Ancient wisdom says that the first Legend of Zelda title you play will become your favorite in this venerable series. Well, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was my introduction to the greatest franchise in gaming, and it is indeed my favorite Legend of Zelda. In fact, A Link to the Past is simply my favorite video game of all time.
It all begins as Link was awakened by the telepathic pleas of Princess Zelda. Link’s Uncle, sword and shield in hand, has already gone to Hyrule castle. Link steps out in pursuit, guided by naught except his trusty lantern. It was a stormy night. I remember this moment distinctly. Games were real to me back then – some still are – and I was scared to walk into the darkness, knowing that dangers lurked unseen in the corners of the screen and that I have only a lamp to defend myself. I had to save Zelda though, I told myself.
Just like that, A Link to the Past established a tradition in the series: a Zelda game would not be a Zelda game if Link wasn’t rudely awakened at the very beginning. Of course, A Link to the Past also established the trademark game design of the series. The idea of two worlds, thematic dungeons, heart pieces, and not to mention, the “Cucco Revenge Squad”, all find their origins here. Imagine Ocarina of Time without heart pieces. Imagine Twilight Princess without two distinct worlds. Imagine a Zelda game without ferocious chickens. It’s not easy!
I have beaten this game three times. Each time, I was surprised by its massive size. How many dungeons does this game have? Twelve. We could write a Top Ten article on the best dungeons in this game alone. Speaking of which, I am still in awe of Thieves’ Town. The puzzles in that dungeon confused me as a kid. After spending hours solving puzzles involving not just multiple rooms but multiple floors, I was furious that the maiden I rescued turned into Blind the Thief. I was also scared, since the previous boss was horribly difficult.
Mothula. Mothula of the Skull Dungeon. Like the beginning of A Link to the Past, battling Mothula was a moment to be remembered. You thought Mega Man 2 was hard? You thought fighting Dullahan in Golden Sun: The Lost Age was hard? Try battling a fire-spewing moth taking up a quarter of an arena covered by conveyor belts that shift directions on a whim to send you into walls lined by spiked balls. It’s not an exaggeration. Mothula is the hardest boss I have ever faced. If setting out in a stormy night with nothing but a lantern represents a moment of small courage, walking into Mothula’s lair represents a moment of primal fear– and defeating him, total catharsis.
As seen in the gargantuan battle against Mothula, A Link to the Past remains the most ambitious title in the series. Although Ocarina of Time gets all the praise for being revolutionary in technology and controls, A Link to the Past innovated with its sweeping game design. Each dungeon had clever puzzles and awesome boss fights, and the game isn’t just massive in its number of dungeons, but also in its number of items, collectibles, and enemies. Just in terms of swords, there’s the Sword, the Master Sword, the Tempered Sword, and the Golden Sword. Then there’s the Hookshot, the Fire Rod, the Magic Hammer, the Magic Cape, and the Cane of Somaria. The list goes on and on. Link even had magic spells: Bombos, Ether, and Quake. I was so excited to discover the Quake spell that I went on a rampage around Hyrule testing it out, although I quickly ran out of magic. I wish I had Quake against Mothula. Apparently, that battle still haunts me.
I am proud that I completed the game and discovered all its secrets on my own. I collected all four empty bottles, collected all the heart pieces, and solved all of the Lumberjack’s riddles. The riddles actually stumped me, too, and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out how to catch a squirrel in Hyrule. Instead, I spent 100 Rupees on the Super Bomb, discovered the Golden Sword and the Silver Arrows, and defeated the trident-throwing Ganon. After all that, I eventually figured out where to find a squirrel in Hyrule and solved the Lumberjack’s riddles.
When I grow old and my memories dim, I will still remember the stormy night during which it all began. Of the countless moments in the countless games I have played over the decades, this moment stands alone. It wasn’t epic like defeating Lavos in Chrono Trigger. It wasn’t awesome like defeating Bowser in Super Mario Bros. 3. Instead, it was solemn, dark, but also humble and courageous. Whenever someone asks me why I love video games, I show them this moment because, in short, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the greatest game of all time.