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Buried in the first Legend of Zelda is a glimpse of Dark Souls

In the first dungeon – deep breath – I find a dark room hidden behind a door that is opened by a switch that is hidden behind a block. Wheels within wheels! And yet, things get stranger still. Inside this dark room that I have just uncovered stands an old man with a message: “The eastmost peninsula is the secret.”

It takes a while to work yourself back into that mindset, into the memory of what games were like in 1986, and of the kinds of demands they typically made of their players. They weren’t, in the main, very much like this. This game, at least, seems to think nothing of drawing you in deep – secrets behind secrets – and then flinging you far out across the huge map. Remember this detail, it seems to be saying. Beyond the immediate intricacy of this dungeon lies the greater intricacy of the world it is set within.

I appreciate it’s a fairly obvious thing to remark upon at this point: that The Legend of Zelda speaks the same language as the current king of the action RPG, Dark Souls. It’s still a bit of a shock to return to the source, however – to head back to 1986, glinting and unnaturally sharp on the screen of a 3DS, and see how much of Dark Souls is waiting for you right at the start of the whole thing. I loaded up the first Legend of Zelda earlier this week to reacquaint myself with the game that’s apparently been a crucial touchstone for the designers working on the latest Zelda, Breath of the Wild. I thought it would be fun to see how forgotten ideas were being brought to life once again in what looks, on the surface, to be the most expansive and forward-thinking Zelda game in an age. Instead, I’ve found myself thinking: this is all so incredibly familiar. I’ve found myself thinking: a lot of this stuff never really got old in the first place.

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