It deserves better and you should apologize to Miyamoto

Prepared by Joe

The Game is 40 Years Old…Why?

The Legend of Zelda series is one of the defining trademarks of action-adventure gaming. It has stood the test of time as some of the most well-aged, seasoned, and lightly salted treasures that our collective gamer grease ball hands have ever mashed “B” in. A lot of this goes without saying, but I wanted to emphasize the sheer level of bacon grease we produce. It’s a lot.

Exhilarating Gameplay

I also feel like the internet has done the original Legend of Zelda dirty. Calling it a decent first outing that isn’t worth visiting over its sexy, hot babe of a follow-up title: Zelda: A Link to the Past. I’m here to deliver some hot takes and delve into why the main complaints of the original LoZ exist. Along with why they are or aren’t valid and why the original LoZ is worth exploring, dungeoning, plundering, mapping, and clapping (for yourself? idk). 

Necessary and Redundant Context

The Legend of Zelda for NES complete box set

Picture from Mercari

Miyamoto loved going hiking, so he created Zelda in 1986 so we could go hiking without committing the sin of losing our hard-earned calories. I have cholesterol JUST where I want thank you! For Westerners, it was released as a cartridge.

And, if you were one of the lucky ducks who bought it new, you were blessed with a manual, a map, and a vial of Miyamoto’s sweat for the maximum hiking experience. The game sold very well. Neat! I hope we get a sequel- never mind. The gameplay is simple, and might sound familiar:

You, the player, Zelda, travel across a desolated Hyrule with little to no context on what to do. Exploring dungeons, locating items, using the items in the overworked to find more items, killing things to get items, and yeah that’s it. You navigate via top-down 2D with a dinky little nugget of a sprite who only knows how to stab. It’s fun I swear.

The gameplay loop is essentially to explore aimlessly, slowly memorizing the map structure, and locating entrances to dungeons. Sometimes you’ll find a cave with a single old person slinging one of 15 or so iconic one-liners and you’ll get a sword upgrade, hint, or food. Just like a real nursing home. Visit your grandparents more. 

OG LOZ = Bad

Shigeru Miyamoto hiking in Kyoto, 1960, colorized

Shigeru Miyamoto hiking in Kyoto, 1960, colorized

Honestly, this section is going to come with a lot of assumptions. So feel free to make assumptions about my character in retaliation. 

One of the biggest criticisms of this game is that it doesn’t tell you where to go and it’s easy to get confused navigating it and plundering it without a guide. And that’s bad. There simply aren’t enough context clues to know exactly which bush to burn on a random tile while you get pounded by a river Zora (UwU). And honestly, I agree. There you go, end of article if you like this please see our Dis- OK BUT… How did Robin Williams, his then-wife, and so many other talentless and sweaty children in the ’80s manage to beat this game and look back at it with love?

I mentioned above that the original Legend of Zelda on the NES came with a map and a manual. And in the pre-internet world, I would argue this made all the more difference against our save state and GameFAQs-dependent pea brains.

So much so that I’m pretty sure that the game was meant to be played with these on hand. Even in the game, there is a dinky little map in the top left corner. But, it only gives you your approximate location in the overworld and no other context. This paired with the map means you never get lost.

Humor Me Though

Map of The Overworld for The Legend of Zelda


Lemme throw a personal anecdote for ya, get really up close and personal. Okay, so in 2005 I had a GameCube, a PSP, and no friends. Okay, I had two. I had plenty of time to kill So I booted up the original Legend of Zelda to try it out honestly I was pretty hooked just meandering around, But then decided I was going to beat this thing. I was too lazy to print out a walk-through. And all I really needed was a map to orient me,

So I went online and found an extremely high-resolution scan of the original ’80s release map and put it on my PSP. And honestly, that was all I really needed to get through 80% of the game. Hints were scattered throughout caves, the map oriented me so I knew where it was at all times and where dungeons were located, and I also had the location of secrets, or at least the location of where important items were in the overworld while still having to figure out how to get them. Honestly, this low-tech way of playing the game was a very fun way to experience it.

While I was guided, I still had a personal feeling of accomplishment over the discoveries made along the way. At times it was still tedious when I would die in the overworld and be spawned in the beginning, But the game’s overall difficulty isn’t really that high if you persevere through the quirks. 

Being Critical

Honestly, this is one of those games I believe is near perfect on the merit of when it came out versus the enjoyment of the experience you can get out of it. Yes, it’s kind of hard to get rupees, bombs are a rare delicacy, enemies can be straight-up unfair in dungeons, and some third thing that probably doesn’t matter that much. But overall, I’d compare the enjoyment you get out of it is similar to Dark Souls 1.

You are basically left on your own as your own adventure unfolds. If you understand the mechanics of the gameplay and let go of your own predeterminations of action-adventure design, those accomplishments and discoveries you make are yours alone. You should be eligible for a discount at restaurants. After that, you are left with a solid game that is made infinitely better by using the included 1986 map over a guide or a walkthrough. Its eight dungeons are laid out in a way that makes sense and arguably fair difficulty-wise and 7 of them aren’t potentially offensive! (Looking at you Level 3)

Age-wise, yes there are better games but at the time this was THE game to play if you were feeling like exploring something without having to dirty your hiking boots, and is still pretty fun for a solid ~ 10 hours of playtime. Would I say it’s better than Assassin’s Creed Odyssey? No. But would Assassin’s Creed Odyssey exist without it? Also no. Who’d known Miyamoto touching grass was the best thing to happen to adventure games?

Should you play it in 2024?

Maybe, I don’t know. I don’t really care if you do, I really just wanted to gush about for a while. As an experience though, I’d say set your expectations accordingly and try the game out. It runs on literally everything and finding a ROM is as easy as 🎅🎀🐧😳. Screw it, play it on your Steam Deck OLED. Best place right there. Deep black goodness. Use save states, I don’t care. But before looking up playthroughs, download a scan of the 1986 map to your phone and…. Just try it. For me? Please?

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