This game is the first Zelda game that I ever beat, so it holds just a bit of nostalgia for me. That said, it's still awesome, and I implore anyone who hasn't beaten it yet to go and do so. In it, the pink-haired Link retrieves the Master Sword and saves the seven crystal maidens in order to defeat Agahnim, seal off the Golden Land turned Dark Land to stop its evil from spreading to the normal world, and stop/kill Ganon.
Where do I begin with this game? The items? The overworld(s)? The dungeons? Characters maybe? Yeah, let's start with the NPCs.
This is the first game in the series where every NPC has a story of their own. The kid that gives you his bug net? He's been feeling sick, and he wants someone else to have the joy of using it while he's stuck in bed. The dude under the bridge who gives you a bottle? He sees that Link is having a rough time and wants to help out as best he can. Even the most common enemies in the light world, the knights, are being possessed by Agahnim and are unable to resist the urge to capture or kill Link. Every single character in this game has a purpose, even if they only speak a frame or two of dialogue. This is one of my favorite aspects of any Zelda game, as it creates the world and is the source of all of the charm that the series is known for.
While the characters may be great, no Zelda game is complete without dungeons and the tools used to get through them. A Link to the Past brings in so many items that are still used in today's Zelda games, and some are just absolutely genius. The cane of Somaria, for example, allows Link to create pushable blocks that can hold down buttons in puzzles, or can be picked up, thrown, and detonated in combat. This game also introduces the hookshot, which has appeared in some form or another in almost every game since, and inspired the creation of one of my personal favorite items ever, the double clawshots.
And this brings me to the dungeons. Honestly, If the map system hadn't made a return this time, most dungeons would be unplayable. Especially the Ice Palace, which consists of 8 floors and constantly finds Link traversing between them. Most of the puzzles require you to know what room something is in and the possible entrances to that room. You may be able to see a key from where you are, but the only way to get it is to go through several other rooms and enter a different way.
Combat in the previous two Zelda games consisted mostly of just slashing at everything until it dies, and while you still can do that, there is also a little bit of a puzzle in every fight. The Jellyfish enemies that can be found in many temples, for example, shock your sword and damage you when hit. The first thing you can do is just time your strikes correctly so that you avoid damage, but that is risky and takes time. The safer bet is to shoot them with your bow, but that wastes arrows. The best way is to use your hookshot and just kill them from a distance without having to worry about losing hearts or wasting ammo. This is also implemented in many boss fights, but usually you can only kill each boss one way. It's by finding and exploiting their weaknesses that is the real challenge.
The main gimmick of this game is the light/dark world scenario, effectively doubling the size of the overworld. It was done incredibly well, and it's interesting to see how traversing between the two worlds can get you to areas that were unreachable before. Link's quest in the light world is to retrieve the Master sword, while his quest in the dark world is to save the crystal maidens. This actually serves to emphasize the importance of saving the crystal maidens. The first three dungeons are all fairly easy, and so is getting the master sword. Basically, the first three dungeons are Link's training; they aren't even labeled with level numbers like the other ones are. Only once you get to the dark world and the 4th dungeon do you realize that shit's hit the fan. Not only does the 4th dungeon have the same geographical location as the 1st but in the dark world, the first room is nearly identical. The second room has the same suspended bridges, but instead they are crumbling away. This serves to tell the player that they haven't seen anything like what's coming in the rest of the dark world. After that, all similarities end, and Link is in an entirely new dungeon. In the actual overworld though, there's also a huge contrast. The knights of Hyrule are attacking Link because they are being controlled by Agahnim, and he wants Link dead because he is a threat. In the dark world, nobody has any reason to attack Link. They are attacking him simply because he is there. Link doesn't belong in the dark world, and everything out there is trying to tell him that.
A Link to the Past is a great game altogether. The game is challenging, but you never feel as though you can't do something. That alone is the mark of good game design. There are two worlds that can alone tell a story, and on top of that, there is a great cast of characters, a ton of secrets, and a last boss that's actually an awesome fight this time. Easily takes the top of the list.
1. A Link to the Past
2. The Legend of Zelda
3. Adventure of Link