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The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Graphic Novel) Review

Manga and Anime

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Graphic Novel) Review

Ocarina of Time may get all the glory, but I’d wager that A Link to the Past, the Zelda series’ sole Super Nintendo entry released in 1991, is one of the most important in the series. Zelda and Zelda II for the NES were of course important in their own right, but aLttP is the first game that felt like it had a strong enough narrative that it really immersed you into the adventure.

Because of this, I was really excited to take a look at Shotaro Ishinomori’s beloved graphic novel based on the game, back in print for the first time in years. The story captivated me as a seven year old slicing and dicing my way through dungeons in the Light and Dark Worlds in the early 90s, but a graphic novel is a whole other ballgame. Let’s take a look.


The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Viz Media)


The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Graphic Novel) Review
TM & © 2015 Nintendo. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: A LINK TO THE PAST © 1993 ISHIMORI PRO/SHOGAKUKAN
The book itself does note that there are differences between the story in the game and in the book, but going by my memory of playing through the game almost 20 years ago, I didn’t notice any huge deviations. Sure, there are some flourishes and side quests to keep the reader engaged–it can be hard to translate story elements that work in games, such as ‘go to this dungeon and collect this piece, rinse and repeat eight times,’ directly to a story and still have it grab your attention–but largely the story remains unchanged. This is actually kind of surprising in parts, as you do get a fair amount of game-like story tropes in the book. Not to say that’s a bad thing; I actually appreciate the fact that it largely stayed true to the source material, but some of it can be less than thrilling.

For the uninitiated, A Link to the Past follows Link after he has a premonition of sorts where the Princess Zelda needs his help. She’s been locked away inside Hyrule Castle and for reasons unbeknownst to him at the time, Link is the only one who can save her. After this vision, wouldn’t you know it, Link’s uncle (and housemate/presumably caretaker) is ready for battle. Link follows his uncle into the castle against his wishes and sees him get badly hurt. Link takes up the cause in his stead, finds Zelda, and she ports them both out into a sanctuary (which begs the question of why she couldn’t just teleport herself out to begin with, but alas).

It’s in this sanctuary that Link learns of Agahnim, an evil wizard who has taken the throne of Hyrule for himself who has plans to break a sacred seal put in place hundreds of years ago by Ganon to twist the Scared Realm into the Dark World using the power of the Triforce. Yadda yadda yadda, Link needs the Triforce, but first he needs three pendants to prove he’s worthy, but first he needs to find the Master Sword. He gets in touch with Sahasrahla (or He Who Shall Not Be Spelled Correctly On The First Try), who becomes Link’s mentor on the journey.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Graphic Novel) Review
TM & © 2015 Nintendo. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: A LINK TO THE PAST © 1993 ISHIMORI PRO/SHOGAKUKAN
It’s kind of standard fare Zelda storyline nowadays, but this was a sprawling narrative in 1991. It translates very well to the page, too. In the games, Link is supposed to be an extension of the player, and as such does not show much emotion of his own, and he’s completely mute. In the book, we can get a feeling for his actual personality, which is in pretty sharp contrast to the stoic warrior the games tend to paint Link as. He’s brave, somewhat clumsy, somewhat unsure of himself, but trustworthy and will rest at nothing to complete his mission.

It’s interesting. You’d think there would be nothing more immersive than playing through a story in a video game since, y’know, you’re in it, but there are distinct advantages to the comic/manga format here that a video games (especially a 16 bit one) just can’t compete with. The story definitely feels more fleshed out and cohesive in this format, so don’t worry about not being able to be sucked in; you will be. I mentioned above that the story is largely unchanged; there are some liberties taken that I won’t go into here, but nothing that I felt went against the spirit of the original story or dramatically affected my experience for the worse.

This portrayal of Link is of course helped in large part by the artwork, which depict a wide range of emotions you won’t find in any Zelda game. I wouldn’t necessarily say the art style is my usually cup of tea, but considering the subject material, it works flawlessly. It captures the youthful exuberance of Link, while still maintaining seriousness during the grittier part of the narrative. Some scenes are a little less detailed than I’d personally like, but it’s an artistic choice rather than a shortcoming, and like I said, more often than not it works.

Conclusion

If you’re a longtime fan of the series, Ishinomori’s A Link to the Past is a no-brainer. Reading this brought me back to those lazy Saturday afternoons of my childhood, exploring every inch of Hyrule and trying my best to save the Princess. The story is fleshed out in the new format and while it’s a breeze to read through, it’s a lot of fun. Plus, the artwork, while maybe not everyone’s style, is top notch and this book will look great on your shelf right next to Hyrule Historia. And if you’re new to Zelda (where have YOU been?) and are just looking for a fun, adventurous light read, this will still be right up your alley.

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