by David DeSandro

The Legend of Zelda

I’ve completed playing the original The Legend of Zelda. Re-claiming the Triforce on the NES has long been on my list of shame.

Legend of Zelda intro screen

Zelda is the greatest video game of all time. It was a game-changer. Everything previous to it was precursor. Everything afterward is an imitation. Zelda is the 2001 Space Odyssey of video games. This sounds a bit audacious, but after playing it, I can confirm it’s legitimate.

Recently, the magic of The Legend of Zelda has had a couple great examinations. Saving Zelda by Tevis Thompson reveals what made the original so special, and what the Zelda franchise has lost in its sequels. His essay is so well formed that it became the catalyst of a comic Second Quest which is to be published this fall.

Second Quest

Sequelitis - ZELDA: A Link to the Past vs. Ocarina of Time by Egoraptor is a comprehensive comparison of the NES, SNES, and N64 incarnations. He digs into game mechanics, environment and combat systems, and the trail of tropes the Zeldas have accumulated. It’s about Zelda in particular, but it’s great writing about all video games. It’s hilarious as well.

A puzzle is something you have all the information for. The only thing standing between you and the solution is your ability to put the pieces together in the right way. The satisfaction you obtain from solving a puzzle is from the Aha! moment. When the pieces fit, and you have only yourself to blame for it. …

The satisfaction doesn’t come from the door opening, it comes from the puzzle itself.

Zelda is a great game because it is purely a game. You have a huge world. You can go anywhere you want. There are no directions, no clear objective, no rails to keep you on your path. Whether your succeed or fail, it is you who is responsible. You completely control your experience.

Playing Zelda, I found every little triumph to be rewarding. Finding a new dungeon, bombing to reveal a secret, defeating a boss. I felt clever for having solved the challenges myself.

Zelda is challenging. It took me around 15 hours to complete the quest. That’s a huge amount of gameplay for a game that’s 25 years old. I tried my best to play the game as if it were 1986, a time before the Internet and instant solutions a google away. Finding dungeons required exploration. Beating bosses required experimentation.

When I came upon a new challenge, I had the sense that it was solvable, that I had all the parts necessary to beat it. It was just up to my wits to figure it out and my ability to get it done. But, I did hit a couple walls, relent and turn to google for two tricky spots – finding a pathway in Dungeon 7, and finding the entrance to Dungeon 8. For both solutions, I felt cheap for not figuring it out for myself. The solutions weren’t obvious, but they were certainly reachable if I had held out a bit longer. I cheated myself out of the thrill of Zelda – playing the game for myself.

Zelda is genuine game fun. It has the ultimate element of gamification – the act of playing the game is the reward itself.