Played On: Wii Virtual Console
So how does one review the first game of arguably the most revered video game franchise of all-time? A game which is considered to have set the standard for action-adventure titles? A game which named one of Robin Williams's kids? Well, let's get the complaints out of the way.
First and foremost, this game is big. A huge overworld and a bunch of dungeons make for a great environment to walk around. Unfortunately, it might be too big, considering the only "map" you get for navigating the overworld is a solid gray rectangle with a pink block which represents your position. There are 128 different screens to explore in the overworld and, without a decent map, it's all too possible to get completely lost. This gets old really fast, especially when you start trying to decrypt what the game means when it tells you to "meet the old man at the grave" or that "there are secrets where faeries don't live".
Also, the money system is a source of frustration. You collect rupees in increments of 1 or 5, sometimes earning them for slaying enemies. You're limited to 255 rupees which is fine except in one situation: at some point during the game, you'll buy a magical shield which costs you a cool 250 rupees. In some of the dungeons there's an enemy which, if it attacks you, destroys your magical shield and, in turn, hugely hinders your ability to stay alive for very long. If you end up losing your magical shield a couple of times in a row, you'd better add another 20 minutes to your quest so that you can go seek out some enemies that'll help fund your next one.
With the complaints aside, though, the game is a real joy to play. The combat system is simple but effective: the A button swings your sword and you pick an action (e.g. bombs, arrows) for the B button. This system would prove to be the model for nearly every other game in the series and also serve as a fine template for countless other games (especially beat-'em-ups). Enemies are, for the most part, balanced in terms of difficulty although you will certainly want to be upgrading your sword and your armor as you go. During my playthrough of the game, I only ever felt like the Darknuts were excessively difficult to kill and it's rare that you have to kill them to progress.
The nonlinearity of this game is arguably its biggest influence on the gaming world. You are free to complete the game's dungeons (with the exception of the final one) in any order you like as well as travel anywhere you want at any time you want. As we all have gotten used to with the Legend of Zelda series, each dungeon has a map and a compass which help you locate the boss and most of the dungeons will have special items that facilitate later parts of your quest. You are not required, however, to visit every single room or defeat every enemy you encounter. A great deal of choice is afforded to the player and this remains one of the most important paradigms established by The Legend of Zelda.
Although The Legend of Zelda is phenomenally important, most of the flaws in the game all go back to the lack of a good navigation system. The portions of the game when the user is not lost or grinding out to buy a high-priced item are fantastic fun but are too frequently interrupted to garner a perfect score.
The bottom line: 4 out of 5.