The Legend of Zelda, the pioneering title that marked the genesis of a beloved gaming franchise, remains an emblem of the industry's evolution. As the debut entry, it introduced players to a world of exploration, challenges, and memorable music that has not only defined a series but the action-adventure and action RPG genres! In this review, I, Brighton Nelson, will assess the enduring qualities of this classic, dissecting its combat, art, quality of life, sidequests, story, dungeons, theming, items, and music, while considering its relevance in modern gaming. Now, without further ado, RPG Ranked presents... The Legend of Zelda Review: A timeless 8-bit classic.
Combat - 7
This game's combat still holds up incredibly well and is fluid and fun to this day! Armed with a sword, shield, boomerang, bow, bombs, and a magic rod, there's quite a variety here! I thoroughly enjoyed fighting most of the enemies and bosses here (Blue Wizzrobes are awfully implemented, but it's whatever), and the difficulty was fantastic. The difficulty in this game is somewhat gratifying, and finally, beating these dungeons and learning the enemies' attack patterns was a blast! On my playthrough of this game, I discovered Level 8 second, and, geez, that was rough to beat with the basic sword, bow, and wooden boomerang, but I had a fabulous time overcoming such a monumental challenge! I was surprised by how engaging and rewarding this combat is decades later.
Art & Graphics - 8
In my opinion, this is far and away the best-looking NES game—a game with an inspired art style that hasn't aged in the slightest. Compare this game's graphics to games like Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and even the Super Mario Bros trilogy, and this has aged wonderfully. Every screen brings something alive and new to the table, and I love the contrasting color schemes of each of the nine dungeons—they all look fantastic. Overall, this game has charming graphics that have aged like fine wine.
Quality of Life - 7
Honestly, this game doesn't have as many issues as many claim. In terms of needing a map or a guide to play, I recently played the game for the first time with no map or guide, and the game worked very well... the old men and women tell you everything you need to know! Also, the difficulty is great, even though Wizzrobes deserve to burn in Tartarus. However, I will admit that some of the hitboxes and enemy formations are unfair, as sometimes, it isn't possible to avoid getting hit, something later Zelda games rarely have issues with. Another slight issue is the maximum Rupee count of 255. If Final Fantasy could pull off thousands of Gil, Zelda could've pulled off at least 999 Rupees! There are also a few Heart Containers that were stupidly obscene to find, but the game is 100% beatable and balanced even without those Heart Containers! Regardless, a couple hints for those Heart Containers would be much appreciated. However, other common issues people have with the game were elements I enjoyed! The lack of hints for bombable walls in dungeons never was an issue for me, as enemies dropped a plethora of bombs, and the lack of a map made the game better if anything. It made exploring the world such a grand and incredible experience—a world you could get lost in without being frustrated, a world where every screen had something new to offer. All in all, outside of some rough enemy spawning issues and limited inventory space, this game is still very polished to this day.
Sidequests - 8
This game has a Second Quest, a whole new version of the game upon completion! This would be incredibly distinct and innovative by modern gaming standards, yet this game literally did this decades ago with severely limited hardware. Outside of that, locating all of the Heart Containers, unique items, friendly Moblins, and shops hidden across the world was tons of fun, and the money-making shop is currently my favorite dumb, luck-based minigame I've ever played. This game doesn't have as many sidequests as future Zelda installments or as many as other RPGs and adventure games, but the fun and brevity of these sidequests will always be something I cherish. As someone who played this game for the first time in 2023? The content in this game was still as fun as it likely was back in the day, something I can't quite say about other old games like the original versions of the NES trilogy of Final Fantasy games and the first two installments in the Dragon Quest series. Sometimes, less is more, and this game proves ideal with flashing colors.
Story - 2
Alright, in-game, this game has no story. However, the story in the handbook was captivating and well-written, if underbaked. This game's story started a legendary saga of video game stories, even if this entry was one of the most barebones in the series. And in terms of the Zelda timeline, this entry only adds a little in terms of story, so as a whole, this is easily this title's weakest aspect.
Dungeons - 7
I love that every dungeon in the game has a map that represents a creature or symbol, as well as a kaleidoscopic color palette! I like the different enemies and dungeon bosses, and finding the items, maps, and compasses in every dungeon was always a great time. The somewhat open-ended nature in which you can tackle the dungeons fits very well with the theme of exploration in the game! In the end, however, outside of Death Mountain, these dungeons lack depth in their puzzles and utilization of their dungeon items to create a cohesive experience. While I enjoy the combat focus of this game, compared to other Zelda dungeons, this game's dungeons could be better.
Theming - 8
As the first game in the series, there's not really a central theme of the game like in most other games in the series, with eponymous items like Link's Ocarina and the mystical Phantom Hourglass being examples of items that contribute to the theming of their respective games. However, while this game doesn't have a particular item like those titles, this game has a less obvious theme that holds up so well: being thrown into a beautiful world with no handicaps in sight! This game captures this more than any other game in the series—yes, even more than Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, as those have long tutorial sequences! This game was also the first, having the monumental task of setting up an iconic formula that still holds up and a first entry in a series that shows little age. While I usually avoid factoring the legacy of a game in my reviews like the plague, in terms of this game's theming, I can't dock it points, as this game bombastically defined the genre of action-adventure games and, arguably, action RPGs as we know them. While not as impressive as subsequent titles in theming, this game offers an experience like no other.
Items - 7
This item line-up is still so fun! While the items in this game are mostly centered around combat, they are still all fun to use. There's the boomerang, which can kill weak enemies and stun stronger ones. There's the bow, which dishes out significant long-ranged damage at the cost of Rupees. There's the Magic Rod, which dishes out long-ranged damage at no cost, even if it is slower and clunkier than the bow. There are Bombs, which dish out massive damage and take out walls. There's the Raft, which allows Link to sail to distant islands. There's the Stepladder, which allows Link to cross gaps. There's the Mystic Key, which allows Link to open any door he encounters. There's the Whisle, which can inhibit certain monsters and teleport Link across the map. There are two types of potions, both of which restore Link's health. Last but not least, there are the shield, clothing, and sword upgrades, all of which make Link feel all the more interesting to play as. Ultimately, this game has a lot of remarkable abilities, and it really sets the tone for what was to be expected from later entries in the series.
Music - 7
This game has one of the most iconic soundtracks in gaming history. While the lack of variety brings this score down, every song here is infinitely memorable and catchy, making the game all the more adventurous and captivating. The sound design is also superb, and as always, I adore the great, punch NES percussion that drives the experience to a whole new charming level and the anthems that play when you solve a puzzle, use the Whistle, and get a Game Over are all iconic. However, even with all the iconic and catchy tunes, with only a few real, full-length songs here, giving this game a higher score is unreasonable.
Fun Factor: 9
Overall Score: 70%
Letter Rating: B
The original entry in The Legend of Zelda series thrives off of its beautiful simplicity and holds up phenomenally in the modern day. This game spawned a legacy—one of the most critically acclaimed and successful franchises ever. While that is commendable, my thoughts on this game certainly wouldn't be lessened if this were a standalone title. While I wouldn't quite call this game a masterpiece, it is still incredibly charming, and I'd recommend it to modern and retro gamers alike.
Want to check out this iconic and groundbreaking NES classic? Feel free to buy a copy at one of the links below to get an incredible game and help out our website!
Primary Version: The Legend of Zelda (GBA)