The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is the 17th Zelda game and the first original Zelda game on 3DS. It was released on November 22, 2013. The same days as Super Mario 3D World on Wii U. It was a glorious day for Nintendo fans. The game is a combination of 2 ideas, one was a concept for a Zelda game in which Link could merge into walls, and the other was a request from Miyamoto to Aonuma to make a Zelda game like A Link to the Past in stereoscopic 3D. Development on the game started shortly after Spirit Tracks on DS was completed in late 2009, but the team working on it was pulled away to work on Skyward Sword, and then on Wii U launch games, so it took around 4 years to get the game done. Luckily, we had Ocarina of Time 3D to play on 3DS while we waited for it.
A Link Between Worlds is sort of a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the SNES. It’s actually called Triforce of the Gods 2 in Japan, which was the name of LttP there. It takes place in the same Hyrule as LttP, but with a new Link, and many years after LttP, the Oracle games, and Link’s Awakening. It’s not clear exactly how long after, but some characters from LttP are still alive in LBW. Even though it takes place in the same Hyrule, the story doesn’t have much to do with A Link to the Past’s.
A Link Between Worlds’ story revolves around Lorule and a few of its inhabitants who have crossed over into Hyrule. One of these characters is the main villain of the game, Yuga, an artistic wizard who is capturing the Seven Sages inside paintings, to resurrect Ganon once again. Lorule is basically an alternate universe version of Hyrule, like Earth 2. Lorule looks a lot like the Dark World from LttP, but it is not actually the same place. LttP’s Dark World is Hyrule’s Sacred Realm after it was corrupted by Ganondorf when he invaded it and got the Triforce of Power in Ocarina of Time. Lorule was corrupted in another way, which is explained in LBW.
LBW looks like LttP, but it is not a remake or reimagining. It does use a very similar overworld map, and there are a lot of things that play with your expectations if you’ve played LttP, but it’s a very different game. LttP’s map is used more as a loose guideline than a mold they fit a new game into. There are secrets to uncover in both new and old places, and most area layouts are very different. For example, the desert area was pretty empty in LttP, but it’s a big obstacle course full of wall merging and Sand Rod puzzles in LBW. All the dungeons are completely different too, even though they have similar themes.
Before the release of LBW, there was a lot of talk about breaking Zelda conventions from Aonuma. This game does a few things differently, but it’s not exactly Breath of the Wild. This game feels closer to the old formula than BotW. The big changes to the LttP structure are the dungeon order and the way you acquire items. You don’t find items in dungeons, like in previous Zelda games, you rent items from a character named Ravio instead. Ravio is a character from Lorule who is crashing at Link’s house, and later turns Link’s house into an item rental shop. You can rent items for a low price, but they’re repossessed by Ravio’s pet, Sheerow, if you die. You can buy items from Ravio for a much higher price later on in the game, which lets you keep them even if you die. There are still a few items you get by exploring and doing quests for NPCs around the overworld, like bottles, the Zora Flippers, and the Pegasus Boots.
Since you no longer need to find a specific item within a dungeon to complete a dungeon, you’re free to go wherever your items can take you. The only dungeons you have to do in order are the first and last ones. Much like in LttP; though, there are only 3 dungeons in Hyrule, so you have to do those before you can move the story forward and go to Lorule, where the rest of the dungeons are. This feels like a good balance between the story driven structure of LttP and the freedom of BotW.
This game’s big new mechanic is the wall merging. Thanks to a special bracelet, and Yuga’s magic, Link gains the power to merge into walls by turning into a mural, which looks a lot like the murals of Ocarina of Time Link in Wind Waker’s intro. While in a wall, Link can move left and right, but he can’t use items or attack. Moving across walls is mostly used to cross over areas with no floors or platforms. It kind of takes the place of jumping. It’s also used to move things which might be stuck to or resting against a wall, and to go into cracks which allow you to travel between Hyrule and Lorule. Wall merging makes you think about 2D Zelda from a 3D perspective. Things can be hidden in places that are not visible from a top down view, and you can slide through small openings and behind objects. It’s not quite Paper Mario, but it’s similar. It’s a very interesting new way to think about a 2D Zelda world.
Another smaller change is the energy system. It’s a lot like the one used for sprinting in Skyward Sword, but this time, it’s used for nearly everything. Most items, and the wall merging mechanic, use energy as their resource. The only items that don’t use energy are things like the bug net, and equippable gear, like the Pegasus boots. There are no bomb or arrow limits, so you never have to worry about restocking your supply. The energy system does kind of feel like a cooldown timer sometimes, though.
A Link Between Worlds is technically impressive. It runs at 60 frames per second (most of the time) with 3D on or off. Something not a lot of 3DS games can do. It looks great with 3D on too. It also has great character and enemy designs, which look like a cross between LttP’s in-game graphics and art from the first NES Zelda’s manual. I think a lot of the textures and colors are kind of bad, though. Less would have been more here, I think. Even in the SNES days, LttP was not a technical marvel, but it still looks good today, because, like Wind Waker, it used simple colors and outlines, which made it look like a cartoon. LBW doesn’t do either of those things, so it looks like some kind of “New” Legend of Zelda sometimes.
This game’s graphics won’t age well, but I think it will be remembered as one of the best 2D Zelda games. It think it strikes a great balance between the old LttP style and the new open world style of Breath of the Wild. I also love how the wall merging mechanic makes you think about 2D Zelda from a 3D perspective. I really like this game’s story and characters too. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Ravio and Hilda.