The Legend of Zelda (NES) Second Opinion Review

By Aria DiMezzo 17.04.2016 8

Review for The Legend of Zelda on NES

The Legend of Zelda is absolutely right, and the original game is certainly a legend. However, as so often happens, we can peer deep into the heart of the legend and find out that it's been mostly constructed of exaggerations, embellishments, and unreliable memories. This was an enormous leap forward from the preceding Adventure 2600 and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the world was stunned. Many years have passed, though, and the impact it had as a new game has faded, leaving us finally able to ignore the floating, green, translucent head and look at the man behind the curtain. What if the legacy and extensive knowledge are put aside and it was evaluated simply on what it is? Cubed3 answers that difficult question.

There are a number of ways to evaluate The Legend of Zelda based on what it is, rather than its legendary legacy: some may be able to play the Second Quest, having little to no experience with it, and others may have to play one of the many romhacks to get a fresh look at the game. Whatever method works best, the conclusion reached will be something along the lines of: "This is unplayable."

For nearly twenty years, the idea that The Legend of Zelda was superior, in every way, to A Link to the Past was allowed to persist. This is, to be frank, utter madness, though the belief holds in a more limited capacity, and then only for players intimately familiar with the game, aware of all its secrets, and knowing where to go and what to do. When that mass of knowledge is stripped away, what is left is a cryptic mess of virtually unplayable proportions.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda on NES

The biggest problem now was, once upon a time, one of its greatest strengths: Link is dropped into a large fantasy world filled with enemies, and is left to explore the entire world and search for its dungeons, Heart Containers, and secret items. Back when kids discussed this game and secrets that they had uncovered on the playground, this was fine—one kid would share the location of a Heart Container, while another would share the location of a free stash of Rupees, and, between everyone, enough secrets were discovered to satisfactorily complete the game.

Without that, there is no alternative but to use guides and walkthroughs, so players aren't exploring as much as they are just… following a walkthrough. Since walkthroughs are usually "all or nothing" affairs, generally, trying to learn the location of the next dungeon leads to a flood of information that the player may not have wanted, such as what item is obtained and what uses that item has. Walkthroughs leave nothing for players to discover, and this is a game of discovery.

A Link to the Past is The Legend of Zelda done right. The game itself provides almost all critical information, but there is still room for exploration; indeed, exploration is required. The Quake Medallion, for example, is needed to enter one of the dungeons, but there is no icon on the map to reveal its location. Dungeons are still complex, yet bombable walls are clearly denoted with cracks, keeping players from having to bomb every single wall in every single room of every single dungeon.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda on NES

It's probably true that the original can be completed without any outside assistance, but doing that is a monumental task that will take hundreds of hours, if it's actually possible—and it may not be. Assuming that someone lacks the knowledge and wants to explore rather than use a guide, finding Level 8, which is located under a random bush that can be burned on a random screen in a random forest, while nothing marks it as significant, is a task that will take dozens of hours by itself.

Level 7 is a particular nightmare, because every Dungeon Map previously is accurate. Suddenly, however, there is a room that does not display on the Dungeon Map, and it can only be entered by bombing one innocuous wall in one undistinguished room. This assumes that players interpret "Grumble, Grumble" to mean "Give this guy some food" and spends the Rupees to buy the Food to get that far at all. It also assumes that players even find the clue "There are secrets where fairies don't dwell" and realise that this refers to a fairy pond that appears empty, and then screw around long enough to blow the Whistle and reveal the location of the dungeon.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda on NES

The Master Sword is hidden under a random grave in one of the several graveyard screens, and the only clue is that no Gibli rises from the grave when Link touches it. While the Master Sword isn't strictly necessary, the White Sword is also found in an out-of-the-way cave on Death Mountain. Meanwhile, Level 9 can only be found by bombing a certain rock that doesn't really look very special—and certainly doesn't look like the entrance to the final dungeon.

The point of all this is to say that The Legend of Zelda is cryptic—ridiculously cryptic, and even unacceptably cryptic. The gameplay is fun and engaging, but the mystery begins almost immediately: the opening screen has three branches out of it, and the overworld isn't sectioned off by plot elements, or by the Zelda items we know and love. The Dark World of A Link to the Past can't be fully explored until Link has gotten the Magic Hammer to get past the spikes on the bridge, but there's no similar obstacle here; Link can wander in any direction, and there's really nothing stopping players from accidentally stumbling into Level 6 as the first dungeon.

While it's fun to run around and stab enemies as Link, and while the world is rather large and full of secrets to be discovered, that doesn't change the fact that becoming lost and confused are certainties, and there is never an appropriate clue to proceed. Items are rather limited, lacking the diversity and utility we'd find in later games, and it's easy to see how this game spawned the franchise that we know and love: the potential is clearly there for a masterpiece. This, however, does little more than pave the way for A Link to the Past.

Screenshot for The Legend of Zelda on NES

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 6 out of 10


The Legend of Zelda is an absolutely fantastic and enjoyable game… for players who already know where to go and what to do. Without that knowledge, however, walkthroughs and guides are crucial, and this completely undermines the point of playing a game that is about adventure and discovery. While it's very fun to play, the game itself doesn't actually provide the information needed to finish it, which will cause more frustration than enjoyment for those who haven't already beaten it.






Action Adventure



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (21 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


The biggest problem now was, once upon a time, one of its greatest strengths

That's my main disagreement here. My only problem with TLoZ is that I now know EVERYTHING, and thus, can't enjoy it as much. It's biggest strength still is it's cryptic nature in my opinion. It was the ONLY game I had to spend months before completing it... and, yes, the actual process  was awesome. Long story short: More like a 7/10 for me.

Oh, and I hated the "Grumble, Grumble" thing when I was seven-years old, by the way... but that's because I couldn't find what it meant on my dictionary Smilie

Can't a fella drink in peace?

The Legend of Snoring. Good for its time and obviously a technical masterpiece, but could never play through this. I'm not a fan of 2D Zelda in general, but these old school ones give nothing to throw you in the right direction and while that may be good for some, I don't like it, personally.

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I agree with Ofisil on that. For me too, the completely cryptic nature of the game is what I loved most about it. Not only are you not told what to do, but what was to be done, you could do it in, almost, any order you wanted. Granted, some things that could not be achieved on a technical level back then, such as an actually good map system, would be crucial in this day and age but the lack of hand holding is something that's been sorely missed in Zelda games of late. When it's done whimsically (example : Midna in TP or Taya in MM) it's bearable but when it's uninspired (example : Fi in SS) it has to disappear. I want the next Zelda to be more like the original. Not for everything, but just to actually make exploration something worthwhile again instead of optional and, more than anything, to make it REWARDING!

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

I do think this would be unplayable for me today tho. No way could I deal with something like needing to burn a random bush in a random forest on a random screen to find Level 7. It's the little things like that that hardly anyone could deal with if you have no clue about it today. Even when I did beat this on the Collector's Edition on GameCube, there's no way I did it without a guide.

That said, I love the idea of freedom and no hand holding. It's a shame Nintendo so quickly progressed into doing the total opposite the further the series went on. I think A Link to the Past had the balance just about perfect. Zelda U has to go back to its roots and take a leaf from something like Shadow of the Colossus - just the reflected light off the sword to give an idea of where to head to. Not where to head to next, but where one of the bosses/key items required to complete the game is located. There still needs to be very few hints and non-linear direction, but I definitely think we'll get that, particularly since A Link Between Worlds went the more non-linear route.

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Azuardo said:
I do think this would be unplayable for me today tho. No way could I deal with something like needing to burn a random bush in a random forest on a random screen to find Level 7. It's the little things like that that hardly anyone could deal with if you have no clue about it today. Even when I did beat this on the Collector's Edition on GameCube, there's no way I did it without a guide

I was obviously not saying I want dungeons hidden behind some random bushes Smilie. That, admittedly, was bullshit even back then, although since it was under a bush evidently placed in a spot that obstructed a path to the next screen, people would be bound to try and burn it to get past it at some point, if not specifically looking for one of the dungeons. I want things to not be too obvious but not left to randomness and luck either.

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

We can definitely agree on that Smilie

Rudy, it just occurred to me...

You're absolutely right, that the tree in question isn't exactly inconspicuous where it's sitting. It definitely is pretty likely that players will burn it at some point...

(This is the part I just thought about) If they know the candle can burn trees, and if they had accidentally used the candle on one of the 20 or so trees in the entire game that can be burned, otherwise they may have no idea that's even possible. If a player goes around burning random trees (which isn't ideal before the Red Candle), the odds aren't very good that they'd hit one of the few that actually can be burned to reveal a secret. The same is true of bombing walls. If someone has played a previous Zelda game, then the idea of bombing a wall won't be too hard to guess... But is it even realistic to imagine that someone today would play The Legend of Zelda but had never played any other Zelda game? If they had, would they be looking for cracks in the walls to tell them where they can drop bombs? If so, will they see no cracks and therefore assume that the idea hadn't yet been included in the series?

I doubt it's even realistic for me to imagine someone so ignorant of Zelda tropes trying to play this game today, but if that happened, then that poor soul probably had a really bad time. lol

( Edited 17.05.2016 03:27 by Anema86 )

Has Anyone Really Been Far Even as Decided to Use Even Go Want to do Look More Like?
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You've got to remember that the manual was there for a reason, and it does give hints to point the player in that direction about using bombs. I remember very well that back then, especially as a kid, when playing my first games, I would peruse the manual for every possible hint. In fact, it was an important part of game design back then, when they simply couldn't give you information through the game itself due to system limitations, or simply as they were still figuring out how to do so effectively, that they would give you as much information on how the game is played, in the manual itself.

In this case however, I agree that the use of the candle to burn down bushes might not have been mentioned anywhere in the game or manual itself. I can't recall anything hinting towards that, so your best bet at the time would have been magazines like Nintendo Power. The bomb to break walls however, there were several hints towards that in the manual itself.

A quote from the manual :

Caves are not only in the places you can see.

What was that you said? "I looked for the caves in every nook and corner, but I couldn't find them anywhere!" Well, you know, they're not only in the places you can see. Link just might be able to pass through the pathways he hasn't been able to get through by using something else. Get the gist?

There's only so many items in the game that the player would try to figure out that to open up caves where they can't be seen, he'd have to destroy the walls, and there's only so many items in the game that could do so. Another quote on the exact same page :
Legend has it that there are caves in every possible place above ground. Link is bound to find them as long as he has enough power. Get the idea?

The manual also states that certain rooms inside "Labyrinths" are simply blocked by something other than doors : Walls. And then there's this quote too :
You can find many entrances to get into the labyrinths in the ruins. However sometimes you can find them hidden deep in the forests and mountains. Look carefully. You never know where an entrance will be.

As it happens, the two Labyrinth entrances that are completely hidden from view are in the forest, and in death mountain.

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

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