Comfort Food Gaming – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

retrograde

(When I started writing this, I wasn’t really sure why I was doing it. It was a little personal, more venting than anything at first. Then I got an idea about midway through that I think I’ll try when I’m ready to go again in a couple of days. Anyway, hope you enjoy!)

By the time this goes up, Ill be having hip surgery. It’s a bit of a stressful thing to think about at my age (33). It’s something necessary if I want to continue to do things like walk, but that doesn’t mean I like the idea of it.

I got off the with the hospital office yesterday morning and they told me how much it was going to cost. Let’s just say I got a bit of sticker shock when I played back the voicemail. The amount is pretty substantial. So not only was I now worried about needing to be out of work for three to four more months while I recover, I’ve gotta think about needing to pay this bill off.

I sat down on the couch and turned on my Ouya looking for something to play. In case you’re unaware, I bought an Ouya so I can emulate games and play them on my TV. The options of multiple save states, screenshots, and the simplicity of using it is basically what drove me to buy the micro-console that, well, couldn’t. Largely considered a flop, I find myself using it as a great little device to play games I would otherwise have to hook up an old system to my TV for. It’s no powerhouse, but handling anything from the 16-bit era on down is a breeze for it.

I booted up the SNES emulator and scrolled through for a bit. I couldn’t quite figure out what I wanted to play to get my mind off things. Just as I was thinking of switching over to another emulator, an old friend popped up – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I probably don’t need to play this again, but I decided to start it up. I sat back and watched the introduction sequence.

Such a simple little thing, but I remember thinking when it initially came out what an amazing opening sequence it was. It made the Zelda universe feel like there was some history to it, some actual existence to it. It was as if what we had seen in the previous two games was only scratching the surface of what was there. That feeling came back and I decided that I would play it until I got the Master Sword.

Now, this isn’t particularly hard for me. I’ve probably played A Link to the Past to completion two dozen times. I have the game almost completely memorized now. I might forget a heart piece here and there, but I know this version of Hyrule so well, that I can almost pay no attention to what I’m doing and still do well enough.

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Getting out of the sanctuary and bursting onto the overworld map still brings back a bit of the feeling I got when I did it the first time. A few years later, most Zelda players would get that same feeling from Ocarina of Time, but for me, that moment in A Link to the Past is my moment. My moment that cemented my love of not only the Zelda series as a whole, but for video games in  general. It opened up an emotion in me that I hadn’t experienced yet. It gave me that feeling that Link and I were one. We were on this journey together. We fell in battle more than a few times, but the ultimate triumph when the game ended left such an impression me, that it still is my favorite entry in the series. It’s also the other game I go back and forth on with Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together as being my favorite game. In many ways, Tactics Ogre is a game I enjoy far more. The mechanics and the story in it never bore me, despite having probably dumped nearly three hundred hours of my life into the PSP version.

But…

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A Link to the Past has something that I’ve never got out of single video game again – the feeling of being one with the character I was controlling. That the tale being told was mine. That the journey wasn’t set in stone. While the end game that Link and I got to was a predetermined, how we went about it was our journey and ours alone. The decisions I made could make things easier for us in the end, but only by knowing what I was doing from multiple playthroughs would that happen.

As I almost always do, I went and got the heart piece and mushroom in the Lost Woods first, followed by the one in the well in the northwest corner of Kakariko Village, the one in the house next door to Sahasrahla’s house, and then the one in the maze in the most southwest section of Kakariko. Between getting the second and third piece, I bought my first bottle. Between the third and fourth, I got the bug catching net, blew up the shed towards the southwest corner and got more bombs and arrows, and then I got the second bottle.

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This may have been the first time I truly noticed the pattern I had developed in playing A Link to the Past. I had a very set way of things of getting things. Normally, I would go get the Ice Rod before I tackled the first dungeon, but I decided to break tradition and just get onto the first dungeon.

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That one down, I headed over to the second dungeon. After getting the Power Gloves, the second dungeon’s treasure, I left before completing it and headed over to get the flippers. I chucked my boomerang and shield into the fairy fountain to get the upgraded version of them, got my third bottle, grabbed a few other items, and headed over to the other fairy wishing fountain and maxed out my bomb and arrow capacity.

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Satisfied I had done what I could to toughen up Link, I headed back to finish the second dungeon.

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Once that one was done, I headed straight for Death Mountain. As many times as I’ve played this game, the segment of going through the mountain with the old man always strikes me as pretty cool. The old man is stuck in the middle of the mountain caves and asks you to guide him home. He tells you about the horrible things going on in in Hyrule and makes sure you take the right path through the twisting darkness. It’s a nifty little interaction in a game that’s largely about its dungeons.

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Also something I tend to overlook these days is how high up you are in Death Mountain. As you can see in the screenshot below, you’re actually above the clouds and you can see the trees in the forest below.

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Once at the Tower of Hera, I plow through it rather quickly, having memories come back of when I was a kid playing it for the first time. It was a tough dungeon for me. I don’t think I ever played a game where I had to think about the verticality of a dungeon the way I did here.

And it was something I truly had to keep in mind while fighting this dungeon’s boss. The damned thing will try to knock you off its platform, knocking you down a level. Any damage you took holds over, but the same isn’t true for the boss. Climb back up and the bastard is fresh as a morning daisy. I only got knocked down once, but that reminded me of a what a troublesome jackass he was when I was younger.

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The third pendant in my possession, I head off to the Lost Woods. But first, I headed back to the sanctuary to see what the “old man” and Zelda had to say.

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It’s a cool area, clouded in fog while the Master Sword sleeps, awaiting someone to claim it again.

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Once claimed, the fog lifts and the music in the Lost Woods changes to the Hyrule Overworld theme.

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And just as soon as you leave the grove where the Master Sword was, you end up getting another telepathic message from Princess Zelda, alerting you that soldiers are storming the sanctuary.

A moment like that truly broke the feeling of victory I had so briefly when I pulled the Master Sword. The sense of urgency to rush to the sanctuary was intense back then. The few screens away you actually are really felt like a continent away when I was a kid. I thought for sure if I hurried there, I could catch the soldiers in the act and stop them. No real time to even enjoy the new beam power you have when you’re at full health, just book it over and prevent Zelda’s kidnapping.

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Alas, no matter how fast you are, you’re destined to watch the priest die. This scene got my blood boiling and ready to go defeat Agahnim back then. It’s a dark moment in such a rather brightly colored game.

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And that’s where I stopped. It seemed like a good place to stop. Sure, I could’ve gotten myself to the Dark World, but I think leaving it at this point gives good reason to come back and finish it as soon as I’m able. There’s a sense of desperation now to come back to. A serious cliffhanger that, while I know what’s coming, needs to be seen through to its end.

I’ll be ready to take on the rest of this task in a day or two after the drugs wear off. I’m sure I’ll be needing this therapeutic trip through Hyrule more than I did yesterday.

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