LttP I saw no reason to return to the town after the first time or so, so by the time much later in the game that I actually did need something there the thought of going back there didn’t cross my mind. I know that Ocarina of Time significantly expanded how much there is to do in a Zelda town, but this is the least interesting town in any Zelda game with actual towns. And as for the story, the decent start is wasted as soon as it turns into yet another stupid “rescue the princess” game. And yes, it’s a huge black mark against Nintendo they they STILL think that that’s an acceptable plot for most of their major titles. As much as I love the gameplay in so many Nintendo games, their sexism is unfortunate.
5) Dungeon Issues: After I finished LttP, I thought that one of the best things about the game was its many fun dungeons. And that is true, the dungeons are mostly great! However, I do have two issues to discuss about them here. This is not one of the most damaging issues on this list for sure, as the many great, classic Zelda dungeons in this game are a key part of what makes it so good, but as good as it is, as in many other categories, in these dungeons some issues hold LttP back versus its successors.
The main issue I have with dungeons in this game is that there are too few shortcuts and the dungeons are too linear, so when you die, and you will die a lot because this is a tough game at least the first time you play it, you will usually be forced to replay the whole dungeon again from the beginning. This often can be just as hard this time as it was the last time, or harder if you used not easily replenishable items like fairies or potions, and it makes the dungeons in this game feel more unforgiving than those in most any Zelda game following it. Some people like this, but I don’t because it results in forcing you to replay the parts of dungeons you are good at over and over, which is rarely something I enjoy; I want to be able to focus on the next challenge, not be forced to repeatedly replay the dungeon.
The causes of this are interlocking, but I’ll try to break it up. On the point about linearity, Zelda dungeons are usually fairly open levels with a somewhat disguised linear structure, as you explore the dungeon trying to figure out its puzzles and defeat the foes within. There is always a progression to the dungeon, but in most Zelda games, getting through a dungeon doesn’t take too too long if you have gotten the keys, been through it before, and such. I felt like that is less the case here; some dungeons are like that, but others, the Ice Palace and Misery Mire worst of all, are long linear corridors with no shortcuts, a design that forces you to replay those whole tough dungeons over and over from the start. Those aren’t the only too-linear dungeons in this game, either, as it’s a common design in LttP. Misery Mire is where I quit playing the GBA version of this game for good, and it’s easy to see why, really. The dungeons before and after those are mostly better, with one very important exception I will discuss later, but they do still have some issues.
But the problem is not just that dungeons are linear paths, all Zelda dungeons are linear to some extent after all. What makes this a real issue is the absence of shortcuts. Starting from LA, Zelda games have very useful mid-dungeon shortcut warps you unlock after beating the miniboss. Making things even simpler, the newer 3d games, from Wind Waker and on, restart you from the beginning of the last room in a dungeon when you die, instead of from the beginning of the dungeon. LttP, naturally, does neither of these things. There are no quick-warps in this game, that was a new creation in LA, and as mentioned earlier dungeons are often not designed with shortcuts either. Instead, when you die, you start from the last door to the outside that you entered and will have to restart from there. As great as most of the dungeons in this game are, this can be a real pain as doors are often few and far between. It gets old fast. And if you want to stop playing and pick the game up later? Sorry, unlike most later Zelda games, you can’t restart from the dungeon enterance; instead, when you turn the game on and load your save, you can only continue from the usual three places if you are in the Light World, and only one, the central pyramid, in the Dark World. So, just leave your system on if you want to continue from that dungeon without added travel. Too bad. The GBA version changes this, but the graphics and sound are too badly downgraded for it to be worth recommending.
And lastly, one of the later dungeons, Turtle Rock, is mostly a pretty cool dungeon… except for one thing: at the end, there is a special door. This door requires you have both the Ice and Fire Rod items, which you will need to use to get through to the boss. The Fire Rod is a regular item you get in a dungeon earlier in the game, so that’s no problem, but the Ice Rod is one of those items hidden in a random cave with few clues. I didn’t know the Ice Rod existed until reaching this door, as the incredibly vague “hint” Sahasrahla gives at the dungeon entrance really does not help one bit, so naturally I didn’t have it. I will discuss this awful design decision again later, but I had to leave the dungeon, look up in a FAQ where the cave with the required item is, spend a quite frustrating time wandering around Lake Hylia looking for the right cave, finally find the right one, get the item, go back to the dungeon, and restart it from scratch because of course I had to, this game has no shortcuts. It took a little less time the second time, as I knew what to do, but still, this was an absolutely unacceptable design and if I’d stopped playing forever at that point I wouldn’t blame myself one bit.
On an unrelated note, one other issue with the dungeons in this game is that bosses are usually much easier than the dungeons before them. In retrospect there are other Zelda games similar to this, as Link’s Awakening’s bosses, once you know how to fight them, also aren’t as tough as the dungeons for the most part, but still, it would have been nice to see some of the bosses be a bit tougher. Some are fairly bland designs, too — the first two dungeons both have you just face a couple of strong regular-styled enemies, for example. Each dungeon should have an interesting, unique boss, and not all of the bosses here are that. Couldn’t you have come up with something more interesting than just ‘four giant soldiers’ or ‘three worm things’? And unlike LA, most bosses don’t say anything to you before you fight them, either. That fits with the general theme of that game having more story in it than this one, but it is worth mentioning. Still, the boss fights in this game are usually fun, and ome of the bosses are fairly interesting. They’re good… but there are other Zelda games with better boss fights than these.
So, on the whole, while they are good to great, LttP’s dungeons are not among the best dungeons in a Zelda game. Many newer Zelda games go too far the other way towards making dungeons too easy, thanks to design decisions such as reducing the amount of damage you take on each hit, allowing you to start from the door of the room you died in instead of being sent back to the entrance of the dungeon as you are in this and all of the other ’80s and ’90s top-down Zelda games, and more, but with its poor designs in some dungeons this game goes too far the other way. Thankfully this game is easier than the very challenging NES games, but it is still hard. It’s often the fun kind of hard, the kind of game that keeps you coming back until you figure it out, but once in a while it’s the bad kind of hard, and as more of the more frustrating dungeons are in the later parts of the game, after you get past a certain point the dungeons become a slog at times. Thankfully the last few dungeons are better, and of course not every dungeon in a game is going to be equally great, but this is an issue worth mentioning.
6) Required Hidden Items: When I think about the flaws of this game, one of my biggest problems with the game has always been that in a very ’80s-game-like way, Link to the Past has a whole bunch of items you are required to have in order to progress in the game, but the game either tells you absolutely nothing about and just expects you to have found, or they only give you a clue so uselessly obscure that it’s of no help. The items you get in dungeons, such as the bow, bombs, and such, are fine; you get those as you go through the dungeons, as usual in the series. The problem are items you need that are found in the overworld. I want to know what I’m supposed to be doing in a game, so being required to find various items hidden in random corners is no fun at all for me. I have always been one to prefer a more guided experience over a totally open-ended one, though with the right design I can love games with big worlds, such as many Zelda games or Guild Wars. But this game, or the NES Zeldas before it? I’m sorry, but I do not like this stuff at all. This is related to why I’d never play Metroid Prime with the guide marker off.
The defense I’ve always gotten when I say this is that some people enjoy this kind of exploration in a way I never have, and that the game has clues for most of these items. The former is just a difference of opinion, but for the latter defense, I find those “clues” either so subtle that I don’t notice them, or so vague that they’re useless; I would never, ever have finished this game without a guide. In fact, when I first bought this game for the GBA, I quit playing in one of these points, as I gave up without figuring out how to get in to Misery Mire. I could have looked it up online again and found out what the required item was and where to find it (it’s called the Ether Medallion), but having to do that repeatedly in a game I wasn’t loving anyway just didn’t seem worth it again, so I dropped the game there. Some time later, perhaps after beating the SNES game, I did pick the GBA version up again, but I quit in the sixth dungeon, Misery Mire, because it’s hard and maybe the worst dungeon in the game. When I got the game for SNES several years later I did eventually like it more and finish it, but only with the help of guides at various points, including all seven of the particularly bad cases I will go over below.
Yes, if you do slowly explore everything, figure out all the vague clues and don’t miss any puzzles, and go back regularly to hunt for areas you can now use items you’ve gotten in you won’t have these problems, but expecting all players to do all of those things is asking too much. If I found the world more fun to explore, if the game made you continue to explore the world as you go as LA and beyond do by slowly unlocking areas of the world as you progress, if the mapping system rewarded you for exploration instead of just showing you it all from the start, maybe I’d have been better at finding this stuff in this game. But the game does none of those things, so I mostly just wanted to go to the next dungeon after completing each of them, since the dungeons are the most fun part of the game. I like exploring in games when the game-world is fun to explore and when the game encourages exploration, but I have always found LttP’s world kind of boring for reasons explained above. And importantly, I don’t care much about loot in games, so just exploring around with the goal of finding items isn’t much of a draw for me. I like exploring to find a place, to fill in my map, to see what’s out there, to clear out the enemies in that part of the map, or what have you. But just to find some more loot? I care much less about that than most people seem to.
Beyond wishing for a better gameworld though, two things this game could have done would have fixed almost all of these problems. First, the game really needs a quest log to remind you of tasks you have not completed, things people have told you, and the like. This is something the Zelda series has almost never had, unfortunately, but there is one in Majora’s Mask, and it shows why these are so great. Any good RPG or game with a lot of quests and hints and such should have an in-game system to remind players of which ones they haven’t completed, it’s extremely useful stuff. The only alternative is to try to remember everything or write stuff down on paper on your own, and you probably should do that in this game for some things.
And second, the games’ in-game hint system is basic and isn’t useful most of the time. Zelda games have had hints since the first game, but through the first three the hints are mostly very vague, the kind of clues that expect you to figure most of the game out for yourself as you explore. If you miss something that’s just too bad. Like its sequel, Link’s Awakening, LttP has two hint systems, beyond the clues told to you by Sahasrahla, random villagers, signs, and the like: the oracle’s house, where you can go to get a nearly useless clue about what direction you should be going at and pay 30 rupees for the “privilege” of the oracle’s not useful information, and hint panels in dungeons where Sahasrahla gives you a hint related to that dungeon. These are a little better, but still often are of limited use; sometimes he’s helpful, other times useless. The next game, Link’s Awakening, brings both of those hint systems back, but improves on them considerably. Overworld hints now come from telephone booths, which are free to use and give you a reasonably helpful clue from a weird old guy called Ulrira who you call for hints. In dungeons, there is a hint in each dungeon on a stone slab, for help on some puzzle in that dungeon. The small improvements in hint quality they made between these two games make for a big difference in fun; it is very possible to get stuck in LA, and when I first played it in the mid ’90s I remember it taking me several months to finish, but that game is never as frustrating as this one is because of its better gameworld design and more useful hints. The trickiest part in LA is the trading game, but even that has more clues than anything in LA.
So, returning to LttP, a quest log and an improved hint system which theoretically gives you clues towards the locations of required items you’ve missed and now need would have done wonders here. Unfortunately the game does not do those things, so here we go.
Warning: spoilers of course!
6A) The Book of Mudora – I’ll start this list with the first and least annoying case of a required hidden overworld-map item. The Book of Mudora allows you to translate the text on stone tablets, and you’ll need it to get into the Desert Palace. Getting this item requires an item you got after completing the first real dungeon, the Pegasus Boots, and just like they would again do in Link’s Awakening, it is “hidden” on the top of one of the bookcases in the library in town. You’ve got to charge at that bookcase with the boots to get the book. That’s alright, and you get the Pegasus Boots not too long after first having to visit the town so if you thoroughly explored the town area you should remember about the book in the library, but when I first played this game on SNES I didn’t do that, so by the time I needed the Book of Mudora I’d forgotten about that book in the library, and there are no clues to this required item’s location in the game. The one “clue”, from that guy in town who moves very quickly and you can now catch, is just that since you now have the Pegasus Boots you should look for things to charge into, but that’s not not much of a clue since it pretty much just says the obvious, explore! So, either go around looking for things you can now charge into until you remember to check the library, or else use a guide. I think I did the latter.
6B) The Quake Medallion – This required item is found in a pond in a random corner of the map. You don’t get any real clues to its existence this time, you’ve just got to have explored enough to find this spot, and figured out that there is a puzzle here as well. You see, there’s a sign near the pool which says “do not throw items in the water”, so naturally this means you need to throw things in. Throw in enough stuff, and you get the Quake Medallion. There are no clues to this item’s existence beyond that one sign, and as not all signs refer to required items, not by a longshot, that’s one weak clue! All of the medallions are, again, required, and hiding a required item off in an obscure corner of the map, with only a hint that anything is even there, is too much. This is another thing I did not figure out while playing the game and needed a guide to find; I just hadn’t found this corner of the map. Since this item is not one with any real hints but just something you need to find the problem some of these items have about the hints being long before the item is needed does not apply here, but the core problem of a required item hidden off somewhere with minimal hints to its existence remains. I have no problem at all with Zelda games hiding optional items like this one is; it’s kind of a clever puzzle, really, once you find the pool. However, required ones should not be so hard to find!
6C) The Flute – The Flute is an item mostly useful laterl see point 6F for its uses. But getting the Flute itself is kind of tricky. In the Light World area south of Link’s House, if you find a clearing surrounded by trees, with an arrow of bushes pointing towards the one entrance, you will find a spirit of a boy playing his flute sitting on a tree-stump there. He vanishes when you approach, though. So, once you can get to that part of the Dark World, you need to return to that same point. Now he is corporeal, and offers you the Shovel if you will look for his flute for him, hidden under flowers somewhere around that area. The Flute is in the light world, though, not the dark, so you’ll need to think to go back, then dig up all the flowers around that clearing until you find it. Return to the boy in the Dark World with the flute and he gives you a clue to the next step, that you should return it to old man in the village. This sounds a bit complex, and I’m sure I was stuck on it for a little while, but finding the flute itself wasn’t the big problem, for me anyway. Really the only clues about it come from that boy, if you find him, and the old man he references, who is at the bar in the village, but I did find the flute. It’s that next step that I completely missed, as section 6F shows. But regardless, this is a key item, and it’d probably be all too easy to miss if you hadn’t been to that clearing or if you don’t think to go back to that area once you can go to the Dark World version of that area.
6D) The Ether Medallion – Probably the second-worst and most annoying item to have to go back and find if you missed it when you first pass through the area where it is hiding, the Ether Medallion is a required item that is hiding in an area off of somewhere you will pass through only once, in the very top center of the map near the Tower of Hera, the third dungeon. It’s across a bridge off to the side of the dungeon’s entrance, somewhere easy to miss if you’re focused on going to the dungeon as I usually am. Yes, you can see the bridge, but the tower is much more prominent. Indeed, even knowing it’s there, playing the game again for this article I almost walked right past it again. And worse, even if you do go over there when you first arrive here to go to the dungeon, you can’t get the item; you need the Master Sword to get Medallions, so you’ll need to remember that this item is here, complete the third dungeon, go through the Mysterious Woods after that and get the Master Sword, and then trek all the way back up the mountains to the top to finally get this item. And if you missed this side-area or forget sometime in between, there are, of course, no clues at any point in the game about what this item is or where you should find it. How helpful. I missed this item when I went to this dungeon when first playing the game on SNES, and this is really bad because when you finally hit the point much, MUCH later in the game that the Ether Medallion’s power is required, the game doesn’t say a word about what item you need to get past that point; it just assumes that you got it already. Since I didn’t, it was very confusing because there was no way to know based only on what you are given in the game what item I even needed, much less where to look for it. I eventually had to look this up online, and it was still a pain because getting up to the top of the mountains takes a while, it is not a direct route. There’s really no excuse for there to not be this well hidden, and to not have any clues.
6E) The Bombos Medallion – The third medallion is hidden in a corner of the Dark World. I didn’t have as hard a time finding this one as I did the other two, as I don’t remember being stuck at this part, but that may have just been luck. As with the other two this is a required item with no substantive hints referencing its existence. You find it by warping from a certain point in the Dark World, where in the Light World you travel from the marsh to the desert but here is a dead end. Three stakes there form a triangle, and warp from that point to find a stone tablet the Book of Mudora can translate. This gives you the medallion. If you explore this area you have a solid chance of figuring this out, as looking for warp points is an important part of this game, but I can see someone missing it, so as with the other medallions this really needed some kind of clue for if you don’t have it when needed later.
6F) Getting into the Swamp of Evil – In the Dark World, the lower central area, the Swamp of Evil and the dungeon 6, Misery Mire, located inside, is inaccessible; there is no way in. There is a vague, typically useless clue, but that won’t be much help. After a while, you may realize that the only way to get there would be by a warp from the Light World, where that area is accessible. Travelling between the Light and Dark worlds is a key mechanic in this game, and as you progress you get better tools to do that with. While at first you can only warp at set warp tiles, you eventually will get an item which lets you warp between worlds at will. But this game being this game, you aren’t so much given this item, as you are required to find it through a series of tricky puzzles you may or may not even know exist. Traveling between the Light and Dark worlds is a key mechanic in this game, and as you progress you get better tools to do that with. You’ll need one of those to get into the Swamp, because no warp is initially accessible.
To solve this problem, you need the Flute; see above for that one. Now that you have it, you need to figure out what to do with the thing, as all it seems to do is play a little song. If you remember the lines the townsfolk say, something I was not doing while playing this game, and that clue from the boy who gave you the flute, you may recall that there is an old man at the bar in town who vaguely mentions knowing the boy who gave you the flute. I didn’t get the reference or think of playing the flute before people in town in response to the maybe too-vague clue (it doesn’t say “play”, but “give”…), got stuck at some later point in the game and took a long break from it, and then finally came back only to have no clue about what to do once I had to get into the Swamp. Eventually I had to look it all up online. What I didn’t know is that you have to play the flute in front of that old man and he will tell you to play the flute at the rooster weathervane in town. Do that and you unlock a fast-travel mechanic which has a drop point that is otherwise inaccessible, letting you then warp over to the Dark World inside the Swamp of Evil. But since the boy only gives you this clue once and there is no way to see it again, this is another one of those things where, if you don’t figure the puzzle out right away and I did not, you will probably be hopelessly lost much later in the game when the item this quest-path leads to is suddenly required. That’s flawed design; this could have been handled much better.
I, of course, forgot about that old mans’ line right after he said it when I first got there very early in the game, and by the time much, much later in the game that the flute was needed I had no clue what to do with the thing. You won’t have the flute when you first get to the town or for quite some time afterwards, so this is just a thing you’ll need to remember if you don’t want to have to give up and use a guide like I eventually did. And remember, importantly, there certainly is no hint in the game that the flute gives you warping, or that the flute quest has anything to do with getting in to the Swamp of Sorrows, which is when warping is first needed! You need to figure all of those things out for yourself, with no help from the game. I wish it would do some of that.
6G) The Ice Rod – I covered the problems with this incredibly frustrating item earlier, in the Dungeons section, but the Ice Rod is yet another required item you find in a cave in the overworld. Unlike all previous items in this section, however, this one is needed in a dungeon. And it’s not only needed IN a dungeon, but it’s needed at the very end of a long and difficult dungeon near the end of the game… and that is the one and only time you ever need this item in the game. Now, there is a clue about its existence, but that clue is way back, given to you by Sahasrahla after you finish the first real dungeon, the Eastern Palace. He says that an important item can be found in a cave on the eastern side of Lake Hylia. What you need to do is not too complex, if you do it right away: you need to search around Lake Hylia, find the route through the lower-central plain area to the bottom and right side of the lake, find the cave in question, notice that there are bombable walls nearby, buy some bombs from a store, blow open that cracked wall, and get the Ice Rod, you’re all set, no problem. You won’t actually need it until the bottom of that dungeon near the end, but it might be handy here and there.
However, when I played this game on the SNES in ’08, I did not find the Ice Rod. I probably did look in some cave near Lake Hylia, but for whatever reason never found the Ice Rod, and didn’t have any idea I was missing a required item; that hint is vague, and not every hint people give you is about required items after all. And then when the item isn’t actually needed for about six or seven dungeons after the one and only hint in any way related to its existence is given, and there are absolutely no more references to the Ice Rod after that, it’s easy to see how I could have overlooked it. If you’re going to do this kind of puzzle right, give a better hint and have it be required soon. That’s how a newer Zelda game would do this. Here, though, the time gap between when you are (vaguely) told about the item and when you actually need it is crazy-long!
So, as described earlier, not remembering, or maybe even knowing, that an Ice Rod existed or that I’d need it, I got all the way to the bottom of the Turtle Rock dungeon late in the game, only to find that there is a door there that you can only open with both the Ice and Fire rods. So, I had to leave the dungeon, go use a FAQ to tediously search around for the right cave that had this item I didn’t know about, and then go back and completely restart the dungeon from the beginning, because they couldn’t be bothered to include things like shortcuts or boss-room warps in this game’s dungeons. This was more frustrating than any other item on this list because it forced me to replay a dungeon just because I didn’t have some random previously unnecessary item the game hadn’t mentioned in probably several dozen hours. At least in all of the other items above, the worst that could happen was that you just couldn’t progress. This one has the most serious repercussions if you miss it, and unfortunately I somehow managed to do that. As much as I do also dislike how modern Zelda games often make puzzles a bit too obvious, games like this one or the original Zelda for the NES show games which go too far in the opposite direction, and show why that kind of player guidance came into being. People should not be punished this severely for simply missing an item hidden in some random cave, that isn’t needed through almost the entire game until suddenly at the very bottom of a late-game dungeon it’s suddenly required!
6H) Silver Arrows – At the very end of the game, if you want to defeat the final boss, you need to shoot him with a special alternate type of arrow called the Silver Arrows. There is no clue in the game that this item even exists until you get them, so I’m sure many people got close to the end, only to realize that they couldn’t damage the final boss after a certain point and must be missing something. This is one thing on this list here I did know about the likely existence of when I first reached the end, though, because Silver Arrows also exist in the great early ’90s Zelda comic in Nintendo Power that was loosely based on this game, and I’ve read that comic multiple times and like it quite a bit. So, I did think to look for them before trying to beat Ganon, but the location sure is obscure! Right in Ganon’s Pyramid, the central building of the Dark World, if you destroy this one particular panel with a Super Bomb, it creates an opening into the place the silver arrows are hidden. The panel is cracked but won’t break from a normal bomb, so that is sort of a clue you need something more, but that this panel holds anything particularly important behind it, or how to break it, is of course not mentioned anywhere.
The issue is that in order to break that panel you need an item that you only need for this one purpose, a Super Bomb. You get this at the otherwise mostly useless Bomb Shop, but not right when you first find that tile; oh no, at that point the bomb shop still has nothing of note. Instead, you’ll just need to realize that at some point late in the game the Bomb Shop started carrying Super Bombs, and to keep checking until it does so you can go back and buy one. And on top of that, you’d then need to run across the right place to bomb, which could be tricky. This recalls some later dungeons in the original Zelda, such as ones hidden behind random rocks and trees and such, so you’d need to just randomly bomb the world’s terrain until you find the right place. This time is a little better than that since there is at least one clue, but it’s still fairly annoying. While I knew I needed silver arrows, without a guide I doubt I’d have ever figured out this whole too-involved process.
6I) Overlookable Items, Concluded: Looking back, and playing this game again some, I can understand why I missed some of these items I missed my first few times playing this game in the ’00s. Others seem simpler in retrospect, making me think ‘I probably should have found that’ about things like the Book of Mudora or the Ice Rod. But other items, like the three Medallions, the Silver Arrows, and such… that is not good. The only decent excuse here would be that this stuff is mostly only annoying the first time you play the game, so the second time through LttP it should be much less frustrating, but shouldn’t a great game be great the first time through, and not only later ones? Not everyone wants to play games multiple times, after all, or to keep playing after repeatedly getting stuck in a game, so required items like those should not be being as well hidden as they are. Do that for optional things, not required ones. The concept here is that the game doesn’t give you direct hints about where required overworld items are, it just gives an obscure one once, told to you by one NPC usually in a way that you can’t get them to repeat, and then expects you to figure out what that means before proceeding. As much as I dislike the way many modern games lead you around too much, this is worse. This kind of incredibly frustrating, wander-around-lost-with-no-clue-of-what-to-do experience is exactly why modern games DO lead you around too much! Getting that balance right, in having puzzles which are interesting and challenging but aren’t too easy or too hard, is incredibly difficult, but later Zelda games such as LA or OoT nail it. This game does make steps forward versus the NES games, but not enough of them.
7) Continues & Saving: The continue system is too limited. The game needs more points you can start from if you die or save. I have referenced this issue several times already, but I think it deserves its own point on the list as well. Again, when you die in the overworld in this game, there are only a few places you can start from. In the Light World there are three, in the lower center, upper center, and top of the map. The Dark World has fewer continue points though, only one right in the middle. There is also only one exit from the center of the Dark World map to the rest of the map, unlike the Light World which is more open, so until you get the ability to freely warp between worlds navigating the Dark World can be tedious when you just want to get to where you were again. While any newer Zelda game will let you start from somewhere close to where you died, starting with Link’s Awakening which allows you to save or continue after dying from the nearest doorway you entered, when you die here the penalty is much more severe if you weren’t near that central point. Crossing this games’ map may not take too long, but requiring you to do this over and over gets old after a few times.
In a dungeon, though, oddly enough, if you die you will respawn from the last doorway from the outside you entered the dungeon from. This is very helpful in dungeons which have multiple entrance points along the way, and in some cases dungeons were designed with these on purpose, to give you checkpoints of a sort. That’s great, but it is really weird that if I die a screen into a dungeon you restart from that dungeon entrance you entered, but if you leave the dungeon by that same entrance and die a screen over from it, in the overworld, you’ve got to restart all the way back at one of the four aforementioned overworld starting points! Seriously, how does that make any sense? LA fixes this problem by just letting you continue from the last door you entered, period.
And worse, if you decide to stop playing and turn the game off you will only be able to continue from those overworld points mentioned earlier, you cannot start from the entrance of the dungeon you are in. You really should be able to do that, as you can do in any Zelda game after this one and dungeons can be tricky so not everyone is going to want to play every one in one sitting. As I said earlier, particularly in the Dark World, having to start over from the Pyramid all the time is really a pain, as it can take a while to get anywhere from there. Once you get the warping item it’s not as bad, but it still can be frustrating. The limited continue points date this game.
8) The Character Art: I have never liked the style of LttP’s in-game character art sprites, and this has always been one of my more significant issues with the game. Now, for the most part, this is a pretty good-looking game. LttP uses at least some of the graphical powers of the Super Nintendo to good effect, with sizable sprites, lots of color, detailed environments that show how much more powerful the SNES is than the NES, effects such as the rain that falls at the beginning of the game, and more. There is quite a bit of slowdown when more than a few things are on screen, but it is a first-generation SNES game, so that is understandable. The art style of the backgrounds is mostly great, and Link’s Awakening’s background-art style is quite similar to this games’.
However, when it comes to the character and enemy sprites things go downhill fast. I know art is a very subjective thing, but I have always thought that LttP’s character art style is not very good. This game has a very cartoony, anime-esque art style, sort of a predecessor to the style of Ocarina of Time but more cartoony not nearly as good looking. I like anime, but this games’ character and enemy sprite designs have always looked kind of odd to me. In terms of art design in Zelda games, I have always preferred the more “realistic” looking Zelda games over the more cartoony ones. Twilight Princess has, in my opinion, the best art design ever in a Zelda game, for example. That game looks amazing! This game is much more cartoonish than that, and oddly so as well; this is no match for the the divisive but sharp-looking world of Wind Waker, among more cartoony-looking Zelda games. Some of the characters and enemies barely look like the things they are supposed to represent, if you compare their original designs to the in-game sprites. Some of them are really odd looking. From Link’s odd floppy hat, to the misshapen enemy guards, to the various blobby enemies, the character graphics here are often good for their style, but I find the the style is off-putting and kind of ugly-looking at times. While Link’s Awakening borrows many things from this game in its art designs, the overall look is a bit less stylized than it is here, and as a result I like the sprite art there better than LttP’s by quite a bit.
So, when Nintendo announced that the actually pretty good Gamecube game Zelda: Four Swords Adventures would take its graphical design from LttP, I was disappointed. I know a lot of people love this games’ look, but while I do like the visuals overall, I don’t love them and wish that that game had done something a bit different. Ah well, at least they did do some new things such as putting huge numbers of enemies on screen, better visual effects, and more; it’s no SNES game, visually, it just uses this art style.
Finally though, one note about the GBA port of LttP. While the gameplay is largely the same as before, the graphics and music are quite a bit worse looking than they are on the actual SNES. The GBA’s sound chip is no match for the Super Nintendo’s, as you can hear in any SNES-to-GBA port, and it hurts this game as much as any. And as for the visuals, they look similar, but perhaps to look good on the original-model GBA they have been brightened, and don’t look quite as good as before. That brightening was needed, as I did stick with an original-model GBA up until I got a Nintendo DS and there are a few games which are too dark on that not-backlit original-model screen, but it does hurt LttP’s visual look. The save system is a bit better, but the most surprising thing about the SNES version when I bought it was how nice the game looked, character sprite art aside; apart from that it just looks so much better on SNES than GBA! Stick to the original version of this game. But even on the SNES, the character art design just is not that great looking.
So, overall, The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past is a great classic. I played the game again some for this article, and it’s easy to see how people who played it when it was new could still think that it is one of the best games ever made. However, as good a game as it is, LttP does also have some flaws, and they are bothersome enough that they have always distracted me away from the great parts of this game to a significant extent. Some of the flaws are bigger than others, however.
First, I find that the game discourages exploration, when compared to other Zelda games. Exploration is central to this game of course, but Combining several of the points in the list above, because the games’ world map is too open, and user-viewable map on the X button shows you the whole map from the start, you don’t need to reveal it as you explore as you do in LA. When you combine these two factors, I felt less interested in exploring the world over the course of the game because you can go almost everywhere right at the start, so what’s the point of going back to places you have been already? The problem is, sometimes you NEED to return to those corners, because some item you need is hidden in one of them behind objects you can only get past with an item you don’t have yet. Remembering where all of those places are is difficult and I’m not great at that, and I do NOT enjoy wandering around aimlessly looking for things I can now open; not knowing where I’m going in a game is not my idea of fun. The solutions here are all things later Zelda games do: more useful and clearer hints about the locations of key items you need, a world map not so open so exploration is encouraged throughout the game, a map that reveals as you go encouraging you (or me, at least) to want to fill out that map, and more hints about places where you may be able to use an item you don’t have yet. LA does every one of those things, and Ocarina of Time and beyond most of them as well. Even the element of that in OoT most like LttP, OoT’s fairly open map, is at least more segmented than LttP’s is, as you unlock large new areas as you progress around the central hub.
Second, even beyond point one, I dislike the way the game hides vital items around the overworld. The way you are supposed to play this game is to slowly explore the world, making sure to note every place you may be able to use an item you do not have yet as you go and then getting every item as soon as you can. Finding these items seems easy once you know where they are, but learning where all of the key items are either takes a lot of patience, or an online guide. Now, puzzles are good. Games that tell you exactly what to do at every point, as many modern games have in the past decade or so, often goes too far, dumbing down games so much that they’re too easy to be much fun. But this kind of design, closer to NES-style frustration than anything, has too little help. The game does have a few attempts at hint systems, including an oracle who will give you vague and nearly useless clues, hints from Sahasrahla, Zelda, other townspeople, and signs as you progress, and subtle hints in the environment towards areas of importance with cracked walls, circles of rocks, and such, but no Zelda game after this one would have a design which puts so much importance on finding items on your own, and there is a reason for that: it frustrates anyone who didn’t manage to explore in quite the right place, or who did go there but missed the too-subtle clues the gamer has to lead you towards them. It also hurts a lot when the game repeatedly doesn’t require you to actually use key items for a LONG time after you get them, so if you missed them when that one hint was given it’s nearly hopeless; you’ll never be given that hint again, and nothing at the point where you use these items, such as the Ether Medallion or Ice Rod, hints towards where that item can be found; the designers just assume you got it already, without having checked back around the time of the original hint if that was the case or not. As with the previous paragraph, this was a solvable problem: just make sure that the player actually got this item close to where you find it by having a puzzle or obstacle you can only get past with that item soon after you are supposed to get it and while you’re still in a place where getting back there isn’t a complete pain, and have a better hint system so that if you did miss a key item, when you finally need it you aren’t hopelessly lost like I was multiple times in this game. Without a guide I would never had finished this game, no question about it.
Next, I wish that your sword’s range was a little bigger and your shield was more useful. Going back to the game now, I’ve been taking hits over and over because of how close you need to get to enemies to damage them. Your attack is only a moderate-ranged sword-wave in the direction you are facing, with almost no coverage beyond just straight ahead in one of the four directions you can face. From LA on your swords have longer range than this in Zelda games, keeping you a little bit safer. The near-useless shield is an even bigger difference from later games, as here it is only for blocking projectiles and nothing else. It works, as you just need to avoid enemies by moving around them, but if you’re used to being able to block enemies with your shield as you can in almost any Zelda game from LA or beyond, going to this game will take some adjustment for sure. You will take many hits that feel cheap.
And last, I have never liked the look of the characters in this game. Link is somewhat odd-looking here; I don’t mind the pink hair, but the art style is just a little weird. Enemy sprites are even stranger. The backgrounds and music are both great, and the game mostly runs well though it has significant slowdown at times on the SNES, but the character art is just off a bit, compared to the better-looking Zelda games.
So in the end, The Legend of Zelda is a very good game with a lot going for it. The game is mostly beautiful-looking, it has a great and memorable soundtrack, it plays great most of the time, it evolves the Zelda formula and improves significantly over its NES predecessors, it has quite a few very well-designed, really fun dungeons to play through, and more. I do like this game, despite everything here, and it is worth playing, with a guide at least. But I do not unreservedly love it, and I always will think of Zelda: Link to the Past as a flawed game with quite a few bothersome issues, both major and minor. And for that, compared to the extremely high praise it usually receives, I do think it deserves the term “overrated” that I gave it in this article’s title. As good as this game is, it is the next title, Link’s Awakening, that masters the 2d Zelda formula. This game is good, but not quite there in some ways that really bother me.