A Link to the Past is actually the third in the Zelda series (or fourth, if you count the Game & Watch title) but it is the first one to give the series the shape which it would retain to this day. You could almost look at this as a template for later Zelda games.
The game starts with Link’s uncle leaving the house to go and rescue Zelda, who is being held in Hyrule Castle by the mysterious wizard named Agahnim. He insists Link stays behind, but obviously that doesn’t happen and Link follows after just a little later. He finds his uncle wounded, takes his sword and goes on to finish the quest himself. Sadly, things aren’t so easy and he soon discovers that he has to travel across Hyrule in order to collect the three pendants of courage so that he can defeat the evil wizard.
After the opening sequence of events, you are pretty free to explore the large world of Hyrule as you please. You can visit Kakariko Village where there are lots of people to speak to and games to play, or you can go out and explore the forests and the fields, finding secret houses and caves where you’ll get little things that may help you along with the quest. The map shows you were you need to go, but not what you need to do there, so it’s all fairly nice and open. You can be quite rigid and go straight to the marks on the map and figure out how to get into the dungeons or you can take your time and explore every corner of the world.
One downside is the difficulty: I found that the majority of the game to be a little too easy. Pretty much all of the first dungeons in the game could be completed in a single sitting, but then the last two were incredibly difficult. I’d actually go so far as to say that I didn’t especially enjoy any of the dungeons in this game that much and that the main appeal for me, was the bits in-between (the bosses are good too). I also found that, at times, supplies could be annoyingly sparse. If I ran out of magic, it might take ages to replenish it. The same is true of arrows. This provides you with what I think is a case of unfair difficulty which is just irritating more than anything.
Thankfully, this still manages to be a very good game. The sound track is wonderfully atmospheric and gives the whole thing a lovely tone and I find the 16-bit graphics quite charming. Lots of important things like the hook shot and ocarina are introduced in this game too so I’d suggest that anybody who likes The Legend of Zelda series should give this a try.