CLASSIC GAME REVIEW: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Title: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Nov. 22, 2013 (North America and Europe); Nov. 23, 2013 (Australia); Dec. 26, 2013 (Japan)
Available on: Nintendo 3DS
Reviewed on: Nintendo 3DS

The Legend of Zelda has seen a transformation of sorts since arriving on the Nintendo Switch, but an often forgotten period in the franchise’s history is the games that led to that shift.

A Link Between Worlds sits firmly in that category as you can see the game’s fingerprints all over newcomers like Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom. And yet, this top-down entry still clings to the previous format of dungeon-focused gameplay.

Playing A Link Between Worlds in recent times provides a unique look at the franchise because I could see what it was building toward, a luxury those who originally played it in 2013 did not enjoy.

That’s not to say you couldn’t enjoy it a decade ago. Rather, it’s an interesting snapshot of the though process behind where the franchise is at now.

Warning: This review may contain light spoilers.

  1. Synopsis
  2. Gameplay
  3. Analysis
    1. Looking Forward
    2. Item Collecting and Nostalgia
    3. Dungeons
    4. Characters
    5. Playing This Game Today
  4. Final Score
Image Credit: Nintendo (via CGMagazine)

Synopsis: Can’t Mess With Perfection

A Link Between Worlds is a spiritual successor to A Link to the Past, playing on largely the same map as the 1991 game.

In this game, Link is the apprentice of a blacksmith who sets out to deliver a sword to a captain at Hyrule Castle. While on this errand, he encounters Yuga, who turns Seres, one of the descendants of the Seven Sages into a painting. Link attempts to fight Yuga and loses.

After the defeat, a merchant named Ravio, a hooded individual who wears purple and a rabbit hood, offers to help Link by giving him a bracelet and allowing him to use his items.

Link then heads to Hyrule Castle to report his encounter to Princess Zelda. She, in turn, tells Link of the three pendants that allowed the owner to wield the Master Sword. She gives Link one of the pendants and he sets out to the find the rest so he can wield the Master Sword.

After another encounter with Yuga, Link discovers he can merge with walls thanks to Ravio’s bracelet. He uses this power to find the other pendants and pull the Master Sword.

He returns to Hyrule Castle only to find Yuga capturing Zelda in a painting. Yuga flees through a dimensional crack in the wall and Link follows him to Lorule.

In Lorule, which is the same as the Dark World from A Link to the Past, Yuga resurrects Ganon and merges with him. Lorule’s Princess Hilda offers her help to Link as he sets out to find the Seven Sages spread across the dark world.

Lorule is fractured and throughout Link’s journey. Hilda laments the fate of her world because of the loss of this world’s Triforce while praising Link for his courage.

Once all sages are rescued, Link returns to Lorule Castle with the Triforce of Courage only to have Hilda make a shocking decision. After defeating the final boss, Ravio reveals his true identity.

In the end, all is saved and both Hyrule and Lorule enjoy a happy ending/

Image Credit: Nintendo (via GameSpot)

Gameplay: Puzzle Dungeon Crawling Meets Open World

A Link Between Worlds employs your typical The Legend of Zelda mechanics. You collect items so you can advance through various puzzle-filled dungeons. Combat is standard action-based melee with a sword and a shield.

What makes this game unique from other Zelda titles is you have the option to buy your items rather than earn them through dungeons.

Fairly early in the game, Ravio sets up shop in your house. His way of helping you on your adventure is he will rent his equipment to you, eventually letting you purchase them. These items include the hookshot, bow and arrow, fire and ice rods, sand rod, boomerang, and other standard weapons.

Renting is much cheaper but it comes with a catch. If you hit a “game over” at any point during the game, Ravio will collect all rented items from you. This means, if you game over in the middle of a dungeon, you have to go back to Ravio and rent them again.

Of course, you can remedy this by purchasing each item but they start at 800 rupees a piece with several coming in at 1,200. The plus side to this is this game is similar to New Super Mario Bros. 2 where there is no shortage of money. It just takes a little time.

Another unique feature of this game is it is largely open-world. Yes, there’s a linear story, but the game doesn’t shoehorn you through a set order of the dungeons.

There was some freedom with A Link to the Past, but there were also qualifiers to certain dungeons so you at least had to beat some in a certain order.

A Link Between Worlds largely allows for you to choose the order of both the Hyrule and Lorule dungeons. There is one Lorule dungeon that requires a certain item, which you can unlock from another dungeon. Other than that, the order is up to you.

Image Credit: Nintendo (via IGN)

Analysis: The End of an Era

A Link Between Worlds really did mark the end of an era as it was the last new dungeon-based game and second-to-last top-down title in the Zelda franchise.

There was so much that made this game fantastic and you didn’t need nostalgia to fully enjoy it. Athough, the nostalgia for A Link to the Past never hurt either.

Another Step to the Future

As I mentioned earlier, A Link Between Worlds continues a trend that lasted into Breath of the Wild and beyond. Zelda games can get criticism for being too linear, but this game, for me, strikes the perfect balance.

There are just enough guardrails to keep you in place but just enough freedom that you don’t feel shackled to gameplay. Both kingdoms are open to explore and you can transition between the two seamlessly thanks to the various dimensional cracks.

This was innovative at the time as the Zelda game to release prior to this one was Skyward Sword in 2011. Similar to that game, you can see the seeds of Breath of the Wild and beyond in A Link Between Worlds.

Breath of the World doesn’t kneecap you to do the Divine Beasts in any particular order. Nintendo appears to have set this forth in A Link Between Worlds, building on previous mechanics while keeping an eye to the future.

Image Credit: Nintendo (via Gamer Guides)

A Unique Approach to Item Collecting and Nostalgia

The option to pick up any item you want, for a price, is also unique. Previous games had you using an item you found in any given dungeon. This game has you visiting the dungeon to determine what item you might need.

Of course, you could buy or rent them all to ensure what you had but this could be tough if you were strapped for rupees. It added a cool layer of puzzle-solving to an already unique adventure.

And yet the bones of previous top-down adventures is still here. Fans of A Link to the Past will feel right at home as the game lavishes in its nostalgia for the 1991 classic. That nostalgia, however, is not a detriment.

I don’t have the nostalgia that many had with A Link to the Past and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I picked up on the references and Easter eggs but even if I didn’t, I don’t think I’d feel like I was missing anything.

Nintendo really did a great job at striking a balance between long-time fans and newcomers.

Dungeon Crawling at its Finest

And that brings us to the dungeons themselves.

Whenever I think of memorable Zelda dungeons, the top-down games don’t often come to mind. That all changed with A Link Between Worlds.

The Lorule dungeons are some of the finest in all Zelda games. Nintendo really took the wall-merging mechanic and used it to its fullest. This led to some memorable dungeons.

One of my favorite was the Skull Woods Dungeon, which utilized darkness in its puzzle-solving. Aside from its gimmick, this dungeon had some challenging puzzles that felt so satisfying once you figured it out.

This is common thread throughout the game as many of the other dungeons are equally as satisfying. I haven’t had this much satisfaction in solving a Zelda puzzle in quite some time and that includes anything Breath of the Wild or Tears of the Kingdom has thrown at me.

Image Credit: Nintendo (via NoobFeed)

A Memorable Cast of Characters

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how great the characters were in this game. I’ll admit that some of the non-playable characters were forgettable but the main ones were absolute gems.

Ravio quickly became one of my favorite Zelda characters because he’s not what he seems. His whole arc is fascinating and it’s absolutely not what you expect.

Princess Hilda is another complicated character. Her final swerve really caught me off guard but it was understandable. Zelda games can do a great job at helping you understand the burden of leadership and that is on full display with Hilda.

And let’s not forget the entire Lorule kingdom. The game introduced such interesting lore that I hope we explore it someday. We know how intertwined the lives of Link, Zelda, and Ganon are but this game just scratched the surface of what goes down in Lorule.

Playing This Game Today

Since this is a retro review, it’s important to look at the game’s age and how it stands up.

For one, the most recent top-down Zelda game was the remake of Link’s Awakening in 2019. Since 2013, we’ve only seen a few top-down games with 2015’s Tri Force Heroes being the only other one.

The point is this is a less-used style in the Zelda franchise and may seem foreign to some who joined the franchise with Breath of the Wild.

The game also doesn’t hold your hand. There are some hints in these dungeon, but you’ll need to pay attention to catch them.

That said, this game won’t feel like a trip back to the ’90s. It has a good mix of what made Zelda games great during the early years while bottling it with some fantastic modern gameplay.

To me, A Link Between Worlds never felt old. Yes, a decade isn’t old but to some, it might be, especially if you’re younger.

Still, I have played games from over 10 years ago and they sometimes do feel dated, but A Link Between Worlds doesn’t ever show its age, at least at this point.

I hope this type of gameplay and style serves as a template for any future top-down Zelda games, which many would love to see in the near future.

Image Credit: Nintendo (via Goomba Stomp Magazine)

Final Score (4.5 out of 5 Stars)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A Link Between Worlds is a fantastic entry in The Legend of Zelda franchise. It is such a fun playthrough and it is a great blend of the old and the new within the franchise.

A key reason I didn’t give this game a perfect score was I wasn’t completely sold on the buying items mechanic. I love finding items as I go and this mechanic did feel like it was cheapening that a little bit.

That’s not to say this game is, in anyway, ruined because of it. A Link Between Worlds was a phenomenal and memorable adventure that just didn’t hit my lofty perfection mark, which is insanely high.

That said, this game is an easy recommendation to any Zelda fans, especially those longing for the more dungeon-based games or want the top-down perspective.

It does so much right that you have to wonder why we haven’t returned to this format. There’s definitely an appetite for it so I would love to see more games in this format.

Even if we don’t, it’s so easy to pick this one up (if you can find it) and play, despite its age.

It’s a great way to see why so many clamor for the dungeon-based gameplay that made Zelda famous in the first place.

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