So I just picked the oldest one of the games (called "The Legend of Zelda") and started it (in an NES emulator), but it didn't quite work. I tried different emulators, but there was always something wrong (couldn't select items from the inventory, for example). Also, the game is maybe a bit too simple and small to play it on a computer nowadys (would still be fun to play on some mobile device).
Ocarina of Time
Thus, I looked at another one of the games, called "Ocarina of Time", for Nintendo 64. Sadly I don't own a Nintendo 64 (it's rather old for today, I guess...), so I had to use something else. The game works very well in the "project64" emulator (which I used under wine... so it was quite an emulator stack (yes, wine isn't an emulator, technically speaking, ...)). Only annoyance is that the emulator crashes all the time if you change between fullscreen and windowed mode. But who cares.
|A zombie I just decapitated -- now it's just walking around randomly basing the air, making it easy to kill
Now, about the game... to summarize it in one word, it's awesome. I'd say it's the best video game I ever played (I have to admit I haven't played hundreds of different games, tough). You play a character called Link (yes, you're not Zelda in "Legend of Zelda"; your character is called Link, and Zelda is a princess which is usually in some sort of trouble -- and yes, people get this wrong all the time), in 3rd person perspective.
|The starting area (no, you don't have that much health in the beginning)
You can also switch to a first person perspective while standing, which is also used if you manually aim some weapon (bow, slingshot, ...). Like in most Zelda games, your aim is to find some magical items which, if you posess them all, help you defeating some kind of evil force -- a black magician called Ganondorf, in this case. Each of those items is contained in a Dungeon; to find it, you have to solve the Dungeon's riddles, and fight its boss. To help you in doing this, you find various items throughout the game; unlike common role playing games, there's not hundreds of items which do nothing, but only about a dozen or so with very specific use cases.
|Shooting a spider with autotarget
For example, there's a grappling hook which you can use to reach far away platforms, a bow for shooting switches (oh, and enemies, of course; there's also stuff like fire arrows for lighting torches and stuff), bottles which you can use as containers for potions and other wicked stuff, the Eye of Truth which allows you to see invisible enemies (and platforms!), iron boots which allow you to walk at the bottom of water,
|Walking underwater with the Zora Armour (lets you breathe underwater) and the iron boots
bombs with obvious use cases, a huge iron hammer (yeeha), and, most important, the Ocarina of Time, a magical instrument which has various uses. Unlike common role playing games like Gothic, there's no real item management, tough; you pick up items by walking over them (or finding them in chests, for the more important ones), and there's no way to drop (or otherwise lose) an item. There's also no reason why you'd want to do that, tough. There's three different armours (same protection abilities, but two of them give you special abilities like breathing under water), three different pairs of boots, and three different swords (I never found one of them, tough, but you can see the space in the inventory reserved for it).
|You can play the Ocarina with your keyboard to invoke various effects.
|Using a teleport spell
|Link fighting some... crab, I guess. The yellow arrows mark focused enemies.
|A failed attempt to screenshot the funny backward salto jump
|Fighting a Skeletal Warrior
|Take that, stupid boss
The dungeon bosses kick your ass. I can't remember any of them (well, except for the first one, which is a joke) which I was able to beat on the first try. This is good, because otherwise it would feel to easy. The game is not really pesky with retries, if you die, you can just continue playing (but the battle restarts, of course). You'll also be placed back at the beginning of the current dungeon, which usually also doesn't matter much.
The end boss battle was really great. I won't spoil anything about it here, tough. :)
|One of the many epic cut scenes telling the story -- you can count the polygons by hand if you look closely, but it still looks very good
The game also has a lot of story telling going on, which is mostly done in cutscenes, which are rendered with the game graphics engine (so you have them in your full resolution, yay). Speech is only text dialogs in this game, there's only sound effects like laughs which are inserted at the appropriate places.
I also liked the music in the game very much, it's well-composed and fits the different places nicely. The songs you learn also use the themes from the game music. Cool!
There's only a few minor annoyances with the game, which I want to list here:
- The control -- it's mostly good, but I hate there's no different buttons for "throw item" and "drop item". So if you want to throw a bomb, you have to be running at the moment when you press the drop button. And you always get this wrong. However the amount of places where you have to throw bombs is very limited, so I can live with that. Same goes for "push block" and "climb block". A bit more annoying, but not fault of the game, is the fact that a keyboard does not have an analog controller stick, which makes exact navigation (and aiming weapons at far-away targets!) very difficult at times.
- The save system is okay, but I'd like it if it remembered the area of Hyrule you were in. It's okay to put you back at the beginning of a dungeon when loading a game, in order to prevent save scumming, but there's no point in placing me back to the forest if I saved in the castle. Not that bad, you spend most of your time (I'd say about 4/5) in dungeons, and later in the game you can teleport everywhere.
- Dialogs and cut scenes cannot be cancelled.
But summarized: A somewhat epic game, and really worth the time playing it. The graphics are extremely lowpoly but very well done, the soundtrack is cool, there's various enemies and a cool battle system, awesome boss battles, and interesting riddles. The balancing is, in my opinion, perfect; it's difficult enough to be, well, difficult, but still doable so it doesn't get frustrating. It would be boring if you could beat the end boss at the first try, no? -- So, what else do you want? Go get it *g
Also, don't make the same mistake like me and look up difficult riddles in a guide; I stopped doing this at some point and it's much more fun.
After this, I also played "Majora's Mask", which re-uses the same game engine (and character models, duh) from Ocarina of Time. Still there's some improvements, you character looks more alive and texture resolutions are much better. See this comparision (left is Ocarina of Time, right is Majoras Mask):
|Left: Ocarina of Time; Right: Majora's Mask -- Look at the improved lighting (character hair, ...)
During the game, you find different masks; some of them allow you to transform into different species (namely Zora, Goron, and Deku).
|Playing as a Goron
This adds quite a bit of fun to the game. I especially like the Goron form, which allows you to curl into a ball, rolling over enemies and moving very quickly.
The dominating idea in this game is that the whole game has a three-day time limit (about 1-2 real hours depending on some stuff), after which the world will be destroyed. Using the Song of Time known from the previous game (Majora's Mask is a direct sequel of Ocarina of Time), you can travel back to the beginning of the first day, but all changes done to the world since then will be reset (you only keep items you carry). This means you have to finish each of the dungeons within one of those three-day-periods, then travel back to Day One with the artifact you received. This is not always easy and can be frustrating if you don't make the time limit. Neverthereless, it's exciting to solve riddles under time pressure. I wouldn't want this feature in every game I play, tough.
The dungeons are more complex than the Ocarina of Time ones. There's many fun ideas in there which are hard to describe, just go see yourself (but for example, there's a whole dungeon which you can turn upside-down, and stuff). There's also lots of optional areas and side-quests, which you can do for additional goodies. The overall difficulty is higher than in Ocarina of Time. I think one of the main reasons for this is the Great Fairies; in Ocarina of Time you could find them and they would grant you some nice power (more magic energy, or double your life). In Majora's Mask, you can get similar powerups, but only if you manage to collect all 15 (!) hidden fairies from a dungeon (and hidden means "hidden", as in, "jump up those invisible platforms, then open the invisible chest" or so -- okay, you have an item to see invisible things, but you'd need the idea to use it :)) within the time limit, which is impossible the first time you play the game. Thus, I got none of them :)
This game is definitely not a bad one, but it's not as good as Ocarina of Time. There's quite a few things which are fucked up. One of them is the save system. You can only save in two ways: At fixed points, statues which are placed somewhere in the world -- if you do this, you can only "save and exit" and you can only load the game *once*; or by traveling back in time to Day One, losing all your progress. That does not make any sense. I'm okay with having a "save and quit"-like, system, to actually prevent loading a previous state if you screwed something up (which isn't really possible in Zelda, anyways; you can't really screw up anything). But it does not make sense to chain this "save and quit" feature to certain places. I mean, effectively, it's an advanced "pause" function which allows you to shut down the game. Why can't I use it anywhere? There's no valid reason for that. I mean, effectively, most of the time you don't have *any* way to save your game. And if you just quit, you're back where you last started at Day One. Who designed this? In Ocarina of Time, you could save any time, keeping all your progress and only losing your current location. That was okay. This isn't. My tip is to just use the emulator saves in a fair way (which means, save when you quit playing and load the saved state only *once* if you continue playing -- no going back).
Also, if you travel back in time, why do you lose all your "consumable" items? There's no reason why I can keep my bow, quiver, hookshot, and bomb bag, but not my arrows, bombs, and rupees! That also doesn't have any relevance to the gameplay, it's just annoying to restock all this.
The new soundtracks are cool (some of them are re-used from Ocarina of Time -- I don't mind), but I don't like the new Ocarina songs (those which you can play yourself). Feels like they used all the good ones in the first game and had nothing else left.
So, as a summary, if you liked Ocarina of Time as much as I did and you would have liked to continue playing, this is the right game for you; it has the same kind of awesome atmosphere like Ocarina of time. You'll just have to deal with the flaws it has.