My favorite NES title
After having played the dated "A Link to the Past" and the insufferable "Majora's Mask", it is kind of peaceful to go back to basics and enjoy the original Zelda. Simplicity is key and a lot of titles in the 80's stayed simple, but while staying simple, The Legend of Zelda also provided almost unmatched depth.
The part of Hyrule we are allowed to explore is HUGE and filled with interesting locations and secrets that you have to find. It is already rare to see a game that uses a full overworld as opposed to levels, but it is even rarer to see an NES title that does it this well. As you walk around Hyrule, the screens go past you without loading time, if you leave the screen it transitions to the next one just as smoothly as Super Mario Bros.
As mentioned before the Overworld is literally filled with secret areas to be found, some of these are simply filled with some currency, but others can be part of side-quests or reward you with new and interesting items to use in your adventure, I have even seen instances where a secret turned out to be the entrance to one of the key areas.
Just when I got over the initial surprise the Overworld had in store for me, I ran into the first temple/dungeon which introduced me to the actual goal of the game. As Link you are tasked with tracing down a number of hidden temples and obtain the pieces of the Triforce that are hidden within, this Triforce is the key to defeating Ganondorf, a monster that is holding the princess of the kingdom prisoner. These temples are very entertaining because they are all sprawling and full of monsters and best of all, it doesn't take too long to get through them once you went into all the side-paths found all the keys (take note, ALttP).
There is a huge amount of enemies that you can encounter on your travels and most of them require a different approach or weapons to beat. The Darknuts for example require that you stab them from the side or back, but a bomb would be more effective while a standard blob (no idea what they are called) just require a bit of timing when they are stabbed, but a boomerang should not be used against them. Enemies also make frequent reappearances in later dungeons and the bosses are very challenging (plus they turn up again in later dungeons as mini-bosses, just to punish you).
The difficulty curve is really well mapped out, as you progress through the story both your health and items improve, plus there are secret areas where you can upgrade your sword for better models. However at the same time the enemy ranks swell too and not only do they come in higher numbers, but they also start working together to form deadly combinations and some of the later enemies can kick your ass faster than you can run back to the exit.
I have to admit that while A Link to the Past's interaction with characters was absolute crap, here there are barely any characters at all. There are a few people hidden in caves, but they act even more demented (read: out of place) than the ones from Ocarina of Time. I lost count of how many times I walked into a room and some old lady sat there with important information, that she forced me to pay or play a game for. Sorry lady, but a few rupees aren't going to help you much while you are stuck in a cave surrounded by monsters, demanding payment from the only one who is doing something against them.
There is little to no information regarding the location of the temples, I respect the game for been the first ever popular sandbox game, but unless you find a map somewhere in a game store, you are going to have a tough time getting anywhere. The first few temples aren't too bad and just demand a bit of exploration, but later ones will need you to use certain items in very specific locations. There were also annoying locations that refused to let you leave the screen unless you did a very specific cycle of entering and leaving the area without giving you any indication that you are doing it right.
The Bottom Line
The Legend of Zelda's legacy should be enough to tell you that the original was quite a hit, while I prefer Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time, it is still a very decent adventure. While the story is kind of flat and the Overworld might be a little confusing, I feel comforted by the richness of the experience and the enjoyable gameplay that keeps me hooked for hours.
Playing it anno 2011 is limited to the nostalgia-fans and collectors, but if you are interested in gaming history, it is a stop worth taking. Skyward Sword is one the way though, so my advice is to keep your money in your pocket for that first!