From what I’ve seen in fandom circles, A Link to the Past is one of the most beloved games in the Legend of Zelda series, right up there with the all-time classic, Ocarina of Time. By weird chance, I actually own three copies of the game: one for the GBA Advance, one for the SNES, and the one that came included with the SNES Classic. Yet I’m only just playing it now.
No, I don’t know why either.
A Link to the Past starts off with a bang, in a way that its fellow Zelda games typically haven’t. Other entries, like Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, and Skyward Sword, ease you into the adventure, as Link interacts with the people in his home village just before the Inciting Incident happens. A Link to the Past begins with Link receiving a telepathic message from Princess Zelda, begging for help. So your first job is to break into Hyrule Castle, just in time for Link to find his dying uncle, who also tried to help the princess. You get his sword, infiltrate the dungeon, and rescue Zelda before she can be used as a human sacrifice for an evil wizard’s scheme.
Once Zelda is safe, Link receives his next objective: find the three pendants that will allow him to gain access to the hidden Master Sword. Only then will he be able to defeat the evil wizard Agahnim and restore peace to the kingdom of Hyrule.
But, of course, it isn’t that easy.
A Link to the Past fascinates me as a newer Zelda fan because it’s clear from the get-go how much it influenced the rest of the series, particularly Ocarina of Time. The story beats feel familiar: Inciting Incident, Find the Three Sacred Plot Devices, Big Twist Where the Villain Gains the Upper Hand, and Find More Sacred Plot Devices to Defeat Him for Real This Time. Other elements that feel familiar include certain locations throughout the kingdom of Hyrule and musical cues. It felt weird visiting Death Mountain without running into any Gorons, but they didn’t show up until Ocarina.
Link also suffers the death of his uncle early in the game, so he has a more personal reason to be involved in the conflict than before. (Well, in theory. His little pixelated self didn’t seem too broken up by it.) Likewise, future Zelda games gave Link more of a backstory, with family members, friends, and neighbors that care about him.
I started playing A Link to the Past earlier this year, right after Kingdom Hearts III, and I’ve been playing it on and off ever since. It’s not the first time that I’ve played a Zelda game right after a Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy playthrough, and there’s always a learning curve that comes with it. You can’t really level grind with Zelda the way that you would with a JRPG. When playing any video game, I have a kneejerk tendency to hunt down every last enemy in a given area so that I can gain more experience points, which translates to better health, stats, etc. But that doesn’t work with a non-JRPG.
Instead, A Link to the Past forced me to experiment and try new strategies when I died over and over again. I’d experiment with using different weapons, or figure out ways to avoid enemies altogether. In a way, I was still “gaining experience,” except that I was the one gaining it, not Link. That’s not to say that either Zelda or Final Fantasy is superior to the other in terms of gameplay. They’re just different.
One thing that I do find frustrating- and this is something that applies more to the Zelda series as a whole and not Link to the Past specifically- is saving the game and starting over after dying. Every time you die during a boss fight, you have to start over at the beginning of the dungeon and navigate through some of the minor enemies just to get back to the fight. I’d rather just jump right back into the fight and try again.
But, all in all, I’ve found A Link to the Past to be a game that lives up to the hype. The story is exciting and the world is fun to explore. And now it’s available on the Switch for Nintendo’s online service subscribers. So if you haven’t played it yet, now’s your chance!