The Ice Palace is easily my favorite dungeon. Flocks of man-eating penguins line the walls. When Link enters a room, they run and toboggan toward him, their beaks yawning. At the same time, ice spirits come flailing out of the other walls like stunt men afire. The iced-over floors makes dodging a slippery giddy panic, and at times it looks a little like an episode of Benny Hill.
I’ve been playing long enough that all my instincts for solving Zelda puzzles have reactivated. Show me a configuration of blocks on the floor, a statue, two switches, and four torches, and the whole solution flashes in my mind like the crime footage in CSI. I pass effortlessly through locked doors, and descend to the depths of the Ice Palace where I pincushion the boss — a trio of floating eyes named Kholdstare — with arrows.
After the jump, I can’t stop now.
Have you ever been reading a book late at night, and realized that finishing it will keep you up till dawn? And you kept reading anyway? That’s what’s happening here. I leave the Ice Palace and wade into Misery Mire. Inside is a green maze of rooms. There are some snakes that somehow set bombs without the benefit of limbs, and at the end, another eyeball boss, this time a cluster of them quivering in goo like frog eggs. They come bouncing out and I cut them. (It is pleasing to be playing a game from the 1990s, a time when every boss died in a fireworks display.)
Up next is Turtle Rock, which has a strange set of railroad switch puzzles. Link has to ride a magical platform across an abyss marked by dashed lines which indicate potential paths. This late in the game, it’s an odd change in tempo, but I barrel through anyway. There are more eyes, this time carved into walls. They don’t like stare downs. Whenever Link turns to look at them, they emit deadly lasers. I win my Mirror Shield from the boss, a stone hydra called, weirdly, Trinexx. Perhaps it moonlights as an exotic dancer?
The final dungeon, the Tower of Hera, is just a few screens west of Turtle Rock. I climb the seven floors of the tower and do battle with the dark wizard Aganhim. In fine Zelda tradition, he pitches fireballs and I send them back at his head until he crumples. A huge bat rises from the corpse, careers wildly about the aerie, and swoops out the window. I give chase with my fast-travel duck, following the bat all the way to Ganon’s ziggurat stronghold. The absurdity of that last sentence doesn’t even bother me. When that duck carries Link off, I am completely psyched. The final battle is here. I pause for a moment atop the ziggurat, in front of a suitably apocalyptic sunset.
Then Link drops into the Ganon-shaped hole and fights him. It’s a tricky battle, but after enough silver arrows, Ganon goes down and large inner doors swing open. A white light pours across the threshold. Link approaches.
This is an odd feeling. Not just because I beat a Zelda game for the first time, fifteen years after I began playing them, but because I beat so few games. I’ve played them all my life and so many princesses and worlds have been left to their fates. I think the last game I beat was Braid, in 2008. I watch, curious to see how Link to the Past will conclude. Turns out it steals its coda from Animal House. The camera swoops over the restored kingdom as titles explain how all is again well: “The Return of the King,” “Your Uncle Recovers,” etc. Twin lumberjacks grin and wave at me. The dwarves at the smithy bow. “Flippers for Sale,” reads one, as the King of the Zoras mugs. And then, weirdly, there’s a great title for a metal album:
True enough. The credits roll, and there it is: The End.
Nostalgia is a good experience wrapped up in a lot of time, kind of like a pearl, with that one instigating grain now just a tiny fraction of the overall mass. Testing your nostalgia is about as smart as taking a hammer to a pearl to find that original piece of grit. But Link to the Past, even with its occasional irrationalities and frustrations, is a great game, and I’m glad I finally beat it. The game’s final image is of the Master Sword, resting in its stone, “FOREVER.”
That feels right. Much as I enjoyed this experience, it confirmed for me that I’m not a gamer anymore, and that I’m ready to retire. At least until The Skyward Sword releases.
Click here for the previous Link to the Past entry.
Erik Germani is 23 and has a pretty sparse CV. You may recognize him from such pieces as the one you just read.