The Memory Card .36: The Master Sword

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Regardless of the power of the console or the quality of the graphics and sound, some videogame moments offer visual moments so affecting that you will never forget them for the rest of your life. And, honestly, sometimes it is hard to pinpoint why these beautiful sequences are even so memorable. Is it the choice of color? The music playing in the background? The composition of everything on the screen?

Like your favorite painting hanging in a gallery, sometimes true art needs no explanation. There is just something about it that affects you in a pleasant, unspecified way.

A perfect example of one of these stunning visual sequences occurs in one of the best videogames ever made, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Out of all the amazingly memorable moments throughout the Super Nintendo masterpiece, one stands out as being perfect … in ways I don’t even know I can describe.

Treat your eyes (and ears) to what I think of as absolute videogame perfection.

The Set-Up

I would never yell at anyone, but if you haven’t played The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past you really need to stop reading this right now, grab a Super Nintendo with a copy of the game (or a Wii with a Virtual Console connection) and GET TO PLAYING! The game is really that good and should be a prerequisite for any serious gamer.

In A Link to the Past – just like in all Zelda games – you play as Link, the boyish hero clad in a green tunic. At the very start of the game, Link is awakened by the sound of a woman’s voice calling out to him for rescue. Confused, Link gets up and sets off on his grand adventure, determined to help the mysterious damsel in distress.

The woman, it turns out, is Princess Zelda (natch!). She is being held prisoner in her own castle by the evil wizard Agahnim.

After freeing Zelda from the Hyrule castle dungeon, Link escapes with her through some underground sewers to a nearby sanctuary. It is here where Link learns of Agahnim’s evil plan: The devious wizard is planning on breaking the seal made hundreds of years ago by the seven wise men, obtaining the mystical Triforce, and taking over the world! Oh, drat.

Link also learns that the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Agahnim is the Master Sword.

With this knowledge in hand, Link heads off to meet Sahasrahla, one of the descendents of the seven wise men. The old man informs Link that only after collecting three magical pendants will he be able to retrieve the Master Sword from its resting place in the Lost Woods.

After fighting through three amazing dungeons, Link collects the three pendants and heads off to his next destination. The next Memory Card moment occurs as Link enters the Lost Woods in his quest for the powerful Master Sword.

The Moment

The Lost Woods in A Link to the Past are not nearly as confusing as the Lost Woods in the original Legend of Zelda for the NES. Instead of having to follow a specific pattern to make it through, players are just required to navigate a fairly simple maze of trees and hollow logs to reach the goal.

After making his way through the dark and misty woods, Link emerges in a small, peaceful clearing.

And this is when things become pretty much perfect.

As Link walks forward a group of cute animals scatters across the screen and into the safe confines of the surrounding trees, almost forming a path and beckoning Link to move ahead. The animals cause no harm and are only there to fill the environment with a sense of mystery.

Once the animals disappear into the foliage, Link sees an ornate stone pedestal before him. Sitting atop this pedestal is the Master Sword, the weapon Link has been searching for this whole time.

Stepping on the pedestal, Link uses an ancient book in his possession to translate the Hylian encryption carved into the pedestal’s smooth stone:

The Hero’s triumph on Cataclysm’s Eve
wins three symbols of virtue
The Master Sword he will then retrieve,
keeping the knight’s line true.

After reading this, Link steps behind the pedestal and grasps the Master Sword in his hand.

Suddenly, the three pendants leave his possession and float high above Link. As this is happening, a white light emits from the sword, gradually growing bigger as the pendants begin to glow and the beautiful music crescendos.

With a smooth pull, Link slides the Master Sword out of the pedestal and holds it above his head.

The screen flashes white.

All of a sudden, silence. The mist that once covered the Lost Woods dissipates, leaving the entire scenery bathed in gorgeous 16-bit colors. The beaming sun seeps its rays through the thick trees. The once creepy Lost Woods are full of life once again.

With the power of the gods in his hands, Link sets off to defeat the evil wizard and save Hyrule. He leaves the Lost Woods as the animals scurry wildly and the shadows of the trees descend upon the lonely stone pedestal.

You can watch the entire scene right here:

The Impact

So why do I love this scene so much (and believe me when I say it: I love this scene)? Let me try to break it down as best I can.

First of all – and I will always say this – I think the graphics on the Super Nintendo (when done right) are the most timeless and gorgeous on any videogame console. As the graphics on the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation 2 slowly age over the years, certain games on the Super Nintendo will always look good. How else to explain why the current Nintendo DS mirrors the graphics on the 15 year old Super Nintendo all the time?

The Master Sword sequence in Link to the Past is the perfect example of this timelessness.

When Link first enters the clearing, the screen is covered in that slightly transparent mist, with bright shapes of light piercing through. When he moves forward, the little graphical details start to present themselves in nice, subtle ways: the amazing sprite work on the animals, the smooth surface of the stone pedestal, the muted color scheme. Even the way the trees border the screen make you feel like you really have discovered some kind of hidden clearing amongst the dense Lost Woods.

I also love how, when Link grabs the Master Sword, the game doesn’t cut away to a separate cutscene. The action just happens. The pendants slowly leave your possession and float into the air. The white light that comes from the sword starts off small and then slowly builds, until the entire screen is covered in nothing but white. The visual cues give the player the satisfaction of finding an incredibly important treasure. The designers could have easily just shown Link pick up the sword and walk away. Adding the right amount of graphical “fireworks” helps give the scene its power.

Of course I can’t go any further with my praise without mentioning the absolute perfect use of music throughout the memorable sequence. From the playful theme of the Lost Woods to the triumphant, swelling chords after grabbing the Master Sword, the music is masterful. Watch the video again. Do you notice how the music and the flashes of white light are timed together near the end? Brilliant!

And to top it all off, I love the way everything (the music, the graphics) builds up to the mist clearing away and the Lost Woods being seen in beautiful, bright colors. Man, just thinking about all of this is giving me nerd chills. I just adore this scene. The colors, the composition, the music, the feel: it all comes together beautifully and is the perfect visual representation of why I love videogame as much as I do.

It may sound horribly cheesy, but when Link pulls out the Master Sword in A Link to the Past all of the wonderful memories of my childhood come rushing back. It may be hard to explain why, but I guess that is what good art does to a person.

The Memory Card Save Files

.01 – .20 (Season 1)
.21: Crono’s final act (Chrono Trigger)
.22: Ganon’s tower (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
.23: It was all a dream? (Super Mario Bros. 2)
.24: The assimilation of Kerrigan (StarCraft)
.25: A McCloud family reunion (Star Fox 64)
.26: The return of Rydia (Final Fantasy IV)
.27: The battle with the Hydra (God of War)
.28: Fight for Marian’s love! (Double Dragon)
.29: The Hunter attacks (Half-Life 2: Episode 2)
.30: The Phantom Train (Final Fantasy VI)
.31: The end of The End (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
.32: In Tentacle We Trust (Day of the Tentacle)
.33: Peach dances with TEC (Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door)
.34: Learning to wall jump (Super Metroid)
.35: A leap of faith (Ico)

Chad Concelmo