31 Years Later, A Link to the Past Is Still the Most Important Zelda Game Ever
A timeless classic.
A boundless world full of enemies to fight and secrets to explore are essential to the winning formula of the best Legend of Zelda game of all time. No, I’m not talking about Breath of the Wild.
A Link to the Past marked a true generational leap when it was released onto the SNES in North America 31 years ago and transformed the series into the juggernaut it is today.
Nintendo’s first home console, the NES, was important for how it brought gaming into the home and introduced so many of the company’s still iconic mascots. But the SNES marked a truly next-generation experience, especially in how it helped define each of Nintendo’s franchises. Mario got Super Mario World, Samus got Super Metroid, and Link got The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
A Link to the Past is a return to form for the series. After the original Legend of Zelda, the second title in the franchise changed the top-down perspective to a side-scrolling adventure that was... less good. A Link to the Past reinstated the top-down perspective and focused on exploring its version of Hyrule in a similar manner to the original game: gathering tools, exploring dungeons, and defeating enemies.
While the original Legend of Zelda is a bit hard to swallow aesthetically today, A Link to the Past’s rendition of Hyrule is still stunning. The colorful pixels create gorgeous green plateaus and dark gloomy dungeons that expertly evoke an emotional reaction in the player. This upgrade is thanks to the technical power of the SNES, but that is not the only evolution the game has from its predecessors.
Just as Super Metroid iterated upon and evolved the formula laid down by the original Metroid, A Link to the Past iterates upon the original Legend of Zelda. The guideless open nature of the original is refined into a more understandable open world that holds the player's hands for a little bit before truly letting them take on the world as they see fit. The largest challenges in the game are dungeons spread abroad the world, or rather worlds.
A Link to the Past introduces a handful of features to the series that remain iconic. (Heck, this is the first game with the Master Sword in it!) The biggest mechanical feature introduced is the idea of two separate versions of the game world that Link can traverse between. In A Link to the Past, the two maps are the Light and Dark Worlds, each with slightly different enemies and layouts as well as some entirely unique landmarks to explore.
The SNES era is so ubiquitous and influential across the modern gaming landscape. Many of the console’s best games are so iconic that they managed to get entire genres named after them. Super Metroid led to the Metroidvania genre, and A Link to the Past defined what modern Zelda-likes all aspire to be. To this day both Nintendo and indie developers look to A Link to the Past as the platonic ideal of a Zelda game.
Even the completely open world of Breath of the Wild owes so much to A Link to the Past. The approach to dungeons (Divine Beasts in BotW) and overall freedom of exploration is intrinsically well... linked to the past. However, one of the most remarkable aspects of A Link to the Past is how timeless it feels. 31 years later, you can still pick up this game and be blown away by the masterful music, art, and gameplay.