The first video game I beat was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
I don’t remember how old I was, but I think I was around 14. I had played video games prior to this, in a sort of haphazard way. My parents are of the “T.V. rots your brains” school of thought, so I wasn’t one of the lucky kids who had my own NES or Genesis. My uncle gave us an Atari 5200 when I was 5 or 6, so I played a lot of that.
Now I don’t know if you’ve played an Atari 5200, but it is a sad, sad thing. This is what Mario Bros. looks like on an Atari:
It’s just that one screen. Turtles and stuff come out of the pipes up top. If you run Mario off the screen, you run back on the other side. I was actually never completely sure what the goal of this game was, other than murdering turtles. I usually got bored with it pretty quickly.
I did play the hell out of Vanguard, which looks like this on the cover:
And like this in real life:
There was one time I made it to the boss. I was super stoked. I had never beaten a video game before!
No idea what the boss was supposed to be. Some kind of totem pole alien? But whatever, I MURDERED IT. I BEAT THE GAME!
…And then the whole game started over. With different colors. And I died immediately.
I think that was the first time I threw a controller, actually.
This was also the summer I went on vacation with my cousins, and they brought one of these with them:
And THEIR games looked like THIS:
My tiny mind was blown.
There were physical fights that summer over who got to play Sonic the Hedgehog. I wasn’t very good at it, but to this day, I practically have the Green Hill Zone memorized because I played it so many times. I loved it! It was beautiful! It was fast! The enemies actually were recognizable as creatures instead of vague blobs of color! The controller actually worked and didn’t make your hand cramp up after five minutes (those of you who have played with an Atari 5200 controller understand my pain)!
Repeated pleas to my parents did not yield a Genesis for Christmas, although my sister managed to get her own Gameboy Color. She only had two games for it, though, Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins and The Smurfs. Those were the only games I played for years.
When I was 14, my cousin Jesse (not the cousin with the Genesis) visited, and he had A Link to the Past for his Gameboy Advance.
When I wouldn’t give it back to him, he just lent it to me, system and all.
Now, for a blog by someone calling herself the RPG Rabbit, it might seem odd that the first franchise I talk about is Zelda, which is not strictly an RPG. I argue, though, that it has quite a few RPG elements. Link levels up in a primitive way through beating bosses and gathering hearts, and equipping him with new tools and weapons is basically how you move the game forward.
More important to me, though, was the atmosphere. In lieu of video games and television, I read a lot as a child. And most of what I read was fantasy: The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, really anything magical I could get my hands on. And here is a game where I get to be a little elf guy with a magic sword who rescues a princess. This was a role playing game for me, because in Link, I got to play exactly the kind of role I wanted in a game.
Also, in the Dark World, I got to be a bunny. That right there was enough to sell the young me on a game.
I think I beat the game in about a week. I had to give back my cousin’s GBA, but I was hooked.
But this isn’t actually a blog post about A Link to the Past. You’ve played A Link to the Past, and if you haven’t, nothing I say is going to make you play it at this point. Everyone knows A Link to the Past is one of the greatest games ever made.
No, this is a blog post telling you to play this other game that is one of the greatest games ever made. This game:
This was the game that made me decide to finally scrape enough money together to get a 3DS. Which, excitingly, I could get in a Zelda bundle! With a Triforce on it! Squee!
After downloading my free copy, I sat down to play A Link Between Worlds, and I was transported back to the child I was, with the same sense of wonder and discovery I felt when I woke up as Link for the first time in my little house on the hill.
The overworld theme swelled, fully orchestrated, and I was off on a Hyrulean adventure both like and unlike that first adventure I took over a decade ago.
The map is the same as the map from A Link to the Past. You’ll constantly find yourself exclaiming, “I REMEMBER THIS PLACE!” Only everything looks more beautiful than you remember. It’s like the perfect form of nostalgia.
The first time I hit an enemy with my sword, I yelled with great aplomb and excitement, “THEY’RE BOUNCY!”
Remember that satisfying way the enemies bounced back from your sword when you hit them in A Link to the Past? Well, that effect is back, and it’s insanely satisfying. I can’t actually explain to you why it’s so satisfying, it just is. When my husband asked me, “So what do you think about the new Zelda game?” the first thing I told him was, “The enemies are bouncy again!” and he knew exactly what I was talking about. So good job, Nintendo. Keep those enemies bouncy.
The primary new puzzle-solving mechanic in A Link Between Worlds is the ability to merge into walls as a two-dimensional painting.
It’s a neat idea, and it works really well. I can’t count the number of times that I have stared at a puzzle for about five minutes, completely flummoxed, before I remembered, “Oh YEAH, I can merge into the WALL!”
One of the other new mechanics Nintendo introduced this time around helps greatly with the flummoxing – Hint Ghosts. Now, I can already hear the rabid chomping of the gamers enraged by the very idea of in-game hints, but I think the developers did a great job of implementing this. Early on in the game, you receive the Hint Glasses. At any time, you can put them on, and the world goes dark. Scattered around the dungeons and the world map are Hint Ghosts.
Give a Hint Ghost a Play Coin, earned by running around in the game, and he will tell you how to solve the puzzle he is standing by. It’s totally optional, you won’t even see the ghosts if you don’t put on the glasses, and it’s seamlessly integrated. And it feels way less like cheating than going online and looking at a walkthrough, because it gives me only the information I need without having to interrupt the game. It means my moments of frustration are fewer and farther between, which makes my gameplay experience more enjoyable as a whole.
That is not to say that there are not moments of frustration. For once, the irritating dungeon is NOT the water dungeon, but the damn Ice Ruins.
Goddamn Ice Ruins.
But it wouldn’t be a Zelda game without at least one super frustrating dungeon. I’ll feel like a badass when I finally figure out how to get to all of those treasure chests.
New to this game as well is the item merchant, Ravio. WHO IS A BUNNY.
Ravio sets up shop in your house pretty early on. AND HE PUTS AN ADORABLE BUNNY FACE ON YOUR ROOF.
So rather than finding items in the dungeons, right from the beginning, you can access any main quest item in the game by renting it from Ravio. The catch is that if you die, and you will die, all of your rented items return to Ravio, meaning you have to go rent them again. Later in the game, you get the option to buy each item permanently for a significantly steeper price. Not only does this create an actual penalty for death, something that often is not present in Zelda games, the practical upshot of this is that you can tackle the dungeons in pretty much any order you like. In previous Zelda titles, finishing one dungeon meant that you’d earned the tool to access the next. In A Link Between Worlds, take your pick. Do you want to hit up the Tower of Hera first? Rent the hammer. Or maybe the House of Gales? Grab the Tornado Rod. This also means that if you get stuck in a dungeon or frustrated, you can go switch out your equipment and try another one. That’s what I did with the Ice Ruins.
Goddamn Ice Ruins.
You get to upgrade your items, too, in the most adorable way possible. Meet Mother Maimai:
I don’t know what the hell she is supposed to be, some kind of cute pink version of a Big Octo, maybe? But her babies are missing! They are scattered all over the world map, making adorable squeaky noises to beg for your help. Every time you bring ten babies back to Mother Maimai, she will eat one of your items, and then spit it back out, making it more powerful. I’d bring her babies back just for the cuteness, but upgrading items is rad, too! Thanks, Mother Maimai!
The music in A Link Between Worlds is amazing. It’s ostensibly a portable title, but I don’t like to sit down and play it unless I’m in a place where I can turn the music up. Seriously, listen to the overworld theme:
Fully orchestrated! Chills! Or the Lorule overworld theme?
Guitars! Strings! And bongos? Sure! Why the hell not!
So play with the sound on. Besides, Zelda games are way more satisfying when you can hear this:
The graphics are wonderful. And the 3D effects are especially wonderful. There are several dungeons that involve platform puzzles of great depth, where you are falling from platform to platform, in a way that just looks amazing with the 3D. It really feels like you are looking down through a window into another world.
The only complaint I have about this game so far is that I don’t get to be a bunny when I travel to the Dark World. But I haven’t beaten the game yet, so maybe there’s still hope.
Even without being a bunny, this is the best Zelda game since A Link to the Past. Seriously. Ocarina of Time is a really really great game, but it doesn’t push the same kind of deeply satisfying nostalgia buttons that A Link Between Worlds does. Also, the slightly wonky N64 controls grated constantly on my nerves. A Link Between Worlds controls like a dream. I have enjoyed every single minute of playing this game. I simultaneously want to play it as much as possible and draw it out for as long as possible, because I am going to be seriously bummed when I’ve beaten it and there’s no more to play.
This is reason enough to acquire a 3DS if you haven’t already. Play this game. You will not regret it. Not even the Ice Ruins.
Goddamn Ice Ruins.