Checkpoint: Link to the Past

checkpointlogoThis column originally ran on February 16, 2010.

Back in 1992, Nintendo brought one of its flagship franchises into the 16-bit era by releasing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, which some would call the best game in the series. Checkpoint takes a look back at the adventure of a boy who just wanted to stay in bed before some girl started talking to him, and wee debate whether LttP is better than Ocarina of Time.

"The best of Super Nintendo." They're not wrong.
“The best of Super Nintendo.” They’re not wrong.

A Connection to What Once Was

Chris: For me, this was the first Zelda game I ever played. I went back later and played the original, but this was it. My main man.

Lee: My first Zelda game was Link’s Awakening, but that doesn’t even compare to this game.

Shaun: My first was Link’s Awakening too (which for nostalgia reasons I still prefer), but that game is only a small taste of the experience in LTTP. The title was truly years ahead of its time.

Lee: The story was pretty basic. You get called upon to collect items from various dungeons while working toward rescuing the princess. Seemed simple at first.

Chris: Yeah, and the intro did a good job of pulling you in. You’re in bed on a stormy night. Your uncle’s charging off like a pimp/dumbass. You get a telepathic message from some hot chick. Ready go.

Shaun: Simple, but very effective because of how epic it made everything feel. Starting the in the pouring rain, escorting the Princess to the church, finishing what your uncle started. It really immersed you in this world from the very beginning.

Lee: At the time, you didn’t know your uncle would take it like a bitch. Then again, we still don’t know what happened to him. He may have fought Ganon and sent him to the Dark World in the first place.

Chris: Maybe he turned into Ganon. You don’t see him again until the ending, when Link’s Triforce magic turns everything back the way he wants.

Shaun: That’s okay, though, because it’s not The Legend of Uncle, as fantastic of a game as that would be. The stakes were established from the very beginning, and it was up to the purple haired hero to save the day from forces that seem indomitable.

Chris: Speaking of which, this is the only game where Link acquires the full Triforce, which I think is exceedingly important.

Shaun: In the overarching narrative, it is a watershed moment. Especially if you buy into the “Split Timeline Theory.” One day I will write a whole thing explaining that theory, and where each game falls. Today is not that day.

Chris: Thank goodness.

Lee: Save your time for curing cancer.

Shaun: Priorities, Lee. The subplot with Agahnim is fantastic as well, and perfectly established the beginning and end of one of the acts. You vanquish what the game characters think is the main threat, only to open a whole new can of calamity. And then Link is a bunny. An exceedingly cute, useless bunny.

Chris: Yeah, and the best sequence in the game might be the combination of getting the Master Sword, hearing Zelda cry out for help, charging into the corrupted Hyrule Castle with your new sword, and taking on Agahnim with the Bug Catching Net. Outstanding.

Lee: Things were a bit difficult if you didn’t pick up the Moon Pearl before killing Agahnim. Get transported to the Dark World. Ahh, bunny time! How am I supposed to get back?

Lee: Considering the final product, I wouldn’t call it wasted effort.

Chris: Admittedly, that’s one of the few negatives about this game. Why not do a short, separate thing for the Moon Pearl? Why on earth is it the dungeon treasure in the tower? You get that and you’re like, “Uh…okay?” Then you get knocked off the platform 300 times by that worm guy and you wish you had something useful. Like a gun. Not the Moon Pearl.

Shaun: The plot was so multilayered, with so many threads weaved into it. Not many games at this time wasted effort in constructing such rich plots.

Chris: Link to the Past manages to keep explaining the story even though there’s not a lot of dialogue, which doesn’t seem possible until you see the execution. Coupled with Link being the classic silent protagonist, you really get a lot of space to experience it through his eyes.

Shaun: The dialogue is sparse and the exposition minimal, but the story manages to resonate with players to this day. You literally take some useless boy, traverse through two parallel worlds, and kill an evil pig. Then get the Triforce. I miss the days when silent protagonists weren’t seen as a point of criticism.

Lee: When you think about it, what was Link supposed to say? “Get out of my head, I’m sleeping!”

Shaun: “Go to hell, you swine.” Really gruff like.

Chris: He could assert himself for once instead of saving everyone for the 140th time. Of course, it was still early for him. He had no way of knowing what was to come in the next 15 years.

Shaun: Or like “I smell bacon.” In my head, Link is like John McClane.

Chris: I can see the resemblance.

Lee: Bruce Willis stars as Link in The Legend of Zelda: I Smell Bacon.

Shaun: Now is that a movie, or what?

Chris: It’s something all right.

Lee: “Hookshot? What the hell does this thing do?”

Chris: Maybe it’s because we’ve seen permutations and variations of it since then, but Link to the Past’s story was always one of my favorites. Back then, it was original, simple, and effective.

Shaun: Yeah, that’s true. Although OoT is a much deeper story, it’s hard to argue that it seems like nothing more than a fancy reboot of LTTP’s plot.

Even back then, Zelda didn't help with anything.
Even back then, Zelda didn’t help with anything.

Bad Day

Lee: I enjoyed how the story utilized every section of the map. There were few places where you went just to explore. Everywhere else was necessary to do something.

Shaun: It really did encourage you to seek out all corners of the map. Everything was interconnected somehow. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that this game’s predecessor was side-scrolling. Thank god they didn’t keep that up.

Chris: Not to mention the parallels between the two worlds, which had you exploring every nook and cranny even further. Like an english muffin.

Shaun: I often explore every nook and cranny of my english muffin.

Lee: I am not sure Link has the best luck in the world. Sahasrahla just stood in a cave all day and night waiting for Link to show up. Link had to figure out a Rubik’s cube, solve the Da Vinci Code, and find his way out of a Tesseract just to get to that desert cave.

Chris: Exactly. If Link had been born a few years later, none of this would have happened. You think Zelda’s going to ask a 6-year-old to save the world? …Well, she might. But more likely, this game would have been A Steve to the Past, and the protagonist would not have been as strong.

Shaun: And Uncle to the Past would have been a damn failure, because he introduces his stomach to a sword in the first five minutes. LTTP definitely set the standard of introducing side characters that don’t really help at all. There is no Midna here to construct bridges or antagonize Link constantly. Although in order to have Midna, you need Wolf Link. No thank you. I’ll stick with bunny Link.

Chris: Plus, they have a guy whose sole purpose is to screw with you. “I just cut your magic in half! Vwee hee hee!”

Lee: The point is, Link’s main job in that game was solving puzzles. His sword and shield were just tools he would use to get him to the next dungeon. Then he had to use a half stick of dynamite, a roll of babies, two half-eaten pancakes and a DAMN MONKEY NAMED KIKI to get through the front door. MY RUPEES, I’VE FAILED YOU.

Chris: That’s true. You can’t beat the game without that monkey. Or the Moon Pearl. Or the flute.

Shaun: MacGuyver stars in Link to the Past: I’ve Failed You My Rupees. Wait, what is a roll of babies?

Lee: Babies in a roll.

Shaun: Like, a bread roll?

Chris: Think of it as a bunch of babies on the ground rolled up like carpet and then tossed in a truck.

Lee: It’s like a roll of toilet paper. Wait, I think they are the same thing.

Shaun: Oh, gotcha. The toilet paper comparison did it for me. Thanks.

Chris: Anyway. I love the gameplay in LttP. You run around and use a bunch of items, your sword can shoot beams when your hearts are full, and there’s a great mix of fighting and puzzles.

Shaun: Ah, back when this formula was innovative. To be fair, even though it has been done to death in the last ten years, it’s hard to find a Zelda where it was done better than this one. Everything is so balanced, and there is a purpose for everything…

Enjoy it while it lasts, kid. You won't see the whole thing again.
Enjoy it while it lasts, kid. You won’t see the whole thing again.

We’re an Item Now

Shaun: …except the Cane. That was a piece of garbage. It’s not like Twilight Princess, where you have an inventory of 500 weapons, most of which pointless outside of a single use. Ah, a wand that controls owl statues. Thank god for this. Now I have access to the five statues in the entire world. Don’t even get me started on the ball and chain.

Lee: You have a wife?

Chris: And as cool as the spinner was, it was barely useful either.

Shaun: The fire rod though. That was good. The story of fighting with chickens ends with me and the fire rod. They just burned and died. No retaliation from the chicken nation. Just a sad, sad acceptance.

Chris: That was okay. The cucco retaliation freaked me out the first time anyway. It really taught young me about consequences for beating them senseless with bushes.

Shaun: The hookshot was the best invention in the last 20 years.

Lee: No thank you. I liked the magic cape. Turn invisible for no particular reason. I’m down with that.

Chris: The hookshot never went BOING like it was advertised. I mean, that’s probably a good thing, but still. They said BOING like four times in a minute when you got it.

Chris: Still, it did everything the boomerang could better, except go diagonally, and you were invincible while it was extending. Great item.

Lee: And it pulled you over great distances. I’m surprised Link didn’t tie his sword to the hookshot and shoot it at Ganon’s head. That would have been an epic ending.

Shaun: See, that would have been really ingenuitive. God, Link is dumb.

Chris: Just imagine the look on Ganon’s face. Yes, the ingenuitivitynessocity would have been pretty stellar.

Lee: Hookshoterrific.

Chris: For me, I always liked the fire and ice rod. Simple, but effective. Freezing. Fire…ing. You could do it all.

Lee: I also was a fan of the sword upgrades. They gave you a sense of evolution. Regular, blue, red, gold. I AM getting stronger.

Chris: My only problem was that the Magic Cape made the Cane of Byrna completely useless. Why be invincible and visible?

Shaun: How about invisible and invincible.

Lee: You can be both?

Chris: Shaun, if I was invisible, then I could just watch you in your room.

Shaun: God that’s a creepy song. No, I was just posing the question. The point of Checkpoint is to make you think, Lee.

Chris: You know what else was useless? The Book of Mudora. You had to dash into the bookshelf just to reach the thing, and all it did was translate text. Once you got to the Dark World, it was pretty much useless. Still, it speaks volumes (get it?) that there’s only one or two iffy items in this game, compared to later in the series.

Shaun: Favorite item that never made it into the 3-D games. Pegasus boots. That was a game changer for me. It made exploring the world so much easier.

Lee: The Pegasus shoes did make it to Majora’s Mask. They just called them the Bunny Hood.

Chris: Yeah, but they were still different. Although I liked them both. For me, the ability to keep hammering the button to run in place was very important.

Shaun: Yeah, and it’s a dash attack, not just Link in fast forward. Imagine how an awesome dash attack could have been implemented into Twilight Princess.

Chris: Especially if you had control over it whenever you wanted, not in scripted moments.

Shaun: Exactly. But alas, it was not to be. It is significant, though, that we keep going back to conventions from LTTP that we wish were in other Zelda’s.

Lee: Actually, the iron boots had the same effect when you walked from one edge of the map to the other. They broke apart and turned into the Pegasus boots. Try it out some time.

Shaun: Maybe I will. I also heard there was a pistol in the game. If you take cartridge and choke on it, the cartridge falls apart and there is a pistol. Ta-da! Try it. It’s super secret.

Chris: I would’ve liked the magic dust more if Link had used it like Sheik to make improbable escapes in the cloud of smoke.

Lee: I am upset because there was no “kill that damn gouging giant Zora” item. Seriously, I have to empty my bank account and get a second mortgage on my hut because I don’t know how to swim?

Shaun: At least Link could swim in this one, though. One of the more simple, yet critical, additions.

See, we told you not to do drugs without the Moon Pearl. Now look what happened.
See, we told you not to do drugs without the Moon Pearl. Now look what happened.

Know Your Place

Lee: This game is the best Zelda game, and ranks highly on my list of all-time favorites.

Shaun: God, this is hard. It’s not my favorite. That’s OoT. But it’s probably the most important Zelda, as well as one of the most influential Zeldas of all time. Personal list, it’s number three. Importance in industry? It has to be number one. The original was hugely important, but was only a shell of what LTTP is.

Chris: See, I disagree with both of those. It’s higher up on my favorites list, probably number one, but I’m forced to admit that Ocarina of Time was way more important to the industry. It set the standard for 3-D gaming with Z-targeting and set the stage for the rest of the series.

Shaun: Yes, but OoT borrowed heavily from LTTP. Actually , in almost every department: story, items, gameplay…the list goes on and on. Important for 3-D, but LTTP built an entire generation of gaming, and its effects are apparent today.

Lee: Well, you’re both wrong. Link to the Past was the best. The end.

Shaun: Good. Good resolution.

Lee: THE END, SHAUN

Chris: I’m torn on this because I’m usually the one making the “OoT was a shinier LttP” point. So it’s tough for me to disagree too much. Let’s just say that LttP influenced OoT, which had an impact on 3-D gaming, so in theory it was all Link to the Past’s doing. It speaks well for the Zelda franchise that so many people have different picks for best game or favorite game. There’s a lot of quality titles to choose from.

Yeah, we didn't talk about this somehow. Our bad.
Yeah, we didn’t talk about this somehow. Our bad.

Outtakes

Shaun: The boss battles were really great, too. We never mentioned those. Aside from tying the Master Sword to the hookshot.

Chris: I mentioned the worm guy. But yeah, we f’ed up. It’s kinda like some people kept getting way off topic or something. Noooo, never mind.

Shaun: It may be the greatest final boss fight in the series. Low on gimmicks. Just you, Ganon, and backwards controlling segments.

Lee: I mentioned Link struggling with his own inadequacy. That’s kind of a major boss.

Shaun: That’s true. And we talked about the uncle. He was kind of a boss! Patronizing doesn’t really come through in text.

Chris: Damn, that means we didn’t talk about Ganon’s TRICK OF DARKNESS either. What a clever bastard. EN GARDE

Shaun: Yeah. That was backwards controlling, right?

Chris: I don’t know. At the time, en garde seemed kinda cool, but now when I think about it it’s just sad and funny. A giant blue french pig?

Shaun: Terrifying.

Lee: And Ganon wasn’t just a pig. He was a bat and three Agahnim’s all rolled into one package.

Chris: And a Swedish chef.

Shaun: His pitchfork was three times bigger than Link, too. Maybe it wasn’t a pitchfork. Maybe it was just a regular fork. Because he was planning on cooking Link. Swedish style.

linktothepast

Checkpoint is a series of discussions run by Chris, Shaun and Tech Guy back in their college newspaper days. For more entries in the series, click here.

3 thoughts on “Checkpoint: Link to the Past

      1. I will have to sit back and wait patiently then. Look forward to it, if they ever get around to it. I can imagine it would take a lot of time and effort to outline it all.

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