We all have a dark side, to say the least

I kicked off a long-overdue replay of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past today while waiting for my coworker’s wedding ceremony to begin. (It’s the Super NES’s anniversary next month, don’t you know.) I haven’t touched the game in about a decade, so I was a little surprised to realize just how uncharacteristically dark the plot line is for a Nintendo game.

See there? That’s Zelda’s dad sitting on the throne as a totally dead skeleton. Holy crap! A few seconds later, an innocent young maiden is zapped by magic to death, or something. I guess you can get away with quite a bit when you present it in a totally matter-of-fact manner with charmingly chubby graphics.

29 thoughts on “We all have a dark side, to say the least

  1. Strange how the dead king’s duds look similar to Agahnim’s; green with the red/pink trim. And they both have crowns, of sorts.

  2. I’ve always maintained that this is the best Zelda, while Link’s Awakening is my favorite, and 40+ hours with Ocarina of Time 3D hasn’t changed these opinions. The atmosphere in the forest where you find the Master Sword is unmatched, as far as I’m concerned, by any game that’s been released since.

    Enjoy your replay. I’m working on a second play of Metroid: Other M, since it’s been about a year.

    • It may’ve been partially my age, but this Zelda’s the one I have the strongest feelings for overall. No doubt a lot of that is nostalgia, but there’s that dark edge, the outright alien Dark World, and the fact this and Ocarina of Time are undoubtedly the two biggest jumps for the series. Heck, this might be the bigger jump given its basic formula has been the series standard for its biggest entries.

      • It’s legitimately aged better than any other Zelda (and probably the vast majority of all games period). Aside from maybe a couple oddities in the localization (“Zelda is your…”), and a few items that aren’t very useful (the Canes, Magic Powder, and really you could get away with just one hit-everything-on-the-screen-and-open-dungeons Medallion), I have a hard time finding any flaws with this one, even going on twenty years later. It plays as well now as it did then, without feeling outdated like its contemporaries (like RPG’s with save points and random encounters) or successors (like Zeldas with awkward 3D targeting systems).

      • Yeah, there might be some unnecessary excesses but it’s nothing that actually ruins the game (well, you can abuse one cane for solving puzzles, but the one it’s best for was a pain in the ass anyway), and it’s not like other Zeldas don’t have the same problem or worse, such as the Deku Nuts. I SUPPOSE someone could cite less story than later entries, but not only do I feel that’s missing the point, they used ENOUGH story to make the game interesting but not so much as to get in the way, as TP arguably did.

    • Agreed on this being the best. It was the first one I played, I think, but not the first one I ever saw. My friend played the first and second and I was confused and lost. Let’s face it, the first one just lets you loose and you have to explore for a decade or get a friend’s Nintendo Power to find out where to go next.

      The music, the rain, the lightning, the feeling of freedom that hides so well the gadget-defined linearity of the world? It’s unmatched. I stared replaying Ocarina of Time recently and put it down bored after awhile, but I will play LttP til my thumbs hurt.

  3. Skull King always bothered me. When I was first playing the game a hundred years ago, I thought it was supposed to be some weird thing with Aggy, but he looks the same in the ending, doesn’t he?

  4. What a nice coincidence – I recently started playing it again myself. Yesterday, I finished the swamp and will play Turtle Rock today.
    And I must say, the game is so, so good. It´s absolutely impressive how easy and effortless developed everything seems, although I´m absolutely certain, Nintendos team must have worked themselves half to death to get everything feel so smooth and perfect.
    And I love the accessibilty. Every time I enter a dungeon in Oot oder Twilight Princess, I feel overwhelmed and intimidated. Here I justs get going with a positive “let´s see…”-attitude. What a brilliant game.

    • I started replaying A Link to the Past today, too. What’s going on here?

      My friend and I are doing a minimalist run; so far, going without such things as the boomerang, bottles, and magic powder is already making a noticeable difference. I can’t wait to go through Ganon’s Tower with the basic green tunic, or Turtle Rock without the magic meter’s upgrade or any potion to restore it!

      • That sounds pretty daunting! Especially Turtle Rock without magic? The boss will be nasty!
        Although I hardly used the magic powder myself… are there any especially smart ways to use it that I didn´t find?

      • …is that actually possible? I thought you needed either the Magic Meter upgrade or at least one bottle to take out the Turtle Rock boss.

      • nah. There’s a few seconds after the heads have been hit with the rods where they’re vulnerable to the sword.

  5. It’s my favorite too. Right age, right time, and the game is incredible, of course. But oh man, the opening. A voice in the middle of the night, plunging out into the dark and driving rain, skulking into the castle and feeling COMPLETELY on edge. I wish future Zelda games would take note instead of rehashing the “boy in a village” scenario endlessly.

  6. … I thought that skull was a beard. Look, see, his nostrils are his mouth, and the eye-holes are where his cheeks would be.

    • Me too! Me too! But if the king looks different (much healthier) in the ending, then…hmmm. Wow.

      I’m with everyone on LttP – one of my strongest memories is this prologue Parish is referring to. The storytelling just took a quantum leap between the NES Zeldas and this – and Koji Kondo managed to create those incredibly autumnal orchestral sounds out of the SNES sound chip.

  7. I haven’t played LTTP lately, but I did just listen to Momentary Lapse of Reason. I always think it’d be so much better if it was rerecorded with real drums. But then, life is too short to spend it rerecording Yet Another Movie.

  8. For the longest time, I thought that the king’s head was keeled back and the skull was a necklace, but replaying around the GBA era I realized that what I had thought was his head was his crown and he’s a bag of bones on the throne. Makes sense when you remember that King Hyrule’s got a white beard in the credits and not some little Mario-ish mustache.

    You keep on being ambiguous, retro video game sprites. Realizing things aren’t what they seemed is what we love about you.

  9. Zelda has a habit of throwing some dark crap at you when you least expect it; OoT has the frozen corpse of Jabu Jabu; Majora’s Mask has Ikana Canyon; Wind Waker has a pint-sized Link driving a sword in an old man’s forehead.

    And people say Zelda has lost its edge. Bah I say.

    • Not to mention that by finishing Link’s Awakening, you’re essentially ending a world. The slightly dark undercurrent is one of those underappreciated things about the series, perhaps even by the creaters of it at times.

  10. Gotta agree that I, too, long for the day when a Zelda game doesn’t begin in some backwoods village with dreadful pacing.

    One of the things I like so much about LttP is that it just dives right in. Within half an hour of the opening, you’ve got your quest and you’re knee deep in saving Hyrule from tyranny. There’s no putzing about just getting a sword and shield, there’s no learning how to fight and earning the right to wear the hero’s clothes, and there’s certainly no fishing minigame which takes dozens of tries to get right on your first playthrough.

    It’s just: Princess needs saving. Go, Link! For Great Justice!

    It doesn’t waste time trying to characterise a hero we don’t see develop much over the course of the game.

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