If its not the best video game of all time its one of the best. For the time frame the Legend of Zelda was heads and shoulders above most other games in the genre. Set the scene: the 16-bit Super NS was a huge hit and represented a big step forward from the previous 8-bit system which was a monster hit. Zelda's I and II where good and very involved for the time.
Some people pan Zelda as its a flagship game for the Wii and we all know that anything Wii related is bad right (insert sarcasm here). Those people are fools. Zelda is a very successful franchise and specfically A Link to the Past is rated as one of the greatest video games of all time. (This is but one platitude, there are many, many more out on the web).
The think that was most striking the first time we played it, it was a night fairly dark and my buddies and I fired up the game and we here this muted sound of rain? Was it raining outside, was the TV burning out? As an aside I did burn out one TV playing my Atari 2600 back in the day). We check the TV. Nothing. So we keep playing and low and behold, ITS RAINING!!!!!!
I can't understate just how cool this was. There was thunder and lightning; when Link tramped through puddles it splashed. I think that was one of the big advances was the sound. You can tell the designers of the game put a lot of thought into this.
Questing for hearts and pieces of hearts was also fun to try and get all 20. This was before the advent of the internet so you couldn't just go on line or grab a game book that detailed everything in it to figure out where everything was. And if I recall correctly A Link to the Past was the first time that it introduced pieces of hearts to collect. You had to explore on your own. Which leads to another awesome idea that was finding the bottles. I remember distinctly after grabbing the Zora's flippers swimming through the rivers and heading up to the castle. A certain friend of mine was getting rather annoyed about me "wasting time". Low and behold I swim to the bridge and what do I find? The third bottle! Needless to say I had a smug, "ship" eating grin on my face, much to his consternation.
A great thing that the game introduced was the upgrade path for the main weapon, the master sword and if you had full hearts the fact that you could zap enemies from afar. Likewise the gloves, shields, boomerang, bows and armor could be improved. This would set the standard for it upgrades. What else was there? A hammer, bug, nets, shovel, flippers, flying duck to zip you around the board, the boomerang, etc! Bombing walls, hacking bushes, the heights of Death Mountain, the shadowy grove of the forests. Fighting troopers and poes, tektites and zoras, moblins and keese. Multiple palaces to explorer, multiple towers?
In short, pure awesomeness!
For those not in the know, (and I'm not worrying about spilling the beans on a game from the early 90s) the cool thing about the game is the interplay between the Light World and the Dark World. link has a ton to explore before even getting to the dark world. By carefully placing certain barriers that require certain items to unlock the area Link is largely confined to certain areas. The cool part is the player has to use both the Light and Dark worlds to get to certain areas. Some might feel that in hindsight its rail roading" of the highest order but in terms of game-play its actually fairly open, certainly for the time.
A Link to the Past had another great touch that made it memorable. the ending video scene after defeating Gannon:
Everything is put back where it should be, from Link's uncle recovering to the thief in the forest looking very putt off by Link's triumph.
Like an idiot I sold my Super NES a long time ago and got a replacement combo 8 bit/16 bit system for it some years back. One of the first games I reacquired was this. And playing through it again roughly twenty years after the fact, it was still a good game, it still played well and brought a smile to my face.
In my estimation this game is a 10 out of 10. Its pitch perfect. Now I know many will say that Ocarina of Time is better in the Zelda franchise, I won't argue I think the Ocarina is rightly on that list as well. In my mind you could say Ocarina of Time and Link to the Past are 1A and 1B and a case can be made for switching that. In a random note for Super NES the only other game that came close to me liking it as much as Zelda was Final Fantasy I (Or III in Japan) with Illusion of Gaia a far distant third.
And another game that is creeping up my list? Skyrim ;)