The Legend of Zelda
It’s 1984 or whatever and you just came up with the idea for a game called “Breath of the Wild”. It’s a fucking great idea but because all you’ve got is a NES you have to make a game called “The Legend of Zelda” instead, which is fine because that game is also great.
It really is astonishing how closely related 1996’s The Legend of Zelda and Breath of the Wild feel. It’s like everything between them has been one long evolutionary offshoot that got really into flipping switches and collecting 8 of something. Yes, a lot of that is already present here but it feels so much more like a skeleton to drape an adventure over rather than the focus that it ends up being in later games.
I love a lot about all those Zeldas, but Breath of the Wild captured me in a way that I didn’t anticipate as an avowed open-world hater and after playing The Legend of Zelda for the first time, it seems impossible to see BOTW as anything other than a return to the very beginning of what made the series so special.
It may just be unfamiliarity given that this was my first playthrough of Zelda 1 but the excitement of genuine adventure and feeling like the whole world was full of potential was one I hadn't got from a Zelda game in a long time.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and say that Zelda 1 is an extremely fun, good, exciting, playable game in , that would be insane. BUT it is cool. It’s COOL to bomb dodongos on the NES! It’s COOL to shoot beams out of your sword! It’s COOL to see people making decisions that feel so natural and well executed that they’re still staples of a series 30-something years later!
Playing Zelda 1 now kind of does suck. It’s unforgiving, its overworld puzzles are impossible without a guide, its dungeons are pretty much just strings of often brutal combat rooms. BUT. BUT! It’s still so worth because of just how fascinating it is to see a series this massive in it's larval stage, half perfect and full of pontential.
And I have some advice on how to do it…
- Use a guide.
Elements of this game are completely impossible to figure out unless you’re an 11 year old with unlimited free time. Check out Phil Summers’ hand drawn guide! It’s a real treat.
- Use an emulator, use save states, use cheats.
The dungeons in this game kind of stink. They’re wars of attrition where one bad room will screw you for ever subsequent one. Save the game whenever your health and resources are in good condition and keep on truckin’. Better yet, use cheats to give yourself infinite health and just enjoy the ride.
- Relish the adventure.
Sometimes you’ll get screwed and have to backtrack for a potion or some healing or some bombs or whatever. Take it easy, relax and enjoy the wandering. Draw a map, make some notes, write down what that weird old lady says.
So, I was working on this piece with the idea that BOTW is just Zelda 1: 2 on vibes alone, and then I was told about Nintendo’s 2017 GDC talk where they show off the initial BOTW concept demo which uses the Zelda 1 format to test things like a systemically driven environment and the dynamic concepts that emerge from that. I now state with certainty that The Legend of Zelda is a direct prequel to Breath of the Wild and THAT is why you should play it.
Everyone was right about Zelda 1. It's fucking great!