Available on: SNES, GBA, Wii
Did you know that Link was actually a pink bunny at heart? This is revealed due to the main mechanic of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the third instalment of the Legend of Zelda series. The game sees Link travelling to an alternate dimension of Hyrule, in which all living things appear as their true selves. Ergo, the pink bunny. Which is meant to represent innocence. A bit ironic, considering a real bunny’s reproductive drive, but let’s not get into that.
So what do we have here? Well, ALttP is still one of the most popular and critically acclaimed entries in the series to this day, in the same category as Ocarina of Time and Breath of the Wild, and one which I’m personally very fond of. It also happens to be the first Zelda game I actually finished (the first game was far too difficult for me when it first came out on the NES). The graphics are detailed and cute, the gameplay is fun and makes good use of the various artefacts Link comes across, and many later staples of the series make their debut here. For instance, the concept of a parallel dimension to Hyrule – and not time travel, as the title seems to suggest – was a novel approach to the series at the time, but one that has been revisited since then (c.f. the two Oracle games, The Minish Cap or Twilight Princess). I was also very surprised to discover that this game is tied with OoT and A Link between Worlds for most dungeons in the series (12).
The chronology of the Zelda series is…complicated at best but suffice it to say that ALttP is actually a prequel to the first two games, and all three belong to one of the three alternate timelines that branch out of the events of OoT. Confused yet? Anyway, the story goes that, long ago, Ganon stole the Triforce from the Golden Land, turning it into the Dark World. Seven Wise Men managed to seal him away, but now an evil sorcerer called Agahnim is attempting to break the seal. He does this by kidnapping the Seven Maidens, descendants of the Seven Wise Men (Zelda is one of them) and sending them to the Dark World.
The game starts with Link waking up in the middle of a stormy night due to hearing Zelda’s voice in his dreams. Link’s uncle, whom he lives with, tells him to stay at home, while he goes to investigate Hyrule Castle (its first appearance in the series). You wouldn’t expect Link to listen, and he obviously doesn’t, finding a secret passage to the castle and following his uncle. He finds him mortally wounded shortly afterwards, takes up his sword and shield, and sets off to smite some evil. I.e. rescue Zelda, then the rest of the Seven Maidens before the seal is broken.
As mentioned previously, the main gameplay feature of ALttP is Link’s ability to travel between Hyrule and the Dark World. However, this doesn’t happen right away. Unlike the first two games, where Link was automatically understood to be the hero and just got on with the main quest from the start, in this game, he must first prove himself by collecting three pendants, each named after a piece of the Triforce. So the dimension-switching mechanic is only introduced about one third of the way into game. Nevertheless, it’s a clever gameplay feature. While living beings in the Dark World appear as their true selves (hence Bunny Link, at least until he finds an item that transforms him back), inanimate things appear as a twisted version of themselves. For example, Kakariko Village (also its first appearance in the series) is a den of thieves and monsters, the island in the middle of Lake Hylia is frozen over, and the Desert of Mystery becomes a swamp. Water is stagnant and green, trees have eerie faces, rocks become skulls, bushes become thorny thickets, and all enemies are upgraded. A bit like Silent Hill, but rather less gory.
Combat and exploration are back to the overhead view of the first game, making them feel more seamless. While a couple of bosses may prove to be annoying (looking at you, Moldorm), the overall difficulty is a lot less punishing than in the first two games, and you can now save properly. Link’s movement range has also been improved, and he can now walk diagonally and attack sideways. He can also charge up his sword to unleash a spin attack, which is twice as powerful as a regular attack and damages all enemies around him. There’s also a pair of boots which allows him to run. More importantly, ALttP marks the first appearance of the Master Sword, an Excalibur-esque blade stuck in a rock which can only be removed by the true hero of Hyrule, and which has since appeared in most subsequent Zelda games.
Another staple of the series which makes its debut in this game are heart pieces. While Link only collected whole extra hearts in the first two games, here, he can cobble together a new heart container every time he finds four heart pieces, which are hidden in various places throughout the game. Some even require you to make use of the dimension-switching mechanic, as terrain between the two dimensions is sometimes different in subtle ways. This is a nice way of adding some more optional – and sometimes challenging – content into the game.
A Zelda game wouldn’t be complete without the now-customary array of gadgets at Link’s disposal, and ALttP broadens his options quite significantly by comparison with its two predecessors. Alongside the usual suspects such as the boomerang, bombs and bow (alliteration ahoy!), he can now use things like a hookshot (for grappling onto things or pulling items towards him), a bug-catching net (mostly used for catching fairies, but has at least one other surprising use), a whole plethora of magic wands and medallions with different effects, or even an invisibility cape. Many of these make use of Link’s Magic Meter, which makes a return from Zelda II and will become a mainstay of the series going forward.
Music is another area of many “firsts” in this game, as several of the series’ most iconic tunes make their debut here, such as Zelda’s Lullaby or Ganon’s Theme. The quality of the music is obviously still rather tinny, but the tunes themselves are good at inspiring a sense of adventure, discovery and/or menace, as necessary.
All in all, this is one of the milestone games in the Zelda series, as it brings it significantly closer to its modern-day formula, much more so than the rather bare-bones first game or the decidedly atypical second one. The fact that it’s a fun and well-crafted adventure is definitely a plus. So if you’re a Zelda fan but haven’t had a chance to explore the older entries, this is one you should absolutely check out.