From the get-go, it’s obvious that Zelda is meant to be a game about exploring. Link traverses the land of Hyrule as he attempts to assemble pieces of the Triforce. This means he’ll need to visit several dangerous dungeons and combat deadly foes, from spear-tossing pigs to shield-eating vermin. As you collect items, the world becomes even more open, allowing you to discover new secrets and become strong enough to save the titular princess.
The heart of the game, though, is the dungeon navigation. You’ll have to conquer no less than nine dungeons, each of which houses several puzzles and keys to find by solving them. The dungeons in this game are especially notable due to the fact that every room fits nicely on one screen. Later titles would ditch this for expansive 3D realms and more spacious 2D puzzles, but there’s something undeniably inviting about the accessibility of it all.
That’s not to say the game is fully accessible though – it still has its fair share of quirks. Most adventure games will offer fair hints to the player, giving them a direction of where to go next. Zelda’s open-ended style lets players enter most of the dungeons almost straight off the bat, but it also means you may find yourself stumbling into dungeon three when searching for the first dungeon. Some “hints” provided by in-game characters leave you longing. The infamous “GRUMBLE GRUMBLE” is the definitive example of this, as not everyone would think to get past an area in a mandatory dungeon...by visiting a secret shop and purchasing meat. It’s also possible to forget to grab an item while in a dungeon, yet still complete it. This sounds like a good thing for the lazier among us, but it means you’ll have to make a return trip for not knowing any better.
Some dungeons are notorious for the ridiculous amount of enemies on the screen at one time. These rooms are probably the root of many angry childhoods, as the pace slows to a crawl and Link is bombarded with 10 different things coming after him. Thankfully, aside from these few occasions, anyone should be able to overcome the first quest with some trial and error. The skilled among us will gather all the triforce pieces in a matter of hours, but that feeling of traversing the unknown may allow newcomers to get the most out of it - even if some stuff is too vague for its own good.
The soundtrack and visuals are as memorable as they were back in the day. Evidently it’s not the most attractive game in the world 25 years after its release, but it doesn’t need to be when every aspect is aesthetically presentable. The soundtrack is barebones, but the dungeon and overworld theme are solid enough to warrant keeping the sound on.
The Legend of Zelda holds up rather nicely for those who already know the ins and outs of its world, but it could be daunting for new adventurers. If you’ve got a walkthrough handy for some of the more devious portions, it’s worth checking out, despite its age.