How often does a video game’s title become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Such appears to have happened for one of Nintendo’s all-time classic and most-beloved titles, The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past, a 16-bit overhead adventure on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) console originally released on April 13, 1992 in North America. The cartridge sold over 4 million copies in its original version, and has since undergone official remakes and rereleases on other systems as well.
Many gamers still cite Link to the Past as their favorite game within the Zelda canon, or even as their favorite video game of any kind. Informal polls over such topics will inevitably see multiple mentions of Link to the Past. As for more “official” citations, IGN declared it the #11 greatest game of all time, while its readers pegged it at #5. Many reviews can be found online that offer the game a perfect score, and Entertainment Weekly went so far as to declare it the #1 greatest video game ever created.
Regardless of whether gamers believe the title to be great or overrated, its legacy is steeped in the fact that it was truly monumental in the contributions it provided to the Legend Of Zelda video game series, with many of its gameplay innovations still in use on Zelda sequels being released decades later. The following list is not comprehensive, but shows some remarkable examples:
A broader sword swing. Whereas in the first two Legend of Zelda video games released on the earlier Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console Link could only stab in a single direction, through the usage of a simple animation change that introduced a subtle arc in Link’s sword swinging, combat was now a bit easier and more intuitive. The use of broader swings followed for titles thereafter, thus avoiding Link’s fate to forever stab in a single direction straight ahead. In a more specific sense, A Link To The Past introduced the Spin Attack technique, in which Link fully revolves and swings his blade completely around in a circle, a move that even managed to smoothly eventually transition in his three-dimensional adventures.
The hookshot. This item allowed Link to traverse gaps by firing an item like a fantasy version of a grappling hook, attaching to a solid object and then pulling Link to its location. This ingenious little device would become a popular addition, seeing use in most of Link’s future games, including variants like the Clawshot seen in The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess of the Nintendo Gamecube console.
The ocarina. At first, this may seem like just another new item introduced in a Zelda game; but, as would be shown in The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time for the Nintendo 64 system, the ocarina possesses exquisite abilities, from being able to alter the weather to even alter the course of time. Although the Legend Of Zelda storyline has always woven music into its world, the ocarina has been shown to be of particular interest.
The Master Sword. Upgrading Link’s sword to more powerful blades was not an entirely foreign concept by the time he got his hands on the Master Sword in A Link To The Past, but this weapon was a very special one, proving to have significant importance within the storyline. Its appearances in later titles, like The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword on the Nintendo Wii console, would show how its incredible power was central to the plot of the in-game universe.
Parallel worlds. In The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past, a key part of its plot progression (and, ultimately, gameplay progression as well) revolves the idea of the existence of two parallel worlds; the Light World, where the quest begins, and the Dark World, which is involved in some dark machinations toward freeing the malevolent wizard Ganon. This was a revolutionary, eye-popping mechanic at the time, used to greatly expand the in-game setting, along with posing intriguing gameplay possibilities as well. This became a theme often used throughout future Zelda games, as in the aforementioned Ocarina Of Time and Twilight Princess, or even an entirely title taking place within an alternate realm, as with The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (N64).
A Link To The Past certainly had other, minor introductions as well, from its integration of Heart Pieces to even the simple additional of diagonal movement. Because of both its masterful quality and its foresight-rich innovations, this video game has itself, indeed, become a true link to the past.
Eric Bailey blogs at NintendoLegend.com, where he is on a quest to write a quality review for every American-released NES video game. He can also be found on Twitter.