What makes a perfect game? Is it an interesting story made unobtrusive by motivating gameplay? Or is it when the graphics and the sound design meld together to bring both a stunning visual and aural presentation? I believe all of these traits make the perfect video game, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the Super NES is an example of such a title.
It's a dark and stormy night in Hyrule. Link recieves a startling message from Princess Zelda via telepathy, urging him to come to the castle and save her from the evil wizard Agahnim. Before leaving his house into a whirlwind adventure, his uncle leaves with sword and shield in hand, ordering him to stay home until morning.
Link disobeys, but under good intention to save the princess. Arriving at the castle, he finds his mortally wounded uncle. Spurred on by his words to save the princess, Linl succeeds and learns of Agahnim's true plot of tracking down the descendants of the seven wise men from the legends of old, this lineage including Zelda. His ways paved with malicious intent, Agahnim simply must be stopped at all costs. Link is now tasked with finding the legendary Master Sword, the Blade of Evil's Bane, and free the land from Agahnim's grip.
But not all is as it seems, for in his adventures, Link stumbles into the shadowy Dark World. Once the land where the fabled Golden Power lay hidden, it has been corrupted by the intentions of the evil Ganon, bent on merging both the Dark World and Light World together. The fate of both worlds fall squarely on the shoulders of Link.
The story is one of the most interesting tales in the Zelda lore, simply because many important set pieces in the series, such as the Master Sword, seven sagely beings and even the mention of Hylians (referred to as the Hylia here), all find their origins traced to this game. Despite that, there are many times in the story that you simply feel like you're working against insurmountable odds, accomplishing impossible feats not meant to be completed. It's a wondrous feeling to foray into the Lost Woods and finally claim that Master Sword, wether it's on your very first playthrough of the game or your tenth playthrough.
This feeling of immersion is only made possible through it's top-down gameplay, a structure hearkening back to The Legend of Zelda for the NES. Gameplay remains largely the same as its predecessor; you trek across the land of Hyrule, using a variety of weapons and tools, such as bombs, bows and arrows, boomerangs, etc., to lay low your foes and brave the dungeons scattered across the world. ALttP, however, builds upon the basic mechanics of its predecessor. The controls are one big step forward, as Link's movements feel more flexible and easier to handle. The magic meter is a semi-new addition, no doubt a reimagining of the magic system from Zelda II; while you lack the expanse of spells from that title, weapons like the Fire Rod, Ice Rod, Magic Cape, which utilize the magic meter, trade quantity for quality. An overworld map has been added as well, leaving behind LoZ's ambiguous overworld for one players can feel familiar with.
The biggest addition the the gameplay is the parallel worlds to travel through. The Dark World can be traversed via special portals scattered through the Light World, aka Hyrule, and as you adventure through the Dark World, you'll gain new weapons and abilities to advance through the Light World. The symbiotic nature of these worlds help the overworld feel much bigger than it seems, and is a welcome addition that the series has utilized many times over since.
The graphics are, bar none, some of the best the Super NES has to offer. While the perspective is top-down, it also presents what's known as the 3/4 perspective, making enemies, locations, and other 2D graphics stand out a bit clearer than how things were presented in ALttP's predecessors. The graphics also present quite a bit of atmosphere; at the beginning of the game, for example, you exit your house into a dark, rainy Hyrule, complete with flash of white for lightning and droplets of rain falling from the sky. Some caves and corridors are pitch black, a cone of light your only help to see until you light braziers with your lantern.
And yet the graphical design and atmosphere it brings are nothing without its excellent sound design. The soundtrack is another groundbreaking success. The leitmotifs for Princess Zelda and Agahnim both are reused countless times throughout the series, the Overworld theme from the NES original is revived with a powerful sound, and the theme for the dungeons and caves highlight the perils and pitfalls of adventuring; and those are just an idea of what to expect of the tracks the game offers. The sound effects are satisfying as well; clash swords with an enemy soldier, and you'll hear them clink together. Shooting arrows leave the bow with a whizz through the air and if they hit a wall they stick with a thump. Again, a small idea of the sound effects, but the attempt for realistic sounds for these situations pay off.
A Link to the Past is nothing short of a masterpiece, a title from which many subsequent Zelda titles find inspiration from. And yet for as often as the formula gets reused, A Link to the Past offers a timeless experience again and again. There is no better title, in my mind, that deserves the distinguished honor of perfection.