The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo was a large leap forward for the Zelda series when it was released in 1992. Not only were the graphics updated and the world expanded, the game also introduced a large amount of new gameplay elements. Six years later, when the series was brought to 3D by Ocarina of Time, the majority of the gameplay elements were derived from Link to the Past and then beautifully transitioned into 3D. However, there are still many new ideas introduced in a Link to the Past that never made the transition to 3D, and that could be amazing if implemented correctly. Just to forewarn you, this article will contain spoilers of a large part of a Link to the Past.
Skull Woods Dungeon Entrances Map
First, Link to the Past had a couple of non-traditional dungeons. In a Link to the Past, Skull Woods, the 3rd palace in the Dark World, was essentially split into multiple parts. Throughout this dungeon Link needed to find different entrances to the dungeon. Each entrance led Link to a different section of the dungeon, most of which were ultimately connected once all barriers and so forth were removed. One of the most fascinating parts of the dungeon was that you could often see important items in a room that you currently could not access. An example would be seeing the dungeon’s big weapon chest in a room on the other side of a wall. You would then go and explore outside the dungeon, find a different entrance, and then proceed with the dungeon further. This twist in a normal dungeon would be interesting to see re-imagined in 3D. The only problem I could foresee is how would you allow players to see what’s in the inaccessible room next to you beyond a wall without an overhead view. I believe that could easily be fixed by replacing the opaque wall with a transparent wall or a bottomless pit. This split-dungeon concept was quite interesting in Link to the Past, and I could see this being even more fun if it was fully fleshed out in a larger 3D dungeon.
Another example of a non-traditional dungeon was the 4th palace of the Dark World, Gargoyle’s Domain. Before entering the dungeon, Link is told bits of a story about a thief named Blind who hated light from various NPCs and signposts. In this dungeon, you save what seems to be a maiden that was inside a prison cell. In reality, she’s actually Blind the thief, who’s the boss of this dungeon. So, using hints scattered throughout the dungeon, you leave the “maiden” in the boss room and eventually open a hole in the ceiling with bombs in order to let light fall inside. This reveals Blind’s identity and then the boss fight commences. In most of the 3D Zeldas, most of the dungeons have been fairly traditional in their approach. The dungeon consists of a series of challenges dealing primarily with switches, keys, pushing blocks, fighting enemies, and occasionally raising/falling water levels. That is a large part of why we love Zelda, but I would love to see some surprises in dungeons like the two examples I gave above. Considering they were able to come up with new and interesting dungeon designs in 1992, who knows what new and amazing ideas they could come up with next.
The next concept that was present in Link to the Past was the idea of optional weapons. This has been somewhat prevalent in the 3D Zelda games, like Majora’s Mask’s bunch of extra masks, but I wish this was done more often. Link to the Past had several weapons not found in dungeons that were not immediately or ever necessary to finish dungeons. However, they allowed you to fight or complete dungeons in different ways. Some of these weapons essentially had mini-puzzles or very small dungeons that you needed to complete in order to obtain the weapon. For example, the Ice Rod and Quake medallion can be obtained rather early in the game in the overworld, but both are only used in the last two dungeons of the Dark World. On the other hand, the Ether Medallion, the Bombos Medallion, the Magic Cape, and the Cane of Byrna were completely optional, but they provide you large scale magic attacks and invincibility respectively. I personally find these optional weapons as much better rewards and incentives to complete a side-quest/mini-dungeon than a single heart piece or a large quiver/bomb bag. This also encourages exploring the overworld, which would really add to the adventure experience that the series has always tried to provide. Twilight Princess had a couple mini-dungeons available in order to obtain heart pieces. However, without any hint that there could be actual puzzles to be solved when digging as a wolf, I found no incentive to do any quest outside the story but the Cave of Ordeals in that game.
Next, Link to the Past took the magic from Zelda II and implemented it in a fashion which used in later entries of the series. In Ocarina of Time, Link used magic for the enhanced spin attack, the three magic spells, the magic arrows, and the Lens of Truth. This use of “magic” allowed for weapons to be more creative, as “magic” allows for things that might normally not make sense. However, in the most recent entries of the series, Twilight Princess, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks, there is no magic meter even in the game! Magic enables Link to be able to fight in ways far beyond normal physical means. For example, in a Link to the Past, the Ice/Fire Rods, the canes, the medallions, and the magic cape allowed Link to have awesome abilities that could not have been present without magic. For example, Link currently is rather limited when climbing up walls as he has to slowly move each of his limbs accordingly to maintain balance. The only time he can stand straight on any wall is while using the Iron Boots, with which he’s unfortunately rather slow. Imagine if he could run up walls without Iron Boots, but with Magic Boots instead. He could actually maneuver quickly while being on certain wall surfaces! I hope magic plays a larger role in future Zelda titles, as it allows for more creativity for the Zelda team, and it fits the theme of the fantasy worlds of Zelda games.
Flipping Turtles in Link to the Past
Finally and most importantly, Link to the Past brought a lot of what I’d like to call “puzzle-based combat” to the series. Basically you had to figure out how exactly to kill a lot of your enemies rather than simply slashing at them mindlessly. First we had Stalfos, who you slash with a sword and then blow up their remains with a bomb. Next, there were turtles that you had to flip using the magic hammer and then defeat using your sword. There were also the Gibdos, who were mummies that were very resilient against sword strikes, but who were weak to fire attacks. However, you could also freeze and then smash with a hammer, which is actually how I beat them. Then you had helmasaurs, which were creatures with hard shells on their head. Here, you either had to hit them in the back with your sword, or remove their protective shell using your hookshot. Finally, you could also knock enemies into bottomless pits, which for some reason isn’t present in any of the 3D games. I could go on and on about how each enemy was defeated in Link to the Past, but I think these examples give you a good idea about what kind of combat was present. While there is some-puzzled based combat in the 3D titles, almost every enemy either is the same enemy as they were in a Link to the Past, or an enemy whose strategy was the same as some creature in Link to the Past. Some of the few exceptions are Re-deads in Ocarina of Time, and Darknuts. Link to the Past was the game that made puzzles into a main part of the series, and the games afterwards continued this trend. However, Link to the Past had a nice mixture of strategy involved in both puzzles that needed to be completed in order to proceed, as well as needing to think while combating non-boss enemies. I really hope the strategy in combat returns to the Zelda franchise to non-boss enemies as well in new and different ways. I see some promise in Zelda Wii, as the 1:1 sword control will provide a lot of flexibility and innovation in terms of Zelda combat. Imagine stabbing with your sword in order to pierce armor, or running into enemies in order to knock them down. The Zelda team has even been hinting at how it’ll even be a puzzle on how to defeat enemies.
These are just some of the gameplay elements that were present in Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past that I hope could be used more in future Zelda games. I guess we’ll see how the series could evolve with its announced Wii entry.