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A Legend that Lasts

April 15, 2012

It’s funny how the faces of some games shine brighter, even on a tiny little screen.

After what turned out to be the relative disappointment of Ice Climber, I needed something that I knew I would enjoy, something that had never disappointed me no matter how many times I returned to it. Looking at the 8-bit offerings on display, my eyes kept flitting back and forth, back and forth…

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Zelda.

The Legend of Zelda might actually be my favorite NES game of all time. Mere mention of the name triggers the “Overworld Theme” in my head, a miniature 8-bit symphony that can last for days. It’s the only game that I’ve played start to finish enough times to legitimately have a case that I’ve memorized it; I could tell you where the blue ring is, where every heart container is, which gravestone the old man with the magical sword is in, and so on. It’s a game I’ve been able to relax and enjoy while whipping through it, taking down dungeons and bosses like it’s my job, planting bombs on inconspicuous walls to find even the most hidden of treasures (though I do still have to pay the “door repair charge” on occasion).

My only real hiccup so far has been the sixth dungeon, in which the ever-despised Blue Wizzrobes took me for a ride after one of those walking gullets called Like-Likes took my fancy shield away.

As of this writing, I am on the 9th dungeon and looking for a Red Ring, a Silver Arrow, and Ganon himself. The 9th dungeon is something like the 1986 version of Ocarina of Time‘s famous and infamous Water Dungeon, a confusing and difficult slog through difficult enemies, passageways that lead to other passageways, and a factory’s worth of doors that require keys. It is a dungeon that reminded me of 8-bit gaming’s utter willingness to trap you in a place where your only means of escape is either suicide or the Reset button.

Yes, I forgot to dig the Master Key out of the eighth dungeon. Of course, I paid dearly for my oversight, reduced to stabbing an old man so his fire would slowly, painfully (shoot fireballs at me and) kill me.

(An aside: the map for the fourth dungeon always reminds me of the Atari 2600's rendition of E.T.. Is it just me?)

Being trapped in The Legend of Zelda is a startling thing, given that it is largely an extremely open and forgiving game, full of fairies and potions and stray hearts all strategically placed in such a way as to keep you going and make sure you can stay alive and explore as much of the world is possible, almost at your leisure. Sure, it’s not really a good idea to go anywhere near the sword-throwing Lynels before you have a Magical Shield or a Blue Ring, but even that’s not impossible if you’re determined enough. That the game would actually physically keep me from progression due to an oversight on my part, well, I hadn’t experienced that since maybe 1987. Given the intricacy of the dungeon design elsewhere, it’s honestly pretty impressive that such situations don’t happen more often.

Pondering the difficulty of this ninth dungeon, it seems hard to imagine that Zelda‘s second quest could offer up a more difficult version. It occurs to me that for all the times I’ve played through the first quest, I have never actually beaten the second quest; as a purist who tries to refuse all outside help in solving a given game, the second quest has always eluded me. I have always given up before conquering it; putting as much work as I did into learning the first quest exhausted my capacity for adventure. I suspect I moved on to something else meaning to cleanse my palette, never coming back as I intended.

This realization reveals a hole in my Legend of Zelda experience, a hole that must quickly be filled.

Onward, then.

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