Why A Link To The Past Is My Favorite Zelda Game


A Link Between Worlds is the closest thing to a console game I intend to buy this fall (I don’t have a Wii U to play Super Mario 3D World on). Mostly it’s because of what I’ve seen of the game so far, but I can’t deny that it’s also a sequel to one of my top games ever and my favorite Zelda title. Thinking about why A Link to the Past stands above other Zelda games in my mind even after 21 years is to analyze where the series as a whole has traveled.

It’s true ALTTP was my first Zelda game, but looking back and playing it again today, I think it represents the eve of a turning point in the series and maybe games altogether. To put it flatly, I still think ALTTP has the best atmosphere of any Zelda game. That’s what draws me into the series — more specifically an atmosphere of inviting exploration, and I think ALTTP nails that atmosphere the most, and it does so through a lost sense of austerity.

Compared to the modern 3D Zeldas, ALTTP is a sparse game that offers none of today’s overt hint systems. Furthermore, its story is kind of bare and vague, thanks in part to its odd English translation. The result is a game with a lot to find and do but not much in the way of information, and I think ALTTP was almost the last Zelda game made like this (you might be able to count Link’s Awakening).

ALTTP was the last console Zelda game before Navi the fairy or any other helper put all vital info in your face. It was the last console Zelda before cut scenes were used to introduce environments and characters. It was the last console Zelda that, really, put 100 percent of its exposition in the gameplay experience, and did so efficiently.

There are secrets hidden in the game only hinted at by NPCs. With only vague gossip from passers by and not in-game messages, things became more mysterious yet more cohesive. Even main objectives play out like this, which, in my experience in the 90’s, made me feel like I really was chasing after legends in a realized playable world, not a cinematic one.

I feel like ALTTP was the last Zelda game to have a real sense of mystery — a world that gave you mysteries to explore and solve on your own. The level design and visuals were great at the time, but what really separates it from modern Zelda games, and really most console games today, is that ALTTP doesn’t overload you with information. It won’t tell you what’s up that river or in that forest, but will tell you just enough for you to wonder what’s in there. As exploration is my favorite part of Zelda, that kind of tight information control is one of the best tools for enhancing it in my opinion.

I really struggle to think of modern games that accomplish the same feeling of mystery. I think that’s partly what made Demon’s Souls so talked about — it beckoned players but didn’t tell them much. This feeling is pretty much what Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are built on, and a lot of indie developers have tried to take it from there. Today, games try to make sure you always know precisely where you need to go.

Back to Zelda, why do I pick out ALTTP and not, say, the original Zelda, which was even more austere? Because ALTTP represents the highest level of technical fidelity the series reached before it began to hold the player’s hand. OG Zelda has just enough pixels on screen for you to be able to tell what you’re looking at, but the Super NES let ALTTP shine with dark thunderstorms, shaded forests, and fiery mountains. It really put the mood in the adventure but without the overabundance of info.

Oddly though, playing through ALTTP today, it’s really just a mechanically fun romp after going through the Eastern Palace for the 20th time. This is what I expect ALBW to feel like. I think the game really is going to be something special for the people who post two-hour completion times for ALTTP.

When I look at videos for ALBW, the main thing that makes me want to play the game so much is what looks like smooth, fast gameplay and controls. Even though I come into Zelda games for the exploration and atmosphere, I tend to stay for the level design and well-crafted controls (the prime example of this being Ocarina of Time). I guess I could jump right into one for those reasons. I honestly don’t know about the paint-walking mechanic, but reviews sound overwhelmingly good so I’m not really worried. It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve felt truly anxious for a game’s release like this, with the intention to buy it day one and play it to the exclusion of everything else.


  • Valve catching on with Washington Post. http://t.co/FEfNdPHPSd
  • Demon’s Souls is on sale again. $14. http://s.shr.lc/17OekNO
  • Okami HD (and some other Capcom games) just got a permanent price drop on PSN.
  • These Humble Store savings continue. As I type this I think Audiosurf is 99 cents and the Humble Android bundle includes the Android version of Ridiculous Fishing.
  • And Dishonored and its DLC is on sale for Xbox Live Gold members. The base game is $10. http://t.co/Kxdq6l5tNF
  • I drafted this whole thing in Pages on my iPhone because I was too tired to get up and type it on a computer. Doesn’t seem to have turned out too bad.
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