Jan 29 2015
Random Dave's Retro Regrets - Zelda

I missed a number of 'classic' games, as I'm sure we all have, due purely to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

During the heyday of the NES I had a Game Boy, and I'd get my exposure to the NES at friends houses, which from memory used to mainly involve Super Mario Bros. 1 & 2, Castlevania 2, Probotector and Megaman 2.

My first Zelda, beyond what I would read in magazines, was Link to the Past, which really was the start of Zelda being a game where the focus was on exploration and puzzle solving, but not so much the combat, sure, it is always a core part of a Zelda, but there's not that many times now in Zelda that you find yourself worrying too much about dying.

My first real attempt to play the original NES Zelda was when I bought my NES edition Game Boy Advance SP. With the console, you could buy any NES Classic release for just an additional £5 (a mere fraction of what they would set you back these days) On the day, the store only had Bomberman and Zelda, so I decided that as Zelda should give me potentially the most potential playtime.

Unfortunately, however, the Gameboy Advance screen resolution is a bit smaller than the NES output, and in part of the conversion to the format, Link's sword thrust actually ends up being proportionally shorter than it should be, making the game even harder. This meant during the early part of the game, when you are trying to find out where the early dungeons are, and have very little health, it was very easy to get frustrated and give up, as any screen with more than 2 enemies could become incredibly difficult to deal with.

Skip forward a few generations of Nintendo hand held consoles, and due to poor initial sales for the 3DS, Nintendo gave the early adopters a handful of Virtual Console game for free as part of the "Ambassador Programme" Nes Virtual console games are an excellent fit for the 3DS, there are modern suspend and resume features that help suit play sessions into an adult lifestyle, and the screen resolution is vertically 1.5x bigger, which allows Nintendo to do some sub-pixel scaling and provide a good looking re-sampling to the 3DS screen and not lose any of the original aspect ratio. I gave the game a couple of quick bashes, but always put it on the back burner in favour of other games.

Recently though, I had finished a (non-100%) playthrough of Wario Land II, and was wondering what to tackle next, when a friend messaged me to say that he had finally started to play Zelda on his Famicom Disk System, and for the first time ever had beaten the first dungeon, and he was super chuffed. This inspired me to give it another go, but this time I was going to do it properly, give it time to see if it could sink it's teeth into me, and prove itself to be the classic must-play game that so many people will tell you that it is.

As I hinted at earlier, to start with the overworld is brutal, but it has eased up with the master sword and a couple of extra heart containers that I have found. Interestingly though, the number of enemies, their speed, erratic movement and propensity to spawn at your feet makes travelling between dungeons often much more dangerous than the dungeons themselves.

This lends it a bit of a rogue-like feel, in that when you die and save or continue, your keys and items are saved, so you can in effect 'grind' a little to build up some early cash if needed.

Additionally, dying and continuing whilst in a dungeon restarts at the beginning of a dungeon, so if you have had a rough journey to get there with half a heart left over, once inside you can let yourself die, and then you will return to the entrance with 3 hearts again. Almost like learning to fit into Majora's Mask's time pattern (e.g. never start a dungeon on day 3, spend the time exploring and come back on day 1 again later)

The semi-non-linearity is one of the games strongest points, and definitely a saving grace, giving the player other things to go and do, rather than forcing them to persist on the same difficult section.

I ended up going straight to dungeon 2 at the start by accident, grabbed some keys and died, so only then did I go to dungeon 1.

Later, there was a room in dungeon 2 that I couldn't clear, so I skipped it until a day later when i had more hearts and the master sword

Similarly, I am currently at a point where i keep dying on boss 3 just as I am landing the final blows, but I have been able to head off to dungeon 4, and pick up an item that has then allowed me to collect a heart container that I had seen on the overworld, and now, as I write this I have returned to the entrance to dungeon 3, ready to clear out the boss.

In summary, there was definitely a rough period to start with, where trying to navigate between dungeons 1 and 2, and get my bearings for the world, where I would get very frustrated with the relentless punishment that the monsters would dish out, but the dungeons provided just enough satisfaction that I was able to keep cracking on, and now the overworld odds have evened a little, my overall enjoyment levels should ensure that I foresee that I should be able to stick with it to the end (assuming that I manage to finish it before Monster Hunter 4 takes over my life)

Probably one of the biggest surprises that I have found, is that the game suits itself surprisingly well to the 15-30 minute bursts that I get with it, before work for example, even though I am not allowing myself to use the 3DS virtual savestate functions and using the original saving system

I'd always thought the love that the original Zelda got was based mainly on nostalgia, and that it perhaps wasn't actually that good a game, but despite a little bit of an early hump in the pacing, and and overwhelmingly large environment with little hand holding and direction I am starting to find that I am drawn into playing the game quite obsessively now.
Random Dave

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