LEGEND OF ZELDA: ANCIENT STONE TABLETS


The third and last Legend of Zelda game for the Satellaview broadcast in April 1997. Unlike what has come before, this plays like a direct sequel to A Link to the Past on the SNES instead of a Master Quest of sorts. Catch me in a certain mood, and I can honestly say that this Super Nintendo classic will top of my all-time favourite game list. In any other mood, it will no doubt feature in the top three. That's how much reverence I give to the game and the series as a whole. Imagine my joy when I found out about an official Nintendo-made sequel. That alone blew my mind, but does the game live up to that?

The story is pretty basic. Six years after the events of A Link to the Past, Princess Zelda has had a vision of a dark shadow looming over one of the temples in Hyrule. Then, the sky burns bright and a beam of light brings your chosen Satallaview avatar to the fantasy land. Are you the prophecised Hero of Light? As it's the beginning of a new game, I think it's probably safe to say yes. It's up to you to find the eight titular Ancient Stone Tablets to learn about this new threat and how to defeat it. It's lucky you're here too, as resident hero Link has gone wondering for a new adventure, presumably Koholint Island of Link's Awakening.

The weather will change at certain times which can prevent you from using some items.

You begin in the elder Sahasrahla's hideout neat the Eastern Palace where his previously unmentioned brother Aginah now resides (Sahasrahla has relocated to Kakariko Village). Along with a fortune teller, he will aid you throughout your playthrough much like the Old Man in the Third and Fourth Quests. Aginah may be a bit condescending when talking about the game mechanics, finishing each sentence with a dry 'do you understand?', but it's the fortune teller that will often affect the gameplay itself. This mysterious robed entity will cast screen-clearing spells, offer infinite items, divine the resting place of a very useful heart piece or unleash other benefits/hindrances. Like the previous Satellaview games, it's a great mechanic that brings with it enough new to a very familiar world. I'd just wish that I'd be luckier when it comes to the screen-clearing spells. I always tend to be in an empty room when they're cast.

The voice over often plays a role in the plotline too. Aginah will tell you about specific events that are currently happening that are often time sensitive. For example, he'll play weatherman by telling you when it's raining outside, a climate that can severely affect some of your items as well as unleash harder enemies on the overworld. In the first episode, he'll also call upon you to rescue Princess Zelda who has gotten herself in a bit of a bind with a gang of octoroks, while in a later chapter you'll have to save a sage from a lake before he drowns. These story sidequests - and the voiceovers that announce them - gives the game much more character than ever before. While I always felt Link was a something of a revered stranger in the world of Hyrule the Satellaview mascot seems to interact directly with its citizens and positively affect their lives on a personal level. From a Hyrulian point of view, all Link ever did was break pots and torture chickens. They never got to witness his world-saving heroic deeds.

You can rent weapons from the item shop north of the East Temple (left). 
Saving Princess Zelda in one of the story moments that pop up (right).

Despite all this intimate storytelling, the plot itself seems far less epic. Compared to A Link to the Past, The Ancient Stone Tablets cannot live up to those lofty heights. Most dungeons are hidden under a simple rock or behind an unmarked wall instead of being signposted by grand entrances. All of them are a lot smaller too, a consequence of the very limited play time. Couple that with the copy-and-paste graphics and episodic nature and you have a game that somehow feels a little rushed and incomplete. It has positioned itself as a direct sequel to A Link to the Past, but it plays like a re-jigged remake. Put it this way, it's more what The Master Quest was to Ocarina of Time than Majora's Mask, even if it wants to be the latter. That being said, none of this makes it anything less than a must play. The Zelda formula was perfect on the SNES and this brief foray into streaming cements how great a formula that is. Just don't go in expecting much that's drastically new.

With that being said, there are a few firsts here that have features in other Zelda games. Beyond the voice acting, Ancient Stone Tablets was the first to feature rented weapons. You can hire a shovel or stronger sword for 10 real-time minutes in much the same way as A Link Between Worlds on 3DS. It's also the first time The Hero of Light has been etched into Hyrulian lore and the first instance that Zelda herself has displayed the fortune telling abilities seen in Breath of the Wild. The West may not have heard of these games, but series creator Shigeru Miyamoto and Nintendo themselves have and kept it fresh in their minds for the most recent entries in the series.

Once you finish a week, the witch will give instructions 
to continue your save (it's automated here)

There are also a few different hacks of this game, though I've mainly been playing the full restoration this time around (it is the most complete version after all, and the reason why I wanted to revisit them). The Official Version was the first playable public release with translation and gameplay hacks to get the game running on emulators for English speakers. All voice acting wasn't possible at the time so it has been hacked in as text at the bottom of the screen. Music would have originally been streamed so there was none found on the ROM. As such music from A Link to the Past was hacked in. Saves aren't compatible between the two, so this version is included for posterity's sake.

The last iteration of note is the Master Quest. Here the timer has been hacked out completely and the Satellaview mascots have also been altered. The male mascot is naturally Link, but he's a bit different to the SNES original with yellow hair instead of pink. The female mascot is now a rather obscure character in the Zelda universe called Malon. She is the daughter of Lon Lon Ranch owner Talon and first appeared in Ocarina of Time taking care of Epona. I don't know why she was chosen, but I suspect it's because she's roughly the same age as Link and many fan theories exist over the two's romantic involvement. Either way, her sprite is nice and it's good to have the option to play as a female character.

The Link & Malon characters for the Master Quest version.

All three versions are split into four weeks. When you complete one week, the game will automatically save and you can carry on by launching the second week. Saves are automatic, and there's only one save per version, so if you want to have two on the go you'll need to back up and rename the 'saves' folder (the same goes for save-states). If you're having just the one game running it should all be easy and self-explanatory.

All in all, all three BS Zelda games are absolutely worth it. The inclusion of CD-quality audio and full motion video does bump up the size considerably (from about 4 Mb to almost 4 Gb - the specific file format used doesn't allow for much compression), but that space is taken up by the most unique Legend of Zelda game you've ever played.

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To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses Retroarch with the SNES9x  core to emulate the PlayStaion games on modern PCs. XBox 360 controllers supported. Tested on Windows 10.

File Size: 2.35 Gb.  Install Size: 3.89 Gb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ

Download


BS Zelda & Satellaview is © Nintendo
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me


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